holy week thoughts

Christian’s believe this is the week that changed, is changing,will change the world, the universe, the cosmos.
Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding a donkey and by the end of the week he has been executed. He has been executed even though he has done nothing wrong. He has been executed even though he has done everything right.

It’s a strange week to reflect on because it really doesn’t compute with the ways of the world. Or at least that’s the way it seems to me. Just look at those pictures of people like David Cameron or Ed Milliband on the election campaign.
How Jesus does his business is the polar opposite to how the world does it business. Sometimes it seems to be the opposite to how the church does its business as well. (I’m almost expecting The Christian Institute to make an appearance in the narrative this week as Jesus is questioned by those in authority, Pilate etc.)

How does this week, Holy Week bring good news to the unemployed, the addicted, the poor, the person who seems to have it all together?  How does Jesus on the cross bring good news to people struggling with loneliness, despair, depression?

How does it all fit in with life in 21st century Ireland? If you’re convinced that Jesus changed the world by laying aside his rights and self sacrificial giving, by acting humbly and non violently how do survive in society?
The prayer that Jesus prayed this week that his disciples should be one has been bothering me as well because it seems like Jesus’ prayers aren’t being answered. I don’t feel at one with lots of his disciples. How can I be at one with churches I don’t like? Can I be at one with the Catholic church? Or can I be at one with the branch of the family I’m most familiar with? If evangelicals are seen by the world (unfairly) as a certain way or hold on to beliefs that I don’t agree with how do I be at one with them? If people from Evangelical Alliance seem to be saying that we should stand behind a bakery that doesn’t ice a cake and you don’t feel you should does that mean you’re not an evangelical?

There are lots of things that cause me distress in the world and wonder if Christianity is true.
But sometimes wondering how Christians are so fragmented is the thing that makes me wonder most. How can we all claim to follow Jesus, to be brothers and sisters and yet act like strangers for most of the time?
And of course I’m part of the problem because I don’t necessarily want to associate with certain churches. If they’re fundamentalist protesting football on a Sunday no thanks. If they’re going on about how Christianity is cool I’m not there either. How does this stuff work?

remembering ‘our armed forces’

I know that this is a hard day for many people because it is a chance for them to reflect on loved ones who died in the horrors of war. Coming from Northern Ireland and a Protestant community in Northern Ireland I know that it has special significance because of the victims of terrorism, some of you reading this, maybe all of us who grew up in Northern Ireland know victims no matter where we grew up. If I’m being honest though I would mainly know victims on the Protestant/Unionist side of the community and none on the Nationalist side of the community.

I know that yesterday many churches in Ireland incorporated some type of  Remembrance Sunday aspect into their morning service to remember (amongst other things) those who gave their lives in war serving their country.

When I say that many churches in Ireland incorporated some type of Remembrance aspect into their morning service I probably mean ‘many Protestant churches in Ireland‘ and ‘their country‘ usually means something to do with the United Kingdom or Commonwealth.
I haven’t seen a single poppy out about in Galway whereas up in north in Lisburn or Belfast I would have seen many, it is part of story of Northern Ireland
In fact this is the first time that I can remember without seeing any poppy worn by a member of the church or around the city. There wouldn’t have been that many around Dublin when I lived there, but you would have seen something. Perhaps poppies in a box on the way out of church or a plaque on the wall with the name of some young men who died in the Great War.

That is not because of anything anti-British or not remembering about war in Galway but a reminder that Ireland has two different countries with all the history, hurts and baggage associated with that.
It is also a reminder that my particular denomination, the PCI straddles two very different countries. So if someone where to speak at the Presbyterian General Assembly about chaplains in ‘Our Armed Forces’ they would be wrong. For members of the PCI there are two armed forces.

Actually, that isn’t even right.

