Couldn't have said it better myself...

"In an era of smart bombs, maybe the world needs more fools."

Shane Claiborne (The Irresistible Revolution)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Heroes and Villains, Saints and Sinners

Hero or villain. Saint or sinner. No. I’m not talking about Luis Suarez, but I’m a Liverpool fan, so you might guess my opinion there. How we define people often depends on our personal perspective and the truth is usually more complicated than such a simple definition. We in this province know that well, particularly in the messy business of making peace after a period of prolonged and profound conflict. (You just have to check out the responses to the presence of Martin McGuinness at the state banquet in Windsor Castle last week for evidence of that.)
This is Holy week, the run-up to Good Friday, where we reflect on the price Jesus paid to make peace between us and God, followed by the resurrection joy of Easter Day. Personally I’m fascinated by the characters we’ve traditionally portrayed as villains in the Holy Week story. Judas Iscariot - wondering what his motivation was for betraying his teacher. Was it all just a matter of money or something else? Pilate, the ultimate populist politician, bowing to the will of the baying crowd then literally washing his hands of the consequences. And Caiaphas, the High Priest, the religious leader who said it was better that one man die, rather than allow the whole nation to perish. 
A late friend of mine called Caiaphas “the patron saint of the peace process” because of his cynical pragmatism, but he might easily share that title with Judas, or Pilate. Money, short-term populism AND political pragmatism have all played their part since the signing of the Good Friday agreement just over 16 years ago. We ARE in a better place than before it, but what has flowed from it has not been unalloyed good, and as of yet we haven’t really moved on as a people from the pain of Good Friday to the hope represented by Easter day…
But instead of Caiaphas as the patron saint of our peace process, perhaps a more positive role model might be the saint who is venerated today in the French Catholic church… St. Benezet, also known as Benoit the Bridge builder, a 12th century shepherd boy who was inspired to build a bridge across the river Rhone at Avignon. That, in turn inspired, not only the famous French song about dancing on the Pont D’Avignon… but also an entire brotherhood of bridgebuilding monks…
Perhaps in addition to the existing religious and loyal orders that are part of the religious and cultural landscape of Ireland we need a new order of bridgebuilders; people who are ready to reach across the yawning chasms of our society; spanning religious, political, cultural and economic divides…
As we approach Good Friday and remember that Christ gave his life to bridge the infinite gap between us and God, perhaps we need to give our lives over to building bridges, so that the hope of the Good Friday agreement might become a living reality for many more people.
(This is a slightly expanded version of this morning's Thought for the Day on Good Morning Ulster - as usual you can find a recorded version of my dulcet tones on the Radio Ulster website for the next 7 days. You will find me 25 and 86 minutes in to the programme)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Leaders Learn and Lead

"A week is a long time in politics," Harold Wilson is reputed to have said 50 years ago... Time seems to have got faster in the subsequent half-century, and this past week has flown past, meaning that after promising further posts in a day or two, here I am not having posted anything in a week... But that week has seen a substantial range of political developments here in Northern Ireland...


In my last post and thought for the day last week I said:
I long for leaders in the political realm, in wider civic society and in the church who will help us focus our vision firmly on the future; not sweeping the problems of the past under a psychological carpet, but seeking to learn from them and shaping a place where we may embrace each other and whatever lies ahead, with hope…
In the light of that it is good to see that Sinn Fein have learned from the public response to their graceless handling of the Queen's visit to Ireland, and are now seeking to lead their core supporters into a new attitude to the British Royal family. I know that this has got more to do with electoral politics than a real change of heart, and I don't think they are going to become ardent royalists any time soon, but that is OK... their ultimate political aspirations are as legitimate as any unionist advocate of constitutional monarchy... But it is good to treat other people and the legitimate institutions they represent with respect... If that respect for the Queen might lead Sinn Fein to more obvious signs of respect for those who value symbols of the Kingdom of which she is head, such as the Union flag, then perhaps their political opponents might not feel so defensive about this and the erosion of what they see as other dimensions of  their Britishness (although I have yet to hear a clear articulation of what these are, beyond "the loss of the ROYAL Ulster Constabulary").

