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-

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Here are a few images from the past month in Belfast:

Picture 1: The Seder meal at East Belfast Mission that I helped to organize!

Picture 2: a wonderful crowd turned out for the delicious meal and Seder celebration
Picture 3: A trip to Dublin! While March was daffodil month, April was the month for exquisite beds of tulips!

Picture 4: No trip to Dublin would be complete without a visit to the Guinness factory. Whether you adore Guinness or think it tastes foul, it's a fascinating tour!

Picture 5: White Park Bay!

Picture 6: EBM's church weekend away was held at a hostel overlooking White Park Bay, located on the North Coast of Northern Ireland.

Picture 7: The following day, upon my return from White Park Bay, I proceeded to walk the Belfast City Marathon with Allison and Doug!

Picture 8: Belfast City Hall was our starting point!

Picture 9: The starting line.

Picture 10: Following 7 hours of walking 26.2 miles, we are still alive and smiling. And we got medals!

Monday, May 9, 2011


If you've been following the BBC this past week, you would know that it's been election time in the UK.
In Northern Ireland, it was time for both parliamentary and council elections.
Thankfully, unlike in the U.S., the campaigning period is only for a short period of time during which politicians put up billboards and general campaign signs around neighborhoods.
The signs put up in neighborhoods provide better dividing lines than any mural or flag. If you weren't sure before, you knew then whether you were walking through a neighborhood inclined toward Sinn Fein or the DUP.
To break that down further, let me explain the basic political party divisions in NI.
In this election for residents of East Belfast to elect 3 members of parliament, they had a choice from 17 candidates of 13 different parties.
For a full list of them, see here:
Political parties still carry a lot of unfortunate ties to the times of the Troubles. Sinn Fein is now recognized as a political party but for many years was not allowed any voice at all in Northern Ireland. (When showing footage of Gerry Adams, the BBC wouldn't actually play his own voice; they would have a BBC reporter read from a transcript of his speech.) Sinn Fein is primarily left-wing and republican.
When I asked one Protestant whether they could ever vote for a Sinn Fein candidate, even if they agreed with their left-wing politics, the response was that they could not vote for a party that invented kneecapping.
The Democratic Unionist Party likewise rose out of a side of the Troubles. As the name suggests, the party's main platform is unionism, and it's roots are primarily in right-wing, fundamentalist Protestantism. Similar to Sinn Fein, the party has had ties with Unionist and Loyalist paramilitaries through the years. Most Northern Irish political parties are similarly implicated.
The other primary parties in this election that have roots in the Troubles are the Social Democratic & Labour Party (which has a platform of reunification/ nationalism), the Traditional Unionist Voice, and the Ulster Unionist Party.
The main non-sectarian party is the Alliance Party, who did not win a seat in Westminster in a general election until May 2010.
So even though there is a diverse group of political parties to choose from, the political parties are so tied to sides of the Troubles, that one's choice is basically limited according to the community or on which side of the conflict in which one grew up.

But through all of the political happenings, life goes on in East Belfast.
The recent development have been the new murals going up along the Newtownards Road, just down the street from EBM. Here is a news article about it:

Through all of the devolved governments, power sharing treaties, and the semblance of peace, there is still so much tension, distrust, and prejudice underneath the surface of Belfast.
In peace and grace.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sunburned in Northern Ireland

Well, for those of you who were wondering, I successfully walked the Belfast City marathon!!!

Doug Baker, my flatmate Allison, and I walked the 26.2 miles in just over 7 hours, averaging 16.5 minute miles. Whew!

While my feet didn't blister, there were definitely some hot spots of friction, and my joints were extremely sore when we got home that evening. A hot shower has never felt so good!

