Gardener’s love this time of year. Weeding in the sunshine seems to bring those with ‘green fingers’ such evident delight and therapeutic wonder.
The weather we are currently being blessed with in Northern Ireland (much more akin to California) is conducive to many more recreational pursuits and fun. Apparently over 1300 cars lined the strand beach at Portstewart, Co. Londonderry, on Friday past. Families and individuals enjoying the fantastic warm sunshine amidst the stunning surroundings of our naturally beautiful North Coast. It was wonderful to see. When the sun shines here, there is no place on planet earth I would rather be.
Unfortunately, however, there is a much more sinister, sectarian-oriented section of our society which continues to dominate and taint life for all of the rest of us decent citizens longing for a better Northern Ireland. We seem to have a small minority of our population who persist in another form of recreation. A form of recreational violence, coming to the streets and disrupting others’ lives, amidst declaring their right to ‘protest’ and uphold their human rights to march and go into any area of the country all because of a desire to flaunt their allegiance to a victory which took place over 313 years ago, and defeated a Catholic King James.
Much is rightly being made of this year’s 12th of July parades and resultant disruption, (specifically in the Ardoyne area of West Belfast, and the Woodvale Road). I have deliberately listened to all sides and not jumped in ‘feet first’ with a response to all this. Listening is a lost art and holds a key part to play, I believe, in the way forward for this country. Though as in society as a whole, listening would appear to be a dying art form, so limited and in little regard by most except maybe the best counselors out there.
Currently as I type, reports are coming through of yet more bomb blasts and disruption aimed at the PSNI (our local Police Service of Northern Ireland) on the lower Newtonards Road area of East Belfast. Co-incidentally, however, I have just driven past there on my way from a friend’s house and have thankfully not witnessed anything except a few white police vans driving past. (For those reading this from far off lands, this can be so often the case with media-presented presentations of life in Northern Ireland. Skewed at best, mis-representative at worst).
In relation to all that’s gone on here over the 12th weekend, many right thinking, ‘decent’ people of Northern Ireland are quite sick of the lack of real leadership seen in direct connection with these specific fractured parts of the land many of us love so dearly.
Millions of people looking on from the outside, and indeed those originally from other shores now living permanently in Northern Ireland are still unsure about what, even, the 12th of July is really all about, or why the Orange Order exists and continues as it does, to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne and King William III ‘Prince of Orange’s’ victory back in 1690? It seems crazy to many that King William III (King Billy, as he is affectionately known by many Protestants and loyalists), spent just 12 days here in Ulster from 14th June, until 26th June, 1690, and here we are dealing with the repercussions 313 years later. Welcome to the complex world of Northern Ireland.
Rightly or wrongly, our phenomenal history and heritage (which American’s, and others, are fascinated by) comes with many ongoing expensive baggage costs.
I am not about to go into a major history lesson here. You can read up on this yourselves if you want. These matters are highly complex and deeply emotive. I will say, however, that I firmly believe that this local issue needs stronger, bolder, mature leadership from local people: local leaders who are from here and understand the intricate nature of the complexities we are dealing with, yet who show the maturity so severely lacking. Leaders who can rise above the sometimes moronic behavior and continual defensiveness and blame-shifting we have seen (and continue to see and hear) from the wider echelons of Stormont and beyond.
The violence we are seeing erupt onto the streets on Friday, (and sadly right up until tonight and who knows when?), are the shoots of issues which demand to be dealt with at their roots. Gardeners have much to teach us in this season. Weeds can only really be dealt with if they are dealt with at their core. Otherwise the problems we see will continue to damage and disrupt Northern Ireland’s progress and advancement into a more civilized society in the 21st century. The cancerous roots of our rather dysfunctional, unique society need to be treated. Otherwise these surface level issues which are boiling away just beneath at other times of the year will continue to erupt and degenerate into top level disruption in this otherwise potential-filled little nation.
The events of this past weekend are sadly no real surprise to those of us who’ve grown up here or lived here for any length of time, but many of us are deeply fed-up with the continued oblivion and denial our leaders seem to linger in during the winter months, when such sectarian problems and issues should be addressed more boldly and bluntly in order to prevent what we saw, and continue to deal with, happening.
Yet as we look around, one asks, where are the leaders who are willing to rise up and act maturely and take responsibility? On the one hand we have the Orange Order calling people to protest, then at the last minute to save face calling it off (again, one wonders, is this little more than total lack of guts and wisdom?); to the Republicans and Nationalists ready to revel in the Loyalists and Unionists who continue to do little but shoot themselves in the foot, as it were, with their own seeming stupidity.
Where are all the leaders of our land, those politicians elected by the people, willing to act as their calling determines, with courage and a sincere example?
It is time, also, for the Churches and leaders of the main denominations who have many members and leaders in the Orange Order to take a long hard look at their involvement in the Orange Order, and see where does this stance and involvement in such a fraternal organization really get justified, if one is to call oneself a ‘follower of Jesus Christ’, the “Prince of Peace?”