But this leads me on to the clear LACK of learning by the Unionists in City Hall with regard to the potential visit of the Pope. Prophecies of trouble on the streets in response to such a visit are exactly the same as were pronounced in advance of the flag vote in the City Hall. But there is no pride to be taken in such prophecies coming true (especially when, in the case of the flag vote the Unionist parties contributed to the tensions with an inflammatory leaflet campaign)... City councillors are not elected to be prophets of doom but to be political leaders... Yes, to represent the views of their constituents appropriately... but also to help shape the political direction of the communities which they represent... Leaders should actually lead their people in a direction that is good for them and the wider community, rather than position themselves as the mouthpieces of what will ultimately be a self-destructive angry mob... If Pope Francis is seen as a divisive figure in loyalist communities, what are Unionist politicians actually doing to address the shameless sectarianism that underpins that attitude? There may be legitimate theological differences, but that is unlikely to be the rationale behind these threatened riots... In exactly the same way that the flag on City Hall was really only a pretext for riots... Take a look at state of the Union flag outside Ballymacarrett Orange Hall or on street lights the length and breadth of loyalist areas to see the respect for the flag of the UK... Address the real reasons for the riots, complex though they may be, rather than acting as apologists in advance of them...

And one of the deep seated issues behind the rioting is the disaffection felt by young loyalist men... who have no stake in a new Northern Ireland, because the peace dividend has never really penetrated their areas. The riots in loyalist areas in 2003-4 that prompted an earlier Loyalist Task Force in government, clearly identified educational underachievement as a major issue. There was piecemeal attempts to address this that were short term and diluted by having to be equality proofed in simplistic numerical terms... 10 years later and it seems that the same issues are being pointed at. Yet there is no doubt that the divisive nature of our education system, not only Catholic-Protestant, male-female, and across socio-economic divides exacerbates a phenomenon that is being seen all across the UK... The later is clearly bolstered by the transfer test. When I came through it in 1977 it was still a bridge to opportunity for working class kids... But in the intervening years the drawbridge has been pulled up and fewer and fewer working class kids in unionist areas are making the transition. The reasons for that are complicated, yet the fact is that it is a system that is failing working class unionist boys more than most (truth be told Catholic working class boys don't fare well either, but are still doing twice as well as their protestant equivalents), yet few Unionist politicians are brave enough to say this... Why? Might it be because they would be perceived to be agreeing with the assessment of successive Sinn Fein education ministers? So rather than actually work to achieve something positive for their electorate, or at least a potential electorate of the future, they would prefer to maintain this Mexican stand-off that blights the lives of kids taking the tests... and even more those who choose not to take them...

But it is not just Unionists who are prepared to do their electorate a disservice rather than conspire with the enemy in an act of mature political leadership. I am no cheer leader for welfare reforms (a leading DUP politician told me lately that he would be shocked if I was)... I do believe that the Welfare System needs reformed, but I don't believe that a time of economic austerity is necessarily the time to do it... Especially when it is driven by a doctrinaire Conservative party that would actually eradicate most of the welfare system if it could get away with it. However, it is a fait a complis... Westminster have passed this iniquitous legislation and within a year it will really start to bite when the old computer system managing working tax credits and child benefit is switched off in mainland GB... If there is no Universal Credit system implemented here by then, forget about the various fines that have been talked about this week, that will have an effect of front line services in hospitals, schools etc, but may be hard to differentiate from all the other cuts coming our way... the big effect will be directly on the family budgets of those dependent on such benefits to get by, including many of the working poor... I don't have the exact figures on hand, but it will be significant. And it will affect those in working class loyalist AND republican areas most. Standing Canute like and saying "No" to the reforms is as pointless as Ulster saying no in the mid eighties... or indeed L:abour Liverpool saying no to the cuts that came from Thatcher around the same time. The thing to do is to work together to find ways to ameliorate the worst effects of the cuts (because I agree with Sinn Fein in this, they ARE cuts, not simply reforms). Until the finer details of the negotiations between Nelson McCausland's team at DSD and the UK treasury and Work and Pensions Department team are published I couldn't honestly say whether that has been done... but the finger needs to be extracted by all parties here to see that it is, before they pull the plug on that tax-credit computer next year... The clock is ticking...

