long nights

It’s one of the darkest for longest days of the year.
There is a storm in the garden.
The sun isn’t up yet.
I’m in the dark.

When I was a bit younger I used to feel like it was easier to be honest with other people about how I was really doing inside.
10 years ago I used to write songs about what was going on inside me and express things that way. If it was self absorbed like a teenagers journal I didn’t care, I just wanted to get it from inside me and out instead of absorbing it into myself.

Then I moved to Belfast. I never wanted to go and perhaps I ended up resenting it a bit. I hoped that although I knew it would be difficult that I’d settle in the church and area and grow to love it.
I never did.
Things went the other way. I found the Lagan Valley dark and cold, gloomy and grey. One of my first experiences of Lisburn was going to get my hair cut and the hairdresser taking the piss out of my hair and sneering.

Nowadays I don’t feel that I can express myself with honesty. It’s like you have to bury how you’re really feeling or doing.

Firstly I’m more aware of being married, that I might be dragging someone else into proceedings if I write a song that says how I’m doing. 10 yrs ago I wasn’t married so an honest song wasn’t so tangled up in another relationship. And other relationships like family members.

Then I’ve taken onboard church family.
10 years ago I wasn’t married to the minister of a church. So if church and Christianity is doing my head in it’s not as easy as writing a blog and saying what’s annoying me. You’re suddenly married to the person who most likely has to deal with the stuff you might be moaning about or find difficult. You don’t want to make their life more difficult or complicate things by saying what you find difficult .

You are also more aware of people getting older and how the responsibility of being a mature voice or example might now fall on you. You might feel like there is an onus on you to be a tower of strength or to make sure people get through things as you’ve been blessed by people being that way to you and now it’s time to give something back. So perhaps you ‘suck it up’ a bit because you think that it have to be strong for the sake of other people who seem to be having a tougher time.

What do you do though when you feel weak and inept? Or when you’re aware of being all over the place and just about coping and that you haven’t even had things that bad happen.
I’m aware that I haven’t had to cope with a lot of personal tragedy in my life. So the question I ask myself is how I will cope when it does happen. If I feel this inept so far how will I cope when the hard things come?

It’s one of the darkest for longest days of the year.
There is a storm in the garden.
The sun isn’t up yet.
I’m in the dark.

We Couldn’t Imagine What it Was (Illinois)


Last night there was a mysterious and beautiful triangle of stars over Galway Bay, hanging above the Aran Islands or Black Head, mysterious lights in the southern sky that had me wondering as I was wandering.

Saturn, Mars and Antares.

I’d been thinking about 3 lights all week as I’ve been re-engrossed by Sufjan Stevens Illinoise album all over again.
I’ve been making a lot of US state maps and when I came to Illinois  put on the headphones while painting.
illinois Making the map made me appreciate anew what an amazing album this is. It’s actually an amazing work of creative art in my opinion. Playful and joyful, sad and serious, a bit barmy and silly puns in places, like short stories sung. It’s  uncomfortable listening to songs about child killers as well but you’ll find yourself singing along.

The music can be a bit juddery and stop start but there is a bit on the second track that makes me smile every time. The horns or whatever they are keep building up and sound to me like it’s going to turn into the theme music of ‘Ski Sunday’ or ‘Rainbow’.
It’s a bit of a mysterious album. Where did it come from? What’s it trying to say?

The opening track about a UFO sighting near Highland, Illinois is as mysterious to me as the stuff he is singing about. What did people see? What was going on? What sort of way is this to start an album?
But whenever I hear words like incarnation and stories of stars I’m taken back to Christmas and a different sort of mystery taking form and shape. Yet that is mingling with some sort of mysterious UFO sighting. What’s he saying?

Anyway, it’s the sort of  infectious creativity that I’m drawn to and like to draw to.
I doodled the picture last week before the clouds parted and I noticed the 3 mysterious lights in the sky over Galway Bay last night. So now I’m wondering if it’s linked. Am I being whispered to or am I just noticing things that have always been there?

