The music of the nations!

Christian Union talent shows are always ridiculously good in standard due to the music and public speaking training many church-raised kids receive, and beautifully shameless, as no-one ought to have their identity on their performance or making a fool of themselves!  They also are devoid of harsh categorisations and insults, constant sexual innuendo or needing alcohol to fuel the fun…brilliant!

But still this year’s one made me smile inside between the stereotype of Irish life in Robert, through to the flavours of the world from students who felt free to express themselves and their culture in incredible ways.  The ladies below wanted to teach everyone how to sing “Afro-Irish style”!  Who needs travel, when you have the Christian community on your doorstep?!

 

 

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10 for travellers to read in 2018

I’m a big reader.  Partly because I do think readers are leaders.  You could spend worse time and money then learning from the best of thinkers and practitioners round the world.  And so here’s 10 (mostly recent publications) that I got for Christmas, that I think you might like!

Journey: an illustrated history of travel

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This coffee table book is a dream for the traveller!  Tracing the history of travel from several millennia ago, its pictures and bitesize format will lead to hours of fun facts and stories you may or may not know about travel.

For the more serious historian or reader, there’s enough to whet your appetite, and enough to send you off down a hundred other rabbit trails of things you want to investigate further.  At £25, it’s not cheap, but I intend it’ll get every pence of value sitting in my living room for others.

Is Shame Necessary? (Jennifer Jacquet)

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I’ve written before about how much of the world we see through our own cultural lenses.  Understanding shame/honour culture I think is key to understanding so much of history, world politics, religion and much more of personal interactions in our lives.  While those from such cultures will find this little book humorous and highly entertaining to see a westerner approach such a common sense topic (to you), it is however needed for us over here who have never thought the world could be seen that way!

The Strange Death of Europe (Douglas Murray)

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I was quite nervous of this treaty on immigration, identity and Islam, but it was recommended to me by those across a spectrum that I respected, and so I have started reading a book that appears to be a Conservative treatment on a topic I tend to take a more liberal stance on.  Whether Islam or secularism will dominate Europe in the decades to come will be a question that will not leave us for a while, and this, regardless of your opinion, is a well researched book.  Travelling Europe without thinking these questions could be blind travelling.  I can feel my pulse racing…

The Qur’an (Nicolai Sinai, Edinburgh Uni. Press)book4

A tsunami is coming!  After several hundred years of rigorous historical criticism of the Bible, this work has drawn together where we are with historical criticism of the Qur’an (just starting).  It’s a brave work to some extents, given what happens to those who suggest the Qur’an might not be the revealed message of Allah, but on other levels it will only be the start of fierce, western dragging of the text through critique in the decades to come.  I’m not sure how much westerners doing this, or how much us pretending Islam is a text-based religion will take affect, the way Biblical criticism did, but it’s a key read if you’re interested in the same discussion as the book above, or are travelling any Islamic state.

book5Zero Waste Home (Bea Johnson, Penguin)

Given the environmental impact on the world that travelling often makes, I would hope that most of us who travel, would be conscious of this, and looking to cut down our negative impact on the world, and on future generations (should there be future generations).  Bea Johnson is one of the leading voices over the years on cutting out waste from our lives, while still living normal lives.  I could imagine travellers will relate to her life of simplicity and absence of “stuff”.  The consequences are large enough, if put into action, that I’d suggest reading this one with a friend (to chat it through) or taking it slowly.  (And yes, I’m aware it’s ironic I’m buying a book on reducing waste…but I do want others to borrow it from my library, and that’s easier than Kindle!)

book6Cork Folk Tales (Kate Corkery)

Because every country/region has a rich story to tell, and folk tales are often what grab the imagination and help us see the mundane with a splash of colour.

Determined to Believe? (Prof John Lennox)

I’m a big Lennox fan.  I helped to organise his tour of Ireland recently, have sold hundreds of his books over the years.  Having said that, this looks like a polemic against a straw man Calvinism, veering many miles away from where Lennox is best: science (and faith).  I read it reluctantly while praying and longing for the day that the protestant/evangelical church will see that reformed/arminian distinctions don’t need to bitterly divide us.

