fear and death in the north

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been fairly disillusioned by Christianity in recent years and that the disillusion doesn’t seem to be shifting anywhere fast.

And as I’ve mentioned before that is an unsettling place to be when you’re married to someone who is training t0 be a minister in a church.
There are just so many overlaps and confusions that it seems to become a mire that is impossible to escape sometimes.

On top of that there is an extra  layer of mire – Northern Irish, evangelical, Presbyterian, cultural baggage mire that I’m also having to wade through.

When I first lived in Northern Ireland I always  had my doubts but they where simply overwhelmed by the size my Christian bubble.  Any doubts I had got forgotten about in the rush to do church stuff or hang out with my Christian friends.
There was a hint of something different during my student days, especially around Queen’s  CU with talk about grace and about not wearing masks but it wasn’t until I moved down to Dublin in 2000 that I can say I experienced something approaching grace in practice as well as theory.

I experienced something approaching freedom in a spiritual sense and also culturally. I had never enjoyed Belfast as a city but always loved Dublin. Happy where the rainy afternoons spent in Bewley’s by the fireplace drinking tea and eating a rock bun.  It was an amazing time to be in Dublin, so many different cultures and languages on the 66A into town, the IFI showing foreign films, music and good friends.
In the churches/ places I worked I experienced a different sort of community and most of all I knew that I was accepted no matter what happened.
A simple way to put it was that it felt like home to me. A different sort of home, but in a really good way.

That’s not to say that I still didn’t struggle with Christianity or church, but the thing was that I felt that I was accepted and given space to wrestle with God without any expectation that I had to hit a certain standard or wear a mask. There was freedom to wrestle with stuff, to wrestle with God and that was freeing.

Fast forward to my current situation and that doesn’t seem to be the case. I don’t feel that freedom to wrestle and worst of all there seems to be a merry-go-round of Christianity that I am expected to jump on which is made even worst by being married to a minister who is near to finishing up.

But that’s a discussion for another day.

There are many reasons I have found it hard to fit in and don’t feel as free or as joyful, that Christianity is good news.
My more holy, biblical friends might be tutting and saying that it’s not our job to fit into  church or to be so individualistic, that the church is not a consumer choice and that we can’t be shopping around for the perfect church as there are none but I’m just about hanging in there with any faith I have so I’m not going to get too theological about things.|

There is the fear, life weakening fear that seems to hang over our churches and sneak about the pews up hear. Fear is like damp mist that drains any life out of so many people I see and has wrecked havoc with me and members or my extended family. Fear is all over the place, and fears seems to lead to control and abuse of power.
Or rather control seems to play into the hands of fear. Much of the religion I grew up with and have been witnessing again seems to be controlling things, about getting as many disembodied floaty souls to heaven as possible.
And this meant that you shouldn’t piss of the God who could send you to the flames of hell for all eternity, and the best chance of achieving that was to do what the minister said as he was the professional who understood what God wanted us to do the best.

Fear is coupled with death, particularly the fear of death and suffering. I honestly think this is the main problem with the religion I grew up with, this fear of death and of suffering and pain and of not hearing any or very little good news about how death is actually defeated.
Of course there is great suffering and pain in Dublin but up here the population seems significantly more obsessed with death.

So if there are two issues that I would love to hear more good news about it would be those two, the FEAR and DEATH. Those are the main components of the mire that has been bogging me down.


good God, what have you done?


I sat in the SERC Lisburn campus gazing out onto the  street.
There was a man climbing scaffolding three stories high in a building opposite while people parked their cars on the street. Students walked past the window in groups of 2 or 3.

I had images in my head. The man on the third floor swept away, the cars swept away like corks in a river of mud. The windows of the canteen breaking, the waters engulfed everything.

Earlier that morning I saw a picture in a newspaper of a boat, a huge boat sitting at rest on top of  a two story building. The image couldn’t help but remind me off the story of Noah when the ark comes to rest on Mt. Arafat.I kept thinking of the story of the rainbow and how it was a promise that God would never destroy the world again with floodwater. I was wondering if God was showing any rainbows over the coast of Japan that morning.

It also sparked  memories of  that kids song we used to sing at church.

