Thursday, 31 January 2008

Christian Unity in Ireland?

Just found a short press release indicating that the four biggest denominations in Ireland are planning to build one united church building in Adamstown, Ireland's newest town. I've been saying for years that Irish Christianity had more to offer the world than the phrase "Ireland... that's where the Christians are killing each other, isn't it?"
Whether a shared building will give us a home to perpetrate our domestic violence, or a place to build a shared family, or both, remains to be seen.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Educating Refugees

There's an article in FT today on the disruption of refugee children's education, and how their education (or lack thereof) is used as a weapon against the parents. It's a real rock-and-hardplace to have to choose between actual threat of physical harm, and the loss of your children's longterm social and educational wellbeing.

This is what upsets me about Comfort Adefowoju (see earlier post) and her children having been taken out of a community where they were thriving and contributing, to be banged up in Yarls Wood detention centre, and repeatedly brought to the brink of repatriation to an unliveable situation in Nigeria.

I can see that on the scale of what refugees worldwide have to face, they are at least fed and watered and relatively safe in the meantime... but these are the ones we can do something about (if the government will only listen) A bit like the thousands of starfish all washed up on the seashore after a storm. The child picking them up and throwing them back in the water may not be able to save them all, but she makes a difference to each one, one by one.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

A Shared Future?

Naomi Long MLA challenged the Deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly today on its apparent shelving of the Shared Future document. McGuinness seemed to say that since that document was produced by a previous administration, it wasn't going to be implemented, but rather replaced by another document. If you can't solve the problem, write about it.

Could it be that the two largest parties who share in government here have the most to lose by reducing the segregation, the so-called "peace walls", the sectarian society?

Comfort in Belfast

I really don't get it. The government seems more determined to deal with the statistics arond immigration than with the problems it can cause. Seemingly impervious to the local community's demands for Comfort Adefowoju and her four children to remain in East Belfast, where they were constructively and happily adding to the much-needed diversity of our city, the Home Office took them to Yarls Wood detention centre, and has been trying to fly them back to Nigeria, where they face a serious risk to their personal safety. Isn't it time that Belfast became a place of asylum and peace, of security and diversity, instead of the sectarian and racist capital of Europe?

Give Comfort back to Belfast.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

After the Move

It's hard to work in the midst of chaos.
Full marks to the painter who managed to
brighten the walls
all round the piles of furniture and boxes.

He didn't even laugh at me sitting
on the floor,
computer-less, on the phone
passed from pillar to post
by administrators.

Not out loud anyway.

Today, I wanted his job.
Tomorrow, he will finish, and walk away.
I have to Tackle the Stuff...

Whitewash is so much easier than relationships.

Sex discrimination in the Church

So, help me here. Never mind the details of the current reason why people keep talking to me about this subject. I want to write about the Big Stuff.

If God made human beings in God's image (Genesis 1), and Moses told them they weren't allowed to make "any graven image" (Exodus 20), isn't the point that our worship of God will show itself (genuine or not) by the way we honour or dishonour the people made in God's image? (Amos 5)

It looks to me like that's what Jesus was about. (Too many texts to list. But for just one, Mark 10.6)

Can someone explain to me why Christians who say they want to follow Jesus, don't seem to set themselves the goal of loving strangers, enemies and people who are sinners (as yet unrepentant) just as he's supposed to have done? Isn't the Holy Spirit supposed to change our hearts?

What does that really look like in 21st Century? (Examples, please!)

And if there is a New Creation in Christ, (1 Corinthians 5.17) and if the apostle Paul says that In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Male nor Female, Slave nor Free... (Galatians 3.26-29) why are Christians so keen to perpetuate these distinctions, even after society has accepted it should abandon the injustice of it as far as biologically possible?

Doesn't our experience of the unconditional grace and love of Jesus Christ give us enough humility to listen to each other, to work alongside each other constructively, and trust God to work out the Big Stuff? I know it should in my life...

There now. I've got my frustration out there, hopefully without damaging my brothers and sisters. Answers on a postcard... Please!

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

When random facts become Story

Who are we? What makes us significant citizens?
I was amused by random facts from the Republic of Ireland's 2006 census, and challenged by my own need to generalise, and to make assumptions about categories of people.

I was also amazed by how small we are. Do we really only have two Maltese divorcees living in the 26 counties? Are there any in the 6 northern counties?

And what of all these holders of Polish passports who come from Africa and Asia? Even if there had been a scam for Asians or Africans to get European passports through a Polish contact, how on earth did they make contact?

Clearly my imagination has been stunted. Maybe I should read more fiction...

Talking of which... I popped along at lunchtime to the Black Box in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter, to hear local writers Glenn Patterson and Malachi O'Doherty (and June Caldwell - why, when she said humorously that she had learned about Northern Ireland by studying the sex life of loyalist paramilitaries, did it sound like they were some kind of insect or other low-life?) articulating some thoughts on what it means to be a writer in post-conflict society (or something like that!)

All sorts of interesting dynamics and body-language to observe. I should have taken notes... That's why I'm not a writer!

I appreciated Glenn's point, in response to a German journalist's question about memorialising, that Truth in Translation (despite its limitations as a play) had been a powerful and fitting memorial to what has happened here. Well, that's probably not exactly what he said. But what I heard was what I had thought about the play: that it articulated extremely well the complexity and impossibility of ever writing one definitive and universally acceptable version of the truth.

And I thought of the two men (in my innate sexism, it didn't occur to me to include June, sitting between them!) and their different personalities, experiences and backgrounds, as well as writing styles and genres, as two of many interpreters, conveying stories and possibilities to those who will listen or read. Writers (and artists) are our prophets.