Because for members of the PCI from different countries around the world what does ‘Our Armed Forces’ actually mean?
For those members of PCI who might come from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Hungary, South Korea, USA, India, Malaysia, Brazil etc who are ‘our armed forces?’ We live in such a globalized world now that our church might easily have members from countries that fought each other in World Wars. We might easily have someone from Argentina or Iraq in  church.

The Republic of Ireland does hold a version of Remembrance Sunday on the Sunday nearest the 11th July, the ‘National Day of Commemoration’ but I don’t know of any church that holds an act of remembrance on that Sunday to remember those Irish soldiers who died in past wars or United Nations peacekeeping  missions. Perhaps there are, but I am unaware of them.

When I see video clips of people wearing poppies on the BBC down here it seems very obvious that it is a largely a symbol or remembrance for the British and Allied Forces. Some people might dispute that it is something bigger than a British, Commonwealth or Allied Forces thing, it is about remembering all those who died in the madness of war. Perhaps so, but the British aspect seems to main thrust of it to me, if only for the reason that the Poppy Appeal is organised by the Royal British Legion.

According to Wikipedia Remembrance Sunday is held:-

“to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts”

Under the section about Northern Ireland the Wikipedia entry says:-

‘In Northern Ireland, Remembrance Sunday has tended to be associated with the unionist community. Most Irish nationalists and republicans do not take part in the public commemoration of British soldiers.’

For years I have found Remembrance Sunday to be the hardest Sunday to go to church as a Presbyterian because it is a Sunday that seems to say (even if that is not the intention) that being Presbyterian is somehow tied up with being British and Unionist.

The reason that I find that so hard is that I think it puts a barrier up between my neighbour and I in the one place that should rise above national identity.

Lots of Irish people aren’t Unionists and ‘God Save Our Queen’ (whether we like it or not) in their ears is the national anthem of a foreign country and to some a foreign country of the oppressor, not the soldier who fought for our freedom.

Personally I think that church has to be neutral ground, a place for the healing of the nations and not just our nation, or those who identify with our nation. That is why I feel sick anytime the British National anthem is sung in church as if it was a hymn of praise.

If a German Christian or Irish nationalist Christian would feel uneasy at coming to our Sunday morning worship to come and worship Jesus because of the way we remember the horrors of war from a British perspective I think we are in the wrong. That is not because of wanting to lessen the hurts of war and death or help people deal with their hurts, or to remember the victims of war.

The other thing is that there  are many other wars that our brothers and sisters in Christ have had to live through and are living through right now that have nothing to do with the fields of France where the poppies grow.

What does the poppy symbolize for the people in Congo or Syria, for the people in Iraq? Or if your grandmother is blown up by a remote controlled drone airstrike what does wearing a poppy mean for them?

The phrase ‘our armed forces’ seems wrong to me as a Christian. Would we feel comfortable in a church service in Berlin where there was some act of remembrance for members of the German military?
If we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven   can we go to church on a Sunday morning to celebrate that unity we have as brothers and sisters in Christ then go home to support ‘our armed forces’? The Germans Christian supporting ‘our armed Forces’, the Irish Republican Christian supporting ‘our armed Forces’, the American Christian supporting ‘our Armed Forces’ and the Iraqi Christian supporting ‘our Armed Forces’? What does that even mean if we’re supposed to be peace bringers and united in Christ? This video clip from Tony Campolo comes to mind.


The walk home along the canal brought someone I haven’t seen for year or more, the seal. I rummaged around in my bag for the camera as I had to capture him (why  exactly did I have to capture him on camera?) and by the time I had it switched on I had lost him, just a few grainy out of focus shots and a video of the waves.

Walking home I was reminded of  a Wendell Berry poem I’d read last night.
It has been a tough week with things that have kept me a awake at night. News of family friend in hospital far from home and  family, fear and panic, far from peace.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry

Voices Against War

the last tycoon336‘Violence is concerned with power and greed; people seek their own advantage to the detriment of others in the world. The financial people who swindled pensioners out of their pensions showed violence towards these people’

Leslie Hardie, CO, Second World War

So I finished a book I’ve been reading, Voices Against War by Lyn Smith a book based on the testimony of ‘those who participated in protest – from the Great War of 1914-1918 through to….the ongoing conflicts in Iraq in Afghanistan’

So much to think about. It’s all very well thinking you’re against war, but what if a Nazi with a gun came for Helen or my mum, what would you propose to do about the concentration camp?

