Changes...



Things are definitely changing. Certainly in East Belfast. The writing has literally been on the walls for years... The fabled gables of East Belfast have been changing… Instead of pictures of King Billy you have more recent "heroes": C.S. Lewis, George Best and David Ervine... And where victory is celebrated it is of Norn Irn beating England at football rather than King Billy beating his father in law at the Boyne (although the artists in question still have difficulties with faces.)
Then this week I went out for lunch with a colleague, to a pub which was, until recently a paramilitary drinking den. It has now, however, gone up-market and you are more likely to meet a Church of Ireland Bishop, (as we did) than a UDA brigadier, unless of course the Bishop is meeting a brigadier, which is not inconceivable these days.
But anyway the bill came to £16.90, and my colleague quipped that he would remember that easily enough, but the waitress looked at him with total incomprehension.
''You know - King Billy - the Twelfth - Remember 1690 - the Battle of the Boyne...'' we said... But no, nothing....
''Sorry,'' she said ''History wasn't my best subject at school.''
If she had worked in that pub before the rehab and hadn't known about 1690, her education would have been short and brutal.
Then the next evening I attended my son's primary school Christmas Concert, and in the middle of it a girl did an Irish dance. Given that this school is a state (ie predominantly Protestant) school right in the heart of 'Protestant east Belfast' (although in the middle class part of it) such a celtic cultural intrusion would never have happened even ten years ago.
Now there are those who will see all of these changes in a negative light... bishops and Methodist ministers going into pubs... young people not knowing the history of this place... and a dilution of Ulster Scots culture by post-Riverdance Paddy-Wackery... But I see it as a sign of the gradual normalisation of this very peculiar province, and my wee corner or it in particular.

There are certain aspects of our culture here that I hope don't get lost in the homogenised soup of secular society. For example, I do think we should remember 1690... and all those other dates that have peppered our collective memory... but we should learn the real history that lies behind them... not the gable-end history that we have traditionally viewed through the distorting spectacles of sectarianism.
I also pray that we don't lose that broad understanding and acceptance of Christianity that we, almost uniquely in North-Western Europe, enjoy. The church no longer lies at the heart of society, and that is not necessarily a bad thing as it may allow us to speak more objectively and prophetically into the centres of power in the civic space, but we do still get listened to and we need to treasure that privilege.


It was also wonderful that my son's Primary School Christmas Concert was unashamedly about Christmas... not Winterval or whatever other crackpot pc term has been adopted. There were plenty of references to Santa and reindeers and all that nonsense, but the whole thing was pervaded by a real understanding of the core story of the incarnation (if not its full implications... although it was a primary school event!)


But one thing in it that had changed very much for the better...


No "Away in a manger!!!"

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