Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What REALLY Scares Me!

I'm aware of the terror warnings here in Germany.

I've read about the strike on S. Korea.

It appears that Ireland is going to pull all of Europe down the tube.

But nothing since 9/11 has turned my stomach with dread like the news of the Naked Scanners and the forced pat downs... uh, gropings of intimate areas.

HELLO! Have we gone completely insane?

I don't even know where to begin to tear this apart... just me trying to imagine traveling back into the States with my family, teenage boy and two girls and my very European looking husband, and watching anyone of them be so violated is more than I can take. That is just not going to happen!

What more blatant proof do we need, that fear gives licensee to barbarity of all kinds and robs us of the one fundamental thread in the fabric of a functioning society: trust!

God help us!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Third Way? One Little White Man in a Sea of Black People… Emergent 2010

The car was packed. Last meeting over. Last stop at the ladies room…. and that is when it seemed the fun began!

I’m the wrong person to give a good complete picture of this past weekend in Essen, since I spent a significant amount of time in only 3 rooms, but I guess my perspective is also a perspective, so here it is.

The smell of the kerosine burners wafting in from the buffet in the adjacent room accompanied the obvious Black and White themed room decoration with living room lamps and soft candle light wresting a cozy atmosphere from the otherwise unattractive, all purpose room big enough to hold the (plus/minus) 130 of us. A rough start with the visual and sound technics, which seemed intent to buck us off our time plan, had to be subdued by the incredible team from the Weigle Haus before we were able to jump into our theme for the evening with a fun ice breaker, that got people talking to each other. This was followed by a personal introduction from me, which was meant to highlight the problematic of the dualistic, “either/or”, “black and white” thinking that presupposes a need to look for a “Third Way.” (I’ll post that in German with the pictures I showed). The official part of the evening ended with a beautiful meditation and sung call and response prayer (gregorian style).

What everyone else did after that was lost on me, since I was again engulfed with the final preparations for the theme room which Esther Deletree and I spent many, many hours creating. A better title for our room, than the one given to us, would have been “Exclusion and Embrace: a way forward for individuals and communities to negotiate their boundaries (values, ethics, needs, wants) with each other and avoid the unfruitful and stifling polarities of victimization and violence.” As it was, there was some confusion! We had a slow trickle come through our very elaborate installation throughout most of the day, which only picked up in the evenings after the other workshops were done. However, those that did invest some time in our presentation, found it to be well worth it, and we plan to put it to good use in the near future.

The lounge area was filled with mostly young people!!! Lots of young, white guys with something in their hand with which to twitter, and when any given one was asked, most likely would admit to being in seminary. The few that I met were very “sympatisch” or “likable.” Lots more young women this year than in previous ones… (yeah!) also studying theology some of them. Most people were there for the first time. Few were die hards, like us, who had been to all four Forums. And it seemed like the big question on everyone’s mind was “how can we change things? How can we do things differently?

Saturday evening found us all together again for a great wrap up. First Sandra Bils, had us all laughing as she told of attempts to explain “Emerging Church” to her colleagues who wanted to know what this new “Emergency room” is. In this humorous way, Sandra was able to touch on the somewhat “elitist” nature and insider language often used at these forums, and helped us all to laugh a little about ourselves. Then came my favorite thing from the whole forum: An artist had been invited, who had had no previous connection to Emergent, to experience the entire weekend and then make comic sketches and present a review. The sketches can be seen here, which, along with his honest commentary, again made for a hilarious, somewhat ironic laugh at ourselves. Directly following this was a photo montage by Judith Goppelsröder, whose unique way of seeing things was a feast for the eyes and provided me with a peak in the rooms I hadn’t gotten to see at all. I’m hoping all of her pictures will come online soon.

I can’t say much to the “meat” of the weekend, since I didn’t get to visit any of the rooms except for ours. The titles of the workshop rooms can be found on the Emergent webpage.