“[insert Calvinism or Arminianism] will be the death of the church in [insert country/place]”.  No, no it won’t.  And if you think it will, your God is quite small.

JI Packer wrote a marvelous uniting book, speaking into a Christian Union situation in the UK that was divided on the topic.  I hope I’ve not judged this book by its cover.  Why for travellers?  Free will, determinism, compatibilism (and other variants) shape every culture, country, and thing that we do.  To understand culture well, you’d be wise to look at such questions, philosophical as they may be.

The Silk Roads (Peter Frankopan)book8

It was a bestseller of last year in many charts and one that is key reading to those who had western-centred history lessons.  “The region of the Silk Roads is obscure to many in the English-speaking world. Yet the region linking East with West is where civilization itself began, where the world’s great religions were born and took root, where goods were exchanged, and where languages, ideas and disease spread.”  Fascinating!  Things that will shape your travels in many places.

The Westminster Assembly (Robert Letham)

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Perhaps the most abstract and oldest on the list, I’m reading this to get my head around why the Church wrote some confessions of faith, what context they wrote them into and whether they are relevant for today.  Not inspiring to you?  Well stop just for one second.  We all have s system of beliefs, much as we like to say “I just believe the Bible and follow Jesus”.  The question is whether your system of beliefs matches what the weight of scripture teaches, freeing you to live in the best way in life: Jesus’ way?  I’ve found these truths to be invigorating in general life but also life-giving as I travel the globe, but am still wrestling with whether my reading of them was what the original authors had in mind!  If you’re not reformed in theology, I might suggest that you read up on it anyway, so that when you critique it, you’re reacting to the best of it, and not the worst.  A good rule anything you critique in 2018, in fact.

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Because Jesus has given me a love for all things, and my mother has given me a love for what she loves: birds.  And this book to identify ones will be fun when I’m walking the banks of the Lee in Cork, or travelling to far flung places with tropical birds.

But don’t be put off by long lists:

  1. Your passions will be different to mine – don’t feel constrained by what I like!
  2. One chapter a day will get you readings a huge number of books this year.  Build it into your routine, or grab others to discuss what you read.
  3. I’ve deliberately not mentioned all the regular books I read to warm my heart with the good news of Jesus.  I always try and prioritise Bible reading and these, over anything else I read.  Academic views will change, but the Word of God will never change.  However, these titles may help us better understand the Word of God.

Travelling the world to share…

“I shared the gospel with someone tonight as I travelled through China”

Ah, good, I guess.  Well done!

There are a few reasons why I’m never generally jumping up and down at such statements evangelism while travelling.

Why?

Well by “sharing the gospel” people from my circles generally mean this:

“whatever short summary of the good news they have rote-learnt from memory and just divulged over someone in six sentence summary format”

For everyone that will have limitations:

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  1. Cultural

For many westerners, they come from cultures which delight in direct communication.  Does my bum look big in this?  Well, yes, yes it does (ok, that’s an extreme but…).  “Telling it straight” to someone will evoke a sense of truth and in many, pride.

But to those who do not come from a “direct” culture, they are often deeply offended at such directness and pressing them to respond individualistically to a set of western-orientated presuppositions.  Particularly when it is in front of a group – the honour of their intelligence, worldview, friendships and whole way of thinking could be at stake.  It makes them recoil from even considering what the person is talking about, because the means embodying it is so shameful.

2. Theological

Many protestant cultures also are shaped by a guilt/innocence worldview where we describe our short summary in terms of God creating us, us doing wrong, feeling guilty, Jesus being innocent, Him taking our punishment, dying on a cross to make us forgiven and legally right before God, and Him coming back again for those who how have His righteousness.  Other western ways of sharing things might be along the lines of “Two ways to live” or “Four Spiritual Laws” or others such thinking.

