(This is the script of my Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster on March 21st 2024)


I was taken by the story of an 83 year old man. He spoke about how he’d gone for  breakfast at the McDonald’s drive in. It seems that he is not driving fast or precise enough for a young woman in the car behind him. She starts tooting and shouting insults.

Unperturbed when he gets to the first window where he has to pay for his breakfast the old man also pays for the young rascal in the car behind. When the man at the window tells the young woman that her meal has been paid for it causes instant reconciliation and the young women is now shouting her repentance and thank yous.

When the old man reaches the window where he picks up his food…he also picks up the young woman’s food and drives off… leaving our young ageist driver to get to the back of the queue all over again!

His punchline is not to mess with the elderly. I love it!

You see as we laugh at the twist in the tale we should also look deep into our souls.

When the older man showed grace and paid for the young woman’s food we were taken with that. That’s a radical act of forgiveness. Good on you. Leave that young woman in penitence but grateful for a loving act of kindness.

However, when our sneaky octogenarian wrought vengeance and almost hilariously sends our public enemy Number 1 to the back of the line we kind of like that almost better. Good on you sir. Boy she deserved it.

Isn’t that our inner selves. We are torn between justice and love, vengeance and forgiveness. We hold love and forgiveness up as a powerful virtue but we grin with glee at vengeance.

The problem is that with most things vengeance that leads to vengeance that leads to even more vengeance is like a snowball spiralling down a mountain picking up snow and speed for a destructive end. 

Grace and forgiveness stops the avalanche of grief and sets us up for healing and peace.

So today when my McDonald’s drive through scenario strikes I pray that I am courageous in the choice I make between paying for the Micky Dee meal and sending that girl back into the early morning queue? 


Academy Win Schools Cup 81

(This is the script for my Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster on March 14, 2024... The photograph is from the Belfast telegraph in 1981... Ballymena Academy winning the cup for the second time ever, in my Lower Seventh year!)


St Patrick’s Day is coming down the diary pages and that can only mean two things for a Ballymena man like myself. First up, will we win the School’s Cup again this year?

And before you Campbellians and Methody peeps laugh at us, with just 3 Cup victories to our name, what chance have you guys got on Monday?

Second up on St. Patrick’s Day for at least this Ballymena man, is St. Patrick.

Growing up on the Braid, Slemish looms large in our landscape. And as well as it being a dormant volcano we were all taught that it was the home of St. Patrick. 

So on Monday I’ll see Slemish in my imagination, though I’ll not be actually able to see it from my seat at Ravenhill. 

I’ll think of a young Patrick, kidnapped into slavery, sitting on that mountain. What was he thinking? How did he like the Irish? What about home?

The story goes that while tending sheep on Slemish, Patrick reflected on his relationship with God and it changed everything. Patrick wrote about God guiding him to a port where he would find a ship home. Escape. The ordeal done. The Irish put behind him.

But… for Patrick, that discovering God meant that he would feel called back to those who had so brutally kidnapped and enslaved him so that he could tell them the Good News of Jesus and send them down different paths. 

Some fourteen centuries later Belfast would be the port that would ban the slave ships, influenced by that Gospel that one slave came back to bring. Patrick’s time on Slemish didn’t only change everything for him but for the entire island as today’s celebrations across the world attest to.

It is an amazing story of forgiveness, new beginnings and lots of hope. Hope like our politicians working together for a better health service. Like first and deputy first ministers seeming to be having fun at each other’s sport’s matches. 

Maybe the spirit of St. Patrick and his forgiveness for those who treated him so badly can inspire us again and fire within us new beginnings and hope. 

Christ be with us, Christ within us, Christ behind us, Christ before us. Have a blessed St Patrick’s Day… and on Monday, come on the Culchies!


Car Chase

(My script for Thought For The Day on Radio Ulster, March 7th, 2024)


After watching a good football match there is nothing I like better than to sit down with Janice and watch a good TV Thriller.  The problem comes when they start sneaking into my dreams.

I don’t enjoy a good chase. Oh I do when it’s Tom Cruise or Daniel Craig. They can ride motorbikes across the rooftops of wherever they want, find their way down round the back alleyways of Belfast or hang out of helicopters a few thousand feet up. Give me a good chase on the screen.

BUT not in my dreams. I hate it when I am cornered. Love it when I wake up.

You know that chase. A big jeep is suddenly up your back. You shift gears, shimmy the bins, and take a few turns but it is still there. A hand brake turn put the foot down and head back to where you came from. He’s still there, flashing lights, blasting a horn. Now bumping into you.. 

