Category Archives: Life

Rediscovering my justice mojo part one: visible clothing

Those who have known me a long time can relate many stories of Sam’s justice crusades and rants. From that life-changing four weeks in Tanzania with Tearfund back in 1998, being chained to the QUB railings as part of Jubilee 2000, to countless campaigns and rants over injustice.

I’ve always held a strong sense of justice and realised a few years ago unsurprisingly that it is one of my values. I’m not sure what happened but it feels like it dulled (or changed) over the last few years. I guess life happens. Moving city, country. Stress. Conflict. Changing jobs. Starting something. Death and grief. Marriage. Living. Maybe losing a community of people also passionate about those things…

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Fear not. The justice mojo is returning. Timed perfectly with the advent of parenthood. Inspired by some friends who in the face of tragedy and the reality of sweatshops decided not to sit still but do something constructive. Andy and Andy decided to give away their wardrobe and replace it with clothes they knew were made by people who were treated fairly. Documenting their journey and reviewing their clothes at Who Made My Wardrobe (with a great website too) inspired me again that taking small actions adds up and I can make a difference. As a result my next t-shirt purchases were from Rapanui (right). they make some great t-shirts – the bamboo ones being amazingly soft.

At the end of their journey Andy and Andy realised that the ethical clothing market was still very small. Some ethical clothing is,  let’s be honest not exactly cool, and some almost prohibitively expensive.

And so they decided to set up their own label. Visible clothing was born off the back of a successful crowdfunding campaign. Taking part in that and sharing parts of their journey on social media was a significant step in helping remind me that I could make a difference.

Watch their story here

Andy and Andy inspired me and reminded me of a few things

  • it is possible to do something – we don’t have to feel overwhelmed
  • my buying choices make a difference
  • the importance of community – sharing their story reminded me i’m not alone in wanting to engage on these issues, and without their example and inspiration I’d still be living in conflict with my values. (I’m thankful too for Robin who has also been blogging and acting on this stuff).
  • you never know what will happen when you take a risk and start small

I’m thankful to Andy and Andy for helping reignite my passion to act and live more justly. I want to do my best to make sure the people who make what I wear/eat/consume are paid fairly and treated justly. I’m excited to see where the Visible journey will go and am committed to making more ethical decisions when it comes to purchasing clothes.

And maybe little Colm will become a justice crusader too… Best get him started young. Now ethical baby/children’s clothing – there is another discussion/blog post…2014-08-11 17.53.12

 

 

 

Currently Reading: Invisibles

Amazon recommendations can be wonderful things. This is one that is certainly working so far.

Telling the stories of many of the highly skilled people who by doing their job well become invisible it provides an antidote to the self-promotion and ‘platform’ building all around. [And yes even by blogging about it I recognise a level of irony!]

As David Zweig researched this group he began noticing similar characteristics:

  • ambivalence towards recognition
  • meticulousness
  • savouring responsibility

Not exactly things that tend to characterise most of the ‘5 tips’ ‘6 ways’ etc articles that populate most of our twitter feeds (and I’m guilty of retweeting!) And not characteristics that our culture tends to promote.

Our ever more fragmented news and entertainment fosters an increasingly personalised experience, which research suggests implicitly reinforces a solipsistic attitude. Most of all, as we continue to develop and live through our online versions of ourselves – forever crafting our various social media profiles and avatars – there is the growing notion that we, as individuals, are actually brands to promote. this cacophony of self-importance, of personalised electronic vuvuzelas, has made us like that annoying kid at the front of the class who keeps raising his hand, moaning with distress as he over-tries for the teacher’s attention. and it is tipping us dangerously out of balance.

What can help us maintain a healthy tension to avoid slipping into what he describes above?

David Zweig - Invisibles

A prayer on Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday is one of those mixed days. Especially in church, it can be a day many want to avoid (See Rachel on Krish Kandiah’s blog).
I know since losing my mum I tend to feel it. It’s difficult too for all who would love to be mothers and for many reasons can’t be. And then there is the reality – acknowledged more so on Father’s Day that for some they haven’t had a positive experience of mothering.
So leading the service in church today was going to be complex at least. Finding the tension between acknowledging the realities of life and celebrating the many amazing mothers (both natural and spiritual) can be tricky.

