Couldn't have said it better myself...

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

Anais Nin

Thursday, October 31, 2013

10 Day You Challenge - Day 6: 5 Foods

I said earlier on that 1 of my 9 Loves was food... to the point of obsession, but instead of my 5 favourite foods, I asked my youngest son to pick the 5 favourite dishes that I cook... So Ciaran's choice is:

1) CHICKEN SATAY- Chicken in a peanut sauce... No more like proper satay/sate than KFC but the family enjoy it and it is easy to cook.

2) SMOKED HADDOCK WITH CHORIZO - a rarity in that you will not often get me eating or cooking fish, but this is a great, quick, healthy, one-pot dish. I usually use smoked haddock, but Sally prefers the unsmoked.

3) GLAZED GAMMON - I do most of the Christmas cooking in our house and whilst the residents might be a little restless if there were no turkey, it would be all-out insurrection if I didn't supply a glazed ham/gammon. I boil it in cider and then finish it off in the oven with a glaze of mustard and dark brown sugar (great for diabetics)

4) PORK CHOPS AND ONIONS - A family recipe, from my mum, which was adapted by me... The kids are more interested in getting hold of this recipe than in inheriting anything else from me...

5) MACARONI CHEESE PLUS - as far as it is possible to go from the American instant abomination known as Mac N Cheese. This is our winter warming "what's left in the fridge" meal of choice... Though we haven't had it for some time as Sally is on a Slimming World kick at the moment... There are too many syns in this to even begin to calculate.

Those foods that didn't make the cut include, Havana chicken, cassoulet, Moroccan chicken and risotto.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

10 Day You Challenge - Day 5: 6 Places

On the aforementioned bucket list there is a list of the places that I would like to go, some very far away... This is a list of places much closer to home that are very special to me for one reason or another

1) THE GIANT'S CAUSEWAY - a unique world heritage site that Samuel Johnston once described as "worth seeing but not worth going to see." But this was in the 18th century and local roads have improved since then... slightly...

2) THE MOURNES - "The mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea..." according to one of Percy French's appalling Oirish ditties... But the sight of the Mournes as you approach them along the coast road from Dundrum is a view that carries me straight back to my youth and innumerably weekends spent camping in a walking these pint-sized peaks...

3) NENDRUM - A truly "thin-place" in terms of Celtic spirituality... the site of an early Christian monastery. I have little doubt that I find it more of a spiritual sanctuary now than I would have done when it was at its zenith as a religious centre.

4) CAIRNBURN - I can't show you a picture of this or take you there because the Cairnburn I knew no longer exists. It is a childhood haunt where I and my friends would have escaped to explore from morning to night, in a way that children aren't allowed to today... It was a wilderness on the edge of the city, but first they drove a dual-carriageway through the middle of it all, converting it into the pristine grasslands of Belmont Park... and then they demolished the old dilapidated mansion at the head of the glen, to make way for a new housing development. I doubt there as many childhood memories forged in that manicured park or the anonymous detached des-reses..

5) SULLIVAN UPPER SCHOOL - I owe this place, and the teachers and pupils there during my brief sojourn, a huge debt of gratitude for the role they played in making me who I am today, for good or ill... But I think that part of it was the location alone... set in a large tract of green with a view out to Belfast Loch...

6) BEDLAM THEATRE - This dark, dingy, dilapidated former church/chaplaincy was a happy hunting ground for my 4 years at university in Edinburgh. It is where I met my wife, and a number of life-long friends. It is where I learned a lot about dealing with difference. And it is where I saw and was involved in an enormous amount of theatre ranging from the execrable to the excellent... I won't name which was which, at least not this time...


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

10 Day You Challenge - Day 4: 7 Wants

This is the bit of this meme I just wanted to skip, because as I read over other people's ones most of them were either exercises in fantasy conspicuous consumerism, or, and this largely applied to Christian ones, exercises of nauseatingly saccharine spirituality.
But I've started so I'll finish.
I don't think I have ever written a Christmas list... Not with any expectation of receiving what I wanted... I do keep a "wish list" on Amazon, in order to help my family when they are flailing around trying to think of what to buy me for Christmas or Easter... However, I'm not very good at updating it, so slap it up me when I get multiples of the same thing...
None of what follows appear on my Amazon list, nor are you likely to be able to purchase them for Christmas... As with the rest of this meme I have kept to the trivial end of the spectrum, so please take it for granted that I want peace in this province/the world, relief of world hunger, happiness for myself and my family and a million pound lottery win (the last might be especially hard to achieve for one major reason)... I've already listed seven things I'd like to do on my bucket list, so take those as read too, but here goes nothing, in no particular order:

1) DECENT BROADBAND COVERAGE - nuff said... 4 months of wrangling with BT doesn't seem to be bringing that any closer, despite handing over wadges of cash to them because otherwise they would not restore my service to the pathetic sub-dial-up speeds I am currently experiencing... 1st world problem, I know, but you become so reliant on tech...
2) AN EASY CURE FOR DIABETES - not one of those whacko "just follow this 200 calorie diet, of celery and broccoli shoots" type cures... but a genuine sort it out cure... Because its a nasty beggar that affects more of life than you would realise... Who would have thought a torn calf could be caused by diabetes... but it was certainly a factor... Sadly another 1st world problem, and (with a little help from my genes) largely self-inflicted...
3) LIVERPOOL TO WIN THE PREMIERSHIP TITLE - they're not doing too badly at the moment, but let's not jinx it...
4) ENOUGH TIME/MONEY/HEALTH TO VISIT ALL THE PLACES ON MY BUCKET LIST - I really enjoy travelling and because there is so much of the world to see I am reluctant to go back to the same place twice on holiday... although there are lots of places I have been that I would like to take my family... It was a real joy for Sal and I to take the boys to Ephesus, Didyma and Pamukale in Turkey last year and see them afresh through their eyes. But there is so much to see of this world, so little time (and money) to see it...
5) AN EXTRA DAY IN THE WEEK THAT DOESN'T GET FILLED WITH "STUFF" - I defend my day off relatively ruthlessly these days, but I'm still not good at actually resting on it... there's always more to do... But I suppose I can always look forward to retirement... Which brings me to...
6) SOMEWHERE TO LIVE WHEN WE RETIRE - any reasonable offer considered! but it must have...
7) A SMALL READING ROOM - perhaps with a sensible staircase...


Monday, October 28, 2013

A Minor form of Atheism?

