Tommy Bowe

irelands-tommy-boweIt’s hard to believe that Ireland have beaten England in six of their last seven matches. But they have! From an Irish perspective, this season of rugby can be counted a success because of today’s 20-16 win over England. And with the last two matches of the Six Nations Championship at home in Dublin, who knows, but Ireland might have a very successful season once again.

Today’s win was secured by two great tries from former Ulster player, Tommy Bowe. It was Tommy’s clinical finishing that made the difference between the two teams, and he took his opportunities well. There was something particularly sweet about the way he drifted past Wilkinson for the final try.

Rory Best, restored to full fitness, had a good all-round game. He managed to play for the full 80 minutes, and was very busy all over the park. It was good to see Andrew Trimble make an important contribution in defence in the last quarter of the game when Brian O’Driscoll had to come off with concussion. Maybe Declan Kidney will restore Andrew to the starting line-up for one of the last two matches of this championship. With Keith Earls scoring such an excellent try, it would seem that his place is secure.

So, apart from any debate about the relative performances of the two teams, it was a case of Ireland winning by 3 tries to 1. Tonight we are celebrating a great win!

A brief theology of anger

angryOne of the better messages that arrives in my in-box each week is Friday Night Theology from Evangelical Alliance. It’s a brief reflection, from an evangelical perspective, on some current issue, and I usually find it very helpful because it is an attempt to relate biblical truth and theology to our contemporary situation.

This weekend’s offering is a reflection on anger. It caught my attention because moderators and pastors, a bit like rugby or football referees, are sometimes the recipients of angry comments. I don’t need to elaborate on the range of issues that ignite the anger of my correspondents. The important question is: Is their anger justified? How should I respond? What positive outcome can there be to their anger? Does the fact that they have over-stated their grievance, or expressed themselves badly, negate their main point?

I also have to admit that recently I, too, have been feeling angry a bit more often than usual. The question is: Is my anger appropriate or not? This article suggests that the key difference between good anger and bad anger is what our anger leads to. If it has a positive outcome, then it’s OK to get angry. But if it is purely selfish, and people are crushed or hurt by my anger, then it’s sinful. That’s a good point which is worth making, and one which I need to listen to. Continue reading “A brief theology of anger”

The Treasury

imgp1573One of the purposes of this blog is, as the actual word “blog” indicates, to be a web-based log of my travels and activities during this year. The Presbyterian Mutual Society saga is well-documented elsewhere, not least in the local press here in Northern Ireland, and I don’t need to add to all that has been written already. But I think it’s important to record my visit to Her Majesty’s Treasury this week as part of the continued effort to see the PMS crisis resolved.

I was aware that I was entering a very different world to the one I normally inhabit. As we were escorted along the corridor to the office of Dr Ian Pearson, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, one of my colleagues whispered loudly, “the corridor of power”. Apart from 10 Downing Street, we were in probably one of the most powerful locations in the UK where key decisions are made that affect the lives of so many people, in the UK and farther afield.

The Treasury website describes significant ways in which it has acted to help financial institutions like Northern Rock, as well as its work in addressing the global problem of debt relief. And it is the same Treasury which is reported to have allowed massive bonuses to be paid to executives in RBS, the bank that failed and that needed vast amounts of money from the Treasury to survive.

Our mission to the Treasury was to seek support for the PMS. In view of the bail-outs of other financial institutions, and the permission to pay such huge bonuses to the executives of a failed bank, one might have expected that the PMS case be given favourable consideration. We presented our case as best we could, but left without having resolved the issues, or having received any firm assurances. As I write, the goal of rescuing the PMS is still not achieved.

Nonetheless, I want to record my visit to the Treasury, but I don’t think it will feature as one of the highlights of this year. The dull and grey picture associated with this post accurately reflects the mood I felt that wet afternoon.

Faithful Admonisher

picture-of-seamus-heaneyA good friend of mine has been corresponding with Seamus Heaney. As a result of his engaging and entertaining epistles, the great man signed a copy of one his poems as a gift for me. The poem is entitled “A Drink of Water” and I have been thinking about the meaning and significance of this sonnet.

I have no formal training in English literature, although anyone who professes to exegete and apply the literature of the Bible, and especially the poetic literature of the Old Testament, clearly needs some expertise in literary analysis. Maybe someone can help me understand the point that Heaney is making in this poem.


