Over a year later…

Well, it’s certainly been a while since I’ve visited this blog, needless to say contributed to it. I promised my site coordinator, Doug, however, that I would offer a sort of “part 2” to the post titled What I Miss About Home, Y’all. In that post I listed fifty memories from “back home” that I missed. After that post, Doug asked me if I would offer one a year later that would list 50 things that I miss about Northern Ireland. I casually (and somewhat jokingly) agreed…and then forgot all about it. 

 

It has been well over a year. I guess I’ve thought about writing it from time to time, but I’ve had some trouble finishing it. And then I started to feel guilty. I felt like I had let down Doug by being silent (and Doug is one of those really sweet guys that you just don’t want to let down because it’ll make you feel like you just popped a small child’s balloon or something. Yeah, he’s that nice.). But then, after meeting with my therapist (Yes, therapist. The YAV slogan is “A year of service for a lifetime of change,” but many of us have come to say that it’s really “A year of service for a lifetime of therapy.”), she suggested that I write this post on July 12, the day that invokes intense anger and division for many in Northern Ireland. For some, it is a day that is reason for patriotic celebration, pride, and even superiority. For others, it’s a day that stands for a history of inequality, oppression, and tyranny. For me, this day last year was a day of confusion and discouragement, to say the least. That is why, on the 12th, I wrote this post. I want to remind others (and really, myself) that there can be many elements to cherish and miss about a place and a culture…just as there can be elements that are painful and only spark resentment. In that tension exists the reality of this world, a twisted paradigm that reveals that light and dark will always make a home in every time and place. I am glad to be in Seminary and to live here in Decatur, glad to not be in Belfast to see the hideousness of those bonfires and the flames of riots and angry youth…but I still miss many of the people, and I am thankful for the multitude of experiences that I was offered by that beautiful place. So now I dust off the cobwebs of cherished memories and offer this list of 50 things that I miss about wee Belfast, Norn Iron:

 

  1. The feel of pound coins in my hand.
  2. Boojum (More for the atmosphere)
  3. Whatever the name of that Mexican place on the Lisburn Road was…
  4. Cooku and Filthy McNasty’s
  5. Cafe Smart (and the staff!)
  6. Pub culture
  7. Wilma slapping my leg when it was shaking the pew at church
  8. Simon and I talking NFL
  9. Perfectly made coffee at the McKee’s
  10. Guinness poured properly and served in a Guinness glass
  11. Sunday afternoon walks
  12. Folding the bank notes a different way so that they would fit into my American wallet
  13. Dave and Kathryn’s banter 
  14. Cutting up with Lynne and Dee
  15. Zoning out while on the bus with my headphones in
  16. Conversations in the “Crow’s Nest”
  17. Being an outsider…and getting grins and questions when folks heard my accent
  18. The seafood chowder at Harlem Cafe
  19. Old women kissing me on the cheek
  20. Paul Mason’s accent
  21. Conversations with Doug
  22. The Beaver Scouts
  23. Calling supper “tea”
  24. 4
  25. Wednesday nights at the Millar’s
  26. The overwhelming hospitality of everyone
  27. DMC Youth
  28. Opening up to Heather before Sticky Fingers when times got tough
  29. Watching funny YouTube videos with Sally 
  30. Theological conversations with David
  31. English accents in every commercial (I mean, “advert”)
  32. Carrie’s eyes at the gym were I trained for the marathon
  33. The laughs in the PeacePlayers office
  34. Coaching with PPI
  35. Monday night, 5-a-side footy
  36. Waking up and reminding myself that I live on a different continent
  37. Laughing at the brotherly love between Owain and Cairan. 
  38. The soup and bread 
  39. St. George’s Market, getting fresh mussels 
  40. Joking with Gareth in the back of the church
  41. The occasional smoking of cloves and drinking cheap Italian beer in the back yard
  42. Feeling constant warm support from friends and family across the pond
  43. More news stations that actually had to do with THE WORLD and not just the country in which I was living
  44. Sunday night NFL and Gayle putting up with all of Simon’s (adorable) kitchen requests
  45. Going to the airport to pickup visitors
  46. Live music in the pub
  47. Phrases like, “Aye, I couldn’t be bothered,” and “‘bout ye?”
  48. Middle-of-the-night cab rides
  49. Feeling so many emotions and therefore feeling even more artistically creative
  50. The wit of Irish children, both in the north and the south