I used this prayer, cannibalised from a few places – the Book of Common Prayer, Grove’s booklet on Mothering Sunday  and a blog from messy middle.

On Mothering Sunday
For all mothers who have loved and laughed and laboured as they cared for their children we praise you and thank you God
For the care of mothers – we thank you God
For their patience when tested – we thank you God
For their love when tired – we thank you God
For their hope when despairing – we thank you God
For their service without limit – we thank you God
For those about to be mothers – we rejoice and ask for your protection on them
For those unable to have children, – comfort them God
For those who long to have children we stand and pray with them, bring your comfort
For those who have lost children – may they know your presence and comfort
For those who bear wounds and scars from mothers in this broken world we acknowledge their pain and ask for your healing, peace and renewal
For those who mourn the loss of their mothers – comfort them God
For those who find this day difficult – bring your peace and comfort

Creator and sustainer God we thank you and pray for all those who practice mothering in our midst, in every shape and form that it takes, give them grace, energy, fill them with your Spirit, nurture them as they nurture us.
Fill us with your love that this community, your family in this place will be one where we each have many mothers and fathers and act as mothers and fathers to many.
Now to the One who is able to do more than all we ask or imagine, to You be glory in Your son Jesus and in the church, for ever and ever, amen.

Neknominations, Shane Claiborne and Creative Alternatives

#neknominations have been big news in Ireland over the past week. Two people have died in stunts related to this social media craze. Even a judge in Northern Ireland has been caught up in the media storm. There’s much that could be said about drinking culture in Ireland. As a (youth) leader I am only too aware of how my actions (whether I like it or not) influence others and my responsibility as some sort of role model.

My initial reaction to some of it was righteous indignation and to be dismissive of people (some of my friends) who in my mind were being irresponsible. The red mist descended and I saw all the reasons (in my mind) why they were wrong/stupid and I was superior.

On Saturday I was at the justice and mercy themed Rubicon (which was excellent, stimulating and inspiring). I loved the mixture of presenters – a mother and daughter who run Rathmines women’s refuge, John who may well one day run Google, Graham from Solas Project (where my wife works), Shane Claiborne, a wonderfully diverse panel and a couple of Archbishops and many more.

Shane Claiborne told a wonderful story about creatively challenging unjust laws banning the feeding of the homeless in public. His church then held communion in the park which turned into a banquet (well pizza anyway) for all there (including many homeless people). As these church members and leaders were arrested the ridiculousness of the situation highlighted the injustice of the laws. Much in the way MLK did in the civil rights movement.

His line that we need to be creative in overcoming injustice stuck with me.

A day or two later it resurfaced in the whole neknomination thing.

I’m sure most of you may have seen this. Brent Lindeque changed the story. Without condemnation.

Which morphed into raknomination – instead of necking a pint instead carry out a random act of kindness.

My initial reaction was one of condemnation. Of red mist. Of  listing all the reasons why it wasn’t a good idea. I imagine we all do it. It may be justified but it’s also lazy.

What chance did my approach have of convincing someone of the lack of merit of neknominations? What was needed was a game changer. A positive alternative.

Too often I (and we as wider society) see things too starkly. We accept or reject. And there is a logjam.

If we want to see change in hearts, minds and on a larger scale in society often the best way is not to argue the opposite viewpoint, but to find a creative alternative that sneaks around the corner and blindsides us.

Change for the better requires the hard work of forming creative alternatives.

[Up next a few friends who came up with a creative way to highlight the ethics behind the garment industry]

Too much too young

Today one of the girls who grew up through our kids ministry and used to come to youth group died in labour.  She was 20. The baby boy may or may not survive.

She leaves a toddler – who as a baby she used to bring along to youth group.

She is the fifth or sixth friend the teenagers in youth group have said a premature goodbye to in tragic circumstances over the past couple of years – whether through accidents or suicide.

They have dealt with a volume of loss that teenagers shouldn’t have to.

As a friend said:

Praying for all their little hearts that have to endure so much.

There is much that could be said, written and asked about the inner city and why so many young lives end prematurely, or over life expectancy that is so much shorter.

Tonight we gathered over tea, crisps and chocolate cake.

It wasn’t a time for questions or attempted explanations or even God-talk. They have experienced too much pain and loss for that.