But what about someone who has never thought too much about guilt or innocence, but is steeped everyday in the shame of not living up to familial, social, and cultural expectations or is craving the honour of the elder person they really respect?  That guilt/innocence presentation will have completely not connected with them, most likely.  In fact, it might take them one step closer to thinking God has little to do with their life and problems.

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TRAPPED!  In our cultural way of thinking.

Despite both of these, I would want to make two push back points:

Don’t let these negative experiences of short pithy gospel presentations push you into silence.  So often I can be so judgemental of how others do things, that I never speak, or never thank God that He uses (and has used) me even in my frailest of moments and stupid actions, to work for His glory.  Surely that is the Bible’s emphasis and should be our emphasis.

Gospel summaries are fab!  And I encourage all my students to learn one or more, so that they can snappily summarise what they think and believe.  It helped me spiritually, more than I’ve ever been able to share it!  But like anything in life, they’re not the golden bullet.  They all have weaknesses, all fail to convey lots, and depending on who you’re standing before can be (my old supervisor used to say,) like:

Frodo in the Lord of the Rings coming into an Ethiopian café when the football is on TV.  He shouts “Come Celebrate with me!!  The ring that was lost is now found and we are on our way again to Mount Doom where it can be destroyed and we can all be free!  Join us on our journey.”  To the Ethiopians, they have either no concept (or twisted ones) of all of those words/phrases, haven’t a clue what weird creature is excitedly speaking to them about this strange thing, and wouldn’t know what the journey looks like anyway.  And so they go back to watching football on the TV.

You see, Christ’s Lordship cannot be communicated in six sentences!  The everlasting and infinite God has chosen (in His wisdom) to reveal Himself using the frailty of human words, spoken into a particular culture at a particular time.  He has done it at that length and meant to do it so, because He knows best.

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And it’s wonderful.  The fact that He is Lord means that regardless of what I am talking about or doing, that a gospel of His Lordship is hovering over it.  I am as close to His Lordship as I am talking about brushing my teeth, as I am when I share my six sentence gospel summary.  Because ultimately He is Lord over teeth-brushing!  I am either doing it for His glory, or I am doing it from duty (good or bad) or legalistically doing it out of service to another god.  He is returning to bring us to a land where no decay or tooth-brushing will be needed!  Cheesey, but an example of how close things are to everyday situations that people can relate to!

So what does this look like in reality?

Well, let’s get this straight.  I don’t want to say that we must learn every culture and their way of speaking and acting, so that we become experts to all cultures.  Some gifted evangelists may think that’s what being “all things to all men” (2 Cor 9) is about but I think I disagree.  It’s impossible.  You can’t expect everyone to have cultural awareness of every culture.  Perhaps to specialise in knowing one cultural background, maybe.  But not that everyone will master everything.  Why do I say this?

Well, in me moving to Cork, I was moving from a British guilt/innocence culture to an Irish shame/honour culture (not to the same extent as Middle Eastern, but still massively moreso than British).  Now I have one of two choices: stay living in guilt/innocence culture, or try and get used to shame/honour culture.  And whichever I choose, I will alienate others and resonate more deeply with some.  It’s a choice that take a lot of time normally.  But I can’t live out both worldviews, unless I segregate relationships and all of my life.  I can be culturally aware of the clashes, but I cannot live both.

I am naturally inculturated.

I cannot sit above culture.

I am human.

Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures (Book review, IVP Academic, 2016)

I sat in the Christian Union (non-denominational campus ministry) missions committee meeting in my own house, just like every month of every semester.  But now, more than ever before, it all made sense.  This is why people were acting like this!

We had begun at 7pm with a meal.  I say “began” rather loosely.  Because at 7pm, the only one who’d shown up was the British student.  The Irish trundled in a little later, bringing a Germanic student with them (who didn’t know the way).  By 7.50pm, we were settling down to tea, coffee and dessert, and I was mightily impressed at how quickly things were moving.

Until the Germanic lady startled the room and drew everyone quiet:

“When are we starting the meeting?”

Many puzzled faces.

