A fair cop, guv

Well I have thunk my thoughts… Four Wednesdays in a row starting at what-in-the-world-o’clock for Thought For The Day live from the Beeb!

We covered subjects as diverse as lorrybridgeophobia, magical dishwashing pixies, horizontal trees and – today (introduced by Dock regular Chris Buckler!) – my criminal past.  Brace yourselves…

Have a guess if this statement is true or false: I’ve been in trouble with the law this past week. Now some of you are thinking – might be true, he sounds a bit dodgy. Some of you are thinking – never! that wee innocent minister with his Honesty Box cafe?

So let me give you the details: I was driving home, late at night. Long hard day at work, ready to collapse, but I realised I was about to run out of petrol. Just made it to the petrol station, and as I turned back out on to the main road there was a ‘No Right Turn’ sign. But there wasn’t a soul to be seen on the road at that hour of the night – so i turned right. And then – the dreaded flashing blue lights in my mirror.  Nicked, fair and square!

So what do you think now, True or false? I’m willing to bet you all believe now that it is a true story (and it is!) – and it’s the details that convinced you. The practical details – the long day, the late night, the petrol station, the road sign – but also the psychological details – you can put yourself in my shoes at the end of a hard day, weighing up the small risk of disobeying the sign against the strong call of a comfy sofa and a cup of tea.

That’s how we mostly decide if a story is true – when not just the physical practical details add up, but when it feels true psychologically, when people act and react in realistic ways.

The Easter story is the biggest ‘True or False’ in the whole of history. Did Jesus rise from the dead? – if it’s true, everything changes; if it’s false, we’ve wasted a lot of time and energy for the last 2000 years. But to me, the stories of the people who witnessed and walked through the first Easter absolutely have that ring of truth.

The physical details add up – the dates, the places, the timescales – but more than that, the people involved react the way I think I would react if someone who had died was alive again. There’s no sudden acceptance, no-one just says “oh! well that’s all right then”. We’re told that the women who find the empty tomb are “trembling and bewildered” and say nothing to anyone because they are afraid. Thomas demands physical proof, to touch the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and side. Even as Jesus barbecues breakfast on the beach, the disciples don’t dare ask “Is it really you?”

As the story progresses, as they become convinced, I become convinced. But in case I’ve lost all credibility now you know my criminal past, answer for yourself: Jesus is alive – death is defeated – love has won… amazing, shocking statements – can they be true?

Rising Stars

Our hopes were high… The Dock reached the finalist shortlist for the NI Rising Stars awards and we went along to the fancy awards shebang with fingers crossed.

But alas! this happened:

But hey! The Dock is FULL of rising stars and we don’t need some flipping award (mutter mutter) to tell us so…

For example, look at our amazing team of volunteers.  Over the last few weeks they have all given up an evening to attend one of Stevo’s fantastic in-depth training sessions – from how to make the perfect cup of Suki Tea, to what to say to a confused tourist who has never heard of an Honesty Box, to the intricate moods and whims of Doris the Dock Dishwasher… EVERYTHING was covered!

And look at the result… Dock Cafe is more welcoming, more cosy and more heavenly than ever – and every visitor always comments that it’s down to the cheery volunteers (who is the mystery “lovely older gentleman” – anyone want to claim that one!):

The volunteers also came up trumps again at A Night To Remember – the annual remembrance service to mark the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  Wild and windswept we gathered at 11:40pm on the slipways after an evening of storytelling and dramatic reconstruction of the Titanic story – so no candles this year (just mobile phone flashlights!), but the care and enthusiasm of the Dock volunteers held it all together.

And it’s not just the Cafe volunteers… I was with the Dock Market gang recently for their setup in the Odyssey Pavilion at the crack of dawn – how inspiring to watch them turn such a big space into a riot of colour, creativity and quirky originality.  Don’t miss the next Dock Market at the Odyssey on Sat 22nd April!

And finally (for now…) some of the unseen Rising Stars of the Dock: the Dock Angels, who have been steadily signing up ever since our birthday party back in March.   Dock Angels are people who support the Dock financially – whether through a one-off donation or a regular gift.

As the Dock shines brighter and brighter, we couldn’t survive without their support – and if you want to join them you can find all the details here.

Stars, every one of ya!  Now to put in a bit more practise at the “gracious loser face”…


Another Thought from the Brain Of Bennett… just in case you don’t listen to BBC Radio at 6:55 on Wednesday morning (and why on Earth not?!)

What’s your favourite beauty spot in Northern Ireland? We’re kinda spoilt for choice: Silent Valley, Strangford Lough, the Mourne Wall, the Giants Causeway (of course) but also all the little hidden gems around the North Coast like Dunseverick Harbour, White Park Bay and – one of my favourites – Murlough Bay just outside Ballycastle.

You need nerves of steel to get there by car: a tiny ribbon of bumpy track cuts precariously through the cliffs and plunges down towards the sea. Your brakes are steaming by the time you get to the bottom – and your engine is steaming by the time you get back up again. Every heart-stopping moment is worth it when you breathe in the wild, elemental landscape at the bottom of the track; it has a kind of savage, prehistoric beauty.

I was there last week and I couldn’t stop taking photographs of the trees. At Murlough Bay the trees grow horizontally rather than vertically – the fierce winds coming in from the sea obviously batter them and put such massive pressure on them that the branches claw away from the sea towards the land as if trying to escape – physical proof of the enormous stress of day after day being constantly blasted by the wind.

I think we are all living in days of enormous stress. Our uncertainty about our future in Northern Ireland is echoed by fear and disquiet around the globe. Any sense we once had that the world was gradually becoming a safer, happier and better place is being eroded and called into question. There are reasons to hope but also reasons to despair. And when you add the personal pressures and stresses we face on a daily basis – about money, health, relationships, being overworked and underpaid (aren’t we all?) – you can see why I was so drawn to those windswept trees at Murlough Bay and felt like they expressed something true.

But I found one tree right down by the water’s edge that was different. It actually had the most exposed position of all, should’ve been practically flat on its back. But the tree was so old, the roots were so deep that the pressures of the relentless wind could warp and twist a couple of the branches but couldn’t bend the core.

That’s what we need: Deep roots. When we’re under pressure, one of the first casualties can be time to nourish our souls. But every minute spent in prayer, in quiet, in nature or in good company can be vital root-deepening time in preparation for the next storm.


C’mon on in and have a look around!

How awesome is this!  Karl from 360Spaces has crated this virtual tour of Dock Cafe – so you can have a stroll around from the comfort of your armchair!

Of course the ultimate Dock experience is a cup of coffee in the real thing – but if you’re suffering from Dock Withdrawal Symptoms when you’re away from the Titanic Quarter, this is just the ticket!

The Six Days of (Dock) Creation

It’s five years since Dock Cafe opened its doors – five unforgettable, exciting, challenging, surprising, crazy years…

It has grown beyond our wildest dreams.  Nothing could have prepared us, back in the early days, for the amazing movement Dock Cafe has now become: over seventy volunteers, hundreds of customers every day, thousands upon thousands of conversations, catch-ups, prayers and pieces of cake…

But right at the start we knew it was something special.  Right from the moment that we were handed the keys to an empty shop unit, and a team of volunteers rose to the challenge of turning it into a cosy community cafe in just six days, ready for the arrival of Eamonn Holmes and the Songs Of Praise film crew.

So began the Six Days of Creation: