Van 75th

(I had the privilege of wishing Van Morrison Happy 75th Birthday when I did a Special Thought For The Day to mark the occasion on Good Morning Ulster...)


A joy to be on the radio to publicly say Happy 75th Birthday Van Morrison brought up in Hyndford Street, East Belfast. From Astral Weeks to last year’s Three Chords and The Truth you have created as qualitative a body of work as any of your peers. Van, you are up there with Bob Dylan and without you there would be no Bruce Springsteen. 

I want to thank you personally for a few things. 

Firstly, making our wee ordinary places sound extraordinary… Ballystockart, Ardglass, Cyprus Avenue, Castlereagh Road, Hyndford Street, Davey’s Chipper and the man who played the saw outside City Hall. You make me proud of where I’m from.

Secondly, I want to thank you for being a spiritual companion. We all need songs for the journey and songs like Full Force Gale, When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God, In the Garden and the recent Transformation have refreshed me and pushed me on in my journey following Jesus.

Stuart Bailie writes in his upcoming book 75 Van Songs about Van’s song Sense Of Wonder that it makes the case “for being a receptive soul, about the prerogative to burn bright”. 

That is Van Morrison. A man born in east Belfast with exceptional gift from God who used it to give the world a sense of wonder, to call us to being receptive souls to the transcendent and burn brighter than the ordinary around us.

American writer and Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner defines our individual vocations… the reason God made us… as the place where our deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need.

I have watched in the crowd as on a stage Van Morrison lived those moments of his deepest gladness. There’s actually nothing like it. He has battled the fame and music industry that his vocation hurled him into in the mid 60s when he just wanted to play saxophone on the weekend in a Down joint...

BUT he has used that deep gladness to call the world to look higher and seek to the find the eternal now. As he put it in his spoken word song Hyndford Street to Dream in God. Thank you sir, for sharing your vocation with us all. Happy 75th birthday!

WHEN GOD DISAPPEARS - Thought For The Day BBC GMU 28.8.2020

Mist Hides Fair Head

I spent much of August on what we have I think disingenuously named staycations… it is as if our own beautiful coastline’s, glens and mountain scenery are some how inferior to somewhere that has passed some higher test to be deemed a Vacation.

We holiday most years in Ballycastle and love it. We walk the dog almost every night along the signature north coast beach with Rathlin just out to sea, the sun setting over Kinbane head at one side, still shining rays of light across Fair Head on the other side, with Mull Of Kintyre and all Paul McCartney thought of that in the distance.

If you ask me this kind of staycation leaves Vacations way behind.

Anyway, every single night the light, the colour of the skies are different. We can clog up our smart phones with attempts to capture it. I wonder how God can throw different tie dye shades across the same canvas at the same time of day.

One night, and truthfully just one, we couldn’t see Fair Head… or much else. A mist was down. It was erie. It was bereft. It was dank and dull. The wonder was gone. 

I could easily have let my cynicism get the best of me and start talking about the trouble with staycations… but I didn’t. As I walked towards the nothingness, the emptiness I remembered back to the night before. Actually Janice had taken a most beautiful picture of the Fair Head in all its strutting glory just a few hours earlier. I remembered.

Do this in remembrance of me is perhaps the most used phrase in all our Christian traditions. Jesus was with his disciples. He was really there. God flesh on. Soon, he wouldn’t be. So, he created a symbolic act that would remind them of when he was there… when they might find themselves losing their vision or getting caught in a gloomy, foggy days in life.

There is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty around us in these days. There might be lots of moments when we could lose faith, or be angry with God or not be able to see in all that we are struggling through.

When in my own life God seems veiled.. I am now going to think of that night when the fog blocked out Fair Head… I am not going not stop believing that God is there… but remember back to when I could see God in all of his glory.


Trev Karamoja

(my Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster this New Year's Day morning 2020...)


Happy New Year. New Year’s Day. Always a good time to look back and then look forward. What can we learn from the last year. How can we get ready for the year ahead. Maybe there are exciting things ahead… or scary things. 

I am excited about 2020 because a friend is publishing his memoir that I have been helping him with. Trevor Stevenson went to Uganda to give a few weeks advice on a farm project in 1993. He had no idea what he was getting into. He took just one step of faith. Then he sensed that he should raise money for that farm. Another step of faith. Then he felt he should go with that money and set up that farm. Then while on the farm the local councillors came and asked if he would build them a school. He built a school. Yet one more step of faith.

Today Northern Ireland’s Fields Of Life NGO has built 120 schools across east Africa and drilled fresh water for almost 1 million people. 

What I learned from Trevor’s life is that the best thing to do from where we are is to take the next step. There’s a doctor called Luke who records the beginning of the Church in the Acts Of The Apostles in the New Testament. There’s no five or ten year plan just followers of Jesus taking small steps of faith.

Sometimes that step is like Trevor’s… full of enthusiasm and adventure. Other times the step might be in a dark place where you are frightened to move because your fragile hurting heart might break. 

