Peace Players, a Flashmob, and My Dorito Dogs

27 03 2012

Wearing our sweatpants, basketball shoes, and official Peace Players International t-shirts, we walked along the peace wall towards Carr’s Glen Primary School. As coaches, we always receive the warmest welcome of high-fives from the children playing outside. I had never met most of these kids, but the fact that I was carrying a bag of basketballs and wearing that t-shirt seemed to elevate me to Justin Bieber status in their eyes. Good way to start the day, yeah?

How does Peace Players work? We have Twinnings, and this word comes from the idea of “twinning” two schools together. One school is catholic, one is protestant (only about 5-6% of the Northern Ireland population would go through an integrated school). The twinning meets once a week for an hour and a half session for eight weeks, and the kids are divided into often four teams with around ten per team (each team is half kids of a catholic context, half from a protestant context). The first session is at a neutral location like a recreation center. The second session meets at one of the schools, the third session at the other school, and the last five sessions are back at the neutral location. When we meet at the schools, the host school does some sort of presentation. (This can be anything from a skit to pictures to a game with everyone. The point is that the children from that school lead it.) The twinning with which I coach is Carr’s Glen (protestant) and St. Clare’s (catholic). This was session three, and the Carr’s Glen children would share their presentation first thing.

We finally get through the children playing outside and into the front doors of the school. We sign-in, go down the hall, and enter through the double doors into the gym. The kids are already sitting in their teams. My team, the Dorito Dogs, are in the far left corner. A teacher immediately comes up to us and says, “Don’t make any announcements. Just wait, and let it happen.”

We try not to look too confused and simply nod. Suddenly, music blasts into the gym. One boy (for the record, from the Dorito Dogs) jumps to his face and begins to fist bump to some pop song I should probably know. And then two girls from other teams are on their feet, doing the same gesture. The coaches look at each other, and in unison and excitement we say, “It’s a flashmob!”

The songs continue to change and more and more Carr’s Glen kids jump in to do what they’ve been rehearsing. And finally, as the last song comes on, every Carr’s Glen child goes and takes the hand of one of their teammates from St. Clare’s and pulls them out to the dance floor. The school gym has transformed into one big dance party.

This moment was easily one of the highlights of my time in Belfast, and what a statement it was! In one of many parts of the city where some kids would be seen most mornings throwing rocks and glass at each other through gates and openings in the peace walls, they were taking each other by the hand and dancing like fools.

Here’s the blog done about this Twinning on the Peace Players website, including footage of the flashmob (well what we could get…it did catch us by surprise, after all) that’s definitely worth seeing!

http://blog.peaceplayersintl.org/2012/03/15/st-clares-and-carrs-glen-reunited/





Coffee Stains

27 03 2012

I take a seat at the cafe,

our usual Monday meeting place.

Tired, still, from a morning run,

I stare forward into space.

 

My heavy eyes begin to see clearly

these newly acquired stains

from the coffee here before me

and the story this icon contains.

 

Two transparent brown rings,

as if interlocking by design,

rest patiently on the wood.

(These are a regular site to find.)

 

It’s common in this culture

where business is done ‘round coffee and tea,

to see remnants of gatherings past

in the table, and many would agree.

 

Is there a story behind this cuppa,

a story that wants so deeply to be told?

A profound tale of conversation,

an elaborate mystery to unfold?

 

Perhaps just ‘business as usual,’

or a quick drink while folks wait,

or maybe that lonely moment

when you’ve been stood-up by your mate.

 

Was this the scene of Belfast gossip,

where the who’s who talk of the what’s what?

Or the table where two lovers met,

or a tragic break-up, where all ties were cut?

 

Is it sad not to know,

or extraordinary to know not,

what’s under the coffee stains,

the tale within that java blot?

 

It might just be the liberty

to wonder, dream, and make up

the stories behind the everyday sites

because our imaginations we then wake up.





