Can we manufacture Intimacy?

Another thing that travel got some of us thinking about:

#travelintandem

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Peregrino: Waymarkers for Pilgrims on the Camino of Life (Book Review)

Pilgrimage: It’s the one thing you may have noticed a distinct lack of round here.  Ha – there’s an evangelical Christian for you?  But as I say in my book’s introduction, that’s not because I fear it, or think it isn’t an “evangelical” thing to do.  No, far from it.  It’s simply because many before me have written on it far better than I could, and the engagement of faith with pilgrimages is already a massive thing across the world.

But as all the hype around my book launches dies down and I get back to normal life, I was sent a recommendation by a mentor back home to pick up this one and give it a read.  I was initially sceptical, knowing nothing of either the author or the book, but I’ve found it a rich treasure trove of scriptural meditations, thought-provoking statements and marvelous quotations!

Rev David Cupples set off on a Sabbatical to enjoy two of the Caminos in France and Spain and has collated his thoughts in this colourful guide for anyone contemplating pilgrimage.  Noting that no-one he met in his weeks of walking ever had the original purposes of traversing to the remains of ancient “saints”, he not only leads us in beautiful worship and practical tips, but also adds helpful commentary to many who go on pilgrimage.

For those taking their time and mulling over this as a devotional or as they travel, the added feature of a song for every day is added at the end of the page, alongside the large chunk of scripture and extensive topical thought. There’s just shy of 90 days worth of devotional material in here, and all of it is immensely stimulating and helpful for worship, even if you don’t agree with every single one (I could imagine some wouldn’t agree with David on the extent to which we can hear God and be led by him audibly speaking outside scripture, our conscience and creation).

Regardless whether you call it pilgrimage or not, walking such paths deserve our engagement as evangelicals, partly because so many of us undervalue how much experience shapes us, partly because (as Desi Maxwell recently highlighted at a travel symposium I spoke at) the Bible is such an outdoors book, and partly because we go walking anyway, so why not make it as intentional as this author is? David will surprise you and warm your heart whatever background you come from.

I’ve already ordered a few extra copies and sent them off across the globe to folks who love to pilgrimage and walk in this way, as its an excellent resource, regardless of whether you’re mulling over what is spiritually real for the first time, or whether you’re a seasoned Christian used to rich theology. You can order them from David directly at dcupples57@gmail.com

Happy reading!

Making the most of your travels…

The call to prayer echoed hauntingly across the tower blocks as minaret after minaret sounded out for the final time that night, far below us.  We stood on the rooftop, watching across the night sky as one by one the lights went out in various apartments.  It was one of the few cool places we could go in the intense heat of the summer, when even at nighttime, it was a balmy 28 degrees.  Sweat was still dripping off my brow as I heard my friend draw his prayer to a conclusion:

“In Jesus name, Amen”

It was all I had heard of the last few minutes as my mind had been captured by the nasal melodies ringing out over the loudspeakers.  He looked over at me.

“How do you feel?”

I wasn’t sure.  I’d never had such stark reminders that this world was not my home, than the “other”ness of the sounds that hit my ears.  But the city before me was little more lost than the familiar bells that tolled in my hometown, reminding me of the empty cathedrals and apathy-filled churches.  Not to mention the “cathedrals” built more recently within a few hundred metres of my doorstep in Ireland, some open 24-7 to shoppers and others just crammed once a week with 70,000 adoring fans.  Although here, I felt like a stranger.  That night a tear fell on my pillow as I rolled over again, trying desperately to sleep.  I wasn’t sure whether my feelings were from spiritual realities that lay in front of me, or just because I was finding normal life utterly different and hard in this heat, or both at the same time.

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The next morning we rose early, each muttering prayers nervously under our breath as we packed our belongings and headed off to a secret gathering of believers at an unknown location.

The windows were closed and the singing was meant to be muted, but when the old songs of the native language started being played, the believers grew in passion, unable to contain themselves to the quiet whispers of joy.