In all of these situations there are party political games being played... sadly they are frequently nasty sectarian games, where each party is quick to point out on The View, Nolan, facebook, blogs and elsewhere, the many areas where OTHER parties are playing sectarian games... But rarely are areas of common cause highlighted... And that is because, sadly, our political system here is still a sectarian headcount (and when it comes to next year's assembly election that sectarian headcount is actually hardwired into the system). Don't get me wrong, I do believe that there are a lot of politicians in most parties working hard for their constituents, and often regardless of who those constituents originally voted for, but because of the political power blocs in this province, even the best constituency politicians often end up getting sucked into divisive politics... and so don't really lead and seek to shape wider society, but are shaped by it... by old fears and prejudices.
Sadly, because of that I don't really think we can look to our politicians for much leadership until the elections are over in May... but then there's the marching season... and then they'll be gearing up for next year's assembly elections... and maybe Westminster elections after that... There's always another reason not to change... not to lead...

So it is perhaps time for wider civic society, including the church, to step up to the mark and fill the leadership vacuum... There may be accusations of "Who elected you!?" but in this community, being able to answer "no-one" to that actually allows for flexibility... the ability to learn and thus to lead more effectively.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Springing forward

Well, did you SPRING forward yesterday? Or did the loss of an hour’s sleep make yesterday morning more of a challenge than it normally would be?
There’s a debate about whether there is much point in changing the clocks in spring and autumn any more, or whether we should simply have summer time all year round… If that guaranteed us actual summer time all year round I would be one of its greatest supporters, although in any normal year here that isn’t a great boon… where summer usually just means that we get slightly warmer rain…
But the lack of sunshine in summer is not the only distinctive about this province. Every time the clocks change I am reminded of the old joke about the passenger plane landing at Aldergrove and the pilot announcing over the PA system, “We have now landed at Belfast International Airport, please set your watches back 300 years.”
We do sadly, have a reputation for being more focused on our past than other places… Whether that past is hundreds of years ago… or the past 40 years or so…
Our past is important… it shapes the present… And knowing our past as a person and as a people is vital if we are to be more than 2 dimensional… The characters in the best dramas and novels always have a back story, whether the audience are aware of it or not. The problem with the narrative of Northern Ireland is that there is so much back story that the script never seems to progress…
We need to know and learn from our past if we, and our children are to have a better future… but currently we seem to be stuck in an infinite loop revisiting the same old stories again and again, with no-one willing to break the cycle and help us move on… And until the next lot of elections are over in May there seems to be little political capital in doing so… Instead we are likely to continue to get the same never decreasing circle of whataboutery…
I long for leaders in the political realm, in wider civic society and in the church who will help us focus our vision firmly on the future; not sweeping the problems of the past under a psychological carpet, but seeking to learn from them and shaping a place where we may embrace each other and whatever lies ahead, with hope…
The Psalmist said
a future awaits those who seek peace

I believe it works the other way too, that peace, real peace, not simply the absence of conflict but the presence of reliable hope and genuine justice, awaits those who seek the future…
Are we just going to fall back into familiar patterns of enmity?
Or spring forward into a hope filled future?
(This was what I finally settled on as a piece for Good Morning Ulster's Thought for the Day at 6.55 and 7.55am... it should be available on iplayer for th enext 7 days for those who would like to hear my dulcet tones... I will be returning to some of the ideas in yesterday and today's pieces over the next couple of days... I'm back in the groove...)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

From a Prize Pedant on Mothering Sunday

Hello again... I've been poorly for a couple of weeks, adding to my blogging lethargy... But tomorrow I am back on Good Morning Ulster's Thought for the Day, so I had to get the proverbial finger out... Especially in the wake of Padraig O'Tuama's superb pieces for the past few Friday mornings... (If you haven't heard them check out the last one from last Friday morning on iPlayer before it self destructs...)
At one point I was considering doing something based on what follows, which first appeared as a piece on Downtown Radio in pre-blog days... But I ended up writing something else, and you'll just have to tune into Radio Ulster at Stupid o'clock tomorrow to find out what... Or wait until it is posted here later tomorrow). In the meantime here's something to think about:

So... all you Mothers out there... Did you have a good day today? Breakfast in bed? Flowers? Cards? Sunday dinner out? No dishes to do? I’m telling you... you get a good deal... all I usually get on Fathers’ Day is a pair of socks with Homer Simpson on them!

But I would argue that all gifts to Mothers today have actually been given under false pretences... because today is not really Mothers’ Day as everyone insists on calling it, but Mothering Sunday... This was the day in the medieval church calendar when everyone was encouraged to return to their home or Mother church... Domestic servants were given a day off and would pick wild flowers along the way to place in the church or give to their mothers. Eventually, the religious tradition evolved into the secular tradition of giving gifts to mothers… I culled that last bit from Wikipedia so it must be true!

