Eat. Sleep. Rave. Repeat.

Tonight I drove home past the University College Cork campus.  At times I stopped the car to avoid running over drunk Freshers stumbling out onto the road on their way into town.  On their way into a university experience they’ll never forget (apart from on the morning after).

If my case for it being a lonely world or one where we struggle to look past convenient relationships with people like us, was merely a whisper, then surely these patterns of life are the screaming of similar yearnings on our hearts.

The rhythm of university life for so many.





Or so the saying goes.  One of my old university hallmates still ushers in each month typically with the facebook status:


But the joke is that we all know, he knows, that come next week, he’ll be posting the same thing again.  But my point in saying this isn’t to rant against such things.  You can find enough of society doing that elsewhere.

My point is that the fact we delight in this pattern of life (and 80% of students do,) illustrates that we seem incapable of looking outwards to people who are different to us, to appreciate them, unite with them and get along with them in very real ways.  We struggle to even do it in a university scene where we’re all like each other!!  The joke about Irish lads like myself is that we need 3 pints before we’d even talk to a woman.  And there’s a reason why that story has come to pass.  Our unity seems to come at the expense of everything apart from our drunken experience, which is our one uniting factor.

(And for those who don’t drink as much, like me, let us not think any more of ourselves…once the proverbial party bus leaves the university halls of residences, you rarely get a buzzing community of other-person-centred people appearing to unite for the evening.  On the times we did, we tended to all sit round and focus on our homogony “we’re not common people like those clubbing types, we’re so very different!”.  The irony didn’t strike us.)

We seem incapable of having motivation and desire to look beyond ourselves (apart from maybe the very few of us who’ve been raised in very diverse settings, but we couldn’t expect that to be replicated worldwide for everyone).

And from what I can tell it’s two or three main things that we struggle with as we consider how we can be united in our diversity:

  • we struggle to be vulnerable and admit weakness or neediness
  • we struggle to see others’ cultures or strengths and are quick to think highly of our own (we’re blind to ourselves)

and ultimately:

  • we struggle to know why we should bother to look outwards if we’re not harming anyone

It’s why when I’m travelling there’s always the draw towards the Irish pub in the city.  Familiarity.  A place where “the craic” will be mighty (as we say).  A place we can find comfort and feel at home in.  It’s the reason a hotel resort where I never see a foreign person, or have to speak in a foreign language is often what we opt for.  Neither are inherently wrong, and so I’m not making a moral judgement on those who, like myself, lean towards these at times.

But what will help us do these three things?  For one, the answer that I attempt to start (you’ll be pleased to hear), isn’t found in religion as we’ve seen in Ireland.


International Student Cafe Cork: radically different

Yesterday I discussed how lonely it can feel in life at times, even in the midst of many people.  Today, let me describe the difference using an accelerated example: an international student.

You’re far away from home, foreign language and foreign culture.  You’ve just realised us Irish aren’t as friendly as Lonely Planet and the travel guides make us out to be, especially when you’ve announced your intentions to stay here.  And so you think about hanging out with other international students, because they’ll understand.  “They’re people like me”.

You head down to the local Language Exchange night at a local pub.  There’s a great buzz.  You meet a few more internationals, socialise as much as you can in that environment with poor english and loud music, and call it a night when most people seem to be paying more attention to you as a female to flirt with, than as a human being.  The morning after you’ve not many more genuine friendships, but you’ve had a whale of an evening that’s given you a relational high, enough to go back next time.  And good news, next time you recognise a couple of people, though conversation seems harder with them now you know the basics – where do you go from here?


Alternatively you go to the far smaller, far quieter, weekly International Student Cafe in a rented hall nearby.  You’re greeted by a mixture of local people (team members) of various ages, and other students from far more varied cultures than were in the pub (Muslims, mainly the difference).  By uni standards it’s a tame night.  But a fun activity/theme, took away the pressure just to make brilliant conversation and allowed personalities and diversities to shine through without too much stress.  A chance to chill over tea, coffee and an international snack soon had us in stitches with our mis-communications to each other.  This certainly was a socially less extroverted group, but nice none-the-less.  Going home, it was nice to have had a different night but nothing incredible.  Would I go back?  Perhaps if there wasn’t a better, cooler option.  Until…

Well, then I got a text the next day asking me whether I’d go for a run and a coffee at the weekend.  I hadn’t realised the guy at the cafe did running like me.  Actually, I hadn’t realised much about him as he’d always been asking me good questions about what I liked, come to think of it.  And so we did.  And I came back the next week to cafe as a result, though I stayed a bit longer to help clear up afterwards.  After all, they seemed a very nice bunch, random as they were.

