Waking up to the news this morning that Martin McGuinness had passed away, my first emotion was sadness. In the couple of occasions when we had met he was warm. He retweeted one of my reviews of a James Taylor album! My sympathy went out immediately to his family. They are the ones who will feel his loss the most. May God give them grace and comfort in the days that lie ahead.
My second thought was for our peace process. Whatever you think of Martin McGuinness he was a major driver in our peace process. There is little doubt that the Republican shift from violence to the peace process was a strategic move of the mind. Let us find another way to achieve our aims of a united Ireland. Martin McGuinness, however, brought his heart to the process too.
His relationship with Ian Paisley revealed that. Even after Paisley left the scene, and indeed since his passing away, McGuinness stayed in touch with Eileen Paisley. There was a heartfelt relationship between them. McGuinness’s heart is being, and will be, missed from our political institutions. Someone, please God many, in Sinn Fein needs to fill the void he has left.
Many will rightfully challenge me in this last paragraph and ask where Martin McGuinness’s heart was when the IRA, with him up to his neck in it, were murdering people for decades. Indeed!
Yesterday my emotions raged against IRA terrorism. In researching a U2 documentary, I came face to face with the 11 people killed in the Enniskillen bomb on Remembrance Day 1987. The anger deep inside me was palpable. These obscene and evil things should not have happened in my country.
In this blog I do not want to minimise the hurt and pain caused by the IRA’s terrorist campaign. When Fr Martin Magill and I spoke at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, in 2015, I was very careful to bring into the room dear friends who had lost loved ones at the hands of the IRA.
When Fr Martin and I wrote an Uncomfortable Conversations piece for the Republican newspaper An Phoblacht, Martin challenged the military campaign of the IRA and asked why they could not have taken a peaceful Dr. Martin Luther King approach.
However, the IRA military campaign ended and without doubt Martin McGuinness had his role to play in that decision. Since that time I would surmise that McGuinness has changed more than any other politician in Northern Ireland.
So, as much as I am angry about his past, I also appreciate that because of Martin McGuinness there are not many hundreds more people lost to the Troubles. I am wondering who I would know that might have been killed if the conflict had gone on past 1998. Martin McGuinness’s desire for a peaceful future and his ability to bring with him a Republican community, many of whom have a romantic notion of a United Ireland by violent means, is something we need to be thankful for.
As I listen this morning to all the Tributes, and other reflections, on the life of Martin McGuinness I am drawn back to the blog I posted when he stepped down as Deputy First Minister. There is a challenge in looking back at Martin McGuinness’s life that asks questions of myself.
How do I deal with the change in Martin McGuinness’s life? Am I prepared to acknowledge it? Or do I leave him frozen in time? Do I freeze frame him as the terrorist in order that I do not have to respond to his evident change of heart and soul and mind? Is that easier than dealing with my own hatred?
I am often amazed when I hear many people who talk about repentance and the need for change not believing that Martin McGuinness had changed. I imagine that their argument would be that change can only come through repentance and faith in Jesus and in their own formula of what that means.
My surmise on that is that repentance is not a theological idea. Jesus’ call to repentance was to an action. It is an active turning of our lives around. Repentance is to live in a completely different way than we had been living. The Scriptures also tell us, time and time again, that it is by the fruit of our intentions that we are to be judged, not our head knowledge and doctrinal position.
The probing question that the transformation in Martin McGuinness asks me is have I a similar harvest of change in my own life? Have I been able to love my enemies in the same way that he has? Have I moved from hatred to acts of reconciliation as he did?
Shaking hands with the Queen, and other acts of reaching out, were difficult and even had him receiving death threats from republican paramilitaries. Am I prepared to take the same steps towards reconciliation?
In the end I understand why many will find it difficult to come to terms with the Martin McGuinness of his later life. The bodies, the funerals, the grief of the past are hard to get over. We all deal with the deep pain in different ways. Many of us find it easier to live out God’s grace than others do. For some it is a daily struggle.
However, God calls us to a hard love. I keep going back to these verses because as a follower of Jesus living in Northern Ireland they are perhaps the most relevant verses in all of Scripture for my following of Jesus:
Luke 6: 27 & 28: “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Perhaps my response to Martin McGuinness’s legacy, all over our media today, might be a good guide to show me how much I have changed, repented in my own lives.
Psalm 139: 23 & 24
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.