The Lone Piper Played. We wept.

[*A brief detour into how the same history of values/philosophy that have shaped our travelling generation, have also shaped our nations far more than that.  The context to this post can be found here and here]

When I saw the predicted polls of the Irish referendum on the 8th amendment [abortion] on Friday night on the Irish Times website after polling closed, I was in disbelief.  Was this another poor attempt by the Irish Times to slant things, like had happened all along in the Irish media?  (The only lone pro-life voices allowed in the year coming up to the referendum were Breda O’Brien’s short snippets in the latter pages of the Irish Times and David Quinn’s column in the Sunday Times.  In the last couple of months, a few solitary voices were added with the aim of giving a semblance of balance.  In reality, speaking up against all the main political parties, all the main media, hundreds of thousands of euros of illegal foreign money, and some political leaders advocating civil disobedience, was always going to be hilarious to try.)

But as we examined the methodology and sample size, it became clear it wasn’t.  And looking to my pro-choice friends, they were also nearly in disbelief and not ready to yet celebrate, until they saw the concrete results.  From a country steeped in tradition, the steeple had toppled years ago, and now the building was leaning towards collapse.  And there was no reparation funds left to do anything about it.

Irish Times exit poll

And so I fled.  Fled to County Kerry for a Stag party of a friend.  Not particularly looking forward to the frivolity of such an affair, but pleased to get mental space from over-analysing results, county by county, as they came in.  And it’s just as well I left, as doing it by county would have made no difference to the results, because if you’d shown me a list of them, I wouldn’t even have been able to pick out the constituency I was sitting in, in the rural west, as all apart from Dublin were much of a muchness.  Donegal, the lone dissenter….just.

While we were away, on a rare warm summer evening sitting on Castlegregory beach with the moon shining overhead and a tiny fire to keep us warm, the storm hit the rest of the country, like rarely seen before in Ireland.  The thunder and lightning displays rumbled on for hours.  Many awoke and couldn’t get back to sleep.  Numerous party-goers of “Repeal” celebration parties were left sheltering inside, or deciding to call it a night.  A small blip on the ecstacy of the celebration.

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Returning to reality a day later, I stumbled through a Sunday service, not yet having time to process anything emotionally.  It was only alone that afternoon that it all started to sink in.  Heading out for the evening to a pro-life social gathering of the Life Institute in Cork, there was a sombre mood amongst us all.  A few comments struck me over the course of the evening, informally chatting to many who I had never met before:

“Even our Priest told us we couldn’t canvass outside Mass any week.  The next week, they were canvassing for some other charity to help disabled people.  But Pro-life stuff?  Not at all!  The Association of Catholic Priests had told them otherwise.”

 

“Our [evangelical] church leaders only mentioned it once briefly from the front and invited us all to a central meeting not organised by the church.  As if it wasn’t part of the Church’s concern.  As if ending tens of thousands of human lives isn’t something Jesus speaks about much.”

 

“We just don’t know how it went from us hearing far more ‘nos’ on the canvasses to such a concrete ‘yes’ in the vote.  Were people lying on the doors?  Were only old people in their houses in the evenings?  Did people change their mind at the last minute?”

A canvass leader who had connections to canvass leaders up and down the country.

 

“I’m not religious at all, but the timing of the lightning storm last night was creepy.  We’ve never in our lifetime seen anything like it.  Do you think it was connected?”

(On a sidenote, no, no I don’t.  Jesus’ reply in Luke 13 is a helpful place to go to respond to similar questions and superstition)

 

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And as the chat died away, and the two eulogies were made, mourning the coming effects of the result, thanking everyone, and urging us to offer better choices for women, so they never had to choose abortion, even if now available.  We stood with tears in our eyes.

Tears, not that the steeple was gone or that the building was following, because that was not what many, if any of us were caring about.  Owning the skyline of a city is fairly meaningless unless one lives out a warm moral fabric in beautiful communities to go with it.  Particularly for the many atheist pro-life campaigners in the room who don’t even identify with the skyline at all, but were still weeping.

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From one bridge further along, 8 church steeples can be seen towering over the city.

The tears were more because of what replaced those communities inside.  Communities that once oozed with a sacrificial love for humanity, in light of the sacrificial, servant Saviour they claimed to follow.  Communities that were quick to confess their short-comings to each other and forgive, and would never hold any human on a pedestal without account.  Communities that made inroads into developing education, healthcare, legal systems, charities, family life.  Communities that most in Ireland have not seen for many a generation.  Their downfall was first inside:

First came the religious elite in powerful positions, able to put on a good show, but underneath not all was well.  Moral corruption.

Second came those who were happy to keep the show going at any cost, despite knowing all was not well morally.  No questions allowed.  Shame the unbeliever.

Third came those who, when knowing the show was not going well, were gradually consumed by apathy: is this even real?

Fourth came those still who would see the nice things in the show, but not want the uglier side and would pick of what they indulged.

Fifthly came those who wanted rid of it all, seeing that the constructs woven into society originally by these communities had become decrepit, purposeless, for power hungry men to defend, and running contrary to the needs of society.

And losing an awareness at each level of anything bigger than themselves, many (including the religious elite) would see they had easier options than to sacrificially love another.  At one end of the scale, the scandals that rocked the church when self-gratification in a lonely role, overtook sacrificial love.  At the other, a misunderstanding that being moral was the message of Christianity and shaming those who weren’t perceived to be – a message that is the exact opposite of the true good news of a sacrificial Saviour who died on our behalf as we were not moral enough.

At each stage we started to doubt and then remove the very basis of sacrificial love and so our individualised rights and choices became the defining factors.  “Do not harm” replaced the far greater call to “love your neighbour”.  Communities that are now even prepared to take other human lives, on the altar of choice.

At what point should the constructs of the old community, so hewn into society and life, be torn down brick by brick for our own good?  And to what cost on the passerby, would falling bricks be, before the constructs of new communities arise?

Afterwards, cutting through the quiet rumble of voices, and the backing of a trad band playing in the corner, a lone piper started his drone.  And after hauntingly working his way through Irish airs, the famous Scottish anthem rang out:

“Those days are passed now
And in the past they must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again
That stood against him
Proud Edward’s army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again”

We seem to be good at defining ourselves on what we are against.  The past.  The English.  The Church.

What awaits to be seen is what will replace the steeples on our skyline, and whether we can ever move beyond anger, to a positive rubric for Irish life.  For the meantime, I fear much more anger to come and many more innocents suffering the consequences of our anger.

The lone piper continued to play.

The room went silent.

 

We wept.

 

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Afro-Irish contextualisation

I met up with one of our graduates the other day to talk about this key topic for the Irish church.  Travel has both caused the “problem” and may also help us solve the “problem”.

We cover:

  • whether racism is an issue in the church?
  • why the church in Ireland is largely split racially
  • what can be done to help this issue?

And much more.  It’s a very basic start to a complex topic.  Check it out here:

Travelling for abortion: one story, one lady, two lives?

I’ve tried to write this several times closer to the conversations I had with these two ladies, but each time I clammed up and tears were welling in my eyes.  And if it’s been like that for me, I don’t know what it is like for these ladies.

With that in mind, I know how tempting it would be to agree with many of those I met on Saturday at the “March for Repeal” (to repeal the 8th amendment, which bans abortion in most circumstances in Ireland, outside of when the mother’s life is endangered) who asked me why I was vocalising my male views, on a female topic.  And if it were simply that, perhaps both “sides” of the protest could tell their male attendees to go home and shut up.

But I stayed.

It wasn’t easy to stay.  I’d had a long week of work, the sun was out for the first time this summer (in any meaningful way), and there were plenty of places I would rather have been that standing in a 200 strong crowd of angry, yelling protesters, who were chanting things from the depths of their being against what I considered precious to me.  Compared to those who had come down to protest for Repeal from Limerick as they thought this would be a “fun day out”, I was out of my mind.

Repeal rally

And it’s not because I’m “one of those” people either.  You know the ones who love to get their megaphone out and make their understanding of truth be known to everyone, at any opportunity?  I was helping a UCC society new committee this week do some teamwork training, and to help them understand their roles within a team.  And from the survey they all filled in (Belbin), I didn’t score highly on any of the assertive questions about making my views known in a divergent group.  Perhaps I’m blind to my own ways.

What was I doing there?  Displaying signs like these, and saying very little:

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The group I was with that day also endorse the use of graphic imagery to inform people, as they would believe that statistics don’t hit home “the nature of genocide”.  But before you voice your disgust, I wonder if you could give me a few seconds more and listen in to one of many conversations I had that day with “Eilidh”?