In the light of the last post in the 10 Day You Challenge looking at 8 Fears, I thought I would briefly return to the theme of worry, anxiety and fear, which I've looked at a couple of times recently... perhaps for exactly the same reason that God and Jesus repeatedly told people not to fear... because it is, in it's many forms, such a major feature of human life.
Back at the turn of the millennium Rohan Candappa wrote "The Little Book of Stress" as a pocket sized antidote for all the other self-help tomes, especially the nauseating "Little Book of Calm" that was so rightly pilloried on Black Books. It is filled with useful little hints and tips aimed at maxing out your stress levels, with many of them centring on worry... including useful suggestions like:
Write down your worries. Read the list before you go to bed.
Worry or anxiety can be paralysing... And is at times totally irrational. The book "In the Pink" that I reviewed a while back, includes the story of a woman who could hardly sleep at night for fear that a burglar might break in - then one night she heard something downstairs and woke her husband... asking him to (for the hundredth time) to go down and check everything  was OK. He went downstairs an actually found a burglar helping himself to their belongings.
"Well, hello," he said, "I'm so pleased to meet you. Can I take you upstairs to meet my wife? She's been expecting you for over 10 years."
The "Little Book of Stress" also suggests:
Worrying is meditation carried out by realists.
Why meditate when you can worry?
The latter one seems to be a secularised version of ye olde church poster that says "Why pray when  you can worry?"
Paul clearly sees prayer as part of the antidote to worry:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians : 6-7

I have often prayed a paraphrase of that instruction with people at stressful times in hospital, and one of the most requested hymns by those at hospital services or planning funeral services, expresses a  "What a friend we have in Jesus" where Joseph Medlicott Scriven (one of my favourite names ever - had to be a hymnwriter or a Dickensian book-keeper) writes:
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer
However, the combination of that hymn, Paul's instructions to the Philippian church and the repeated instructions in the Bible not to fear are often used as a powerful cocktail to heap guilt on top of anxiety, with the suggestion by some that worry is a sin (I've already written about that last year, here and here). At one point one of the contributors to "In the Pink" goes so far as to refer to worry/anxiety as a "minor form of atheism". I don't think they invented that phrase, and I know what they are getting at. It is a memorable soundbite. But soundbites, even scripturally derived soundbites alone, don't necessarily make things any better... particularly with those for whom anxiety and worry is not a glib choice but a psychological  (and probably biochemical) condition. Such anxiety probably requires pills as well as prayer... if indeed the person is capable of praying in the maelstrom of worry. It is at that point that praying friends are invaluable as well as simple printed prayers (On this front the appendix to "In the Pink" is excellent)...

The form that the prayer takes is also important... If it is little more than sanctified worrying, where we recite our anxieties before God, then take them with us when we leave the place of prayer, it probably won't help much. But in order to prepare us for those times when anxiety bites, (and it comes for most of us at one time or another) we could also do with learning a different model of prayer. More meditative, centring prayer genuinely can take the heat out of our worries and anxieties. Not denying the seriousness of the situation we feel ourselves to be in, but ourselves and our problems in the hands of an almighty, all-knowing and all-loving God.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Psalm for Sunday

This week's offering is a paraphrase based on Psalm 105, which we're using as a call to worship in our 11am service at Belfast South Methodist, where we are looking at the story of the feeding of the 5000+...

Give thanks to the Lord,
Call on him by name;
Tell the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
Sing songs about his wonderful acts.
Honour his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and seek his strength;
Keep your eyes peeled for signs of his presence.
Remember the wonders he has done,
All his miracles, and the promises he pronounced,
He remembers his covenant for ever,
He’s been true to his words down through a thousand generations,
He brought his people out of slavery
They asked, and he fed them with quail and the bread of heaven.
He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
it flowed like a river through the desert.
He led out his people rejoicing,
his chosen ones sang and shouted for joy;
Praise the Lord.
From Psalm 105


Thursday, October 24, 2013

10 Day You Challenge - Day 3: 8 Fears

I do not like to focus on fear... the tabloids (both the paper and TV varieties) do enough of that... be it fear of Muslim extremists, Roma-child-abductors, flesh-eating microbes, rampaging poisonous spiders... You name it, they will try to turn it into a phobia -with the word phobia being used in its sense of irrational fear... Dig deep into most of these stories and you will find little of substance.
I also am not into those who build their ministries on a "gospel" of fear... Yes fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but it is only a beginning... There are those for whom fear (either at a specific point or a more general fear) was a major feature in their spiritual journey, including Martin Luther, John Newton and John Wesley. Indeed last night I was at a meeting where a Catholic priest spoke of the fear that he had as a child growing up in a mixed area of north Belfast of his home being attacked and he or his family being killed, and how that was a powerful factor in the development of his prayer life, and ultimately his vocation. However, the gospel is ultimately about encounter with a God who is described uniquely as love... and as we are told, perfect love drives out all fear. 
But this is all getting very serious, and this meme is, essentially a bit of fun... Though as I worked through this list I found little to laugh about.

1) NEEDLES - not a great one for a diabetic who has to inject himself daily...

2) DOGS - not a great one for a pastor who has to visit people who insist on keeping such creatures as pets, or who has to conduct a Service of Blessing for Animals when on exchange in the USA...

3) THE TAXMAN - despite the fact that I am usually meticulous when I fill out my tax return, there is something deep inside of me that convinces me that the boys from HMRC are going to come round with baseball bats and do something deeply unpleasant to me because due to some oversight on my part I owe them £3,000,000 pounds... So I tend to bury my tax return at the bottom of my intray until the last possible moment, hoping that it will magically go away, thereby increasing the likelihood that I will make some dreadful mistake... Actually I go into a tailspin with most major transactions of money... just not good with it... That is why I will never take on the job of treasurer in an organisation, and why I may be in a bad mood for the next week.

4) REJECTION - I touched on this in the first post in this series... It came as a big shock to me a few years ago that many of my behaviours are predicated on a genuine fear of rejection... Hence I am reluctant to ask people to do me a favour... making delegation a real trial... and I don't take the initiative in organising social gatherings etc It became clear very quickly where this came from, but this is neither the time nor the appropriate forum.

5) EXPOSURE - Both of the  preceding fears are associated with this one... I am totally convinced that one day I will be exposed for the intellectual/theological/artistic lightweight/incompetent that I know myself to be... You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but...

6) FOR THE FUTURE OF THIS PROVINCE - I am a professional purveyor of hope... But that hope is ultimately eschatological, and there are times that I look at this province that I live in, the lack of political leadership and will to make a genuine change... together with the grass-roots sectarianism throughout the whole of society (even in leafy suburbia) and I wonder why on earth I came back here from Scotland... Don't get me wrong, things are better here than they were 30 years ago, but there is a dangerous dysfunctionality to this wee country which may sow the seeds of future conflict if we are not careful.

7) FOR THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD -  But what I fear for our wee province I fear in spades for the wider world... Again I know that the whole world is in God's hands, but even scripture is pessimistic about the medium term picture... Without getting too apocalyptic about it all, it seems likely that Revelation is written to assure a church community experiencing persecution that God actually does know what he is doing and that things will turn out OK in the end... The very end. However, as a people we seem to be trying to hasten that end with profligate use of the world's resources, pollution of the air, soil and seas, messing around with a finely balanced ecology, causing the extinction of some species, introducing other GM-species and messing around with microbes that we don't really understand, producing weapons of mass destruction and creating inequalities that play into the hands of radical teachers and the very people who might use WMD with little conscience... etc etc.

