Why, indeed.

x ray eyes s122

The €3 I spent in Galway on an old Penguin copy of ‘How Green was My Valley‘ a few weeks back was probably the best bargain of the year so far. I normally find it hard to get through longer novels but eventually got through this one, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s got themes I feel I can relate to (unlike The Great Gatsby to pick a current example).

One of the themes that crops up throughout the book is the theme of religion, especially in relation to the local chapel, deacons and minister Mr Gruffydd.  Although my experience of church going  in Co Tyrone was much less severe, I could relate to certain exchanges in the book such as this one between the narrator of the story, Huw Morgan and Mr Gruffydd. Still to this day I find it hard to shake the  image of people wearing suits or the smell of fear and Hell.

‘You have done much,’ I said, with a loud voice, to try and make up for wants of words just before. ‘Chapel, and sick, and everything, sir.’
‘And everything,’ he said, and laughed. ‘Thank you, Huw. Eh, dear. I thought when I was a young man that I would conquer the world with truth. I thought I would lead an army greater than Alexander ever dreamed of, not to conquer nations, but to liberate mankind. With truth. With the golden sound of the Word. But only a few of them heard the trumpet. Only a few understood. The rest of them put on black and sat in Chapel.’
‘Is it wrong to do that, then, Mr Gruffydd?’ I asked him, and surprised out of voice.
‘Why do you go to Chapel, Huw?’ he asked me, still going on with his work.
‘Because,’ I said, and then I stopped. Why, indeed.
‘Yes,’ he said, and smiling. ‘Because you want to come? Because you like coming? Because your mother and father come? Because your friends are there? Because it is proper to do on a Sunday? Because there is nothing else to do? Because you like the singing? To hear me preach? Or because you would fear a visitation of fire during the week if you stayed away? Are you brought by fear or love?’
‘I am a but surprised, sir,’ I said, and indeed I was dry with it.
‘The questioning of habit is fruitful of surprise, ‘Mr Gruffydd said. Would you fear a bolt of fire on your head, or some  other dire punishment if you stayed away from Chapel without permission?
‘I would a bit, sir, I think,’ I said.
‘So would most of them,’ Mr Gruffydd said. ‘So they are brought to dress in black and flock to Chapel through fear. Horrible, superstitious fear. The vengeance of the Lord. The justice of God. They forget the love of Jesus Christ. They disregard his sacrifice. Death, fear, flames, horror, and black clothes’

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hiding in the garden

towpath II

What is wrong? I’m naturally scared.
I’m naturally faint hearted.
I’m a natural hider.

I am scared and don’t know how I can cope.
I am afraid that I am not going to be strong enough to cope.
I want to control things as I’m not sure how I will cope if I don’t control things.
But I can’t control things.

I want everything at my own pace and on my terms.
I am wary of trusting you.
How do you trust?

Yet I don’t know what else I have got.
I resent that I might only trust because of lack of better options.
I don’t want to be lukewarm in my faith.

I want to know that this isn’t just a tribal story amongst tribal stories.
I want to love you for the right reasons.
I don’t want religion or to pretend.

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.

the weight of religion / oppressed/ repressed/ depressed/not sure

A few conversations from the minister to the wife and friends has me wondering why religion feels so heavy in this part of the world?
It is suffocating and hard to free yourself from it. It lays heavy burdens on people and doesn’t lift a finger to help. Or at least it feels that way to me.

My wife mentioned the word ‘repressed’ and I countered with ‘oppressed’ and maybe the word ‘depressed’ could be all added into the mix.

Walking  home from Tate’s Avenue to my part of Lisburn I counted something like 19 different Protestant churches of different denominations.
In Lisburn itself there is something like 106 different churches (probably more and I don’t think that includes chapels).
Yet…….well I can’t do words to what is wrong.

The atmosphere doesn’t seem right in proportion to the number of church goers and places of worship. Is that fair to say?

It is hard to talk about this stuff as it’s home for many people. They love it here.
As for church or a church, how do you even begin to talk about church and not come all over self righteous and bitter?
It’s a variation on the old line of ‘everytime you point the finger three more point back at you’.  As so we go around and around in the same old structures doing what we do and have always done and will probably always do.

I have to stop, it’s dragging me down…