Eventually luck runs out and you are heading for a wall, bringing the the car to a screeching halt… you watch in the mirror as this big lad gets out of the car and heads your way. You have your head down on the wheel… waiting… when a door is rammed open… but not yours.

To our shock, the guy who has been following dives into the back seat and drags a man out who was intent on doing us some damage. The driver behind us had spotted him at traffic lights and chased after you to save you.

Running from the wrong chaser. 

I have come to think that that is forgiveness. When I talk about forgiveness people say I can’t ask people to forgive., They suggest that asking the hurting to forgive adds more pain to their lives.

Jesus idea of forgiveness was that forgiveness was that which heals us from the damage done to us. We might think forgiveness is out to haunt us and chase us down but forgiveness will grab the pain in the back seat and get rid of that bitterness, trauma, the need for revenge…

Forgiveness might be the guy in the car behind me that sees what hurt is doing to me and chases after me to see me free.


Casket 1

(the script for my Thought For The Day on Radio Ulster on February 29, 2024...)


I remember the first day that I knew I had done a days work. Now, I know what you are saying. You are a minister and you only work one day a week. Easy.

BUT before I defend myself too much I will confess that I did become aware on this particular day that writing sermons, even Thought For The days, sitting in committee meetings or visiting in Residential homes might not give me the feeling of hard work.

I had taken a team of students to South Africa. We were working with Habitat For Humanity on the Cape Flat around Cape Town. It was our first day after being rained off for a couple and my students in all their enthusiasm went mad. We dug three house foundations in a day.

My wee soft clergy hands. They were so sore. Every muscle seemed to hurt. When we went out that evening a medical student told me to get some painkillers but when I did I was in such pain that I couldn’t get the top off the bottle.  

BUT I knew why I was tired and sore. I had seen the ground dug. I had swung that spade. The evidence was all around me. Of course I was exhausted. 

Grief on the other hand comes to us as disguised as a trickster. Grief seems to conjure weariness from the emptiest of days. 

We buried my wife Janice’s dad, Bryan, on Tuesday. We seemed to be doing nothing. Why are we so tired?

Well, look again. Grief has you digging. Deep into sacred spaces for precious memories in stories long buried.

Grief has you pushing and pulling the love lost in the void.

Bereft of a heart to embrace, grief has you carrying that coffin hod filled with your heartbroken burden of sorrows. It all might not be seen but it is there in those moments pressing heavily on your soul’s shoulders.

 Yes, if we stop and think again, Grief is actually a labourer, tilling the rugged ground of hardest parting. Grief is actually utterly exhausting.

If like us you have experienced it recently, I pray that you will be able to be gentle with yourself. And as I say to everyone in mourning, may Jesus be proved right when he called the Holy Spirit a Comforter. 


Shane 8

(My script from my Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster on December 8, 2023... I was asked to speak about Shane MacGowan...)


As they lay Shane MacGowan to rest later today in Tipperary, on remarkably Sinead's birthday, we’ve all had a week to refresh our memories of the great songs he has left us. 

Like when Glen Hansard covered Rainy Night In Soho last Friday night on the Late Late Show:


I took shelter from a shower

And I stepped into your arms

On a rainy night in Soho

The wind was whistling all its charms


What a poet.

At times his music was a little raucous and raw for my soft ears but beneath the Irish Trad punk there were always great songs.

I first realised MacGowan’s genius through the work of Peter Case. Peter covered A Pair Of Brown Eyes on his first solo record. It was a revelation and soon augmented by Christy Moore’s Aisling from Smoke and Strong Whisky. 

In between I am not sure whether If I Should Fall From Grace With God or Peace and Love was my first Pogues’ purchase. How I loved Misty Morning, Albert Bridge, somewhere between Ray Davies and Patrick Kavanagh. 

Of course then there is Fairytale In New York, omnipresent in these three weeks of the year. It is not only my favourite Christmas song but one of my all time favourite songs. Some of my friends could not disagree more. They hate it.

For me it gives Christmas some authenticity. As someone sick to his back teeth with soft clean straw, manicured sheep, a beautifully wall papered stable and a carpenter with a night class in midwifery, I want Jesus to arrive into the kind of broken world that he came into with his very best of Good News. MacGowan creates so perfectly that soundscape.

As I have listened to the song since Shane’s passing I have come to think that it might be introspective. Here at the heart of the song is drunkenness and relational chaos BUT also there are these moments of beauty and deep emotion. Is that not Shane MacGowan in one great song:


The boys in NYPD choir

Still singing Galway Bay

And the bells are ringing out

For Christmas Day


It is romantic, it is Irish and it is theological as I honestly believe that he has in those bells ringing out the hope of new beginnings and everything that Christmas really means. 