8) FOR THE FUTURE OF MY CHILDREN - I often joke with my children that the only thing I will be passing on to them in my will is my debt (although of course, as I affirm at spring synod each year, with fingers crossed "I am not in debt..."). But that is only partially a joke. My youngest son became a teenager yesterday and my eldest is ambling towards adulthood,and as I said in the 2 paragraphs above the world they are inheriting is an uncertain place. We are passing the mess on to them to sort out... together with an unmanageable national debt, eye-watering personal debt if they choose to go to university, particularly if they have to go to university on the other island (thanks, Stormont for making your own young people subject to appalling inequality), no jobs and a busted welfare system we are not prepared to pay for...

OK that's me depressed for the rest of the day... Hope it has cheered you up...


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pursuing Peace - Offering Hope and Healing

Yesterday my friend David Porter, Canon for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral and the Archbishop of Canterbury's advisor on reconciliation, retweeted the quote from Bonhoeffer daily:
"From now on there can be no more wars of faith. The only way to overcome our enemy is by loving him.”
As I read this I was just starting the chapter in Jim Wallis' recent book "On God's Side" entitled "Surprising Our Enemies", which begins with another, more sizeable Bonhoeffer quote taken from "The Cost of Discipleship" where he is exploring the Beatitudes and specifically Jesus' blessing of the peacemakers. The entire section reads:
"The followers of Jesus have been called to peace. When he called them they found their peace, for he is their peace. But now they are told that they must not only have peace but make it. And to that end they renounce all violence and tumult. In the cause of Christ nothing is to be gained by such methods. His kingdom is one of peace, and the mutual greeting of his flock is a greeting of peace. His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break it off. They renounce all self- assertion, and quietly suffer in the face of hatred and wrong. In so doing they overcome evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate. But nowhere will that peace be more manifest than where they meet the wicked in peace and are ready to suffer at their hands. The peacemakers will carry the cross with their Lord, for it was on the cross that peace was made. Now that they are partners in Christ’s work of reconciliation, they are called the sons of God as he is the Son of God."
Today people will gather at West Kirk Presbyterian on the Shankill Road in Belfast meet together to remember the events of 20 years ago when an IRA bomb destroyed Frizzell's fish shop and killed 10 people, including Thomas Begley, one of the two bombers. It also set in train a number of reprisal attacks, including the Greysteel "Trick or Treat" massacre, resulting in the deaths of at least 14 other people. It might have been many more had it not been for the actions of the RUC who mounted extensive security operations around catholic chapels.
It was said that Gerry Adams carrying Thomas Begley's coffin was necessary for him to be able to lead the republican community into the subsequent ceasefires and peace process, and similar things have been said about the recent involvement of Gerry Kelly and other senior Sinn Fein politicians in the erection of a memorial to Begley... This seems to argue that the hurt that victims experience due to such events is a "price worth paying" for the sake of peace... However, real peace, which is about so much more than the absence of conflict, should in this, and every other situation, take account of the pain of victims, of all sides, seeking to bring healing and hope.
Bonhoeffer argues that central to this is the cross... It is through Christ carrying the cross on his shoulders that real peace came to earth, not Adams carrying a coffin... Christ's voluntary acceptance of all the hatred, fear and guilt in this world on his own shoulders was the means of our reconciliation with God and ultimately with each other.
As such we who follow him must go the distance... carry the cross rather than a cudgel, or gun, or bomb, or words that perpetuate pain.
The pursuit of the path of peace and a commitment to peace-making in the face of violence and wickedness is not easy. The desire for vengeance is a powerful force, and the instillation of hatred and fear into the hearts and minds of those affected, is almost irresistible.
But 20 years on, in the face of heightened tensions and unnecessary provocation, the call to God's people to seek peace and pursue it is even more important if we are going to avoid the pain of history repeating itself...


Monday, October 21, 2013

10 Day You Challenge - Day 2: 9 Loves

So here I am, 2nd day in and I'm already 4 days late... But I did say this would be a bit sporadic...
Anyway, today it is supposed to be 9 loves. OK... (I really can't wait to get to the simpler ones like books)... Let's clear the decks and take it as read that I love my family, God and pet cat... So in many ways I'm giving you 12 loves for the price of 9... But there is no way on this virtual planet that you are getting me bearing my heart on those three... The first 2 because this is entirely the wrong forum to do them justice, and the third because there is already too much cat-related wackiness on the web, and I don't want to be associated with that...
So here goes on a variety of things that I love in no particular rank order:

1) FOOD - Now there is an entire day given over to foods... but this is food in general. I have a serious psychological problem with food. It is my primary response to any emotional state; I'm happy - I eat,  I'm sad- I eat,  I'm stressed- I eat,  I'm relaxing- I eat,  I'm confused - I eat... Is it any wonder I have diabetes...

2) RUGBY - Used to love playing it (badly) but after everyone got bigger than me and my knees gave out I had to make do with watching... I'm a fan of Ulster and Ireland... Word of warning: don't expect any response to a phone call when an Ireland match is on the TV.

3) LIVERPOOL FOOTBALL CLUB - Ditto any televised Liverpool game (televised on terrestrial TV that is as I am far too tight to pay to watch football, and especially to give Rupert Murdoch any money). The past 20+ years have not been as positive as the first 20 years supporting them, but still glad I picked them over Leeds, or Manure... Cut me and I bleed red... obviously...

4) BELGIAN BEER - Curious in a Methodist minister, I know. I like ales in general, in moderation, but I love Belgian ales in their almost infinite variety, a love-affair that bizarrely began on my honeymoon to Bruges, which is as far as I could get us on my stage manager's pay...

5) BOOKS - I have as dangerous a relationship with books as I do with food. I am going to get run down reading while I am walking one of these days. There isn't as much room in my current manse for bookshelves as there were in my previous one and this has caused me serious trauma... and this is an illness I seem to have passed on to my second son.

6) COFFEE - It is suspected that my blood type is not AB positive, but Arabica. And it really must be real coffee - please don't fob me off with instant or decaf... I probably won't say anything (actually I probably will) but even if I don't I will file it away in my mental little black book...

7) GOOD COMPANY - I will rarely initiate such gatherings but I love it when I am with good friends chatting about all sorts of weird and wonderful things, laughing until I pass out (that did happen once) and mocking each other mercilessly.

8) THEATRE - There are not enough words to express my love of theatre... Good theatre and bad... I find both stimulating - and frequently both leave me saying I would love to be back doing more... the good because I would love to be part of it, the bad because I think I could do better... But given that my memory is now shot and I suffer from a certain level of stage fright that is no longer necessarily true... I don't love all theatre however... I loathe, hate and detest commercial pantomime which is simply expensive thespian junk-food, which, if we are not careful will serve as an innoculation to many regarding real theatre...

