Saturday, 27 December 2008

Christmas Reflections

Main themes of Christmas for me this year: shepherds - smelly, unpopular, left to do the job no one else wants (which is why the boy David was a shepherd boy - he had plenty of elder brothers who left him to it! - and was called in from tending the sheep, to be anointed as the next king by prophet Samuel)... so Luke tells us that messengers of God appeared to tell shepherds that their king had been born. The last shall be first...

Refugees - it hit me again how Jesus & his parents fled the massacre planned and implemented by Herod the Great (or should that be the Terrible) and lived as landless foreigners in Egypt - which was probably no more fun for them that current asylum seeking is for our generation

Gift wrapping. What?! Yes, packaging. We throw it away, the wrapping paper. When I was a child we even managed to burn some of the money that had been sent as gifts, that had got mixed up with the paper. Made a lovely warm glow for a few seconds... If Jesus was God's gift, he got screwed up and throw away too - because we despise humans, made in God's image. We throw away the image of God in the people around us, treat them as replaceable, cheap and disposable. And what we do to each other, we do to him.

Glimmers in the West

Wise men from the east may have perceived and followed a star... Today I read that one from the West is beginning to see the light!!! Well, it's not conversion as many of my colleagues would perceive it, but it's a conversion of mind that could lead all sorts of places.

What comes to mind is the bald statement I made to a Muslim friend the other day "You don't have to believe Jesus is the Son of God in order to follow him; but you have to know that if you follow him it may well lead you to that conviction."

A surprised friend said, "Do you really believe that?" And it is his troubled questioning that has haunted me these last days - that perhaps I might be seen as a heretic for insisting that since God came in Jesus, we should encourage people to meet Jesus as a man, and allow his God-ness to seep through, rather than insisting that they believe impossible abstract theological propositions about him before they have got inside his heart and mind.

Anyway, thanks to John for putting me onto this: Well worth a read. Atheist Matthew Parris shares his reflections on the profound difference that a Christian worldview makes in African culture. I'd be interested to hear some reactions.

Friday, 5 December 2008

A beginning and an End

Advent arrived
while I was away
Good News
rolled in like waves over long dry land:
a new job
a sister's visit
a gift of cash
a sleeping grandson
a free ticket to the ballet
-a magical night at the ballet.
Before each could recede
the next advanced the tide
and the long season of death
seems dying.

Keep coming
till the threshing of the dark dragon's
future-free form
beneath the tide.

Happiness is Contagious

We knew this, didn't we? Still, it's good to know that the scientists have established it. Happy people make the people around them happier. So it's socially responsible to be as happy as we can then. No more moaning about Pollyanna. She increases our own prospects of happiness far more than we contribute by our scepticism and self-styled realism.

Happy Advent, one and all (though apparently the contagious effect only works with people who live really close by, so forget those cheery cyber-friends, and spend some time with some real happy people nearby!)

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Best Interest

Once upon a time, far, far away, there was a small community who decided to put the wealth of some to the service of those who needed it. Those who had cash invested it in the community, and received interest, while those who needed cash could borrow from the pot, for a manageable rate of interest, and thereby keep loan sharks (and piggy banks?) at bay. As the size of the pot increased, relative to the number of loans being requested, the excess cash was used to purchase property that would give rental income, thus helping to keep the borrowers' interest rates down.

Time went on, and times got hard. But the community's pot of money was not invested in crumbling banks - the people were invested in each other. So although the government guaranteed the banks, the community clung together. Those who were in difficulty could still borrow from those who had chosen to invest in the community rather than the iffier stockmarket and banks.
Then one day, Someone realised that there would be a cost to staying invested in the community. The economic hard times would mean that the investment properties would fall in value, and rental income would fall; as recession deepened, some borrowers would be unable to pay their loans, and the interest made on investments would fall. Someone decided to withdraw their substantial sums of cash from the community and invest it in the banks, guaranteed by the government.

Did Someone know something that everyone else didn't know? Or was Someone just smarter than the rest of the community? Somehow, more and more investors realised that they were financially safer with the banks than with the community. One by one, they took themselves and their money off to a new home, leaving behind them a community increasingly bewildered, beleaguered and short of the means to meet the challenges of the times.

Am I alone in seeing the current difficulties with the Presbyterian Mutual Society as parallel to the Presbyterian exodus from inner Belfast? Those who could leave did. And felt justified in so doing. They were acting in the "best interests" of their family, those to whom they had the most pressing relationship. And in so doing, abandoned their former community to a shortage of capacity for investment and community.

And so, the principle of community and mutuality was lost; the poverty and hurt of those left behind contributed to the instability and violence of a society which damaged all of society for generations to come.

The best interest of those who can choose it is not always in the best interest of their children's generation.

Friday, 14 November 2008

The answers are at the back of the book

Today's Gem: (I found this excerpt in the Northumbria Community's Celtic Daily Prayer )

To a visitor who claimed he had no need to search for Truth because he found it in the beliefs of his religion, the Abba said:

"There was once a student who never became a mathematician because he blindly believed the answers in the back of his maths book - and, ironically, the answers were correct."

