19 May 2013

Guest post: Richard Higginson

Each month in our church newsletter, we invite the congregation, staff or community members to write an opinion piece. This month's piece was written by my coworker, Richard, who talked to members of Tiger's Bay (where we do much of our outreach) about their opinions of cultural displays in their community. I thought it would be an interesting perspective to include here - so I got his permission to repost for your reading pleasure!

I Hear Voices
Richard Higginson

Voices over the proposed peace wall amendments at Duncairn:
How would you like it if you looked out of your window everyday through a 30ft height barred fence - do people want to keep living in prisons?

There'll be no walls coming down here. No one's come and talked to us for starters. If you lived up against the interface, would you feel safe when / if it was removed? Of course you wouldn't. They'll be stoning your windees and petrol bombing you just like before. Nothing has changed. This community will not be ready for another 30 or 40 years.

Voices over "shared space" 
Shared Space is totally one-sided. Why is it always us that has to share? Where isn't there shared space in Republican areas like the New Lodge? Enough is enough. We're not giving up any more ground. Shared space is nothing more than a Nationalist/Republican strategy to take over our land.

Shared space must be totally neutral - cultural symbols, flags, or traditions must not be practiced in such a place.

Voices over kerbstone painting and bonfire
Look at what they done! It’s all around the community centre and the doctor’s surgery too. There's catholics goes there you know. What are they going to think now?

They say they want more housing. How are they going to get more housing when they've made the place look like a dump! 


Maybe we're sick and tired of hearing these voices? Maybe we're hearing them for the first time? Maybe I'm reflecting your voice in these reflections? Hearing voices thrusts us into the chaos and complexity around the issues held dear by the people around us. If we dare to ask the questions, and if we care to listen, we might regret it when we experience the discharge of raw, pent-up emotion. Nevertheless, when we open up channels of communication in this way, we help each other to become conscious of their own opinion, and often our own opinion becomes clear. This is the first step. The next is to not only become conscious of what others think, but to receive it - like a gift, however unwelcome it may feel. That’s not easy to do.

When we begin to receive a number of different opinions as well as our own, our tendency to rush to solutions becomes halted by an appreciation of complexity. For example: How can communities like Tigers Bay generate a demand for housing when its appearance can be viewed as uninviting, hostile or intimidating? How can the celebration of national/cultural identity or remembrance of the past in N.Ireland be accepted without perceived threat or triumphalism? What degree of community safety and confidence is required to broker breaches in peace walls? Or are these things ever elusive for traumatised societies like Inner North Belfast?

So why bother in the first place?

Maybe we feel a sense of obligation? - that's what Christians ought to do. Maybe we can't get away from it despite want of trying? But maybe it’s because the Son is rising in our hearts? - the Creator and Sustainer of all things, (Col 1:16-17) the One who has reconciled all things to himself, (Col 1:20) destroying the dividing wall of hostility (Eph 2:14). The One who has become our Peace, and the One who entrusts us with the ministry of peace through the power of the Son (Matt 5:9, 2Cor 5:18-21). If this is our chosen reality, by faith, then there is great hope in the midst of hopelessness. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed, and so he became the father of many nations... (Rom 4:18) Because the love of God has the final word, no one is a write off! Everyone is included in the journey of learning to see ourselves and each other as God the Father sees us. May the eternal life that God has given us in the unity of the Son be unveiled to us as we turn our hearts towards His face.

Richard Higginson has been the Bricks to Bridges Project Development Worker at Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church since January 2011. He works as a self-employed Community Relations Consultant following the completion of a Masters degree in Conflict Transformation through the Centre for Justice & Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia, USA.

Richard currently lives in North Belfast with his wife and two children.

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