Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Less than 12 hours

With less than 12 hours left in Northern Ireland, this is my last posting from Belfast. (I will be putting up a few more upon my return home, including some pictures!)

This past week has been brilliant.
There has been a special visit by a certain YAV who had been serving in Kenya, there were lots of delicious goodbye meals with wonderful people, and the weather cooperated for my last few trips to the North Coast, the Mournes, and Cave Hill.

My departure brings mixed emotions that I can best sum up as this:
I am satisfied that my year as a volunteer has come to a successful completion, I am excited to drive again, I am sad to leave all of the wonderful friends that I have made in Belfast, I am so looking forward to catching up with everyone in the U.S., but I am also conscious that I am not the same person I was when I left for my YAV year.
What a crazy, wonderful, and slightly overwhelming place to be in.

But for now, as surreal as it is to type this, in grace and peace,
a northern ireland yav-alumnus.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rainy and grey

Well, the weather here is like something out of a Hemingway novel.
It's cold. It's rainy. Lots of goodbyes are being said.
Emotional wringing of my soul.

However, as Annie reminds us, the sun will come out tomorrow. (Well, maybe not in Northern Ireland, but it sounds like it's sunny throughout most of the U.S.)

Last week was really interesting. I went to one of the 12th July parades and visited Galway with two people from EBM (Aran Islands! Cliffs of Moher!). Pictures to be posted, I promise.

This week is full of lasts: last Friendship Circle outing, last Sunday morning service, last gathering of the YAVs, last hiking trip into the Mournes, last dinners with lots of people.
But there is a lot of happiness in those occasions.
It's been a great year with the wonderful people of East Belfast Mission, great memories have been made with the YAVs, and so many great discussions/reflections/lessons that have been had and learned during this time in Belfast.
Words in this blog really can't capture the effect that this year has had on me...
But I am getting excited to see you all very shortly.

Just wanted to touch base with you all in a short post.
Stay tuned for pictures and more stories in the next few days.
In grace and peace. :)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Final Month!!!!

Ahhhhh, so hard to believe that it is the start of my final month in Northern Ireland.

June was absolutely wonderful and flew by so quickly.
From Mama Foltz visiting to the YAV retreat on Iona to traveling to New Orleans for the Fund for Theological Education conference, what a full month.
All of my regular activities around EBM have wrapped up for the year. July is very much the travel month for people in Belfast. (Vacations are timed to get out of town during the parade season.)

Speaking of parade season, I saw my first parade in Belfast last night.
It was one of the early 12th parades... in memory of the WWI battle, the Battle of the Somme.
The parade passed by on the street off of which we live and was definitely a unique experience.
Orange orders from all over Belfast and other cities in Northern Ireland were out marching in full glory - from uniforms to pipe and drum bands to colorful orange banners.
Definitely a taste of what to expect on the 12th coming up...

For those of you in need of a history lesson, let me recap the significance of the 12th:

William of Orange (yes, of William & Mary fame) fought the Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne on July 1st 1690.
Due to James II's Catholic faith, parliament had invited William to take the throne... Not entirely random as his wife, Mary II, was the daughter of James II.
And you thought you had family problems.
Well, the Battle of the Boyne pitted James II's Irish supporters (and some French support) against the Protestant supporters of William.
William won the day, and in effect, ensured British control of Ireland for the next couple hundred years.
So, Orange orders (similar in practice to Masonic Lodges/ Elk Lodges/ name any male-dominated orders lodges) were first formed in 1796 and are extremely pro-Unionist (aka pro-British).

So, while the battle of the Boyne took place on July 1st in the Julian calendar, it is now celebrated today by the dates of the Gregorian calendar - July 11th into the 12th.
Not sure what the 12th has in store this year, but from the bonfires currently being constructed (many of them having large quantities of tires) and the recent skirmishes suggest that it could be a really interesting day.