As we were packing and loading, cleaning and putting things back in order, another group was slowly starting to gather and pick up momentum until by the time we were just about ready to get in the car and set our navigation systems, they had burst into song and dance. An African church service uses the Weigle-Haus facilities, and tho there was a regular trickle of finely dressed African people still making their way into the building, the vibrant worship service was already in full swing. We couldn’t help ourselves, and stood sheepishly in the doorway, letting the music course through our limbs and persuade them to convulse in time to the music. I wanted to stay. I wanted to dance with these beautiful people. I wanted to meet each one of them, hear their stories, and just soak them in. I became acutely aware of a deep thirst and hunger to be in their presence and thrust myself in this black sea, but we had a long drive ahead and three children waiting for us to finally come home. And then I saw a funny sight… a couple of rows from the front of the room, there was a small, white, middle aged German man in his Sunday best suit, also moving “expressively” to the music. He was so out of time and looked so out of place, that it was quite amusing to watch him. But I was filled with admiration for him, and had to think of David dancing before the ark… making a fool of himself for the lord, with no thought of his own honor.

This man was doing what we at Emergent Forum had yet failed to do, and that is to cross over cultural boundaries. As different as each person was from another, and as from as many places on the map of Germany we had hailed from, it was still a pretty homogeneous group, with narrowly defined aesthetic appreciations, and a rather narrowly defined cultural niche. We have not yet truly, in this frame at least, “opened ourselves to the distant other” as Volf would put it, and the ache I felt as I drove away from Essen was of a child artist who has been given a box of crayons with only a few varying shades of just one color to play with, and the disappointing suspicion, that a truly “Third Way” still lies far beyond us.

pictures by Judith Goppelsröder

Friday, October 1, 2010

I Publicly and Sincerely Apologize...

I publicly and sincerely apologize to my garden for utterly neglecting her this entire year!

And I am even further humbled by the fact that she has not repaid me in kind with the bareness I deserve, but has winsomely turned the other cheek, gifting us, even in this late season, with these tokens of beauty and grace.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Christa's Baptism

What was meant to be a dunk in the pool and then a garden party, was moved indoors because of the weather. Nonetheless, it was a very special day not only for Christa, but also for our whole family. Thanks to everyone who came and helped to make it so special; to Alan for leading us through the ceremony, to the "Burgertreff Hochzoll" for letting us use their beautiful and practical accommodations at the last minute and for a big discount, and a huge thanks to Katherine for cooking those delicious Nigerian dishes!!! And of course thank you to everyone for all the yummy salads and cakes that were brought! It was certainly a day that Christa will cherish, and that is what we wanted. Maybe at some point, I will get around to translating the mini-sermon Jan and I gave in tandem and will post it on the blog as well, but for now, here are some pictures of the day.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mama Bear!!! Grrrrrr!!

Ok, so this is a longer story….

Since shortly before this past christmas break, Charis (12) fell in outs with the “click” in her class. One of the girls, who she had been friends with (had even spent the night here), stopped being her friend from one day to the next, because of a new girl who purposefully wedged Charis out of this group. Then they proceeded to make her miserable every day, writing notes, whispering about her, glaring, trying to get others in the class against her. With every girl Charis tried to hang out with in the break, they would start to be sugar sweet to her and monopolize her. It took weeeeeeeeks before I could get the school to do anything. Finally there was one talk with all the girls and Charis, and the worst of it stopped. Still, this group of girls dominates the class and is totally prissy about every little thing. Charis is not your wall-flower-I’ll-do-whatever-you-say-just-so-I-can-be-near-you kind of girl, so she keeps getting in the line of fire.

She has been asking for a long while now if she can switch to Jonathan’s school, but I haven’t really entertained the idea, until I spoke with a mother recently, who did switch her daughter, and was glad she did. So, I called the Principal to see if he could give me some kind of reason to keep her at the school… some assurance that they would finally take the problem seriously… ha! “Problem? What problem? That is just Charis’ side of the story… no one else in the class seems to have a problem. It’s a normal class and none of the teachers has mentioned that there are any problems. It depends on how you define “fighting”…. bla bla bla!” Basically, he wanted me to know that it was my problem and not his.