Firstly I should say that we were their legally, having forewarned the Gards about our being there, and using EU legislation to allow us to express what we wished.  We have a code with all those who work with us, that we’re there to stand silently and engage with those who wish to engage in meaningful ways and seek to love those around us, however we can.  “Eilidh” was one of those.

“Our bodies, our choice!
Our bodies, our choice!
Our bodies, our choice!  Our bodies, our choice!

Pro life, that’s a lie,
you don’t care if women die!
Pro life, that’s a lie,
you don’t care if women die!”

“Excuse me, I was just wondering if you know that women are protected under Irish law in all circumstances and can have a termination of pregnancy if their life is at risk?”

“That’s a lie.  What happened to Savita, or that lady flung in a mental home for wanting an abortion this last week?”

“Savita was medical malpractice (nothing to do with abortion) and the most recent case of the lady going into care was not because she wanted an abortion.  It was standard medical procedure, and she also happened to be pregnant at the time.”

E angrily, “Why are you even here?  Just to show hatred for women?”

“No, I’m just wanting to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, like these ones” (pointing to large picture of aborted fetuses)

“But they’re all fake images.  Fake news.  Aborted fetuses aren’t like that.”

“I’m afraid not, they’re very real images”

“But, but…but, they can’t be.  Are you sure?”

I nod, but barely a second passes as she gulps and interrupts.

“But I bet you don’t care for women who choose to keep a child.  What do you know about anything like that?  You just campaign for something and then leave women to suffer.”

“Well, no, actually.  I campaign for something and then try to live sacrificially towards it.  I run community spaces in the city to help a diverse range of people, and am involved with others who give financially, give accommodation, give of their time, and surround women who want to keep their children with a loving community of supportive people.  In fact, we even support those who’ve had abortions, to mentally process things.”

“Oh…..that’s beautiful.  Well, I wish that had been made known to me when I was 16 and was forced by my family to go for an abortion”, she said, breaking down in front of me.

Then she turned away, ashamed of her tears, back to the yelling crowd, full of fear.

I once again returned to silence, pondering just how many others like her were in the crowd.  Another I chatted to that day was angry, simply because she had come back from an abortion a few hours earlier, and needed somewhere to vent.

People’s experiences can change them.  Change us for the good, but also change us for the worse.  It can blind us all to logic.  And logic in the light of experience can seem so cold, so brutal.  Unless you have a warm community around you, taking away any shame and willing to unconditionally support you.  I’ve linked some places you can go if you want to experience that.

I hope the table below makes it clear that there aren’t any reasons to endorse abortion, unless you are also willing for infanticide in the same cases, as pro-choice ethicist Peter Singer so rightly has argued.

What makes a human

What about rape?  What about fatal foetal abnormalities?  What about the hard cases?

Well they are hard.  And they’ll never become anything but that.  They are also rare.  But so this doesn’t get any longer, perhaps I could point you to find answers here and here, and further support below:

  • Gianna Care – for any type of support
  • Rachel’s Vineyard – for support post-abortion
  • WomenHurt.ie – Irish women who have walked in your shoes before you
  • Your local Students for Life group in Cork (or near you) are at the main gates of the college once a week and are willing to chat.  Coffee is on us!
  • Local churches like this one and this one have provided finance, accommodation, community, support and much more for those Students for Life Cork have met who want to continue with their pregnancy.  Many others would do similar.

Are the Irish really different?

The look of fear on people’s faces when they hear my (northern) accent and consider my words is really rather funny, here in Cork.

Irish different

The book I’m in the middle of, argues that we all think we’re different, but we’re not as unique in culture as we’d like to imagine!

“Oh we’re very different here y’know.  Things won’t work the same as up north.”

We love to proclaim our “other”ness to all around.  And there’s much truth in that.  It took me over two years to feel as if I’ve transitioned from Belfast to Cork (via 5 years in Nottingham).  And still many will say I stick out like a sore thumb, as a northern minded person.  But at least I’ve deluded myself into thinking I’ve contextualised a certain extent.  In reality it’ll be the third generation that’d be the ones fully adapted to local ways, perhaps.

And in a very similar vein, that’s true for those who come to faith too, or change worldview of any sort, I could imagine.

