towpath/ racism / not fitting in

050210-1023(001)Originally I started this blog as a sort of notepad to explore the Lagan towpath, a  path that ran very close to our last house. It is also the reason I ended up calling the blog ‘Canal ways’.

We had moved to Lambeg and it was a 40min walk on the towpath into Lisburn. I did the walk at some point most weeks and tried to look out for points of interest, stuff that might inspire me or noting things that came into my mind as I walked along. It was going to be a sort of art project or platform for other things, perhaps I would get a few more bird songs.

Now that I’ve moved away for a year I can say that I generally found it a dark and oppressive walk and as a consequence found it hard to find inspiration. The way the hawthorns hang over blocking out the sunlight, the green of everything and the stillness of the canal water which barely moved. The smell of the water treatment plant at Hilden on summer days, the derelict linen thread factories, the occasional rat running across your path. Even the moorhens and mallards seemed a bit menacing.

I’m not saying that the path was evil, but when I walked  along it felt to me like a heavy atmosphere hung over the place, like one of those haunted landscapes described by Tolkien in Lord of the Rings. Perhaps it was just me projecting my depression and heavy heart on the area.

I  thought I had finished my thoughts about the towpath, but then I heard about an African man suffering a racist attack on  Saturday afternoon .
How can 3 lads just decide to attack someone out for walk? Why the violence?
Perhaps it is heightened by the fact that just before we moved an African gentleman moved into the house beside us. We chatted in the brief time we lived beside each other, he cooked me a lunch that he considered ‘mild’ yet nearly made me never want to eat food again – it was so hot! . He seemed out of place after 3 years of living in town that had very few Africans. That makes we wonder how he feels if he is still there. The last minister in our church (from Sierra Leone) describes in his book how he nearly died on Botanic Avenue:-

‘I never knew how black I was when I lived in Africa. Living with mostly black people around me, it was impossible to know this. Then one day in Belfast, surrounded with white people everywhere, I suddenly discovered that I was very black. Ireland in those days hard very few non-white people and still fewer black people. I still remember one day when I was nearly knocked over by a car as I tried to cross University Road to meet the first black person I had seen since I arrived in Belfast. This was in the university area. On getting to this man, I vigorously embraced him as I greeted him….I released him from my smothering embrace and explained that he was the first black person I hard met since I arrived in Belfast about six months earlier. I went on to tell him how lonely and alone I had been as a result’
Between Africa and the West, Sahr John Yambasu

My personal experience as white man in Lisburn and Belfast was that I was watched merely for looking scruffy and bearded. Every time I went into Eason’s the security man would follow me. H noticed it as well so I’m not making it up. I got tired of it.
I was walking up the Castlereagh Road once and someone eandomly yelled out of a moving van ‘Get your hair cut‘. Perhaps not a big deal but it annoyed me because it’s just typical of my experience growing up in Northern Ireland.
I can hear relatives saying the same thing, and it wasn’t a joke, they seemed to take a bushy beard or long hair as something that conveyed the wrong sort of behaviour. There was something not right about it, it was a sign that the big bad world of  sinfulness was knocking  the door,  it was a threat to norms which they considered as good norms, good Protestant British norms.

The first week I move to Lisburn I decided that I would get my hair cut and went into a barbers. She basically took the piss out of me in the same sneery way, as if a man with hair longer than 0.7mm is the village idiot. Basically looking a certain way in certain places is something that draws out inner scorn with very little effort.

So I’m imagining what it’s like to be an African around some parts of Belfast. If someone takes the time to yell at me out a van window whilst driving down the Castlereagh Rd just because my hair is long are they going to let someone from say Jamaica pass by without passing comment?

Of course racism is down here as well.

One morning on the way to church I watched a group of men standing outside the hotel beside our church. They watched one of our African ladies walking into the church building then one of them turned to his friends and did a stupid, sneery face. Something about this godly lady walking into a church building on a Sunday morning seemed worthy of a sneer. Was she somehow a threat to that group of grown men?

Then there are some of the election results across Europe and Italian fans turning up at training to hurl abuse at Mario Balotelli, or monkey chants from football supporters.

And of course racism or fear of the other is in my heart. I could give a list of people that I wouldn’t particularly want to live beside. Are all those people kicking up stick about Nigel Farage and his comments about not wanting to live beside say Romanians being honest about their tolerance levels? If  they are they are better people than me because there is fear or contempt for other ethnic groups lingering inside me, which doesn’t make it right of course, but that is the truth.

So I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here other than racism/sectarianism/ is a terrible thing and what are we, or more what am I going to do about it?

 

 

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church planting, vegetable planting

My friend Kevin mentioned something in a tweet about ‘church planting’ yesterday and that phrase ‘church planting’ had me thinking while I dug the garden. Maybe it was because I was planting things or  thinking about planting things that preoccupied my time.

Anyhow, this is what I think.
I think that sometimes church planting might be more accurately called ‘denomination planting‘ or ‘our brand of church‘ planting.