Anyway, that very day Charis comes home in tears…. this little prissy brat (sorry, but I’ve still got my fangs and claws out!) was screaming at her in sport class, because Charis fouled her, then threw the ball at her as hard as she could. Later, when Charis went to change, her new shoes had been stolen.

So, today, I went into the class (luckily at the same time the sport teacher went in to bring up the issue, and she let me in, and let me rant!!), and I told that class exactly what I thought of them. Especially this particular brat and the two girls who had been guests in our home, and now don’t give Charis the time of day. I also scolded the entire class for letting this little mouse of a girl intimidate them all… “just because she has a big mouth, you think she’s a lion, but she is just a little mouse! You should all be ashamed of yourselves that you let some of these girls boss others, and scream at Charis, and NOBODY does anything against it… but then talk about her (the brat and the click) behind their backs… how lame is that and cowardly?” By the time I was done, a couple of girls who I had targeted were in tears.

While I was waiting for the sport teacher and the girls were switching classes, and Charis came down surrounded by girls from her class, I asked her if she found it terribly embarrising, and all the girls started in “no way, that was great! finally someone speaks up and finally DOES something!” When Charis got home, she told me that a few girls came to her and apologized for stuff that had happened back at the beginning of 5th! grade, or finally told her why they stopped being friendly with her (one was hurt, because Charis hadn’t shown up to her birthday party (our bad). Some came up to her and asked if I was mad at them, because I was looking at them so intensly (I basically stared that entire class down to the size of pin head). and tonight Charis got a message on her school network from the girl who had screamed at her… half apology, half trying to get me not to call her parents. Her turkish friend in the class, said it was too bad she could never get her mom to do something like that, because she can hardly speak german!

Moral of the story: parents should be way more involved in what goes on in school!

But, the way it looks, we got the one and only spot that opened up for a seventh grade girl at jonathan’s school, and Charis still wants to switch, so I will make the call tomorrow to confirm it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

It's Just Not Right!!

Anyone who knows me even a little bit, knows that I am no great Phileos Animalis. In our family, I am the one immovable barrier to my children’s desperate pleas for a domestic canine experience (thank God that Christa is allergic to cats, so we at least don’t have to have that battle). The only compromise I was willing to make was to let them get turtles, who sleep a good 6 months of the year in someone else’s garage. Talk about low maintenance! The only pet I had as a child was the adorable little kitten we got as kids one Christmas and creatively named… Christmas, and who just disappeared one day even before it stopped being a cute little kitten. Then there was the tank of amazing tropical fish my parents were “fish-sitting,” while the real owners were traveling for a few months. Every last fish was dead within the first few weeks. The small white budgerigar I was given when I was 18, whom I named Coca (yes, after that stuff!), survived my care, against all odds, for about three years, but not the care of his “bird sitters,” when I was away in Europe for a year.

The only pets I’ve had since then were the ones we had in PNG. Our dog, Hadley, who died an agonizing death after eating pesticides while we were away in Germany for a couple of months, and our ants, cockroaches and mice, who survived despite our decisive efforts to exterminate them. In fact, the real reason I don’t mind staying in Germany, is because there are no cockroaches here. A couple of days ago, my neighbor friend Louisa invited me in to see her three new kittens. The whole time I was petting them and saying how cute they were, I was thinking, “What kind of crazy people have a house full of cats?” And every morning when another neighbor’s cat wants to be let in for breakfast between 5 and 7 am, yowling like a squeaky violin, I am sure that if I still had a bb-gun from my wild and crazy teen years, I would have long put an end to its miserable little existence (I’m obviously also not a morning person).

So I feel almost hypocritical when I start to listen to my own heart’s response to the oil gushing out into the Gulf of Mexico, and I find there much more compassion and heartbreak than I would have expected. In fact, I started sobbing convulsively on my way to Ikea the other day, as I imagined the violence being inflicted upon this living, pulsating and diverse ecosystem, and wrote this poem when I got back home. Every new article about the failed attempts to cap the leak, every aerial video of the sprawling black pest, and every picture of the birds and sea life who are suffocating and smothered in the fuming, sludgy crude, wrenches from my heart new waves of horror and sorrow, of feeling angry and helpless and… responsible. It’s just not right! It’s just not right!