The first generation

have probably already married or had kids and then changed worldview.  Or they are so new to their worldview switch that finding a spouse of similar opinion isn’t high on their list – they’d rather just find someone who tolerates their way of life.

The second generation

have been brought up by a relatively new believer, who is still growing in their convictions.  If they come to the same faith, they could well be in the place to choose a spouse of that worldview and raise kids in the same way.

The third generation

will be the first brought up completely in that culture or worldview.

It’s why you see many in various religions (and cultures) demanding they marry someone of a similar view to themselves.  And to many extents, that’s quite sensible, to keep the most heartfelt goals in life similar.  But what many don’t realise is that, like anything in life, you can’t force practice on someone who just doesn’t get it, without creating bitterness.

Beating a “you must marry a Christian” drum will only work if a person sees what having a growing, intimate relationship with Christ looks like.  And so if Christ means very little to someone, having a spouse that follows Christ, will also mean very little.

But instead of trying to force them to think more of Christ, and telling them repeatedly that “is Jesus not worth it to sacrifice this non-Christian boyfriend?”, I wonder whether we need to ease off the imperatives and press heavy on the indicatives of the good news.  That’s not to abandon the place of the law in the Christian life.  But it’s to see the big picture beyond my lifetime, and through more generations that just mine.  And it’s to learn that if we’re finding it heartbreaking that person x is going out with a “non-Christian”, that most likely we weren’t chatting on much of a deep level with them before this started anyway.  Exceptions there are aplenty, of course.

You can tell a northerner however many times you want that the south is a people orientated culture and not so much time/task orientated one.  He will nod vigorously and start telling others that exact truth.  But every time you see him going “wrong”, will it help him much to tell him the same thing over and over again?

You can try it with me and see.

(But I’d rather you got alongside me in life, exampled it to me, and helped me see it for myself.)

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I wonder how many of Ireland’s clock faces (like St Anne’s Shandon, here in Cork), were built by those of British culture.  Are there any Irish public clocks?

Christian traveller, this is what you miss: glory

(NB: as with all my thinking, it tends to be flowing from the seminars I attend, the books I read and the minds of others.  Ultimately it’s “thinking God’s thoughts after Him” (Kepler).  So in this I acknowledge Mark Stirling of The Chalmers Institute and my homegroup, who put up with my studies on Ephesians, despite them having far better ones in years past)

Glory.

What does glory look like if you were to draw it?  Or for folk more like myself, what would the Biblical definition of it be? (please don’t look up the dictionary – I’m not sure we’re on a wavelength)  Perhaps a movie soundtrack would be easier to put to it.

It’s the question that comes into my mind when I read three or four times in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (chapter 1) that everything that happens in the Godhead and flowing from the Godhead (Father, Son, Spirit) through all eternity is “to the praise of His glory” or some equivalent phrases in other English versions.

What on earth is “to the praise of His glory”.  Can glory be praised?

Well, in brief, the reason I think such phrases could be better summed up in a movie soundtrack is because in the Bible they aren’t really defined that much.  But instances throughout the Bible tell us all what it’s about.

God’s glory is manifested quite often in the Holy of Holies in the temple: the part of the temple where no-one could enter, apart from a High priest, once a year.  Even then when he entered, he did so in fear and trembling, recognising his unworthiness, and need to make sacrifices for sin, for himself and for the people.

So often when God’s glory came down, nobody could go near.  It was often manifested by fire, by cloud (and mystery) and great power.  It rendered false gods powerless, priests speechless, and left people dead who tried to falsely come near.  You could hear the dramatic and climatic, thundering music.

GLORY!

But what has this to do with anything?

Well, Paul goes on to describe the church community in Ephesus using various pictures (chapter 2).  Pictures of what they once were (dead, aliens, strangers, uncircumcised, haters of God etc) and now what they are (alive, family, brought near, circumcised, lovers of God).  And in those images Paul brings in the fact that we’re a temple.  Not as individuals, but as a people together, with Christ as our cornerstone.  And all very well.  Until we remember what the temple was really like.

The temple was where this “glory” stuff happened.  Or not stuff at all.  Where God manifested himself in the fullest we way the people at the time could manage.  BOOM!

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Crashing waves of the Atlantic are often something that reminds me of the magnitude of God and His glory as I glimpse the power of even a fraction of His being.  This one, Ardmore this weekend.  But so often I don’t connect glory to humans, or His Church.

