From my heart

15 July 2013

I am writing from the heart this morning (Saturday 13th July) because my heart breaks when I see what happened in Belfast last night. First of all I need to say that there were many things about yesterday which are worth celebrating; Londonderry’s March, with the new banner depicting the Peace Bridge, and similar Demonstrations across the country. Those experiences point us to the day I long for, a day when we can celebrate our different heritages, without rancour; a day when to celebrate one heritage does not mean “putting down” the other. There were other signs of hope, the return of the statue of the Virgin Mary which had been stolen; the efforts made by the Orange Order and many politicians and church and community leaders before the Twelfth towards ensuring a peaceful day; all of this and more is worth noting.

However this morning we wake once again to pictures of riots, to news of many police officers and others injured and to a lurking fear that this will continue. 

While I understand the frustration felt by many at the ruling of the Parade’s Commission with regard to Ardoyne, there are things this morning which need to be named as wrong. Any action, from any quarter, which fosters sectarian division is wrong. Peaceful protest is one thing but, what happened last night led to rioting. Violence on our streets leads to no good end. Let’s stop playing political games in which the aim is “us” winning and “them” losing. In Northern Ireland we know from bitter, hard and repeated experience that that simply leads to us all losing. This is time for courageous, grace filled action that points to Jesus, who set aside His “rights” for our sake. Let me also say, that sort of action needs to be met with grace and courage, not taken advantage of, or laughed at or seen as naïve or weakness.

Peace will not come to this wonderful, broken city until we have the courage to build it. In Luke’s Gospel we meet Jesus looking over a city he loved and weeping because it was heading towards destruction. While many have heavy hearts this morning I suspect that we do not weep enough. We care, but only a bit. It is time to care deeply; it is time to allow God’s love for this city and everyone in it to so touch our hearts that we act. Christians must not be content to shrug and think there is nothing more that can be done. So can we think about what building peace might mean for us, in our context? Perhaps it’s about rooting out sectarian attitudes which run deep in us; perhaps its committing to build deep, Christ-based relationships with people from other traditions; perhaps it means speaking out for peace rather than staying silent. For Christians it will mean prayer, which is decisive, effective action in itself.

All of us need to take action on the issues which underlie what happens on our streets. There is something fundamentally wrong with society when rioting is seen as recreation. Can we build and be part of a society where all know they are of value, where there is worthwhile work, where all see the point in voting, where education is encouraged and supported?

This morning I write in the light of last night. Of course there are strengths, weaknesses and faults on every side. This is from the heart for God’s people to care so deeply that we weep, and to allow God’s love to touch our hearts and our hands so that we act. That God’s Kingdom might come in Belfast.

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