Monday, 31 December 2007

Chuckles

Just when western middle class guilt seemed to have induced melancholia more effectively than an Old Year's Night drink... Along came Will & Testament and William's Person(s) of the year, the new Chuckle Brothers Ian and Martin Paisley-McGuinness... Fair play. They have done the unthinkable and got little thanks for it - but it was far better than any of the alternatives on offer. Much to be thankful for in 2007.

Then I noticed a link to The Cartoon Blog Thank you Dave Walker! I was glad of the chuckles.

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

A Clean Sheet

Last day of the old year, and I spent it trying to find new sheets for my child's first bed.

I found sheets. Lots of sheets. But matching ones?
And certainly none that didn't make me pray for the poor folk who make them in the far east...

No, I tell a lie. I looked on the internet last night, and found lots of organic and fair trade sheets. Almost all white and none of them affordable.

Affordable. Well, I guess what I mean is that I'm too mean... to spend what it costs to pay cotton producers, spinners, weavers etc a fair wage.

In the end I went and sold my soul to IKEA.

A far cry from straw in a feeding trough, and swaddling bands.

I want my child to be rich... in the things that matter. In beauty and colour, but more importantly in relationships and world citizenship. But on this last day of 2007 I have cheated her with brightly coloured fripperies fabricated on the back of the world's poor...

Tomorrow, I want to start afresh, with a clean sheet, and beautiful bedding made by people who are fairly paid.
Tomorrow, I want to give her the wealth of the King of kings who said "what does it profit a person, to gain the whole world, and lose their soul?"

... at least, that's what I say I want to give her. But am I ready to let her live a life like Jesus, in simplicity and relative poverty, and perhaps even to suffer a death like his, standing for truth, love, justice and freedom from oppression and the power of evil?

Monday, 24 December 2007

Waiting

Advent's nearly over.
Been too busy and too tired to blog much...
Hardly had time to know what's in the news, let alone to reflect on life...
I've had small sick people to think about... That makes a different kind of reflection.
Come tomorrow, what will change?
Some things you can't plan for. Just keep eyes open for signs of hope, for justice, for grace, for mercy and peace... healing.
Meanwhile, got to go and get this day's bread.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Omagh from the outside

I remember 15th August 1998.
It was the end of my first week in my new job. I had been living abroad, but had come "home" to contribute to the building of peace.
We were taking two carloads of young adults, including some foreign visitors, to the Marble Arch caves near Enniskillen.
On our way home, we stopped briefly to stop in Erneside shopping centre. It's not a huge place, so there was little opportunity to lose each other. But we hadn't counted on the bomb scare. Forced out through different doors, and away from our agreed meeting place, I was feeling distressed that instead of peace, our visitors were seeing the old Troubles. Instead of experiencing Irish hospitality, they were in danger.

Eventually we found each other and started back Eastwards, passing signposts for Omagh on our left. I put the radio on, and we heard the early reports of the bomb there.
Numbness, the need to reassure our visitors whilst wondering where to put that old terror rising within... the need to check on relations in the town... then a kind of guilty relief that no one I knew seemed to be hurt. But tears, waves of tears, even as I write, for the unborn children, for the mothers, fathers, grandparents, husbands, wives, children, uncles, aunts, friends... Protestant, Catholic, Mormon. Unionist, Gaelic, Spanish.

This is a small place. Sometimes we might pretend it is otherwise, but when one suffers, we all suffer - one way or another.

I wonder... would the Peace Process have had the same support, had it not been for that day in Omagh. Would we be where we are? How far from the bombers' intentions... unless... (but I can't allow myself to imagine such a cynical conspiracy as that. Can I? Who can guess the motivations of people who would do such a thing?)

Police Questioning

Sean Hoey acquitted... So the survivors and victims' families from the Omagh bombing of 15th August 1998 still have no justice. Not that they would have had justice if he'd been convicted though innocent. In fact, no system of human justice can ever render true justice. Even like-for-like, eye-for-eye retribution will only ever give what the offender deserved, which is easier to bear than the injustices meted out to the victims... - That was my conclusion from watching Dead Man Walking years ago...

But what a mess for us all to live with. The police have so many questions to answer around the collection of evidence that one wonders... what will this do to our society's fragile respect for law and order?

[I heard this week of a policeman who bought his son a car, and said that there was no need to pay Road Tax until stopped and challenged about it. I hope, I hope that he was misunderstood or misquoted. I hope such cavalier attitudes to the law are not endemic.]