When I was walking home the other night along a dark path there was a man silently sitting on a rock looking out across the sea and toward the sky. He seemed to be embracing the beauty and mystery whereas my immediate reaction was to find out what the stars were from Google Sky Map or to blog about my experience (like I’m doing now) or thinking about something I could make.
I wish I had the patience and peace to sit out and pray silently a bit more, to be at peace without thinking how I could use this experience for something or how that moment could be added to that thing to make something. I wish that I was less addicted to the light of these glowing glass rectangles and could embrace the mystery and silence a bit more. Maybe a bit like it says in Psalm 131.

‘I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.’

dividing walls

Do you remember that time Ian Paisley rocked up to the European Parliament to heckle the Pope? Maybe you’re too young so here is the Youtube clip

I would have been 10 yrs old at the time and this is my earliest memory of the European Union.

Growing up in rural Ulster I can’t think of any time that I met someone from another European country. There might have been families involved with the British Army so a few English accents around but  no French, German, Spanish that I remember.

Countries like Poland or Romania were still Communist so there where certainly no eastern European accents.

It was just the United Kingdom that mattered really,  identity was defined by people hanging out the Union Jack around the 12th, things such as visits from members of the British Royal family, TV from the BBC, history that focused on British aspects more than Irish. I remember going to Donegal and Rosnowlagh as a kid so I did go over the border for a trip or two but I wasn’t exposed to anyone from another culture than my own for most of my childhood.

(When I say culture I don’t even mean people in my area because if they happened to be Roman Catholic we had no dealings with them either….)

It was sheltered.
Not necessarily out of choice because these where the days before Ryanair  and budget airlines and cheap flights to places all over Europe.
It was the days before we all had these computers linked together with the internet.
If you’re from Northern Ireland it was the days of border checkpoints and British Army watchtowers, Chinook helicopters letting the Parachute Regiment out in fields around Tyrone,terrorist attacks, bombs under cars.

Now look at us!

Although there are hard line Republicans out there who still want to cause mayhem it’s not a nightly occurrence to read about some death and families grieving after another bomb goes off.

And sure isn’t that great?
You can drive over the border without members of the British security forces checking under your wheel arch. You don’t see or hear the Puma, Chinook, Gazelle, Wessex flying around.
There are two different countries but it’s like we’re friends who trust each other a bit more.

I know there are lots of reasons for the Good Friday agreement but I think a part of it had to do with us realising there was more to the world than us thanks to globalisation. I don’t know what I mean by globalisation except a sense that the world has become smaller and more interconnected which means there is more to the world than being Unionist or Republican.
People could afford to go on holidays to other parts of Europe instead of the caravan up in Portrush. Maybe we started seeing workmates from Poland or Portugal. The internet means we can see Youtube clips from all over the world. All the TV channels have now!

So that is one of the reasons I am upset about the EU Referendum and people who want to leave.  I think that it’ll put barriers up between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland when we’ve had enough of that already. Our island has been divided by so much over the centuries that to harden a border at a stage when we’ve been getting on so well isn’t a good idea.

Of course the EU is far from perfect. Far far from perfect.

But the people leading the charge for leave the EU don’t seem to me to be perfect. Did people not notice the cruelty of some of those Tory leaders the last few years?

The scary thought though is that people actually did see the cruelty of some of those leaders and think that they’re right.

I find nearly every reason given for those wanting to remain to jar with thinks I think about life (though fail to live up to)
Almost all of it seems to be driven by a selfish desire to make Britain First (a bit like Donald Trump wanting to make America Great Again). They want to be able to make their own trade deals with other countries free from interference from Europe and do what’s  right by the British people.

I get why a non-Christian would want to do that, but as a Christian I don’t see how I am supposed to favour any nation above another. Complicated though it is to get my head around I should be just as concerned about the welfare of people in Hungary, Greece, Austria than the people in my own country. Because my primary citizenship is as a member of the Kingdom of God.

As member of the Kingdom of God I have been charged with being a peacemaker  ‘and if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone’ as the Bible says

How many times have I prayed for things to be on earth as they are in heaven?
I heaven I can’t see how there will be any borders, fences, checkpoints, dividing walls between people. I know this is a fallen, broken world and things are far from ideal.