Wherever you are this New Year’s morning I encourage you to take just the next step of faith. Make it the next right move you can make. Just one step. It can make all of the difference.   


Subbuteo Rugby

A very happy Christmas to you all. I love Christmas morning. Let me ask you, what was the earliest you got up to see what Santa left? For me it was just 30 minutes after midnight. I lay waiting until my parents went to bed. I reckoned that Santa must have been. I sneaked out and there was my Subbuteo Rugby. I didn’t have the players lined out for a game before my parents were down the corridor telling me to get back to bed. 

Darn… but my 4am wake ups worked so much better. My parents were deeper in their sleep and I used to watch out the window as the McKeown’s light then the Wilson’s lights would go on around the same time.

I always watch carefully on Christmas Day to catch people’s reactions to being given a present. I always wonder what would happen if someone refused the gift they are handed? “No thank you” they say. “I’d prefer not to take that from you.” How would that go?

Then what if someone took the gift and just set it down somewhere. The giver asks if they want to know what it is. “Oh no”, they reply, “It was the thought that counted. I don’t want to get over excited or fanatical. I’ll just look at it occasionally and think of you!”

Give a gift to me today and I’ll have it out of your and, no matter how expensive or carefully wrapped the paper, I’ll have it ripped off off to see what is in there. I love Christmas. I love the gifts. I am up with my children, no matter how early to see what is in that stocking.

And what of the baby. That other gift of Christmas. We all know the words and can dismiss them with over familiarity. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” What a gift. There, in the nativity decoration. There, in the manger. God’s gift to us all. How will we respond on this Christmas morning? Like I did with that Subbuteo Rugby?



(this was my Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster for December 18th 2019...)


During a lecture in Fitzroy on Sunday evening on Artificial Intelligence Professor Stephen Williams quoted Heraclitus a philosopher from the fifth century BC. This Greek dude said, “War is the father and king of all things.” It very quickly made sense of all of history for me… but then I saw something else.

Behind Stephen as he said these words was our Fitzroy Nativity scene. Oh the Bible doesn’t mention a stable and it is very unlikely that shepherds and wise men were there all together that first Christmas morning or that a camel could get through the door of whatever room the baby was laid in the manger.

BUT the baby. The baby that shook the establishment. The baby that changed the date lines of history. The baby who many of us see as a revolutionary world changer. He is known as the Prince of Peace. Angels on the night he was born sang about Peace on Earth.

It struck me that Christmas is when War as Father and King of all is challenged by a baby of peace. This is the upside down nature of the baby Jesus’s life. He is about a radical shift in direction for everything. Instead of War being Father or mother and King or Queen of all. Peace.

Which would we all prefer. It is a crucial question. It impacts all of our attitudes, personally and across our society. It might be a good question for us all to ask our politicians as they start talks at Stormont. Do we want war or peace to be father or mother of all we do? 

And let us not point the finger just at the politicians. What about us all? Who do we want to Lord it over our attitudes and actions. Do we want War to be king of everything we do… or this baby… reaching out a hand of peace to shepherds… to eastern mystics… to you… and to me.


Self Interest

(my Thought for The Day on BBC Radio Ulster this morning...)

I have been trying to warn my congregation that Christmas is not just for children. Oh yes, we have the ingredients for those lovely domesticated Children’s Nativity services with their angel wings and tea towels but there is another more sinister side

Herod. Herod is the first, but of course not the last, to try to kill the baby Jesus by killing a town full of other babies. Christmas needs a parental warning.

What intrigues me most is why. When eastern mystics arrive at the Palace Herod is intrigued with their news of a new baby king. He gathers the religious leaders together and they pin point who this baby is and where he would be born. They have just declared the arrival of the Messiah. The most amazing news ever to hit planet earth. And… did they throw him a party? Nope. Death squads!

It is quite a warning to the Church isn’t it. The ones who had the Bible, who studied the Bible and understood the Bible properly, tried to kill the Messiah. It should humble those of us who preach on a Sunday. Make us think… and then think again.

But it is not just a lesson the Church.

Maybe we all have a little bit of Herod in us. Even when we know what the truth is and what is the right action to take we can selfishly make decisions for our own selfish comfort and security. Our fears of what might happen if we changed track or did the right thing is swallowed up in self protection.

Back to the baby in the straw that Herod wanted rid of. He was born to give us another way, a radical alternative. He was prepared to give himself up for the common good of everyone. A different life style or life revolution, if you like, that switched self indulgence for self sacrifice to make the world better… not for him… or for me…. but for everyone.


Stocki in Beeb

I am always chuffed when people come up to me at weddings, funerals and other events and tell that they enjoy my Thoughts For The Day. When you are sitting in the studio at what is for me an unearthly hour with two presenters and a few producers through the studio glass, it is good to hear that people are listening and even finding those short thoughts useful.

So, for those of you who are interested, I started a new series of 4 Wednesdays on Good Morning Ulster (BBC Radio Ulster) starting on December 11th.