“How do you feel?” he asked me again.

I wasn’t sure.  I hadn’t understood a word of anything that had been sung for the last few minutes.  But yet inside of me, something welled up, unable to be controlled by mere linguistic barriers.  I knew I was with family.  Family that I could find in increasing numbers of places in the world, whether in minaret filled cities, under cathedral dominating skylines or beside where modern day cathedrals forced comfort and apathy upon baying fans.  I knew that thousands of miles from my home, I’d found a welcome of far more significance than any other you could expect from meeting people for a first time.  A stranger had found a family.  And I loved it.

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It’s funny how it takes a trip away from home to open my eyes to things the Scriptures already have spoken about on my own doorstep, as well as the eternal realities that starkly presented themselves in the “other”ness that I met those days.  Firstly feeling a little lost in a world so different to my own.  Then starting to understand it more.  And further down the line, sadly often becoming numb to the reality around me as it becomes normalised just like my home setting.

There’s something about travel that keeps me in a learning posture, reminding me of my place in this world as one in seven billion people, and helping me to live in light of every person, culture and people I’ve ever walked amongst.  There’s something about travel which helps me see the world as only the Bible describes it: as utterly beautiful but at the same time in ruins – a fraction of the glory it once was.  And there’s something about travel that makes me yearn even more for a restoration to come – a new heavens and a new earth to explore, as time after time even the ecstacy of travel only seems like a passing thrill, earnestly preserved by as many Instagram posts and YouTube videos as I can manage.

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There’s so much good in travel that I never realised when I first (rather selfishly) booked that first trip away across the globe.  And looking back at all I learnt about God, His world, His Church, and myself, over those days, I’m not only glad I did book such things, but I now want to stop and think twice before (like in everything in life) I am tempted to tell someone else exactly whether they should or should not be travelling.  What if they could instead, see travel through the same lens that God sees it?  What if they had questions to help them make the most of their travels, and stories of other travellers to encourage and to warn?  What if they could travel, in tandem with God’s heart?


Travel: in tandem with God’s Heart is released on October 18th and can be pre-ordered through the publisher’s website, through my supplier in the UK (free postage to UK) or soon from my supplier in Ireland.  For more details of events near you, please see the events page on this blog, or consider hosting one locally yourself, to help others around you of all faiths and none, think through this key topic.

Travel Front Cover

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.

 

Praying while we travel

PrayerMate is a great App for us as travellers.  I used to keep a prayer journal and carry it round everywhere with me, so I could make a note of things to pray for and see how God had answered prayer.  Now I use PrayerMate!  It means that while on my travels, I’ve a Bible, a prayer App, a devotional guide on my Kindle (check our LiveDead Joy Bible reading planner for 1 pound) and catechisms, all in my pocket without thinking.  Does anyone have any recommendations for one for good hymns or Christian songs?

It took me an hour or two to figure out how I was going to best use it, and to input a weekly prayer cycle of my own prayer points that I wanted to pray through, but once I’d done that, it was easy!  And many organisations also use it, so you can hear all sorts of encouraging stories that will inspire you to pray.

For many of a younger generation, it’s transformed our prayer lives.  I could imagine that for a few, the discipline of staying away from your phone for things like this may be more valuable that accessing it all through the device that we’re already using too much!

All of this means I can be hiking up Irish mountains and can stop to pray, or to remind myself what I can be praying for as I hike, without taking out anything apart from my phone.  Or alternatively I can be stuck on a bus or in traffic, and, if it is legal to do so, check prayer points to make best use of the time, instead of getting frustrated.

