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June 2013

TOWN WITHOUT A SIGNPOST (Masiphumelele)

Masephumelele

Today the most amazing thing is happening. The President of the USA, Barack Obama, is visiting one of my favourite places on earth; Masiphumelele. It is a township on the peninsula south of Cape Town where for many decades blacks were not allowed to live. Eventually they were and were given a variety of sites to choose from. They chose Site 5 less than a mile from one of the world's most spectacular beaches at Noordhoek, which nestles in the shadow of Chapman's Peak. I simply loved being on this township and had the privilege of building a few houses along with my students with Habitat For Humanity. I hope Alfred, whose house we built is well. And Shnaz a little girl whose photo was on the cover of my book Eyes Open. Maybe our favourite builders from Masi, Thulani and Lucas, might shake hands with the President! Wow! The very thought...

Without A Signpost, from Sad... and Beautiful Place, my book with photographer Gordon Ashbridge was something that I wanted to write since the first time I drove into Masi in 2002. Here is a little town with 25,000 people  who have their clinics, libraries, churches, schools and shops and not one road sign pointing to it. They are unremembered. This was a functional poem where trying to fit Gordon's photos perhaps compromised the poetry but it sums up my experience on Masi. Site 5 - Have a great day!!!!

TOWN WITHOUT A SIGNPOST (Masiphumelele)

Coldplay's on the radio

Loud enough to please the neighbours

Dogs scratching everywhere I look

More scavengers than retrievers

There's a shop selling Coca Cola

And cigarettes one by one

Not much talk of profit share

Just a few Rand when day is done.

They're hanging out the washing

I've never seen it blowing any whiter

Children screaming around my feet

No smile has ever shone brighter

They gather round makeshift fires

To keep warm in the winter chill

They come together to meet their needs

And I wonder if I ever will

They're painting on the stop sings

And white lines in the middle of the street

They'll dance and sing their way to Church

Where their hopes and sorrows meet

There's a ribbon on the Communion table

Red, like Jesus symbol of wine

Everyone gets the exact same share

In the potency of this Kingdom sign.

 

It's a town without a signpost

A town where no one needs to be

And I thought I'd take Jesus there

Instead he was there to greet me

He said, "Son I'm going to show you need

And then what you really need the most

There's riches that your soul needs to buy

In this town without a signpost.

 

 

 

 


TOMORROW IN FITZROY 30.6.13

Fitzroy IBIS

In the morning (11am) in Fitzroy Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley will be asking how we face the giants... Thomas Edison's teacher said he was to stupid to learn, Einstein's teacher said he was full of foolish dreams, the newspaper editor who fired Walt Disney said he lacked creativity and the giant laughed at David.  What's God doing when he subverts traditional stories? And what's he asking us to offer? Our colourful Biblical charcetr this week is... David the boy from backwater Bethlehem who just turned up!

In the evening (7pm) we will be looking back at am amazing month in Northern Ireland. We will review the IF campaign and ask what we got out of the G8 with Derek hall from Tearfund and then we will look at Obama's visit to Belfast and have the privilege of talking to the star of that morning Hannah Nelson whose speech blew Michelle and barack out of the Water(front)! hannah will share that speech with us again!


WHERE IS JESUS - CHURCH OR TOWNSHIPS?

Black Jesus

“Today was a day of all days. Life changing. Never to be forgotten. Mystical. Spiritual. Emotional. Beyond reason. Beyond words.

I have the most vivid picture of this township. From the steps of the Habitat office there is a panoramic view underneath a bright sun – a winter sun – but sun! A millions people live in my panorama. Shacks, huts and dotted brick houses that tell us that the new South Africa is brick by brick getting slowly better than the old one. And off to the right are the mountains topped with snow. The majesty and grandeur of God and beneath their wing and constant gaze those he most cherishes – those made in His image – the native African people of Western Cape. To be truthful most of them have resettled from Eastern Cape to find work in the gardens and kitchens of Cape Town.