Mothers’ Day, by contrast is an American tradition, which, like everything invented in America seems to conquer the world eventually, particularly if it has commercial clout... It takes place, not on the 4th Sunday of Lent, as here, but on the 2nd Sunday in May, and originated in the wake of the American Civil War. Julia Ward Howe who had previously penned the Battle Hymn of the Republic, the rallying cry of the Union armies in their fight against slavery... issued what she called a Mother’s Day Proclamation... This was a rallying cry against conflict and war... and it says:
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts...
Say firmly: Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience.
We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice!
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace,
And each bearing after her own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

Wow! Bet you didn’t read that on many Mothers’ day cards yesterday...

But in this year when we mark the centenary of the beginning of the First World war, the supposed war to end all wars, perhaps it’s a message that needs to be heard again by mothers, fathers, sons and daughters the world over…



Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Who knows what forgiveness means?

It's been a while...
Have you missed me?
What do you mean no!?
It's OK, I'll forgive you...
Which brings me (clumsily) to that long promised post on the theme of "forgiveness" in the light of the "Listening to your Enemies" event in Skainos back at the end of January (doesn't time fly when you're having fun...)

I've been driven back to the blog because I am killing a number of proverbial birds with one stone. I was reflecting on the subject of forgiveness myself over the weekend as it was the last Sunday before Lent, which in the Orthodox Tradition, as I have said previously, is observed as Forgiveness Sunday, but also because I'm leading a Bible study on the subject tonight, in our ongoing exploration of ECONI's old document "For God and His Glory Alone" and the key Christian principles that we need to help us live in a conflicted community. It is also Ash Wednesday, a day associated with repentance and forgiveness (which as I will come back to later, are distinct but related concepts).
Getting back to the events in Skainos that night, I have to be honest in saying that the actual content of the dialogue on the platform didn't make as much of an impression on me as the fact of the event, the response from the audience and what was happening outside (perhaps why I have been slower to respond to the content of the evening). One interesting element however, which came as no surprise, given coverage of the developing relationship between Jo Berry and Pat Magee that I had previously read, was the downplaying of the part of "forgiveness" in that engagement. Early stories had Jo talking about "forgiving" Patrick, but on the "Forgiveness Project" website, Jo is recorded as saying:
"In those early years I probably used the word ‘forgiveness’ too liberally – I didn’t really understand it. When I used the word on television, I was shocked to receive a death threat from a man who said I had betrayed both my father and my country."

The Forgiveness Project talks about the "f-Word" and it can be perceived as shocking or scandalous - it is also at times glibly used, even within Christian circles... But Jo goes on:
"Now I don’t talk about forgiveness. To say “I forgive you” is almost condescending – it locks you into an ‘us and them’ scenario keeping me right and you wrong. That attitude won’t change anything. But I can experience empathy, and in that moment there is no judgement. Sometimes when I’ve met with Pat, I’ve had such a clear understanding of his life that there’s nothing to forgive."

I find this a powerfully challenging statement, that has so much within it - some of which I agree with and much that I find it hard to agree with... I suspect that some of what she says is the result of looking at their relationship from a reconciled position, rather than the earlier unreconciled one... and that Jo's journey to that point required her to forgive... Because as Lawana Blackwell once said:

"Forgiveness is almost a selfish act because of the immense benefits to the one who forgives."

Patrick Magee said on the night that he had read extensively about forgiveness but that he doesn't understand what it means... Yet he said in that Forgiveness Project piece...
"Some day I may be able to forgive myself."

He speaks repeatedly about the grace that he recognises in Jo, and regrets the effects of his actions but not the actions themselves... Such bifurcated thinking is often a feature in soldiers and survivors of conflicts, and I may come back to that again... But it means that he does not recognise any need for forgiveness for the acts and it seems as if he feels that forgiveness is powerless to do what he wants most, which is to negate the effects of his actions. Again he says:

"Jo told me that her daughter had said after one of our meetings, “Does that mean that Grandad Tony can come back now?” It stuck with me, because of course nothing has fundamentally changed. No matter what we can achieve as two human beings meeting after a terrible event, the loss remains and forgiveness can’t embrace that loss."