“I mean, I will have to leave soon” she said.

“When do you need to leave?” I asked.

“Uh, I guess pretty soon”.

And so with that knowledge, I “started” the meeting.  The fact that this was the first meeting of a committee, and that she didn’t know anyone yet, didn’t strike her as needing all this social faff before the meeting “proper”.  Nor did being in a culture that hugely values people, connections and relational life.

“Say who you are, what you study, where you’re from and why you wanted to be on the missions committee.”

And so we went round the room.  Much to the visible distress of the British, the answers to why they wanted to be on missions committee, were nothing to do with mission!

“I thought it’d be good craic” (x2)

“I wanted to be more involved in the community here in CU” (x3)

“Er, well, I think mission is great, and God has commanded it, so I want to reach the campus with the good news of Jesus” he said.

Silence.

Before the final person quickly took up the reins and said that they were there for the craic too.  Phew.  Awkward serious moment resolved.

Shortly afterwards, the Germanic lady got up and left.

“What was up with her?” said one of the Irish students, there for the craic.  “Is she not keen on this whole missions week thing?”


Culture is a baffling thing!  And the fact that the Bible was written by humans in a particular culture may not appear to immediately help the issue.  That evening to look at Acts 17, we first needed to see what culture the author was writing into.  Then from there, we needed to assess what culture we sit in, and then hardest of all, make the bridge from one culture to the other.

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The simplest of tasks like walking past a graveyard, becomes a complicated action when you’ve people from different cultural frameworks there!

The tricky thing about culture is that we all think we’re Biblical.  Because we read scripture through our own lenses.  Nigerians will always declare the Irish to not be passionate about faith at all (as you’ll see in this interview here).  British will always find the Irish not to be direct enough about an urgent proclamation of the gospel.  Americans will find the relational way of going about things to be the most unproductive, nepotistic way of doing life possible.  And those from Germany find the Irish to be quite two-faced…saying “yes” to things and yet not actually appearing to do them, or to turn up at all.

Are the Irish just a horrible bunch of people, in a culture seething with horrid practices?

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Because no Irish sign will ever directly tell you to do something….without at least making a joke about it.

Well, given I’m an Irishman writing this blog, I guess you may anticipate my response.  But this book (yes, we finally are getting to it), is one that will help anyone thinking through these questions or similar ones.

Jayson Georges and Mark D Baker play on years of experience of ministering within shame-honoUr (I insist on the proper spelling, sorry!) cultures.  The whole book is out to persuade us that there are 3 paradigms for culture:

  1. Fear and Power (Often thought to be African, animistic settings with witchdoctors)
  2. Shame and Honour (often considered to be Eastern settings)
  3. Guilt and Innocence (often considered to be Western settings)

And that none of them are “correct” or necessarily better than the other.  Here’s one chart to illustrate how we each think poorly about others who think differently:

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The book weaves in helpful stories from real life, solid handling of Biblical scriptures and texts, and very helpful nuances to their argument.  Here’s 3 things that I found helpful about that.

Firstly all their work was Biblical and opened my eyes (who has been theologically reading endless amounts) to new insights, fresh ways of thinking and things that warmed my heart about the God we serve.  Seeing outside of my own perspective is refreshing and paradigm shifting.  I’ll never be able to look back again.

Secondly their application to culture was very refreshing.  Their principles of what “shame/honour” culture looks like never stayed abstract.  They tell story after story of very helpful tales, all of which resounded with me and made sense.

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Up on top of a mountain with other international students, and I was interrupted by an Irish Aviation Authority tannoy system, telling us that the Gards had been called (in order to shame us into leaving).  The fact that the Gards had clearly not been called, is besides the point.

And thirdly, they always gave caveats to their arguments and never try and broad brushstroke everything.  Because “western” culture is not all guilt-innocence related.  In fact, in Ireland, according to those I’ve had do their test online here, Ireland is a good bit more shame orientated than guilt.  They also made the case that everyone will have some kind of mixture of values, and that it’s impossible to be all things to all men.  The more one delves into a particular framework and lives by it, the more alienating one will be to those of other cultures.  Try and stay separate from everything?  Impossible!  And you’ll only run the rick of not resonating with anyone.