My senses were on overload as the children descended. Post-apartheid children with smiles and eyes so alive that they might burst with life and happiness. The Habitat homes; so basic but so wonderful. The singing, first of Church worship and later a local choir rehearsing. The fans of the Kaiser Chiefs. The community characters. A deep sense of community that wealth seems to stamp upon in its clamour to remove unseen connections with the dull lifeless desire for possessions.”

This is my diary entry for July 16th 2000 as I arrived in Khayelitsha as part of a student team from our Presbyterian Hall of Residence at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We came with our reasons to be here. To see our Christian faith caress and collide with another culture, to do our little part to be part of God’s Kingdom coming and his will being on earth as it is in heaven, to learn from the new relationships in this previously divided land and apply it to our divided homeland, to develop the relationships of a community that live together back home and in the midst of those four purposes we were hoping that God would use this experience to mould and shape us in our discipleship to never be the same again.

That same evening, after having been on the township, brought another challenging thought and spiritual dilemma. We attended Claremont Methodist Church, a very pleasant, very white and very middle class congregation, which was fine because it was very like my home Church in Belfast. As we began the service, the worship leader used those words that so often I have used in the past – “where two or three are gathered I am there in the midst”. I agreed. However, just that morning I had experienced that diary entry at the top of this article. Jesus had also said that “if you do this to the least of these my people you do it to me”. 

As we sat singing songs I began to wonder where Jesus would rather meet me; where two or three are gathered in luxurious comfort or among those with poor housing and without the advantages of those of us in middle class churches. I became even more impressed with the leadership of this white suburban Church who took themselves into this township to find Jesus and yet I wondered how that arm of outreach in any way related to this worship service. I always bring home that challenge above all. As Claremont Methodist wrestle with it in the new South Africa I have to find in my own life and ministry in Fitzroy how to deal with it in the new Northern Ireland.


BONO ON RTE's THE MEANING OF LIFE; A Personal Reflection

Walk On

At Greenbelt 2005 I did a seminar on U2’s Vertigo and Ubuntu. I had just spent three months on sabbatical as Writer in Residence at Regent College, Vancouver, where I finished the updated version of Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2. For three months I had far too much to think about this band. So, during my seminar I threw out a couple of hunches. They were such flimsy hunches that I certainly hadn’t included them in the update. First, for a laugh, I suggested that maybe the Spanish in the song Vertigo was a result of Bono reading Dora The Explorer to his children Elijah and John. Maybe! The other, that was slightly more substantial but no more convincing, was that the only song off How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb that was not performed on the Vertigo tour was Crumbs From Your Table. As that song was pointed at the Church I wondered had they not played it live as there was less point playing it to a wider audience than the Church. Maybe! Well, unbeknown to me, Willie Williams, the band’s lighting and stage designer, was sitting down the back beside my friend Martyn Joseph. On my sharing of this hunch he turned to Martyn and said, “Nice idea but actually they just can’t get the rehearsal together!” If I ever did another book on U2 that might be my title; “Nice Ideas But Maybe...”

When I was writing Walk On I was pretty sure that my knowledge of U2 and evangelical Christianity gave me a firm foundation for my pontifications on the meaning of U2’s work and faith. Yet, it was all second hand surmise. I had made a conscious decision to take that approach as in my book. I didn’t actually want Bono to explain his work. My reason for writing was as much about the lack of thinking and artistic discernment within Christendom as it was about U2. I had been exasperated for years that Christians didn’t get U2’s faith. I mean, “you broke the bonds/and loosed the chains/carried the cross/ and my shame/ you know I believe it!” It is hard to miss. So I wanted to show that an average intelligence like myself was able to decipher Christian content in rock music! I am still not sure how I came to write that book but it was a privilege and I always felt that I wrote it on behalf of a thousand U2 fans who could have written the same things but somehow I was the one who did it for us all. Once someone had written the down the Christian ideas that were evident in U2’s work and Relevant Books published them they somehow took on a robustness that they didn’t have when we chatted about them over a coffee or a pint.