9) THE WEST WING - Simply the best piece of TV I have ever watched... and watched... and watched again... There is barely a week I could not illustrate my sermons with an excerpt from the West Wing... But I resist because a) not everyone has seen it, and b) people might get very bored of that very quickly... But I don't think I could ever get bored of it... Although I haven't watched an episode for about a year now... Last year was just too hectic for our usual winter rewatch... However I may just start again soon... It's just a pity the idiots on Capitol Hill don't pay more attention to it...
Bartlett for President...


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Psalm for Health Care Sunday

This is the responsive Psalm we will be using at our 11am service in Belfast South Methodist this morning, where my Methodist colleague and lead chaplain in the Belfast Hospitals Trust will be speaking on the subject of "Where is God when it hurts?"

How long, O Lord?
How long?
Have you forgotten me for ever?
How long will you turn your face in another direction?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and fears through the night
and each day walk around with sorrow lying like a lump of lead in my heart?
How long will my enemies look down their noses at me?
Look at me and give me an answer, O Lord my God.
Restore light to my eyes,
or I will gladly sink into the long sleep of death;
Then my enemy will say, "I have got the better of him at last,"
and my opponents will dance with joy at my defeat.
But I entrust myself to your unfailing love;
My heart dances with joy at the thought of your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
for he has been
and will be
good to me.
Psalm 13

Friday, October 18, 2013

Companions on a Journey - Reblog

In the light of the piece I wrote yesterday, the rekindling of my love affair with public transport and with more than a passing reference to Heather Morris's Presidential theme of "A People Invited to Follow..." here is a reblog of a short poem I wrote for the Connexions event at Dublin Conference nearly a decade ago.

Some people don’t like travelling on public transport
Beside other people; smelly people;
Rude people; poor people;
Noisy people; nosy people;
Young people; old people;
Some people don’t like people…
They prefer cars…
Jesus likes people…
People like you and me;
People not like you and me;
People not liked by you and me;
People who don’t like you and me;
People who don’t know you and me;
But Jesus knows them
And he knows you and me
And despite all that he knows
he invites us all to join him on his journey.
I think Jesus would have liked public transport.

(© David Campton 2004)


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Teenagers These Days

I've rediscovered the joys of public transport again, and I am not being sarcastic... The ability to jump on a bus and get more or less where you want to go without the hassle of looking for a parking space or negotiating the traffic chaos and having time to read or people watch is a modern joy that too many of us surrender for the pseudo-independence of driving a car... Anyway, this little piece of doggerel is inspired by my experience on a bus yesterday afternoon.

A testosterone fuelled knot
of boisterous teenage boys
on a bus
straight out of school
spotty and soaked
in a curious combination
of blazers and sports kit
the pent up frustration
of a day in class
slightly offset by
two periods of games
but little fun
in the rain
now chatting and chugging coke
posturing and texting
while fellow passengers
look at them askance
afraid to look them in the eye
holding on tight to their hangbags
and standing rather than sit
next or near them

It’s their stop
they press the bell
and lurch down the aisle

And each and every one of them
for no reason
says to the driver,
just doing his job

Teenagers these days.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

10 Day You Challenge - Day 1: 10 Secrets

It's been a while since I've messed around with a meme... And I said a week or two back that I might give this one a go... Although for a while I was a little hesitant because, first, it seemed a little self-absorbed, but then I remembered that I write a blog which is full of my opinions, so how much more self-absorbed can I appear; and second, frankly, the whole thing seemed a tad girly - I didn't see any other males engaging with it... but then Creideamh forged the way ahead for others with a Y chromosome...
So here goes... I'll fit them in when I have time/can be bothered... If nothing else it will help members of my new congregation see what sort of a basketcase they now have as a pastor...The theory is that on each of 10 days we make the following disclosures: 
1:   10 Secrets
2:   9 Loves
3:   8 Fears
4:   7 Wants
5:   6 Places
6:   5 Foods
7:   4 Books
8:   3 Films
9:   2 Songs
10: 1 Picture
Now my first response is to moan that I wish it was in a different order; I could offer you a list of hundreds of foods, books, films and songs, and have done on previous memes... But long lists of wants, fears, loves and secrets... Get out of here...
Especially starting with secrets... I'm temperamentally incapable of keeping secrets, actually that isn't true... I'm good at the pastoral confidentiality stuff, and there are certain things about myself that no amount of sodium pentathol never mind a meme would get out of me... But for everything in between I've probably bored you to tears with personal disclosures... But here goes with inconsequential secrets:
1: Whilst at primary school I was a compulsive fantasist - on one occasion I told my P1 teacher that my parents had adopted my best friend... Whilst on another I was asked to draw a picture of what had happened at the weekend, leading me to draw a picture of me and this same best friend on a trip to the country watching a horse get chewed up by a combine harvester. This best friend proved his worth in backing me to the hilt in both stories...
2: Actually my inability to tell the truth continued into secondary school when I once claimed in a year one English class to have read The Lord of the Flies and to describe in detail the mechanism by which the boys had ended up on the island... The teacher must have known that I was telling porkies but never publicly accused me of such... Either that or he hadn't read the book and didn't know I was making up all the rubbish I was spouting... I still haven't read The Lord of the Flies...
3: I hate having to ask people to do things... not because I am a control freak or think that I can do everything better than other people, although that is true at times, but because I am convinced from the outset that they will say no and I take that as a personal rejection, even though I always make clear that I am entirely OK with them saying no... Again I'm lying... Do we see a theme here? I may return to this under day 8.
4: Following on from the last one, I really don't like cold-calling anyone on the phone, especially if I am having to ask them to do something for me. I'm fine people talking to me on the phone, but just don't ask me to call you... Part of it is about body language and not knowing what people are REALLY meaning, but also a wariness about my own articulacy... I much prefer to have face to face contact or write things down in a letter or email so that I can check what I have said before posting it or pressing send... And when you see how incoherent my emails or blog posts are AFTER I have checked them, you can imagine how garbled I fear my verbal communication is at times...
5: And again following on from the previous one, I feel more vulnerable in a one to one situation than I do in front of a large crowd... Great for the Sunday element of my calling, not so great on the Monday-Saturday pastoral engagement... But I work hard at this one...
6: I cry at the drop of a hat while watching TV or films, particularly when I'm on my own or in the dark seclusion of a cinema... I first noticed this when as an awkward teenager I found myself bawling my eyes out at Its a Wonderful Life... Nothing unusual there you say, anyone who doesn't cry at that film has got a swinging brick in place of a heart. However, I have, at other times found myself crying at The Incredibles, and even at an episode of Doctors on BBC1... I need treament...
7: I am strangely addicted to Doctors, the lunchtime soap in the same way that I was addicted to Neighbours while at university in Edinburgh... If I am in the house around lunchtime I end up having my lunch in front of it, and it is now known as Doctors o'clock... It started out because I watched an episode written by a guy I know and then realised that he was one of the executive producers and when I was off ill a few years ago I became hooked. Again I need treatment...
8: To relax I paint model soldiers... Badly... Not Warhammer Fantasy/Science fiction stuff... That's too weird... But old-style 25mm historic metal figurines... I'm currently working on an Egyptian army from the New Kingdom era, a later Greek/Syracusan army, a Viking army and French and English armies from the Hundred Years war. I started this hobby back when I was a teenager and the Egyptians were an army I bought of a friend 35 years ago... I still haven't finished painting them. In my defence I put away such childish things for about 25 of those years and only unearthed them a few years ago when I needed something to do as therapy... I just paint them... then they go into one of the many boxes I have to store them... I have no room to display them and not sure that I would want to, and no-one wargames with that scale or era anymore...
9: Despite my love of reading it is notoriously low brow: I have never read nor intend to read Austen, Eliot, Gaskell, Proust and many other supposed literary greats... Telling me that they are must reads only makes it more unlikely...
10: I have read but don't like Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy... I also don't like, although many of these are no secret, country and western music, broccoli, golf - except for the Ryder Cup, cricket, bagpipes, Charles Dickens, Formula One, Eastenders, Manchester United, TOWIE/Big Brother/Geordie Shore/Big Fat Gypsy anything, Sunday night costume dramas, ITV news, The Daily Mail, shellfish, Classic FM, gin...

