Sunday, October 21, 2007

False Accusations

One of the most hurtful things in life is to be falsely accused of something. Sometimes it happens as a result of a genuine misunderstanding and can be dealt with and set aside. In other situations allegations are made that are just lies - or that are a cynical and deliberately distorted version of the truth.

These things are of course nothing new. The Ninth Commandment that was carved by the finger of God into tablets of stone is "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness" (Exodus ch 20). [The photo here is of Charlton Heston as Moses in the 1956 movie]

The Louvin Brothers wrote a brilliant song about this called "That's All He's Asking of Me" back in the 50s. The vocals (Ira Louvin on lead, Charlie Louvin on high harmony) are close to perfect for the genre. A large proportion of the Louvin Brothers' material was gospel music, but Ira became an alcoholic - he was wracked with guilt because he believed that earlier in life God had called him to be an evangelist, but he turned his back on the calling. (You could argue that by becoming a gospel singer who had enormous secular success far beyond his own lifetime, Ira Louvin became a far more effective preacher, reaching maybe millions of people with his message, than if he'd become a pulpit-based preacher). Sadly Ira was killed in a car crash in 1965.

Some of the lyrics are:

"I have had my best friends to forsake me
And turn me away from their door
With a heart filled with hate they have judged me
And robbed me of treasures untold...

...oh they may hurt my name, but I will never cry
When they falsely accuse me - and others believe.
For they cannot change my record on high
And that's all that matters to me..."

Hope you enjoy the song - just press the play button below.

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Four Oul Songs

Continuing the music testing here with 4 songs once again digitised from old 78s that belonged to my great aunt Rhoda. The first two are from a 78 by a group called The Gleaner Quartet from Belfast, recorded during the 40s or 50s. They are both classic old hymns that you might know already:

The Gleaner Quartet - If We Never Meet Again

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The Gleaner Quartet - Victory In Jesus

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The second two are from a 78 by American duo The McCravy Brothers, once again this is one of Rhoda's old records. The significant aspect of this is that I can remember being taught both of these at Sunday School in Carrowdore Mission Hall by Rhoda, and singing them at the annual Sunday School Christmas Prizegiving - not as a solo, but with the rest of my Sunday School class. The McCravy Brothers are a pretty obscure American gospel duo so it's amazing that the record made its way to the Low Country at all! Absolutely BRILLIANT simple "brother duet" harmony singing, great banjo, and bell sound effects. I've left a crackly intro on all of these - I think it adds something to them

The McCravy Brothers - The Glorious Gospel Train

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The McCravy Brothers - Does This Train Go To Heaven

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Hope you enjoy these.

Test - The Muttonburn Stream

This is a test of a number of things:
1) posting music on the blog
2) digitising old 78rpm records
3) to see if I can share with you all the sort of traditional Ulster folk & gospel music I grew up with, and which is now in many cases long-disappeared.

This is a version of the old Ulster-Scots folk song "The Muttonburn Stream", written by William James Hume, about a wee river near Ballycarry in County Antrim, sung here by Richard Hayward (1892-1964). This is from a crackly old 78 that I digitised a few days ago.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007


Clarence Larkin's drawings and charts are never far wrong. "Feeling is the Fruit - not the Root - of Salvation". Feelings and emotions can take us away from the simplicity of the gospel message. Here's a personal example.

About 15 years ago when I was a student and living in a wee red brick terraced house in Belfast, one Sunday morning I got invited to go to a church I'd never been to before. It was the "cool church" of its generation, very trendy and groundbreaking. I'm sure there were and are some great people there. It still exists, but I'll not mention it by name. Bear in mind that this was in pre-"Ceasefire" Belfast, and the area the church was in was an interface flashpoint where tensions had been stoked up.

So... imagine my surprise when as the service got underway, they said that the "praise group" (which was then a very new concept to me!) was going to play the Orange song The Sash... but that they were going to "redeem" it.