In the meantime, I am trying to enjoy my last moments in Belfast and make the most of continuing opportunities to reflect on how to bring peace to a divided society.
It was really interesting to hear Irish President Mary McAleese's thoughts on the matter when she came to visit EBM last week. Yes, I did get to shake her hand!!!
She actually grew up in Belfast, and her husband grew up in Short Strand, the Catholic neighborhood of East Belfast.
She is an extremely intelligent speaker, and it was great for all members of the community represented (from paramilitary leaders to community workers) to hear the reminder that while there is much work to be done, there is hope.

In peace and grace.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Tensions

I arrived back in Belfast on Monday afternoon to 60 degree weather that felt wonderful after the 110 degree heat index in New Orleans.
I will post another response soon on the YAV trip to Iona and my trip to the Fund for Theological Education conference in New Orleans...

I just wanted to post a quick word that, if you have been following the recent headlines for the UK, Belfast has been making the news.
The flashpoint is about 1/4 of a mile from where I work and about a mile from where I live. (I can hear the helicopters buzzing around as I type this.)
The summary on the site covers it all:

The riot in east Belfast was another reminder that Northern Ireland has a peace process but it does not have peace.

The number of walls between Protestant and Catholic areas has risen in recent years rather than fallen.

Outbreaks of violence are relatively rare these days, but tension in some areas continues to simmer.

One night of rioting normally leads to another in Northern Ireland. The challenge facing the police is to stop an isolated problem escalating.

So, no need to worry about me - I don't live near the flashpoint.
But please pray for the people that do. Pray for the cross community women's group whose poetry presentation tonight had to be postponed; pray for the cross community youth gathering which was canceled.
Trust takes time to build and all too easily crumbles when the uncertainty of violence and mob rioting brings flashbacks to times of fear.
The 'peace walls' remain and are added to in number. 'Peace walls' such as the one that provides the landmark for the current site of the rioting. '

So many factors playing into the current tension that there is no simple answer to 'why now?', just the general response of heavy sighs and shrugs of shoulders.
Pray for the parents, pensioners, and children who can't sleep with helicopters buzzing overhead and petrol bombs bursting nearby.
Pray for the people in the area - both victims and abusers - that all might come to know peace with themselves and with others in the place they live.

In grace and peace.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Traveling Mercies

Well, it's back to 'normal' life in Belfast... But not for long!

My visit with Mama Foltz was absolutely fantastic. Absolutely.
Our trip to London was awesome. We did the tourist-y stops: everything from Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral (yes, we made it up to not just the Whispering Gallery, but even up to the Stone Gallery: http://www.stpauls.co.uk/Cathedral-History/Climb-the-Dome... thought Mama Foltz might not make it down with her heart still beating.); we also visited the Globe Theatre (such a good feel to the place - it's definitely on my list to see a performance there!), Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace, the Courtauld Gallery, the National Gallery, the Handel House Museum, the Churchill War Rooms, the Tower of London, and so much more.
We also got the chance to get tea with one of my W&M friends who had been studying in London and enjoy a dinner with my second cousin who is also a student in London.
We sat two feet away from the choir during Evensong at Westminster, took a boat from the Tower of London to Westminster, and wandered in the light rain around Hyde Park/ Kensington Gardens.
Overall, a simply splendid holiday that I got to enjoy with my mom. :)
She was a trooper who kept up with my fast paced walking, absolutely clicked with the people of EBM as she tagged along to activities with me, and even spent the night in Newark last night as her plane to St Louis was delayed until this morning. She is a superstar.

Yesterday and today have been busy catch-up days at work full of e-mailing, catching up on some smaller projects, leading a Bible study last night, and general planning of activities.
This next week marks the conclusion of most of the children and youth programs at EBM until summer schemes later in the summer.
Unfortunately, I will not be in Belfast this next week for these activities.
A little bittersweet: I am sad to be missing the epic end of the school year festivities, but there are adventures awaiting!

The YAVs head out for our last retreat of the year to IONA, SCOTLAND. For those who are unfamiliar with Iona, it is a small island off of Scotland which holds tight to its early Celtic Christianity roots.
The group will then head to Edinburgh for a couple days there, but I will be catching a plane back to the United States...