But my heart was warmed by the widower of an Omagh victim, who spoke today as a lawyer and said something to the effect that he believes in our system of Law and Order, and that although he is not happy for the victims at the outcome of Sean Hoey's trial, Sean Hoey is a human being with human rights, and those rights were protected from a miscarriage of justice today. Nonetheless, he reminded us, the victims' human rights were not respected. The implication was that as a society, we do not/should not reduce ourselves to the level of the terrorists. I can imagine that some of his family, friends and fellow victims can't agree with him; some will be angry that he still trusts such a system... but I thank God for his courage and integrity in holding to the higher good.

For every father teaching his kids to evade the law where possible, there will always be one living in integrity and instilling faith and hope.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Winter Graduation

One after another, they walked across the stage, shook hands with the Chancellor and crossed to receive their degree. Name after name after name, face after face. The university can hide their individuality with gowns and mortar boards, but the glory of each one, made, if the bible is to be believed, in the image of God! I watched them pass. Doctors, diplomas, firsts and passes, it didn't matter. They were there to celebrate the end of a process, the finishing of a project, the successful completion of a course of events. And there were their families and supporters, proud or tired, some underdressed for the occasion, but there nonetheless.

Applause after applause, till our hands ached... but still we applauded, because each one deserved recognition for their work, their achievement. Then at last, approaching the end, the Chancellor bid the new graduates stand, wave their mortar boards in the air and shout their thanks to those who had supported them. Family, friends and faculty... it wasn't the loudest shout I've ever heard, but it had joy in it.

Merited applause has its place, but heaven will be filled with shouts of gratitude...

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

The Angel at the Meter

Exhausted. Let Littlun go to Granny's for the day, as she seemed to be getting better, little by little, and I needed a break. So off to Belfast City Centre, found the perfect parking space, as close as could be hoped for between the two places I wanted to go, and right beside a parking meter. I thought I was "on the pig's back", till I realised the meter didn't want to accept my card, and I didn't have two £1 coins. I tried to phone, but the number on the meter didn't seem to be working. The guy behind me wanted to pay for his parking using coins, so I let him go ahead, while I redialled. He said, "How long are you wanting to park for?"
"A couple of hours", I said, pushing the buttons on my phone.
"Here," he said, putting £2 in my hand. "We won't need it, we're heading back to Ireland."

I can't decide what this moment is. Gratitude. A moment of grace. But it's also of humour and the sense of living somewhere really bizarre... How can you be heading "back to Ireland" whilst standing on the island of Ireland? He meant "back to the Republic", or "back to the South." He meant, we're going to Euroland, where these pounds stirling are clutter in my pocket.
I thanked him, and watched him disappear down the road.
It's not a pig's back I'm on... an angel, momentarily transporting me and my values to a different kingdom...
p.s. I still didn't have £2 to buy the Issues magazine from the Romanian woman. Is there any cure for the condition of my heart?

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Liverpool Nativity

It was like Advent... waiting in the dark, wondering how long the suffering would end... and languishing for the light. Well, I had been hoping to watch Liverpool Nativity on BBC3, but instead, was tending the sick. At last, she was willing to rest, to sleep, and I headed for the flickering of the glowing Box. I only caught the last three minutes of Joseph and Mary singing with delight and wonder and terror at the beauty in their baby bundle... but it took no time for the emotion to grip me, for Gabriel's words to the crowd to seize my heart with joy and grief and hope. The refugee family are sent into the crowd, and the crowd are commissionned: "welcome them among you... swathe them in your love..." - or something to that effect. It was the word "swathe" which caught me. Swaddling, clothing, snuggling, like the bands that surrounded the newborn baby, compensating for the loss of the maternal womb, reassuring as mothers' arms. Oh, that our communities might again be nurseries for lost children, secure places beyond the womb, for all to be born among us and thrive!

Salvation from Sainsburys

"Open me for great offers and inspiration this Christmas!"
Thus spake the angel email messenger,
and immediately there was with the email ... the idea of an alternative Christmas... (with apologies to Luke 2.8-19)

And there were in the same country shoppers abiding in cyberspace, keeping watch over their blogs by night.
And, lo, the Email of the Store came upon them, and the glory of the Store shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. (For there were only ten shopping days till Christmas.)
And the email said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is stacked this day in the outlet of your choosing a Saviour, which is All You Need.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the goods wrapped in plastic, delivered to your doorstep.
And suddenly there was with the Email a multitude of emails praising Goods, and saying,
Glory to Store in the highest, and on earth peace of mind, good gifts for all men.
And it came to pass, as the emails were gone away from them into Deleted Items folder, the shoppers said one to another, Let us now go even unto our local outlet, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Store hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Marketing* and Junk, and the Bargain lying in a trolley.
And when they had bought it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this purchase.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shoppers.
But Marketing kept all the profits, and pocketed them in her heart.


