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.

Muslim Immigration in Europe: masculinity, politics and law

Working in a university has its advantages, and Friday night was one of them.  Public lectures on relevant topics, by those with suitable qualifications.  UCC had me excited with this one.  And so too were many of the university staff, with most in attendance being from the related fields of study within UCC (those lecturers chatting behind me were lecturers in middle eastern art history, and history of gender studies).  But sadly I was left walking out of the majestic Aula Maxima into the darkness, even more confused than I had been before.  Where did it all go wrong?

The UCC president (Dr Murphy) opened on a fascinating note islam-migration-msaulinity-politics-and-lawby telling us of the huge changes in Irish society and in UCC.  in 1990 there was only 4% of Ireland who were non-native (not born in Ireland).  By about 2011 there was 12-14% non-native living within the shores.  Nods were taken from the professor who specialised in Irish migration.  You couldn’t say anything wrong here, given those specialists attending.  Or could you?

What followed was two fairly unrelated speeches from high profile speakers, both women who came from a Muslim background.  One, Tasmina, who is MP for Ochil and South Perthshire seemed keener to tell us about her achievements in life and her passions as an SNP politician.  And much as a woman who had achieved so much was fascinating to listen to, I did wonder whether I’d come to listen to an inspiring SNP politician (the inspiring part need not be linked to the SNP part) or someone speaking on the topic in hand.  Brief reference was made to how SNP policy endorsed more open borders than others would.

Following on was Dr Samia Bano, from SOAS London who started by trying to tell us that she would be very academic (I’m not sure why she thought this would be a problem), and then proceeded to speak on a range of issues, some of which tried to separate Islamic culture from religion, some which tried to persuade us that we could contextualise and re-interpret the Qu’ran, and some which tried to persuade us of the forward leaning nature of many of the Muslims within Islamic communities in the UK.

But I couldn’t help but think what the Islamic Society (or the local mosque for that matter) would have thought about such attempts to separate culture and religion, to re-interpret the Qu’ran (or even reinterpret a copy of the translation of the Qu’ran, as I’m not sure what levels of Arabic were actually read by either panellist), or to persuade us that the Islam could be up-to-date with the latest gender theories and feminist issues.  Or to even what extent they’d want to do that.  For the religion that completely bows to the theories of the day, and whatever direction the wind is blowing, ultimately gives up its right to objective truth.

Liberal academics may try and persuade us that Islam says one thing or another.  But in reality, the only questions on people’s lips were:

  • what is the essence of Islam (if there is one)?
  • how can change be brought about?

And if one thing were fairly obvious, it was that the panellists were trying to make the Qu’ran say what they wanted to hear.  And that because of that, change will only occur in the outer echelons of liberal or nominal Islamic communities.

To know what is actually believed in Islam, or to bring about change, I would suggest one may need to be side-by-side at the heart of such communities.  And so I find myself in a local mosque again tomorrow, as well as reading some academic works.  The disconnect is huge.

The main point I took away from the evening?  How much travel is impacting Irish society, both in immigration and otherwise.  Thanks Dr Murphy!

Culture Night Ireland

It’s one of my favourite nights of the year: Culture Night.

Virtually every venue in town is open for free, from ones I walk past on a day-to-day basis, through to things I never knew existed.  And that’s what I love – finding quirky spots I’d never dreamed of visiting before.  Cork city just oozed a family atmosphere, a friendliness that was all too evident.  The buzz that is quite often felt in the centre of the city, was overflowing into the highways and byways – down little streets that are normally dead at night-time.

Last year I visited the County Hall and went up to the top floor for some jazz and other live music, and a look over the full city skyline.  This year I decided to stick closer to home, and visit Cork Printmakers and the Sample Art Studios as well as popping past a overflowing Alchemy Cafe and a fairly standard attendance at An Spailpin Fanac for some trad to finish off the evening.

Cork printmakers was a fascinating display of printed art – a way that I’d never really thought too much of before.  There were some incredible works, a chance to chat to some of the island’s top printers, and an opportunity to try a go at printing some art myself (see picture below) that they’d pre-arranged.

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Sample Arts Studios was a similar theme, yet so very different.  Connected to the Crawford College in Cork, artists were still present alongside their work, but yet it felt slightly more raw, as if you weren’t walking into an exhibition so much as taking a step into the very privacy of artist’s lair.  There was something intimate, despite being one of hundreds in an old dilapidated building.  Quite special.

But to think these were just 3 or 4 places out of hundreds that could be visited.  The after-taste of such an evening will linger for a long time as a warm and pleasant taste, which will leave me hungering for some more next year.  The fact that you can go to most things all year round is besides the point.  Culture Night still brings something special to it.

Thanks to the whole host of volunteers who make such evenings possible.  Even if one of them does knock on my door at 3am to request to sleep on my sofa for (what remains of ) that night!