Category Archives: Questions

On poppies, footballers, flags and Remembrance Sunday (part 2)

It seems a long time ago since I wrote this post.

Living in Dublin which has a much more complicated history with the British Empire, things are very different. Here it causes a stir if a TD wears a poppy.

In the UK, Derry born footballer James McClean has also been causing a stir for the opposite reason by refusing to wear the version of his club shirt with the poppy on it.

I recognise this is a sensitive subject and I mean in no way to dishonour anyone. It is important as Christians that we ask the questions about remembering those who have died and where it crosses a line into nationalism or justification of the use of power that does not sit easily with the Kingdom of God. Perhaps where something noble gets subsumed into nationalism. War is ugly and leaves many innocent victims. it is right to remember those who have lost their lives – on both sides of the conflict. For me the purpose of remembering is to honour their sacrifice and also to learn and pursue peace and reconciliation.

As a northerner now living in the very different context that is (the Republic of) Ireland I believe more strongly that national flags have no place in churches  – especially Northern Ireland where they carry such loaded meaning. My friend Kevin writes very articulately about this here.

Flags are different to the wearing of poppies and remembering those who have lost their lives – often family members. Archie Bland caused some controversy with this article in last week’s UK Independent about the pressure to wear a poppy – certainly if you watch the UK media you rarely see anyone on TV not wearing one.

Finally an interesting perspective from across the pond in Canada where Sarah Bessey wrestles with remembering her grandfather and her pacifism.

For Ireland North and Republic this will continue to be an issue in a land where flags are political symbols and carry loaded meaning, where the British state and British Army have been seen and experienced as instruments of oppression. The poppy is the symbol of the Royal British Legion – a name alone which can cause issues in Ireland.

So in 2012, as Christians what should our questions and response be? I don’t think it begins with should we wear poppies or remember soldiers who have lost their lives, or even should we have flags in churches.

It begins with what is the kingdom of God and how is the kingdom of God demonstrated? What will it look like for the kingdom of God to break into current reality in a place like Ireland marred by violence and sectarianism? Those are the filters that will answer our prayer of ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ rather than the primary filters of political allegiance and even personal experience of loss, no matter how great that might be.

Is prison the answer? Time for a more creative justice system?

“Picture by picture, the criminals are being identified and arrested”

So said David Cameron today of the rioters and looters. They will be arrested and charged and then jailed? Alan Sugar is leading a campaign from his twitter account to name, shame and identify all those involved. Fair enough. The reasons why this has happened are complex, and we need a justice system, people need to be punished. But is the answer simply to send people to prison? Does a prison sentence prevent someone from re-offending?

A study by the British Ministry of Justice seemed to suggest that short sentences aren’t particularly effective in reducing re-offending rates. Admittedly the difference in this study between community sevice and jail terms isn’t that significant, but surely it is a start.

Britain and Ireland’s jails are bursting at the seams. Is it time to rethink how we punish criminals? It seems to me especially with the current riots that throwing rioters in jail although retributive isn’t going to be effective in reforming their characters. I guess only God can ultimately do that. Do we need more of a restorative justice system? With the rioters and looters should they be put to work in repairing what they have destroyed, or put to work in serving communities, in restoring vandalised and damaged parks, playgrounds, gardens and estates?

I realise there is no simple answer and even to change the justice system slowly is difficult but surely it is time to think carefully about how much it is possible to reform and punish people without simply resorting to jail.

Leading by the book?

Over at the Innovista Ireland page I’m asking what leadership shaped by the ‘good book’ should/could look like.

Is the model of leadership practised in most of our churches really a biblical one?

How can we move towards an understanding and practice of leadership that is less ‘one-man-band’ or about maintaining the status quo but instead more closely reflects the New Testament?

Those are the questions I have been asked to tackle in a seminar at New Horizon on Wednesday 20th July. At 10pm (As if the questions weren’t daunting enough!)

What do you think?

Head on over to weigh in…

If we can’t trust the integrity of the people who make decisions…

… and laws then how can we trust the decisions they make?