This book is a fantastic point to delve deeper into this key topic, and those around me in Cork will know that it’s impacted me enough that they’ve had to endure me excitedly giving them a running commentary on culture in every gathering we’ve entered for the last few weeks.  However, if you’ve never thought about it before, this will be heavy going and you may prefer to start with reading chapter one, and then seeing for a few months whether you see what they’re talking about, as you look on life with others.

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:

The difference between a northern (Irish) mountain and a southern one.

I moved back to the Emerald Isle because Nottingham had me too far from the mountains and sea.  Or at least that’s part of the reason, and I’ll not go into the other 99 parts right now.  And so when I take a week’s annual leave, you’ll find me at the coast or up a mountain.  I mean, I use the term “annual leave” loosely, because we don’t really have a concrete understandings of time off.  Our annual leave forms get signed with sporadic dates put in them, and my boss understands that if he calls and I don’t answer, I’m either in the pub, sleeping, or on “annual leave”.  If I do answer, I might still be in the pub.

And this last week was no different.  My sister arrived in from Africa and an old university friend from England.  We worked a few hours, and seamlessly transferred into being up mountains in Kerry and in Down.  And it’s there that with an Irish lass (who betrays us all by calling herself Scottish) and an Englishman, that I once again noticed our stark difference in culture, not by those I travelled with, but by the very mountains we traversed.

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Carrauntoohil

Arriving into Killarney town always tears me in two.  The very authenticity the Gaeltacht and beauty of the landscape marauded over by a gazillion tour buses of a particular culture of people, noisily unpacking the “trunk” and proceeding to tell me loudly:

“you’re country is so green and peaceful!  Are there still terrorists here?”

If I was not benefitting from their generous dollar bills, I might correct them gently inserting a past tense into the first clause, and telling them that yes there are terrorists very close.  Given that I am very close to hitting them, bundling them into my car, and claiming a leprechaun did it, at which I would assume they’d probably give me more of their funny dollar stuff to see a live leprechaun.

But instead of this type of tomfoolery, I instead will just sadistically enjoy their “authentic Irish experience” from afar.  I’ve always enjoyed the throngs of tourists visiting the tarmaced paths around Muckross Lake and marvelling at the fact they’re in “Killarney National Park”.  And that no one really questions what the wild mountains ranges beyond the signposted areas are, but instead they flock to a signposted trickle of water down the hill that conveniently is at the end of the “National Park Tarmaced Path”.  I mean, the fact that my granny could walk around the “national park” doesn’t in fact take away from the fact that it is, yes, still stunningly beautiful, and that I admit.

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Some of the real National Park

In fact, this re-direction of tourists is a divine plan of the Irish Tourist Board (much like the one where they tell tourists that the Cliffs of Moher are the tall Irish cliffs that need visiting, when actually, Europe’s tallest cliffs lie up the coast a little, but wouldn’t be as easy to market), keeping the less mentally aware away from the real areas of natural beauty, that mean I can enjoy my ridges and hikes without any gasps of “Ireland is soo green”, which, although true, does not need repeated as many times a day as is declared that the ridge we walk along “really screams out for a Starbucks coffee shop right now”.

So by the time I get to Cronin’s Yard, and what I consider the “real Killarney”, I’m pleasantly amused and yet highly frustrated.  This combination is going to be a constant one, as I realise my present company.

In the carpark (there are only two buses a day….don’t try it!) around me are Irish people and those of the New Irish who are unemployed or those who have contextualised well enough to realise that you don’t check the weather forecast before booking your holiday.  You wake up, look upwards, and see the sun, and set off to the mountains.  I think we also had a few German families in hire cars who arrived shamefaced (a week later than anticipated) for their holiday, only to find the weather being unexpectedly brilliant.  I’m not sure they could show any joy at this Irish summer weather though, as they were still apologising for their tardiness on not being here the week they intended.