DSC_0476

 

 


‘thank-yous’ rather than ‘goodbyes’

As I clean my room and pack my bags, my mind keeps going to the final episode of season 8 of Scrubs, one of my favorite comedies. (Yes, I imagine much of my life as if it were parallel to my go-to tv shows.) Am I being dramatic? Maybe. But I’m a little okay with that. In my short 25 years, these next couple days will certainly be some of the most memorable as they fly by in a whirl of transition. Below is the link to the final few minutes of this particular Scrubs episode. I hope that those of you who aren’t Scrubs fans will still be able to understand what J.D., the main character, is experiencing as he spends his last few minutes as a doctor at Sacred Heart Hospital. Also, there are some lines that may seem inappropriate or rude. But hey, sometimes jokes just take on a bit of rudeness, especially inside jokes. And that’s usually how it works, isn’t it? There’s all those people we’re saying goodbye to, and then one or two of them just say the most awkward, ridiculous thing. But hey, that’s what keeps life exciting. For the record, as I identify in some ways with what J.D. is feeling, I like to imagine Dr. Cox as Doug.

Click Here to watch the final few scenes.

As I have with some of my posts throughout the year, I’m offering a soundtrack for this, the last post from Northern Ireland:

First, it’s The Call by Regina Spektor

And second, it’s Goodbye by Plankeye 

My mom had a little Chinese Proverb sitting in our kitchen window sill for years. It may still be there for all I know. It said, “Life is a piece of paper on which every passerby leaves a mark.” I hope that I’ve marked on the page of those folks with whom I’ve spent time, shared a meal, and walked beside…because I know that many of them have taken a sharpie and scribbled all over my piece of paper.

These photos are proof of the first trans-Atlantic livestream of First Presbyterian Church’s worship.

Yep, that’s John Smith and Tom Sizemore in my flat on Bathgate Dr. watching John Maddux’s solo. It was great to be sitting with both those fellas, looking at my home church, hearing the hymns, feeling very much a part of that service…from thousands of miles away. A special thanks to all the folks at FPC Greeneville who made that moment happen.

As I watched that service and spent the day with Tom and John, I couldn’t help but think, “In just a couple weeks I’ll be back at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. And between now and then, there’s still work to be done, meals to share, bags to pack, a flat to clean.” In the past, at times of transition, I’ve always been able to say, “This isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later.” But that isn’t going to be true in most cases this time.  Goodbye will probably mean goodbye.

That’s why, instead of a lot of ‘goodbyes’, I’m offering a ‘Thank-you!’ to all those those folks who have been such a pivotal part of this year:

NORN IRON (PeacePlayers)

To Joanne: You may be one of my favorite people of all time.

To Darryl “Dazz”: Thank you for appreciating my attempts at Belfast talk. And for being the first person to  call me Patsy.

To Tony: You’re ridiculous. And darn it, I love ya for it.

To Meghan: Thanks for being the head coach for my first Twinning, for the whistle, for the ‘swag’, and for initiating a conversation that revealed to me that you saw me as having something more to offer.

To Mairead: Hope that ankle gets better so we can one day play a match together. I want to see those skills.

To Kate: You make Wisconsin cool.

To Alberto: It was a pleasure. Don’t miss the Belfast weather too much when you go back to Spain.

To Gareth: I want to boss people around one day…and I want to do it like you do. Thanks for the opportunities.

NORN IRON (Dundonald Methodist Church)

To the youth: Thanks for accepting this Yank.

To the DFCI volunteers: Y’all are great! There is great work being done in that community and it all starts with the efforts of each of you. Keep it up.