But if there is a democratic choice between building up a border and keep it relatively open what should a Christian do?

A couple of years ago my neighbour built up this wall between his garden and ours so that I couldn’t see into his garden.

He didn’t ask for permission, he waited until he was on holidays and then his builders came into our garden, stood on my vegetable patch and made a sort of Berlin Wall between us.

I was so mad at the time because it seemed to me that he was ruling out any sort of relationship with me.
It seemed like he wanted to live in his little kingdom without interference from people he didn’t think he should have to have a relationship with. It was as if I was below him, that he was OK without having me in his life.Of course he didn’t have to ask for permission or say what he was planning to do because he was within his rights to build it.

His wall changed our relationship and now I avoid gardening when they are out in case I lash out at him. I should forgive and move on over such a small matter…but it’s symbolic to me of something deeper. It seems nobody wants to be a good neighbour anymore, we’re all too busy looking after our own patch.

And in my view the world is a more poorer, angrier place because of the walls we build.


I just want to be friends with you

I’m awake now during moon time. I’ve investigated the slightly red star to the south and have nailed it down as Mars.So not a star but a planet.
I’ve been sleeping much better since moving down to Galway but every once in a while I get the midnight munchies and the mind is restless. Then a blog might appear.

So what is my restless mind thinking about at the moment?

I’m thinking about how I don’t want to compete. I want to co-operate and build, to encourage and live gently.
I say this on restless nights. We live in an economic system that is designed to be competitive and push us all the time. People, companies, brands, pubs, shops, websites compete for our attention and devotion, for our money.

It pushes us so that we don’t have to time to realise that life doesn’t have to be this way. Society doesn’t have to be this way.

The words of Bob Dylan track that I had somehow never heard before caught me off guard today. I just want to be friendly with you baby!*

‘I ain’t lookin’ to compete with you
Beat or cheat or mistreat you
Simplify you, classify you
Deny, defy or crucify you
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

No, and I ain’t lookin’ to fight with you
Frighten you or tighten you
Drag you down or drain you down
Chain you down or bring you down
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you’



Spring in Your Step

10 years ago or so I decided I’d like to try to write/record a song  based on every species of bird I’d seen in Ireland.

I’m not really sure why.

I hate singing in front of other people.
I don’t like people looking at me and I don’t like the sound of my voice.
I don’t think I can sing. My melodies are boring.
I get embarrassed by people bringing music up.
Sometimes people will ask if I’m doing any music and I’ll try to quickly change the subject. A nightmare for me would be if I recorded some music and it became popular or something.

So I’m not really sure why every so often I’ll do what I’m doing now and put some music I’ve recorded up on the internet.It doesn’t really make sense to me.

Perhaps it’s like people who take on challenges like running a marathon when they hate jogging or doing a parachute jump when they hate heights? Maybe its like trying to conquer the fear of what other people think off you?Maybe it’s just a desperate attempt to try and grab attention?Is it just some kind of ‘publish or perish’ drive where you have to make something new or else you don’t feel like you?

As I mentioned a few posts back the idea behind these songs was that I was going to try and record some music each Day between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday.I had tried something similar during Lent a few years back.

They had been songs of Lament and I found it hard going.

There had been a terrible tsunami in Japan.

Worse there had been a tragic accident with a kid I used to know.I always wanted to try and balance it out by doing the same with Easter (like NT Wright saying that Easter Sunday should be the start of a party).This year it seemed like a good time to try it.Then I got a sinus infection and that sort of stopped the momentum.Still I got some songs based around some of the birds I’ve spotted in the garden.

I don’t know how much you’ve got to accept who you are and have been made when it comes to making any sort of art.Do you try to rise above your tendency to be melancholic and try to write more upbeat songs of you thing that the world needs to hear more songs about hope and joy?
Or another way of putting it is do you just try to write the album or song you’d like to listen to?

Do you try to write the book you’d like to read or paint the  pictures  you’d like to look at?

Is that a self absorbed and curtailed vision or does the world need to hear things the way you hear things and see things the way you see them?

Or does serving other people mean you put aside your vision try to write the song you think they  need to hear or would give them pleasure to listen to?


never write someone off..