In stretches such as I’ve had the last few weeks, when melancholy has settled in like a long bout of bad weather, this tragedy seems to have given me that last right hook emotionally and landed me on the mat for the final count of ten. The actual physical crises of the unrelenting oil still intruding into the aqua blue Gulf is daunting enough, but the network of corporate and political corruption, the world wide scale of unsustainable consumption, and my own addictive behavior, which keeps the whole system well lubricated and in ceaseless operation, appear to me to be an unstoppable herd of buffalo stampeding us all off a cliff. Will it ever change? Will I ever change? How do you stop a stampeding herd of anything?

Any ideas?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Brunch-n-More: The whole family enjoys it. Casual conversation with others over eggs and morning rolls with jam and honey, cold cuts, cheeses, coffee, chocolate milk. Catching up with each other, filling each other in on the latest news, expressing grief or joy over the local and global events, movie reviews. Deeper sharing while cleaning up the kitchen, putting the tables away, nuggets from the philosophical or theological book we are in the middle of, stories about the arduous road family, or oneself, had to take to immigrate to a new country… unimaginable hardship for some of us, lived through for others who are standing in the kitchen, drying plates, tossing eggshells. Even little three year old Alexander is helping to vacuum the floor. We all come from somewhere. And we are all welcome here.

We want to try and enter someone else’s journey. Someone from long ago. Someone whose life was an experiment. We are also experimenting today, with a new method: Biblio-drama. We read the story together, name the characters, and each choose a part. We have a few minutes to ourselves to read some background information about time and place, people and culture, and then we come together to re-enact the first steps of faith for a man who was called to a better country, called to be a pilgrim, a sojourner, called to be the father of many and blessing to all: Abram. (Genesis 12)

And, like all experiments, there are chinks. The teens are perhaps too self-conscious for this method. The younger kids are having a blast playing pretend, and milk it for all it is worth to muck around and giggle. The adults? Are we able to feel the tension that Abram must have felt? The apprehension? The heavy weight of responsibility for his family and his servants, which he carried for a decision that would dramatically effect the course of their lives? What it must have meant for Sarai to follow someone, who was following someone else? Can we allow Abram and Sarai’s story to enter our story, and draw us out of our comfort zone, to become sojourners of another kind? Especially when the only thing we have to weigh against all the skepticism, know-better advice, doom-sayers, and scoffers, not to mention our own fear of failure and of the unknown calamity that surely awaits us ahead, is God’s call to us to move on. God’s call? What the heck is that? Please!!!! That is sooo Old Testament! What does that even sound like? Feel like? How would I know what it is, if I ever heard it?

But we do know, don’t we? Wouldn’t want to tell anybody about it, but there is that special kind of gnawing, isn’t there? A voice our own, and yet not our own, that irritates the crap out of us, telling us it is time to move on… or sometimes, time to make a stand, and get in someone’s way, who is up to no good. But that is another story. This story is about moving out, being the first to go into uncharted territory, becoming a foreigner and stranger among strangers, being led moment by moment without a plan, about never being too old to try something new, going as a guest and not for conquest, about putting a little distance to ties that would otherwise keep us stagnant and immobile. This story, which could also be our story, is about the free flow of blessing, and culture and hope. It’s about the promise of life, where we perhaps least expected it.

As in all experiments, there were chinks in their travels… as any can see who keep reading Abram’s story. So, I feel like we are in good company, when we don’t nail a bulls eye every time. I still believe in experimenting, and I still hear the call to search for ways to include everyone, encourage participation, and search for meaning together not only in ancient stories, but in each other’s stories especially.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Now She Knows

Nine years old
and now she knows
She asked me in the car
driving to her violin lessons
pretty as can be
her long blond hair
uncombed as always

Nine years old
and now she knows
Emre, a Turkish boy
in her class
told her
How does he know?
Just out of the blue,
he says something like that?

