Couldn't have said it better myself...

"We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are."

Anais Nin

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Saturday Night with the Bay City Rollators

Yesterday I may have been looking forward to Sunday, but today it's Saturday... And in honour of that here's a video that I posted on fb last month... I and many others nearly died laughing at it. So its certainly worth another look.
This was Saturday night TV in the UK before Simon Cowell and his ilk got the hold of it... But where they got this audience from I do not know... Perhaps they kidnapped some Church Senior's Group and dosed them with hallucinogenic drugs before wheeling the Bay City Rollers on stage.
This is rock and roll at its best... Ear trumpets, knitting needles and woolie bunnets!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sunday's Coming

In the words of Tony Campolo, "It's Friday but Sunday's coming!" Here's a trailer of what might be on offer at a church near you... It's another of the videos I've previously posted on fb, this one, thanks to Jools... Tho' Alan in Belfast also posted it last month...

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Embrace Life

For all those who will be doing a wee bit more driving over the holiday period, here's a road safety ad that doesn't use shock horror tactics but get's the message over better than any other I have ever seen. Perhaps it also has something to us who want to communicate the Gospel...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Teenage Dirtbag

Following Friday's highly cultured post, here (for all those who missed it when I previously posted it on fb) is another "orchestral" offering...

Friday, July 23, 2010

A More Cultured Offering...

After yesterday's video, which appealled to my baser instincts (ie. laughing at people hurting themselves) here is a slightly more cultured (and longer) offering...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Lord's Prayer

This week the lectionary looks at Luke's version of what we know as the Lord's Prayer, in Luke 11 v 2-4. It is shorter than the Matthean account and has lost some of the characteristic devices of Hebrew poetry that are in the longer version. There have been many theories expressed as to the differences between Luke and Matthew's accounts. Some suggest that Jesus actually taught it in 2 forms, and that it might be a sign that Jesus, as was the case with many of his contemporaries, was bilingual in Aramaic and Greek (or trilingual if you include the formal Hebrew of the synagogue and scriptures). However, personally I tend to the belief that this was the first record that we have of Luke translating not only words but ideas and poetic forms across linguistic and cultural boundaries.

I'm becoming increasingly aware that this once ubiquitous piece of Christian tradition is no-longer so well known in wider society. It is frequently mumbled in funerals and weddings, where once the congregation would have joined in confidently despite many of them having not been in a church since the last hatch, match or dispatch. In fact it has got to the stage that I'm thinking of suggesting that we put the words on the order of service or on screen. Or perhaps the time has come to re-translate the Lord's prayer for contemporary society.

What follows is a version I wrote for a family service a few years ago. If memory serves it owes more than a little to Rob Lacey's "The Word on the Street" (previously known as "The Street Bible":

God in heaven, you’re our dad.
We respect everything your name stands for,
and we want others to respect you and your name as well.
Please bring heaven
on earth: people living life your way, like the angels do.
Please bring us
all we need to keep us going this day.
Please forgive what we’ve done wrong,
in the same way we forgive what others have done to us.
Please protect us
from evil, whether we’re tempted or attacked by it.
Because you’re all that
is important;
you’re able to do everything and you deserve all the credit.
You’re in a league of your own,
You're in control.
Really and truly.
Count me in.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

For all My Friends and Felinophiles out There...

Going to be offline for a bit... So to keep all my faithful readers (all 3 of you) entertained in my absence, I've scheduled a few posts in advance... Some are bits and pieces linked to the lectionary readings for the next few weeks, some are videos that I've previously shared on fb but are worth another look... if only to put a smile on your face... Starting with this one. Last week I posted a couple of videos for dog lovers, of which I am not one... This one however, is for all you cat lovers out there. I'm currently thinking of jacking in my membership of that club as well, for reasons I will not bore you with here, and if I had this cat to deal with I definitely would...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities...

"It was the best of times it was the worst of times…" Those words could be a description of Rory McIlroy's first who days at the British Open in St. Andrews, but as every English literature student and trivia buff knows they are the opening words from Dicken’s “A Tale of Two Cities” and are also a good description of Northern Ireland's two cities this past week (OK I know that Armagh, Lisburn and Newry are theoretically cities too... but the first of them is an ecclesiastical anomaly and the other two are best ignored).
As I said earlier in the week, Northern Ireland is back in the headlines again, but while I've looked at the bad news from Belfast, I should also offer my tuppence worth on the good news from Derry/Londonderry.
And for once the double-barrelled appellation isn't an embarrassment, as it was under this awkward moniker that they were told on Thursday that they had been designated the UK City of Culture for 2013, after a great campaign including this short film:

Of course the cynics weren’t long in starting to snipe about them having 3 years to find some culture and how ironic it was for Free Derry to be awarded such status within the United Kingdom... Especially in the wake of the Saville Report into Bloody Sunday and david Cameron's unqualified apology for the events of that day. Was this the cherry on the cake? Further encouragement for the families of the fallen to drop their legal procedings against the soldiers in question?
But it is a sign of how far Derry/Londonderry has come, especially when contrasted with the riots in Belfast earlier in the week, with dissident republicans and young people using the Orange celebrations as an excuse to have a go at the police. I suppose it is also a sign of how far policing has come too when you consider that it was young hotheads using the civil rights march as an excuse to have a go at the police and the army that formed the context for Bloody Sunday. In Belfast this week the police simply contained the disturbances, sucking up the aggression against themselves (at great cost to their own personel and the budget of the PSNI). As one former policeman said on radio, in any measurable sense it was a successful piece of public order policing, simply because no members of the wider public were harmed, and the trouble didn't spread. Those public mouthpieces and politicians who argue for a tougher approach by the police could so well to remember that... and the lessons of Londonderry and Belfast 40 years ago...
But back to the Derry of today, or rather 3 years from now. I suppose my only real concern for the whole City of Culture jamboree is much the same as my concerns re economic investment in Belfast that I expressed a few days ago, that is that it will bring benefits to all levels and sectors of the second city's society... both sides of the river, inside the walls and out... and that all "cultures" will be reflected and supported in the endeavour. It must be inclusive... If anyone feels themselves shut out because they don't live in the right area, or vote in the right way, then this will be a disaster for Derry... They have come far, and could teach Belfast a thing or two regarding the resolution of contentious parades and other issues, but they are not the finished article by any stretch of the imagination.
And in the whole endeavour I hope that the church will be included and seek to be included... to contribute creatively to the cultural life of the city. Indeed I would argue that we need to do that in all cities. For too long now the church has fled the inner city, leading the exodus to the suburbs... and the escape to the country, forgetting that the momentum in scripture is actually towards the heavenly city!
We need to think about our role in the city, not just Derry and Belfast, but in the words of the hymnwriter Hugh Sherlock,
In the streets of every city,
where the bruised and lonely dwell...

If we are to have more good news headlines rather than bad news about our cities, then we as Churches and Christians need to live up our calling to share and be good news where it is needed…
This is based in part on the Review of the Week which I recorded for Downtown Radio's Dawn Reflections this morning.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Big Society Gets Squeezed

Just read this report by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in England, which I presume is the same one reported on the BBC, telling of significant pessimism in the charitable sector in the face of public sector spending cuts. For once we in Northern Ireland are ahead of our friends on the other island as that pessimism has been pervading the community and voluntary sector here in Northern Ireland for some time... And perhaps for more reasons...
The squeeze that is hitting English charities will hit us too as the assembly departments and local councils need to find ways of cutting their budgets... and since the recent RPA debacle has shown the reluctance of public sector turkeys to vote for Christmas there is no doubt that in order to retain staff and resources for themselves, they will reduce funding to outside bodies... Even though the community and voluntary sector adds a huge amount of value to any investment (the "voluntary" element obviously allows the deployment of large numbers of people on the ground without the troublesome matter of wages), in a world where bean-counters are king, it is a lot easier to look at expenditure rather than outcomes... especially when many of the outcomes in community projects are hard to measure, such as the sense of security and well-being of older people, the harmony within homes, relationships between communities.
Unless the outcomes are "ring-fenced" there is no-doubt that the public sector would prefer to retain their budgets themselves rather than "pass them on" to a voluntary organisation. And so, the Con-Dem coalition's aim of smaller government but bigger society may well be undermined.
Again, the fact that we have the biggest of big government here in Northern Ireland will put an added strain on things, as the squeeze may be even tighter, and the prospects for the economy tougher as public sector workers find themselves on the dole. Indeed the economic recovery here is apparently already lagging behind that in the rest of the UK. This in turn actually puts added strain on the public AND community sectors, as the problems caused by debt, depression, unease percolate through society.
If we then add to that the fact that for over 10 years the community sector has been buoyed by so-called "peace money" which, as a number of commentators have said, has been spread a mile wide and an inch thick... But that money has been gradually running out, because, despite appearances to the contrary in Ardoyne and on Broadway last week, we now have peace here. The fact that much of this money was used in small, local, newly started charities (no one wanted to give money to established and effective organisations that might have then expanded their areas of operations - it was so much sexier to hand over a big cheque to a wee new group headed up by an attractive local Mum or a "former combatant") means that when the gravy train stopped rolling many of those organisations didn't have the financial reources, or experience to continue. Sustainability only latterly became a buzz word with such funders, at a period when things had moved from a period of optimistic community development into a post-Darwinian survival of the fittest.
But anyway, what does this mean on the ground. I've had a relatively wide experience in the community sector here in Northern Ireland, particularly within the church-based part of it, and most organisations are saying similar things... But let me focus on our own church-based community project Dundonald Family and Community Initiative (DFCI). This is a short video embodying some of their key values.