To Graham: Thanks for that day at the Folk and Transport Museum. So glad I didn’t leave Northern Ireland without seeing that place.

To Jim and Dorothy: Thank you for the times at your home. Take care of that dog. It’s pretty adorable, even when it had that satellite dish on its head.

To Cheryl and Pauline: Thanks for the laughter at either the Martins’ or Spratts’! And Cheryl…behave yourself.

To Gareth and Tom, my prayer partners: Thank you for the honest conversations, the laughs, and the support. Gareth, thanks for putting up with my Mac on several occasions. And to Jill and Charlie: Looking forward to seeing you soon! Tom, you make the best Ulster fries.

To Paul: Thanks for inspiring me to want to live in New Zealand. Your faith and compassion for people is unreal, my friend.

To Maureen and Eddie: Thanks for the Thursday evenings. Mo, thank you for being such a great teacher and leader for those boys.

To Ken: I needed that pint more than you know. Thank you.

To Heather: Wow. You are one hell of a woman, and your commitment to what you do is truly an inspiration.

To Lynne: What laughs we had! Keep up the work you’re doing, basically all over Belfast. It’s making such a difference. Sorry I didn’t stay to be your lobster.

To Jeff and Gillian: Thanks for always being that extra support for YAVs. Jeff, if you pay for my summer there, I’ll happily go west on a recruiting mission. For the glory of God, of course.

To Rebecca, Jamie, Luke and Andy: Y’all are great. You always have a place to stay in ol’ ‘Merica.

To Colin and Claire: Thank you so much for the hospitality and the laughs in Scotland.

To Kathryn and Dave: If you two don’t know that I love you both deeply by now, you never will. That guest room is mine for good, right?

To Simon and Gayle: Thank you for the rugby games, the concert, the jumper, the constant generosity, the honor of carrying Jacob when he was christened, and for being my big brother and sister. I love you both.

To Wilma: Thanks for being my Dundonald Mum and for giving the tightest hugs.

To David and Vera: Every Wednesday night with you two was a blessing and true gift. Thank you for the book that will soon be purchased. And David, I’m holding you to that ordination deal.

To David, Sally, Owain, and Ciaran: Thank you for the guidance, for putting up with all my questions, and for the laughs. Boys, Cyprus is an island.

To Anne and Clem: Ehh, I couldn’t really be bothered writing you anything. Ha! You know I love you both. (That’s right, Clem. I said it.) Thanks for being a sanctuary.

YAV RELATED

To the PC(USA): Thank you for continuing to invest in this program. It influences more lives than you can imagine.

To Essie, Bridgette, and Shannon: The work you three have done is changing so much in so many places. You’re the brains of this operation. Thank you for all you do for us. Sincerely.

To the YAV Community: Yep, we badasses.

To Ellison, Erin, Karl, Kendra, Liz, Christina, and Zoe: We went through a lot together. I guess there’s nothing to say other than, “Thanks for being my family.”

To Elaine: I’m not sure what YAVs are supposed to expect from their site coordinator’s spouse, but you fulfilled that duty and then some! Thank you for the meals, the cooking lessons, and for making fun of Ellison’s attempts at saying, “How” in a Belfast accent. And your smile is contagious.

To Doug: I knew on March 17, 2011 that I was going to be in Northern Ireland for a year. That’s your fault. Thanks for being such an irreplaceable teacher, listener, and friend.

ALSO…A big thank you to Cafe Smart. As I wrote most of this, I was sitting on one of your sofas upstairs. I’ll miss frequenting your “wee place on the corner.”

ALSO ALSO…to the KCC folks, y’all are great! No wonder Ellison loved it out there.

STATESIDE

To First Presbyterian Church, Greeneville, TN: Thank you for the support that flowed in multiple ways. You’re my original church family. All of this started with you.

To Alan: Without Work Camps in my life, this year wouldn’t have happened.