Nine years old
and now she knows
she will ride in a horse drawn carriage
and her flower girls will ride ponies
she has lots of names for her children
so this is hard to understand
she thinks being a mommy
is the best thing in the world
and I am the best mommy

Nine years old
and now she knows
“Mommy, is it true,
that some people
kill their babies
even before they are born?
Their girl babies?”

Nine years old
and now she knows
Girl babies aren’t as good
Boy babies are better, but
“I’m going to keep
all of my babies,
boys and girls,
I’ll love them both
the same”

Nine years old
and now she Knows

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Maternal Memorial

Driving.. on my way to buy stuff

By the Hand of My Father,

from the Paper Boys

Is playing on my ipod.

As the words that I am singing along to

start to sink in

all the way in

past my defenses

past my consumerist distractions

past the soft layers I’ve added on over the years

One day late

I cry for her

Crazy as a loon

By the hand of my father

but never by the hand of my mother

she never used power and violence to hurt me

maybe because she had no power

A powerless crazy ol’ woman

who never beat me


gave birth

plunged me into this world

taught me how to tie a bow

and draw paper dolls

and carried me through the snow

and that was it

all she could give

but enough

I cry

Maternal memory is carried down river

as grief for our great matriarch

casts its yawl into my willing emotional current

Our Mother

perpetually raped

is now being soiled

with the black semen

of man’s lust for power,

Our Mother

left barren

must watch

as her children drown

in it’s filth

We weep

We mothers weep

We grandmothers weep

for our great mother

our schizophrenic mother

who heaves and throws tantrums

and sometimes tries to

shake herself free of us

and protect herself

from the hands of our fathers

Friday, April 30, 2010

Safe Place

I’m longing for a safe place
A spot of heaven here on earth
To dance, to sing, to play
To laugh as the light tickles my nose
Bubbling passion, color and zest
A living collage of leather, velvet and lace

I’m longing for a safe place
Where a hand on my shoulder says,
“I give you strength, have courage!” and
Eyes full of dangerous adventure sparkle,
“Go ahead! Dare! Take a risk!
I’ll catch you when you fall!”
In a web of homespun grace

I’m longing for a safe place
Where visions can be safely birthed
Through the jungle of doubters and scoffers
Someone ploughs ahead
And someone has got my back –
Carving out a way to an Inn, a barn, a shed,
Or some other fertile space

I’m longing for a safe place
Where an unmistakable voice rings out
Clear as a bell
For all to hear,
“This is my beloved friend, in her I am well pleased!”
Yeah! Where I can grow tall and confident,
blossom and flourish,
Every self doubt erased

I’m longing for a safe place
Where the game rules are easy to understand
And the foul lines clearly marked for all to see
So I don’t have to tiptoe around
In fear of tripping a live wire
Before I safely reach home base

I’m longing for a safe place
Where I am treated like a good novel
Each word savored
Every page carefully turned
with hopeful anticipation of a happy end
Where the clues to the plot are uncovered,
And the Author’s intention traced

I’m longing for a safe place
Where vulnerability is a two way street
Where we entrust each other
with our insufficiencies
Where we celebrate each other
as our missing part
Where power and titles are lost
in a friendship’s embrace

I’m longing for a safe place
A spot of heaven here on earth
To live, to work, to pray
Where I love as I am loved
And I dare to find a friend
In an enemy's face

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's All Part of the Adventure!

(continued from...)

Once I had said my goodbyes to Jan at the airport in Memingen, my motto became, “It’s all part of the adventure!” Not enough leg room on cheapo Ryan Air? “It’s part of the adventure!” A long, expensive cab ride to my first B&B? “It’s part of the adventure!” At home I live at points “A” and “B,” and “C” etc, and the transit times between them, I regard as annoying interludes to be kept as short, uneventful and expeditious as possible. In Ireland, I overruled this attitude, and allowed even these intervals to carry their own import and become a rich part of my experience. Have to get up at 4 am, take a cab to a bus to take me from Belfast to the airport in Dublin and then wait two hours? No worries, “It’s all part of the adventure!”