My commentary of the marathon would go something like this:
The marathon route itself was probably the most challenging part. Our first loop was out to East Belfast which was easy enough except for the hordes of people we were walking with. (It's difficult to set a pace when you are surrounded by people doing the fun-walk of only 9 miles.) Then, we broke free of those slackers, headed out to West Belfast, and walked through the peace walls there. That was really interesting until the second half of West Belfast/ into the first part of North Belfast was extremely uphill. (And this is about the point when lunch time should have been happening... And the nutrition stations were all out of food, aka oranges. Walking through the runners' cup and orange peel rubbish was subpar.)
But, then we got to the downhill section. Wheeeee!
Well, little did we know, that after the couple miles along the Belfast lough (which was scenic enough), the industrial estate was waiting. One word for it: grim.
We got out of that though and headed back into city centre. We headed along the River Lagan towards Ormeau park. And lo and behold! We were walking into Ormeau park and could hear the crowds at the finish.
But don't be fooled, we still had 3 miles left to walk. So back out of the park we went and walked all away around it.
At last, we had reached the final 100m. So, Doug, Allison, and I ran it to the finish! Hoorayyyyyyyyyy. Time to finally eat, sit down, and stretch after 7 hours of walking.
A mile has never seemed so long.

Funny enough, the sorest part of my body when I woke up on Tuesday was the sunburn on the back of my neck!!! (I remembered to put sunscreen - or sun cream as it's called here - on my face and arms but forgot my neck!)

This past weekend up on the North Coast was absolutely wonderful. The company, food, scenery, and games of Uno were absolutely fantastic. Back to 'normal' work this week.

In grace and peace from sunny Belfast.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Post-Lenten Post!

Happy Easter everyone! As we continue our journeys through this Easter season, I wanted to pause for a moment though and reflect back on the season of Lent.

If I were to pick two words to sum-up this Lent and my YAV year overall, it would be 'being' and 'grace.'

Being. This is something that I think everyone struggles with.
Just be yourself, right? But how does one begin to 'be'?
Making this even harder is that our interactions with other people are often based primarily around doing. Even when we meet someone, our first question is all too often, 'what do you do?'
While you can learn a lot about a person's interests by knowing what they do for a living, the question, at its most basic level, often implies that we must do something to begin to have an identity.
The YAV program though encourages volunteers to simply 'be' first and then 'do.'
This was brought full circle on the Monday of Holy week.
The YAVs visited a Benedictine monastery in Rostrevor, about an hour south of Belfast, and we attended the morning Eucharist service.
The homily was given by a Presbyterian minister, the brothers' chanting was absolutely beautiful, and it was truly an international service as five of the monks are French, one is Mexican, and the head of the monastery is Northern Irish.
We had the pleasure of talking with one of the French brothers after lunch time, and he talked about his journey to becoming a monk. His comment that stuck out the most to me was the fact that he could be a monk without being a priest, but he could not be a priest without being a monk. The focus of monks are to be - to be in community, specifically. And within that community, they are called to create a space of mutual respect and acceptance.

And this is where 'grace' comes in.
As part of being present with yourself and with other human beings, one needs grace.
Grace that accepts people just as they are, not needing feats of great accomplishment to receive praise. Rather, as Mr Rogers would suggest, you are liked just the way you are.
And it is through this grace, particularly this grace that we sang about on Easter Sunday, that we can begin to be in community with each other.
The Benedictine community is not a space for self-gratification, but rather the glorifying of God by simply being yourself, a child of God.
Simply put, just as much as we need God's grace, we also need to have our own grace for one another. To 'be' one must first have 'grace.'

So with this understanding of 'being' and 'grace,' I head off this weekend for EBM's weekend away up on the North Coast. White Park Bay, here we come!
Ohhhhhh yeah.
But first, the royal wedding is indeed tomorrow. I will be helping serve at the 'royal banquet' being put on at EBM's cafe. It should be an experience.

Then this Monday, it's time to walk the marathon!
Courtesy of my simple lifestyle this year and having the pleasure of walking everywhere (except for occasional public transportation), I hope to survive the challenge.
I, one of my flatmates, and the Northern Ireland site coordinator will all be walking it together. One of my flatmates is part of a team running different legs of the marathon, and my other flatmate is running the whole thing. Heck yes Bathgate residents!

Hope you all enjoy the royal wedding, and maybe lift up a few prayers for me this Monday... The race starts at 9 a.m., and I am hoping that we will have crossed the finish line before 4 p.m.

In grace and peace, may you simply 'be' this Easter season.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday Reflections

"Christ you know I love you.
Did you see I waved?
I believe in you and God
So tell me that I'm saved."