Does he really mean embrace or erase? I would be interested to have a conversation on that...
In the discussions after their presentation my friend and colleague Rev. Harold Good quoted the Dalai Lama, who said on his visit to Belfast 13 years ago in response to a question about forgiveness:
"Who knows what forgiveness means?"

I don't know enough about Tibetan Buddhism to know whether the concept is central to that faith tradition, but I do know that it is central to Christianity... I have written and spoken repeatedly on it (just put forgiveness into the search box on the right to see how frequently), not because it is a hobbyhorse of mine, but because it seems to have been a hobbyhorse of Jesus. But I do believe that despite that there is a lot of misapprehension about what forgiveness means...
In Christian terms it is not legal amnesty (or a letter of comfort) - just thought I would mention that before I get drawn into the moral morass that we are currently in here in Northern Ireland...
It is not about forgetting the past... The simple sharing of letters between the two words forgive and forget have caused more misunderstanding and hurt than enough...
Nor does it presuppose or included a precondition of repentance on the part of the person who has done wrong... I would argue that for forgiveness to bear the fruit of reconciliation there needs to be some sort of repentance (which again is more than saying sorry)... But it is a complex, organic thing that doesn't occur in a fixed order with a prescribed vocabulary.
But forgiveness is also not simply saying "it doesn't matter..." If something genuinely doesn't matter it doesn't need to be forgiven... Rather "forgiveness" is a case of saying that something DOES matter... deeply... That you have been hurt and feel that someone has wronged you... There is an act of judgement involved, but then the key thing, is saying "Despite that, I forgive..."
Again forgiveness is not about the perpetrator, it is first and foremost about the victim somehow graciously giving... It cannot be demanded, thus victimising the victim a second time, but is a free gift... One of the key words used in the New Testament associated with forgiveness is APHESIS, which has at its root the idea of letting something go, be it a boat casting off from a mooring or an archer letting loose an arrow.
Jo Berry may be reluctant to use the word forgiveness now, but she touches on that phenomenon of letting go in the Forgiveness Project piece, which in some ways prompted the original title of the Skainos event:

"An inner shift is required to hear the story of the enemy. For me the question is always about whether I can let go of my need to blame, and open my heart enough to hear Pat’s story and understand his motivations. The truth is that sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. It’s a journey and it’s a choice, which means it’s not all sorted and put away in a box."

Can we let go of our need to blame?
Not an easy question, with no easy answers...
What does forgiveness mean?
If it is a definition you are looking for, a dictionary may help to a certain extent... but the real meaning of forgiveness is only known by the person who practices it...

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Once... he wrote a poem...

Sorry. It's been a while again, and I haven't forgotten my promise to return to look at the vexed question of forgiveness among other things flowing from the event at Skainos "Listening to your Enemies," however, I've been extra busy this week with a couple of training days and a wedding (making a pleasant change from the multiplicity of funerals I have been conducting recently).
One of the training days was in conjunction with the new inter-churches Suicide awareness programme "Flourish" established to help address the epidemic of suicides we are experiencing in Northern Ireland at present... an enemy which is in danger of claiming more lives than the troubles in half as many years.
In the light of that I thought I would share this short poem I came across a few days previously in John Julius Norwich's miscellany "Christmas Crackers" which, as he says, seems like "grim fare" to include in a such a book. But it was written by a 15 year old boy a full two years before he took his own life, and as John Julius Norwich comments it deserves to be better known...
Once. . . he wrote a poem.
And he called it ‘Chops’,
Because that was the name of his dog, and
that’s what it was all about.
And the teacher gave him an ‘A’
And a gold star.
And his mother hung it on the kitchen door,
and read it to all his aunts . . .

Once. . . he wrote another poem.
And he called it ‘Question Marked Innocence’,
Because that was the name of his grief, and
that’s what it was all about.
And the professor gave him an ‘A’
And a strange and steady look.
And his mother never hung it on the kitchen door
because he never let her see it . . .

Once, at 3 a.m. . . . he tried another poem...
And he called it absolutely nothing, because
that’s what it was all about.
And he gave himself an ‘A’
And a slash on each damp wrist,
And hung it on the bathroom door because he
couldn’t reach the kitchen.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Wrong Time, Wrong Place?