- Anthony de Mello, One Minute Wisdom

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

What not to wear...

Trinny and Suzannah, come back, all is forgiven... well, maybe not all... but if we're going to have thought police and style police, at least let someone be getting the good of a few new clothes. I'm conscious that in some minds, the wearing of a red poppy is a sign of conforming to the world as it should be. To others, it is a sign of having bought the lies of the Empire/upper classes/government propaganda...

It ought to be something people do (or don't do) freely, without judging others who do or don't choose to do the same. Yet certain newsreaders aren't scheduled to read the news at this time fo year because it is known they won't wear a poppy. And individuals are put under pressure to wear/not wear one, and potentially risk their job or a bloody nose.

I'm no great fan of some of the thoughtlessness attached to wearing poppies for Armistice Day. I want to ask, "Are you remembering the others who lost their lives too?"
"Are you assuming that the war is just, because it's "our" soldiers fighting?"
"Can we support and remember the soldiers who died and their families, and those who carry their mental and physical scars, whilst acknowledging that others give their lives in what they believe to be their duty?"
In Northern Ireland, particularly, can we learn to remember the cost of war, without pretending that all the wrongs were on the "other side"?

This is about remembering the past, and living with diversity in the present. It is also about dealing with grief and loss. We have to find ways to make room for each other to experience the death and deadliness of war for ourselves; and to protect each other's space to express it as we feel it for now, whilst being committed to hearing and learning from each other.

Our remembering touches who we are at its most vulnerable, and hence most volatile. The Eames-Bradley report into the dirty war of my generation is still to come, and these questions will be all the more relevant in the wake of it. Combine that, the credit crunch and the (actual, if not technical) insolvency of the Presbyterian Mutual Society, to make for a jolly dark 2009.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

White Poppies

I have no idea where the idea came from this year... I had seen a white poppy once, in the eighties, when I was at school, and heard of its being controversial. But it's not the controversy that attracted me. Rather the offering of alternative ways of living - ways which are peaceloving and acknowledge the messiness of war, the impossibility that the right be all on one side.

Chatting to Hubby last week, I mentioned I would like to wear a white poppy alongside a red one this year - but I didn't know where to get white poppies. He gave me one of those "she's off on one again" looks of incredulity.

I knew little of the political background, but felt I wanted to show an alternative to blind acceptance of the militarism that often dominates the right remembering of the war dead.

So I settle down to catch up on my blog-reading, and discover that both crookedshore and virtual methodist are on the same theme this year.


Very odd... and to find myself in such auspicious (suspicious?) company!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

OK. Tonight I'm cheating. This came as spam... or rather, as quality meat disguised as spam! I didn't write it and I don't know its origins, but it does speak something beautiful into my life... Plagiarism? Well, may you enjoy the love...

A son asked his father, 'Dad, will you take part in a marathon with me?'

The father, despite having a heart condition, says 'Yes'.

They went on to complete the marathon together.

Father and son went on to join other marathons, the father always saying Yes' to his son's request of going through the race together.

One day, the son asked his father, 'Dad, let's join the Ironman together.'

To which, his father said 'Yes' too.

For those who didn't know, Ironman is the toughest triathlon ever.

The race encompasses three endurance events of a 2.4 mile (3.86 kilometer) ocean swim, followed by a 112 mile (180.2 kilometer) bike ride, and ending with a 26.2 mile (42.195 kilometer) marathon along the coast of the Big Island

Father and son went on to complete the race together.

Turn on the sound, and watch ...

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Strange goings-on Down Under...

New Zealand elections are afoot. But some of the writing seems to have bottomed out to the level of toilet humour.

"Both Labour and National face a potential headache over the Maori Party making entrenchment of the Maori seats a bottom line in any support deal - but National's opposition to the Maori seats puts it in a trickier position.
It got offside with the Maori Party this week over comments by its immigration spokesman Lockwood Smith, about Pacific and Asian seasonal workers - ... Mr Key said he was "frustrated" by Dr Smith's comments, which included references to Pacific workers needing to be taught to use a toilet.

Mr Key said yesterday he did not want to pre-judge negotiations with the Maori Party, but suggested bottom lines would be a factor only in a formal coalition."

I ask you...

Thursday, 16 October 2008

We haven't gone away you know...

Turns out the Church is still alive and kicking.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland spoke out strongly today to encourage local NI politicians to get their act together and make the executive work. And it even showed signs of having thought through the implications of dealing with the past and these infernal inquiries that loom ahead. I had heard some discussion that indicated Westminster should bear the full cost of these... but to do so would only strengthen the political incentive for them to proliferate. If the NI government has to bear the cost, perhaps pressure can be brought to bear to restrain these claims, in order to have some cash left to make the place work - by spending money on education, health, water, sewage, roads, for example. Maybe even on a devolved and cross-community police and justice system that actually works.

It's a gamble, but it's in our interest - ALL of us - to make it work... isn't it? Having just read Malachi O'Doherty's The Telling Year, Belfast 1972, I'm absolutely sure we don't want to go back to the kind of fireworks that spooked my whole childhood here.