I was baffled - what did this mean? How were they going to "redeem" The Sash? I waited...

For those of you who aren't from Northern Ireland, The Sash is normally performed in one of three ways:
- as a folk song
- by a flute or accordion marching band
- by football supporters (they were still allowed to sing it at football matches back then)

Nope, to "redeem" The Sash they were going to play it (and I quote) "as a slow Irish air". The aran jumper-clad fiddle and tin whistle players took to the stage, and closed their eyes as they swayed meaningfully to the strains of the tune being played dirge-like at about 1/3 of its usual pace and with all sorts of extra notes and "twiddly bits" added on. The sound was weird, my mind was boggling...

I was stunned. Not by the music, but by the misuse and devaluing of the idea of "redemption". You see, in the world I grew up in "redemption" is the singlemost important spiritual experience in our lives, the restoring of the relationship between God and humanity, through personal individual faith in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Redemption brings about forgiveness of sins (both past and future sins), brings a new nature (which from the point of salvation onwards is in a constant daily struggle with the old nature), leads to ongoing sanctification throughout our lives and results in eternity in the presence of God.

But, for these people in this trendy church, redemption was just another bit of "community relations" speak. Jesus Christ did not die on the cross to teach us to be nice to each other. "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" - Luke 19 v 10.

If anyone wants to redeem The Sash, or indeed any other secular song, they can do so by changing the words - from a story about an Orangeman going to Scotland and coming home again to Dromore - to a great old-time gospel hymn with the clear message of Christ and salvation at its core.

So years later, with this whole bizarre experience still ringing loud in my memory, the Low Country Boys redeemed The Sash on our first cd - we recorded the hymn "What a Friend We Have In Jesus" (written by Ulsterman Joseph Scriven) to its famous tune.

Don't get me wrong, improved community relations would be a good thing. I'm not criticising the people at that church - I'm sure they were motivated by the best of intentions, and in the few visits I made there I was warmly welcomed. But for me they missed the point. Redemption is our greatest spiritual urgency, it transforms lives. The results of real redemption are what the Bible calls "the Fruits of the Spirit" - Goodness, Meekness, Faith, Gentleness, Love, Joy, Temperance, Longsuffering, Peace. These are the characteristics of the redeemed Christian - you can read about them in Galatians chapter 5 v 22&23 - and every Christian should examine our lives to make sure we are daily living these out. That's the sort of redemption Northern Ireland needs. That's the message we should always try to present and proclaim.

Another Ulster-Scots hymnwriter, William J Kirkpatrick, co-wrote this hymn about redemption with Fanny Crosby:

"...Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child and forever I am..."

Goodnight Red Shipley

This name might not mean much to most of you Ulster readers, but will mean a lot to American gospel bluegrass fans. Red Shipley was the presenter of a fantastic gospel radio show in Washington DC called "Stained Glass Bluegrass" on the station WAMU 88.5FM. When Hilary and I were in DC in 1997 on our honeymoon, we listened to the programme absolutely spellbound - it was the perfect soundtrack to our Appalachian road trip. Red played loads of brilliant Country Gentlemen songs that day, and I bought 4 of their CDs as a result. I've bought many more since then!

It was a MASSIVE honour when he played the Low Country Boys version of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" on his show when we were at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival back in June/July. It's hard to explain what that meant to me. It's a bit like the gospel bluegrass equivalent of being on "Top of the Pops". I'm sure we have Mary Cliff to thank for that airplay - Mary was one of the presenters at the Festival, and a presenter at WAMU as well.

Red Shipley retired from the show in September, and sadly died earlier this month. Thanks to Denise Graveline for letting me know about his passing.

So in some ways it's significant for me that the man whose show inspired me so much back in October 1997 should both retire and then pass away in October 2007 - at the same time that I decide to take a year off from playing live so that I can have some more family time with Hilary and the kids. All good things must come to an end... for a wee while anyway.