And so the fact we’re called the temple is baffling.  We are the place where God will manifest his “glory”.  So presumably it’s not too far of a jump to say that when people meet His Church (with Christ at the centre), they will be hit by His full “oomph”.  It renders people speechless.  Everything else in the world will seem small compared to approaching this beautiful community.

I’m still trying to work out how much continuity there is between old temple and new temple, and what exactly we can say about this.  But it’s got me excited.  Excited because I’m freshly convicted that when people meet and mingle with God’s new temple/community, they’ll be struck by something powerful.

And so I want to meet with this community and draw others into this community.  “Oh but we’re not a very [insert adjective] community here.  We’d need to change first, before inviting people in”.  Um, no, I think we need to invite people in and let them see us as we are, and continually strive for change through that, in that, with others, and for His glory.  And primarily before being a loving/forgiving/gracious/hope-filled/[insert adjective] community, we must be a community.

And quite frankly, that’s where most of us fall down.  We don’t see each other past a Sunday, or maybe a midweek smallgroup or meeting.  And if we do, it’s just as Christians together.  For the rest of the time, we’re expected to be lone wolf evangelists, doing personal evangelism to the max.  And we wonder why it doesn’t work?

In prescribing ourselves to this model, we heap pressure on ourselves.  We are our only contact with our friends.  It’s us or nothing.  And to be honest, there’s not much difference between my typing away at my desk all day and theirs.  In fact, many of them show far more positivity all day than I manage.  So much for being asked “to give a reason for the hope that’s within you”.  Few ask questions, because few see any difference, and rightly so – what difference can there really be in how we type, offer someone a coffee, or treat each other in the workplace?  Of course, some, but let’s stop our hyper individualism.

In prescribing ourselves this model, we also rob ourselves of true fellowship.  When we don’t see our fellow brothers and sisters apart from sporadic occasions, we tend, if you’re anything like the churches I’ve been involved with, to resort back to polite chit chat.  And that’s natural.  Only when you’re in and out of others lives, will you be able to walk up on a Sunday morning and ask something more deep or personal.  Because you’ve seen them in the messy-ness of life.

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Our church home-group out this weekend with some of our friends.

So what does this look like?  Well, it puts major questions about geographical proximity to each other in everyday life, or at least to your smallgroup members.  It also puts questions about our individual choice of how we spend our time.  Is it ours to choose our passions, or do I fit them around serving others?  Does “Peter the hockey player” take second place to “Peter the temple brick”, if hockey doesn’t manage to fulfil temple-like functions?  (though in most cases, I don’t think there needs be dichotomies).  Perhaps for your church, it’s even simply starting small-groups.

In Cork, it’s led to us all deliberately inviting our friends who aren’t part of church, into social gatherings where there’s a mix of people, so that they see God’s glory in Christ.  And they are indeed noticing exactly that:

“You’re all so different, but love each other so much!”

“How do you ever hang out with him/her, they’re so weird/different?!  I’d like to be able to do that.”

“I wish I had a community like this that looked out for me in the city: it’s fab”

“I didn’t understand and completely disagree with what was said at your church this morning, but I’m glad we can chat about it this afternoon in a more private place together”

Now don’t get me wrong.  This is hard.  It’s costly.  Half of us haven’t braved sharing our friends yet with each other.  And there are moments I grimace inside and wish I hadn’t invited my friends along, after something has been said in convo that hasn’t been helpful.  But it’s worth every step of it.

The more I find myself committing to community, the more I feel free!  Free to be myself, free to not have to produce evangelistic results myself, free to be weak in front of others (they see everything), free to fail, free to ask for forgiveness, free to keep short accounts with people I see lots.  Free!

That’s what living for the praise of His glory does.  And that’s why being away travelling lots robs you of everything about it.  You’re unable to do this community.  For someone with a job like mine – I’m robbing myself of joy!

35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

(John 13:35)

Ireland: a well travelled nation

“According to a 2013 UN migration report of 72 countries, more than three quarters of a million Irish-born people were living abroad.  We have the highest number of native-born emigrants in the OECD, living abroad.”

(Irish Times Centenary Conversations pg. 14    29/10/16)

And so there it is.  Putting “we’re desperate to leave Ireland” in positive light –

“we love to travel”

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A sign on the beach at Inchydoney today that amused me.