It's haunting enough just reading it now. For Littlun's sake, let's not go back there.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Credit Crunch - Curse or Blessing?

What a woman! Elaine Storkey was speaking in Belfast last night. Intelligent, articulate, thoughtful, humorous, and profoundly challenging, she managed to deliver one hour's worth of the Annual Catherwood Lecture on the current crisis, its background, some of its likely outcomes, and biblical alternative goals which might set us free from the tyranny of economic growth (obesity) and slavery to credit (debt).

The Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland will produce this lecture as a Patmos paper - the Catherwood series on faith in the public square have been made available in this written form in the past.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Oh, how I wished I'd had my camera in Belfast today. There was music, and a crowd gathered round a poster on the ground, which announced "Free game of chass against Jamaica's Number 1" Meanwhile, with red-haired woman and a black person played furious chess at breakneck speed. I couldn't stay to watch but if anyone saw it, can you tell me who won?

Friday, 29 August 2008

You put your left leg in...

Patsy McGarry, thank you! The sectarianism of our society would be laughable if it wasn't so bitter. I would have liked to hear more of the detail behind this story: that a Donegal Atheist has had to be buried outside Donegal - in Derry City Council cemetery - because Donegal graveyards require a religious ceremony (possibly because Churches own and maintain the ground). I'm sad that Christians can't find room for atheists - even dead ones - in their churches.

But I did laugh when I read that the cemeteries department employee, when asked whether the deceased in question had been interred in a new Atheist section of the cemetery, they replied "No, we're putting her in with the Protestants." That doesn't sound like the way a Protestant would express it. I guess that's appropriate enough. Atheism is a form of Protest, after all.

It all ties in with the frustration my NZ friend is having, filling in job application forms, and having to designate herself as Protestant or Catholic etc for the Equal Employment Opportunities Monitoring Form. I know it's meant to protect against discrimination. However, there are times when the requirement to choose between apparently mutually exclusive options just doesn't represent reality

or sanity.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

A song for Nireland

A New Northern Ireland anthem. Congratulations to Monty on his valiant attempt to provide local soccer fans with something worth singing.

Now, we need some big celebratory events to make it part of our shared culture. That shouldn't be too hard, should it? I wonder...

What's the Password?

This really made me laugh, so I have to share it.

But I won't be opening any accounts with Lloyds TSB... would you?

Monday, 25 August 2008

Olympic medals tables with a difference

It has taken the US to be knocked off the top spot, for someone to finally publish Olympic medals tables that reflect a more diverse set of criteria than the number of golds won. Medals per head of population; medals in relation to GDP... it certainly changes the way you look at the world. Have a look and ask if you know where all these places are, and what they won. It might change the perception of who the real heroes are.

Then I wonder what happens the majority of the populations of these countries who have no access to sports facilities, and what it has taken for the elite few to make it to the Games.

Does the success of a few at very high levels inspire investment and a generation of younger sports fans to train themselves for success? If so, does that stimulate a more disciplined, hard-working economy and a lifestyle that fosters stability, providing security for young and old? I'd like to believe so. Not a panacea by any means, and not the whole story. But sport is a hang sight better than prostitution and wage slavery, for those who can get into it.

Monday, 11 August 2008

So much for a quiet, lazy summer!

The last fortnight has been full of faces. 80 new international students here to improve their English in advance of their courses starting in September, converge on a quiet campus well outside the city. They have so much to adapt to. The language, our accents, the lie of the land, the food, and of course, the weather. Lots of it. Does nobody tell them to buy a Gore-Tex before they come here? And a fleece? Apparently not. But they do have umbrellas. Just as well.

It's a privilege to be here to welcome them, to try to be a friendly face, to offer a bit of fun, and link them to some locals, so they can practice their English. Whiteabbey Presbyterian Church has been really hospitable, welcoming, and delighted to receive forty of them last Thursday night for table tennis, pool, Jenga... green tea ... and it seems they particularly enjoyed the apples!

I had lunch today with the three girls from Taiwan and Carlo, an Italian. Really chilled. Not too much conversation, but plenty of fun with the Jenga. I hope we can do this regularly!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

I'm back!

These long light evenings are wonderful... That's why Littlun hasn't been settling to sleep. Sneaking out of bed to look out the window, to tell stories to her toys, to make a nest on the floor. Ten thirty every evening, the first sound of silence... It doesn't leave a mummy with much free time for blogging. Worse than that, I've foolishly tried several methods to engineer an earlier dose-off, entirely without success. The books, bless them, provide entertaining reading, but I think Littlun must have got there first. Always several steps ahead...

Psalm 127 comes as relief to me today. She's a gift, this child, and the songwriter grants me hope, rest. The sense that if God is building a House, and our children (all children, of every age) are God's gift, I needn't stress to fix, change or manipulate them into good behaviour.

So today I will celebrate the people around me, receive them as God's gift, and be as merciful and gracious to them as I would hope they could be to me.