Last Thursday evening at the "Listening to Your Enemies" event in Skainos, Jo Berry emphasised that it is important to have a safe space for difficult discussions... sadly the environment around Skainos seemed anything but safe that night.
A couple of friends, colleagues and congregation members have already suggested to me, via email, facebook and face to face that the 4 Corners Festival and/or EBM /Skainos were naïve/arrogant/bloody stupid (delete as applicable) to field such an event in inner east Belfast, especially given recent interface tensions with the Short Strand residents, flag protests, the stand-off after the twelfth parade last year and other tensions concerning Skainos itself.
Those who believed that it was still a worthwhile event, just not at the right time or in the right place, have asked why we didn't swap the two Methodist events and have the 4 Church Leaders event in Skainos and the Berry/Magee one on my own patch, the Agape Centre on the much less contentious Lisburn Road in south Belfast? Personally, I would have had no objection to hosting the event, and suspect that it would have gone off without too much protest or comment... and even had there been a protest there would not have been the same level of threat that there is with people living on site as there is in Skainos...
It is the impact on people living and working in Skainos that I continue to be concerned about... threats to a building, even one as expensive as Skainos, never trouble me as much as threats to people, their homes and livelihoods. And I am genuinely sorry that the event has negatively impacted on innocent parties... People entering and leaving the event last Thursday were insulted, some were hit with stones and bottles, some people's cars were damaged... I'm sorry that happened but those attending the event did so voluntarily, most knowing that tensions were already high, given the anti-republican graffiti daubed on the café window the previous night... Those living and working in Skainos and the surrounding area, however, did not volunteer for the trouble that the event stirred up... Nor did the police who had to intervene to protect Skainos and those who were there, some being injured for their troubles...
The truth of the matter is that I don't think there was ever any suggestion that the event would take place elsewhere. I'm not sure whether the idea originated with EBM/Skainos but it was always a complete package, and even when things clearly got more difficult on the day, there was no suggestion of taking the event elsewhere... it was simply a question of whether or it should be cancelled or not. I had no part to play in that final decision but I am glad it went ahead, despite the fall-out... although, as Glenn Jordan points out, I and the other organisers and most of the audience are not overly affected by that...
But whilst I hear the concerns of local people and staff at Skainos, I must say that when people questioned the time and the place, my mind went to Martin Luther Ling Jnr.'s letter from Birmingham Jail. Church leaders in Birmingham, Alabama had criticised Dr. King for his involvement in non-violent street protests there, suggesting that they were untimely and fomented violence. Dr. King responded on a number of levels, including asking when the time would be right for real equality in that city?
The violence that Dr. King's protest elicited was primarily directed at him and his fellow protestors, so I do not claim equivalence when the brunt of the upset caused by our event was borne by local residents and staff, but I do wonder when will there be a time where a church in inner East Belfast is the right place for listening to our enemies openly?
Similar discussions HAVE taken place quietly behind closed doors in EBM and elsewhere in east Belfast in the past... and they have taken place publically in south, north and west Belfast... I was challenged on facebook by a former congregation member that one of the Shankill Butchers wouldn't be welcome on the Falls... and whilst I admitted that was probably true, another friend noted that they had been present when a leading loyalist told an audience in West Belfast that he had advocated going for a final push killing more Catholics before the 1995 ceasefire... I am sure that was every bit as difficult to listen to, if not more so, than listening to Patrick Magee talk about bombing an English hotel.
Why should east Belfast be a less conducive environment for difficult dialogue than anywhere else?
I am not perfect and perhaps I and the others behind this event were naïve/arrogant/bloody stupid and did get the timing wrong... But I'm still not convinced we got the venue wrong...
Part of the purpose of the 4 Corners Festival is to encourage people to go into areas of the city they wouldn't normally go to... That aim was successful last Thursday night, because there were people from all over the city and beyond, despite the protests outside (and perhaps in some cases, because of them... we Northern Irish are stubborn like that). If we had switched the event to South Belfast the same people would perhaps have come there (although I suspect some of the East Belfast people wouldn't have)... but it would have been a much more cosy/comfortable encounter... And I think the time is past when such encounters are enough...
Skainos wasn't a safe space that evening (and sadly is probably less safe as a result of the event... although hopefully that will only be temporary)... but there are times when we have to step out of the safe spaces and comfortable corners to say and hear and do difficult things for the sake of peace. Not peace and quiet... but Biblical, shalom peace...

Well that's enough for a day or two... but when I return to this ever lengthening thread, I will explore an old favourite topic of mine (and Jesus), namely, forgiveness and it's place in such discussions...