As the Haass Talks begin again in Northern Ireland today I have to say that my spirits are low and my hopefulness critically ill. Not that I don’t think Northern Ireland has changed in recent years. It has. There are relationships and attitudes and the possibilities of doing things across the old traditional boundaries that we would not have even dared to dream of twenty years ago. There is a deep desire among the majority for a peaceful way forward. Yet, this morning I am more than a little depressed because of the intellectual, spiritual and visionary poverty of our political leadership. We seem stuck, up to our waist, if not our neck, in a quagmire of same old, same old. There is such a dearth of imagination that it is literally quite frightening. My children and their children are at the mercy of people who are arguing and prepared to risk our children’s futures over how many days a flag should fly. We have somehow gotten ourselves locked into a vacuum of alternatives. Let us face it. We have elected these leaders. How? We have produced great sportsmen like George Best, Mary Peters and Willie John McBride. We have produced the literary genius of Seamus Heaney and CS Lewis and the musical brilliance of Van Morrison. Yet, we lack any political leaders who can conjure an alternative Ulster.
As I surmise this morning I think we need three things; vision, courage and grace. Vision is about looking forward not back. When our decisions are made on what has happened in the past we are locked in to the sins of the generations. What we need are leaders who can see a better future than the bloody, murderous and painful past that we all have suffered and all have to take the blame for. What we need are leaders who will courageously lift themselves above their own parochial painted kerb stones and seek a future for all not just their own! Fuelling that vision and courage has to be a grace so sadly lacking in the history of this wee island.
I do not need to tell my friends, family or blog readers that I do not fit easily into the traditional divisions that we have been straight jacketed into in Northern Ireland. I feel very much part of that Venn Diagram that has me equally Irish and British. I am a Christian who has been shaped by a Presbyterian definition of that faith but I have benefited from many variations of that faith including being enriched by dear Catholic brothers and sisters. The one word that expresses it all for me is grace. This is the key word and idea that makes Christianity so crucial. What we have celebrated at Christmas is this incredible idea that God loved us as we were and didn’t just talk about loving us as we were but gave us his son, born that first Christmas and eventually courageous enough, imaginative enough, grace filled enough to die for us before being resurrected to usher in a while new world of possibility.
What disheartens me most this morning is that there are political leaders who claim attachment to that Jesus yet show none of those core values of Christ in what they do with their political influence. Somehow, doctrinal creeds held very dearly in the personal sphere have never been given permission to run wild in the political or social spheres. Indeed arguments have been concocted to suggest that they shouldn’t be. I find that dichotomy impossible to reconcile. What we need today, and in any remaining days that Richard Haass patiently holds out his grace towards a thran awkward people, are leaders who think, articulate and live out vision, courage and grace. Let us do unto our enemies as we would like our enemies to do unto us. Let us do unto our enemies as Jesus has done unto us, his enemies. Let us bring down the heretical wall that self righteously quotes such concepts in the personal but hypocritically ignores them in the political. Let us do it today. Please God for some sliver of the Christianity that we talk about being actually acted upon... and please God that the next time we vote...