*Some early manuscripts: Merchandise

Saturday, 15 December 2007

A little joy



So much more refreshing than the same number of men chasing a ball around a pitch...

Thursday, 13 December 2007

The Heart of Christmas

I wanted, with my Methodist colleague, to provide a meal for the international students, and to share some of the cultural significance, and some of the Christian heart, of Christmas.

I mentioned our plans to a group from the local Presbyterian congregation, who make a point of befriending international students, and providing hospitality over holidays. They volunteered to help us with the food and anything else we needed.

We spent the day clearing the hall, rearranging and cleaning the grimy chairs and tables... Just as we were realising that the tables we wanted to bring up from downstairs were far too heavy for us to lift, a friendly -and burly- student arrived to help us. A real God-send.

We got the place set up, and as daylight fell, the colours of the room warmed, and our plain white tablecloths with a single white candle on a red napkin, began to glow with simplicity and welcome. We had no idea who would avail of our invitation. The kind accommodation office had offered to deliver the fliers, but it meant we had no personal contact with most of the students, and no idea whether there would be ten or a hundred. In catering, we had picked a number: sixty. In setting up, the available tables and chairs had allowed for sixty. And when the room was full, and all were being fed, I did a quick head-count. Sixty...

At the end of the night, there was just a little left over. Enough to show that no one had been underfed! We had lots of grateful students, lots of good contact, and the privilege of explaining in some way why we celebrate Jesus. We sang a few Christmas Carols: Hark the herald angels sing, O little town of Bethlehem, and Silent Night, and the Germans made it perfect by offering a spontaneous verse of Stille Nacht.

Grateful and humbled, that from the chaos and disorganisation, God took the best we could offer, and used it to bless people from many nations. As the prophet Isaiah said, "Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn."

And as God said to Abraham,
"I will bless you ... and I will make you a blessing to others.
...All the families of the earth will be blessed through you."
Genesis 12.2,3

The Mockingbird's Leap

I'm really enjoying quick forays into blogging, both here, and in the transient (but probably more eternal than we imagine) community on www.themockingbirdsleap.wordpress.com
The diversity of our lives and days, the complexity of our interactions in our world, reflect prisms of pure light shining in varied intensities and hues across our spectrum.

While I am at home tending a sick child, someone else is taking Gentiles to visit a synagogue, and someone else is in a shopping mall.

It makes me wonder, what are the days like for those who have no leisure to blog, who have no computer or internet or electricity... or the liberty from worry or starvation to pause and reflect.

Rich... but poor if we don't take time to notice.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Transitional Justice

I visited the Transitional Justice Institute for the first time the other day. Argentina and South Africa's experiences of how human rights activism has changed through political transition. I only understood the discussion at a very superficial level. But it was enough to trigger my own thoughts about how to ensure that our Northern Irish peace process continues to bed in.

I realised that I don't yet believe the peace is permanent. There's too much bigotry and there are too many sectarianisms around for me to be confident that we've "got it". Respect for all human beings is not yet our "point de d├ępart", or even our default position. Our theologies here are idolatrous in providing excuses for rejecting the image of God in fellow-humans. Too many "decent folk" still prefer to shun those they disagree with, rather than engage, learn to listen, to understand and even to love. (Anything short of this is not following Christ, is it?)

While I can turn up to a church meeting and feel cold-shouldered for my theology, before I've even met folk, I cannot celebrate the quality of the love of Christ in my own denomination.

Thankfulness and Peace

It feels odd to come back to my blog after several weeks' absence, due to my daughter's severe chest infection and time in hospital, and to see that the last thing I wrote was about compassion for a hummingbird, and our Father's love for us.

She lay in the crook of my arm this evening as I made up a story about "Belinda Bear", to coax her towards sleep, and I remembered those same, bright little eyes, shining up at me during those first months when I fed her from my own body. Now she sings and talks and paints and skips; the chest infection lost its hold over her, and life has flooded back in to her hungry, growing cells. She laughs, loves humour, word play, mischief... her grandparents and her parents.

We said Thank You to God for giving us this day, and she carried her teddies to the cot, then came back to me for a hug, and to be lifted in, tucked in, and enfolded in the quiet peace of darkness.

Monday, 19 November 2007

The Hummingbird

Puzzling this morning over a large jungle jigsaw with my daughter, I noticed for the first time a small hummingbird... and remembered Capistrano in February 1998, where I first saw real hummingbirds.

Whizzing and whirring in the conference centre gardens, daylight shooting stars... too fast to see... then the torrential downpours of El Nino overnight, and one tiny bird exhausted and wet, gasping as it lay full length (about 2 inches) in the palm of a man's hand. I got a really good look at its perishing beauty.

