Shane Claiborne’s inspirational The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical has been a mainstay on student reading lists over the last five years and all for the better of our youth. On reading Philip Orr’s fascinating history of a wee Christian project in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast I couldn’t help seeing it as companion piece; it is just as much a page turner. I had the privilege of sharing a seminar with the warm and winsome Claiborne at Greenbelt a few years ago. Right there alongside me Shane filled in the gaps that I thought were glaringly absent from his brilliant book; the failings. The book was too easy. I wanted him to give me ten places where it all went horribly wrong, where their efforts just didn’t work. In the more conversational situation of seminar questions Shane shared these with tender honesty.
Philip Orr has gone straight to the honesty. There is nowhere in this thirty year history of the 174 Trust still a thriving outreach project on Belfast’s deprived and dangerous Ardoyne area where it is not a struggle and many times more bad news than good news. It is about everyday heroes and I know because, unlike Shane’s inner city Philly community, I knew the very ordinary heroes of this story. I lived not far away. I knew what was happening and brushed against it occasionally. I am aware of the turmoil of “The Troubles” at the time.
As I read about Heather and Kerry and Bill and Karen and Tonya, the ones I knew best, and read some of the stories they had shared with me at the time I was struck by how frightening parts of Belfast were in the eighties and early nineties. The bullets and bombs and riots were regular occurrences and through it in this little cafe/flat on the Antrim Road many young Christians who had no need to be anywhere near the front had committed to live there or work there on projects that drew in some of the damaged youth of the area. Not for them the lovely middle class youth clubs of the suburbs. The story Philip writes is messy from the confusion at times of the missional intent, something that evolves as the years went on, to questions as to what was achieved in it all, to the personal stories of the toll the whole thing took from loss of faith to loss of life and many things in between.
At the core of the book is the same challenge as Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution to live real Biblical discipleship in your geographical location. When a friend recently asked about why there were not more seminars on social justice at a major N. Ireland event she was told that they preferred to concentrate on the Bible and discipleship. We have gotten it so incredibly wrong! We are heretics! Books like Orr’s and Claiborne’s are prophetic screams from the fringes to remind us of the cost and courage of following Jesus. They mangle the cotton wool that we have surrounded the Gospel in. The most crucial part is that these are not books of ideas but real life stories of ordinary radicals and ordinary miracles. The stories they tell are not Christianity deluxe or some rare limited edition; this is every day ordinary discipleship. Philip Orr has written a book that records a prophetic challenge to anyone attempting to follow Jesus in Belfast and indeed beyond. Read it alongside Irresistible Revolution and prepare yourself!