And so we set out.  A few moments later, and in a instant that showed just how much she’d betrayed herself to them’uns o’er the sea, my sister sent me back for our map from the car.  It was the only piece of equipment or hiking clothing we had accidentally left behind.  In my honest opinion, we could see the mountain we wanted to climb, and we’d be grand.  What more did we want?

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The cliff face we’d stupidly climbed down

Admittedly such silly requests were off the back of hilariously (but not at the time) dropping down a descent of Mangerton mountain the day before that only could be described as a sheer cliff face.  Reading a map and directions printed off Munsterhillwalks.com, we soon realised that someone though it hilarious to see how far those tourists would follow directions like lemmings off a cliff.  And we did.  And to be fair, looking back, it was quite hilarious.  We probably should have sniffed out this, when the route started backwards, and we never saw a path returning anywhere along our route.  But these are things you don’t think of when you come from cultures that swear by formal maps.

 

We were taught our lesson when we reached the top of Carrauntoohil to be greeted with grins from 4 “New Irish” counterparts standing there in their Vans shoes, and jeans.  And they continued to stop every so often 50 metres ahead of us to cuddle and selfie til we got fed up of the embarrassment of such a posse and overtook them in our mountain gear, boots and maps, that probably more held us back than achieved anything for us on the day.

Summiting Carrauntoohil (for those who want to know) is not hugely difficult, but is not to be laughed at.  The route meanders along some stones that look like they were scattered in a rough arrangement by an Irishman after a few pints (they probably were) and through enough bogland that regardless of time of year, you’ll step in something muddy enough to remind you it’s a bog, at some point.

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Then, as if the route were designed by a children’s drawing competition in the local school, it just decides to take you straight up the side of the basin all at once.  And after that you follow zig-zags up scree to the top, with a glum, bored look on your face as if you were heading up Croagh Patrick for penance.

Sadly half way up we’re gleefully told that the pub at the bottom will soon be closing and that we may as well turn round if we want to have any fun at all.  We didn’t.

At the top, the Kerry Mountain Rescue Service politely put a small sign to warn you of the plummet to the ground on the north-east side.  Realistically they know this will tempt more Dutch and Swiss (I would say Germans, but I’ve given them enough stick already, and any more may be considered racism) to stand as close to the 800m drop as possible.  But I suppose insurance has even come back to bite even the Irish, from our visiting tourist friends, and we’ve had to bough to the dire measures of erecting small signs.

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The sharp 800m drop off the side

Of course, also at the top of Carrauntoohil is our well renowned giant cross.  I say well renowned because for two weeks, the whole country thought it a worthwhile conversation topic while sitting in the pub.  DSC_0096The fact that the average Irishman has never ventured anywhere near Carrauntoohil does not stop him passionately having an opinion about the cross on the top of the mountain.

Because we are Catholic after all, and Catholics do like a good cross (let’s not tell anyone it dangerously resembles a dirty British, Proddy cross if it doesn’t have a good bit of Jesus on it).  I mean, when I say we’re Catholic, I really mean that we’ve come as near to confession one time as we did to Carrauntoohil, before either being put off by some foreign accented person nearby (sometimes even the Priest these days) or by feeling guilty and returning to the pub.  Ah yes, Carrauntoohil/confession – that’s the place I ought to have gone once and I’ll feel guilty I haven’t but really I’m quite happy with a pint in my hand looking at it from afar.

But anyway, back to the cross.  To be honest it was only after some angry atheist took a chainsaw up a mountain and sawed the old cross in two that anyone realised there was a cross on the mountain at all (much like the “fleg” on the city hall in Belfast, for that matter).  And as good Catholics, we all thought this was a bit far, and struggled to understand what on earth would have made someone to have been angry enough to have left the craic in the pub to start with.  And so an even bigger cross was put back in its place, so that we could claim once more that we were truly Catholic.