To First Presbyterian Church, Auburn, AL: To such a diverse, vibrant community, thank you for challenging me, for molding me, and for giving me keys to that church bus. Just kidding. But the freedom to be creative and to work alongside Perrin and the rest of the staff to materialize passions was never appreciated enough. So thank you. And to the FPCA staff: Y’all are awesome!

To Rachel and Lisa: You both make me so glad our denomination ordains women. Where the hell would I be without you two?

To Terry and Mary: Thank you for all the blog comments and the mail. They were always treasured.

To Dr. Webb: The emails meant so much.

To Sue: You are one of my favorite ladies, in case you didn’t know that.

To Wilbur: I haven’t had biscuits and gravy in a year. Now what are we going to do about that, friend?

To Betsy and Michael: I should have gotten college credit for all that I learned at your dinner table.

To the youth and their families: Can’t wait to see all of you soon!

To Tom, John, Jessie, William, and the Bethel group: Had a blast seeing y’all in Belfast!

To the Harley family friends: Looking forward to seeing y’all soon in Greeneville! Thanks for keeping Pam and Randy out of trouble for a year.

To my Auburn boys and the one Bama boy, and y’all know who you are: (Insert clever and perhaps inappropriate comments that translate to ‘thanks.’)

To Allison: What are you doing in two weeks?

To Greg and Patrick: Thanks for visiting and for being lifelong friends and brothers. The next one’s on me.

To Mom and Dad: I love you. For everything, thank you.

The last night the YAVs were together at Doug’s home, he shared this Blessing with us. I offer it as a Closing:

Mighty God, Father of all,

Compassionate God, Mother of all,

Bless every person I have met,

every face I have seen,

every voice I have heard, 

especially those most dear;

Bless every street I have known,

every home I have entered,

Bless every sight I have seen,

every sound I have heard,

every person whose life I have touched 

and been touched by.

In some mysterious way

these have all fashioned my life;

All that I am, 

I have received.

What I am still becoming,

all of these help determine.

Great God, bless this part of your world,

these members of your family, and bless

the experiences which have been part of

living here.

Amen.

(adapted from a blessing by John J Morris, SJ, founder of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.)

I would say, “The end,” but in the words of Gracie Allen, “Never put a period where God puts a comma.”


time flies when you’re…

NEEDTOBREATHE’s Moving On

As I met with Doug for essentially our last one-to-one before I leave, I told him all about how much I have loved and valued the summer programs with which I’ve worked over the past few weeks. DFCI’s Family Fun Week in Ballybeen and PeacePlayers’ Belfast Interface Games in both North Belfast and West Belfast have brought me so much fulfillment. All three of those weeks were positive experiences to have at the end of this year. However, as one can probably tell from my posts on the 12th, I struggled with what was going on in Northern Ireland during that part of July. That week was not as positive as the week before and the two after. It’s felt a bit like emotional whiplash as I prepare to make my departure. And Doug summed it up really well today by saying, “As different as the experiences were of the 12th of July and the summer programs of which you’ve been a part, Patrick, they are both real.”

That got me thinking. I’ve experienced a lot this year. And every experience has had a whole host of thoughts and emotions to accompany it. But as different as they all have been, they have all been real.

 

This post is simply a list of some of my greatest joys in the work I did and some of my most ridiculous and random extracurriculars. This year has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, filled with rich experiences, unexpected challenges, and a lot of growth. As I look back, seeing such a blur of memories, I remind myself that each moment was real and it deserves to be treasured. But isn’t that how it works? We forget to stop and smell the roses, treasuring the precious time we have with people and places. And time just keeps ging. The years fly by. And this one has been no exception.

 

I guess time flies when you’re…

 

eating pigeon.

singing, “Stand up for the Ulster Men!” at the semi-final match.

laying on the grass in the Botanic Gardens after just getting a tattoo.

seeing the RHCP in Croke Park in Dublin.

getting “War Eagles” at the Guinness factory.

writing poetry during Lent.

saving trash to make art out of it.