If you stop to calculate that, the good news of this Christmas time is that you have the choice of hearing my dulcet north Antrim tones not only on Christmas Day but New Year's Day as well. 

Thank you for listening and I am working harder than normal to make these Thoughts inspirational and challenging as we journey towards the manger in the wake of elections and a very uncertain future.




This is the script of my Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster on June 19th 2019...


I hope you are enjoying the long evenings. Daylight to near 11 o’clock. I love it. In my youth I eeked out every minute of light for another game of football. Yet, come Saturday and you’ll hear it all round the country - "nights are fair drawing in!"

Friday is the longest day. It’s all down hill to 4.30pm darkness in the heart of December.

I wonder how many are aware that June 21st is a Day Of Reflection in Northern Ireland, a chance to remember those killed or effected by The Troubles. Started in 2007 by Healing Through Remembering, it is offered as a day of private reflection rather than for any large public events. I always take the opportunity to reflect and pray. 

The Summer Solstice seems a good day to look back and forward.

Of course our looking back can often hamper our going forward. Even in our remembering.

I recently remembered something I heard on Robben Island, that island off Cape Town where Nelson Mandela was in prison for all those years.

Apparently, when the prisoners were finally allowed to study for High School or University qualifications, some of the white wardens wanted to study too. The ANC prisoners were enraged but Mandela told them to stop the protest. The Wardens he said were as much victims of the apartheid system as they were. 

Seeing your oppressor as much a part of the injustice of the system as you are is quite an attitude. Mandela was showing an empathy with his enemy that was as remarkable as it was revolutionary.

I think Jesus was onto the same remarkable and revolutionary when he told his disciples to love their enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you. Jesus was speaking this into the same kind of brutal violent society as apartheid South Africa… or indeed Troubles effected Northern Ireland. 

So, on Friday, the longest day, the day of Reflection, as we look back and ahead, I wonder what it would do for the future of our wee place, if we saw our enemies as Mandela and Jesus did… everybody a victim and everyone to be loved, blessed and done good to.



Exam time. I wonder if there is the same stress in your house, as in ours. Jasmine’s finish tomorrow. The entire house will breathe out. 

We live in a graceless world. The first are always first and so it should be. Those with the highest mark get the highest grade, the person with the best CV and does the best interview gets the job, those with the highest number of votes get elected, Rory is 7 shots better than the rest and wins the Canadian Open. Even Graeme McDowell needs to sink a 30 foot putt to qualify for the Open at Portrush.

No, The first are first and we’d go to court to defend it. 

Of course the stress to always being first leads to all our insecurities, inferiorities, and psychological frailty. To our community brokenness too.

Christianity has this other idea. It is the gem in the crown yet somehow it often gets hidden away.  We call it grace. U2 sing, “Grace, a name for a Girl, and a thought that can change the world”

How much would it change the world if we weren’t valued by what we did, by our achievements, our grades, our wages or BT post code. Imagine we were valued just as we are. Unconditional. Unmerited. That would relieve us of a lot of stress.

It would also help us live in a divided and now becoming a multi cultural society. Grace drops the labels. We don’t see Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant. Or Loyalist, Republican, Nationalist Unionist. Or Brexiteer or Remoaner, Gay or Homophobic. 

We look past the what we are and see the who we are and treat each other unconditionally. Grace… Name for a girl indeed (Jasmine Grace get out of bed and do some revision!) And… a thought that can change the world!  



Deacon Blue singer, and indeed BBC Broadcaster, Ricky Ross tells a story about a dog that he watched on Byers Road in Glasgow. Ricky says that the dog caught his attention and as he watched it, it ran across the road and  jumped into the arms of a homeless man lying by a shop window. It took Ricky a bit by surprise. 

On the way home he pondered that that dog could have been in a lovely house in the leafy suburbs, with a soft carpet and an open fire but here she was giving all her love to a man living on the streets. When Ricky got home he told his wife what he has seen and Lorraine said to him that that was the kind of love that only God and dogs have. Ricky wrote the beautiful song God and Dogs as a result.

Last summer we lost our beloved dog Odie. He had had cancer and the vets told us a couple of years ago that he only had weeks to live. We were blessed with almost two extra years. After Odie left us I reflected on his life. 

I was overwhelmed by what that reflection taught me. Remembering Odie was a lesson in unconditional love. Oh my wife Janice, my daughters and I loved him but nothing like he loved us. When I took him for granted, when I scolded him for barking at the neighbours, when I dismissed his very presence, Odie loved me anyway. There was nothing I could do to stop him loving me. He cared for me. He protected me. He watched for my coming home.

Lorraine was right. God and dogs. I suddenly realised that Odie had taught me more about God than any teacher in a classroom or preacher in a pulpit ever had. I had seen in Odie the kind of love God has for me. I was challenged by Odie about the kind of love I should have for others. He didn’t need words but by every action Odie taught me the meaning of God’s amazing grace.