DFCI has seen referrals increase exponentially, with debt, relationship breakdown, anti-social behaviour, social isolation all on the increase. Some of these referrals are from statutory services, or organisations directly funded by the public purse. We ourselves work in partnership with those services and have recieved various small grants from the local council, but have never recieved anything from central government. We have also never recieved anything from the "peace funds". Previously all our funding was from charitable trusts, central church funds, donations and the subscriptions of beneficiaries. However, in a period when other sources of funding are becoming more limited, charitable trusts incomes have been hit by the stock market fall and there is less spare cash in people's pockets, that pool of money is becoming smaller and filled with bigger hungrier fish.
The net result of this is that despite the demand for our services going up, and our expertise and reputation increasing (for example our recent family fun fest was a roaring success) our ability to meet the presented need and indeed our long term viability is under threat. Indeed currently 2 out of our 4 paid workers are on notice that they may lose most or all of their funded hours, and for the best part of 18 months another of our workers was permanently on 1 month's protective notice. I take my hats off to people who can work under such pressure, particularly when their jobs are focussed on helping others.
Small organisations such as ours need financial resources (you can help DFCI by direct giving or by innovative ways such as registering for and using the Easy-click search engine, or the Easy-fundraising shopping portal. But organisations such as ours also need volunteers to help at all levels... People are the community and voluntary sector's greatest resource... from those with the basic day to day skills needed at the cutting edge of each organisation, through to the professional skills and expertise needed for their management committees if they are to negotiate the choppy waters ahead.
Come along and be part of the "Big Society."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Atomic Retrievers

A few days ago I published a piece of silliness involving a golden retriever eating a carry-out... But I have since come across a much more mature piece of film-making involving said breed of dogs... Pets Teach Science, in this case sub-atomic physics... It started out as a Christmas Edition project for an editor on New Scientist into how to make and distribute a viral video... He did a good job I think judging fromthe number of hits...
It should be said however that if we were being strictly accurate with the scale in this movie, the electrons should be chihuahuas and be circling the nucleus at least a mile away... But that would make the whole thing a little difficult to film. But with that little piece of pedantry out of the way, enjoy and be educated...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It's (Not so) Good to be Back...

Well we're back in the headlines again... Three nights of rioting and Belfast is up there vying with Spanish world cup celebrations for top story...

This is uniformly regarded across the media as "not a good thing" (especially when a policewoman is left fighting for her life) and many have been commenting on the cost to the Northern Irish economy. Not only the cost of policing (on top of cleaning up bonfires) but also through the damage done to Northern Ireland's international image which will undoubtedly impact on tourism (terrorism tours are a monority interest), and inward investment.

However, do you really think that those out rioting give a damn about the economic impact on Northern Ireland? A number of years ago whilst driving to observe the contentious Whiterock Parade on the Springfield Road, Reg Empey came on the radio to appeal to both communities in the Springfield/Woodvale/Ardoyne areas to keep calm for the sake of our shared economic future. But most of those rioting have never benefitted directly from any economic investment and aren't educationally geared up to do so... Some are wee nyaffs the age of my younger son following in the footsteps of their older siblings, and in some cases fathers, having a great time chucking stuff at the police. The older ones are the products of a system that originally churned out young men fit only for the yard or mills... or latterly for the dole. Why should they get qualifications when no-one in their family history ever had to? Their ability to kick up merry hell has previously been turned on by political puppet-masters to suit their agenda... and when they are no more use they have been discarded and condemned. Both Unionist and Republican politicians have done the same... some more overt than others...

This is not an exercise in apologetics for rioters... far from it. There is NO excuse for such behaviour... And I for one would like to see all of them lifted by the police at the first possible opportunity... and in my less gracious moments I wouldn't care how many bumps and bruises the wee dears got when being apprehended. But it certainly won't be stopped by pompous statements about the economic implications. When they don't place any value on the life of a policewoman, why would they place any value on economic investment that never seems to find its way into their pockets?

