21 May 2013

And now for the answer portion of our evening...

Awhile back I opened myself up for another question-and-answer session, and I've finally gotten around to compiling and answering a few of your popular questions:

How is Ireland? Shamrock. Leprechaun. Guinness. 
OK, I'm a little surprised to still be getting questions like this. Belfast is in Northern Ireland, which is a different country from the Republic of Ireland (for those who are more recent followers of my blog, I will direct you here for a more in-depth explanation).

Asking someone in Northern Ireland about living in Ireland is like asking a Canadian how they like being from the States. Same land mass, different countries. There is still significant Irish culture here - street signs in Nationalist neighborhoods are written in both English and Irish, and you'll likely see Irish tricolour flags flying in these areas... but since I work for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), my placements are in largely Unionist areas. In that case, the question might be more appropriate as, "How is Northern Ireland? Union Flag. Cuppa Tea. Bonfires..."

After all that, the answer, of course, would be that it's great craic (translate). I'm really enjoying the opportunity to be here, to spend time with the people I've met here, and to take weekend trips to places like the Giant's Causeway or Blarney castle.

Have you picked up any local habits or sayings?
Things I've caught myself saying (in total seriousness), and was completely surprised to hear come out of my mouth:
  • I haven't a baldy (or a baldy notion). - I have no idea.
  • Ach, she's a wee dote. Give us a nurse. - Your baby is adorable. Let me hold her.
  • He completely does my head in, he's mustard. - He drives me crazy, he's stubborn.
  • Dead on - all right
  • He's always taking the mick out of her - He is playfully making fun of her.
  • I haven't seen him in donkeys - it has been a long time.
I'm sure there are others, but these are the ones I can think of for now. 

When are you coming home?
Well, it depends on what you consider "home"... I'll fly into the States on 7th August, and spend a few weeks at my childhood home in Orlando. I will then head back to my adopted home of Louisville - timeline is still TBD, but I'd like to be in O-town for my baby brother's birthday on 18th August and in Cincinnati for my niece's on 23rd August... so that's the general idea.

What will you do when you get home?
Yes, I am looking for jobs. Not-so-officially, since I'm still about 3 months away from being back in Louisville, but more like considering what the next year has in store. I may head back to the corporate realm as an administrative assistant (which I've done for the past 12 years), head back to school, or embark on some other adventure that is a combination of the above. Time will tell.

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.


Today is Pentecost. The story that any of us who grew up in the church will likely associate with those photos of cartoons with fire above their heads, or crafts involving glue sticks and plenty of tissue paper (or popsicle sticks, as all the best are).

Over the years, I've been to plenty of different Pentecost services - some done really well, some less so. My favorite, of course, will have to be the Sweaty Sheep service that included water balloon fights, liturgical dancers and communion using breads and foods from all over the world.

Photo by Michael Whitman
Today, Fortwilliam and Macrory had a guest preacher, the Rev. Dr. John Dunlop. His message addressed waiting: how none of us like to wait, but when the thing that we are waiting on is the Spirit of God, we can't move forward without it. He focused on the diversity of the crowd gathered that morning, waiting together, gathering in God's name. All of those different gifts, opinions and personalities in one place. Each person gathered in that room was unique, but they all had names. They were all touched by the Spirit.

This message reminded me of the YAV program, which is appropriate since much of the funding for this program comes from the Pentecost Offering. We are young, we are exuberant, and we are sent out in the name of God despite our differing gifts, opinions and personalities to join in the celebration of the global church.

Pentecost is being celebrated today across the world in a vast array of cultures and languages, and my fellow YAVs are there: in Guatemala, in Kenya, in Tucson, in New Orleans and so many other communities. Learning, sharing and growing with others because of our shared purpose.

In the spirit of this global sending, I ask a favor: if the Pentecost Offering is not taken in your church, click the link above or text "young" to 20222 to give $10 to the PC(USA). To fund this program more directly, there are still a few NI YAVs who need a little help with their fundraising requirements. Please consider a donation in honor of Pentecost to Kathryn, who is doing great work this year at the East Belfast Mission.

For those interested in learning more about the YAV program, please visit http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/yav/.

16 May 2013

Welcome to Thirty.

It's official. I've been "in my thirties" for a week now, and I'd like to take the opportunity to thank all of you who made it so special!

Although my birthday was on Thursday, I felt very lucky to be celebrated all week by the people I've held nearest and dearest in my time here. Kicking off the week on Monday with a red velvet cake Veronica baked for our Bible Study was certainly a great start! Everyone was so kind and generous.

I got to spend the actual day at the Vine - lunch club with the pensioners and homework club with the wee ones - an hilarious balance of those who consider 30 to be very young with those who consider 30 to be very old!

After work, my friend David and I rushed to the bus station for our 5.5-hour trip to Cork. We spent the next two days exploring the city and incredible grounds at Blarney Castle - yes, I kissed the stone!

We made it back to Belfast for work on Sunday, but my special birthday treats were not yet over! Last year, when my friend Bill learned I would be spending the year in the British Isles, he told me about Scottish singer Julie Fowlis - who some might recognize from the soundtrack for the Disney movie Brave. So when I heard that she would be performing in Belfast, I was sold! What a great show - it was held in a tent with little twinkle lights dancing in the breeze, and the whole thing was just a bit magical. Here's the end of their set: 

and the song from the movie (the only song that wasn't sung in Scottish Gaelic):

While my life has now more or less returned to business as usual after 2 weeks mentally dedicated to Derby and birthday, in the end even though hitting 30 was a scary milestone... it's not so bad on the other side!