Couldn't have said it better myself...

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

Anais Nin

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Listening and Learning 50 and 100 Years On...

I am currently reading a book that looks at classical culture and at one point the author questions the possibility (or indeed the point of) establishing the historic truth of any of the foundation myths of an ancient city like Rome, looking back thousands of years to a tradition that was probably already almost a millenium old.
We in this part of the world should know the truth of this as we already have difficulty untangling the historic truths of the past 50 years of conflict, never mind the foundation myths of the two jurisdictions on this island, many of which find their historic roots in the events of 1916 in the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme.
There are many upcoming events commemorating/celebrating/reflecting on these and other anniversaries of this so-called "Decade of Centenaries" including two public lectures in Belfast South Methodist:

IRELAND ON THE BRINK 1912-1922: Some Thoughts on the Decade of Centenaries
on Monday 15th February at 7.30 pm with Dr Eamon Phoenix, political historian, broadcaster and head of life-long learning at Stranmillis University College, and

on Monday 25th April 2016 at 7.30 pm with Rev. Dr. Johnston McMaster associate professor of the Irish School of Ecumenics.

The week before last I went to a more theatrical response by Contemporary Christianity, following up their earlier production on the 1912 Covenant. This was entitled "Halfway House" and looked at the events of 1916 from the perpective of 2 women, one protestant and the other catholic, but both brought up in or near Downpatrick, trapped in the mythical "Halfway House" Pub during a snowstorm in 1966. Set in the midst of a decade that seemed to be full of change and hope, politically, socially and relgiously, ostensibly this allowed us to look at 1916 through a lens that was un-muddied by subsequent events, but the developing tension between the two women as they compared and contrasted their families' stories was pregnant with the Troubles to come, (the Belfast premier of the play was staged at Fitzroy Presbyterian and you can read a review of it by Fitroy's minister, Steve Stockman on in blog.) People often suggest that if more women were involved in political life here that things would be radically different, but whilst I am a passionate believer in equal representation of the sexes in all spheres of life, I am not convinced by this reasoning as I have found, in my own family and in community politics that women can be just as bitter about the past and intransigent regarding the future as any man, and sometimes more so. This play, however, removed the often toxic ingredient of male aggression from the mix, allowing raw emotion of competing pain and loss to be more clearly heard. These were human stories being told, rather than a litany of political point-scoring and philosopical one-upmanship that often happens when the events of 1916 are sometimes explored in cross-community settings.
This is the tenor of another piece written by the author of "Halfway House", Philip Orr, entitled "Stormont House Rules". This looks at the events of 1912-16 and beyond via the vehicle of a political debate. It is being staged as part of the 4 Corners Festival this coming Thursday 4th February, at Duncairn Arts Centre at 7.30pm. Having read the script and seen a workshop edition of the play, it is a much more dense affair than "Halfway House" and makes an interesting partner piece... The characters in it are very keen to get their own point of view across but not always too keen to listen... or where they are listening it is generally only for a key point to interupt!
This is interesting given the theme of this year's 4 Corners Festival is "The Art of Listening..." An audience, by definition is supposed to listen, but will we only listen out for those points that reinforce our own perspectives and prejudices? Or will we listen for those unsettling and uncomfortable truths that undermine the myths that established, not only the two different jurisdictions on this island, but the mindsets of those of of us who live within them?
Come along, listen and learn... 


Monday, February 1, 2016

Are You Listening?

Are you listening? 
The theme for this year's 4 Corners Festival, which began last Thursday evening and runs to next Sunday evening in St. Nicholas' Parish Church, is "The Art of Listening". Yesterday at Fitzroy Presbyterian, the church where 4 Corners founder, Steve Stockman, is the current minister, my friend and colleague, Heather Morris, preached a challenging sermon on that theme, and it is worth a listen (or a read).
But we began the festival with an event organised by EmbraceNI, in the City Hall; "From Syria (and elsewhere) with Grace, looking at the plight of refugees and asylum seekers coming to this city and what we as churches might do to help. It was important to be warned of the danger of our compassion for Syrian refugees here and elsewhere adversely affecting refugees and asylum seekers from elsewhere... to hear about the gap between the granting of asylum and the ability to access benefits or be permitted to take a job... and heart-breaking to hear first hand the experience of destitution that many in this process experience, with the suspicion that such destitution is being used as a deliberate instrument of government policy to encourage refugees to "go back to where they came from", But as one speaker said, the combination of the weather and the low rate of refugee support is a big enough deterrent! We need to hear these voices rather than the shrill, fear-inducing voices of too many tabloids... As Richard Kerr reminded us we need to not only discuss welcoming the stranger at the heart of this city but recognise that welcoming the stranger lies at the very heart of the Christian gospel.
But we also need to remember that there are people who come to this city reasons other than being refugees. Indeed, that an influx of migrants of all sorts should be something that we aspire to as a sign of normality and indeed prosperity in this era of "peace." Tomorrow night in one of the newest corners of this city, Poleglass, which only pormally became part of Belfast City Council last year, we encourage you to listen to the "Voices of the New Belfast." 
This is a showing of some of a series of short documentaries produced by award winning film company ESC, telling the stories of various people who have only recently come to call Belfast "home". It was produced as a result of workshops in all 4 corners of the city and tells of the expereinces of these new citizens of Belfast, before and after coming here; their struggles, their joys and what they bring to this city. It was previously screened in Parliament Buildings at Stormont, and in other places during Cultural Diversity Week last year, but we are delighted to be screening it, with the opportunity to question some of the participants and film-makers, as part of 4 Corners this year in a corner of our city rarely visited by even long established citizens of Belfast... 
It is being hosted by Youth Initiatives, (50 Colin Rd, Dunmurry, Belfast BT17 0LG) who for the past 25 years have been working in Poleglass, so there may also be the opportunity to hear a little of their challenging work in this new corner of our city. 
Are you ready to go and listen?
(What follows is a trailer for the documentary series)