To Friendship

22 03 2012

 

“May the roof above us never fall in,

And may we friends gathered below

Never fall out”

-An Irish toast to Friendship

 

Last week, one of my best friends from “growing up” came to visit. And within ten seconds of seeing him, like a couple others from my childhood, I knew that we’re still best friends. So this poem is in honor of Patrick B.’s visit (yep, he’s a Patrick as well), and the good times he and I had experiencing Belfast, walking through castles, getting drenched at the Causeway (not me, of course, but him), laughing in pubs, hiking in mountains, talking for hours in the living room of our YAV house, and getting lost in Dublin. More than once.

To Dave, Kathryn, Simon, Gayle, Jacob, Wilma, Anne, Clem, Andy, Lynne, David, and Vera…thank you so much for the hospitality, great food, conversation, and for making his visit so great. Y’all are great friends!

So my poem (which was meant for last week…yep, late on my Lent “taking-up,” but better late than never!) is on friendship. I decided to try a haiku this week, mostly because I couldn’t get into a “deep profound poem” kind of mood. That’s is no way bashing on haikus by saying they’re easy. They’re not, when done well (in contrast to my silly attempts). It’s just that they don’t have to rhyme. So without further ado…

 

True, solid friendship

means your friend will not judge you

(at least not out loud).

 

This first one is true for many of us. Friends still judge friends in as harsh of a way, or even harsher, than strangers. But they always do it in their heads with a smile. Also, the third line was contributed by fellow YAV and housemate, Ellison. He’s a friend. And I wonder if his inspiration for that third line comes from his friendship with me…

 

Friends of many years

will not laugh at how foolish

you look in public.

 

This one was inspired by two events. The first was when Patrick B., in his words, “wanted to touch the Irish Sea and it touched me back.” For hours, one pant leg was soaked, and he did look a little funny walking around like that. The second was when I wore a flag as a cape during the St. Paddy’s parade (which was the norm, mind you), but continued to do so without noticing throughout most of the day. And in contrast to the haiku, we may have laughed at each other a little.

 

“Cheers,” as they so often say in this part of the world, “to friendship!”





From Outside Our Front Door

22 03 2012

The chair needed wiped off.

It hadn’t been sat in for a while.

When cloudy and rainy and wet

is the most that we get,

it had been too long since my bum had met

this chair.

(In my book, sitting on a porch never goes out of style.)

The tulips that Ellison planted

are blooming sooner than expected,

and they show off their color, their pride,

as they bloom, tall and erected.

A chimney emerging from the shingles

of a flat opposite ours

eclipses the sun, a silhouette,

but temporary, for soon it’ll be time for the stars.

It’s warm(er) and milder than the days

in the months that have passed,

and rejoicing in the rare, golden rays,

the birds become lively, no longer needing to ask

for sunshine,

for that time has passed.

The breeze carries to me the shouts

of the kids in the side streets playing football.

Their accents are thick,

and hushed by a mum’s sudden call.

Small cars slowly and carefully mingle through

our narrow drive called Bathgate

onto the Belmont Road,

alive with local shops in an excited state.

Everyday my eyes meet the same faces:

The butcher, cafe owner, hardware shop keeper,

commuters waiting for the bus to City Centre,

while, out of courtesy, excusing the street sweeper.

I find myself wishing these words,

the ones filling my worn-out notebook,

could do justice to the sights,

sounds,

smells

that I experience from my little nook.

The time has come, I’m afraid,

to leave this seat I adore,

but I don’t have to go too far…

just through our old red front door.