"Some glad morning, when this life is o'er, I'll fly away..."

(PS: Stained Glass Bluegrass is now on Bluegrass Country - it broadcasts over the internet each Sunday afternoon (UK time), so if you register online you might be able to enjoy some good Scotch-Irish hillbilly gospel from our American kinsfolk as you clear up the Sunday lunch dishes!

The Broad Road

Was out last nicht wi' Loughries Historical Society in Newtown, doin a wee talk about King Robert the Bruce. He's probably Scotland's most famous king, who came to the Scottish throne thanks to the achievements of William Wallace (I'm sure you've seen Braveheart!). Bruce's mother owned huge estates in Co Antrim, his wife was the daugher of the Earl of Ulster, and his wee brother Edward became High King of Ireland. Bruce himself hid on Rathlin Island for about 6 months in 1306/1307. Another great Ulster-Scots icon.

Well, Mark Anderson was doin a great quiz showing oul photographs of streets in Newtownards, and the audience had to guess the name of the street. I got ZERO points! I had to explain that, being a country boy, I was at a great disadvantage in a street quiz. Ballyhalbert only has two streets, one along the shore and one that goes inland - even a blind man has a 50/50 chance when doing a Ballyhalbert street quiz!

One of the streets - Francis Street - used to be called "The Broad Road". When the question came up, nobody had a clue, but Jack answered "I don't know where it is, but it leadeth to destruction!" I had a great laugh at this - a quick scriptural quip always tickles me - it was of course a reference to Matthew 7 v 13 "...Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.."

It is sung about in an old old hillbilly song called "The Downward Road" - the chorus is "oh, the downward road is crowded with the unbelieving souls". Here's a quotation I found online about someone being convicted through the words of that old song:

"...Brother and Sister Ray seemed honest and so earnest in song, prayer, and preaching, I couldn't help admiring them for it. They sang, I remember now after twenty-two years, "Oh, the downward road is crowded with unbelieving souls." My hair would rise when they sang it, for I knew it was the truth and that I was on the road. And then they would pray and tell the Lord that the people were lost and how they wanted to see them saved, and would ask the Lord to convict them of sin.

I could see they were interested in me and I began to feel uneasy. The preaching was of such a nature that any one could understand it, and it brought up my past life and revealed the future so clearly that I decided to seek the Lord at the altar of prayer. The evening I made the decision..."

Here's a scan of an old evangelical tract from the 1970s (from my da's collection) depicting the Broad Road and the Pit of Destruction. I love this old evangelical "folk art" - if you have any similar examples please scan or photograph it and email it to me. I'll upload a few more soon.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Another Thousand Folk

Another month on the blog, and close to another 1000 visitors. Hope you're getting something helpful/useful from my ramblings!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets. (Luke 6 v 26)

You'd hardly believe it. Our trip to Auschwitz has sent me digging up some unbelievable information:

1. In 1938, Time Magazine's "Man of the Year" was.... Adolf Hitler!!

2. In 1939 AND 1942 Time Magazine's "Man of the Year" was.... Joseph Stalin!!

Can you believe that? Arguably the most prestigious news magazine in the World voted these two mass-murderers as "Man of the Year"?!! In the years following these dubious accolades, Hitler killed 11 - 14 million people; Stalin killed 20 - 30 million!! (stats from Wikipedia).

You really have to wonder what's going on in this bizarre world.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Scotland the Brave (aye, brave and close tae us!)

I've stolen this from Stephen Jamison's blog - a fantastic image. For those readers who are in far-flung places, this is the Ards Peninsula - the Low Country - and just across the narrow stretch of water is Bonnie Scotland. The distance across is just 18 miles from Donaghadee to Portpatrick, which was the main sea route between the two countries from 1606 until 1862.