At the top we briefly stop to exchange photos, asking our photo-taker whether they’ve been up before.  “Just a few times” comes the reply.  By which the old man could well have meant “every day since I was born”, it was so understated.

But enough of Carrauntoohil.  This was meant to be a tale of two mountains…

Slieve Donard

Supposedly named such after Saint Donard, who nestled into residence there briefly, it’s the closest that a northern mountain will get to being religious.  Because let’s face it.  If it was too openly called after a saint, there’d be a bunch of loyalist protesters at the bottom with flegs and signs saying “ge’d’off ar maentins” and claiming that King Billy had once sat, not only on the wall, but on the hill back in 1690.

Thankfully on the day we climbed it, there were no protesters at the bottom at all.  In fact, there were very few at the bottom who weren’t safely stowed away in coffee shops on the prom.  There were two reasons for this.  Partly because the summit looked a little like the picture below, and partly because much like Americans are to Killarney, so are coffee shop daytrippers to Newcastle.  All local folks mind.  Not a tourist in sight.

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But one must understand that there are only two places a Belfast city person may go on a day off (and that is well over half the population).  Either drive to Portrush (and “the north coast”, by which they may also mean Portstewart, but normally still revert to “the Port”) or to Newcastle.  Even on a small island like ours, you would have hoped there may have been more day trip destinations, but sadly the “one hour drive and sit in an ice-cream shop” only works in two directions.  I’ve heard no-one out wesht has ice-cream yet.  So whether it’s Morelli’s or Mauds, the northern breed will be equally happy at this, quite social event, where doubtless they’ll meet a few they claim to have some relation with.

Now you might be quite surprised that the meeting point for this fine breed is not a pub.  But in the north it is quite a different game, and the day-tripping breed tend towards careful inspection of others to make sure they are not spending too much on drink, and are instead spending it on nice cars to drive in, and on cafe delicacies to indulge the waistline.

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And so why, given these two things, did we dander up the hill?  Well, precisely (or not precisely at all, as the case was) because we’re Irish.  And we looked at the hill, and all the locals cowering away in their posh cafe experiences and thought:

“That would be crazy to go up in these conditions without any gear, in tweed jacket, jeans, and Vans”

And so we did.  Because still crazier would have been to conform to the comfort of expectations and organised plans and weather forecasts.

The fact that we also only had a few hours til sunset didn’t seem to buoy our mood, and in fact drove us on all the more, as we found that the average person on google seemed to take 5.5 hours to climb Donard.  We had 5 hours till sunset.  And so we fancied our chances, bought a bottle of water each, found some Tesco value chocolate lying in my boot, and set off up the steps from the car park.

Ten minutes later and I distinctly remember looking at my friend in slight puzzlement that we were still climbing these very steps.  Until I realised about 90 minutes into the walk, that this is what the whole path was going to be.  You see some northerner had clearly got worried that we might find the whole mountain thing a little bit tricky, and, in infinite wisdom, had provided us with steps all the way.  Perhaps a dream for some unused to traversing the great slopes, but for us, quite frankly boring.

But these were not just any steps.  These were stones carved into the ground at quite some level.  Barely did I meet a loose one, and occasionally did one ever reach over a comfy height to lift my leg.  On such moments, it rather felt like a sign might have been nice to say “sorry we caused you to move a bit further than normal leg-reach, we’ll repair this soon”.

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Despite this help, we were still slightly concerned at the darkening weather, the setting sun and several other slight issues (the Tweed jacket no longer being one of these, as we’d sadly decided to abandon it in the car).  Asking those coming off the mountain for some advice on distance remaining, our time was further eaten when we realised that such questions were taken quite literally, and a minute by minute summary of the route was regurgitated from a route-map carried in plentiful supply by well-clad mountaineers.

Half way through this description, most of us (apart from my English friend) stopped caring about much that was coming out of the mouth of our nimble mountain goat-friends beside us, and instead we decided that we didn’t know why we’d asked really at all, as we were going to continue regardless.