Dornan 2


(My Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster on January 27, 2022)


How well did our boy Jamie Dornan do in the recent TV drama The Tourist. I love it when he can do his own accent. A Belfast man in the outback of Australia. Amongst a few unbelievable things the biggest had to be that a Belfast man can go missing. Surely if they asked any other Irish person in the whole of Australia they would have ended up being Elliott Stanley’s cousin or someone he threw stones at as a wee lad. I mean everyone knows everyone in this wee place.


I do not want to play down the trauma of losing all of your memory but if you have done something very bad in your past it might be a good get out clause. A new start. I mean for a good lot of The Tourist Jamie was an affable Belfast man that you’d be happy to have a coffee with… unless the seat had a bomb under it!


Our past. How we remember it. How we see it. 


Pope Francis, who I am delighted to say has sent a message for next week’s 4 Corners Festival, wrote about how we deal with the past in his 2020 book Let Us Dream. His co-writer Austen Ivereigh will unpack that at St. Annes Cathedral on Sunday night.


I was drawn to a few of his thoughts about how to deal with the past. Pope Francis warned against the “reducing a person’s history to the wrong that they did.” Is that what we do with Elliott in The Tourist. Is that what we do across our society. 


We see Jesus NOT doing this with the social outcast Zaccheus, that wee tax collector up a tree in Jericho. Jesus doesn’t reduce Zaccheus to his past but gives him a new start.  

Pope Francis also writes that we should  “look at the past critically but with empathy.”

Again Jesus does with Zaccheus. Jesus empathy invites himself for lunch with the outcast. He doesn’t forget his past, Zaacheus gives back 4 times what he has stolen… but with empathy, Jesus concentrates on a better future. 

Jesus is all about new starts. Almost like wiping the memory. Imagine if Northern Ireland woke up this morning and like Jamie Dornan’s character Elliott Stanley had lost all our memories. How would that change the the day?


Ailing graduation


(My Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster on January 20, 2022.)


When former South African President FW De Klerk died late last year I remembered a lesson he taught us about Peacemaking. Speaking to a group of my Queens University Presbyterian Chaplaincy students back in 2002 he told us that before we did any work of reconciliation that we needed to search our own motives right down to the very marrow. 

Deep deep search. It reminded me of Psalm 139. 


Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.


See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.


FW’s advice came back to me this week as I tried to come to terms with the tragic death of Aisling Murphy. 

As a pastor the news of Ashling’s murder hit me deep in the heart. How do parents deal with that news. That loss. That heartache. Jesus called the Holy Spirit a Comforter and we have been praying in Fitzroy that Aisling’s family and friends would know that comfort.

But something more is rising out of Aisling’s needless murder. Men’s attitudes toward women. The fear that women feel. Aisling just went for a run BUT as a woman she would  always have been looking cautiously  ahead and fearing what might be behind her. 

I have two daughters almost the same age and this fear that women live with needs to change. We need societal turnaround in how men respect and act towards women.

I am back to FW De Klerk. In these days as the island grieves Aisling, men need to search themselves down to the very marrow. What do we think about a women’s place in society? Or in the Church? How do we treat women? Do we see women as equals? How do we look at women? How do women see us looking at them. We need to search ourselves… deep.

FW De Klerk’s second piece of advice… once you’ve searched to the marrow. Search yourself again. In case you have missed something.

We don’t need to lose any more young women in the prime of their lives. The answer lies with men. And we need to start now. First we have to search ourselves right down to the marrow… and then… search again.



(This was my Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster on January 6th 2022...)

I have carried a quotation around with me for some years. It seems a good one for new year.

Speaking at Queens University, maybe 20 years ago, Bob Geldof told us that he got lots of mail during the year of Live Aid. Most he discarded but one note he put above his desk. It was a quote by WH Murray a mountaineer.

Murray wrote “at the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no one could have dreamt could have come their way. 

The quote made sense to Geldof whose initial phone call to Midge Ure about doing a charity single ended up with twenty aeroplanes, lined up on a runway, full of aid to relieve those dying of famine in East Africa.

I love the quote. It encourages us to commit to something positive and that if we do providence, that I might call God’s unseen mysterious input, opens up all kinds of pragmatic blessings that causes us to end up doing imaginary more than we first dreamed.

I believe in the quote too. At the end of this month we will celebrate the 10th Four Corners Festival in Belfast. It started one afternoon in Fr Martin Magill’s Presbytery House in Lenadoon. Chatting about the parts of Belfast that we didn’t know because of the apartheid nature of north, south, east or west he and I thought we’d start a festival to get people moving around the city and hopefully get Jesus contributing to bringing Belfast together.