In the musical 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' the crowd sings these lyrics as Jesus enters Jerusalem.
As it's Palm Sunday, we pointedly reflect on that entrance.
A Messiah that entered Jerusalem on a donkey and not a war horse, a Messiah that brought a message of peace and not violence, a Messiah that didn't come to conquer Rome for himself but rather to question the oppressive empire, the oppressive norm, the militaristic empire.
The crowds that were so welcoming during his entrance lost any sign of loyalty or enthusiasm by the end of the week.
How fickle are human beings!? (And thus, how fickle am I!?)

On that note, my apologies for the lack of regular updates recently. When it's a busy stretch, I have so much to write about, but no time. When I have free time, I don't feel that I have anything to write about. Oh the fickleness!
But this is not a post of lamentations but rather a letter of correspondence.

As we draw to the end of Lent and into Holy week, I will use this space to reflect on and give you a glimpse of what Lent has been like in Northern Ireland.

Different traditions from what I would have experienced at home.
Protestants here didn't recognize Ash Wednesday by putting ash on their foreheads.
Easter is even more commercialized here... The Easter chocolates have been flowing for the past month and a half. It's sickening even to me who is a chocolate fanatic!
People here struggle just as much with Lenten practices: give up something? take on something? But life is so busy, how difficult it is to stick to something; Easter seems so far away!

Some Lenten practices that I have found that I have enjoyed while being here:
- I gave up 'sporcle' for Lent. It's the first time that I have ever given up something! I partly gave it up as I was procrastinating a lot by doing quizzes on sporcle.com. It's brilliant, but I found that going without it has been a positive thing. Each time I thought about typing the link into my internet browser, instead I thought about what better ways I could spend my time. And as cheesy as this might sound, it forced me to think about God... Or at least think about thinking about God. And sometimes this theology-logy is the start of Lenten disciplines. Because the other part of giving up sporcle is that it made me more conscious of the amount of time I was spending on my laptop. So usually when I had exhausted my list of regular websites and was about to go to Sporcle, I would instead shut my laptop and do something else. I was more conscious of how I was using my time! And I do have to say that I have been reading a lot more during Lent.
- Another discipline was Thursday evening bible studies. Mark Sweeney and I were planning the studies using a Methodist Lenten study. Having the regular prep and reflection time during the week, plus getting to have a dialogue about the topics with other people, has been brilliant. Having a regular pattern of devotional time makes such a difference.

Lent has been busy as well with various projects. As I mentioned in a previous post, for Friday Fusion (the youth club), we had a performance two Fridays ago: Fusion Factor. I choreographed a dance for the older group and also taught and danced 'Evolution of Dance' (youtube it, if you aren't familiar) with the leaders. It was a great, great success on all accounts - great audience, the kids were a hit, and despite the demanding nature of the dance, the leaders totally rocked it.
Then this past Friday, Friday Fusion finished up with some origami Easter basket making lead by yours truly.
Due to most schools getting two weeks off for Easter (they don't really have a Spring break), the next two weeks will be quieter.

Holy-week wise, I am helping to plan a Seder meal for this Thursday. It will hopefully be a multi-generational gathering during which we use a Haggadah that I have put together (many thanks to resources passed on by my mom!!!) and get to have a proper meal with it courtesy of some cooks in the church.

Topping it all off, the past two Saturdays have been rather full as well.
Last Saturday, one of my flatmates and I went to see a Henryk Ibsen play, 'Ghosts,' at the Millhouse Theatre in North Belfast. Getting to/from it was an adventure... I am so ready to have access to a car again!!!
Yesterday, we then headed down for a day trip to Dublin.
Having taken the 6.50 a.m. train to Dublin, we walked around the city most of the day and were thoroughly exhausted by our 8.50 p.m. train back.
Besides enjoying the Guinness factory, we wandered around a lot of the city, making full use of the gorgeous parks (complete with beds and beds of tulips) and visiting a Georgian house that exemplified the cool Georgian architecture of much of the city.
Overall, a fantastic whirlwind of a day. I am excited to go back and see more of Dublin!

It's interesting to note the difference in culture between two areas in just a 2 hour train trip: Belfast is not in Ireland.
Very, very few signs in the North would be in Irish. The majority of signs in the South would have both Irish and English.
Belfast is on pound sterling. Dublin is on the Euro.
There are many statues in Dublin remembering the famine. There are many statues in Belfast remembering the Troubles.
We heard more English accents in Dublin than we have heard most of the year in Belfast. (Interesting, considering Belfast is in the UK.)