A valid question from a radio phone in this morning. The whole expenses scandal has raised lots of interesting questions. Not just why is the upkeep of a swimming pool so integral to performing the role of a Member of Parlaiment? One phone in listener last night admitted fiddling expenses himself yet was outraged that MPs were doing exactly what he had done. It is true that we hold our leaders to higher standards than ourselves. And rightly so if they are to lead. The moral component of leadership has certainly come to the fore again in recent months and years. we want leaders we can trust, who act with integrity. Yet on another level they are flawed individals like ourselves – but does that mean we should simply excuse ther actions? The issue of trust for me is perhaps the major one. If a leader loses the trust of those s/he claims to be leading then obviouslt those people are no longer following and their leadership in many ways simply becomes positional or in name only. When trust between a leader and those they lead breaks down, how can it be restored? Gordon Brown’s apology is a beginning, and then we want to see evidence of changed behaviour. I’ve been wresting with this question of how trust can be restored when it breaks down as I see it not just in the expenses scandal but in churches and work situations. Patrick Lencioni argues that a lack of trust is the foundational problem in dysfunctioning teams. Again I agree. But how can trust be restored? I’ve grown up hearing “trust has to be earned”, but recently was also challenged by someone who added “trust also has to be given”.  How much are we prepared to give our trust again, and how much should we if we keep having that trust broken? Where does Jesus stuff about not just forgiving a few times but many come into play?

Jade Goody – are we taking celebrity culture too far?

For many of you the obvious answer is probably yes – our celebrity culture has gone far too far, and our obsession with celebrity and five minutes of fame has become destructive in how we so quickly write people off, and dispose of them once their celebrity usefulness is over.

Jade Goody’s very public struggle with cancer has been making me think a bit. Her openness at living out her illness in the public eye has resulted in many women going for cervical screening and all sorts of other screening. This is a good thing. The media’s attitude to Jade has been fascinating. She tends to be a love her or hate her character. The was vilified in 2007 over the racist comments in Celebrity Big Brother. Even then what did we expect when people are put in such an intense environment and despite what Endemol may have claimed they are put under pressure so they do and say shocking things, cos we all know that’s what pulls the viewers in. So we despite our verbal disdain often fuel that obsession with celebrity. It’s interesting watching how the media are now responding to her – tragic is the word often used. Have they forgotten how they treated her? Does her illness wipe the slate clean in their eyes?

Today she has gone for more surgery but there is something that just makes me very uncomfortable about watching what looks like her eventual death in the public eye. The article is peppered by statements from her publicist,  the very phrase ‘her publicist’ makes me squirm and I just wonder how morbid we have become? Are we quite content to watch someone’s life ebb away in the public eye? Are we just taken in by the dramatic twists and turns in her very public life? Does anyone else feel the deep unease I do? When it comes to the end stages of cancer we often hear the phrase ‘dying with dignity’. What does that mean to die with dignity? Is it a completely subjective thing or is there a point when we should say no – enough is enough?

I’m also intrigued that she plans to get christened with her two sons next week. I hope and pray she finds even more than she is looking for…

It’s o so quiet – have Irish church leaders lost their voice?

On Boxing/St. Stephen’s day, the BBC website carries stories about church leaders speaking prophetically into our culture in Wales, England and Scotland. There was a general story on the front page, alongside the Pope’s Christmas message. But then I began to look for what Irish church leaders were saying at Christmas. Maybe because it’s Christmas church leaders get more airtime, and it was interesting to read most of them speaking intelligently and some might say prophetically into our society and culture. A simple trawl of stories on front page and search deeper into Europe and NI sections reveal nothing. Is it just they are not getting reported or have church leaders in Ireland lost their voice?

pub theology – right or wrong

I have long advocated that the most significant conversations i’ve had about theology tend to take places in the pub. Transfarmer, smallcorner and a few others help keep this theory alive in a long conversation about lots of things, partly how we read the Bible and think about it. On that topic I’ve just started Scot Mcguinness_brewery_gravity_bar_our_pintsKnight’s Blue Parakeet which is proving interesting reading.