Which brings me to events like The Meaning Of Life programme on RTE when Bono did an “everything is on the table” interview about his faith and life with Gay Byrne. Every time Bono is going to talk about his faith I am more apprehensive than excited. I have a lot at stake! As soon as that first Walk On hit the stores in 2001 most everything Bono would say about faith would be checked against my hunches! When he opens up like he did on this programme I have a lot to lose! I was watching the programme just hoping that Bono would not say something like, “well there was this guy from the north who wrote a load of nonsense about me having a Christian faith...”

Bono’s conversation with Gaybo didn’t let me down. Indeed I suppose the downside was that as a man who researched this band meticulously over a five year period there was nothing in it I didn’t know, or at least think I knew! It was quite a remarkable hour of Christian profession. Of course I had been growing in confidence on my hunches when both Bono On Bono: Conversations With Michka Assayas and U2 By U2 had assured me and never contradicted. However, there was something about this TV show that you felt was hearing it literally from the horse’s mouth. The explicit nature of Bono’s testimony was refreshing, revealing and for me reassuring! For many years U2 refrained from making any comments about their Christian faith. Here was a 52 year old man with nothing to hide, talking about Jesus, believing in the afterlife and his family praying on their bed. He went back to the late 70’s revival and how the Shalom fellowship used Jesus to get them to give up rock and then how manager Paul McGuinness used Jesus to get them to go back on the road!

The naysayers, and there are many, will have got just enough fodder to maintain their anti Bono campaigns. He wasn’t convincing on the transparency of U2’s tax strategy. It was above board and all; just not robust enough to impress his opposition. I am sure a few of his Christian statements will get dissected by the doctrinal police. However, all in all, it was an astonishing testimony of Christian faith in a world that is secular at least and anti Church at worst.

As I had sensed down all the years of following U2 this was a man with a reasonably orthodox evangelical Christian faith, if he doesn’t exactly dot all the ‘t’s and dot all the ‘i’s theologically. His critique of Church is the same in 2013 as it was in his earliest interviews in the rock press - God is much bigger than religion! That love should always be more important than definitions of faith was a great exposition of 1 Corinthians 13. As always Bono made fun of his Messianic complex and was again what many people miss, humble about his own abilities. For him, that God is interested in the detail of our lives is proven in the fact that someone like him who started with average talents is part of the biggest rock band in the world. For him that is a blessing. It has been a blessing to a lot of the rest of us to.

For me, good news, I think I can now rest easy; I think I got it right!


BONO ON CHRIST, GRACE AND THE CROSS

Bono on Gay Byrne

Last night on RTE Gay Byrne grilled Bono about what the U2 thought was the meaning of life. Everything was on the table and Bono was open and articulate about his how his Christian faith has affected his life, music and activism. Rather than transcribe the statements of faith Bono made I thought it might be good to re-blog this article that I wrote way back in 2005 (while I was Writer In Residence at Regent College, Vancouver actually!!) for Faith For Life magazine.

As I write I am aware that it is 26 years ago to this very day that I decided to follow Jesus. Actually, I have come to believe that my spiritual journey began about 11 years before that when, as a six year old, I firmly decided that there was no God. It was that moment that, I reckon, God started a gracious relationship with me that I caught up with over a decade later. Whatever the technicalities, as a seventeen year old my life changed forever because I got to believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son Of God and a Messiah for the world. Everything about me has been affected by that understanding.

So why should I begin a review of Bono In Conversation with Michka Assayas with a spiritual testimony. Well, one of the many fascinating things about this intriguing book is that Bono’s life is lived under a similar banner of belief to the one I have just described. French journalist Assayas is the perfect interrogator. He is a trusted confidant of Bono. Yet he is also secularist and agnostic who cannot quite accept that a man of Bono’s intelligence and cultural sharpness could believe this Christian stuff. It is ideal provocation that allows Bono to nail his theological perspective. From there it is clearly seen that his life is lived in the light of how he identifies Christ and his identification with Christ.