And I'll stop worrying about how I'm going to marry work and the school run. Today I'm going to live by priorities of peace and grace, justice rather than religious idealism, and perhaps I'll find God leading me through the multiple choices one at a time.

No idea whether that will lead to more or less posts. Time will tell.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

A drop of the hard stuff

Hard stuff - courage, that is.
Surfing for other information, I came across the Sunday homily from Clonard Monastery today. And courage is what I thought of.

Like the courage I thought of when I heard on Radio Ulster this week a young man, Stephen Scott, tell his story of being set upon and left for dead by three "men" because of his being gay. He told how he had been bullied at school, how he had felt suicidal, how he would have stopped being gay if he could... and how he wouldn't have minded a one-to-one fight... but he spoke of the injustice of being pulled to the ground by a gang of three. Cowardly injustice. Compare and contrast.

The homily today challenged us as Christians to follow Jesus in befriending the people that seem somehow to fall short of God's plans for them, to listen to them, to walk with them, and love them. It wasn't just a criticism of Iris Robinson's remarks on the Stephen Nolan Show. (There's plenty of that here.) It challenged the cultural expectation that "good" and "upright" citizens and leaders feel the need to distance themselves, to identify gay sex as "an abomination" as the hypocritical self-righteousness that it usually is.

Jesus used to get criticised for the low company he kept. But these days his followers seem to have got over that criticism. Protestants and Catholics alike (and other religions too) - and perhaps the most religiously commited most of all, are prone to the deadly and contagious virus of judgmentalism. It seems to me the only courageous way forward is to love unconditionally, and trust the Holy Spirit to sort out whatever is on God's agenda and priorities, in God's own time. Whatever it says of my orthodoxy or otherwise, trusting God to do the judging is the test of whether we believe Jesus or not.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Justice Woman

Maybe I should abandon the Spiderwoman ideas. Ciara McVeigh, age 10, St Joseph's Catholic Primary, Brighouse, has a much better idea!Indeed. And so...
A reflection on Psalm 85:
I am Justice
I contribute to wholeness
by valuing all people rightly
(For this I need my brother Mercy)
by acknowledging the guilt, pain & wrongdoing
of all
(For this I need my sister Truth)
by establishing new, generous relationships
(For this, I need my partner, Peace)
I am Justice
Without Mercy I become Revenge
Without Truth I become Oppression
Without Peace I drown in demand
Armagh, 26th April 2008

Monday, 2 June 2008

In the pink...

It's been some time... but I haven't fallen off the face of the planet, or even down the side of the Europa Hotel... well, I did do that, but I had two ropes to stop me turning into mush at the bottom! The worst moment was right there, between the E and the U of Europa, between the roof and the drop. The "Does-my-bum-look-big-in-this-well-good-cos-I-need-all-the-padding-I-can-get" moment. The "eu" of Greek words usually means "good". Strange how you can be in the middle of goodness, and totally focussed on something else, not feeling anything resembling good! [Note to self: cheesy sermon illustration.] I bet EuRopa means Good Rope in Greek. No? Would be poetic, but unlikely, don't you think? A glance at wikipedia suggests "wide-eyed" is the etymology. That works too.

Aargh, it's way past my bedtime. I'm just too busy living to have time to blog. I hardly have time to read my friends' blogs. But I do have time to climb Cave hill with a friend, to write a hasty sermon, to tell endless stories to my daughter...

When I've finished that, and the PCI General Assembly, and chairing my Board meeting, I'll get back to you! (eventually... someday...soonish, perhaps...)

What I WILL take time to say is Thanks. I've been amazed by the generosity of those of you who sponsored my abseil for Habitat for Humanity NI. Let's be honest. I never thought I'd get anywhere near the target of £1235; but already we're at £800.

Now I believe it really might be possible to aim for the "house" (i.e. the average cost to HFH of building a house for/with a poor family in the developing world.) Your generosity increases my faith. Question is, what should I do to raise the other £400? Suggestions anyone?

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Taking the Plunge and Falling House Prices

I hate fundraising. Hate asking for cash. Even in a good cause.
But I've agreed to step off the roof of Belfast's Europa Hotel in celebration of Habitat for Humanity, who bring communities together to build houses and communities where once people like us burned our/their neighbours out.

I know house prices here are falling, but have you heard this? The average cost of building a Habitat house in the developing world is... £1250. There must be quite a few people around here paying that monthly. The world is "ill-divid". I wonder how many folk spend that on a holiday... or one of several holidays...

The Europa was (for 25 years or so, according to urban legend in my youth) Belfast's most bombed hotel. Europa Hotel Belfast
Now, it's probably one of the safest buildings in Europe. On the inside anyway. I'm counting on the abseiling instructors knowing their stuff to make my Spiderwoman descent a thing of beauty, and not in the way that strawberry jam can be beautiful. (No more bombing in Belfast, right?)

Oddly though, I know the hardest thing about this whole process is not stepping off a building, relying on a string or two. It's asking for people to give. But unless YOU want this blog to become a place for my psychotherapy, I think I'll ponder that one silently for a little longer. (Meanwhile, if you want to ease my angst, click on the widget over there... to the right, and make a donation to Habitat!)