That enough to be going on with?


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

50 Ways to Close a Foodbank

I posted a link to a Guardian post including this video in last week's Saturday Supplement, but it is worth posting in its own right.

On the same day I also retweeted a friend's post about news of a new foodbank opening in Dennistoun, Scotland a week or so ago saying "With each new foodbank I don't know whether to cheer or weep."
That is not just because of the appalling need/generous response dichotomy, but also because of the refusal of some establishing foodbanks to engage their brains as well as their hearts. I was at an event on Thursday night past where our President, Heather Morris said that she longed for a day when Christians do not throw up their hands and say "I'm not a theologian". As Christians we need to think theologically - bring "God words" to bear on the world in which we find ourselves. But we also have to think politically - not necessarily party politically (though at times that is necessary, and perhaps the only way that individual Christians can make an impact). We have to not only, as Martin Luther King said, drag the accumulating bodies out of the river, but we need to go upstream and find out who is throwing them in in the first place, and why - and do all that we can to stop them... We can't simply continue to treat our neighbours who get beaten up on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, we need to make it a safer road...
Around 6 years ago I led a team of ministers on a fact-finding mission to the US looking at how the church and government could work effectively together to address need even in the context of the separation of church and state - and everywhere we went we saw an amazing volunteer-ethic and the ubiquity of foodbanks. Patronisingly we said, "Well done - but we wouldn't need that in the UK with our Welfare State." I was only home a week when I received my first request for food aid and made my first contact with Storehouse...
But the big critique of many of the local faith-based programmes in the US, especially the foodbanks, was that they did not get involved in advocacy/lobbying - they left that to community organisers or nationally groups like sojourners... They didn't want to get drawn into the toxic environment of politics.
Last week I had that same discussion with an advocate for social action from one of the newer churches here in NI... Their laudable commitment to the poor of our society went as far as meeting their immediate need for food and money management and perhaps offering them a leg up regarding training and employment, but did not see it as the church's role to "meddle in politics". At worst such an approach produces a dependency culture, trapping people in poverty just as surely as the benefits trap can do... at best it is a reiteration of the old phenomenon of "evangelical lift-off" where we "rescue" individuals and their families, allowing them to get up and out of their particular need - but also often, out of their local situation... Leaving others in exactly the same situation, reducing the social capital of the local area little by little, and deepening local pockets of poverty...
We need a thorough-going Christian critique of the political and economic world that produces such pockets of poverty... including challenging the government and local authorities when they try to twist facts and figures to cover up the problem. But we also need a whole-hearted commitment of churches to community development... I've said it before, if we are called as Christians to love our neighbours, then as churches we must love our neighbourhoods - and that should be a love not only of heart and hand - but also of head... really thinking through, theologically and politically what will really make a difference our local communities. Not simply doing good things for local people, but doing good with local people.
Lets put as much effort into closing foodbanks as we do to opening them...

For those interested in taking this further, you could check out the Demos toolkit, or if you are in NI contact Diane Holt at Tearfund or Ken Humphrey at CCWA... Other resources and agencies are available...


Monday, October 14, 2013

Wind and Waves

A monologue delivered by the wonderful Jim Allen yesterday as part of morning worship focussed around Luke 8:22-25. I originally wrote it for Jim as part of the New Irish Arts 10th Anniversary event in the Waterfront nearly 10 years ago... but he's been using it here and there since then, but I've never used it again myself... So it was nice to have it come "home" yesterday...

That night he said to us, "Come on… Let’s go over to the other side of the lake." Tell you the truth, we were glad to get into a boat and leave the crowds behind… They really got on your goat after a while... I do not know how he put up with it all the time… was it any wonder that he fell asleep as soon as we left the shore…  We needed four boats to get us all across, but there were enough of us who had been fishermen to skipper them all… I was in charge of the one Jesus was in, and I was proud in a strange sort of a way… but all my pride flew out the window when a furious storm blew up out of nowhere… It happens all the time, so some people have asked why we didn’t just take it in our stride… Why were we so afraid?… Typical land-lubber’s attitude… Because we make our living from the sea, we know how dangerous it can be… we have reason to be afraid…
This storm was as bad as any I had ever been out in… We quickly lost sight of the other boats and the waves were breaking over the boat so quickly and with such force that it was impossible to bale it out… The mainsail was ripped in two and was dancing on the yard-arm like a demon. The others were holding onto ropes, or the gunwales or anything they could grab hold of… They looked at me with terror in their eyes and shouted at me to do something. But I knew we were going down and there was nothing I could do about it… And yet Jesus slept through it all… When I saw that, I cracked… I did something I never thought I would do… And even today I can’t believe I did… But I reached down and shook him awake and said. "Rabbi, don't you care if we all drown?"  I don’t know what I expected him to do… I mean he was a carpenter, not a sailor.
But without answering me, he stirred himself, stood up and said to the wind and the waves in a quiet but authoritative voice "Quiet! Be still!" And the wind died down and it was completely calm.
Then, and only then did he turn to me, and the other disciples who were with me and said, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
We were more terrified now than when we had been in the middle of the storm… Someone asked, under his breath, "Who is he? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"
And I thought to myself… He spoke to those waves as if he had done that before… And they responded as if they had known his voice for a long, long time…


Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Psalm for (a stormy) Sunday

A reblog/revamp today based on Psalm 46. I previously published it in a slightly different form, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks 2 years ago. We're using it in Belfast South Methodist this morning as part of worship.