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For those who want to sign up for my work daily prayer updates, you can click on this link: http://praynow4.org/craicfromcork

Travelling to find yourself

8am and I’m currently sitting in the Glendalough International Hostel in the Wicklow “Mountains” in Ireland.  Staying here as a cheap night away from travelling round Ireland with work but also because I’ve heard some of the trail runs at the top of the hills round the lakes are stunning.  Little did I know that I’d be out running at 5am, and arrive back in at 7am to find my room-mates still sleeping.  They probably thought such a tranquil hostel didn’t have these late night party-ers and early morning flight-get-ers that so often ruin the hostel night’s sleep.

But getting up for 5am runs doesn’t really feel like who I am.  There are “runners” who do that every day or regularly, like the person I went out running with.  But I’m definitely not one of them.

But equally who am I?  It’s a misty, murky question.

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Walking Glendalough lakes, with a friend wrestling about His identity (C)  03/07/17

I’ve many friends and I meet people all the time on their travels who are trying to find this out.  Generally you can tell either from what they post on facebook, or from where they invest their time, money and life.  Particularly among the travelling community, such questions are huge, because traditional ties to family or nationality/region are so often rejected (though in some cases nationality becomes a big outward identity, even if the person is in crisis and no longer feels like that inwardly when they’re back home).  The traveller, to some extent, will have to journey alone in finding their identity, as so often their experiences will be unique.

And perhaps that has to be key: we are unique.  Perhaps not as unique as we’d like to think in our shared humanity, but unique none-the-less.  We have to be more than the sum of our parts, and we desperately hope that is true.  As humans we are sexual beings, but we’re more than our sexuality, important as it is.  As humans we’re connected beings, but we’re more than our connections and relationships.  And as humans we’re creative beings in our jobs, hobbies and elsewhere, but we’re more than just “a painter” or “a hurling player”.

And the trouble with all of these things, that if we let them define us, we’ll be ruined.  We’ll sell ourselves short of who we really are or even worse, end up mentally unstable.  And yet it’s what we constantly do in a bid to make ourselves seem something.  So what’s the solution?

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Walking Glendalough lakes, with a friend wrestling about His identity (C)  03/07/17

Well, perhaps just to invest our identity in so many things that even if they go wrong, we’ll have a well balanced life still.  Risky, but it normally pays off, unless you get some catastrophe in life.  That’s largely the secular response (with variations on a theme).

Or what if we could have an identity that lay outside of ourselves?  Many would immediately think that it’s demeaning – a denial of our uniqueness and everything that we are.  And what would it even look like?  Most worldviews that promise such, end up being nonsense claims, as that religion or worldview just becomes a part of an inner struggle to achieve in life.  If you do badly at the worldview or religion, you’re back down doubting your identity as that, or struggling mentally.  It’s just one more part of life.  But someone once showed me one identity different to that.

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It was an identity outside of myself that freed me to truly start to get to know myself over time.  An identity that had nothing to do with my performance in life or whether something was removed from me.

And if you’ll hold off your initial scepticism long enough to read on a paragraph or two, I’d claim that identity was Jesus and being found in Him.  Not in my performance following him, or my religiosity.  But in Him, Himself.  And I’ve found that because He claims to have made everything (including me, by whatever long, earthy processes that involved), and He therefore knows me better than I know myself, that I can find myself more and more, as I delve deeper into knowing and experiencing my identity in Him.

  • I can face serious hockey injuries, without fearing my identity will be taken from me.
  • I can sit beside Republican and Loyalist alike, in my home city, and chat to them both and concede some things to both politically, because my identity is not in my politics (even if I am still passionate about it).
  • I can face being given the diagnosis of a long term medical condition a few years ago, that will shape my life, largely because my identity is not in my health or working capabilities.
  • I can face and even enjoy singleness (without porn, sex or even masturbation), because much as I am a sexual being, I am not defined by it.  I am freed to enjoy sex as my creator intended it.
  • I can face the times that I severely doubt the evidence for Jesus, because ultimately, the truth (or lack of) it doesn’t rely on my reasoning alone but on things outside of myself (which I would say give us good grounds for belief).

Because my identity in Him, is a “loved child of God”; a gift from the Father to the Son; one who is sitting reigning with Christ in the heavenly realms; one who is destined for a better world to come.