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Big Ian at the Boyne

The times, they are a-changin'...

Ian Paisley's speech at the Boyne seems to be reproduced here, and makes interesting reading.

I also caught a snatch on Radio Ulster one morning this week of his speech with Martin McGuinness to American business delegates to NI. "Who would have thought..." was his refrain.
Indeed. The mystery remains.

But my guess is that despite his use of the word "miracle", this miracle is not entirely mysterious. There's plenty of human agency at work, sordid turf-wars and treachery within each "side", to the extent that the "war" was no longer sustainable or winnable. That's not to deny that these more positive days are not, possibly miraculous. If the prophet Isaiah could claim that the tyrant Cyrus the Great was to be God's servant, then why not Ian and Martin? Outrageous. Unacceptable. Unreasonable. Unthinkable. And yet, scriptures seem to insist that despite the religious authorities' objections, God persistently uses unlikely candidates to achieve preposterous salvations.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Streamvale Delights

What a gorgeous day! And we really made the most of it, by heading up to Streamvale Open Farm this morning. Despite the sign which said it opened at 2pm (which is true for weekdays, but not weekends and Bank Holidays) things were really getting started at around 10.30 when we arrived. The regular animals were doing their thing. The cows were mooing like a philharmonic choir at the heifers who'd been popped into the next field. The poultry were cockadoodledooing with delight at the sunshine (or so I told myself), and happily swarmed round our feet to collect the grain Littlun dropped for them. It has to be said, for some of the toddlers, chickens and cockerels are just a bit too big - and those beaks a bit too pointy-looking - for comfort. The piglets have grown, but they are still tiny in comparison to their mum. Littlun LOVED holding the bottle to feed the wee black-faced lamb. And its wriggly waggly tail was a spectacle in itself. I still love the kids - but think it's a shame they have to grow up into goats!

Pony rides, tractor rides to feed the deer, and the new barrel-ride train-thingy all look fun... though ours is disappointingly unimpressed by such things just yet. Patience, patience.

Rabbits to feed with carrots, and baby rabbits to hold in baskets (Better-Half has some cute photos...) pander to the adults' maternal instincts, if not to my daughter's! She preferred the straw-bales and toy tractors... and not a pink one in sight. Hurray!

The climax is a simple lunch, a really good cuppa, and Streamvale's delicious homemade icecream. The chocolate-covered brownie served with ice-cream is a luxury only fully enjoyed if you know you're sharing it, and the calories. Really too good altogether!

Verdict: A really good day out. If you had been staying away because of recent media hype and paranoia, stay away no more!

[The place was only closed for two days, as a precautionary measure, and given the all-clear. If you're cautious, bring wipes and use the hand-washing and alcohol-dispensing facilities on site.]

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Discrimination against Celibacy

When Civil partnerships were introduced as an idea, I initially supported them, but by the time they came into law, I objected, not on the ground of the rights they gave to gay couples, but because friends and siblings who were long term cohabitees (though not bed-partners) were specifically excluded.

And here's the upshot. An elderly sister will be slapped with 40% inheritance tax on their shared property once her sister dies. And in order to pay, she'll have to sell the home they have shared all their lives. All this whilst coming to terms in her 80s or 90s, with the death of a lifelong friend, sister and live-in companion.

If this isn't discrimination against celibacy, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008


On Sunday night I witnessed a single human being narrate and enact the whole of the Gospel of John. Word for word. Powerfully.

I could find out his name. (He was mentioned on Sunday Sequence, which is how I knew to go along to Bloomfield Presbyterian at 7pm. ) But I don't want to. I want to remember the Gospel he came to tell us. And the main thrust of Jesus' teaching which remains in my memory - the Single Command to love, to love one another, to serve each other and treat others as more important than oneself.

If I never learn another thing, I will have a lifetime's work learning to love.

Taizé prayer in Belfast

Is there anyone you wouldn't pray with?

Living in sectarian Northern Ireland, and having beeen raised in the kind of Protestantism which balks at "worshipping with Catholics", I remain somewhat baffled. We worship every Sunday with people whose ideas are different from ours. We're even allowed to disagree with the minister or preacher, because, at least within Presbyterianism, there is a responsibility on everyone to "come to their own mind" on the meaning of Scripture. But I know that when I encourage folk to come to the Taizé prayer at St Anne's Cathedral on 26th April at 7pm, some will stay away, for fear that the presence of Roman Catholics will somehow make their own presence and prayer "idolatry".

Taizé prayer centres on scripture meditation, read, sung (repetitively, but not mindlessly) and pondered in silence. The Taizé community lives out, in its own idiosyncratic way, the church's vocation to be a community of reconciliation by the grace of Jesus Christ.

Can Presbyterians in Ireland ever embrace, or even dare to explore, this expression of spiritual unity and diversity? I hope so. Maybe it feels like parachuting in, Franklin-style, for the Taizé brothers to have organised this event, but it is one more opportunity -with a very different style- to move beyond factions toward the unity of the Church of Jesus.