Doubt is Divine

22 03 2012

I had forgotten in my first Lent/poem post to say that my inspiration and new found interest in poetry is from a friend who I have yet to meet. His name is Luke, and he was a YAV last year, and therefore, we have many mutual friends (the PC(USA) world is small, but the YAV world is even smaller). And one of these mutual friends offered me the link to his most recent post when I was struggling (more than usual) with my desire to stay involved (or anywhere near) the Church. I needed to read those words, and be molded, challenged, and refreshed by them. Here is the link to Luke’s post, titled, A Poem in Defense:

http://lukeintucson.blogspot.com/2012/02/poem-in-defense.html

My next poem, the second of the Lent season, is one that reveals my very intense doubt when it comes to everything found in Christianity. To be honest, my faith in God, the Church, and especially all of the doctrine that has reduced the mystery of spirituality is hanging by a thread. This poem, inspired by my struggle, is about the global Church that is often seen as an institution that insists on having all the right answers, being constantly out of touch with reality and the suffering of people, and a polarizing force of judgment maintained and motivated by the upper-middle class. It’s a Church alive and well in the States, and it’s one that is causing an already religiously/ethnically/politically divided society in Northern Ireland to become divided even further among “those in the club” and “those out.”

But, after Luke’s words, I was reminded of why I felt pulled to this YAV year and still feel pulled to Seminary. I do have hope in humanity and even in the Church, but it’s gonna take a lot of work. So this poem, Doubt is Divine, is in defense of free-thinking and doubt not only within the Church, but in fusion with the Church’s call to faithfully respond and serve a world in need of healing. However, we, as people, cannot faithfully respond to the fullest to all the pain that is in this world until we are honest about our brokenness, our doubts, our fears, and our genuine need of help too. As that Jesus fellow promoted, we must have “eyes to see” a new way in which humanity can operate within this world. And that way doesn’t view individuals as “in” and “out,” but as equal participants, children of the same Earth, searching for God knows what.

For what little it’s worth, this is dedicated to all those conversations that took place in Auburn’s Arboretum at 3am, over biscuits and gravy (or maybe lentil soup), in long car rides or at crowded parties, in grungy student apartments and dorm rooms, and the back porch off of Jack Hampton Drive in a couple of hammocks. To those of you with me in these moments, thank you for sharing and listening. May we choose to whisper a question before shouting an answer in the effort to always “keep the conversation going.”

“Seek fellowship with those who seek the truth. Doubt those who have found it.” – André Gide

Doubt is Divine

“But I don’t understand.”

She said in Sunday School.

The teacher, arms folded,

took her seat on the stool.

“How can you not follow?”

asked the narrow-eyed teacher.

“It’s simply called The Truth.

Go and ask the Preacher.

It’s not about understanding.

It’s all about believing.

Have a little faith,

focus on the salvation you’re receiving.”

“But,” replied the little girl,

“It’s not as easy as you say.

I want to think it true,

but I can’t will the doubt away!”

“Jesus doesn’t have time

for your silly moments of wonder.

And be careful, young lady,

or the power of sin you’ll go under!”

I ask:

Is this very ‘Christian,’

what Church is about?

Suffocating the mind,

a crusade against doubt?

If you really want to say

that you read your Bible’s pages

Then perhaps you should acknowledge

The Commandment passed through the ages.

Jesus, the fellow said to be

this thing called Christianity’s king,

was once asked, “What’s number 1?

How do I escape hell’s sting?”

“Love God with heart, MIND, soul, and strength.”

the bearded, dirty radical replied.

Therefore, a higher love for a Spirit,

in and through a working mind can reside.

We don’t have to abide

to the black and white stride

of religions that misguide

and tell us not to collide

with questions that turn us upside

down.

Instead, wrestle with the divide

between the church and the worldwide.

Stand alongside

those searching souls who decide

to free their minds, open-eyed,

in spite of the pious fools that have lied

and denied

and oppressed a critical side.

I advocate for a change in the tide!

A vision of mind and faith allied,

a fusion for those of us outside

the doctrine that leaves our societies fried

and tied.

Imagine churches that no longer shout answers,

but welcome the questions.

Communities of soul-searchers,

working through misconceptions.

Beliefs of exclusion no longer enforced

onto equally created human lives,

but rather,

a welcome for all to take dives

into judgment-free

society.

(After all, Jesus’s biggest pet peeve was piety.)

Space for questions = space for growth.

Through our conversations may we receive both.

A deeper vision for a unified Earth.