And it’s freeing!

I’m free to stop travelling the world (metaphorically and physically) to find myself (and now just to do it to enjoy Him and His world).  I’m free to try to love others better who are radically different to me, because if my identity is secure in Christ, I need not fear anything else and can focus all my time and energy on looking outwards to others, even if they’re hard to love.  And in fact, I’d argue it’s the only legitimate philosophical reason that we “ought” to care about others – because we were made for it – our identity as children of God will lead us to love God, and love others at its heart.

Give me a bunch of people who believe this radical truth deeply from the core of their being, and you’ll have an army of servant-hearted foot-washers, freed to change the world for the better. Sadly, my own heart so quickly forgets it and needs reminded of it again.

So fellow traveller, don’t let “Christian” or “Jesus” just become another word on your list of identities.  Lose yourself in Him!   And truly find yourself again in light of it.

[For more resources on this topic, read John’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, the ancient letter to the Colossian church from the Apostle Paul, or anything on here: www.bethinking.org (search: identity)]

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Easy to lose the woods for the trees in the identity question!  Glendalough, 03/07/17

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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Journey to Life: having the craic!

“Oh I don’t know exactly what I want in a date.  Just someone I can have the craic with”

(Person on “First Dates Ireland”)

And so it slowly became the mantra of the show we are all addicted to on RTE.  Because in all honesty, very few people could put their finger on specific characteristics that they wanted in someone.  And even those who could, would want “the craic” to be had.  A connection that can’t be described and can’t be summed up in a succinct way.  You have to have had the craic, to know what “having the craic” is.

It’s not just “having fun” or laughing alot.  It’s not just getting on well with someone or the old English word meaning “loud conversation or bragging”.  In fact, the very act of trying to prescribe a definite meaning to it, is an act defying the very nature of what the craic is to be.

Craic.

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Having the Craic in Norway on hol with some spontaneous friends

Our trouble is that craic isn’t chaseable.  I mean, of course in some ways it is.  Surround yourself with great friends, travel to the world’s most inspiring places and do a job that you love, and the craic may come flowing from banter-barrels in vast amount.

But ultimately life isn’t like that perpetually.  And just when you think you’ve cracked the code to get unlimited craic, something happens.  A friend moves away, a relationship splits, a holiday turns sour, the magical moments of travel can’t always be shared, or what was once special, now becomes ordinary.

The only responses to it, that I’ve come across are broadly speaking, these (though do add your two cents, should you know another – most however, are very closely associated to one of them):

  • Realise the craic isn’t what you should be chasing after and instead obey God (this is the Islamic response) and have all the pleasure in eternity (should he be willing to let you in, if he so wishes)
  • Realise the craic isn’t what you should be chasing after, deny all your feelings, and seek a state outside of that.  The more you do this, the more you will be free, as the world is bad, and only the spiritual is good (this, with variations, is a Buddhist response)
  • Realise the craic is all there is to have, and maximise it for yourself and everyone else (or indeed minimise harm, as it’s more often put).  Navigate it well, by putting your identity in so many smalls things, that the craic can never be removed from you, if one of them falls apart.  And hope that it all doesn’t fall apart.  Why you ought to maximise if for others, may not immediately be obvious, but do it anyway.  (This is largely the secular or stoic response)

For most of us in Ireland, we’ve largely seen a variation on the Islamic response, from the Roman Catholic Church (with no disrespect meant by that to either).  From the land where the craic has flowed more abundantly than most others (isn’t this why the Irish are loved all round the world?), the institutional religion has generally told us to be careful.  To have the craic is nearly an act of cheeky teenage rebellion, that we didn’t know why the church was complaining, but we thought they probably were.

FatherTedCarefulNowAnd all that made all the more hilarious by our harm caused by “having craic”, paling into insignificance compared to the harm caused by human rules imposed by the Church (rules on singleness for priests etc) that have been a correlating factor (if not a causing one) in the abuse scandals.