After that, there's Transformations-ireland and the Global Day of Prayer on 11th May...

Personally, I find these big "events" can be a massive drain of energy - but they can also energise and invigorate - particularly if the organisers have kept the longer term objective of empowering the Church in view.

In between events, there's the rest of our lives, to be turned towards the character and love of Jesus; serving our fellow-creatures. Probably enough to be getting on with...

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Hmm...Colin Murphy's Great Unanswered Questions

It must be a sign of my growing apostasy, that instead of accompanying young people to Franklin Graham's parachuting Hope, I accepted tickets to the making of an episode of Colin Murphy's half-hour rip-off of QI. Let's be honest, it bought me a few hours shared experience next to my husband.

Murphy has charisma. Gives the sense that he'd be good company in the pub for an evening. And he's generous with his guests. Doesn't hog the microphone.

Probably not prime listening. But pleasantly light relief.

For myself, I'll stick to Radio 4's The Now Show for more topical comedy (when I can catch it, between feeding Littlun and her bathtime). A particularly beautiful piece was Marcus Brigstocke on the closing of Post Offices. "I rarely use Iraq, but that seems to be quite well-funded..."

The Truth Commissioner (2)

David Park has excelled himself. When I saw him at his booklaunch, he was rather more Penfold-looking (remember DangerMouse?)than the shrewd prophet of hope amidst realpolitik, revealing the same kind of "everyone is just trying to do their best in a bad world" perceptions as in The Passion on BBC in the week before Easter.

I loved this book. Immediately started re-reading it when I'd finished. If I had more time, I'd want to write an essay on it, like the good old A levels! If I were a film-maker, I'd be working on this one. It's full of colour, and aspiring to white light so that even the flames of destruction hold warmth of hope and a new future.

For anyone thinking of dealing with the misdeeds of the past, - seeking revenge, atonement, forgiveness, cleansing - there is a hope of freedom, but you can only find it in the chaos.

That's the Easter story too. There's no redemption without the spilling of innocent blood.

Ordinary life takes over

Riots in Tibet.

Elections fought & won (and lost) and results still not published in Zimbabwe. Bertie Ahern resigning. Tony Blair speaks about the possibilities for faith as a constructive rather than negative force in the Global Village. Franklin Graham preaching to thousands in the Odyssey Arena. Queen Elizabeth visits East Belfast. And I haven't blogged since before Easter.

You'd think I didn't care.

But while the world has been engaged in being the world, I've been getting on with it. Mopping up sick. training a toddler to use the toilet. Insisting on her trying a piece of potato before she can have any more cheese. Is my life embroiled in trivia? Or is it that these things are what give one more child a chance to be loved and loving, rather than inconsiderate and ungrateful? Is there any hope that her life may be more significantly peace-and-justice-building, less trivial, than mine?

Today, the Olympic Torch was carried and jostled through the streets of London, amidst a storm of debate over whether the Olympics, or at least symbolic representations of China's influence in the world, should be boycotted, in protest against China's human rights abuses. For my part, it was right for the procession to go ahead. Otherwise the protest would have had little opportunity for gaining public awareness. But the real hit is whether any of us is willing to boycott China's flooding of our markets with cheap goods. I can make a real, though insignificant protest alone, amidst the choices of a mother busy making daily purchases of unnecessary plastic objects. Is someone out there going to harness the willingness of all the people too busy surviving the daily grind, and make a coalition of rather more significant complaint against the dehumanisation of underpaid workers and violated dissidents?

Time to look at Amnesty again, methinks. To try the little I can do.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Which side is Jesus on?

There may be two sides to every story, but there's nothing right about that club hanging over the woman's bare head. Which side of the shields does Jesus choose to stand?

Thanks to crookedshore for sharing this. As I'm reflecting on the Sufferings of Jesus on his way to the cross, here's the photo.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Of Holocausts and Crucifixion

There hasn't been much time to reflect upon the sufferings of Jesus and the significance of his death and resurrection lately. But one thing that has struck me is a development of my Christmas revelation.

It occurred to me before Christmas that Jesus represents the inverse of the "gods" of this world. Those who can, use their powers to save themselves from pain, from suffering, from hard work. The powerful cushion themselves as far as possible by making others do the hard work on their behalf; by letting others suffer in their place.

And the Incarnation - the idea that God became human in Jesus - means that the God of the "New Testament" embraces a world of suffering, coming to serve rather than to make others serve. The crucifixion of Jesus brings this to its climax - or perhaps its nadir. The depth to which this God-Man will sink. Humiliation, nakedness, clubbed and torn open, dragged out to the city dump, Gehenna, the place of uncleanness of every sort. Treated as unworthy of any sort of dignity or even of life itself, God-in-Jesus not only identifies with, but joins the ranks of, the world's scum, those whose lives are not only of no value, but whose breath is considered an active waste of oxygen.

