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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Will the world burn?

Sadly some days of holiday are spent doing more mundane realities than travelling.  And today’s been one of those – cleaning and clearing up the house.  But I do love some of the trove of things I find when cleaning that I’d forgotten about.  This one a page of notes from some book I read, that contained a chapter on why they didn’t think “2 Peter 3:10-12” meant the world would burn.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.[a]

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.[b] That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (NIV)
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But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,  12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? (KJV)

Why does it matter?

Well, it you believed the world was just going to burn anyway, it would be easy to fall into a carelessness about looking after creation (it’ll burn anyway) or it might be easy to pay little attention to anything in this world (why care for the finer details, hobbies and beauties of the world, if it’s going to burn?  Let’s just do evangelism).

I mean, if you believed the world was going to burn, you wouldn’t necessarily fall into that line of thinking (you’d hope you still would believe that commands around Genesis 1 and 2 to do with creation would still apply, or that Christ’s Lordship would still free you to enjoy this world), but sadly it’s often a first brick that people start to base a lot of thinking round.  And then they start to doubt even some of the rest (care for creation, the extent of Christ’s Lordship etc).

Because those verses are soo obvious, right?

Or are they?  Let’s take a look at 5 reasons 2 Peter 3:10-12 may not be so obvious.  And if someone can tell me what book I was reading, you get an Easter Egg if you’re within distance.

  1. In v.6 the word “perished” is used to describe the world after the flood (Genesis).  But we all know the world didn’t perish at all.  The perishing somehow was a figurative sense.  And so it suggests to me that v7 and v10 are also not meant to be literally burning and dissolving.
  2. In v.7 we’re told that ungodly people will be destroyed.  But elsewhere in scripture it’s made quite clear that there will be a never-ending conscious punishment for those that chose to cuddle up to God’s judgement and not His love.  And so if this is true (and I’m not starting a debate on it now), then any “destruction” cannot be an extinction of their being.
  3. v13 seems to speak of renewal, not extinction
  4. such a passage read in those terms seems to directly contradict Romans 8:20-21 and Revelation 22:3 which speak of a removal of a curse, not an extinction and recreation.
  5. Romans 8:22-23 would suggests a redemption to come of human bodies.  And if this human microcosm of redemption is true, wouldn’t that cause us to imagine a macrocosmic redemption, where the whole world is reconciled to its Maker?

And so what difference does this make to travel?

Well lots.  I’ve rarely (if ever) met passionate travellers who have a heart for exploring the world, who think the world is going to burn.  Because such a belief automatically makes you want to live in a different way.  Whereas those who think there’ll be greater continuity with this current world, will be given greater motive to preserve, to redeem, and to restore what we have been given by the Great Redeemer, the Great Restorer.

Does continuing that line of thinking mean that atheists are in an even better position to look after this world and explore it?  I’ll come back to that thought in due course.

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Budapest, 2016

Arrival and journeying in Hebrews

In my “quiet times” (times set aside each day to spend with God, not opposed to the constant communion with Him each hour), I’ve been looking at Hebrews recently.  In “The Perfect Saviour” (Griffiths, IVP, 2012), Peter Walker notes that Hebrews is filled both with arrival terminology (something has already happened) and journeying terminology (something keeps on happening).

Certain Christian theologies have a tendency to focus on one or the other, but here in Hebrews, the author deliberately alternates between the two to keep motivating the believer, as well as giving confidence to the believer in what has already happened.  Like so much of the Bible it’s a paradox.  A tension that needs held in correct proportion.

Words of Comfort             Words of Challenge

1:1-14                                     2:1-4
2:5-18                                     3:1 – 4:13
4:14 – 5:10                              5:11 – 6:8
6:9 – 10:25                              10:26 – 31
10:32 – 11.40                          12:1-21
12:22-24                                 12:25 – 29
13:1-8                                     13: 9-14
13:15-25

(taken directly from page 110)

I think there’s a richness in this tension.  The beauty of coming in a posture of learning and growth at all times.  The joy and confidence in coming to a finished work that has already happened.

I hope you can revel in both too, both individually and as the community of believers around you.  May we learn to dive deeper into both sides of this paradox.  Happy journeying!

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An object of journeying that has arrived, spotted along the Copper Coast last week.

 

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.

John by Andy McC

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.

Travel and Justice

St Patrick’s Day has me thinking two things.  Flee or hide!

With the crowds of tourists who flock in to the city on the weekend, all aspiring to have the authentic Irish experience, it’ll be buzzing.  Most of the search engines for accommodation in Dublin are saying there’s nothing for miles around, and I’m sure Cork is the same.  The festival atmosphere will be a joyful one, and if other years are to go by, largely a family one too.  So why flee or hide?