The clarity of expression when it comes to Bono’s Christian beliefs will be a surprise to even those who believed he believed these things but never expected him to utter the confession publicly again. When Assyas suggests that is Christ among the world’s great thinkers maybe, but son of God might be a bit far fetched, Bono is on it with CS Lewis-like apologetic: “But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off the hook. Christ says: No I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me a teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.”… So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who he said he was – the Messiah – or a complete nutcase. I mean we’re talking nut case on the level of Charles Manson.”

Bono also defines God’s view of the world. He says he loves “the idea that God says: ‘Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s mortality as part of the sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions.’” No hint of the usual modern political correctness or tolerance from an anything and everything goes rock star. Where Bono brings grace to the human condition is exactly there – grace. His relationships with fellow rock stars, no matter how hedonistic or political figures no matter how right wing is laced with a love and mercy that he himself finds in the grace of God. He says: “Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which is in my case very good news indeed.”

That grace is centred on Christ’s cross; “I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.” Bono’s self deprecation is evident throughout which again is neither the regular disposition of rock stars in general or for some who don’t look carefully enough, Bono in particular. A closer look at the songs and performances and you’ll see that any egotistical celebrity poses Bono throws are a role play with the absurdity of his occupation. Finishing many gigs on the Vertigo Tour with Yahweh, a prayer of commitment, that ends with a pleading that God would take his heart and make it break is a little upside down in a music world more renowned for its selfish indulgence. Bono tells Assayas that it is at the Cross where he gets humbled: “The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point it should keep us humbled…It’s not our own good works that gets us through the gates of Heaven.”

The two over riding themes in the book are faith and Africa and on many occasions Bono will go off on a Scriptural story to explain his point even when faith is not the question. At one point Assayas asks him why he is always quoting it. It seems that Bono can do no other. It informs most every aspect of his life. You get a sense, as indeed you get from Neil McCormick’s book I Was Bono’s Doppelganger, that he is the constant personal evangelist. He speaks of having asked Mikhail Gorbachev if he believed in God. He also asks a painter friend if he prays. Other stories have emerged at different times of his sharing his beliefs with Noel Gallagher from Oasis and Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins. It is not that he is invading the private souls of his friends for some heaven and hell project. It is more that he is so fascinated with the things of God that he cannot but involve people in such exchanges.

Elsewhere there are stories of being blessed by Archbishop Tutu and Billy Graham. He clarifies some fans suspicions that the one member of U2 who wasn’t a believer, Adam is now “the most spiritually centred of the band.” At the end maybe too influenced by Eugene Peterson whose paraphrase The Message Bono endorsed he says, “’Be silent, and know that I am God.’ That’s a favourite line from Scriptures. ‘Shut Up and Let Me Love You’ would be the pop song. It’s really what it means. If ever I needed to hear a comment, it might be that.” It is insightful stuff from maybe the most famous pop star on earth. It is a marvellous portrait of a man committed to his faith, passionate about its outworking and mature in his wisdom about life.


WIMBLEDON; COULD THE WORST PLAYER WIN? - PAUSE FOR THOUGHT 25.6.13

Darcis and Nadal

(this morning's Pause For Thought almost came true in Nadal's defeat yesterday; or rather came untrue! My defence when labelled a heretic is that he was injured!) 

It’ll happen this week at Wimbledon for sure. In the early rounds some player ranked 437th in the world will tear up the form book and find themselves on centre court a couple of sets up on Djorkyvic, Nadal, Federer or, dread of dreads, Andy Murray. In that moment two things will be happening. The young pretender will be bouncing his ball to serve, mind racing, “I can’t do this. This is crazy. Beat the world number 2 at Centre Court?” The pressure and stress will begin to hit. On the other side of the net, a world superstar sportsman, totally at home with pressure and stress, will be swaying side-to-side thinking, ‘I can win this. Just focus. I have won Grand Slams. I am 435 places above this guy in the rankings.” 70 minutes later and our tennis supertar will have won the other 3 sets 6-0, 6-0, 6-0. What happened? The pressure and the stress got to one, and the confidence in who he was came through for the other.