So it's time to go and listen and read... for the Voice of Truth. Grace, Justice, Hope, Judgment... I'll try to share some of what I find.

Monday, 14 January 2008


I've been intending to make it to one of these ikon gatherings for some time. Last night was the night. I'm still wondering about the use of John O'Donohue's writings and life as inspiration for the "liturgy". Maybe if I'd known the man... and better known his work... But that's a job for another day.

I don't know what I expected of ikon. I don't think it will have changed much in me. (But then, most experiences of Church are like that.) I do know that the time to talk with a friend, and to engage meaningfully with strangers on subjects like Beginnings and Change will have changed me. As these things do, incrementally.

Was God there? No doubt about that for me... much as God is in all the places where people meet to live and grow and share.

Was it Christian? Not sure that's its goal. Depends who's asking. A question of definitions. Certainly there was much of the loving spirit of Jesus Christ, openness to outsiders and strangers, to sinners and to living the gift of life to the full, which resonates with the Jesus of the Gospels.

For me, it fell short of my hopes, as we never quite got to centre on Christ, our Core.

Christ was there, but not drawing attention to himself.
Working among the broken, speaking grace and hope to those who despair, Christ was there.

But it felt to me that the Water of Life was replaced with a potent Eau de Vie, whether whiskey or artistic endeavour, which might easily steal, rather than give, life. But then, whilst it's easy to criticise, we have been putting symbols and powerful images in the place of Christ for centuries... Human nature, isn't it?

Un long dimanche de fiançailles

A Very Long Engagement
- It was a fairly long film (just over 2 hours) based on the novel by Sébastien Japrisot.

But the few years it covers don't drag. Five French soldiers court martialled for self-mutilation at the Somme provide glimpses of the human costs of war, the complexity of their lives and the effect of their experiences on those around them, both in the trenches and back home.

It sounds heavy, but there's so much humour, a lightness of touch, a fairy-tale quality to the unfolding story, which carries us through to the pensive, but understated conclusion. Conclusion is the wrong word for where we arrive. Typically French, this work of art opens windows of possibility for the imagination to pursue the story long after the credits have rolled.

Another masterpiece by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Audrey Tautou, of Amélie fame. Strong caméo by Jodie Foster too.

Two Rooms

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but I recently enjoyed a free, delicious and musically pleasant evening in Two Rooms, University Road, Belfast.

One of my more enjoyable Belfast restaurant experiences. Interesting menu made choosing difficult. But rewarded with subtle flavours, in reasonable quantities, accompanied by good singing and piano. Thanks Rhian and accompanist. Thanks, Peter and the team for the food!

Well worth another visit. Many more, in fact!

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Feasting on the memory of good things...

In recent days, I've heard myself using that phrase of my mother's: "When it's gone, it's gone." The point was, she couldn't stop us greedily attacking the cake or biscuit tin, to make the contents last a bit longer.

But today I learned that when it's gone, it's still there in our experience. When the farm labourers in county Antrim used to come to work for the season, each day they would be given some basic food: bread, an egg, and a slice of bacon or ham from the pig hung up in the corner.

Eventually the meat would run out, and the workers got bread, and egg, and "point". That is, instead of a slice of bacon, they could point to where the pig used to be.

In these leaner days of January, we could do worse than feast on our memory of good things.

If I remember correctly, in C.S.Lewis' first science fiction novel "Out of the Silent Planet", the extraterrestrial sorns didn't understand the human desire to repeat pleasures. Their practice was to enjoy, and then remember their joys in poetry and song.

It strikes me that the ability to remember, and be satisfied to be glad and grateful, is one of the highest qualities of the best of humans. To sing and make poems seems behaviour specific to humans.

That's not to say that it is our calling to be placid in the face of hunger. But it does strike me that if we in the West could channel less of our energy into more and more consumption, and learn to be content and joyful in the memory and present experience of rich relationships and pleasures, we might rediscover enough humanity to tackle the spiritual and physical greed, oppression and poverty which enslaves our world.

Now, I can see the point in that.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Belfast 2008

Of all the places to be, I never thought I'd feel so safe in Belfast.

I've been reading the news, after missing a lot over the last few months. Pakistan... suicide bombing and assassination. Kenya... women and children burned in church. Sri Lanka... bomb in Colombo.

Then again, I did read some local news today. One woman under threat and frequent attacks on her home, for standing out against drugs. Arson attack on an Orange Hall in Portadown. 22 year old stabbed in Belfast. 86 year old attacked and robbed of in his Lisburn home. And a young man known to my sister who died just before Christmas from drug abuse...

What spirits clutch at the souls of humankind? What evil lurks in the shadows of bright places?
Advent is over; and we are still waiting for a Saviour. Rather, we need a saviour, but have little faith to keep waiting.

Speaking French in Belfast

So as I'm leaving the hallowed halls of IKEA, a number of items roll off my cart onto the wet paving. Merde!

Well, not too many people round here speak French, so it's a safe way of expressing frustration without offending... The man just in front of me stops and turn, round to help me gather my clobber. Thank you! (Mood changes to gratitude.)

Then I hear him speaking with his partner. He's French.
This is Belfast. I've just sworn in French in the hearing of a Frenchman. What are the chances?

First weird coincidence of my year. But maybe not so surprising as it would have been ten years ago. Bless you, Chuckle brothers, for continuing the climate of peacebuilding... and bless all those you judged for doing what you have done to get where you are today.

Coffee and promises

It's a new year. Time for all those cups of coffee I didn't get round to last year.