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A dose of this on Friday might be what I need, with all the tourists in town! (found on Tuckey Street, Cork)

Well, flee, because I don’t actually think there’s much genuine about the weekend at all.  The crowds are largely tourists, the days have little or nothing to do with Saint Patrick, and the craic is generally alcohol soaked.  But before I get on to the many positives of such a weekend, let me draw some comparisons to other lands.

When looking around, we see that much of tourism is very similar.  People chasing authentic experiences, quite often with low budget or not much time to spare (annual leave is more generous on the European side of the water, but even then, 4 weeks a year soon passes quickly).

The troubles with this are many, and have to be balanced against the gains.  Some questions come to mind:

  • by travelling, you are benefitting an economy, but are you creating dependency on a western stream of tourists?  Like in Tunisia, after the terror attacks at the Bardo Museum in Tunis or on the beach front in Sfax, tourists stopped coming, as the government (British, American etc) declared it unsafe.  And the whole country’s economy took a massive blow as a result.
  • by travelling for short-term “mission” trips or volunteer projects, are you taking away work from locals that could have been done by them (painting orphanages, building houses etc)?  Are you partnering with locals to empower them?
  • by going to a country longer term, are you empowering locals to better work, as opposed to again being there, but just doing a job that they could do, and creating dependency on outside sources?  Are you there, in order to ultimately work yourself out of a job?

Unlike quite a one-sided conclusion on such questions that you would have found in this book, I think like everything, there’s a happy medium to be found.  I’ve seen all three done sustainably, beautifully and with marvelous results.  I’ve also been close to projects and travels where everything has gone belly-up.

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Our “Uncover Cork” project looks to support local business, empower local people to critically think, and eventually to equip locals to be able to run high profile, public square events in the longer run.  

And so what about St Patrick’s Day?  Well, for once, partly because of this, I’ve decided to open up the church and welcome locals and tourists in to the building for tea, coffee, cake and chats, partly to provide positive space where people can go without drinking, and partly to help some tourists meet someone who’ll be more genuine with them and won’t just play to stereotypes.  I’m not sure it’ll be worth it, but we’ll see!  At the very least, it’ll get word out to some locals of other projects we’re running (ones like this one which have kept me quiet on the blog recently).

But in the meantime, may it provoke us to stop and think, before we automatically book our next summer volunteer team, our next holiday or decide we’ll save the world by living in a slum somewhere.  We’ll never find the perfect opening, but may we give it a shot!

Intentionality, spontaneity and living in the moment!

Alain de Botton’s book, outlining the secular way to travel, is fascinating, partly because he tries to free us from long-term intentionality in some ways (we’re born to die, so get on with it), yet suggests we should take great interest in learning and intentionally progressing ourselves in other ways.

This video, seemed to say letting go and seeking pleasure, was the only intentional thing worth doing.   As comedian David Mitchell outlines, living in the moment is not as easy as it would sound or seem:

 

It can be easy to think that being intentional about everything in life would be exhausting.  But if you love something, there’s only a certain amount that it feels like effort.  Most things flow from what our heart’s love (our worldview), and the rest takes hard work to cultivate a love in our hearts.  And so even living in the moment will be hard, if you do not love it.

So people ask me, is always having a secondary (or primary) purpose in your travelling not exhausting and robbing you of the very fact you’re enjoying travelling?  And quite honestly for the most part, the answer is “no”.  If it’s my love (loving God, loving others), then it will come increasingly naturally to me as I journey on in my Christian faith.

And for the moments that it doesn’t?  Well as David says, it’s “chores now for jam tomorrow”!  And don’t think for a moment that hedonistic, secular travel is any less chore-some or rewarding!  The glossy travel brochure paints you a false reality.  The 3min youtube video doesn’t show you the hours of bookings, cancellations, mishaps, tensions in relationships, sickness, rainy days and mishaps, not to mention the hours perfecting video footage to make it all seem amazing.

Intentionality can be exhausting, but being intentional for Jesus, is being intentional for a master whose “yoke is light and burden is easy” and who desires us to enjoy the “rest” of a home-coming.  Imagine the feeling of safety; comfort; the buzz as your wifi connects to your home network and messages from friends and family come in; the smell of coffee; and the warm embrace of a housemate.  It’s what coming home is.

But this coming home, can be a finding of yourself, and who you were created to be.  And it can be done on the road, far away from physical home, while you’re living for the moment!  Or it can be done in regular hum-drum rhythms of normal working life, getting up in the same bed as you always do, going downstairs to the same situation that always greets you.  It’s a coming home to your maker, and a realising that it is only living with Him, that will make life fully free-ing.