God is our strength and a safe place to hide,
In time of trouble he’s always there to help.
So we will not fear, even if the earth should shake
And mountains be reduced to rubble,
though the seas rage and roar
and cities be swept away in the surge.

The River of Life sustains the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is within her walls, so she will stand;
God will ride to her rescue with the rising sun.
Nations rant and rave, kings and kingdoms fall; 
The Almighty I AM speaks, and the whole earth dissolves .
The Almighty I AM is always with us;
The God of promise is our protector.

Come and see what the Almighty I AM can do, 
Sweeping away what we thought to be indestructible.
He will bring war to an end
From one end of the world to another;
Putting weapons beyond use eternally
And disarming hearts and minds.

Stop. Be still. Know that the Almighty I AM is God;
I will be exalted among all nations, 
I will be exalted over all the earth.
The Almighty I AM is always with us;
The God of promise is our protector. 
Psalms 46:1-11


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Too Thick for Theatre

I have been reduced to my most incoherent, working class roots by a combination of patronising elitism and thorough-going Philistinism... So much so, here is my second post in a day!
A few weeks ago I had a discussion with a colleague who was trying to argue that we should eschew being "too arty" and using poetry in a particular context for fear that it might alienate people from working class (and especially working class protestant) areas... I think we got our disagreement sorted out, but there is definitely a sense there that "the arts" are for the middle and upper classes and not for those in working class estates.
Then you have William Humphrey's ill-informed comments on the Lyric and Mac Theatres saying that they offer little "tangible benefit to the people in Ballygomartin, Ballymurphy or Ballymacarrett," and that "The concept of 'the arts' is not something which the Protestant working-class community in this city buys into at any great level." Now I know that comments can be misrepresented, and there is a degree to which I agree with him - there is little buy in and because of that there may be little perceived benefit... But is that a problem with what those theatres are putting on or is it the old problem of education, which is seen within the protestant working class community historically as something to churn out someone who knows just enough to work in industry, but not enough to ask too many questions - an economic unit not a fully rounded personality? Hence the concentration on the 3 Rs (what illiterate ever thought up that term) and a smattering of Bible, and an avoidance of all that poncy arts stuff... Instead of criticising the MAC and Lyric how about visiting them first and acting as an advocate? Did he see the Lyric's recent run of Gary Mitchell's "Re-Energized" set in Rathcoole? Or has he booked for the MAC's up-coming "Summertime" set (or at least inspired by) Ballybeen? Has he actually read "Observe the Sons of Ulster" which he claims the Protestant people could relate to, with its exploration of homosexuality in the midst of that mythic slaughter?
But then it's not only here in Northern Ireland you get this - in England Michael Gove is driving a coach drawn by apocalyptic horses through the education system, arguing for higher standards, but focussing again on core subjects aimed at increasing the economic value of students and cutting back on subjects like drama, music etc...
AND THEN you get Julian Fellowes telling us that "he adapted the language in his version of Romeo and Juliet to make it accessible." Again, perhaps this report by his detractors at the Globe may be doing him down, but I believe that his purveyor of faux sophistication in the form of perfumed soap is in the words of a friend, a pompous ass. I loathe Romeo and Juliet, I think that it does for teenage romance what others think "The Merchant of Venice" does for anti-Semitism, or "Taming of the Shrew" does for gender politics, though with fewer laughs... But such a patronising attitude is typical of an approach to the arts that sees its purest forms to be only for the educated elite... and that we need to feed the great unwashed on watered down versions that don't tax their limited intellects... I took my son, who has limited knowledge of Shakespeare to the Globe's 10 hour marathon of Henry VI in its raw entirety, with no dumbing down and few bells and whistles and he was captivated...
Check out the work of the Educational Shakespeare Company with prisoners and ex-prisoners... the work of Dan Gordon on Observe the Sons of Ulster in Hydebank young offenders centre...
Don't just offer them things that are within their current ken, but that will inspire, enthral and encourage them to not only seek out more, but to express themselves in ways other than what is currently paraded (and I use that word deliberately) as working class culture, be it here in Northern Ireland or in the post industrial areas of the other island...
Get busloads of people from Ballygomartin, Ballymurphy and Ballymacarrett going to "Brendan in the Chelsea", or "Philadelphia here I come" in the Lyric (and if it is a question of cost they have a scheme where if you sign up as a constituted group you can get radically reduced ticket prices) or to the MAC to see the schools Shakespeare festival or the aforementioned "Summertime." I don't know if they will be good or not... but that is half the excitement of the theatre... the opinions afterwards...
And someone, somewhere think about staging Titus Andronicus on the Shankill, with its bucketloads of blood... Midsummer's Night Dream in Woodvale Park... Twelfth Night on the Newtownards Road (that's Twelfth Night in January not July - though there is perhaps an idea for a play in there...)
Just stop this patronising claptrap and cultural snobbery (some of it reverse snobbery) about the arts and particularly theatre not being for the working classes...

Saturday Supplement

Just a few headings this week, because each of the items is big in itself:

FEMALE ROLE MODELS: this is one of those weeks when I am glad I have 2 sons - although, as I have discussed with a number of people this week the model of masculinity we offer, particularly within NI and within the church, leaves much to be desired... But the unpleasant public spat between Miley Cyrus and Sinead O'Connor left a lot to be desired... Why did Ms. O'Connor do this via public letter if it was out of concern for Miley? And what was going through Miley Cyrus' head when she dragged up the mental health of Sinead and Amanda Bynes? Annie Lennox also weighed in, without naming names. There are worrying things about the eroticizing of female self-image. There are those who would say that this is part of a trend in society that includes the body image that girls are exposed to in Barbies and Disney Princesses - leading to the controversy over the makeover for Brave's Princess Merida, which led to a climbdown by Disney. However, on the positive side was this wonderful photo-essay by Jaime Moore, that I posted on FB earlier in the week, with her daughter Emma made up as 5 inspiring women - and Miley Cyrus wasn't one of them.

MENTAL HEALTH: The Miley Cyrus piece raises the issue of mental health, as does the appalling Sun headline earlier in the week... And again I ask what were they thinking? A few weeks after Asda and Tesco are forced to withdraw their "Psycho-Killer" halloween costumes? In the same week as "Mental Health Awareness Day"? Was it simply a cynical exercise in "This headline will get them talking about us and no publicity is bad publicity?" Whatever was going through their tiny minds, this piece by Amy Simpson points to problems in the attitude to mental illness within the church, not just within US evangelicalism, but far more widely than that...

AND FINALLY: Some advice from different contexts:
First, Richard Osman, the originator and thinking giant behind the quiz-show "Pointless" encourages us to revise our bucket lists...
Second Stephen Mattson offers some ways to "survive" Christian culture on Sojourners.
Third, Kim Fabricius, offers some advice to his congregation on his retirement (though I do hope this won't be the last we hear from him...
And finally, an address at a graduation ceremony in his alma mater by musician and comedian Tim Minchin - don't agree with all of it, but there is plenty of worth within it... I'll have to go through it again and steal from it liberally:


Friday, October 11, 2013

A New Bridge to go Over...