At this point the shps were too big to get into the harbours, so a new route from Larne to Stranraer was established. Today, ferry operators (Stena Line and P&O) take about 1.5million people across the water every year. Donaghadee is close to the wee island you can see near the top of the Peninsula, and Portpatrick is about halfway down the Scottish peninsula opposite (its name is the Mull of Galloway)

When Sir Hugh Montgomery brought the first big Scots settlement across to Ulster in 1606 and established Newtownards, Scottish traders would come across every week on market day. They travelled over land to Portpatrick, loaded their goods onto boats, sailed to Donaghadee, loaded their goods onto horses and then went to Newtownards - and were back in Scotland by bedtime that same day.

And during the Covenanters' times of the late 1630s and early 1640s, many Ulster-Scots Presbyterians rowed across the water to attend church services in Scotland, and then rowed back to Ulster by bedtime.

(oh, to explain the title of this post, "Brave" in Ulster-Scots means something like "quite" or "rather", but with a positive/quirky inference. So "Brave and Close" in the title means "rather close")


Monday, October 08, 2007


This is a picture I took at Birkenhau concentration camp on Friday morning of last week. Birkenhau is 3km away from Auschwitz and is spread over 300 acres of land. 1.5 million people, the majority of them Jews, were exterminated here by the Nazis. And most of them got off the train just here.

I can't tell you what an profoundly moving experience our trip was. I can't explain what it was like to see mountains of shoes, of suitcases, of clothes, and even of human hair - preserved in the museum at Auschwitz. I can't articulate what is was like to step into a gas chamber, or how it felt to stand next to two ovens in one of the crematoria where tens of thousands of people were turned to ashes just because of their faith.

For all the rubbish that's being taked about a "conflict resolution centre" being built on the site of the former Maze prison near Lisburn here in Northern Ireland (which was a prison where terrorist criminals served out their sentences, and even at that in most cases only a very small portion of their sentences), a visit to Auschwitz puts our recent Troubles into stark perspective.

Our tour guide told us that only about 15% of the senior Nazis were ever convicted for their crimes. About the same percentage of terrorist murders in Northern Ireland were ever brought to (a degree of) justice.

The clear message of Auschwitz/Birkenau is that memorials are for the victims, not the perpetrators.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Goin tae Poland themorra

Me and Graeme are taking oor da - Eric - to Poland for a wheen o days. The new direct flights from Belfast International to Katowice make it handy, so we're stayin in a hotel in the middle o Katowice town itsel. We'll arrive there aroon midnight on Thurs night / Fri mornin.

The reason for goin is to take my da to see Auschwitz.

So it'll no be a happy trip, and I'm sure I'll hae thochts an comments tae blog aboot yince I get back hame again, but I'm looking forward to it. My da's had a fascination with, and deep sympathy for, the Jewish people all his life, so this is probably the trip of a lifetime for him. I've noticed throughout my 35 years that many Ulster evanglical believers have a real sense of spiritual connection with God's chosen people, and a deep sympathy for their plight and persecutions. It comes from being reared on generous helpings of the Oul Testament in between the tay an soda breid.

If it goes weel he's thinkin aboot takin ither folk on a repeat visit next year.

We'll be back in Belfast aboot 7.45 on Saturday night, and we're hopin to get doon the road to the monthly Saturday night Gospel Rally in Carrowdore Mission Hall, to tell everybody aboot the trip.


For those of you with a love of literature, here's an interesting book which draws parallels between the similar outlooks and worldviews of the Ulster-Scots folk, the Israeli / Jewish people, and the Afrikaaners in South Africa. (And before someone points out the obvious to me, yes I know that not all Jews are Israelis/Zionists and vice versa. And no, I'm not a "British-Israelite".)

From the endpapers: "...what developments in Northern Ireland and South Africa since the seventeenth century – and in Israel during the twentieth – have in common is that… the dominant peoples of these three nations have based a cultural identity on a belief in a direct covenant or contract with an all-powerful, all-knowing God…”