We watched photos and videos of them all growing up.
There were stories, hugs, memories, tears and laughter.

For hearts that have endured so much there were moments of beauty and glimmers of hope.

And as leaders we’re praying for all their little hearts that have to endure so much.

Mud everywhere – Runamuck complete

SamMy clothes had so much mud and gravel in them I blocked the filter in the washing machine!

Runamuck lulled us into a false sense of security with the start – over hay bales and running through fields. “Ah sure how can this get muddy?”

Oops.

We didn’t realise about a third of the course isn’t running but wading – through rivers and mud. And then they like to make sure you’re well covered with a few slides – yes you guessed it into mud. I was really fortunate a couple of times and found a pothole, going in up to my neck.

With cargo nets, tyres everywhere and sections of run that in the mud underfoot made you feel like every step was a slide I did end up covered head to toe – as you can see!

It was great fun and we will be back next year – hopefully with more of you joining in too.

We also didn’t register just how big an event it is – 4000 people!

I was running to help raise money for RISE – an Innovista initiative to equip teenagers in inner city Dublin to be sources of hope in their communities. I’m really thankful for the generosity of everyone who sponsored me – I’ve almost reached my target of €500. If you’d like to help me get over the fundraising finish line you can do so by clicking here (or here via Justgiving, making use of Gift Aid if you are a UK tax payer)

Coming up – 10km of obstacles and muck

runamuckThis time next week, with 7 others I’m taking on the mud and obstacles of Runamuck. Will you help get me over the finish line by sponsoring me? (click here if you’re a UK taxpayer as we can reclaim tax through Justgiving)

We’re running/jumping/wading and whatever else is involved to raise money for RISE.

RISE is an Innovista leadership programme which equips teenagers (particularly from tough inner city environments)  to be sources of hope in their community. As part of RISE they will come up with and carry out a project that will create positive change in their local community.

RISE is currently running with an inner city girls school’s transition year class and a church youth group in Dublin 8. In the next few weeks, two more groups will be starting with community youth groups in Ballymun and Inchicore. We’re really excited by the potential of RISE to inspire and equip teenagers. You can read about the first school pilot of RISE here.

runamuck sponsor.ie pageWe’re working with schools and inner city community groups who are doing incredible work on a shoestring. It costs us €50 for each teenager to participate in RISE. I’d love to raise €500 by completing Runamuck.

If you would like to help me reach that target click here to go to my sponsor.ie page.

(If you are in the UK you can give tax-efficiently through my Justgiving page.

Thanks!

Suffering, healing and why getting our theology right matters

Suffering and healing. Emotive issues. Ones with lots of questions and few answers. At least few answers that do it for me.

I come from a family with what can only be described as a ‘difficult’ history. I met my dad for the first time that I can really remember a few months ago (I’m 34). I grew up with my mum. Just me and her. She sacrificed so much to give me the best she could. She faithfully followed Jesus and lived generously with what she had.  At the age of 62, almost 3 years ago she died of cancer, 3 months after her diagnosis. I watched Ruth, a 22-year-old who interned with me lose her battle with cancer several years ago. I saw Andrew, an incredibly gifted leader, surgeon, preacher, husband and father of 3 young children lose his battle with cancer in his mid-thirties.

In church I hear a lot about healing and praying for healing and that God can heal anything and anyone. We’ve seen people healed and rejoiced with them. God is a good God and a loving Father who wants what is best for his children. But God doesn’t always heal and make people better. My mum died. She may have still received the ultimate healing of a resurrection body but she isn’t here any more. Her last months were painful. For me too. It still hurts. And it hurts when I hear people say God can heal anything. I know He might be able to but He doesn’t. And please don’t even try to trot out the line about “all we need is faith…” I worry about  people being  given false expectations that ignores the reality that we live in a broken world and life is just tough sometimes.

I believe that God is good and can heal. I don’t believe He always heals. I don’t know why but I know that sometimes He speaks and works powerfully in the midst of suffering. As my mum was dying and I was losing my family I got engaged and gained another family. In a beautifully redemptive moment as my mum lay in the hospice I met and embraced one of my uncles for the first time.