Hopefully, elaborating on my pledge will illuminate how I happened upon the most significant experience of my time in Ireland and stumbled upon the words that have haunted me ever since.

The full day of sessions held out at the School of Ecumenics was over, and the Re-Emergence conference was relocating to the Black Box downtown for an evening concert with Vince Anderson and then Foy Vance. I had started chatting with a delightful couple from Northern Ireland, and by the time we had come up for air, everyone else had gone to find something to eat. The Irish emergent couple had a date with their son, who was studying in Belfast, so they generously offered to drop me off near the Black Box. At first I was disappointed that I would be on my own until 8 pm, having enjoyed meeting and conversing with several other participants, but I decided that I would savor some time alone to have a good meal and reflect on the abundance of words I had already heard that day.

To this end I slipped into the Four Corners restaurant, one of the few which was not overcrowded with St. Patrick’s Day revelers, and was waiting to be seated after the two women who had come in just before me. Having been led to a table not far from theirs, I had hardly laid my little pink notebook on the table, when one of these women, who had obviously been celebrating St. Paddy’s herself, approached me with an invitation to join them and the two male companions who would be meeting them shortly. Taken aback, I scanned my brain for a tactful way to decline: maybe that “I needed to go over my notes from the day and was glad for some alone time, before I met up with others later in the evening.” Or that “I had the H1N1 virus, and would instantly self destruct, if I came into contact with drunk people, whom I’d never met before.”

But just as I was about to say all of that, my pledge intervened, “Lee, you’re in Ireland! It’s part of the adventure!. Do something you’ve never done before, and who knows, maybe something will happen that has never happened before.” It seemed apparent from her friends reaction, that inviting strangers in a restaurant to join her was something this well dressed woman, about ten years my senior with short but styled reddish brown hair and high heels, had never done before either. We were all quite surprised that I said yes, as was our waiter, who admitted, when we asked for a new and larger table for all of us together, that he had never had that happen before. The men that joined my host and her blond Finish sister-in-law were equally quizzical about my presence at the table, when they arrived a few minutes later.

Introductions were made, and you know, I can’t remember a single one of their names! So, I will call my intrepid, tipsy new Irish friend, Maggie, if for no other reason than I have grown to love that name and have been looking for “Maggie” ever since I’d gotten to Ireland. Maggie’s brother and a Scottish man, who was not her husband (silly me for asking) had also obviously been honoring St. Paddy that day. Of course they wanted to know what an American, living in Germany was doing in Belfast without her family. When I told them about the conference, and tried to explain what “The Emergent Church” was, Maggie had a vague idea of what I was talking about. She told me about growing up pentecostal, and that their parents were actually pastors. She also told me that unanswered pleas for divine intervention during a long, unsuccessful battle to save her marriage with an unfaithful husband had robbed her of her faith in a “happy-ending God.” But recently she had seen a speech by someone on tv about this “emerging way of faith,” which really caught her attention.

I couldn’t help myself, but had to ask them about the conflict. Had they been touched by it personally? Maggie’s brother jumped on that question, “You don’t want to hear about that do you? Do you really want to hear about my friend getting shot in his own home by an IRA dressed up as a Postman? No, you don’t want to hear about me standing shoe deep in his blood in the entrance of his home. Or about me going upstairs to fetch his father, who was shakin’ like leaf all over his body. You don’t want to hear about me laying him in my bed next to me, just to keep him warm and to get him to stop shaking. You don’t want to hear any of those stories. Of having to choose which bar you can go to by whether you’re catholic or Protestant.” I smiled, “No, at least we didn’t have that problem between our denominations in the states!”

How were things now? “Things are better now. For about the last ten years, with each year, things get better. Every year is better than the last.” Why do you think that is? What has helped to bring peace? I asked, wondering if he might mention grassroots efforts for reconciliation. Then Maggie’s brother looked at me with his clouded over, red eyes, making sure he had my full attention and said, “Imagine Al-Qaida, who have bombed and killed American citizens. Now imagine putting one of the head leaders of Al-Qaida in a top position of your government. That’s what we did. We put a terrorist in a top position of our government. That’s how we started to make it better.”