I find that the world I live in shakes my confidence. It’s a world where the first are first. Best tennis player wins Wimbledon, the prettiest and handsomest get the prettiest and handsomest, those from the best backgrounds get the best jobs, the best houses, the best lives, And We think that is how it should be, giving the rest of us an inferiority complex, making us feel insecure, cracking under the pressure of a first are first world.

But What if there was a world where the last were first. Radical. That is what Jesus went on about. He accepted everyone as they were, chose all the wrong kind of people for his gang. And, radically, When they sensed that they were accepted and belonged it seems that their confidence grew and they were then able to do things that they would never have been able to even think about under the stress and pressure of being first.


BANG BANG! LEAH DOESN'T WIN THE VOICE - SHOCK!

Leah

It all went wrong when Matt was the first to go out. At that point of The Voice final I remembered that the great British public cannot be trusted to know what the best voice is. Matt’s was the second best voice. That he was the first to go suggested to me that the best voice by a stratosphere was at the mercy! It prepared me for what was to come. In any other competition the final 3 in this year’s The Voice was a mismatch of extraordinary proportions. Mike and Andrea had very good voices but Leah had a voice in a million, with power, with range, with finesses and that X factor that few have; originality! I use X factor intentionally and one wonders if that actually was a better show for Leah but truth be told the judges on The Voice have more edge and x factor than the judges on The X Factor! Sadly, for Leah, the judges don’t count. You are down to consensus pop and that is the greatest flaw, among many great flaws, of these talent shows. Consensus means that the definition of talent is in the hands of 6 year old children and 90 year old Grannies. Andrea fitted the consensus just perfectly!

There were many astounding reactions to Andrea’s win. It was even more of a shock than Wigan beating Manchester City in the FA Cup Final. The manor of the announcement is so abrupt on such shows that it took time to realise that it wasn’t a wee joke. The studio was surprised. The judges were shaken, particularly Will I. Am. Andrea’s family were stunned! The keepers of the gates of taste and talent across the nation were, after a few moments to take it in, busy on social media networks trying to ease their utter disappointment and deep sense of injustice.

Northern Ireland was a strange place to be reading Twitter and Facebook. Our wee tiny country had just won The Voice! Any other year and we would we would be adding Andrea to Snow Patrol, Rory McIlroy or George Best! Yet, Northern Ireland, at least certain parts of it, is the very place where the injustice was most felt. Many have heard Leah McFall’s talent for many years. I remember her coming across to our Chaplaincy at Queens as a vulnerable teenager and astounding us with an accapella version of Softly and Tenderly at a Johnny Cash Tribute event. For those who knew, this was very hard to take.

These consensus shows bore me with their blandness. Buying into that blandness is a risk that a talent like Leah takes. Yet, in the world of modern music it is a risk that sometimes needs taken to get noticed and make the leap. For me the moment Leah lost the consensus was the very same moment she opened the door to her future. That might even have been a strategic risk that she and Will felt was worth taking. Bang Bang! Oh my goodness! This was the most innovative, exciting and unique performances I had watched on such shows. It was where Leah blew her opposition out of the artistic water. Andrea’s worst performance of the entire competition was perhaps her duet with Danny’s Script on Hall Of Fame. However, Leah’s explosive Bang Bang was perhaps the moment when it was all a little bit too “modern” and “whackey” for the consensus pop viewers and Andrea sneaked up on the inside rails!

Yet, that is the direction that I believe Leah needs to take. In Will she has a mentor who sees the potential both in artistic terms and I would say in dollar signs too. He knows that this girl can give quirk a new musical voice! The rumours are that they are off to New York already to record Leah’s own songs. The future for Leah McFall was not damaged at all by Saturday night’s result, ridiculous and all as that result was. With the right arranging, production and management, from here in, our Belfast girl will be right up there with Jesse J in giving pop back some bite, personality and punked up power. Sadly, the winners of The Voice and indeed X Factor don’t seem to do as well as those who just fall short. That might be to do with the fact that those who vote on a Saturday night don’t buy the music. Leah McFall is without doubt the most prodigious talent to come through such shows in a long time. The competition is over, let the career begin!