A way of living that truly gives birth

to the telling of a new story.

One where doubt is lifted.

In the journey, not destination, lies the glory.

May our paradigms be shifted.

For the smaller we make God,

containment in words, buildings, and thoughts,

the less Spirit we embrace,

the more our blessed diversity rots.

Challenge your perspectives,

and all that you’ve been told.

Put your beliefs and convictions to the test!

Let go of the certainty you so tightly hold.

I’m not saying to be a wishy-washy person

that promotes ‘anything goes.’

but to be open to the surprise in the music,

space for new notes to be composed.

For progress to be made,

for needed change to take place,

it’s gonna take more than narrow-minded yelling,

to speak with love to the human race.

For justice and compassion to be our aims

We all need a voice that advocates.

Not one big-headed and too proud,

but one that’s patient and relates

to where our sisters and brothers are

in their walk through a life that waits

for a friend or helping-hand

that identifies with making mistakes.

So let’s open our hearts and minds

to a confession of “I don’t knows” that create

less pushing of hate

and debate,

but instead a language of openness that translates

into relationships of understanding that anticipate

the new way of doing ‘religion,’

for the Peaceable Kingdom awaits.

And don’t worry about whether or not God needs our protection,

because all we need to do is try to be a reflection

of unconditional love and affection.

(As opposed to having a monopoly on the ‘one and only direction.’)

God (if she exists) doesn’t need our petty ‘being right.’

If God is as big as we say, he will still be God despite

Our best efforts to redefine and rewrite

the identity of the ‘I Am,’

the everlasting Light.

So challenge your faith and quit trying to assign

polarizing rules to this complex world design.

Go, and don’t put, but THROW what ‘you know’ on the line!

‘Cause at the end of the day, it’s doubt that is divine.





a poem on Lent

28 02 2012

It’s been such an interesting experience to see folks, especially young people, make this immediate face of confusion the first time they hear me speak. In contrast to the contexts of other international YAVs, it’s very difficult for people here to tell if I’m American or not until they hear my accent, and it’s usually a great conversation starter! Sadly, though, the conversation with some of the local youth that I meet and work with through our Detached Youth program is one that always involves the question of, “But why would you come here?” in a tone that implies that I’m crazy. I guess they don’t realize how beautiful the green vibrancy is in this land, how friendly and generous the Northern Irish are, how rich their cultural heritage is, or that the side of America they’ve seen through the TV set and romanticized in their minds is not accurate. American sitcoms, pop music, and the excitement of Florida are not fair visions for the ol’ U.S. of A. We have our problems, our violence, and our millions of poor and hungry people (along with a host of thousands upon thousands of other social issues). 

In our YAV meeting yesterday, Doug showed us this program by the BBC titled Poor America. I’ve put the link to the half-hour program below, and it offers a bit on how people in this part of the world are becoming and continuing to be educated on our issues and tragic realities. I encourage folks to take a look. It is heart-wrenching to see, of course. But it’s the true life and the current situation of many Americans (and more than that, human beings). 

 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73UBl68icjw

 

It’s easy to play the blame game, isn’t it? From what I’ve heard, the political ads reeking of negativity are in full-swing and worse than ever in the States. We’ve been depending on scapegoats for a long, long time. The BBC program made occasional comments that can be interpreted in a way that blames certain political ideologies and initiatives. However, if we’re really going to move forward, we must start accepting the hard truth that we are to blame. All of us. Each of us. To some extent, we all feed the economic system that is based on the extraction of (often non-renewable) resources. So the answer is not to point fingers, but to think about our own daily practices. What can we do in our own little corner of the world to be with and for those struggling?