I could write a thousand blog posts on this years Premier League. It was enthralling. Maybe I will write a few blog posts. But for now I am reminded to never write someone off.
Cast your mind back to the start when Claudio Ranieri was announced as manager of Leicester, Claudio who had been managing the Greece team that had been beaten by the Faroe Islands and subsequently been sacked. Was Claudio in charge when Norn Iron beat them?
Anyway, remember Gary Lineker (a man I find it hard to warm too..) tweeting:-

‘Claudio Ranieri? Really?’

And in fairness how many people agreed with Gary’ assessment?

This theme could continue for the months that followed. Leicester won’t last.
Even a few weeks ago pundits kept saying that Spurs would catch Leicester etc etc.

Now look at things. Claudio Ranieri *seriously* has just won the title with the 5000-1 shots.

If this is not a a lesson in not writing someone off I don’t know what is.

Which unfortunately can also work in a not a fairy tale, more an unfolding nightmare that gathers more darkness each day type of way.
I listened to more people, experts, pundits, political experts say that Donald Trump couldn’t be taken seriously, that he was a joke, that the wheels would come off any moment now.

But  never write someone off. Don’t be telling me that there is no way Donald Trump will win against Clinton. Because if Claudio Ranieri can win a Premier League title with a 5000-1 shots Donald Trump can become POTUS.
I wish the world was more Claudio than Donald.

easter rising

‘…unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’

So I thought that today of all days might be a good day to sow my first seeds of 2016. Good Friday, the day when Jesus ‘falls to the ground and dies.’ Sowing some lettuce or spring onion might be a small act that reminds me in time of self sacrificial love, of His death for the sins of the world, of something being buried in the ground but bringing forth new life and a harvest in time.

Those words of Jesus also got me thinking about these words he said:-

‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

And that in turn got me thinking about the Easter Rising and Easter, about self sacrifice and what it means to die for the sake of some bigger picture.

The main time I encountered these words as about the laying down of a life for friends was not to do with Holy Week but to do with British (and Commonwealth) Remembrance Sunday each November. It was the Sunday that we all pinned red poppies to suits and watched a wreath walked up the aisle. I think we sang the national anthem..
It was tied in with those who had paid the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ and gave up their lives for the freedoms that we now enjoy. It was an unearthly silence as we reflected on those who had died to serve their country, my country against another evil country.
In my memory it was the only day of the church calendar that seemed to rival Good Friday for seriousness and solemness.

In Northern Ireland there was an extra solemn dimension as we remembered members of the security forces who  had been murdered. That usually personally involved someone in church because so many had loved ones taken from them in cruel circumstances by men and women of violence. All of us from the north knew people in our community who had been personally wounded and scarred by terrorism. The hurt is tangible even as I think about it now.

It was clear in those days who our friends where and who the enemy was, who was right and who was wrong.

The thing isn’t so clear to me now.

Who are my friends that I would be willing to die for?
Who is my clan? What ethnic group do I belong to?
Am I Irish or British? Am  either?
Does loyalty to my countrymen trump other considerations?

A 100 years ago thousands and thousands of Ulstermen died in the trenches of the Somme. As a child in Tyrone these were my people, names on plaques in churches we worshipped in. They had died in tragedy, in rat infested trenches. I can’t imagine the horror these men suffered.

But who are my people now, where is my country?

Besides the question of which Kingdom a Christian has ultimate allegiance to living in Galway I am just as likely to know a Spanish man as a Northern Irish unionist.
Members of my primary community (the church I attend) are more likely to be from west Africa than west Belfast.

How do I remember something like the horrors of World War I as a European citizen?
How do I remember the horrors of World War II as global citizen?
Because I am just as likely to be good friends with a German or Austrian than a member of the Bristish Army
How do  remember the Easter Rising when I’m Irish in one sense, but not Irish in another sense?

When it comes to Northern Ireland I still think that people who maim and kill and destroy are murderers. There are absolutely no excuses for taking another life in violence circumstance.
But does it matter if someone kills and maims and destroys if they do because they have been ordered to do so by army generals and the government of a country compared to an act of terrorism?