And then the next week I went on a trip with them to some stunning coastline (they don’t make profit, interestingly) nearby.  And before I knew it I was organising one of the week’s themes in my own culture.

What seemed like quite an ordinary cafe started to grip me.  This wasn’t just one person who was like me, who took interest in me.  This was everyone there.  And I could see it was starting to change me and the others there for the better.  I was thinking mid-week about how I could show interest in their lives too.  I mean, was this friendship?  But it was so random, so….different!

So what makes this difference?  This very real community?

Well, I’ll save my thoughts for next time and in the mean time, thoughts on the back of a postcard to me please!


PS: I hope I haven’t been too harsh in characterising other language exchanges and international groups in this city.  Some of what they do is fantastic and will have helped develop leadership/entrepreneurial flair in those leading, helped other make friends, find love and much more.  And most of what we do relies on them to take away most people from us (it wouldn’t work with more students currently).  So thank you!  I’ve always pointed people towards you and what you do and spoken highly of you, and still will.  And find any of us on an off-night and we’ll be just as self-centred as anyone!


Community is a buzz word of late.  But for all the buzz, for most it’s a little bit like looking behind a facebook profile into the messy reality of what lies beneath.  Many are lonelier than ever before.  And I know what it feels like.  Especially when I’m travelling.

I grew up in Belfast (Northern Ireland), studied and worked in Nottingham (England) and now am into my fifth year working in Cork (Ireland).  By this stage I’ve lost contact with most of those I grew up with (by living a flight away from them for 5 years), and haven’t done any better with my uni friends (yip, still a flight away).  Starting afresh in a new city, new culture, new job and new everything (it would seem) hasn’t been easy even for a fairly outgoing social person like me.  I guess working evenings and away from home hasn’t helped.

I’m happy playing in sports clubs, I’m grand sitting in pubs, I love a classical concert but nor do I object to dancing the night away on a dancefloor til the “wee” hours.  Happy chatting deep philosophy or bantering the night away on a surface level.  I’m happy in most place to be honest.  But it’s still hard.

I’d love to say it was because young professionals are few and far between in Cork, but I’m not sure it’s true.  Or that there aren’t the places to hang out and meet people, but there are.  So why do most of us in the city that I’ve talked to find it so hard to make friends?


Perhaps the post-uni relational lows of not having endless free-time, not having clubs and societies that meet in convenient times and locations to us, not have common  experiences of everyone leaving home and being thrown in together.  When we don’t have people perfectly like us around us, we struggle.

The more the years go on, the more I see my friends looking to live by themselves.  Why?  Well I think partly because living with other people (even good friends) is hard.  They find those they live with are not like them.  In tiny ways, but enough that irritates them after a long day at work.

And the more years go on, the more I see sex being assumed in every young professional’s friendship in the city.  Not because we love someone.  Just because it’s fun, it’s an escape, and it may just cement a friendship and make it work.  So often the same people who’ve offered me sex, are the ones next month offering someone else.  Not because they’re desperate for sex per say.  Or because they’re horrible people (in fact, quite the opposite).

But because they’re lonely.


Unsure what they’re looking for.

And so I think people are always surprised when they find real friendship.  And mistake it for romance unless they see that every member of several communities that I’m part of the city are offering that kind of friendship.  Very real community.  And it’s beautiful to be part of (though far harder to cultivate).

I’ll come on to some of what I think that looks like tomorrow.

Christian Unity: a hesitant conclusion

[EDIT: For those not expecting this on my blog, please do excuse my brief foray into Christian theology and unity, as I’m preparing for a meeting tonight.  Normal service resumed soon!]