Earlier this month I visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. It was such a beautiful day, it seemed sinful to enter those dark doors to face those grim realities. Yet I knew I would be failing the next generation, if I failed to take the step of informing myself. And there, in the ashes of the human beings discarded whilst their hair and shoes were stored as of, at least some value, I breathed the words of Jesus:

"Insomuch as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."
Matthew 25

Tonight, my brain made the connection. Our Holocaust is a Global one. The poorest of the poor deprived of their homes and subsistence by expanding deserts and torrential floods, increasingly powerful hurricanes and typhoons, and more of them; rising sealevels threatening vast expanses of inhabited land and the inevitable demographics of migration, economic refugees... Like most of us during the Third Reich, we can just go on assuming that it's not really as bad as they say...
Though it has to be said, there isn't going to be much left even for the rich if we don't act now to save the poor.

Another Word echoes: (The additions in brackets are my commentary.)

For whoever wants to save his life(style) will lose it,
but whoever loses his life(style) for me will save it.
What good is it for a man to gain the whole world,
and yet lose or forfeit his very self?
Luke 9: 24, 25

Monday, 10 March 2008

Water of Life

Hey, look at this! Thanks to for the happiest news this century.

Water Pumps powered,
not by the virtual or literal enslavement of women,
but by children at play.

What an inspiration! Clean, eco-friendly, fun-powered renewable technology.
And the water is clean, drinkable, and without disease.
See Playpumps International for the dénouement.

There has to be more of this type of community development out there...
If you can better that, I want to hear about it!

Deepening Prayer

I sat with two other people, back straight, feet planted firmly on the floor,
and eyes closed, listening.
Alan said to imagine the gaze of God upon us.
So I did.
Although he said to sense the warmth of the light of God,
instead of sunshine,
what I felt was like water.
Cleansed, washed.

I remembered my little girl as a baby, loving her bath,
gazing into my face as she splashed and wriggled in the water.
The most beautiful thing I've ever seen.
(Is this how God sees me?! THAT much love?)

And the day - maybe she'd been splashed -
she decided that wet hair was for her no more.
No matter how I coaxed, reassured, or carried on regardless,
that trusting gaze was lost, and the fun turned into a nightmare.

My delight in her now mixes with fury.
She makes herself so miserable, and for what?
(Is this anything like the "wrath" of God?)
So angry with her for pointlessly refusing
the love and joy and peace that is here for her,
if only she would choose trust, rather than her own way.

She's sleeping now, at last.
Finally given in to her body's clamouring for rest.
God's grace is greater even than
her capacity for fighting sleep - and that's saying something!

And Alan read of the man covered in leprosy, who came to Jesus,
threw himself down in front of him and said,
"Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean."
And Jesus touched the leper... and said,
"I do want to."
And the man was cleansed.
Me too, it seems!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Is THIS what Jesus told you guys to do? (again)

Made - or rather, received the gift of, a new friend today. Another American... and a delight.

She gave us the excuse to visit Fitzroy Presbyterian again, which was a blessing on lots of levels.
About seven people smiled and said hi before we even got in the front door - and they didn't ALL recognise me from previous visits, I'm sure.

I might have been the only ordained clergy in the building, and I was in a pew, holding a toddler. But the spirit of Ken Newell was there, even if he was away. That is, his faith in the Holy Spirit to empower the Church to be the Church, even without clergy present! My guess is that Roberta the Administrator played no small part in putting this together. That Blessed Gift of Administration, without which, ministers fall on our faces. They had a good range of different faces and voices contributing to a well-planned and well-led time of worship, reflection and family interaction. There was enough indication of engagement in making the world a better place to show this is a group of people for whom faith is bound in shoe-leather.

Even Littlun sang along - and stayed and listened to the whole service. Keith Lockart started and ended his "sermon" with a song - what a beautiful voice, guitar, and picture-painting story-telling songwriter! His day-job's architecture; but I like to think that using these gifts builds a cathedral of practical praise.

Afterwards, we met for bread, soup and cheese, enjoyed each other's company and raised money for Tearfund. Then our new friend came and inhabited our messy space with her earthed and joyful presence.

Is this what Jesus told us to do? Well not entirely. But it helps to meet and remind each other what he did tell us to be and do. I'm glad I went to Church today!

Washington DC

If I'd had a wireless connection on my laptop, and a less clunky, heavy one, perhaps I'd have taken it to the USA and blogged through my recent experiences of seeing faith-based community work, social action and political engagement around the Capitol... But I've noticed that Gordon McDade has blogged most of it (if not the childish hilarity of certain moments) with insight and passion, so I'll send you there.

Photos, though, are something else. You can find them at

Washington DC - March 6

Monday, 25 February 2008

"Is this really what Jesus told you guys to do?"