 

I must confess that I missed having an Ash Wednesday service, as well as the ashes on my forehead. I also missed the evening with the Auburn youth of burning the palms from last year’s palm Sunday to make the ashes. Only Catholic and some Church of Ireland congregations would put the little black marks on their foreheads here. But even in missing some of these simple things, I realize how great it is that I have the opportunity to experience the season of Lent in a whole new context and different living conditions. The YAV program is already focused around intentional community and simple living, but with Lent, in some ways, we have the opportunity to examine further why this focus is important spiritually as well as socially (and those two words are not as distant of concepts as we like to make them). In addition to the intentionality of community and simplicity in Lent, I have given up a few petty things, but I have also taken something up: Poetry. I know I may have some friends give me a hard time for this (given that I’m not always known as being the most ‘poetic’ lad), but I’m genuinely excited about the project of writing one poem a week.  And for the record, I haven’t written a poem since I learned how to write in cursive. So when you read it, go easy on me, yeah?

 

Without further ado, here’s me “givin’ it a wee go!” (As they say in Belfast.)

 

On Lent

 

The resolution from New Year’s

on which we didn’t follow through,

is often disguised and called Lent.

Do I do this?

Do you?

 

We pretend that it’s deeper,

the sacrifice we made.

But really,

isn’t it only something silly?

 

Some habit?

Some diet?

Something piously labeled as ‘sacrifice’

that merely self-satisfies?

 

Is it truly a surrender?

Is it the ridding of excess?

Or just some relief

from the day-to-day stress?

 

The ashes upon our heads,

fire-created from the palms

mean more…

are more…

a path to the One who longs

to see calms

in the storms throughout this world:

Voices to the voiceless,

freedom to the oppressed,

food for the hungry,

clothes to the undressed.

 

So for these forty days

in a wilderness may we wander,

searching for the core of who we are

when choosing not to squander.

 

May celebrating a resurrection

follow a participation in a death;

a death to extra,

to illusion,

to filler.

Realize the purity of each breath.

 

May our priorities 

reform and be shifted,

centered in agenda-free love.

Simplicity be lifted.

May there be peace like a dove.

 

To neighbors, compassion!

And perhaps a helping hand.

Our unity recognized,

despite society’s brands.

 

There’s doubt to welcome.

Empathy to express.

Questions to offer.

Brokenness to confess.

 

Lent:

To have more,

desire less.

 




reconciliation, part 2: a vulnerable hand

22 10 2011

First, allow me to apologize for my misleading titles on these blog posts. I posted the last one while hanging out with my friends Dave and Kathryn and watching NFL, so I may have been a little (or a lot) distracted. This is part 2. Thelast post was part 1. The first one was just an introduction. I’m sure so many noticed this, and I didn’t want you to lose anymore sleep over it.

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to go with some Explorer Scouts (high school aged youth) and several adults from both the Scout program and the church on a midnight hike through the Mourne Mountains. We stopped at a cottage (where we would later grab a bit of sleep) to drop off our sleeping bags and pack some “lunches” that were really midnight snacks. We left for the trail around 9pm. The weather was tough, so we had to change course a couple times. I have never in my life experienced wind that heavy. It was also rainy and misty and quite cold (at least, according to the boy who’s been hanging out in Alabama the past five years). The mud that got all over my rain trousers and boots took hours to clean off the next day, and that’s a sign of a good hike.

We had made it as far as we could go and back down by shortly after 2am. We had some tea, a bit of sleep, and woke up early to have a hot breakfast before the drive back to Belfast.

The more I think about my work here with the Ballybeen housing estate, the church congregation, and reconciliation as a whole, I keep thinking back to the hike in Mournes. Maybe it’s because I haven’t yet caught up on my sleep, or maybe because the whole “life is a journey” cliche is itching to enter one of my posts, but that hike meant a lot to me and complimented much of what I’ve been feeling. So allow me to indulge in the cliche of using my hike as a journey metaphor.

I know that going on a hike such as this in the midst of my two days off seems silly to some, especially when I’ve had quite the cough the last couple weeks. But I wanted to go on the hike, not because I wanted to be out in the cold and damp and dark, but because I wanted to be with those people. I wanted to do something that was somewhat difficult with others, knowing that in even the smallest moments of challenge, we open up to one another. My conversations and experiences with these folks were worth making the cough worse and causing a hiccup in my sleep cycle.

