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!

the price of swedes


I’ve been wondering a lot about the price we put on things ever since I noticed that my local supermarket had swedes aka turnips on sale for 29c each.

Anyone who has ever grown anything in their garden knows that a swede is worth far more than 29c.

They’re in the ground for up to 6 months.
They’re spaced about 23cm apart so if I grew them in one of my veg beds (3m x 1.2m), spent 6 months weeding, watering, looking after them from seedling to plate I’d have about 48 turnips.

48 turnips x  €0.29 = € 13.92.

That’s €13.92 for
preparing the ground,
making sure that the soil is good and healthy,
paying for seeds,
thinning out seedlings,
pest control,
harvesting them and to make sure that at there is something for us to eat some day in February.

I’d have been trying to grow my swedes in a way that was proper and good, that made sure that the soil was being looked after, that nature wasn’t being harmed.

That is just for doing all that 4 metres from my back door.

If I was to do all that then get them to a market to sell and charged €1.45 (like one of the local organic farms do) what are people who have been buying turnips for 0.29c going to think?

They’re probably going to think my swedes are expensive and over priced.
Why would you pay €.29 when you can pop up to Aldi and buy 5 times as many?

From my experience of growing vegetables €1.45 is an entirely fair price for growing swedes in the right way.
My homegrown 48 swedes would probably be worth something between €13.92 and €70. But I don’t have to pay employees or transport costs to market. I’d say that I could probably grow 48 swedes over the next year for about 5 hours work. Maybe that is an underestimation/overestimation. I would need more than an 1.5hrs though which is what it works out for a €0.29 swede.

In another example of  stupid pricing people who wanted to watch men violently beat the lining out of each other on TV screens in the name of ‘entertainment’ will happily spend between $50 -55.
I have no idea if those figures are right.

But if Conor McGregor  doesgets paid between $5-7 for each pay per view for trying to smash somebody’s face in (or getting his face smashed in) in the name of Saturday night entertainment while farmers are being squeezed to accept low prices for FOOD what does that say about moneys ability to put a true value on things?

church business

Business speak when applied to churches does my head in a bit.
Phrases like ‘strategic’,’implementation’, ‘organization’. Other words as well.

Words like ‘training’ or ‘resources’.
I hate when Christian stuff is turned into a business.

So whenever I have to pay to listen to a sermon someone has given I don’t go near that sermon. What are you doing? Either don’t put the sermon up or else stop making money out of the Gospel.

Leave a donate button and explain that of course it is free but if you’d like to leave a donation to put towards the cost of web hosting etc grand.

Pastors who run online courses that will show you how to unleash power that will change communities etc for hundreds of £’s do my head in. What is that all about?

A Bible app (which I’ve now uninstalled) kept pushing for me to update to a special version that had extra material or something…I don’t even know what it was offering I was so busy uninstalling it.

Another thing I hate is stupid Christian conferences that tell people to book early as places are limited. Making it into a competition to get on something that is supposed to build people up as a Christian?
I understand that there is only a certain amount of people that a venue can accommodate but still. Can you run the same event again until everybody is accommodated?

Making Sense of the World

I’ve been making big maps the past week or two.

I think that it is an attempt to make sense of the world I live in, to nail something about it down so I can look at it and touch. Perhaps it makes me think I’ve some measure of control on it or something like that?

Today I was working on an A0 sized world map marked with musicians/bands from every country.


It is my favourite map so far…not because of anything I’ve done but simply because I’ve been listening to new music from every corner of the planet. Here are 5 tunes I’ve enjoyed listening too so far..

1 Pierre Akendengu (Gabon)

2 Hukwe Zawose (Tanzania)

3 Shoukichi Kina (Japan)

4 Huun-Huur-Tu (Tuva, part of Russian Federation)

5  Los Vikings (El Salvador)


Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right

The wind is beating the trees behind the house and it’s raining.
Still I’m sitting in a nice warm living room in a house built from mortar and brick. My home hasn’t just been flattened by a digger thousands of miles away from the place that was truly home.

I was listening to Blind Willie Johnston singing this gospel song last week.
Blind Willie is preaching the gospel. Preach it Willie!

‘Well all of us down here are strangers,none of us have no home
Don’t ever hurt, oh, your brother and cause him to live all alone

Everybody ought to treat a stranger right, a long ways from home
Everybody ought to treat a strange right,a long way from home..’