When confronted with only those options, I would want to flee quickly to the beauty of the secular response, and stomach any mental health difficulties in having an unstable identity (founded on lots of small things) or the problems in finding something bigger than ourselves in life (which even atheist thinkers have suggested we need).

But is there another way?

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Having the craic with work colleagues – doing a job I love!

Several thousand years ago, when eyewitness historical accounts recorded Jesus to say that he was here “so that they may have life, and have it to the full”, people scoffed.

The religious Jews of the day interpreted fullness of life in obedience to their laws and understanding of god.  Many of the Greeks went to eastern dualism (material bad, spiritual good) and would find such a claim absurd.  And many stoics would laugh heartily at such exclusivity and narrow-mindedness, given how short life was.  You’ll see that views really haven’t changed today, apart from in the finer detail.

But Jesus’ claim to give life Himself, rarely seemed to trample on “having the craic”.  He wasn’t a dualist out to tell everyone to be serious and stop those parties.  In fact, one of the few times we’re told what the “Son of Man” (another name used for Jesus and God in the Scriptures) was here to do, and it was “eating and drinking”.  And so he lived it out.

Yet at the same time, he pointed to the emptiness of only having that.  And how so often the craic was misused for other purposes that caused much harm to each other and to God.  A night out gone wrong.  He suggested that the very fact that craic exists in this world and yet we struggle to pin-point what it is, should point to us to a greater world with fuller abundance of life that is to be enjoyed.  To a life-giver.

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The Life-giver and the life-giving community, from which overflows many beautiful things (on the arrows).  Artwork by Heather Irwin.  Although this is a bit abstract if you’ve never considered it before.

And so I’ve found it to be true.  And not only true, but oh so satisfying!  And I invite you to experience the life-giver too.  To journey with me into life.  A journey that I embarked on as a young kid, and one I’m still delving into greater depths even now, and forever will be.  Eternal life won’t be a dull affair with all the life to be had, exploring to be done and craic overflowing.

Finding out what true life is, will be a roller-coaster, with bumps, jolts, moments of regret and moments you didn’t anticipate.  And it’ll be a demanding one, that’ll cost you everything but leave you richer than you’ve ever been.  You see the life Jesus offers is a bit like trying to define what the “craic” is.

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How one eyewitness account of Jesus’ life describes the life to offer.  Copyright Andy McClintock.

Like any travel, that journey is best experienced by being on it, not by reading travel brochures.  But to make sure you’re not being duped by a false brochure, do find someone you can trust to journey with.  I can introduce you to some great travellers near you who’ll ultimately point you to the Life-giver, as He wants to make Himself known.  It’s what I’ve been doing in Cork with Uncover Cork.  And it’s what Jesus encourages us to do ourselves when he beckons to us to explore.  I’d happily post you an eye-witness account of his life so you can find out more yourself.

Glimpses of glory

8,100 people all singing acapella underneath an atmospheric, floodlit Edinburgh Castle.  The singing continued as it echoed down the Royal Mile as we all slowly proceeded out of the castle, with barely another word said.

“There must be a place under the sun, where hearts of old in glory grow young”

Yes, yes, there must be.

Urgency in Irish life

I’m not sure how much I realised culture impacts things until I’d lived in a few cultures.  Northern Irish culture; English culture; Irish culture; there’s nuanced differences between all of them.  But nuanced differences magnified by living out assumptions that there’ll all the same, sometimes make surprisingly large differences between all of them!  It’s what irks me most about comments from those who’ve travelled in eastern Europe (or anywhere for that matter) and declare all the cultures to be the same!  And sadly in my first few years of settling in Cork (and probably still) I’d a lot to grasp about those differences.  One of them is urgency.

How do we as Irish people display urgency?