Previously (here) I’ve set-up the problem of evangelical unity on mission teams and suggested that there are 3 ways potentially to solve it.  I use examples of female speaking, power evangelism (healing alongside verbal proclamation) and holding events in pubs.  For models 1 and 2 and 3 see here and here and here.

What model would I use?  I think in the ideal world for Cork city-wide events of 2017, we’d use the third model and seek to love each other generously as below.  But sadly given the battle is still raging within each of our hearts to be other-person-centred, sometimes it must fall back to other models, or whoever is leading the team.

On that note, to conclude, I largely steal from Dave Bish (formerly New Frontiers church planter and about to be pastor at my old church) over at Blue Fish.  He says:

Unity vs. Mission isn’t a choice Jesus gives us.

“Father… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21 ESV)

Jesus prayed for a unity that is: • Doctrinal • Relational • Missional

It’s doctrinal – its a unity “just as” the Father and Son are united. Everything we do flows from our personal knowledge of God, as revealed in the Scriptures and experienced by the Spirit’s indwelling.
It’s for relationship – “be one” – not just formal or functional but friendship.
It’s for mission – observation of it makes the gospel believable.

The story of the UCCF is part of a story of the revival of evangelicalism around a renewed confidence in the authority of Scripture and the centrality of the cross sparked by a move of the Holy Spirit at Cambridge University in 1919.

The basis of the UCCF is intended as an inclusive basis – deliberately non-specific about many important issues. I wont pretend it’s always used well – but the intention is to gather not to exclude. We speak of it as The Doctrinal Basis of The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship of Christian Unions. A basis of fellowship, rooted in doctrine. The personal knowledge of God as the basisof relationships for the sake of mission together. This is churches united, family together.

With some variation in phrasing its the same basis as most evangelical churches and the Evangelical Alliance use. Its standard mainstream Protestantism. The goal being to unite as many as possible to give as many as possible the opportunity to respond to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Most division in CU’s is reckoned to concern the CU’s weekly Team Meeting… which represents about 1.5 hours of the 168 hours in the week! Anything that’s only about 1% of our time isn’t something to fall out over.

Today’s top issue is often whether women can preach, followed by the use of charismatic gifts (the latter was the hot issue when I was a student 15 years ago). Neither is unimportant but neither should be allowed to divide our witness. (For what its worth I think in most CUs you see a pro-women speaking pro-charismatic position today… but it comes and goes like the tide, driven by the local church scene in most cases.)

1. Do make much of the gospel. 
2. Don’t pretend these “non-gospel” issues aren’t important. They are. 
3. Do be ultimately generous on “non-gospel” issues. Rather be wronged for the sake of gospel-loving and gospel-mission. Don’t say – Unity only if we do the “secondary things” my way.
4. Do keep it in perspective. No one is obligated to be at everything the CU does – though learning to bear with others a little will do wonders for your Christian character. 
5. Don’t bind your conscience too tightly on “non-gospel” issues – recognise that thoughtful evangelicals come to a range of conclusions on the roles of women, on divine sovereignty, on charismatic gifts, on baptism, on church practice, while still holding firmly to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
6. Do embrace diversity in team meetings and in mission. By all means possible let’s take the gospel to people.

Much as what happens at a weekly meeting matters I’d like to ask whether we’ve crossed the divides that The Cross bridges. A university is inherently elitist – but when you’re in church do you connect with non-students and non-gradautes? What about your non-student neighbours – have you considered how to love the young family or pensioner living on your street? And in and out of University what about those of different ethnicity. A Christian is a global person but are we?

Where the battle for unity really rages…

The real issue is us – as our new hearts battle with our old flesh. The only answer is to repent to the crucified Christ and see more of the Spirit’s fruit in our lives. Death to self and life in Christ is the only way to real unity. The big issues of unity are LOVE ONE ANOTHER… BEAR WITH ONE ANOTHER… PREFER OTHERS AHEAD OF YOURSELF… RATHER BE WRONGED… We might like to fight our corner on x,y,z doctrines of church practice – but love is a primary gospel issue.