NOVELS DELVING INTO OUR SOULS

Truth Commissioner

“And we’ll open other people’s stories

Allow them to delve inside our souls...”

I wrote these words in Come, Come Away My Love a poem, turned song by Sam Hill, about The Stockies retreat place in Ballycastle. Readers of Soul Surmise are well aware of my belief in the arts to be a social and spiritual transformative force. Music is my thing and I listen to many more songs than I read novels for all kinds of obvious reasons but when I get to Ballycastle I move into a more meditative and reflective rhythm of life and easing into the world of someone’s novel is one of the most important ways we do that. I am carefully gathering those novels weeks before I get to the coast. I tend to be looking for novels that will engage with my own story. Irish novels are usually to the fore. Glenn Patterson, Dermot Healy, Tony Macauley and Roddy Doyle have been companions in recent years. This year I have Colum McCann and Bethany Dawson at the top of the kindle! Last summer I discovered a new pal; David Park!

 

I had read David Park many years ago but last summer was drawn to pick up The Light Of Amsterdam just before heading off to Spain. Starting at George Best’s funeral and ending with a Bob Dylan concert in Amsterdam was enough to get me hooked but it was the complexity of his characters and the fascinating working through of relationships that had me most intrigued. As a Christian one of the emphasis of my life is my personal spiritual development and as a pastor my vocation is lived out in relationships and how they work, break down and can find redemption. David Park had two other contextual scenarios that hit the mark.

Park’s back ground is Christian. Ian Sansom in the Guardian wrote, “Searching for an image to explain his (Park’s) mode and methods, he recalls a tableau on the front wall of the Baptist church of his youth, showing a rainbow and the words of "Psalm 29", "Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness". "As a child, and even now, I wonder, what is the beauty of holiness?" That beauty of holiness seems to be what Park is seeking for his characters. There is spiritual redemption at the heart of his opus memorandum. He might not always get there but he is always seeking it. That is perfect literary fodder for the pastor.

Journeying with his characters and relationships in The Light Of Amsterdam led me to The Truth Commissioner. This added that other contextual scenario; Belfast. As someone who has spent alot of time in South Africa and used the South African context to help students unpack the Northern Ireland political complications, here was a book to grapple with. Set around a fictional Northern Ireland Truth Commission Park brilliantly captivates us with more complex characters. We warm to those we shouldn’t and find cold the ones that we should appreciate. Confused by where the story leads our sympathies and where it doesn’t we also find ourselves in the middle of an intrigue of Belfast’s bloody past and lost in any hopes of untangling that past with the present and future.

Again though, being Park, it is not so much about the political solutions as the personal. "What I have come to realise," says Park, "is that communal healing is not to be found in truth commissions or in institutions, but is simply to be found in the renewed rhythms of life. Young people falling in love, children being born.” This is prophetic for those of us involved at whatever level in reconciliation and particularly those from a Church background. Deep within ourselves and in relationships across communities will have more impact than Peace Agreements and the compromises of power sharing.

Opening up David Park’s stories has allowed me to delve into my soul, my vocation and my city. Park says, “I like to write about important things but I like to do that with a sense of humanity and tenderness. I like to write with grace.” Perfect for my holiday purposes!

TOMORROW IN FITZROY 23.6.13

Fitzroy new

In the morning in Fitzroy (11am) I will be asking that question Bono asked on the Elevation Tour, from Eugene Peterson, from David the Psalmist... "What can I give back to God for the blessings he's poured out on me?" As we think about what happens in the Sunday Service we are looking at the Offering. This is not the collection! This is a weekly commitment to God and his community. Life in all its fulness is ignited or snuffed out depending on how you respond to Bono's question in that sadly often meaningless break in the Service! We will also be bigging up our giving to Uganda and meeting and praying for Sunday Download graduate and summer mission volunteers! All wrapped up in edgy worship that blends but never blands the modern and traditional.

