ABBA - 50 YEARS (And I Confess That They Are...)


Dunlop 2

With authentic characters and a gently gripping plot, David A Dunlop shines a light on the golden calves of sectarianism and church legalism in rural Northern Ireland. Where I am from When the Light Gets In is an important book. Culturally insightful. Personally cathartic. Spiritually prophetic. 

The Shaw family are a common as fertile soil northern Northern Irish family. Isaac is a missionary in India, twins Joseph and Sarah are actually adopted and the intriguing oldest, Jack. 

Jack. It all begins at his funeral. He’s that old bachelor in the family. Many of us in this part of the world had them. I think of my own Great Uncle Tommy. Where my Tommy was big into church though, Jack was not. A mysterious something had come between him and God.

We are not long into the book before we sense the usual dividing lines in the small settled community. Sectarianism is innocuous but its still sectarian. The Protestant side on which the Shaws are to be found is spiritually legalistic. The rumour is that that Jack might have had issues with these lines.

The story is then an unravelling of both the lines. It is about how in one family these lines we make between us and the thran ways that we keep them can cause trauma and not scars but open wounds decades later. When we reduce relationships to mathematics and right answers we injure and hurt the very heart of our humanity. 

Before the light gets in, it is exiled. In the name of God real love is squeezed out of shape by ways to live that are written on slabs of stone and hung on our backs to keep us down. To make sure the neighbour doesn't think bad of us. To keep us right when it is doing anything but. Who said that religion is what is left when God is no longer in it. 

Dunlop tells it beautifully. The suspicion. The surprise. The shock. The sadness. The little bit of salvation. It is all set up so ordinary. Then quite suddenly it becomes a page turner. Could it be. No. Oh my. Can there be repair. The light gets in slowly, everyone hurt as they squint to see.

For me, the saddest part of reading the book was that as I was doing so I bumped into three friends from a few decades ago who shared with me how that mathematical religion had hurt them or sent them off wondering what on earth this God thing was about.  

Our Northern Irish society is coming down with people who have been spiritually abused, who have left the faith over a legalism that was judgemental and exiling. I would love to think that even now there is redemption. 

I would like to think that David Dunlop’s novel would be catharsis for such. I know that it has inspired and refuelled my own ministry to go after the hurting sheep, lost not by their own decisions but by wayward shepherds. 

When the Light Gets In is a book that needs read, heard and where possible its victims repaired!


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