I’m the big problem when it comes to unity, because I love things to be done my way. And I seem to find it so easy to say to someone else – “you’re not really welcome here” rather than letting myself feel uncomfortable.

In Christ, I’ll make the first move to relationship.
In Christ, I’ll only compare the worst of me with the best of someone else – rather than vice versa.
In Christ, I’ll go out of my way to be generous.
In Christ, I’ll show hospitality to those unlike me.
In Christ, I’ll be quick to repent, quick to forgive.
In Christ, I’ll be slow to assign bad motives.
In Christ, I’ll rejoice WHENEVER Christ is preached, even if the motives are bad.
In Christ, I’ll assume difference gives me an opportunity to learn before it gives me the opportunity to say I know better.
In Christ, I’ll defend those I disagree with because I’ll have befriended them.
In Christ, I’ll pursue unity so that the world might see the Triune God – the Father at one with his Son.

Christ himself was wronged for us in his death and when we share in his death we begin to get the kind of unity that makes no sense apart from Christ. A unity that exists as we collaborate in mission, standing shoulder to shoulder loving one another. A unity that is not necessarily doing everything together but pulling in the same direction, on the same team – no lone rangers. Christian Unity is participation in the divine life.

We sabotage our mission when we spend our time in-fighting. The answer isn’t divide, it’s learn to love and find our unity in the unity of the Father and the Son. Then the world will see…

Unity model 3: allowing all things in love

Previously (here) I’ve set-up the problem of Christian unity and suggested that there are 3 ways potentially to solve it.  I use examples of female speaking, power evangelism (healing alongside verbal proclamation) and holding events in pubs.  For models 1 and 2 see here and here.  Here I will examine a third approach:

Decide that no matter what the issue, those leading can practice what they want, as long as it is still keeping the main thing, the main thing and within evangelicalism’s bounds. Want a female speaker to give a prophetic utterance in a pub?  Be my guest!  It’s allowing all things in love

What are the advantages of this model?

  • It seems to allow for diversity with a unity.  Some would say the other-person-centred-ness of it is the very thing we find in the Godhead.
  • it helps people see what and why others believe what they believe

And the disadvantages?

  • again, it’s tricky to define evangelicalism in doctrine and emphasis and very easy to condemn others if some fractional thing is seen to be unbiblical in someone elses’ theology/practice
  • it is hard.  To be asked to positively support people who are doing things that you’ve consciously decided are not merited or are unbiblical, is hard.  In practice this often ends up with everyone doing their own thing separately and yet claiming unity.

Unity Model 2: finding the middle ground

Previously (here) I’ve set-up the problem of Christian unity and suggested that there are 3 ways potentially to solve it.  I use examples of female speaking, power evangelism (healing alongside verbal proclamation) and holding events in pubs.  The first model can be found here.  Here I will examine a second approach:

Work out what you’ll concede to each other for the sake of the gospel and realising that you’ve already got the main thing in common. Perhaps there’s one event all year that would work amazingly better in a pub than it would elsewhere?  Perhaps female evangelists and female testimonies can be prioritised over and above female Bible teaching?  Perhaps offering to pray for healing after you’ve been chatting to someone may be good, but not as the first emphasis of why you speak to them?  It’s about finding a middle ground.

What are the advantages of finding a middle ground?

  • It probably makes everyone feel slightly uncomfortable and doesn’t seem to favour one “side” over another (apart from perhaps those in the middle ground!).
  • It seems to be where some lowest common denominator stuff drifts to anyway, by natural.

And the disadvantages?

  • it’s quite hard to define what the middle ground is.  What is the spectrum of true evangelicalism?  How can you have a half-way house on some issues?  Does going half-way on healing completely defeat the purpose of it to start with?
  • Are people bound by this half-way mark to all start teaching and agreeing with it, or does everyone teach what they think, but then resign themselves to a middle ground for the mission?
  • What is the middle ground if 15 people want one thing and 3 want another?  Do you go 1/5 of the way towards the other side?!

Can I further add again, that this is NOT discussing what issue is right, simply how we can unite people on a mission team who are already determined that Scripture says their position is right, on a given secondary issue.

