Pontificating, Praying and Practical Action in Pursuit of Peace

And another thing...
There was a distinct dearth of posts on this site last week... First because I had a backlog of boxes to empty following our house-move and I had a lot to wrap up before knocking off for a bit of a break... But just because I wasn't posting stuff, doesn't mean there wasn't a lot going on in the rice pudding that passes for my brain... So now that I am "off" and before I head away for a few days I thought I would catch up with a few of the issues that had been dominating the media over the past 10 days or so... With the notable exception of the Royal baby... My approach to that is best summed up in Andrea Mann's piece in the Huffington Post "BREAKING NEWS: Woman Gives Birth To Baby".
I began yesterday by offering some of my thoughts prompted by Justin Welby's approach to the whole Wonga-world episode. But one of the things I didn't say was that what impressed me most about his approach was that it wasn't just about him pontificating from Canterbury, or wherever. Rather, it involved dialogue with those he disagreed with and practical proposals to the whole thing.
Here in Northern Ireland we have had a lot of pontificating from one place or another... from pulpits of all shapes and sizes, platforms at Orange Order parades, on TV and radio and on many, many blogs... There have been condemnations, and calls for condemnations, calls to repentance and to prayer... But has it made any difference to this place?
The day that I posted my previous Supplement things here in Northern Ireland were back at boiling point because of rioting in Belfast following restrictions put on the Orange's Twelfth Parade, and the application that the Belfast County Grand Lodge had made to have a parade past the same flashpoint the following Saturday. That application and a subsequent one this Saturday were both refused, but thankfully both parades and ensuing protests went off peacefully. At the time however, there was no guarantee of that, and in the wake of some questions being raised regarding the leadership of those at the helm of the 4 larger Christian churches in advance of and the wake of the Twelfth, our own President, Rev. Dr. Heather Morris circulated a prayer for use in Belfast Methodist churches, which was then picked up by other denominations and used across the province. The prayer was:
God of love whose love streams unceasingly and relentlessly to all, we cry to you for our city. We pray for peace on our streets, for economic well-being, for understanding across our differences. Build us as one community, though diverse, that being reconciled to you we might be reconciled to one another. Lord, turn our hearts to you that your glory might dwell in this city. We pray this in the name of Jesus who is Lord of all. Amen
[CORRECTION: I have been reliably informed, by the Boss herself, that this prayer was a joint one, actually signed off by the leaders of the 4 larger churches before distribution]. On the morning that this prayer was being used there was a short segment about this on William Crawley's Sunday Sequence, which then prompted further criticism about Christian leaders and Christians in general praying instead of doing anything practical... There may, at times, be truth in this, especially in Northern Ireland, and indeed in that same programme William interviewed John Brewer whose recent book "
Religion, Civil Society, and Peace in Northern Ireland" profoundly criticised the role of the formal church during, and subsequent to the "troubles." There may have been prayer for peace week by week and there would be those who would argue that such an approach helped prevent the "Balkanisation" of the conflict here, but to those who either didn't believe in prayer at all, or had a more activist faith, such prayerful pietism at times seemed to be a way of retreating from the world and its problems.
This isn't helped by an attitude to prayer typified by a quote from Samuel Chadwick, the famous head of the Methodist evangelical training centre Cliff College, where he wrote of the Devil saying:
"He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray."
I have used that quote myself, but this is not an argument for prayer instead of toil or the application of wisdom, but for wisdom and action that flows from prayer.
Such is the ethos of the contemporary 24-7 Prayer movement... And indeed the mindset of our own Methodist President... because as well as circulating the call to prayer, she also invited us to do something practical... In another message on Facebook she said (I haven't asked for permission to post this, but she is in West Africa at the moment and hopefully she'll grant it retrospectively):
A number of people both on Facebook and in person have rightly said, “Let’s get practical and think together about what we can do to build peace.” So I am going to make some suggestions. However, the first thing I need to say is that for Christians allegiance to Jesus must be our primary allegiance, everything comes under Jesus’ Lordship. Allegiance to Jesus and what Jesus teaches must affect the way I think about others, must affect the way I live my life, allegiance to Jesus will impact my political thinking. Jesus must come first. The suggestions I am about to make come from that perspective.
So, here are a few suggestions from me…
1. Pray: Prayer is decisive, significant action. Prayer is about asking God and also about listening to God. Prayer changes those who pray and as we pray the Holy Spirit will prompt other action.
2. Have a conversation with someone in your community or another community with whom you differ: we do have different and strongly held opinions, and we need to learn from each other and try to understand why others think the way they do. We may not end up agreeing but at least we will understand each other better. At least some of what we are seeing on the streets stems from communities and individuals feeling that no-one understands or listens to them. We need to build relationships.
3. Speak well of others
4. Be honest about our own mistakes: We have all made mistakes as communities and as individuals. Sometimes moving forward will mean admitting that we could have done things better.
5. Tell /contact/ write to our politicians and community representatives telling them we want peace: for too long those who long for peace have been a silent majority. Our community representatives work hard on our behalf and need to know that they have a mandate for peace-building.
6. Act on the underlying causes: The violence on our streets is related to issues in society like unemployment, undervaluing of education, many feeling as if there is no point in voting.
7. Be brave: we need to be speaking out for peace, saying there is a better way forward, acknowledging that there are different views, saying “we got this wrong”. When others admit mistakes we need to meet that with grace, and see it as an opportunity to build understanding, rather than as an opportunity to score points. All this will require courage.
If my ideas do not fit your context, then think about what builds peace and a stable society where you are, and do it.
You might not agree with my suggestions. They are unapologetically and unashamedly from a perspective of Christian faith, and if that is not where you are coming from then a call to prayer, while vital for me, may seem irrelevant for you. That’s OK. So what can you do instead that will build peace?
Now I’d love to hear from you as to what you will do.
Heather's emphasis on dialogue, her call to open admission of our own shortcomings and appeal for us to work on the underlying causes of social unrest, all chime well with the later words of Justin Welby and are applicable to the pursuit of peace and justice in all situations, not just our little local difficulties.
Might I suggest that one thing you might do is to follow the "President - Methodist Church in Ireland" on facebook... it might make for an interesting year as we join her in the pursuit of peace...


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