Condemnation from a distance is cheap... Be it from a pulpit, newsprint or the Stephen Nolan Show. Pouring money into these areas isn't the answer either. It requires the investment of time, energy and imagination into these communities and lives. Not rewarding bad behaviour but trying to find ways of supporting what is positive in such communities... Growing the good and weeding out the bad. Making the good news headlines...
ps. For a prettier picture of Belfast, try out Belfast City Council's recent photgraphic competition. And for a funnier take on our fair city, pop over to Prof. Billy McWilliams' prescient piece from the 6th July.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Wasabi and Ginger

Two years ago today I was involved with one of the most bizarre services of worship in my entire ministry. I've disparagingly called it the Dr. Doolittle Service, but it was actually a service of blessing for pets in Faith United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan where I was serving on exchange for a summer. It was actually the first time they had ever run such a service (I was very grateful to my exchange partner for letting me be the guinea pig... to use an inappropriate metaphor), but it went so well they decided to have another one last year. Don't know whether it is happening this year or not. It's certainly not going to be happening in Dundonald Methodist any time soon.
Given that I am absolutely terrified of dogs, I'm not too sure who was more traumatised by the event, me or the single cat surrounded by over a dozen dogs of all shapes and sizes. Certainly afterwards I had to go and lie down in a darkened room for a while.
But the whole event reminded me again of how important pets, and particularly dogs are to some people. Genesis 2: 20 may suggest that animals are no substitute for proper human relations, but they can certainly offer something to those enduring lonely lives, and can become a very real part of family life. But you can take things a little too far...
A while ago I posted a little video on fb entitled "Breakfast at Ginger's". This is another in the series... with Ginger enjoying some takeaway food...

Monday, July 12, 2010


It was a late night last night due to my usual 11th night bonfire perambulations... and that, on top of a hectic week meant that I didn't rush out of bed to go and watch any of the Orange Parades. I would usually take some international volunteers to see one, which usually leaves my head spinning with a combination of flutes, drums and incessant questions, but this year I was spared all that, as someone else said they would take them. I did, however, have to deal with one Orange parade related question.

I flicked on the BBC coverage of the Belfast parade, with its surreal commentary comparing it to various world-famous carnivals like Rio's Mardi Gras, or Notting Hill, without the slightest trace of irony. Whilst watching it, my eldest son emerged from his mini-aestivation and asked why all the Orangemen on parade had LOL on their collarettes and banners? He would, of course only use LOL in its text-speak sense of "Laugh out loud", a usage that I stubbornly refuse to adopt. So, I explained that this stood for Loyal Orange Lodge...

But it reminded me that my sons are growing up in a different world from the one I grew up in...

When I was a child the 12th was the second best day in the year after Christmas... My birthday is the 10th July, but I always looked forward to the 12th rather than my birthday... It was a day of real celebration... a day out for the whole community (we didn't get out much)... From I was no age I carried the string on the banner of LOL 1003 Harkness Memorial which belonged to No. 6 District Ballymacarrett, walking the full way from Templemore Avenue to Finaghy, where the field was at first (later Edenderry) and back... often dancing and skipping along the road, no matter what the po-faced stewards said. We were rewarded with a picnic lunch in the field: sandwiches wrapped up in greaseproof paper - cooked ham, corned beef or tongue (can't remember the time I had a tongue sandwich) or brown or white, with or without mustard, and a cup of pre-sweetened tea. Then when we got home we would adjourn to Megain Memorial Presbyterian Church Hall for a salad tea, followed by apple or rhubarb pie and cream. They were happy times. With lots of laughing out loud.

But in the eighties I gradually became alienated from it all. Partly because of my own faith journey and my studies of the history and politics of Ireland. I could not reconcile the Chrisitan claims of Orangism with the practice of most of its members, and the trappings which were not simply a celebration of Protestantism, but explicitly anti-catholic and highly political, reinforcing the sectarian divides of this land. Some of my family continued (and continue) to be actively involved, but a number came into conflict with the radicalised political direction that the Orange was taking, and the rise of paramilitary influenced (if not directly linked) bands exacerbated that sense of alienation. A 12 year gap because I was living in Scotland and later ministering outside Belfast, meant that by the time I saw the Belfast parade again it was completely unrecognisable from my rose-tinted memories. The lodges were smaller and fewer, the pipe, brass and accordian bands had almost entirely disappeared (though I didn't lament the loss of the latter of those three), and "kick the Pope" flute bands were omnipresent... Whilst the music was rousing, 2 hours of it left me feeling that it was being played inside my head! And their demeanour left me sharing the sentiments of the Duke of Wellington on reviewing his troops (in rough paraphrase) "I don't know what they do to the other side, but they scare the hell out of me!"