The Loyalist paramilitary members who have recently joined sections of the Orange Order in Institutions near Belfast need to reconsider what they have signed up to: Is the Orange Order really truly the Institution it says it is on its website, rather nobly:
“As Orangemen our trust is in God and our faith and dependence is in Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Lord of mankind. Our purpose is to maintain the Christian faith by word and deed; to propagate and defend that faith which we have received from the Church of the New Testament through the faithfulness of the Protestant Reformers. It is Christ-centred, Bible-based, Church-grounded. By it we are moulded in character and conduct.
“The Orange Institution is set for the defence of Protestantism. This is true to the intention of Orangemen who are committed to the Christian faith with its Reformation emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the Lord and Saviour of mankind. There are also the Protestant beliefs in freedom of conscience; the priesthood of all believers and the primary place and purpose of the Holy Bible in Christian faith and conduct.
We proclaim “Civil and religious liberty for all : special privileges for none”. We do not deny to others their civil and religious liberties; we expect the same tolerance from them. We shall be strong for truth, for peace, for the making of a good, fair and just society to which we shall contribute liberally as good citizens.”
What does this really mean?
If Orangemens’ trust is truly “in God”, what about God the Father, (for example), the Father of love and mercy and goodness and compassion, and the Holy Spirit who is biblically our teacher, Comforter, Counselor and ever present form of God, mystically, as we live for him on earth? What does one do with one’s God when one sanctions people to come out and eagerly endorse hundreds coming onto the hot streets of Belfast, when one really trusts in the living God?
What do those associated with the Orange Order really think they are portraying to the world or those around them, (not least their Catholic neighbors), with less then Christ-like behavior associated with recent events? Of course I widely and happily acknowledge there are many Orangemen (and women) who are upstanding members of the local communities they live in, but in being ‘strong for truth, for peace, for the making of a good, fair and just society,’ do they really think calling people to protest and create such an atmosphere as is being witnessed in recent days is really a good way to go about it?
The future of this great “wee country” is at stake here, and I for one long to see a better solution to all the shoots we are seeing explode, ongoingly, in the minor (but yet very significant) elements of our still extremely divided society. I believe Northern Ireland is a great little place to live, a great little place to grow up, and a great place to bring up a family. It’s why the vast majority of law-abiding hard working citizens deserve better. Is it really too much to ask, to see a vision for a united, law-abiding country and society which can not only tolerate one another, but embrace one another? Not only live beside each other, but support one another? Not only exist alongside one another, but compliment one another?
We have more in common than people from the opposing ‘sides’ care to admit. The problem is, it’s not really the religious battle it has been portrayed as at all. It is oh so much more complicated, and many strongholds exist beneath the visible realm of our sick societal sectarianism which is as fierce as it ever was in 2013, (though who in the Stormont executive would dare admit it?) These are sincere strongholds, and roots which only the most insightful, discerning gardeners, abiding in the vine, connected to their master gardener, can clearly see and then hope to deal with and uproot.
This is where real Christians come in. No longer a time for talk, or indeed rampant easy judgementalism (it is all too easy to judge these matters, and offer little other than an ill-thought out social media rant, for example).
If you are reading this and call yourself a Christian, when was the last time you actually prayed for Northern Ireland and the leaders of this land? It is easy to be judgemental and negative, but really, how seriously are you or I taking the commands of the New Testament, to PRAY for those in power and authority over us, regardless of whether we like them, or their politics, or not?
Even further, how many of you Christians reading this from Northern Ireland have ever fasted for this land?
Now there’s a radical thought. Not.
Jesus said ‘when’ you fast, not ‘if’ you fast. If you don’t believe me, take a fresh read at Matthew Chapters 5 – 7. It was never meant to be an option or choice beyond simply obeying and doing it. Where are the leaders of the main churches living out these kingdom realities, and living out the Sermon On The Mount more readily than simply condemning (in a bigoted fashion) those of the apparently ‘opposite’ side?
(Thankfully there are some whom I can think of, and I am thankful indeed for those great, inspirational people).
We need, however more. What would it look like if we called a regular day of prayer and fasting, for example, say, on the 1st of every month, for specific prayer and intercession for Northern Ireland?
Do you want to join me in a little experiment in doing so, beginning this Thursday? If so, you can drop me a little reply and say you are going to join me.
Faith without deeds is dead. We all, in this little land of ours, have our ‘wee’ part to play, and though we may feel very (rightly) disconnected from all the violent sectarian behavior going on in very limited small areas of Northern Ireland right now, we each have our part to play if this small, but significant, country is to arise and become all it is meant to be, and take it’s place properly as a serious democratic Western country no longer intent on living and camping in its sectarian past. No longer the bastard, illegitimate child of a parent longing for us to grow up and start taking responsibility for our own actions.
So come on leaders. Govern diligently (and to those few who are trying, thank you and keep going!).
Come on Church, let’s arise and shine and pray without ceasing. A call to prayer is going out, and I can only think of those famous words in 2 Chronicles 7 v 14, “If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face; and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sins and heal this land.”
Consider joining me, if you are a Christian reading this, in a day of prayer and fasting for this land, starting this Thursday, and every Thursday for the weeks that follow on from here. 9am til 9pm.
Then we can see the roots of the disorder begin to be uprooted, shoots be dug out, and true kingdom orderliness come to this land, instead of all the despicable disorder associated with the Orange Order, Republican dissidents and beyond.
We owe it to the next generation of gardener’s in this world.