Seeing that I was drawing a total blank, Maggie took over, “We took one of the main leaders of the IRA and made him Minister of Education.” And after waiting for that to sink in, she added, “and you know what? He was the best damn Minister of Education we ever had!”

And though I don’t think I have grasped their full implication even now, these words have stalked me ever since that night. What Maggie and her brother tried to convey has only gained in significance, as I have sought to fill out my embarrassing lack of knowledge about The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Maggie’s brother was talking about the implementation of a power-sharing executive as part of the devolution of Britain’s control. Maggie, I believe, was referring to Martin McGuinness, who was a leading member of Sinn Fein and had been a noxious and seditious IRA thug, as the title of a biography about him might suggest, “From Guns to Government,” and who became Minister of Education in December 1999 and deputy First Minister on May 8, 2007. More amazing is that Ian Paisley, co-founder of the DUP, who called Pope John Paul II the Anti-Christ and who in 2006 said, "[Sinn Fein] are not fit to be in partnership with decent people. They are not fit to be in the government of Northern Ireland and it will be over our dead bodies if they ever get there," became the First Minister. The two of them represent the most extreme and aggressive positions on their respective sides of the conflict! On 8 December 2007, while they both were visiting President Bush in the White House, McGuinness said to the press "Up until the 26 March this year, Ian Paisley and I never had a conversation about anything – not even about the weather – and now we have worked very closely together over the last seven months and there's been no angry words between us. ... This shows we are set for a new course." Indeed, “Paisley and McGuinness subsequently established a good working relationship and were dubbed by the Northern Irish media as the "Chuckle Brothers."

When eight o’clock drew near, I excused myself, thanked them for inviting me to join in their lives for a couple of hours, and went to pay for my dinner, only to find that the two gentlemen had already taken care of the bill. I left the Four Corners Restaurant with a fond admiration for these strangers who had shared a meal with me, a deepening respect for the people of Northern Ireland, and in awe of the courageous steps they had taken to pursue peace. And I find myself still amazed at the mystery, as if it were the first time I had encountered it, that within the very souls that exert a horrifying propensity toward violence and destruction, it is also possible to find a divine potential to self-sacrifice for peace.

What better gift could I have asked for from the Irish? I must look no further for my Irish inheritance, Maggie’s mit-gift to her American descendants, something I can salvage from a family that has not survived the rough storms at sea. This is why it is so bloody good to be Irish! They have given me words; ancient words (Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization), written, spoken, recited words; words sung; words in a quiet, powerful, chance conversation; words that can challenge me, change me, and words that can guide me home. They have given us all a treasure of language, a language with which to embrace each other.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ireland: Who Said That?

They are everywhere. All around me. Every where I go, restaurants, along the roads, airports, trains and train stations, stores, bathrooms, cafes, taxis, B&B and buses. And they are all English! Blessed, beautiful English. Blessed, beautiful English WORDS. (Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.) And the best ones have an Irish accent!!

I can’t help but notice that the Irish seem to celebrate their writers and give homage to the written word. Little rhymes or quotes from literature kept winking at me from unlikely places. Above the seats on trains, at train stations, on the doors to restaurants. Some made me wonder if Dr. Seuss was Irish: “The seats are not for feet.” Or “Going to the game? Take the train!” But mostly the quotes caught me off guard and were in places I didn’t expect with no apparent context. Wrapped around a kiosk in Drogehda I read:

“You’ll never see the man again, who sat across from you,

better to look away.”*

and in the train:

“There was really nothing else to say

it was an awkward silence

I read the back of someone’s paper

I stared out the window.*

At first I thought it was just in Dublin, to attract tourists to the Writers Museum (exhibits @ Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Yeats, and Brendan Behan), the James Joyce Museum or the birthplace of George Bernard Shaw. But even as I left Dublin, I kept noticing these little epigraphs. As if Ireland was calling out, “have you read the works of our sons yet?” Upon hearing that C.S. Lewis, who was Irish, has been one of the most significant authors to me personally, an endearing Irish couple, during one of the breaks at the conference in Belfast, emphatically recommended that I read the Irish poet John O’Donoghue (which I intend to do, once I’ve finished the ten other books I’m in the middle of!). There are many more Irish writers that will join that list.