If someone from IS indiscriminately goes into a airport lobby and massacres people that is a horrible act.

But why is it not a horrible act if someone from the US Air Force is sitting firing missiles by remote control at terrorists based on information from spies or electronic surveillance?

Is there ever such a thing a good violence?
Or is violence necessary in some instances?
Who decides when violence is necessary? The government? The majority?

(Every Easter as I read about the crowd calling for Jesus to be murdered I’m reminded that democracy and the will of the majority of people doesn’t mean that it is the right decision..)

What if the rulers are oppressive and heartless? Can act of violence be seen as regrettable but necessary but there was no other option?

Sacrificing your life for your friends doesn’t seem to me to be a necessarily noble thing in itself.

Look at the horrible acts committed by IS suicide bombers this week.

They are prepared to lay down their lives for their ‘friends’ and IS brothers. If the cause of their friends in IS will be furthered by them blowing themselves up and causing death they are prepared to do it.But sacrificing your life for your friends is the opposite of love in this instance. It’s a horrible act of hatred and destruction.

Closer to home what about the Easter Rising?

I  confess to not understanding much or anything about it. I don’t feel particularly comfortable with the nationalistic flag waving and promises of a celebration on Easter Monday at the local shopping centre.

What about that sense that these people where prepared to sacrifice their lives for their ‘friends’ ? They saw injustice and oppression and wanted to change it. Does it matter that they mightn’t have had many friends at the time? They still knew that the British would crush their rebellion.

What then about Allied bomber crews in World War II who put themselves in great danger and risk to drop bombs on civilians in Dresden? Was the laying down of their lives noble in that instance?

I guess that who  your enemy is and who your friend is depends on a lot of factors outside yourself.

If you are kid growing up in an area governed by IS and the threat of violence is hanging over your head each day, every day and if you don’t do what you’re told by those leaders in your community you’re going to get stoned you’re more likely to be a member of IS than not.
Or if you had grown up in Nazi Germany what would be the consequences for you or your family if you didn’t tow the party line? You’re likely to be coerced into becoming a Nazi.

Same if you grew up in a housing estate in Belfast and didn’t want to get involved in loyalism or republicanism. What if the paramilitaries in your area decided you should be involved or else?

I guess that my main thought walking home last night is how uncomfortable I am with the Remembrance Sunday, Union Jacks, poppies, national anthems in church around the 11th of November in churches in Northern Ireland.

If people from the north came down to a Presbyterian church on Easter Sunday and it had a an Irish flag flying with the congregation wearing Easter lilies, if the Irish national anthem was sung after the benediction had been given, if there was a minutes silence to reflect on the horrors of war and those Irishmen and women who had paid the ultimate sacrifice would that be OK?
I’m guessing that many would find it offensive. It would never happen though because it would seem nationalistic and patriotic and out of place with the Kingdom of God.

Yet if someone from the south of Ireland or Germany went to many Presbyterian churches in Northern Ireland on the Sunday  nearest the 11th of November they might hear ‘God Save the Queen’, see Union Jacks, have poppies being sold to raise money for the Royal British Legion etc and they would have to accept that this is the way things are, it is a day that is almost sacred and to be treated with the  utmost respect and gravity. And  that seems a little hypocritical to me.
If Irish flags in a church would seem offensive/provocative/insensitive down here why is it OK up there?

I guess the thing that is truly amazing about Jesus and Good Friday is that he lays down his life for his enemies!
He dies for people who hate him and want to see him violently exterminated. He is crucified by the Romans, the enemies of his people and instead of getting all nationalistic he forgives them. He doesn’t sacrifice his life only for his friends, but for people who hate him.
That is one of those completely counter-cultural, it doesn’t make any sense really unless there is something else going on types of things about Christianity that makes me believe there is something true and other-worldy about it all.

Where else are we told to love and lay down our lives for our enemies at the very core of the whole thing? Everything I’ve seen about this world outside of church says that we should obliterate and destroy our enemies. You don’t forgive them, your try to get even and take them down. You trust God to defeat death, evil and destruction and not our own strength. God defeats death and frees us to love, to love even our enemies!