Thursday, 7 August 2014

Thought for the Day, BBC Radio Ulster, 7 August

I was always intrigued by those signposts that said, “The Ulster Way”.
I have always intended to follow them, ... but never got round to it.
I once believed that roads were objective and absolute facts. I never questioned them.
They were just there.  I travelled the same roads each day for years.
Then they made the Westlink,
and I discovered that roads can be moved,
everyone’s path redirected,
by civil servants and planners,
potentially influenced by politicians
and by the people who take enough interest to think about what is happening,
and protest if they don’t like it.

Roads are a process, not a final goal.
They appear as the process of human interaction.
As ants follow ants,
most people follow people,
a crowd follows a crowd,
and their beaten track becomes the road
around which everything else is built.

In the words of the Dire Straits song:
“The dirty old track...was the Telegraph Road.”

In his book, “We make the road by walking”…
Brian D. McLaren encourages everyone to take responsibility for their part in leading others,
in making the road.
We all shape the direction of society by the choices we make,
the ways we choose to go.
But there will always be what Robert Frost 's poem called “The Road Not Taken",
AND the title of M. Scott Peck's book, "The Road Less Travelled.”  It’s a Way of integrity,
of oneness with God and with Creation.
Jesus of Nazareth spoke of the Road being narrow –
“Enter through the narrow gate.
For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction,
and many enter through it.
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life,
and only a few find it.” (Mt 7.13)
In the same chapter, Matthew 7, his words are reported:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
 For in the same way as you judge others,
you will be judged,
and with the measure you use,
it will be measured to you.
And take the plank out of your own eye
before you tackle the speck in your brother or sister’s eye.”
 The Traditional Routes
of comparison and resentment,
condemnation and hypocrisy,
of polarised communities
and blind following,
can be changed…
when you and I choose to change direction,
to follow this Different Path.

To love our neighbour
- and our enemy,
to live fully as created and creative beings,
and to be free.
Following this man,
who calls himself the Way, (John 14.7)
is a long tradition of eccentrics.
Their path is neither safe nor mindless. 
It leads through the valley of the shadow of death,

but also through green pastures. AND it restores the soul.
This could be a new Ulster Way.
If enough of us would get round to following Him.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

31 July Thought for the day - Radio Ulster 94.5FM

Twenty years ago, I was living and working for the Groupes Bibliques Universitaires (that’s the Association of University Bible Groups) in the South of France. French people reminded me regularly: the French are much less clubbable than the British or Americans.  Individualism appeared to be key. I learned  the phrase, “Tall poppy syndrome:” Anyone who stands above the crowd gets their head chopped off. 

At that time, it seemed to me, the French were still living under the memory of the guillotine. Every 14th of July they remembered the storming of the Bastille and the “Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood” mantra of the French Revolution. I sometimes encountered a critical spirit that I called the Spirit of the Bastille. Fear of authoritarianism made leadership a real challenge. People seemed to dislike taking responsibility or authority themselves and they were quick to criticise and depose those who did. I know now that this is not just a French phenomenon. Though it has a particular flavour because French state schools teach children philosophy instead of religious education: the idea is to equip citizens to think and engage critically and not accept everything they are told. The positive side is that they don’t easily hand over their autonomy to any petty autocrat who wants to run a club or a political party – or a church for that matter. The negative, lazy option is to be critical without engaging.

Today I am a university chaplain and I think a lot about critical minds. Critical minds are crucial to the functioning of any good human organisation. We need critical minds to see abuse, name it, engage to find better solutions and devise ways to bring about change. Critical minds are essential to free people from all kinds of oppression. But a critical spirit brings its own oppression, crushing fresh thinkers, replacing passion with cynicism. A critical spirit destroys community and relationships . A critical mind constructs better alternatives.

Some of the best people I know – both French and from here use their critical mind with a spirit of generosity. What would this day look like if we engaged in our world with a critical mind and a generous spirit.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Duelling with God: Dandelions at Dawn

There comes a point where I have to go looking for God.
"What is this all about?"
Death. Restructuring. Cancer.
and the Democratic Republic of Congo...
Syria. South Sudan.

Gloves off
thrown in the face.
Honour is at stake.

We met at dawn.
I drew a dandelion
in grey pencil.
He drew the sunrise
at the speed of light
and tipped the blades of grass
with dew.
The wildflowers faced the rising sun
and I was lost.
No paint bright enough.
No gold pure enough.
I can't do justice to it.

I can't do justice.
Love mercy.
Walk humbly

Wild flowers grow and glow, 
hated for their perseverance,
glorious in their persistence,
bringing invaluable gold to the wasteland
amidst the empty houses of delapidated estates,
indifferent to ideologies,
kerbstone colours,
ancestral legacies
and bank balances.

They warm and open
to simple sunlight,
are food for insects,
food for birds,
which bring song to barren streets
and silent building sites.

Enough that joy
seeps through the gloom and grey
Enough that life
peeps over decrepitude, dereliction and decay

Honour is at stake.
And life.
And where is God?
Not answerable to me.

Yet answers.
A kind of answer
And a kindly one.