It was kind of mad. None of us have a Phd in running festivals. Indeed as Martin reminds me, we don’t have Phds in anything 

BUT… we committed… and… gathering a few like-spirited friends around us, we are looking forward to a 10th  Festival that will include boxer names like Carl Frampton, pianist Ruth McGinley and the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

We could never have believed in 10th Anniversaries back in 2012. Support has come in so many ways and WH Murray’s quote seems to makes sense of. Commit and providence, or God, moves.

And so, still in the first week of January, let us all commit to something in our lives, neighbourhood, churches, parliaments… Maybe providence will move too and we’ll be utterly amazed at where our commitment goes… It’s better than a half baked resolution!



(this was my Thought For The Day on Good Morning Ulster on September 15, 2021... dedicated to our Good Samaritans - Steven Auld, Lesley Emerson, David Fleming, Colin Goodman, Team Hinds and a coupe of strangers)


Sunday afternoon was no classic for the Stockmans and yet ended up what might against the odds be a lifetime family memory.

My daughter Jasmine was taking some friends for lunch and broke down on the Saintfield Road. Between Beechill Road and Cairnshill Road. Right at the lights. Lovely spot to spend a few hours.

We have breakdown cover. They’ll sort it. Phoned. Be there at 2.20. No worries. 3 o’clock and we are still enjoying the traffic, still no help. Phone again. You have been recovered they said. You are on your way to Dundalk they said. Not us. Still on Saintfield Road. 

Would you believe that two Kia Rios had gear box trouble. less than a mile apart in the same half hour. Such a freak of coincidence meant that confusion broke out in breakdown services and the two cars became one and somehow we were forgotten! .

In such situations you find out who your Good Samaritans are. A Presbyterian colleague and his wife wound down their window to wave and cheer… and drive on. Must have thought that that the busy intersection was our favourite picnic spot.

But out of the hundreds and hundreds of cars there were indeed a few Good Samaritans. A dear friend brought coffee and a Baptist pastor I hardly knew left his phone number and then brought back a food parcel. A couple of others who we knew and 2 random strangers stopped as well.

None of them could fix a gear box BUT just knowing we were seen was enough to warm our hearts and keep us going. 

In the Bible there is a woman called Hagar who was like an invisible woman heading out into the dessert to escape her situation. She becomes the first person in Scripture to be visited by an angel. After God blessed Hagar she gave the place the name that means 

 “You are the God who sees me,”

Being seen. On Sunday I realised how important that is. Knowing who it is that sees me makes a difference. And when we see other people we can make a difference too. Like those kind few on Sunday afternoon who made what could have been a miserable afternoon bearable. Thank you so much.


Leona 2

(My Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster on September 8th 2021...) 


Even with no Premier League it was a great sporting weekend. Watching on Facebook streaming on a phone outside church with his family as my friend Stephen Orr won the Irish Senior Masters 800m was the highlight.

BUT I was gripped with the Solheim Cup, Europe’s women beating the USA on US soil. Leona Maguire from Cavan the first Irish woman ever to play in the Solheim, the superstar with 4 and a 1/2 points. 

There was a shot on Sunday afternoon that reminded me of my toughest golf lesson. A life lesson in fact. 

It was the 9th hole in the afternoon fourballs. USA’s Megan Khang was off the back of the green in semi rough. Her European opponents were on the green and felt the hole was won. 

Khang’s chip needed to be delicate. It wasn’t. It was far too hard BUT it was on line, hit the pin bounced out of the hole and then back in again. 

There are many difficult things about golf. I declare this the hardest. Reacting to the surprise of your opponent’s luck. The European players moved from confidence to oh no we might miss these putts. They did.

It happened to me as a teenager… 16th at Ballymena… 1978. I had been 3 down in an East Antrim League match and had won two in a row. I hit my approach to the then par 3 16th to 4 feet. My opponent was forty yards wide of the green. Oh yes. He pitched up short of the green. Oh yes. His next effort was too hard but hit the flag half way up and dropped in. Otto! Yes, shell shocked I missed the 4 footer and halved the hole that I was sure I’d won.

Always be ready for what your opponent will do. Always expect the unexpected. Be prepared for it and you still might sink that putt.

Jesus wasn’t talking golf when he highlighted the foolishness of the 5 virgins who came to the wedding unprepared for surprising long wait. Not enough oil for their lamps. Left to get some more. Locked out! 

Today might throw us all kinds of surprises that will hit head, heart and soul. We need to be prepared. It is hard to deal with the shock if we are not. 

I won the 17th by the way. Half match!