I applied to a fellowship program through the Fund for Theological Education called 'Volunteers Exploring Vocation.' I was accepted to the program which comes with monetary support and also the opportunity to meet with other soon-to-be seminarians who have also done a year of service.
I will be in NEW ORLEANS, LA, from Wednesday to Sunday for a conference during which we will have the opportunity to do a service project within the community off of which we will base many of our discussions for the weekend.
It should be absolutely fascinating... and hot.
I received an e-mail a few days ago with the main packing requirement being 'hot weather clothes.'
So, I will be going from chilly 50-degree Belfast/Iona to humid 100-degree New Orleans.
This is going to be a fun packing job. :)

So, adventures are in store; never a dull moment in the life of a YAV.
Traveling mercies are much needed.
In peace and grace.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Hey all -

It has been a very full week since Mama Foltz arrived!
Along with sightseeing Belfast, she has been tagging along with me to my weekly activities - getting to experience Friday Fusion, Kids GAP, and Friendship Circle, to name a few.
It's been great!
My mom, unfortunately, did get to experience the chaos of last Friday when there were 14 bomb threats made throughout the Belfast area, in effect, bringing all traffic coming in and going out of the city to a complete stand still.
I thought the excuse of 'I was late to work because of the bomb threat' was a thing of the past. Unfortunately, it was the truth as we rushed to make it to Friday Fusion on time. (And I say 'rushed' - sat on a bus in standstill traffic for an hour on what would otherwise be a 15 minute journey.)

On a much happier note though, this weekend, we are off to LONDON! We fly over tomorrow morning at 7 a.m.!!! (I have never been to London before; so this is very, very exciting especially since it's with my mom!)

Also, happy 100th anniversary to the Titanic! In East Belfast on May 31, 1911, 150,000 people lined up for the launching of the Titanic down a slipway into the Belfast Lough. It was then floated into a dry dock to be outfitted further.

So good night, and I will post further reflections upon my return.
In grace and peace.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Time to Pray

"And after the storm,
I run and run as the rains come
And I look up, I look up,
on my knees and out of luck,
I look up.

Night has always pushed up day
You must know life to see decay
But I won't rot, I won't rot
Not this mind and not this heart,
I won't rot.

And I took you by the hand
And we stood tall,
And remembered our own land,
What we lived for.

And there will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair."
-- After the Storm (Mumford & Sons)

I have been listening to Mumford & Sons a lot recently.
I love their lyrics; I love their musicality; I love the depth of their ruminations on life.

It's been a heck of a Spring in Northern Ireland, and there is a lot to ruminate on.
The murals depicting masked gunmen recently put up in East Belfast, whatever the motives, are the most visible reminder of where I am.
Multiple high-profile bomb threats and scares - from a bomb planted on a bus going into Dublin prior to the Queen's visit to a coded bomb threat which interrupted the main part of a major motor bike race on the North Coast - serve as further reminders that the extremist Nationalist groups of Northern Ireland are still active.
And as part of preparations being made for the 12th of July (the celebration of Protestant William of Orange defeating Catholic James II), the extremist Unionist groups are also hard at work: Union Jacks are being strung high, curbs are being given a fresh coat of red, white, and blue paint, and bonfires are already massive.
Sectarianism is in full bloom.

If there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens,
then this is a time to pray.
("And after the storm, I run and run as the rains come. And I look up, I look up, on my knees and out of luck, I look up..")
So! Would you pray with me from wherever you are?
Get a piece of paper and some pens (aka markers).
Now, it's time to pray in color.
As you pray, simply 'doodle' on the page - whether writing words, drawing pictures, or simply creating patterns on the page.
And ponder these words as you do so:
"And there will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair."

[Can I get an amen?]

Through the thistle and weeds, the buds of hope still appear.
The Queen spoke in Irish during her visit!
And despite ash clouds and tornadoes, Mama Foltz is on her way to Belfast. :)

And so we stand, hand in hand, united in what we stand for. Let this be a land where the time for peace, love, mending, embracing, dancing, laughing, building, and healing is now.
In grace and peace.

- on the side of a pub in Belfast-