Anyway, the 12th will always form part of my psychological DNA, and there are certain aspects of the history and traditions that should not be forgotten, but I doubt that I will ever recover that same sense of joy that I had about this day when I was a boy.

But it would certainly help if everyone involved wasn't so grim-faced about the whole thing... Maybe it's time for the Loyal Orange Lodges to LOL...

ps. To be fair, having just watched the BBC NI news, it seems as if many of the country parades (complete with lambeg drums, pipe bands and other relics of bygone days of yore) were a lot less po-faced and more imaginative than the Belfast one has been of late. However, I'm not too sure how the Disney Corporation will take the use of Mickey (did no one see the irony here?) and Minnie Mouse heading up the Hillsborough parade with that other ripped-off cartoon character Diamond Dan or Bootleg Billy as he was known for a while... at least until the £86 rights fee was paid. You've got to laugh...



Sunday, July 11, 2010

Flaming Zigguarats!

In response to my post about bonfires last year, my colleague Nick McKnight made the comment that bonfires always reminded him of the Tower of Babel...
There's something to be said in that, both in form and symbol... They are one of the clearest markers of community division in Northern Ireland... Not only between Protestant and Catholic, but also between "working class" and middle class Protestants... Indeed my son asked me only last week why we didn't have a bonfire in the area where we live, while there are many in the estate where I work?
This year, the chaotic state of the bonfire site closest to our church is also symbolic of the chaotic state of the loyalist community... Over the past few years it has been well marshalled and organised... This year the debris has been scattered across the local green for months, with people from far and wide, many of whom will never go near a bonfire on the 11th night, dumping all kinds of rubbish... much of which would poison anyone who tried to burn it.
People dumping on loyalist communities then standing at a safe difference as everything goes up in flames... maybe that's symbolic too...
ps. Prof. Billy McWilliams offers his own unique Ulster Scots perspective on bonfires in Nick McKnight's neck of the woods here.
pps. This was drafted long before last night's little spat between local rioters and police, linked with recent weapons finds in the area and reported refusal by the police to let the local refuse tip/bonfire to be lit.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Only Good Samaritan...

This Sunday those who follow the lectionary will travel down that well worn road from Jerusalem to Jericho in the company of the so-called "Good Samaritan". What follows is a short excerpt from a longer show entitled "I Witness" which I wrote a number of years ago for New Irish Arts. It looks at this all too familiar story through the eyes of Simon, the Samaritan who had suffered from leprosy before Jesus healed him and nine others, and Jacob, a Pharisee.

Simon: Jesus healed me of leprosy… But he didn’t heal me easily of my prejudices… I was still suspicious of Jews… Just as Jews are of us…
Jacob: I have nothing against Samaritans… as individuals… But they are heretics… sadly misguided…
Simon: Even his disciples didn’t like us much… Apparently on one occasion, some of my countrymen weren’t very hospitable to them on the way to Jerusalem, and they were all for calling down fire from heaven to wipe the offending village off the map… I never heard they so keen to wipe out the many Jewish villages who would not open their doors to them… But he didn’t seem to share any of the age old prejudices…
Jacob: I’m not prejudiced… But on the one occasion I asked him a direct question, he launched into one of his ridiculous stories, this time with a Samaritan as a hero…
Simon: One of the Pharisees asked him: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jacob: First he tried to dodge the question by answering with another question “What is written in the Law?”
Simon: This one really knew his stuff… He immediately quoted the two great commandments in the Law:
Jacob: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I had been over the same ground with other rabbis…
Simon: The master seemed to be impressed and said “Correct! Do that and you will live.”
Jacob: But I wasn’t going to let him off that easily, so I asked him, “And who is my neighbour?” And that is where he told the story of some idiot who was walking through bandit country between Jerusalem and Jericho…
Simon: The man was ambushed and robbed, stripped, beaten and left for dead…
Jacob: A priest and then a levite happened to be passing by… They must have been as mad as the first man… But they weren’t stupid enough to stop, for fear of ending up the same way…
Simon: But then came a Samaritan, who tended to the man’s wounds, got him to a place of safety and paid for his board and lodgings while he was recovering… Then the master asked the Pharisee “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
Jacob: And I said “The one who had mercy on him.”
Simon: He couldn’t even bring himself to say the Samaritan…
Jacob: But what did that prove… How likely was that to happen?
Simon: A Jew telling a story in which there is a good Samaritan…
Jacob: The only good Samaritan I have ever heard of…

ps. Kim Fabricius has quite an interesting take on the same passage over at Connexions...