In the evening (7pm) we will be having an array of folk sharing some insightful clues as to what might be healthy reading for your soul on your summer holidays...


I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND: SURMISING SAMMY WILSON, GERRY ADAMS & JESUS

Sammy and Gerry

I was on my way home from the Obamas (and Hannah!) at the Waterfront. I turned on Radio Ulster to hear how the media was going to stamp all over Barack’s “hope is contagious” and sure enough they were weighing in with hob nail boots! I was tickled by Wendy Austin’s interview with Sammy Wilson from the DUP. Sammy was in jovial enough mood confessing that his overweight body had been having a few respiratory problems during a Mexican wave that brought a festive atmosphere in the wait for the Obamas to arrive. Austin with a journalists nose for the kill then asked Sammy about whether he was holding Gerry Adams from Sinn Fein’s hand during the said work out! Sammy’s humour sobered up and he made a categorical denial of such reckless behaviour. I chuckled, sadly, surmising why you can sit beside each other, have a laugh together but not hold hands!

Later in the day I was laughing out loud at a photo on social media showing that Mexican wave moment when indeed there is contact between Sammy and Gerry. A closer look verifies Sammy’s vehement denial. It is Gerry Adams holding Sammy Wilson’s arm just below the wrist and there seems no intention on Sammy’s part to hold Gerry’s hand. He does have a smile on his face though. It seems from the spirit of the photograph that there is a new sharing of frivolity between the former enemies of Northern Irish politics but we are still a reach short of holding hands; at least on the Unionist side!

This all had me surmising. What is it within Unionism that prevents a reaching out to hold hands in our shared future? That surmise becomes more pointed when it stands in stark contrast to the fact that Republicans have obviously no problem reaching the other way. The recent attempt by Sinn Fein to hold an open discussion across the divisions on an equal city and equal island is another strong sign that seem to be much more up for reconciliation than their Unionist counterparts. It is being said that some on the Unionist/Loyalist side might have attended the Sinn Fein event if the choreography had been right. There is talk about the different speeds that the different communities are at in reconciliation.

I am surmising why? I am for sure a mongrel beast in Northern Irish life. I don’t fit into any of the plethora of labels that most people do. I feel that I have a little bit of every cultural variation and have voted across a wide range of parties but I without doubt come from the Protestant Unionist tradition. So, what prevents the people I come from from being in the forefront of reconciliation? Why are they moving at a slower pace? Is it the fear of lost votes? So why is Gerry not worried about losing his? Is it that there is a different view of the justice that is being sought for the hurt that has been done? Again why are Republicans more able to forgive 400 years of what without doubt included many injustices?

The answer for hesitancy is certainly not the Bible that is quoted and symbolised on so much of the Unionist/Loyalist paraphernalia. Jesus is pretty clear how we might prove the soundness of our theological roots. In Luke 6 he tells us “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” That last bit is most crucial. It is easy and anyone can love those who love them but the proof of Christ, his cross and resurrection, is when we do the difficult, the ridiculous, the dangerous, the prophetic and transformational thing.

Now, I’ll be fair to him. Perhaps Sammy makes no claim to any desire to follow Jesus on such issues. However, with his dad being an evangelical Christian pastor we perhaps should expect him to have some knowledge of Christ’s challenge and I would suggest that many of his voters would claim to be followers of Jesus. Surely in one of the most evangelical, Bible believing constituencies in the western world it would be a powerful thing to show Biblical Christ-like courage of leadership? Apparently not. Again I am surmising why? Jesus is not ambiguous; But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” Whatever my surmising comes up with, one thing seems sure, according to Jesus this lack of pace in doing what Jesus teaches means we are not building peace on a very firm foundation. To come out of the Waterfront on Monday and being so adamant about hand holding or lack thereof suggests that it isn’t only Jesus that many Unionists are not listening to. Barack, we are still a long way off your hopefulness!