I ask that you take a “wee” gander (That’s Northern Irish talk) at this clip. The scene is from the movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. For those of you who haven’t seen it, shame on you, and allow me to offer some background: The two characters in this clip, Harry and Hermoine, are on a journey to destroy several evil objects, one of which is the locket that Harry removes from Hermoine’s neck during the clip. The “dark magic” in it causes the person wearing it to be very irritable, to say the least. In addition, their good friend, Ron, left the journey in a fit of anger. They both have taken the argument with Ron and his leaving very hard. Both Harry and Hermoine have been very sad, lost (in several ways), and weary from a tough journey that seems to be leading nowhere. Without further ado, enjoy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFe0OR-Vaww

Have you ever had one of those moments? Ever been in the midst of a journey that seems to tear you apart more than heal you? Yet, at some point in the traveling, another on the same or similar path takes your hand and leads to the dance floor?

The truth is, we’re all in this world together. We all live in the same dysfunctional, violent, and beautiful, magnificent world. We all are journeying on this road called life. No matter what context, what ethnicity, what nation, what religion, if any…we’re all inhabitants of the same Earth.

And we’re all on our own individual yet unified paths. As David Lamotte once said in the beautiful setting of Montreat, NC, “I used to think that music was a gift to unite us. However, I now realize that we are already united as human beings. Music is simply a medium that allows us to see it.”

John Lewis, State Representative and Civil Rights activist, said while speaking on his experiences in the Civil Rights Movement at Montreat, “We may have come over (to America) on separate ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”

What of this unity? What does this have to do with how we live our lives as human beings?

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to attend a Taize worship service at a Catholic Church just outside of Belfast in Bangor. I went with Doug, Karl, and Kendra. Here’s a link to explain a bit about Taize, if you’re curious:

http://www.taize.fr/

Crowds of young people from all over the world pour into Taize, France every week in the hope to feel a spiritual presence (for the vast majority, from a Christian context) in the unity felt among other young people from all over the world. That’s what makes Taize so interesting. It uses ancient worship practices to build bridges and connect young people that all journey through and exist in the same broken and beautiful world.

There’s something spiritual about feeling connected to people, isn’t there? Don’t you enjoy playing the game, “Oh, you were just in Nashville? My sister-in-law’s dietitian lives there. Did you meet someone with the last name, Dudemeister?”  We often know that when we ask questions like this, the person to whom we’re talking won’t have met a Dudemeister. But we try anyway for the sake of conversation, but even more, for the hope of feeling that small high of being connected.

But how often do we take time, especially in the darkest twists and turns of the road, to invite one another, and accept invitations to, however brief, indulge in a moment of embrace and laughter?

Reconciliation is natural, organic, and pure. We, as humans, desire to be connected to one another, sharing our stories and experiences. Yes, there are aspects of our own experiences and contexts that divide us and cause us to see the world differently, but that also gives us the opportunity, when we approach one another with sensitivity, grace, and love, to listen to and learn from our sisters and brothers. Sure, the idea that we can set aside all of our passions, convictions, and disagreements and become a big mass of friends holding hands singing Kumbaya is unrealistic. But we can (and I love that I’m able to say this) learn from Harry, and when we find another struggling, reach out a hand, and bring them to the dance floor. Notice, too, that this moment in the movie clip wasn’t intended to be solution to the hardship being faced. It was simply a moment to remember that even when things seem so broken, so twisted, so confusing, so beyond repair, we still have the ability to laugh, to enjoy the simple presence of another, and the opportunity to set aside disagreements and struggles with each other and embrace our common ground.

Difficult journeys, whether they’re in a place coming out of violent conflict, in our own homes, across the globe, or simply trying to climb a mountain at midnight, are easier when we offer a hand to one another (and are also willing to take the hand offered), even if that hand is only for a brief moment of dancing and laughter. But that’s the catch to reconciliation on every level, isn’t it? Someone has to extend a vulnerable hand first.