Then there is the Calvinist line that takes a belief in God’s sovereignty down to the fine details. That uses the language of “God ordains…”. Suffering becomes something God ordains to teach us stuff. My story of meeting my uncle becomes the reason for the suffering. I worry about the sort of God that this view portrays. One who wilfully causes suffering just to teach us stuff. That doesn’t sound like a loving Father to me. I’m sorry but I cannot believe that God prematurely takes lives or brings illness just for our learning. In this perspective this understanding of suffering comes from trying to maintain a view of God as being totally in control of every little event.

I do believe God is sovereign but I don’t believe he controls every action. That makes us into robots without freedom. I believe God gives us the dignity and freedom to choose.

All these thoughts have been swilling around my mind and occasionally come flooding out in the odd rant.

Then on Sunday Alain Emerson came to speak in church about his experience of hope in the midst of tragedy. He articulated so much of what I’ve been struggling to articulate for so long (and what I’ve been trying to articulate above). You can listen to his talk here.

He talked about how each of our stories find meaning in the kingdom of God. He went on to say that if we go to the extremes of theology (either everyone gets healed or no-one gets healed) then our stories don’t fit. For me this was a lightbulb moment that expressed my struggles and frustrations.

He reminded us that we follow a God who is familiar with suffering, who took on our suffering and is present with us in the pain. He reminded us that there is grace and hope in the pain. In my case mum was able to make it to my graduation, see Emily and I get engaged and get to know Emily’s mum – passing on lots of stories even I didn’t know. Even though I had no words when it came to prayer I felt myself being carried along. Meeting my uncle was part of the process of my dad and I meeting. In the midst of loss there were moments of healing and reconciliation.

In the midst of pain and suffering I experienced hope and grace. But to say that God brought about my mum’s death so he can do those things I don’t think I can believe. And to suggest that God wants to heal everyone. Well, where does that leave those of us who didn’t experience healing?

Getting our theology right matters. Alain’s words that we need a really robust theology of the kingdom of God really resonated.

We live in the in-between. The older I get I realise there is more grey and less black and white. God is not a puppeteer. As his image-bearers He gives us the dignity of freedom and making our own choices. We live in a world full of brokenness and things that should not be. But the kingdom of God is breaking in and one day God will make everything right – that’s the hope I cling to.

The chugger

You know that feeling as you walk down the street. You see them from a distance in their matching t-shirts (or rain coats). Gesticulating for your attention. Trying to catch your eye. Jumping out in front of you (so much so yesterday I thought one old man was going to have a heart attack on the spot). You quicken your pace, look away, prepare the ‘I’m sorry, no time’ comment to avoid getting collared.

I’ve employed a few tactics before – ‘I’m sorry I work for charity’, ‘I’m already giving to a few charities’.

Until you see one of them mocking the mum on her phone. Until you realise they are actually scaring a couple of people with their enthusiasm/aggression.

And then I want them to stop me. I try to make eye contact. I want the see how they try and sell it to me.

But most of all as they ask me to sign up “It’s only 3 euro a month – you won’t notice it” I want to ask “and do you give to what you’re asking me to give to?”

I suspect not…

But I’d be happy to be proved wrong.

And it occurs to me that it would perhaps serve that famous charity whose founder walked these streets of Dublin to employ people who already support their work, who believe in their cause. At least then they would ask with credibility. They would communicate with passion and belief . They would demonstrate the values of that famous charity to those they meet.

Instead somehow the chuggers stir up in me the very opposite of charity…

 

 

Gardening

Earlier in the year I had dreams of transforming our front garden and creating two vegetable and herb patches for winter food production.

I managed two bunches of spearmint. Maybe in spring…

On Saturday I spent an hour or so weeding and cutting back some of the dead plants from the summer. With the crazy warm November there are bulbs sprouting everywhere. My old enemy the creeping buttercup is also everywhere, spreading its creepers and popping up in bunches of those leaves I’ve come to hate. Gardening, or more accurately in my case spending time in the garden is an incredibly profound and renewing experience. Today I was going over some training material in work on character formation, then I flicked on Twitter and came across this, which really resonated:

Besides being a practical, life-nurturing task, gardening is also always a spiritual activity. In it we attempt to make room for what is beautiful, delectable, and even holy. Every act of gardening thus presupposes and embodies a way of relating to creation and to God, a way that invariably invokes moral and theological decisions.

From an article by Norman Wirzba