I will hold off again on posting about returning to America, but will instead placate you with a vocabulary lesson, apologies if I have included any of these words before.

mingin' = gross, dirty, unpleasant ('those boots are mingin' - those boots are gross!)
wick = not good ('that's wick' = 'that sucks')
dear = expensive ('those shoes are very dear' = those shoes are expensive)
wind yer neck in = an expression telling someone that not only do they need to stop talking but they are incorrect
banter = teasing, jovial deprecation of yourself and others
don't be cheeky = cut out the sass/ back talk/ whining
pet = affectionate term of endearment, not just to children ('wee pet') but other adult family members
gurning = complaining ('they are such gurners')

To conclude this post, I'll bring it back full circle to the starting topic of Palm Sunday.
The conclusion of the passage in Luke about Jesus entering Jerusalem goes like this:
Luke 19:41-44
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God."
Think about the state of Jerusalem over the past 2,000 years. It has been and continues to be a city of much violence, hatred, and division.
If Jerusalem is a metaphor for the wider world - the state of humanity - what do we begin to draw from Jesus' proclamation?
How has our blindness, our fickleness, prevented us for recognizing 'the things that make for peace?'

Monday, April 4, 2011

April showers bring...

Lots and lots of sunshine.

The weather pattern these past few days has consisted of rainy, windy, chilly, and altogether miserable mornings... that turn into gorgeous, sunny, and warm afternoons. Mmmmm Spring. Coats are no longer required.

Spring has been around Belfast for about the past month. March brought fields and fields and fields of daffodils. Rather appropriate that Marie Curie, one of the cancer awareness societies, sells daffodil pins during the month as a fundraiser.
(Side note: As I was reading a BBC article the other day, I did learn that daffodils are poisonous to dogs. Good to know.)

The past two weeks since St Patrick's Day have been rather straight forward.
What have I been up to, you ask?
Some highlights include:
- leading/ helping plan the Thursday evening Lenten Bible study
- choreographing/teaching two dances for this week's Fusion Factor - Friday Fusion's (the youth club) edition of the X-factor/ Britain's Got Talent show
- Friendship Circle outing to Lady Dixon's park, where we had a lovely picnic of tea and traybakes
- my body struggling for about 5 days to be caught up with Daylight Savings time, which primarily meant that I felt sleep deprived for 5 days straight

Life in Belfast continues to go well. It's really, really hard to believe that my time here is beginning to draw to a close. (My work schedule is beginning to be filled out through the end of June and July.) I am already starting to get a bit teary-eyed when thinking about leaving, but for now, it just means that my work here is not done!
My reflections on leaving the UK and returning to the U.S. is a subject for a separate blog post, so I will let that be a cliffhanger which ensures you will check back to read more of my blog. :)

In grace and peace.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reflections from St Patrick's Day in Belfast

St Patrick is an interesting person to celebrate in Northern Ireland.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the saint, Patrick is said to have brought Christianity to Ireland from Britain in the 5th century, driving out all the snakes on the island in the process.
Many Protestants would not recognize him as a saint or even give him much significance. (Even during a Bible study at EBM, one person emphatically stated that he did not identify himself with St Patrick.)
At a certain point, Protestants resistance to St Patrick is a bit ridiculous. St Patrick lived centuries before Martin Luther was even born. While some might disagree with his theology in today's context, it's all part of the Christian narrative (which includes a fair number of Jews, I might add).
While Prods in East Belfast might not celebrate the saints by throwing a feast, we can still take the time to recognize Patrick's contribution to bringing Christianity to this island.

So! With that in mind, I was ready to celebrate St Patrick's Day on the island of Ireland.

In the States, it is often celebrated more as an Irish-national holiday than as a religious one. (Much like the U.S. has secularized the religious significance of Christmas.)
The traditions of wearing green to avoid pinching, eating corned beef and cabbage, and celebrating leprechauns are not really done here.
Wearing green is definitely not a requirement to avoid pinching, I am not sure that any Irish person ate corned beef and cabbage before their immigration to the U.S., and most Irish people are both a little amused and confused as to why Americans declare themselves Irish for the day.