I went along to a North Belfast Presbytery service in Carnmoney Presbyterian last night. An eye-shaped building, combining a large (possibly a thousand-seater?) auditorium with the intimacy of a much smaller venue, by virtue of curved rows of seats, and curved, tiered balcony.
I arrived late, and they were already singing. Singing well, actually. The music was not too glitzy, but lively and enticing. I saw a ten-year-old-ish girl dancing along spontaneously.
Isn't this how church should be?
Well, maybe not, actually, though it is far, far better than many less enthusiastic, and unenthusing alternatives. Which leads me to the subject of my recent reading:

Jim & Casper Go To Church: Casper the Atheist is hired by Jim Henderson the White Male American Pastor, to come visit some different churches and receive $25 per visit, in return for his thoughts and impressions. It's an interesting cross-section of church experiences, and should be on the reading list for any seminary. But really the back of the fly-leaf tells the main point: "Is this really what Jesus told you guys to do?"

Now, if that line were to become the test by which church leadership meetings guided their decisions, I wonder what difference it would make...

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Of Women, and children first

Juno. Loved this film. And hated it. Or rather, hated the fact that I cried my way through, in between the comedy. It's a fairy tale, really. You can tell by the artificially clever dialogue. These aren't characters, they are representatives. A teenage pregnant superhero, more together than the adults around her. Screwed up... gutsy, witty, unrealistically controlled and calculating in her sexuality, though her vulnerability shows through in the end.

It's a film about women and their bodies. Wanting babies and not having them. Not wanting them and having them. And hapless males with nothing of value to say on the subject. For all that can be said about the positive modelling of choosing life and choosing to give the child up for adoption, the real challenge would be a film which explored other options, which include choosing to save sex for a stable, committed (even married?) relationship. Now THAT would be radical.

Or, what about a film which shows MEN dealing with the desire for children, and their desire and proactive search for intimate relationship which isn't just about reproductive organs? Is this just too far beyond a filmmaker's imagination? Or beyond the imagination of the financial backers, perhaps? Fairy Tales shape our imagination - and thereby, our future.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Truth Commissioner

For reasons too complex to explain here, I found myself alone at David Park's book launch tonight, in Belfast's Linen Hall Library. (I love that venue! The glassy strip of staircase rising four, five stories high between Victorian shops).

I haven't read The Truth Commissioner. It arrived on my bedside table just before I fell asleep last night. So I was not only alone; I was ignorant. I've never read any of David Park's books. Criminally negligent-ly Ignorant.

I came home with an armful. All written out of the Troubles, it seems. What else is there, if you come from here? Well... I guess to write from here and not find the Troubles on the sleeve is to have neglected one permeating factor in all our lives.

Odd then, that so much preaching, sermon-writing, modern praise music emanating from the Northern part of this Island seems to ignore that claustrophobic elephant. The one we hope will go away if we don't talk about it. What sort of Truth is this, that castigates only our enemies, condemns only Others, and fails to empower Protestants to stay in an area when Roman Catholics move in?

Truth has been substantially decommissioned; laid aside in a dark space, out of sight, while we quietly go out of our minds. Fill them with makeovers, holidays, new kitchens and plasma tellies - and despise anyone who chooses greener, more neighbourly tv-free lifestyles. While sneering and superficiality are in vogue, what philanthropist will commission new works?

Artists of the World Unite. You have nothing to lose but your audience.

Going, Going...

Gone? Can anyone tell me, are Comfort Adefowoju and her children still in the UK? Or were they sent back to Nigeria?

Friday, 8 February 2008

Leaving on a Jet Plane?

Unbelievable. If Sinn Fein's website is correct, there are still plans to deport Comfort Adefowoju and her children tomorrow.
What will it take for the Home Office to realise that these are not the people to be removing from the UK!?

Speechless. And disgusted.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Changing airports

Instead of concerned bystanders watching weary parents tussling with three-year olds, we have oohs and aahs, as Littlun merrily rolls along astride her Trunki. The airport's atmosphere changes as we pass. I'm putting time in waiting for our flight. Normally at this stage, I'm torn between boredom with the millionth sedentary reread of Dora the Explorer, and the unpalatable attempt to trail a hefty Littlun and her entertainment bag (books, toys, crayons) around the airport. Today I'm walking about comfortably, with Trunki rolling easily (if a little erratically) behind.
He's not capacious, as suitcases go. But for travelling light, in both kilos and humour, our Green TowGo hit the spot.

All went well till my precious charge fell asleep unexpectedly on the return journey, just as we were arriving at the airport, and I wished I had brought my pushchair after all. But when she awoke, going through the security portal, one sight of Trunki was enough to dispel the grumbles.

The verdict: a pushchair/stroller kept until reaching the doors of the plane is the practical option for a smaller child (so long as the airline aren't charging it as extra baggage.) But Trunki certainly brightened and shortened the waiting.

Confession time: I have even used it as hand baggage when travelling without a child, as it is just the right size for the tiny hand baggage allowances on Aer Arann. It was a real squeeze to get my stuff in, but still trundled along like a puppy behind me! And no waiting for bags on arrival.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

It's a wet Sunday afternoon. Too cold to be out and about. Perfect weather for reading this deceptively simple, profound, hopeful and disturbing ... what? novel? story?
more than that.

I can't spoil it by telling anyone more than that you must read it.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. John Boyne.

It won't take long.

It isn't difficult.

It's compelling.

As irritating as a nine-year-old boy can be.

And as deserving of attention.

Read it!

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.