Monday, February 26, 2007

It had to be believed to be seen ....... Grace

I spent saturday in an open air cathedral and was part of a redemptive act that gives me hope. The holy ground in question was Croke Park - headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association an arena where one morning in 1920 in revenge for the murder of 14 british agents that morning by the IRA , crown forces shot into the crowd at the match between Dublin and Tipperary , killing 13 spectators and one of the players.

On saturday Ireland played England at rugby and there was much media hype about the fact that God Save the Queen would be sung for the first time at the temple of an organisation set up in the late 19th century to oppose british rule. Trouble was predicted but instead we had Grace.

The day turned out better than expected - I scribbled this in my notebook .......... “ What a day - atmosphere electric , england come onto the pitch to a standing ovation . Moved to tears by the anthems , the respect for God save the Queen ..... received with dignity and given a huge round of applause .....then it felt like the stadium as one singing Irelands call. The roar when the match kicked off -an atmosphere like nothing i have ever experienced ... surrounded by friends and feeling an Irishness which included britishness and a britishness which included my irishness. It is suddenly holy ground as a nation comes of age.

A sporting holy communion with the right result on the pitch and off it - stunning rugby - a day to tell the grandchildren about - in future half the island will claim to have been there. But for those that were it was glorious - a team playhing to their potential but also a nation rising to the challenge of the hour ...showing that things had moved on and we can acknowledge the wrong of the past but not be bound by it ....we can move on ....we can be healed ....

The future is bright and not just orange ......our children and grandchildren will share this island north and south and today was another step towards that shared future . I walked away from Croke Park , hoarse and emotionally exhausted but after today I look towards our future more in hope than fear.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Authentic Mission

Its sexy and a little bit exciting to protest against the Iraq war , Its quite cool to have a red Amex card - me and Bono both. Its good to drink fair trade coffee/chocolate/wine and to lobby parliament to change our unjust trade laws. But its not that hard . I know because I've done/am doing all those things and its good but lets face it - it doesnt cost us that much.

I'm wondering if the real work is done in small local projects where people give literally years of their lives. Its not glamourous and theres little glory but to me it feels like thats where its at. How we can dare to change the world if we cant start on our own doorstep. I had lunch today in the cafe of east Belfast Mission and Glenn gave me an overview of the work they are doing and the incredible vision behind the Skainos project. Click on the link above and check it out. If you have any spare cash or time consider giving to them. Its right up there with Mornington in terms of an authentic community project that is Grace in action.

I've been campaigning for fair trade and debt relief etc for years and will continue to do so but I've done little real work on my own doorstep. Over the last little while everything I've been learning seems to point to that - the only faith I have left is a simple credo - Love God and Love your neighbour. Some of my neighbours are just down the road and I gotta learn how to love them.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Badgers,Burdens and Buechner on the North Coast

"We must be careful of our lives, for Christ's sake, because it would seem that they are the only lives we are going to have in this puzzling and perilous world.And so they are very precious and what we do with them matters enormously. There is always this temptation to believe that we have all the time in the world, whereas the truth of it is that we do not. We have only a life, and the choice of how we are going to live it must be our own choice." Frederick Buechner in the Alphabet of Grace.

Up on the North Coast for the Soliton emerging church conference. A great weekend of conversation with emerging church folk from Ireland , England and the US but 2 moments will stay with me for a long time.

Saturday night near midnight with a full car travelling towards Castlerock when out of nowhere a badger runs out into the road - Instinctively I slam on the brakes and the car starts sliding towards the middle of the road. I have no choice but to straighten up and hit the badger full on. Any swerve might have killed us all. It didn't - we survived and incredibly so did Mr Badger despite quite an impact and going right under the car causing a fair bit of damage. Life is a thin thread which could have been snapped that night but it wasn't and we continued into the mystical experience of Sunday morning.

Early ethereal winter morning with mist rising and frost glistening on the ground. We gather on Whiterocks beach and walk through an ancient coastal landscape. A dusting of frost clings to the sand dunes as bright winter sunlight raises the spirits but not the temperature. In one direction a mile of golden sand with the gentle music of the waves breaking on the shore as we dander along. A few horses gallop by, splashing in the shallows. Incredibly a few surfers are braving the freezing waters. Cary turns and muses - " Surely there must be professional help available for them somewhere ?" We walk back to the other side - looking towards the headlands and the ruins of Dunluce Castle just visible through the mist.

Our guide is Jim a local beachcomber with his years of experience etched into lines on his weatherbeaten face. Jim is passionate about the beaches and natural beauty all around us. He is the teacher I never had at school - his love and passion overflowing through every word - he shows us the things he finds washed up on the beach. We learn how the cliffs behind us were formed by millions of tiny creatures. As I hold a piece of white paper he uses a magnet to separate the black sand from the golden. And he shows us the flint which sustained the first settlers in this area 9000 years before us. And Jim is also something I hope to be one day - Authentic. He speaks simply and beautifully of his walks on the beaches and his conversations with God.

At the end he invites us all to go and pick up a rock - bigger the better - and then come back. As we hold our rocks he continues to talk. Then asks a simple question - are the rocks getting heavy ? And then the parable - he invites us to see the rocks we are carrying as our burdens whatever they may be for - people , situations even our own lives. We take a moment to look at the sea and think of those burdens and then..... in a profound moment of art and faith we lay those burdens before God - building a sculpture of rocks on the beach as a sign between us and God. Jim weeps for the beauty of what we have done - a memorial between us and God that even now has already been washed away but yet will forever remain.

I felt like a child again ,delivered , healed and whole in the embrace of a brown and earthy God who took pleasure in us casting our burdens on him, who loved the sculpture of those burdens and encouraged us all to walk barefoot,fly kites and make sandcastles.

"There is deliverance, to use that beautiful old word, and Christians are people who through such now-and-then, here-and-there visions as they've had, through Christ, have been delivered just enough to know that there's more where that came from, and whose experience of the little deliverance that has already happened inside themselves and whose faith in the deliverance still to happen is what sees them through the night."
Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember

On days like this I Believe and it sees me through the night.