The first thing I heard as I woke up this morning was that the playwright Sam Thompson was being honoured by naming the new bridge from Victoria Park over to Airport Road after him. This bridge allows access by foot and bike to the Harbour Estate and Titanic Quarter, the erstwhile Shipyard where his most famous play "Over the Bridge" was set... 
There is a certain appropriateness to this, but also some irony given that many of the issues that Sam Thompson raised in that play apply directly to the malaise affecting the loyalist community that lies in the shadow of the gantries of the remaining 2 shipyard cranes.
To that end I offer this slightly revised reblog of one I produced in the wake of Martin Lynch's revival/revision of the play 3 years ago, looking at why I believe it is a crucially important play:

The Physical Context - The Shipyard
In a moment of unguarded honesty a few years ago, when Harland and Wolff was teetering on the brink of total closure, a political representative with responsibilities for trade and industry said that the shipyard was a dreadful place... Full of asbestos and other noxious substances that will ultimately kill many of those who worked there. As a chaplain to the local hospital I've experienced the truth of that. But despite that, it was the major employer in Belfast, and particularly "Protestant" East Belfast for nearly a century, and the local people had a love/hate relationship with it akin to the mines in coal-mining areas. I remember a neighbour of mine who worked in the yard holding up his hands to me when I was about 8 or 9... neither hand had a full complement of digits, and he told me to do something with my brain so I wouldn't have to work with my hands in the yard. But the yard is part of the DNA of Protestant East Belfast, even among those who, like my Dad, never worked there. Therefore its demise is almost a metaphor for the demise of Protestant hegemony in Belfast and Northern Ireland as a whole. The fact that the Titanic was built in Harland and Wolff's is still a bizarre source of pride locally (along with the Somme and George Best - 2 other success stories!), and for that reason the decision to name the massive development to be built on the site of the old shipyard "The Titanic Quarter" was not greeted with any sense of irony in the local community... not even when it struck the iceberg of the current development-led recession.

Generation after generation worked in the yard... where it wasn't what you knew but who you knew was important... Leading to a general disregard for education in the local working class loyalist community... a disregard which is so ingrained that it has outlasted the yard as a source of mass employment. But that disregard is disproportionately Protestant, because for most of it's history the workforce in the yard was disproportionately Protestant... Some that being because of the nepotistic recruitment policies of previous generations, but a lot being because of naked sectarianism.

And certainly the yard was not only filled with hazardous asbestos, it was also filled with hazardous sectarianism. Some of that was periodically stoked by employers and the ruling class who liked to divide and rule, as with the rent strike in the early years of the 20th century when residents of the Shankill and Falls came together to challenge their housing conditions, only to have Randolph Churchill advising those in power here to "play the Orange card" which they did, leading to an ultimate breakdown in the protest.

OK, it was often sectarianism dressed in the black humour that was also rife in the yard... Like the Glasgow shipyards that produced Billy Connolly, Belfast's Harland and Wolff produced its own comics... few made it to the national stage, but everyone in east Belfast knew someone who "worked" in the yard and would have them in stitches of laughter, regaling them with tales from the "island". Local singer Brian Houston while bantering the audience told them that it took 8 years of abuse in the yard to prepare him for putting down the public. But even when delivered as a joke, sectarianism is dangerous... perhaps more so.

Now, the yard has all but gone, but the legacy of humour, asbestos, attitude to education and sectarianism still remain.

The Spiritual Context - Faith and Bigotry
As I commented on Martin Lynch's adaptation, this saw the doubling up of the evangelical Billy Morgan and the sectarian Archie Kerr so that both parts were played by the same actor... I do hope this was an economic consideration (actors ARE an expensive commodity) rather than a cheap allusion to sectarianism being the shadow side of evangelicalism. There may be a certain truth to it, but it is a truth that deserves greater exploration than a cheap theatrical device.

Unadulterated bigotry has been preached from Northern Ireland's pulpits down through the years... particularly in those that are popular among working class people. Bigotry sells... and whether you are a politician or a preacher it is easy to appeal to people's prejudices and tell them that all their problems are the fault of others. Is bigotry purely the preserve of working-class evangelicalism? No... although it has come in a slightly more naked form there at times. In middle class mainline protestantism the bigotry could (and can) be much more polite and intellectualised... whilst at the same time sneering at the straightforward sectarianism of working class fellow protestants. It has also been there within Roman Catholicism, with doubts cast on the Christian credentials of Protestants especially with the "Ne Temere" declaration rigorously enforced throughout Ireland, long after the effects of Vatican 2 had been felt throughout the rest of the world. The main difference between the Protestant and Roman Catholic take on sectarianism, however, is that, within Northern Ireland, for most of its history, the Protestant community has not only been in the majority but has wielded political power... and often those who have wielded political power have done so with an explicitly "evangelical Protestant" mindset.

Thompson touched on this explosive mix of faith and politics... his version of the play began with the supposed socialist Rabbie, singing a hymn by John Henry Newman, the Anglican turned Roman Catholic Cardinal... and finished with a minister stepping from the shadows to pronounce the words of the funeral service... The latter subtlety was lost with Martin Lynch's clumsy transposition of "It is no secret what God can do" from the middle of the play to the close... But perhaps this issue is too important for subtlety. Given the sensitivities of society at the time it was written, Thompson's version of the play was nearly never staged... If it had ended as Lynch's version had, it perhaps never would have been...

The Political Context - Socialism and Social Climbing
Throughout Northern Irish history, polite society has avoided talking about religion and politics. So let me finish with a reference to the political context in which the original production of "Over the Bridge" was written and set. Whilst Unionism dominated Northern Ireland throughout its history as a semi-independent statelet, an important minority voice in the life of working class protestantism was that of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, and the Unions. Sam Thompson came from that tradition.

My own family had a Unionist/Labour split within it... with my grandmother being a staunch unionist and my grandfather a labour man... Indeed there is a family myth that when my grandfather was serving in Burma at the close of the war, my grandmother used his proxy vote to vote for a unionist, causing a huge row when he got home.

But the politics of left and right have never trumped the politics of north and south, or orange and green, in this society, particularly not in the protestant part of it. This could, in part be due to an abiding fear of domination by the Roman Catholic Gaels on the part of Protestant planter stock... but it could also be due to something deep within that same Protestant planter stock that always wants to better oneself... a highly individualised faith... one later articulated by Margaret Thatcher in her denial of the existence of society... In Sam Thompson's version original version of the play it is articulated by Nellie, the sister in law of Davy, the union leader, leading her husband by the nose, to a better life out in the suburbs (suburbs that my own family moved to from east Belfast around the time this play was written). Nellie may have been a caricature, indeed most of the women's parts may have been and could have benefited by a rewrite by someone like Marie Jones, but to lose that voice, as happened in Martin Lynch's adaptation, is to lose an important social factor in working class Protestantism... the "up and out" mentality of those who have bettered themselves, including those who have done so partly through a conversion experience. This has resulted, in latter years in those "left behind" in Loyalist estates feeling betrayed both by the church and middle class Protestants...