Getting nicknames from the kids of Ballybeen.

climbing the Mournes in the middle of the night.

playing Gaelic football, soccer, and rugby in one day.

holding a newborn.

telling Greg that the top of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh is just another “wee dander” away. It wasn’t.

swimming in the Irish Sea.

reading in a coffee shop for over four hours.

meeting the First Minister of Northern Ireland and being confused about who the hell he is.

witnessing a flash mob.

wearing a “tacky Christmas jumper” and elf hat to meet my parents at the airport.

making kids cry while wearing a panda suit. (Unintentional.)

chatting with the local hardware shop owner about running long distances.

holding a handwritten (in latin) gospel of Luke from the 12th Century.

dancing at a Céilidh.

drinking a Scottish brew while taking in the sites on the ferry from Oban to the Isle of Mull.

learning how to play the bohran.

listening to kids tell me funny sentences to say in the Irish language.

getting sick form compost coleslaw. (Long story.)

watching the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics live with Northern Irish, Spanish, and American people.

the only American playing in a street ball tournament.

salsa dancing with Polish girls.

sitting at a cafe in Amsterdam discussing politics.

zooming through the Hunger Games.

training for a marathon. (Actually, everything marathon related went by very. Very. Slowly.)

eating a cheeseburger filled with haggis on the Royal Mile.

watching a friend running with the Olympic torch. Then, an hour later, holding the Olympic torch.

having your hat stolen by seven kids in one day, each threatening to only give it back if I stay.

 

I hope I continue to value this year, in all of its fullness, remembering that every experience was very, very real.

 

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist. That is all.” -Oscar Wilde


“RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!”

As the kids were leaving the sanctuary after the Children’s Talk, one little, very spirited and lovable boy was sprinting out the back, screaming, “Run for your lives!”

I sense that I was either the only one who heard him or the only one who found it entertaining, because I was laughing by myself. I know this kid, and I know that he obviously wasn’t making some profound comment on the service. He was just being a kid who’s imagination had thrown him into a world where there was impending danger, so there wasn’t any reason to take it very seriously. However, on another level, can’t we all relate? Don’t we all have those moments where we want to literally sprint out the back door, screaming a warning to others? Storm out of the office? Overturn a desk at school? Sprint out of the church? Some days it just feels like a good time to throw up the arms and exit stage left.

The kid’s extreme sanctuary exit reminded me of the Take Two Beers and Jump! social media phenomenon. In 2010, a flight attendant by the name of Steven Slater had had enough as the plane landed in New York. A passenger had struck the final nerve by cursing at Steve, and Steve went to the microphone, dropped the ‘F-Bomb’ in the direction of the passenger, grabbed two beers from the plane refrigerator, and after deploying the inflatable emergency slide, he bailed. He became an instant web sensation. SNL star Jimmy Fallon even included Steve’s story in a song.

Let’s be honest. Steve’s actions were extremely irresponsible, but kind of awesome, too. We’ve all been to that point many times and in many situations. Only we haven’t gone through with it because we didn’t think it would be worth the implications, didn’t have the guts, or there wasn’t any cold beer to take. It’s natural for all of us to want to scream “Run for your lives!” as we run out of the room, to want to yell expletives into a microphone, grab those two brewskies, and peace-out.

One of the best things and one of the worst things about being in Belfast is that I’m not home. Not in Greeneville, not in Auburn. Not a phone call away. Not a get-in-the-car-and-go distance from friends and family. I haven’t realized how hard it is to be away from friends, family, and communities until the past few weeks. Several people close to me have lost loved ones, found themselves in exciting or stressful times of transition, or are “at their limit” when it comes to what life has thrown at them. And it feels like “being there for them” doesn’t mean a thing because geography begs to differ. Whether we’re simply frustrated and want to pull a Steve Slater or whether we are going through something pretty heavy, we need some support.