I remember living with a couple of doctors once (yes, you guessed it, one of the ones who got married).  Coming down in to the kitchen one morning, already late for work, he stopped and put on the kettle and sat down to chat.  Looking at him slightly puzzled, he saw my face, said “haven’t seen you in a while bud, you want a cup of tea?”, and proceeded to chat away for another ten minutes.  Much as the British like their tea, I wonder whether they would not have scolded him and shoved him out of the door before the kettle boiled.

Equally I came from having lived in England nearly five years, where task-orientated life dominates.  You send someone an email, and if you don’t get a reply in a few days, it’s a fault on their part.  Landing in Cork, I started sending many, many emails.  I saw one recipient on the street a few weeks later who casually wandered over to me and said “ah Peter, how’s it going?  I see you sent me an email a few weeks ago.  Do you want to go for coffee now?”

Relational life is beautiful.

It took me a while to get round to seeing it as that, but it is.  At times frustrating, but still none-the-less beautiful.

A friend in Limerick similarly noted that when Limerick flooded a year or two ago, the process by which the local councillors and groups got together to work out a solution and an urgent action plan, was not a British task-orientated, exact plan.  In fact, to the on-looking British it may have even been considered lackadaisical.

Some would say to me that Irish people don’t do urgency.  But I’m not so sure that’s true, as I see plenty of situations we react to urgently, although it’s true that we seem to love some sense of spontaneity too.  I just wonder whether Irish urgency is indeed very different.  Which makes me wonder about those who believe they have an urgent message to proclaim.  Muslims, Mormons, Evangelical Christians, others.

I have sat down with Mormons who seem to have such urgency that they quite often struggle to engage with me as a human.  Perhaps their dualistic theology also leads to this (see here for more).  Interestingly many of my Muslim friends seem to get relational culture far better, as they come from even more relational backgrounds than I do (perhaps works-based/semi-pelagian religions tend towards a slower, relational lifestyle, given the impossibility of immediate, certain salvation??).  That is, until religion is mentioned, and then many that I know seem to change!

sense-of-urgency-for-change2

Similarly I’ve sat next to British or some northern evangelicals who with tears in their eyes for the lost, wonder whether anyone else really cares, because no-one else is displaying such passion in the ways they are.  Equally, the lack of effort by us to culturally engage the more African-orientated “Redeemed Christian Churches of God” (the largest protestant denomination in Ireland, I believe), has meant that much frustration and division in CUs comes through cultural misunderstanding of some of these things.  “You’re just not passionate about the good news!” will often be the accusation.

But before this gets too long, I’ll leave you with two things I’m increasingly convinced of, and questions for you, of which I’d be grateful of your thoughts.

  • I’m increasingly convinced that the gospel demands urgency, and that this is part of the offence of the gospel because it shapes our means of bringing the gospel. As a philosopher I love “other possible world” hypothesis, but as a theologian (which we all are too), I’m not sure the Bible spends much time on them.  So when a Cork church leader recently said “I think if we had infinite time, God could bring everyone to Himself because we’d have all the time in the world to show them the warmth, beauty and truth of Christ and Christian community”, I’m not so sure I can agree or disagree (though I lean towards the latter).  Infinite time this side of eternity would so bend the Bible’s message that everything else would look distorted too (election, predestination, His means of bringing Himself glory etc).
  • I’m increasingly convinced that cultural displays of urgency are very different, and that we end up judging others for the way they display it. Street preaching; four spiritual laws; very direct conversations; endlessly posting things on facebook; I’m trying to figure out how an Irish person would do these or if they would at all.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an excuse for not being urgent, just a large question of whether some British, American or Nigerian ways of displaying urgency are really superior.

And so to my questions for you: what does urgency look like in your culture?  Where is it displayed?  What factors go into making a culture’s view on urgency?  Where do Irish values stop and borrowed values start in terms of urgency?  Does Biblical urgency ever call us to trump Irish ways of displaying that?  And where does our humanity fit into all this urgency?

Over to you!