Couldn't have said it better myself...



"We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are."

Anais Nin




Thursday, February 28, 2008

Breaking the Silence


Have gone dark over the past two weeks because I was changing over my computer and working silly hours trying to clear the decks for a study trip I'm leading for CCWA and the Dept. of Social Development to Pittsburgh, USA next week looking at the state of the Faith-Based community sector there.

Don't quite know whether I'm looking forward to it or not... Still have heaps to sort out before I go... But I plan to blog daily when I am over there... Whether anyone else reads them or not, it will at least help me to process my thoughts...

So... next time I type something here, it will hopefully be from the home of the brave and the land of the freedom fries...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Party Political Priorities


I could never be said to be a staunch supporter of DUP politics, or particularly of Ian Paisley Junior, but I have felt a little uneasy about the headlong pursuit of him by the baying pack of media hounds recently. Yes he seems to have been receiving more full time salaries than it would seem possible to deserve... Yes his handling of the Giant's Causeway shenanigans has more than a wiff of self-interest in it... Yes his constituency lobbying during the St Andrew's talks seems a tad inappropriate... and his personal financial affairs seem a little nepotistic... But I do wonder whether the media only noticed all of this because of who his father is. One conspiracy theorist recently suggested to me that his comments about homosexuality offended key people in the media (because we all know that those in the media are predominantly homosexual, being the sub-text). Another suggested that he has been fingered for attack by someone within the party. Anyway... for whatever reason, it has finally got to him and he has resigned as a junior minister in the OFMDFM (where his Dad could keep an eye on him, and vice versa).

But what sent me to the fair was his parting shot at the media when he said:

"The criticism has been a distraction and has got in the way of the activities of this government and importantly it has gotten in the way of the activities of my political party."
But what is more important? Government or party? Or perhaps it is personal interest.

After that comment I'm truly glad he has gone... I hope he doesn't get back into power until he sorts his priorities out.
For another angle on the expense accounts issue see Crookedshore's Thought for the Day.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Law that Liberates


Have you ever opened your mouth and said something only to think afterwards “I wish I hadn’t said that!” I do it all the time…
Well this week I wonder whether Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had a similar feeling after the British media whipped up a storm in the wake of him suggesting that it was inevitable that some aspects of Muslim Sharia law would be incorporated into British law…
As it was reported you would think that he had suggested the stoning of rape victims and the cutting off of thieves’ hands… (and given that many of the papers criticising him would suggest that such punishments would be going easy on thieves, I don't know what their problem is!) What he was actually advocating, was the recognition of the legal standing of some of the Sharia councils already active across Britain, operating, not in the field of criminal, but civil and family law, including the power to marry and divorce. He suggested giving these councils legal recognition in exchange for making them fully subject to British law. But of course that wouldn’t make a good tabloid headline, or a soundbite on the news.

Some people have said that they agree with him but that he is naive in the way he allows himself to be misquoted... I don't know about that. I think that he plays the doddery cleric/academic card, as a way of getting discussions out into the public square whilst using himself as a lightning rod for extreme opinion.
I also don’t know whether the incorporation of some aspects of Sharia Law into British Law is a good idea or not, not because, as some people fear that there may be a twin-track approach to law for different communities... because, again, that is not what he was advocating, but whether you can recognise certain aspects of Sharia law that are compatible with current British social and legal values, without also giving the green light to some less admirable aspects of Sharia and how it has been applied in more conservative contexts.

However, here in Northern Ireland we face similar problems incorporating community restorative justice programmes into the statutory legal system. Unless we do, these programmes will remain unregulated and be subject to no official scrutiny.
But the whole episode also reminded me that we have a very narrow definition of what law is all about. In Britain we see law and religion as almost completely separate… Yet in Jewish, early Christian and Islamic teaching you can’t have one without the other. Indeed the first five books of the Old Testament, which are held as sacred by all 3 of these religions to one extent or another, are collectively known as “The Law…” Within those pages we do find various lists of do’s and don’ts… But they are mostly a story of God’s continuing relationship with humanity, despite our constant disobedience…
The psalmist says this law is perfect restoring the soul… While in the New Testament, James says that this perfect law brings freedom… rather than restrictions…
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said he came to fulfil this law… How he came to do that has been the subject of debate for many years... some say he came to pay its penalty… some say he came to show the full implications of the law... some say that he came to show how it should be lived out...

Whatever he meant, if we take the insights of the Psalmist and James as appropriate, then what Jesus, the fulfilment of the Law, offers is the restoration our souls, and real freedom... A law that liberates...
A shorter version of this blog was broadcast as the Dawn Reflections Review of the Week on Downtown Radio on the 10th February, 2008. William Crawley the presenter of Sunday Sequence on Radio Ulster also touches on this subject on his blog.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Rich Man in His Castle


Just come across something that has REALLY got my goat...

Currently I minister in Ballybeen, the second largest housing scheme in Northern Ireland, with all of the attendant problems that 1960s housing schemes have anywhere in the western world, and a few extra that are due to the nature of our little local difficulties over the past 40 years.

It has a high level of teen parents, single parents and blended families; large numbers of senior citizens; low educational attainment; a large level of debt problems; high levels of unemployment (all local manufacturing has now been discontinued).

Into the middle of this a local developer is planning to parachute a prestige, gated apartment complex called Skye Buildings. No mention of Ballybeen in any of the publicity... but its OK... even if those buying do realise where it is, the gates should reassure them that the peasants will be kept safely at a distance.

This is gentrification at it's worst. No sense of integration within the community. It reminds me of the second verse of Cecil Frances Alexander's "All things Bright and Beautiful" (which, thankfully has generally been omitted from modern hymn books)

The rich man in his castle, The poor man at his gate,

He made them, high or lowly, And ordered their estate.

Not in this estate thanks!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Healthy Fundamentalism


Just a quickie. My wife pointed out this morning, a story on the BBC website about some research at Queens University that suggests that religious denomination can be a factor in health and mortality.
Apparently Catholics had higher death rates. The report claims this is based on a demonstrable link between this and deprivation... nothing to do with a more relaxed attitude within the Catholic community to drinking, smoking etc?
Strangely, Anglicans had the highest risk of dying from heart disease while Methodists have a reduced risk accidental death... In the latter case it is probably because Methodists are totally risk-averse!!! But I don't quite understand the former... Any suggestions?
The most striking statistic, however, is that fundamentalists lived longest and had the lowest risk of dying from lung cancer or alcohol related diseases.
I know now that there are those who will claim that this is a glowing endorsement of the lifestyle advocated by those of a more conservative, fundamentalist bent, and there may well be some truth in it. It certainly points out the fallacy of the old "drink a glass of red wine a day" advice in order to stave off heart disease...
But one of the truths we need to keep reaffirming is that health, and wealth, is not necessarily a sign of God's blessing (no matter what the purveyors of a prosperity gospel and the "Word of Faith" movement would have us believe). Just remember, cockroaches are proven to be the most biologically robust creatures on the face of the earth. They are likely to survive a nuclear holocaust, but you wouldn't want to be one!!!
I suppose that instead of imbibing red wine to stave off the effects of the stresses and strains of the modern world, another approach is to retreat into the black and white certainties of a pre-enlightenment understanding of the world... This would perhaps also go some way to explain the statistic that literalist pentecostal traditions are growing while other, less black and white theological traditions are not... Large numbers don't indicate that God is on our side any more than prosperity does.
But for whatever the reason we have a new beatitude...
Blessed are the fundies, for they will inherit everything by outliving us all...