This post isn’t about having the answers for when we find ourselves and others in situations of frustration or grief, wanting to crawl into a cave or wanting to take two beers and jump. Too often, “Christians” like to act like they have the answers. They (we) don’t. (Please, if you haven’t seen this, read 10 Cliches Christians Should Avoid.) Instead of throwing around so-called “answers” to one another when we’re in crappy times, we should just focus on being there for each other.

The last time I preached at Dundonald Methodist Church, I used this news clip about a home run that turned into a deeply moving display of sportsmanship. It’s a true testament and example of what it means to carry others, even when it’s not easy.

Throughout this year I have learned how important it is to be there for others, how much it means to carry others and to be carried when we’re struggling, when we’re ready to run out on our churches, our jobs, our houses screaming, “Run for your lives!”

So how about we cutdown on offering attempts at answers when bad things happen and when we’re frustrated with the day-to-day, and focus more on carrying one another around the bases?


the 12th (cont’d)

Minoring in anthropology meant that I not only had a passion about other cultures, but that I was one of those folks that valued cultural relativity. But it’s been hard to be sensitive the past 24 hours.

Seeing bonfires that are a few stories high is one thing. To then see the tricolor (Irish flag) placed on top of them so that it burns is another. Yesterday, I watched as parents and their children spray-painted hateful acronyms like “K.A.T.” (Kill All Taigs, a derogatory term for Catholics) and “F.T.P.” (Fuck The Pope) onto flags and big pieces of plywood. That’s not what I would think of as a good father/son bonding moment.

Most bonfire sites, and there were MANY, lit the “kid bonfires” early.

Then at midnight the large ones were lit.

This photo is not mine, and is from a few years ago. Yes, that is the Pope being hung on the top.

(Also, this photo is not mine.)

I watched as a dad, after he and several others drenched the wood in gasoline, handed a torch to a 6 yr old to “do the honors.” Everyone cheered, drank, and enjoyed the fire’s warmth on such a cold evening. Then, just as excitement seem to settle, the Irish flag was consumed. The children were the first to cheer, then came the exuberant adults, sounding as if they had just won the lottery or something.

(This photo is also not my own. At the lit bonfires I didn’t have my camera.)

At most bonfire sites, there were DJs and kid-friendly activities throughout the day leading up to the evening festivities. Red, white, and blue was everywhere.

Except for the green, white, and gold that waited  on the wood pile to be torched. I watched as pop music was blasted, kids danced, and parents waived flags…while a 15 ft x 20 ft sign that said “K.A.T.” sat in the background.

The parades this morning have done nothing but added to more tensions, as you can see form this news report and videos from The Guardian. And then many from the Catholic communities will do whatever they can, going out of their way, to get offended, finding an excuse to throw the first petrol bomb.

Again, it’s hard to have sensitivity. This isn’t cultural heritage. It’s drunken, ignorant hate. It isn’t respect for tradition, but a celebration of violence, oppression, and terror. And the worst part is, children are taught this shit from day 1.

The tricolor is obviously called so because of the three colors: Green, white, and orange. The green represents the Catholic, Irish population. The orange, the Protestant, British population (after King William of Orange). The white is for the peace that unites them.

Yeah…

Fires were meant to keep us warm, to be light in the darkness. Not a tool for destruction of a people’s flag. Not for consuming Pope dolls and Nationalist politician signs. Not for hate. But I guess, as an outsider who came here because it’s the YAV “Peacemaking and Reconciliation” site, all I can do is use this as fuel for the last two weeks with the PeacePlayer events I have coming up, knowing even more the importance of continuing the efforts of bringing people (children, especially) together.

Lord, hear our prayers.


the 12th

The 12 of July is a big deal in Northern Ireland. Here’s a Wikipedia (so take it for what it’s worth) article on it. Throughout Protestant communities, bonfires will be lit at midnight tonight while parades march tomorrow. I’ll offer more on this controversial celebration after I see a few of the “festivities” over the next 24 hours. Tension is high, so let’s all hope for the best, and that people don’t let any of this already over-the-top activity get out of hand.

For local conversation, here’s some  online articles from the Belfast Telegraph.