Being brought up with a Northern Protestant evangelical mindset means that for a long time I had never considered the Roman Catholic church as a church. They worshipped saints and Mary and the Pope and  had superstitions and dodgy nuns amongst many other wrongs. They where many things but I wouldn’t have considered them a church. S

So in my head all those chapels all over Ireland where not churches. All those Roman Catholics who went to chapel couldn’t really be believers. Which means that lots of Ireland is unreached with the gospel because they don’t have a good solid reformed, evangelical, Bible believing church just a snake pit of Rome in the parish.

Not that some of the Protestant churches where much better in my thinking because they might be crazy charismatics or awash liberal wishy washyness or else they are legalistic knuckle draggers.  They need to drop the suits and the bad organ playing with dodgy choirs and get with the program.

Basically in my thinking there was good churches, not so good churches, bad churches and the Roman Catholic ‘church’.  But now as I’ve journeyed on a bit and met people who have challenged my preconceptions I am not so sure of my ground.  For instance, the current Pope seems more in tune with what I understand about the Gospel and Christianity than many of the famous evangelical leaders that I know.  Am I still happy to say that the Roman Catholic church isn’t a real church? No, I don’t think I am. On the other hand thought I probably am because I wouldn’t want to become a member in one.

home from the Post Office

home from the Post Office

This is the nice side of the walk home from the post office, ponies and views over Galway Bay towards Co Clare. The Silver Strand is down at the end of the road and Rusheen Bay has some interesting birds, if only I had binoculars to see what the birds are from a distance.

The bad side, the opposite way from this view is traffic zooming past at breakneck speed on the road to Barna meaning you have to concentrate more on vehicles than the beauty. I would walk this way more often if the footpath didn’t hug the road so closely.

little shopping trolley

little shopping trolley

Tonight was the first time that I can remember seeing Orion’s bow. Maybe the sky hasn’t been dark enough where I’ve lived or else I didn’t know to look for it before. I didn’t know to look for it tonight either but it was just there sketched in the sky.

There was couple of other very obvious shapes near to his bow.
A catapult and a little shopping trolley.
Looking at official star chart it appears they’re officially called ‘Taurus’ and ‘Pleiades’.

There was another very bright light up past Orion’s shoulder which I think  was Jupiter.
So there you go.
A bow, a catapult, Jupiter and a little shopping trolley before things clouded over in Salthill.

the gloaming

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The moon was beautiful yesterday afternoon coming out of Clifden along the N59.

There it was riding the rocky hills of Connemara,  then disappearing for a minute between clouds,
then reappearing directly in front of the car and looking as if you could drive up to it as you ascended a hill.

The light on the harbour at Roundstone was beautiful (as captured by Mrs Canalways) and the clouds reflecting on Derrylea Lough, well they were beautiful as well…
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The most beautiful piece of music I  remember hearing over the past number of years happened somewhere on a road in north Mayo while driving through a bog with nothing but bog all around.

We where in our Fiat Punto, or maybe it was the newly acquired Nissan Almera. It doesn’t really matter either way which car it was, it was definitely a small car with a dodgy radio.

One of us must have flicked onto  Lyric FM and this piece of music by ‘The Gloaming‘ was playing. I was mesmerised.

It took a bit of searching around the playlist of the radio show at some later date to find out what the song was called and there was no recording of it . So I never heard it again.
But yesterday as chance would have it I heard it again because The Gloaming are releasing an album and NPR are offering a first listen.

Listening to it again Song 44  didn’t seem quite as beautiful as it was on the north Mayo bog, but it is still beautiful.

That particular moment in north Mayo was just one of those unexpected magical moments when everything just fitted together perfectly. It was a moment of grace, something which doesn’t happen often and can’t be planned.

But now I’m no longer in small car  with a dodgy radio and H___ on a summers day on a empty road in an Irish part of Ireland with a beautiful piece of music playing.
No I’m in a cold living room on a damp evening veering between being a bit miserable to down in the dumps probably writing this blog to stop me thinking about the things I should have done that I haven’t done or to just occupy my mind and stop it wondering into dark corners and alleyways it should stay clear off.
The dark gets on top a bit, as happens to lots of people this time of the year with the dark nights and damp air and all those other reasons that make it tough for people.
There was a tragic death yesterday in Galway and there always seem to be constant reminders of bad news, suffering, death. I suppose there is no point pretending that the bad news doesn’t have to happen, it’s going to happen. ‘Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upwards’
I know that there is hope and redemption, beauty and light in life but the dark, damp, cold death seems to be just that little bit stronger sometimes.

So when there are  moments of beauty such as the reflection of clouds in Connemara loughs, the twilight moon, violins,Orion and The Plough over the house last night, the human voice singing in Gaelic that feed into some deep sense of life and joy inside as well I want to remember them. Particularly if you’re the type that finds it easier to remember the bad stuff.