Hope and History

Just a quick post to flag up something that you have probably picked up from elsewhere. Recently there has been much conversation about a marked lack of hope in political and civic discourse in Northern Ireland recently, with positions becoming entrenched in anticipation of the upcoming arrival of Richard Haass. But slowly, largely facilitated by social media and a few conversations over coffee, a momentum has been developing to articulate a more positive vision of how things might be. I am aware of a number of initiatives coming to a head, and will plug them here were I feel they have something to offer... I will also return in detail to the issue of hope when I get a chance to pull my thoughts together.
However, over the past week I have been part of a group who have tried to articulate some thoughts on the themes of hope and healing from a Biblical perspective as Richard Haass begins his work. As we said in a brief introductory statement that went out via facebook and email today "it is our view that when there is an opportunity it should be grasped" and the Haass process provides that opportunity in the face of some very difficult challenges. The past year, and particularly the summer months has been marked by increased community tensions, and a retreat from the middle ground of politics. But we do not want to see the progress that has been made over the past 15 years and more lost or squandered, indeed we want to see further steps towards the establishment of a society truly at peace with itself. And so, after much wrestling over wording and process, we are finally in a position to invite members of the churches to sign up to a statement which aims to give encouragement to those who are committed to improving relationships in this province and forging real peace. The statement reads:

HOPE AND HISTORYAs Richard Haass arrives to help to see us through our current impasse we, as members of different church traditions, want to encourage our leaders and our community as a whole to seek the common good at this most opportune of times.

HUMILITY We believe that in all acts of reconciliation we need to accept humbly our own part in how the past has shaped the present; our complicity in the divisions within our society and our contribution to the pain that different people across the spectrum of our society have experienced. We need to seek forgiveness for the past and change the way that we live and speak and act in the present, in order to foster a shared and peaceful future. 
HEALING
We believe that key Gospel principles have much to contribute to the wellbeing of all of our community whether we are Christian, atheist, agnostic or of any faith. Central to them all is Jesus’ command to “love God and love our neighbour”; not a passive sentimental saying, but a radically transformational idea, especially as he went further and demanded that we also love our enemies, and forgive those who have done wrong to us. Forgive us, as his followers, where we have failed to follow his words and actions in this regard. Join us as we seek to make such high ideals our contribution to our shared space; as we seek to address the pain of the past and the tensions in the present, so that they may not limit the possibilities that lie in the future. 
HOPE
We believe that there is hope. Our country has come a long way in twenty years. There are relationships at political, Church and community level that would have been unimaginable in 1993. However we need to draw on sources of imagination, generosity and endurance to go further, going beyond pragmatic, political structures that are based on a lack of trust and common feeling, and seeking to establish a truly peaceful society, where there is not only an absence of violence and the threat of violence, but a common sense of stability, respect and opportunity for all. This begins with a commitment to listen truly to one another, then resolving to work together so that all our children and our neighbours’ children will flourish in a new Northern Ireland, a society that is truly at peace.

This statement has no official standing in any denomination, although the leaders of the 4 largest denominations have personally endorsed it...  As per the disclaimer on this blog, the views expressed in this statement are not the official viewpoint of the Methodist Church in Ireland, or Belfast South Circuit where I now minister (although I did tell my Church Council tonight that my name would be appended to the statement). It is what I (and from the look of the sign up count after a relatively short space of time a substantial number of others) believe and I am prepared to pray and work to see it become a reality.
It is our plan that the statement will appear in the print press by the beginning of next week and that the names of those who have signed at that point will appear with the statement, but at the moment it is still unclear if/how this will happen.
But for now I would simply invite you can sign up at www.hopeandhistory.com
Please feel free to pass on the word, and do remember to pray for all the participants in these crucial talks.

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