‘The Lord said to Noah
‘There’s gonna be a floody, floody
Get those child out of the muddy…

So rise and shine and give God the glory ‘

It jarred with me. The image’s in the paper of Japanese towns flattened, completely flattened by mud. Reports of waves 33ft tall sweeping inland for miles on end and children lying dead in the mud. Rise and shine and give God the glory eh?

After reading those reports, seeing the pictures why would you want to ”rise and shine and give God the glory?’
There is one image in particular of a car  that spots the tsunami approach and starts to panic. Then the wave sweeps over him. Just like that.

With thousands and thousands dead, half a million homeless, stricken nuclear power plants smouldering and deadly, aftershocks and now freezing weather and snow setting in the lady on the BBC News report has just said the words, or words to the effect of..

‘Nature seems in no mood to give these people a break’

Except if you come at things from what I’ve been told in church about God and Jesus since I was a child to now as an adult God is all powerful isn’t He? Many of the Psalms, the prophets or the end of Job all mention God’s mastery over everything. Sovereign isn’t He? And you don’t question his authority or  goodness.

There sometimes is a feeling that the God of the Old Testament is a harsh, unforgiving autocrat but that all changed in the New Testament with Jesus. How could you argue about the goodness of Jesus, Jesus who didn’t say a word when mistreated and nailed to the cross for our sins.

But even the wind and waves obey Jesus don’t they?

So from a Christian point of view the lady on the BBC News report is completely wrong. It’s not ‘nature’ giving these people a bad deal, its somehow a sovereign God/Jesus/Holy Spirit who is  in control and not giving these people a break.

But how does a God who is also meant to be perfectly loving work that one? How can you cause people suffering for no apparent reason?

This same Jesus who said ‘suffer the little children to come unto me’, the same one Christian’s waddle of on Sunday mornings to worship at church is the same Jesus who is God and sovereign, is somehow involved in the Japanese earthquake and the Haiti earthquake.

I don’t know what to make of it all. Faith. Death. God. Suffering. Love?




Of Gods and Men (and hope?)

H_____ really wanted to go to the cinema on New Year’s Eve and the film that she really wanted to see was ‘Of Gods and Men‘. I wasn’t overly keen to see it as it seemed a bit of  a downer for what is traditionally a day that doesn’t need any extra help to be a downer.
But it was either that or have a domestic downer around the streets of Dublin. So away to the cinema we went.

Coming out of The Lighthouse after watching the film I felt a strange sense of despair. It was a very well crafted film (based on  true story), dealing with faith and Christian suffering in a realistic way. I loved the scenes of the brothers farming the land, going to the market, going about their daily business of housekeeping and the good Christ like lives they lived day in, day out in the small rural village in Algeria.

Yet the final scene of the film, where these ordinary, good Christian men walk and trudge in  a line silently before disappearing into the mist and snow of an African mountain filled me with emptiness and left me despairing.
I don’t know how to explain it except its like they followed Jesus in life and to the cross and died, but where is the good news at the end?

It would be like watching  a very well made, thoughtful and beautiful film about Jesus and the disciples and the final scene of the movie was a beautifully shot image of Jesus being marched up Calvary to be executed then the credits rolling.
I’m not one for happy endings, easy answers and Sunday School but if the best we can aim for in death is a walking into some  beautiful, cold and silent Christmas card scene after struggling and living as best we could  in our community it doesn’t give me any sort of peace or hope.
What about a Promised Land, resurrection and good news?
Where was the hope?

Wolfenden’s Bridge

Passed a large funeral today pouring slowly into the Church of Ireland, retired gentlemen in flourescent yellow reflective bibs directing an unusually high proportion of 4×4’s through the church gates.

Walking on to Wolfenden’s Bridge saw a large bird in the field  near the Lagan,where from a distance it looked like a pheasant but quickly turned out to be a buzzard.
He (the buzzard) looked  my direction and hopped up to a tree over-hanging the river.
Wolfenden’s Bridge is narrow and cars go fast so no safe time to loiter.
There have been at least 3 accidents on this stretch of road in the 6months we’ve lived here. As if to bring this point home a PSNI car drives past slowly, sirens wailing and lights flashing.
So a funeral,
and police siren all in the space of 5mins walk.

And to finish it all off, a ghost. Type ‘Wolfenden’s Bridge’ into Google and up comes the story of ‘The Grey Lady of Lambeg’ who for centuries has been seen by witnesses walking the path outside our house towards the church.

So it turns out I am not the only one treading the roads round these parts.