So right and wrong. Are we missing the point by constantly being so worried about what is right and what is wrong? Or maybe its a pharisaic obsession with how we can judge others as right or wrong and in so doing justify ourselves?  I’m not talking about obvious things like killing people, perhaps I mean theological nuances. So often we are obsessed with the right way of thinking, of sound doctrine, of having the right theology. Obviously I’m not saying its not important to think and wrestle with this stuff as that’s what I’m doing. But should we be more concerned with following the trajectory of the way of Jesus, obeying all the stuff he taught than looking at others and seeing if they have the right theology and trying to correct them all the time?

Help me out here, as i’m not quite sure wht i’m even trying to articulate.

In the garden Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, wanting to be like God, wanting to define good and evil for themselves. Is this simply our problem, that we are infected with our own desire to define what is right and what is wrong? So much so that we forget, or get distracted from walking the path of Jesus? Is it the case that there is no ‘other’ with God and so are we foolishly trying to define ourselves over and against others all the time instead of living the inclusive life and love of Jesus?

Does anyone know what i’m talking about?

the great pretender

I have a confession to make. I am the great pretender. In the north of Ireland we live in a culture where pretense is often the norm. When we ask ‘how are you?’ we expect to hear ‘fine’ or ‘good’. We don’t want to hear an honest answer because it’s messy and we get involved in the messiness of someone else’s life. We pretend everything is fine even when actually the only phrase to describe how we are feeling or doing is ‘pretty shit’. If God knows our hearts how do you think He feels when we have the gall (as I do) to even try to pretend to him that we are fine, to not admit how much we need him. It’s bad enough lying to everyone else around about how we really are. But. What happens when if you are honest it means you have to say why? And what if that why is not appropriate or helpful to disclose because there are issues to be resolved and worked through? There are attitudes to be repented of, people to be challenged, grace to be sought, lived and spoken. What are the limits of honesty? I’m done and sick of pretending, but in many ways feel I can’t be totally honest. Others are involved. What is an appropriate level of honesty? Is lying/pretending for the sake of situation yet to be resolved justifiable?

Halloween – the rise of the witches or just another marketing ploy?

One of my friends commented last night how Halloween is becoming a big deal. Now living in my world of blogs, books and coffee shops I hadn’t noticed much about Halloween other than the sound of fireworks. Maybe if I’d been looking around on the bus to and from work instead having my nose stuck in a book, eating up the chance for some uninterrupted reading time I’d have noticed. Now that he mentioned it I have noticed Halloween things hanging outside people’s doors much like holly wreaths at Christmas, and that most shops have a large Halloween section. Tesco even having ‘Halloween sweets’ – looking suspiciously similar to the ones they sell at Christmas. On checking my email I discovered double nectar points on Halloween and Christmas present ideas. Is Halloween becoming as big as Christmas? Do we need to fear the rise of the pagans? Perhaps its just one of the many results of living in a rapidly becoming post-Christian (with a small ‘c’) country and that’s something Christians need to deal with and not start waving placards about witches everywhere . I suspect if has less to do with the popularity of witchcraft and more to do with the idolatry of the dollar (sorry seemed to fit well there). It seems that Halloween is just another marketing opportunity to get people to consume and spend, something else to compete with the neighbours over their Halloween party, costumes and decorations. Then those Halloween products are swiftly repackaged and rebranded for consumermas. And we’re being sucked in…

Late Addition…
Father Ted - down with this sort of thingFamily services in church are the ones I sometimes try to avoid, but are usually pretty good. This morning was dealing with the whole subject of Halloween and was really good. In playing up the consumer line I may have inadvertently been suggesting that all the witchcraft stuff isn’t a big deal. It is. Halloween is not harmless fun on either the consumer or the spiritual level, and we must be creative in our response as early christians tried to be in positioning all Saints Day over the pagan Samhain festival. Enough wikipedia links. A thoughtful and positive Christian response to Halloween would be helpful. More than the ‘down with this sort of thing’ approach., whilst not being watery and assuming there is nothing sinister at play. A guy in church told us how his kids don’t do ‘trick or treating’ but do ‘give a treat’ and give treats to the houses they visit. I thought that was pretty creative. I’m happy to welcome them, a wispa will do fine…