She came every morning to draw water
Like an old bat staggering up the field:
The pump’s whooping cough, the bucket’s clatter
And slow diminuendo as it filled,
Announced her. I recall
Her grey apron, the pocked white enamel
Of the brimming bucket, and the treble
Creak of her voice like the pump’s handle.
Nights when a full moon lifted past her gable
It fell back through her window and would lie
Into the water set out on the table.
Where I have dipped to drink again, to be
Faithful to the admonishment on her cup,
Remember the Giver fading off the lip.

Apparently, like many sonnets, “A Drink of Water” turns in the last six lines. Instead of describing a morning, it switches to evening. The profound meaning for the speaker of this individual woman and her daily routine has not yet been explained, and so the point is made at the end.

When the full moon is out, the speaker thinks of this particular woman. Something about her haunts him, and something about her makes him remember her. One commentator says this:

In the last three lines, the latent power of water as an image becomes obvious. Water carries religious overtones, with immersion rituals in particular, as the verb “dipped” suggests. Water is frequently associated with purification, and something about this woman’s water ritual offers the speaker both “admonishment” and purification. Something about her reminds him of sin and the need to erase it. However, the meaning of the old woman is still ambiguous.

In the last line, the power of this lone old woman getting her water is finally explained. Her cup had a phrase on it — “Remember the Giver.” Who the Giver is, of course, is the immediate question. Who gives water, who gives life? These questions might refer to God. However, in Heaney’s unique context of an Irish poet writing in English, it is possible that the “Giver” is England, the source of the words he uses as tools to create a self. Like a man dependent on God’s water for survival, for the gift of life, this is the tale of a poet dependent on a ruler for the

gift of language and the sustenance of words.

I must say that I appreciate, and can grasp, the spiritual and religious explanation. It is a well-known biblical metaphor. God is the Giver of water, and the Giver of life, and the water which Jesus gives satisfies our deepest thirst. That is a truth that many may be inclined to forget, and it is the task of all “faithful admonishers” to underscore it.

It is also true that “faithful admonishers” who enter the pulpit every Lord’s Day need to be experts in the use of language as they seek to bring comfort and challenge to their congregations. Clear, creative and careful use of words is the challenge facing every preacher.

Those “words of life” which they share with their congregation also find their origin in the One who is Himself “The Word”.  If the words of the preacher are to have any effect in the lives of his hearers, then it is because the message is delivered in dependence on the One who alone can give life. “Faithful admonishers” need to “remember the Giver”.

There’s a lot going on in this poem by Seamus Heaney. I think I may need more help in trying to exegete it. But, once framed, I will treasure it and it will find its place on my study wall.

Postscript: I wrote to Seamus Heaney to inquire if my exegesis of his poem might be legitimate, and I got a lovely reply from him.

I always took the Giver to be the Lord God – I’d presumed the old lady got the cup/mug on some excursion in her early days to Portrush or Portstewart.

Thanks, Seamus. It had to be an “excursion” and not just a day trip.


img_0093It’s called Snob-logs and it’s to be found on the main Belfast-Larne road close to Bruslee. The Garden Centre is Logwood Mill, and Snoblogs is the coffee shop and restaurant which is part of the garden centre, run by Jim and Amanda, and their business partner, who is also called Amanda.

I was there last Saturday morning for a men’s breakfast with members of First Ballyeaston congregation as well as a few visitors from other congregations in the East Antrim area. It was a great meal. I reckon that, for lots of reasons, one should only eat a full Ulster fry now and again. But it has to be one of the most tasty meals ever invented.

Even though I often travel that road from Belfast to Larne, I have never stopped at Logwood Mill. My experience last weekend has encouraged me to think again about calling in to see Jim and Amanda when I’m in that part of the world.

The gathering at Snoblogs gave me the opportunity to reflect on my days growing up in East Antrim, and especially to recall the influence which my father had on my life. My father, by his life, communicated what he really loved and what was most important to him, and significantly influenced my life. As fathers and grandfathers, we do the same to our sons.

Albert Schweitzer, the famous medical missionary, said, “Example is not the main thing in life — it is the only thing.” He might have overstated it a bit, but it is undoubtedly true that most of us have been influenced most by the actions of others than by their words. So, on reflection, calling in at Snoblogs regularly  for an Ulster fry may not be my best option. I wonder if they serve green tea and a wee salad?