But that is the theoretical side of things, what about the violence of our daily lives, the violence that we experience every day? The voice of Leslie Hardie above reminds me the violence I commit by merely being human in a very complex word.

For instance, last night I sold a book on Amazon, something which I’ve been doing the last few years. A considerable % of the price I sold it for went to Amazon as it has with the various books, DVD’s and CD’s I’ve sold. In effect I’ve done some work for Amazon.

Yet I also know that Amazon are less than honourable in their tax affairs using tax loopholes to avoid paying corporation tax.

Because of their size and power they are able to gain an unfair advantage over those who can’t afford to move to The Channel Islands yet have to pay their taxes. I know this happens and I know that by selling books on Amazon or buying books on Amazon I am swelling their coffers.

Of course our lives are so complicated these days. Not that lives weren’t always complicated, but now everything is comlicated because we can find out about stuff at breakneck speed with electronic communication.

Everything is so complicated and it has to power to depress you (well me at any rate) because you’ll go mad. Can we go around worrying about how every action has consequences? Perhaps one of those virtues that we need most but rarely talk about is wisdom. Not training, or education, but wisdom, the power to make wise decisions in day to day life. I know I need more of it.

Blessed are the Munitions Makers

A new year and new start so it was time bite the bullet and pay my library fine. (And it was fine… £4..90). The first book I’ve borrowed is a book about war protests in the 20th century. It is full of testimonies from people who objected to conflict for different reasons. 

‘At nineteen, I found my standards of conduct obsolete, my ideals shattered. I had lost faith in all institutionalised religion. My church had authorised me to break the sixth commandment in the name of patriotism. The ‘Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself’ part didn’t fit in; ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’? No! Not in 1917. Blessed are the War Winners, Yes. Blessed are the Munition Makers, Yes. Twice blessed, for they lined their pockets and kept their skins intact at one and the same time. These are the thoughts that I couldn’t dismiss from my mind during those dreadful months. I wouldn’t have stuck a label on myself as belonging to any category – then. But I know what I had become now. It’s a word that is distasteful to many. Pacifist.’

J.R. Skirth, NCO, 239 Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, Battle of Messines, June 1917, from his memoir

rainbow at easter

Today has been a strange day.
It’s the day when Christians gather to celebrate the rising and victory of Jesus over the grave, a day for celebration if ever there is a day to celebrate for a Christian.

Yet to put it simply, life still feels shit, the same as it did a few days before, in fact much blacker and horrible than I’ve had in a while. It’s a day of lead feet and an awareness of how ‘off target’ I’ve been with so much of my life, of confusing strength with being proud, of feeling let down by God while being very aware that I’m a let down as well.
In other words, I’m feeling crap and anything like celebrating despite it being Easter Sunday.

It’s hard. But you probably don’t me to tell you that as you’ll know that yourself, life is hard. This was going to turn into  another post about struggles and wrestling but I briefly  looked up from the computer and could see the tail of the rainbow out the study window. Some may put that down as a coincidence, but not me.
It happens on occasions that God whispers to me through creation, rainbows from windows and buzzards at the exact time I would need to see a buzzard, creepy crows and blackbird nests in the garden.

So yes, life is hard and I don’t feel like celebrating much, I often can’t see how the resurrection is going to help me find a job this week, or be a better husband, or why church is like grinding teeth sometimes or why the good news doesn’t seem very much like good news but today I’ll cling to the rainbow out the window, because it’s a whisper in the dark of something bigger, or perhaps it’s creation celebrating it’s future redemption and restoration and telling me it’s all going to be alright.