It is also unfortunate to lose 2 out of 3 female voices in the play as a whole, because that is a denial of the role of women in the "shipyard society." They may have been confined to the office within the confines of the actual yard, but working class East Belfast was held together by strong women. Some, over the years, have suggested that had women a more prominent place in society we would have had a much gentler, less confrontational province... But this disregards the fact that women can be just as bigoted as men... Indeed the subtle sectarianism passed on in the home from mother to child can be a lot more dangerous and difficult to root out than the straightforward variety that is usually manifested by men... a reservoir of bitterness. My father was the Orangeman, but it was my mild-mannered mother who first asked me was my fiancee a Catholic and threatened to boycott my brother's wedding if he went ahead and married his then Roman Catholic girlfriend.

Because they had cut back almost totally on female roles in Lynch's production, there were no grand statements in the programme about women's roles in reconciliation and peacebuilding (which can sometimes be over-egged), but there were various notes there which lionised the role of the union movement in the promotion of peace, tolerance, equality and apple pie. However, let's remember Sam Thompson's damning indictment of the trade unionists in the closing scene... where Baxter reminds the mourners that when the trouble loomed the union members all walked away... Actually in Martin Lynch's production this should have been changed to "we all walked away," as he had changed the stage directions such that ALL of Davy's friends and comrades "walked away."
Thompson was sadly being prophetic in that when the troubles broke out a decade after the production was first staged, many trade unionists made the decision that they valued either the United Kingdom, a united Ireland or their own peace and quiet, over and against the wellbeing of their fellow trade unionists or the wider community.
Sadly many church members made the same choice... Choosing united Ireland or United Kingdom over the Kingdom of God... Yesterday's 25th anniversary relaunch of "For God and his Glory Alone" touched on that uncomfortable truth.
50 years on from the original production and 40 years and more on from the beginnings of our most recent batch of "Troubles" the context is changed... We live in a post-industrial world... the shipyard is no longer the powerhouse it once was... but its shadow looms large... both as a misleading myth of imperial protestantism/the brotherhood of socialism (take your pick) and (together with the welfare state) a malevolent influence on the attitude of working class protestants to education. Church-going may not be as popular as it once was (there's more things open and the TV is better on a Sunday!), but old sectarian certainties are still being pedalled from certain influential pulpits, and the legacy of generations of sectarianism will be hard to unpick... And the social landscape has radically changed... the divide between the Protestant middle class and the non-working class they and their forebearers had escaped from is now almost insurmountable... The labour movement (such as it ever was in Northern Ireland) has moved on from negotiating unsustainable working practices in the shipyard, to defending unsustainable levels of public sector employment, while even those who are part of a union are, on the whole, looking out for themselves.
Yet "Over the Bridge" is not simply an historic artifact to be taken out and dusted off every couple of decades; given a make-over by the current playwright who is flavour of the month... It is a reminder that behind all our high ideals... beyond all the words (and in Thompson's original play, as in this reflection, there is a superfluity of words), we need to be prepared to act... to stand up for one another, to stand up against what is wrong... whether it is the persecution of Catholic. Protestant or Roma... To build, not iconic yet ill-fated ships, but bridges to bring people together... people of different religions, races, political opinions and social classes...

We need to build those bridges then cross over them...


Thursday, October 10, 2013

For God and his Glory Alone

28 years ago I headed off to university in Edinburgh kicking the dust of Northern Ireland off my proverbial sandals, never intending to return, like many of my generation, particularly on the Protestant/Unionist side of the divide. I had had enough of the Troubles in my native statelet... they had been going on for most of my life, and by that stage I felt, quoting the words of my least favourite Shakespeare play "A plague on both your houses."
3 years later, however, a group of people some of whom I knew, most of whom I didn't, came together as Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI) to draft and release a document entitled "For God and his Glory Alone". The title was a conscious and direct challenge to the motto of the UVF and mental framework of many Ulster protestants brought up on the mythologuy of Carson and the Somme etc - "For God and Ulster", which too often got reversed in practice with people putting Ulster (or at least the stunted post-partition form of Ulster) first, and God a long way behind in second...
Someone gave me a copy... I can't remember now who it was... But I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Actually at times I felt that I owed them a punch in the face, because without that document I probably wouldn't be back in Northern Ireland today... It contributed to a Scotch broth of thoughts and emotions going on in my heart and head over the previous year... Starting with the Remembrance Sunday bombing in Enniskillen and Gordon Wilson's words of forgiveness, then the Gibraltar shootings, and subsequent Milltown Cemetery attack and the later killing of Corporals David Howes and Derek Wood in March... Then came this document out of the evangelical camp that I considered my own, but speaking language and dealing with issues I had never heard in any evangelical meeting to date, under 10 headings:
  • LOVE - for God and neighbour and enemy (even if that enemy is a terrorist)
  • FORGIVENESS - to be offered unconditionally (even to terrorists)
  • RECONCILIATION - with God and others... including the revolutionary idea that "as evangelicals we must accept our share of the blare for... the alienation felt by many of the minority community in Northern Ireland."
  • PEACE - the imperative of peacemaking and the rejection of violence, even in the guise of self-defense
  • CITIZENSHIP - including the revolutionary idea that you could be evangelical and Irish
  • TRUTH - that the truth of the Gospel is far greater than any of our formulations of it
  • SERVANTHOOD - rather than triumphalism
  • JUSTICE & RIGHTEOUSNESS - including the idea that any form of exploitation, oppression or discrimination is a denial of the intrinsic dignity of every human being, requiring a commitment to the human rights of others, particularly the poor and powerless
  • HOPE - in God, not any nationality, politics or culture.
  • REPENTANCE - humble acknowledgement of fault
In many ways this document changed my mindset with regard to this province, so that when I experienced a sense of call to ministry, and ultimately to ministry back here, it was with these imperatives echoing in my head, and in many ways my almost 20 years of Methodist ministry has been made up of trying to work these things out, in my head and heart, in my sermons and in my engagement with the wider community. Even today I was writing a sermon and a separate liturgy that reflects the language of this short document, and involved with 2 meetings that touched on many of the same issues 25 years further down the line.
If you haven't read it before you can either download the 15th anniversary revised edition, or come along to Skainos later this morning and buy a 25th Anniversary brand new re-release of the original, for the same price as it was back then - a whole £1.
My prayer is that in 25 years such a book will be no longer needed... Not because it is irrelevant, but because the issues within it are so mainstreamed within church and society that we don't need to articulate them.
We're not there yet...