And so up the steps we continued to go, until we hit the next quite remarkable “quality” of a northern mountain (should you want to call it that).20170423_174838

The wall.

And I better be careful with all this mention of flegs and walls, lest we get all political again.  But I’d take a fair bet that Mr Trump would only dream of a team of wall builders like built this Mourne Wall.  All 22 miles of it in all its glory.  Summiting 15 peaks in total.  Yet every time I’m stepping up in the Mournes, someone asks me

“why did they build this wall?”

And every time, I can’t help but forget why on earth someone would build a 2m high wall of dry boulders for 22 miles up and down some of the tallest peaks in the country.  Scenes of the World’s Strongest Man boulder lifting competition come to mind.  I mean, unlike our Carrauntoohil path, if an Irishman on pints tried to lift even one of these stones, he’d be doomed to roll down the hill with it.  Nevertheless in Belfast tours both sides probably say it was the oppression of the “other side” that made them have to do such a feat.

In reality google always reminds me that the real reasons for miles of walls was to keep some sheep out of certain bits.  Y’know, those sheep who like to summit mountains in their spare time?  Well, ok, ok, yes you’re right that there are many mountain sheep in incredible places that make you think “how on earth did that sheep get there?”.

But I would have thought that if a measly sign keeps thousands of mountain climbers and tourists from their deaths in the south, that something slightly easier to build would keep a few sheep from straying over certain lines in the north.  And that even if it was the answer, that someone would have thought that the sheep who love to bag munros (summit mountains to you and I), would probably learn how to summit styles over the walls or find broken-down-bits before too long.

But sure, if they were havin’ the craic, who am I to stop them?  Though I would have thought that when it came to the top of the mountain, that they’d think of something more to celebrate the summit than a wall, much like had been beside us all the way up.

Stopping there for a brief rest, we swapped photos with one other group also summiting daftly late in the day.  They assured us the reason they were “late” was because they’d been drinking wine til 05.30 the previous morning and had got lost on the way up.  I didn’t ask what side of the tarmac motorway steps they got lost on, on their way here.  Rather, I was pleased that some others were enjoying an adventure.

I’m not sure the sentiment was shared as we crashed back down into Newcastle, three hours after we’d started, and into one of those aforementioned coffee shops.  Looks of bafflement from pristine teenage couples out for a date, were followed by those of disgust from older relations, alarmed at how rugged people like us could ever come in to the cafe like this.

But so our tale of two mountains finishes.  And we hope you appreciate that not only was this a tale of two mountains but a tale of two cultures too.  One in which we went round and round until we summited.  The other, where we went straight up some stairs.  Perhaps there’s a lesson in that too…

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?

More from the east…

I’ve already mentioned how little I know about eastern worldview and culture.  And so I’ve been seeking to learn from the experiences of those who hail from there, and those who have travelled there.  Here’s one blog from a colleague of mine who spent a year travelling in the east before coming back to Ireland to work.  Some of their insights are fantastic and I may reblog them over the days ahead:

Two Happy Tramps

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Top Travel Songs (2)

Dido comes in at number one as previously mentioned, but here’s 8 more gems that I associate with travel!

Tracy’s aspirations of travel, as so often are, linked intricately to those you love.

Radical Face portray all the angst involved in deciding when is right to move on.  The moments are epic, but will they last?  The place is a keeper, but to settle there, immediately ruins it, no?

It’s another classic and a romantic favourite – I’ll do anything!  You can tell they walk out of the past decades.  Millennials today might walk one mile.  But then we’d probably re-examine whether the relationship was really worth it – walking is a hard slog!

If I could write songs like Johnny, I’d write an Irish equivalent…work and pelasure seems to have had me on every road in Ireland, motorway and country lane!  The world however?  To properly explore that would take an eternal age.  Just as well there’s one of those coming right up….

The long summer evenings in perfect company when the craic is mighty.  There are some moments that will be remembered for life.  This video, an advert though it is, speaks of those times.

And you?  What other songs strike travelling memories?

No doubt many that have nothing to do with travel, but were just on in those special times!