Couldn't have said it better myself...

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

Anais Nin

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Northern Ireland in the Headlines (Again)

The circumstances that have prevented me blogging so regularly have been exacerbated recently by a number of crises, but once again I'm back on the blog... and once again Northern Ireland has been back in the headlines… for mixed reasons…
On the positive side, Rory McIlroy united people right across Northern Ireland, and the world, in his victory in the US Open. Even I, who am happy to agree with Samuel Johnston or Mark Twain or whoever it was who described golf as a good walk spoiled, was really frustrated not to be able to watch it on TV (being too tight to give Rupert Murdoch money for Sky Sports) and had to make do with regular internet updates and good old BBC Radio 5 Live. I was right behind the lad from Holywood, Co. Down, and while the fact that he went to my old school gave me a soft spot for him, the combination of what happened in the US Masters a couple of months ago and his refreshing demeanour endeared him to everyone... And I think that has increased in the wake of his record-breaking victory.
Watching the Monday evening news my eldest son suggested that the entire western economy could have collapsed and we wouldn't have heard about it in Northern Ireland, such was the adulation about "our Rory..."
However, a matter of hours later the emphasis of the news changed as sectarian violence broke out again on the Short Strand interface, a few miles from here and from Rory McIlroy's home in Holywood... It wasn't the first violence of the weekend... indeed the previous morning I had been contrasting the emerging Rory McIlroy story with violence in North Belfast in the wake of the "Tour of the North" parade, where golf balls had been used differently from the way Rory uses them. But that fracas was as nothing compared with the two nights of rioting that occurred in East Belfast at the weekend. I'm reliably informed by one friend who is a reporter that golf balls have been in evidence there too... along with petrol bombs, blast bombs, fireworks, bricks, bullets, baton rounds and water cannon.
In the immediate wake of Rory McIlroy's victory there was much discussion of the possible impact there might be on Northern Ireland from Rory-related "golf tourism" and there has been a lot of debate over encouraging inward business investment here by dropping the corporation tax and finding a way of offsetting the taxes paid on the Continental flights between New York and Belfast. But the events of this week may well make all that a waste of time and effort, because what sensible international business would want to come within a thousand miles of us in the light of all that… and even though there aren't too many golf courses on interfaces, I think that even the Rory-factor may not attract too many tourists to a Belfast that seems intent on going backwards rather than forward.
However, these sorts of incidents will continue to flare into life, so long as any economic benefits of "peace" and the limited prosperity that there can be in a worldwide recession do not significantly impact on areas such as these. Report after report has highlighted the low educational achievement in such areas, yet instead of actively tackling such things, the politicians are happier to be involved in a stand-off on the issue of the transfer test, which will never impact on the kids of that area because most never take it. Meanwhile, whilst the rest of the province basks in the illusion of peace, it is interfaces like this where low levels of sectarian violence (from both sides) continues unabated, unacknowledged and unaddressed. I'll leave it to others to point the finger at who caused what on Monday night, and who fired what at who, but whoever was to blame then, it has been coming for a long time, and with the marching season reaching its climax it was almost inevitable. And then another "them and us" situation develops between those who would never dream of rioting and those who are in the middle of it, either by choice or circumstance...
Once the trouble like that kicks off it is really difficult to stop it... to hear the media talking you would think that the paramilitaries could turn it on and off like a tap... It's more like knocking the head off a water hydrant... and attracts a similar number of young people! The amount of work by local politicians, community leaders and ministers that went into largely stopping the rioting by Wednesday must have been considerable... However, if the issues that lie behind these riots and the other complex problems that face our province are to be addressed we need that work to continue. AND we need a fundamental shift in our mindset... Because part of our problem here in Northern Ireland is that we approach all political and social issues as a game where there are winners and losers... So if the other side wants something then our side will be be against it... But if we really believe in the idea and not just the rhetoric of a shared future, then we need to find ways of helping both "sides" to "win". (I've recently written on this emphasis on "sides" in our political mindset elsewhere).
Last Sunday afternoon I took friends down the Newtownards Road to see the interface and the murals there, and was standing there where the congregation came out from installing the new Restor into St. Patrick's Church of Ireland Church further up the Road. Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday and according to legend Saint Patrick used the shamrock as a symbol of the trinity when he came to Ireland. If truth be told, however, there is no record of him doing so and, anyway the shamrock is a fairly poor representation of the trinity, as all the leaves are the same, whilst central to the doctrine of the trinity is that there is both unity and diversity within God, and yet, if passages like Philippians 2: 10-11 are to be believed, there is no jealousy within the Godhead... whatever brings glory to the Son brings glory to the Father. Now perhaps there is not only a theological issue at play there but an important social one...
Last Sunday evening the whole of Northern Ireland exulted in the glory one of our younger sporting sons... We need to bring the determination that he showed to the pursuit of a shared, prosperous future for all... all sides and social classes in this society.
In the meantime, we look beyond the marching season to the British Open in the hope of more reasons to celebrate...


This is a highly adapted version in the light of the East Belfast rioting of a review of the week on last Sunday's "Dawn Reflections" on Downtown Radio

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dust on the Breeze

Writing this at stupid o'clock, because I've just come down from a local hilltop where I had the privilege of sharing in the scattering of ashes of a member of my congregation. Her husband is a Kiwi, and it is, he tells me, a Maori tradition to do such things at dawn... I've been to the top of this particular hill for dawn services before... but those have been at Easter, at a time of year when the sun has the decency to lie in for a bit... This morning we had to be there for shortly after 4am. I needn't have bothered going to bed!
Anyway, my body clock was clearly worried about missing my early start and I was up even earlier than I needed to be... And as I thought about what was to come, both this service and a later more conventional interment of ashes, I made a start on this short poem/reflection, which I finished on my return a few minutes ago...

So this is for Carole, Paul and family...

Dust on the breeze
Is that what life comes to?
A hilltop offers fresh perspectives,
New insights on how things are
Down below.
But is that the revelation
in the cold light of dawn
and the chilling wind
of this transfiguration?
Are we a random assortment of elements
Briefly bound together
In an animated form?
From dust you came
And to dust you shall return -
Nothing more.
But what of the years in between?
The love, the laughter,
The anger, the tears,
Hopes and dreams and memories
And faith.
Are they little more than
Dust on the breeze
Motes momentarily catching the light
On the updraft?
But the light is the light of the rising sun.
First light speaks of new life
In the risen Son
A dawning day and a coming kingdom
A sure and certain


Monday, June 6, 2011

I haven't been Raptured...

In the light of the last post, and yesterday's celebration of Ascension Sunday, I just wanted to reassure(?) any remaining readers out there that I haven't been raptured, promoted to glory or otherwise translated to another realm. I've simply been trying to balance work with the rest of life, and part of that is that I've put rules on me being nowhere near the computer at certain times of day and certain days of the week... If truth be told I'm breaking one of those rules right now... But life has been a little busy recently and so I haven't had a chance to post anything. Not sure how the next week will be either, given that Virtual Methodist is going to have to spend time with a lot of other flesh and blood Methodists at our Annual Conference towards the end of the week, as well as doing my day job!

Maybe by this time next week I'll wish I'd been raptured...