The Re-Emergent conference afforded another onslaught of words:

From Phyllis Tickle, a living religious encyclopedia, who used no notes and whose words went from her brain, through her larynx, and gushed out of her mouth at a freakish speed, I heard more than just the live rendition of her book, The Great Emergence. Words to put things into perspective, place ourselves in history and paint the grand scheme of things. Some disturbing words, some mind-boggling ones:

“There are over 39,600 distinguishable denominations (not religions, but Christian denominations!).”

“We still have to answer the question, “What is a human being?”

“A big part of this new spirituality is happening in virtual space...with about 70 million people whose only religious experience is on the net in one of the 800 virtual churches.”

and bingo: “If you reduce God to a proposition that you can articulate, you just lost God!”

Samir Selmonovic’s words drew water, when he illustrated Miroslav Wolf’s stages of Embrace (Exclusion and Embrace) through a story of the exclusion and embrace from his own Muslim family, after his spiritual journey led him to follow Christ. That story can be found in his book, It’s Really All About God. Some of his words that stuck:

“When I left Islam to become a Jesus follower, I had many adjustments to make.. I started to become bitter, because the “Christians” made no adjustments from their culture to become Jesus followers.”

“The Emperor might be naked, but he has a very nice body...”

“Bible study is like a marriage: sometimes you are angry at the text, sometimes you don’t want to talk to it for a while, sometimes you make up again.”

Dave Tomlinson had an English accent when he said, “If you don’t have doubt, you don’t have faith; you have certainty and fundamentalism.”

Beki Bateson, who I’ve quoted the most since I’ve been back:

“The kingdom of God is where Faith, Art and Justice intersect.”

As Christ followers, we should be “creating just spaces.”

“How do we move from injustice to justice? Exactly where we stand!”

“Art can help people imagine an alternative future and inspire them to actively move toward it.”

Kester Brewen’s words would also make a good lecture for the tv series “Lost.”

“the world is exploding in strangeness and it is causing us stress!”

conflict is “the failure to properly engage the other...”

...”God is much stranger than that.”

“...penetrated by the marvelous....”

“You are not a gadget”

That evening at the Black Box, IKON wove words together around the theme of choice... recited homespun words, gave us words to say in unison:

“We have been caught between

one thing and another

We have had to choose

between sister doubt

and her uncertain brother.”

And then the words exploded with melody and rhythm and voltage, when first Vince Anderson and then Foy Vance took the stage. Foy Vance’s words were funny, melancholic, perceptive, personal and Irish. Being transported by his phenomenal music, they were often deeply affecting. By the end of his concert, he, like a pied piper, had corralled us all into the much smaller foyer singing these words over and over again as one big unpracticed choir,

“When I need to get home, you’re my guiding light, you’re my guiding light.”

The next day after the closing session and some time eating and conversing at Common Grounds cafe, I had the unexpected opportunity to hear words from the first and only female Justice on Britain’s supreme court, The Lady Hale of Richmond at the MacDermott lecture in the Great Hall at Queen’s University. Her words were about the pursuit of justice and the complexity of applying the law in discrimination cases.

“I’m here to talk about the neglected virtue: Equality.”

“At the current pace, it will take 75 years to close the gender pay gap.”

“...the Human Rights model is better than Anti-discrimination laws...”

As rich and delicious, moving and challenging, informative and thought provoking all of these words were, the words that left a truly indelible impression on me were spoken outside of the context of the Re-Emergent conference altogether. The words that, though I never wrote them down, keep grabbing my attention, purring their way into my stream of thought, like a cat who wants to be stroked, were spoken in what at first seemed to be a parenthetical adventure, a detour from the charted route. Words born out of a truly Irish experience, which I would like to tell you about in my next blog entry.

*(Can anyone tell me who the above quotes are from?)