Unity model 1: lowest common denominator

Previously (here) I’ve set-up the problem of Christian unity and suggested that there are 3 ways potentially to solve it.  Here I will examine a first approach:

Unite round the lowest common denominator. In the above issues [edit: gender roles in speaking, power evangelism and events in pubs], we all agree that males can speak, we all agree in evangelism (but not all healing in that way) and we all can hold events elsewhere.  And so we err on the side of caution on all three.

What are the advantages of using this model of working?

  • you’re already doing it on some level.  To define who you’re working together with (other evangelicals), you first had to strip things down to a doctrinal basis or confession – things of first importance (cf 1 Cor 15 etc).  Regardless of whether you have it on paper or not, you’ll have in your head a rough group of people and what characterises your willingness to work with them.
  • it’s just very easy to work out what to do, and it seems to still allow for a lot of important things to happen.  Missions with tens to hundreds coming to faith have been performed on this basis.

And the disadvantages of it?

  • There are always more conservative positions to be found!  For example, does having a Reformed Presbyterian (psalms only) in your group mean that sung worship should be limited to Psalms in CU?  I’ve a Free Presbyterian friend who would go to the street and just read the Bible aloud and be disappointed with most other things.  In practice, this model always leans towards the next one (2) in some ways.
  • Much as no-one disagrees with certain practices, it does always mean that the charismatic and less conservative (in style, not necessarily theologically) have to stomach missing out on what they may think is the fulness of God and His ways of working.  To derpive a female of speaking is degrading (so some will say).  To not make space for the Spirit to work miraculously alongside our evangelism, takes much of the point away from it.  And to not allow people to go to a pub actually speaks volumes to non-believers on what type of a God we believe in.

Another reply that is often used to some secondary issues is that gifts are to be performed in the church (services?), and therefore CUs and mission teams can work away without them (similarly female speakers are free to speak).  I’m not sure I buy either of those ways in such a model.  To do that, we’d need to say females couldn’t preach in church services, but can preach to the same audience at any other time of the week on mission?  Similarly with power evangelism, I’m not sure Wimber (from what I understand him to be saying) would say there’s a requirement for elders to be present at such occasions anywhere in scripture.

Unity at the Euros

2 mates spotted by the BBC at the Euros: one from the area described in my last post (sporting a Cliftonville top) and one from east belfast (sporting a Glentoran top).  Huge day for them both tomorrow as wee Norn Iron play world champions Germany to get a point to get through to the last 16.


Not sure whether there’ll be such unity as Cork City FC have just been drawn against Linfield in the Europa League qualifiers!


What do you get when an orange lodge marcher meets an IRA family member? A hug!

Northern Ireland has had a deeply divided past, mostly marked in recent decades by “the troubles” in which worldwide it’s claimed that protestants fought catholics.  I’m not sure how many realise how hilariously silly such notions are.  Not that religion never played a role, but certainly it was a small one (sadly vocal in such horrid cahfses where politics and religion were mixed).  Perhaps as an (overused) example (sometimes told as a joke), note the few Jews in our local area who were supposedly asked by locals whether they were Catholic Jews or Protestant Jews.  Clearly few realised what true Catholicism of true Protestantism really was.

Given these (still fairly large) differences between one half of the community and the other, the question of what can unite us always loomed large.  That’s a question I raised elsewhere, but for the meantime I’ll just mention one encouragement today.

I was speaking at this meeting in North Belfast today, where I lived the very first years of my life.  Right on the “peaceline” between two communities.  Sitting week by week in such meetings are everyone from young children, through to old age pensioners.  There’s the odd folk with top class degrees from university (some leading international projects in health or education), next to majority of people of working class background, some who didn’t finish schooling.  Some we drove past a paramilitary gathering at Mount Vernon to pick up, whose relatives were/are in the IRA.  Others exclaimed how they’d been out at the orange lodge parades the day before supporting them.  Some have had family killed by “the other side”, and both have seen the effects of drug usage, alcohol and jail sentences tare into lives (either theirs or family).prep peace ready war

It’s an unlikely place to find unity.  But there was.  A beautiful unity that has everyone hugging when they meet, seeking to love each other well and not even caring at the hilarious difference between them all.  A unity bought by Jesus and lived out by people who all claimed to desperately need Him, in this mini church community that no-one will have heard of.  Many would say I was out of place, as a uni grad, young professional, happily working my way up the career ladder, living where I want, travelling where I want and  nothing obvious screaming out from my life (feeling quite satisfied).  But this feeling of sufficiency and total, unrestrained freedom, I’ve realised is a delusion.  And so the most important part of my week is the messy family of randoms who’d otherwise often never associate, commonly known as the church.