Peter Robinson Parades Commission is Part of the Problem

Ardoyne: ‘It’s Not A Matter of if There’ll be Trouble, But When…’

Twelfth is the Worst Day of My Year, Says UDA Boss


the wild goose

Some music for your listening pleasure while you read: Natalie MacMaster’s David’s JigEven though she’s from Nova Scotia, this dynamite Canadian fiddler can set the mood for most things Irish or Scottish.

Throughout the year Northern Ireland YAVs take three retreats as a group. Our first was to the North Coast to see the Giant’s Causeway and visit the Corrymeela Community, and our second retreat was to County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. This past week we spent five days in Scotland. The first half of our week was on the Isle of Iona, a very small, rugged island off the west coast of Scotland. (I think Iona is about 3 miles by 1 mile in land area. If you’re really interested, feel free to google it and let me know the exact math.) To get to Iona from Belfast, we had to take a plane, a bus, a train, another train, a ferry, another bus, and another ferry followed by a mile walk to the hostel…with a healthy side of both coffee and patience.

Iona is the center of inspiration for the The Iona Community, a community that describes itself as “a dispersed Christian ecumenical community working for peace and social justice, rebuilding of community and the renewal of worship.” An emphasis in The Iona Community’s spirituality, which we encountered during our time of worship in Iona Abbey, is a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit: The Wild Goose. This metaphor is built on the reality that the Holy Spirit is not subject to rules, but is spontaneous, unpredictable, and undomesticated.

The worship, which is fairly short and simple, takes place at 9am and 9pm in the Abbey.

As we entered the first night in our raincoats and weary from a full day of travel,  we were greeted by this bookshelf filled with Bibles in dozens of languages.

This is a simple symbol for the inclusivity of the Iona Community.

We sat among strangers, many of whom had traveled quite a distance to be there, as worship began. I believe that many of us (YAVs, that is)  found feelings of homesickness almost immediately. I know I was feeling it. It was the first time in ten months I was immersed in a worship service that emphasized liturgy and traditional music. I think that first evening had some string instruments, a piano, and some sort of hand drum. (Not sure. I couldn’t see the musicians from where I was sitting.) Churches in the protestant contexts in Northern Ireland, on the whole, have more contemporary services that often use more evangelical and more exclusive language. I confess that at the Abbey I loved reciting rich liturgy and singing out of an old, worn hymnal. I loved the tradition. I hadn’t been on the island more than a few hours, but I felt at home.

Worship for the Iona Community is not just about what happens in the Abbey. It continues as you leave the doors. As you leave the island. As you go back to your little piece of real estate. That’s why another aspect at the center of the Iona Community, as emphasized by the founder, George MacLeod, is that there is no division between the secular and the sacred. Our God is not a God of divisions, a God that will only work through what we brand as ‘sacred’ forsaking what some call ‘secular’. God is bigger. All of creation (yep, that includes humanity…stinky, imperfect humanity) has worth and can be a catalyst through which the Spirit works and brings about peace and justice. We just have to have eyes to see that there is no division, except for the divisions we construct. But that’s the hard part. Breaking down the divisions in our minds that our societies, churches, and friends have told us are there. But it all starts by seeing one human being who’s different than you as an equal, someone from whom you can learn. Seeing them as just another traveler, made from the same dust with the same blood flowing through the veins. As Adam said to Eve in that old story we’ve all heard, “You are bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” (Kind of set the bar high for pickup lines, huh? Thanks, Adam. Jerk.)

So how’s about we all try to see the world (and other people, for that matter) a bit differently? No divisions to be maintained and enforced. Just bridges to be built, conversations to have. It won’t be easy. But when was easy part of the deal? We can’t stay on our little islands, the Abbeys where we feel safe, forever.

When you start to look at things in a new way, the untamable, spontaneous Wild Goose may surprise you.

“‘[Aslan] doesn’t like being tied down…He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.’”  -C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

PS. Here’s some photos from Iona. Enjoy!


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