The sorrow for this minuscule creature, the compassion from these theology students, attempting a rescue, where none might be possible... and my having to leave, not knowing how the story would end.
"not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father noticing it" Mt 10.29


"If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him." Mt 7.11

Grace in the mystery of a memory.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Lions for Lambs

Preachy? Maybe a bit. But I want to see this one again.
Engage with it.
Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise... Another film about the US' international wars. This one juxtaposes the disengagement in domestic crises, by taking two students from bad areas and schools, who make it into political science majors and then sign up, so that when - if - they return as war veterans, the country will HAVE to listen to them.

Since I work with students, what worked for me was the inspiring and challenging of young people to engage the world for positive change, rather than opt out through cynicism, hedonism or sheer lack of vision.

The impossible position of the Media, enslaved to corporations, no longer free to critique the policies and politicians, and the Powers which influence and control them, highlighted the need for new communities of truth-telling, not owned or manipulable by the Powers. Individuals with integrity can't be effective alone; they need others to support them, to go down together, but to make a splash doing so.

In the end, it's all about timing. Knowing when to stand up, and when to keep your head down. Even the best people, with the most integrity, engaging the best they know how, may make little impact if they stand up too late... or too soon.

Where I come from, (Belfast... Planet Earth...) compromise means we are all sullied with each others' sins and mistakes; but it is also what enables some sort of future.

3 Reasons Why Gold is Headed for $1500 An Ounce

I should be grateful to Christianity Today for its email, with the above title this morning, so disinterestedly pointing me towards the possibility of making higher profit than in the shaky stock market, by investing in gold. But I was shocked, - and angry all day. It was a Books & Culture email, so I imagined it was a clever trail for a book that would be critical of the quest for riches and financial security without questioning the ethics of our investments... so I read on... and on... and even clicked on the link to see the Christian punch line. It never came. Or rather, the punch line seemed to be: the stock market is fragile, so get out (never mind that you are contributing to its decline), and invest - not in communities of faith who can cushion the blow for those at the bottom, but in gold bullion.

Actually, though I'm angry, I am grateful. Because I still have two coats, and even spare shoes... Grateful. For the reminder of the god of material gain, which shapes and guides our lives, and for whom we make so many great sacrifices of time and freedom. "5000 years of history says Gold is a protector of wealth. This makes Gold Eagles an excellent investment for profit, privacy and times of economic and market uncertainty." Christianity Today says so, so there.


Let's forget that economically unprofitable Teacher then, who said something like Don't invest in your financial security; invest in the kingdom of God. When he said (see Luke 12.33) "Sell what you have and give it to the poor," Jesus clearly didn't realise that true worth is not in the people made in God's image. Now we know the truth: even the stock market is faulty, because it too is a human community of faith. Ditch it. Don't trust it. True Wealth is protected by cold gold.


That old teacher got one thing right, though. Moths and rust can't eat it.

So that's all right then.


Isn't it?

Sunday, 4 November 2007

I wonder as I wander

Wondering... As a child, I loved the film, Paint Your Wagon, especially two of its songs: I was born under a Wanderin' Star; and I talk to the trees. Now, rooted in Belfast, my journey is in my mind and outwards to learn to love others - fairly carbon-neutral. I don't know if trees read blogs, but they never listened anyway.

I loved Christmas too, and Christmas carols. I wonder as I wander... I never quite got the hang of "We Three Kings", but kept coming back to look at the Star of Wonder. These ramblings may reflect some of the sparkle of my journey, a pinpoint testimony to a real time and place somewhere in the universe, from which a particular ray of light reached earth, and was noticed by a traveller.

Inspired by the brilliant Truth in Translation at the Lyric theatre in Belfast on Friday night, it's time to put down markers, say where we've been, what we've done, what's been done to us... my own little Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to keep me moving forward and not back, while we find ways of Healing Through Remembering. Maybe when Northern Ireland has done its remembering, we will learn to forgive and receive permission to forget. (Much of this was discussed at the CCCI conference, Divided Past, Shared Future on Saturday.) When we sort ourselves out, we might even start looking at what we're doing to children in Iraq...

Talking of which... I also met Shane Claiborne in Belfast this week, and read The Irresistible Revolution. This guy and his Gospel ring true. There's an integrity and love which resonates with the Gospels' accounts of Jesus. He embodies simplicity, humility, willingness to suffer and take risks in order to follow Jesus. It makes the rest of us uncomfortable. Too much to lose. And too little imagination or faith to see what we might gain... The journey continues...