Tag 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.

Urban Nation

What is God’s (and your) vision for the city? This question perhaps sums up the Urban Nation conference (hosted by Tearfund, IBI and iMAP)a couple of weeks ago. Over the course of the day various speakers explored what this looks like in different contexts – from creating community by developing a theology of hope based on children, justice, community and beauty (Joe Donnelly) to making the most of our relational networks to influence the influencers.

It was inspiring and encouraging to be united with people from churches across the city, coming together to wrestle with how we can ‘seek the good of the city’. Keynote speaker Joel Edwards of the Micah Network left us with plenty of questions to ponder such as:

How do our church budgets reflect the social needs of our area?
What is the difference between a church coexisting with a community and a church penetrating and transforming a community?
Do we have a theology of well-being that goes beyond Jesus sorting out your problems?

For me the lasting challenge was his comment that

“inner city mission can only happen through partnership.”

My experience of church has always been that of tending to go it alone but if we truly want to seek the good of the community God has placed us in – who do we need to partner with to make an impact? Is there any point starting something new when another voluntary organisation is doing the same thing?

Fidel where does all the money go?

For any cigar fan the ultimate cigar is a Cuban. The Dominican ones just aren’t quite the same and don’t quite have the same kudos. So when on honymoon in cuba a few weeks ago we made sure to visit the Partagas Cigar Factory in Havana. For a geek like me it was fascinating – learning how cigars are made, the leaves are selected and watching a couple of hundred people in a room all rolling cigars. The quality control was impressive, with all the cigars made by new employees checked, and even around 70% of those made by longer term employees checked. The Partagas factory makes most types – Partagas (obviously), Romeo & Juliet, Montecristo, Cohiba and lots of others. We saw some new Cohibas been made that sell at around €50 each.

Now that’s where the experience started to turn a little sour. The workers in the factory get paid around €30 a month. Most of them make 100-200 cigars a day. If they don’t meet their quota or produce too many rejects they have to work longer to make it up. It transpired from conversations with a few locals that the factory workers aren’t so happy that what they get paid a pittance for gets sold for such large sums. Say each cigar you make sells for €5 each and you make 150 a day, 5 days a week that’s a retail value of €3750. And the person who makes it gets less than 1%.

When you remember that Cohiba, Romeo & Juliet, Montecristo etc are all state owned, that means the profits go to the state. Yet so many people in Cube live in such poverty. People are earning very little across the board – doctors included – as this great article in the Irish times highlights. We saw so many families living in cramped conditions in Havana in buildings that were literally crumbling. Back at the time of the revolution Fidel said:

“we are fighting to do away with dictatorship in Cuba and to establish the foundations of genuine representative government”

Fidel what happened to your ideals? Where is all the money going?

Probably the biggest thing tourists are warned about in Havana isn’t safety. For a city with little street lighting Emily and I felt pretty safe walking around at night. The thing tourists are warned about is buying ‘fake cigars’. I assumed this meant you had people making them at home – which in some cases is true – people who have worked in cigar factories and know how to make them. It turns out that everyone who works in a cigar factory gets an allowance of a couple of cigars a day – often ones that aren’t quite perfect. so many of the ‘fakes’ are simply these ones that people sell on. However I also realised in a factory making tens of thousands of cigars a day it must be pretty easy for a few to be slipped into a bag. It made me think maybe the reason the government is so worried about ‘fake’ cigars sold on the streets is that the money is going t the workers and not to them…

doctrinal purity vs grace

Does an emphasis on doctrinal purity rule out grace being the most obvious smell we give off?

I’ve been mulling this over a little over the past weeks. Is it possible for the two to live in tension?  I know it must but I have rarely seen it happen..

It seems than when our focus is on making sure people think/know/believe the ‘right’ things we become arbiters of what is ‘right’ and set ourselves up in judging and defining ourselves over and against others. It can be seen in lots of ways – both in those who are nervous about the gospel being diluted and those who wish people could see the bigger picture. In fact even when we want others to espouse a more gracious and liberating way of living we can become so focused on whether they are doing it right that we lose the gracious way of life we are trying to see more of.

I wonder if our focus is on doctrinal purity (of whichever sort that may be) if we can really live, breathe and smell grace?

A Just Life

justlifeJustLife is an initiative set up by a group of us  based around a Tearfund  event last Saturday called ‘Invest for Life’.  JustLife is a space dedicated to exploring the connections between faith, money, justice and lifestyle.

‘Invest for Life’ was about  money – the theology and practice of giving, budgeting, investing and using our money for the good of ourselves and the world around us.

JustLife is designed to help us go deeper on some of the issues that are raised at the event. Every Wednesday until the 25 March, a group of us involved in Invest for Life will be posting short pieces discussing topics like fair-trade, ethical banking, giving and sustainable living. We hope you’ll feel free to join in the conversation.

I’ve just posted my contribution on giving

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…

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?

losing the faith

The good folks at summer madness have in a fit of craziness allowed the soapbox to escape from his usual tasks of walking around the Kings Hall site with a hi-viz vest, radio and clipboard looking busy and purposeful, and actually given me something to do. They have in effect given me a soapbox from which to rant. Potentially foolish. However I have been given some guidelines. I’m taking a seminar entitled

5 ways to lose your faith before you’re 25….

I clearly am a model example of how not to be a christian, either that or it is intended to be a somewhat ironic title. Now i’m no expert so I would like your help. I did grow up in this subversive jewish sect as some would say, although when growing up it didn’t seem too subversive but more about the rules, from which i eventually had enough and wandered off for a bit to check out some other options. I couldn’t escape though and figured that it was perhaps a bit of an imitation of the real thing i’d been shown, and this subversive, loving your enemies, upside down Jesus was worth following. I’m still here.

So if you’ve been a wanderer and wandered back to the way of Jesus – what are the things that keep you in this way? If you are a Jesus follower what are the things that help you keep the faith? Or if you’re not so up for all this God-bothering – why not? what turns you off Christianity?

I have an hour to fill so need some substance here…

biofuels and the real credit crisis

The ‘global credit crunch’ is dominating our news stories, economy, spending and even making it into church sermons. People are worried about the drop in value of the property market – which well certainly in parts of East Belfast was artificially inflated by greedy property investors. Economic growth is slowing, the exchange rate with the euro is not good (for my cross border forays, good for those coming to the pound-zone). In this worry and obsession with the good times slowing, I am grateful for papers like the Independant who can remind us of the real crisis in the global economy. I’ve been reading snippets of this over the last months, but few news outlets are prepared to make it front page news. Maybe partly because it puts our issues in perspective and gives the Daily Mail less to be alarmist about – although I’m sure they’ll find a way to blame immigrants.

It seems we have got ourselves (globally) in trouble with environmental alternatives. Biofuels the great answer to rising fossil fuel transportation costs are causing a real crisis among the poorest countries in the world. Crops that are used for biofuels are also used by milions for food. So when the increasing demand for fuel drives prices up, that means the cost of basic staple foods rises too, and who does it affect the most? The poorest. Those with no voice. This isn’t a little problem. There have been protests in Haiti, the Philippines, Burkina Faso, Tortilla Riots in Mexico and protests in Italy. Western farmers are enjoying the bumper profits but at what cost? Newspapers have been reporting this and warning that we may be sleepwalking towards a food crisis. Ordinary punters like us can change the minds of the powerful, but with this one its so huge – where do we start – any suggestions?

[I’m off to suggest to Tearfund this may be a badger – who to badger is the question though..]

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?