But of course the question is a complex one (when isn’t it?), so I’ll come back to vital questions of integrated education, council strategy and many other great things.  But in the mean time, if this hasn’t been your experience of church, why not ask me where you can find that kind of community?

3 models of unity

I’ll take a moment out of exploring what can unite the world to briefly write about what can unite us as Evangelical Christians in Cork.

Trinity Presbyterian Church back room has been an influential place for me.

Trinity PCI Cork

John Faris is a man who (enduring the taunts of those who proclaim rapid church growth models) has turned the church around dramatically over his time in Cork, who has faithfully served this city and who has a profound impact on my life and countless others.  So much of what has happened in Cork, John has been involved in supporting, before quietly stepping back once it was on its feet, to let others take the praise.  But more than anything, he’s been at the heart of a yearning for unity in this city.

The first meeting in that humble back room was between Evangelical Church leaders and “Affinity” representative Peter Milsom.  Peter passionately put forward a case for outward looking generosity in our yearning for unity.  Noting that:

  • Christ is the One who has already bought unity at the cross (Ephesians 2 – we are not primarily the creators of unity), and that
  • Rarely in the scriptures does the Bible mention unity of a full church but it none-the-less does: John 17 is a classic example of this. Ephesians 5 being the other that springs to mind

My thanks to this incredible representation of “John 17 unity” by Heather Irwin, Christian Unions Ireland Relay worker in Cork 2015-16

There in that room, many got heated in their comments very quickly, not because of what Peter said, but over the hint that people may be Christians who we’d join with in mission who do not profess to hold to justification by faith alone as classically understood.  Now that is a topic for another time, and not one I’ll delve into here.

But what about for evangelical Christians (for example, those who would happily hold to the IFES Doctrinal Basis, not only in word but in emphasis [much of liberalism that has killed the church, has been because of emphasis, not always because of false doctrine])?

The second meeting in that back room was one to start to plan Cork city-wide mission 2017.  And as people who all happily believed the Doctrinal Basis and its emphasis, less was at stake.  But questions of unity still arose.  We’ve agreed to keep the main thing, the main thing, but what about the secondary issues that will still arise that we disagree on?  (1 Cor 15 one place that dictates the things of prime importance.  The emphasis of the things in general in scripture being another)

  • What happens when someone wants a female preacher?
  • What happens when someone wants to practice healing alongside evangelism?
  • What happens when an event is held in a pub?

Well there are three models of unity that come to my mind as most commonly used:

  1. Unite round the lowest common denominator. In the above issues, we all agree that males can speak, we all agree in evangelism (but not all healing in that way) and we all can hold events elsewhere.  And so we err on the side of caution on all three.
  2. Work out what you’ll concede to each other for the sake of the gospel and realising that you’ve already got the main thing in common. Perhaps there’s one event all year that would work amazingly better in a pub than it would elsewhere?  Perhaps female evangelists and female testimonies can be prioritised over and above female Bible teaching?  Perhaps offering to pray for healing after you’ve been chatting to someone may be good, but not as the first emphasis of why you speak to them?  It’s about finding a middle ground.
  3. Decide that no matter what the issue, those leading can practice what they want, as long as it is still keeping the main thing, the main thing and within evangelicalism’s bounds. Want a female speaker to give a prophetic utterance in a pub?  Be my guest!  It’s allowing all things in love.

I’ll come back to examining each of these three in due course, but for now, why not take a read of John 17 and pray for a yearning heart of a right kind of unity, whatever that may look like!  And please remember, we’re not concerned as much in this example at what is right, as much as how we hold in tension those within evangelicalism who are different to us.