Traditions in Belfast are rather different.
Most Catholic schools and most primary schools are out for the day. In the secondary school world, the kids are in school but watching the School's cup - the secondary schools rugby league championship game. (Campbell College won, if you wanted to know.)
I took part in the St Patrick's Day parade in Belfast, marching with a group of kids and parents from the mums & tots program and an after schools group. The city council was making the parade as family-friendly and non-sectarian as possible. So, in the parade, there were only flags with shamrocks on them - no Irish tri-colors or St Patrick's flags. Albeit amongst the spectators, there were plenty of Irish tri-colors.
(Significance of the three leaf clover - St Patrick used them to describe the trinity: three in one.)

In the past, St Patrick's day parades have been known to be the Catholic equivalent of the July 12th parades, when the Orange orders march to celebrate the Battle of the Boyne. I will go into more of that political history as we get closer to July.
Thankfully though, we didn't have anything thrown at us or any jeering remarks made.
It was actually a rather subdued parade. From an American perspective, it was bizarre not to see candy being thrown out or random paraphenalia being handed out.
The most excited people were the Asian tourists with cameras strapped to their faces.

It was actually a rather straight-forward day overall.
I walked in the parade, led an EBM Bible study that night, and finished it off with a pint of Guiness while hanging out with some people.

All I have to conclude from this experience is that Americans celebrate the patron saint of Ireland better than most residents of the actual island.

In grace and peace. :)

P.s. Here is a picture of the group in the parade. Our theme was 'Teddy Bear Picnic,' which is a popular children's book. Spotting me is a bit like playing 'Where's Waldo.' :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spring Break in Scotland

Last week, I met up with two of my W&M friends, Lauren and Maggie, to travel around Scotland. It was hanging out with two of my favorite people in one of my favorite places in the world; it couldn't have been better!
We went to Edinburgh, Inverness, and St Andrews, and Maggie then came back to Belfast to hang with me for about 36 hours. All in all, it was a whirlwind but absolutely fantastic trip. Here is the basic rundown of all that we did:

- met up in Edinburgh
- went to Rosslyn Chapel
- ate at the Elephant House (cafe where JK imagined and wrote most of Harry Potter)

- woke up ate 6:30 a.m. to hike the Salisbury Craigs and Arthur's Seat
- had tea and a scone at Holyrood Palace
- toured said palace
- brunch along the Royal Mile
- stopped in to the Museum of Childhood (per Lauren's request)
- toured Edinburgh Castle
- wandered through Princes' St Gardens
- walked up Calton Hill (thus in one day overlooking Edinburgh from three different high points)
- saw Greyfriar's Bobby - the church yard and statue - which was around the corner from our hostel
- got fish & chips at World's End

- took a tour of Mary King's Close (17th century street covered up by Royal Exchange)
- toured the inside of St Giles in daylight
- walked through the National Portrait Gallery
- caught the train to Inverness
- dinner at pub and caught the Chelsea v. Blackpool game (obligatory football match while in UK)

- bus/ boat tour of Loch Ness and Uruqhart Castle
- our tour included a stop at the Loch Ness Monster museum. It was... riveting.
- walked around the River Ness and islands along the river, this included time to skip rocks
- as it was Maggie's birthday, we picked up pizza and a cake to help celebrate
- we ended up hanging out with a crowd at the hostel, watching the Barcelona v. Arsenal match, and eating birthday cake

- caught the morning train to St Andrews via Perth/Dundee/Leuchars
- walked the Cathedral ruins and climbed St Rule's Tower with another W&M friend, Hannah, who is studying abroad at the university
- walked around the harbour and did a pier walk
- visited West Sands, put our hands in the North Sea, and saw a bit of the Old Course
- grabbed some gelato at Janetta's
- as it started to rain, we headed back to the hostel for some tea and biscuits and later grabbed dinner with another W&M friend
- we finished off the evening with a pint at The Raisin, my favorite pub in St Andrews for its eclectic decor and cozy atmosphere

- grabbed a fudge donut from Fisher & Donaldson
- wandered around St Andrews
- grabbed sandwiches from my favorite shop and hung out with Hannah
- caught the plane back to Belfast

During Maggie's time here in Belfast, we lived it to the fullest. We took a bus tour of the city, she got to experience Friday Fusion, and we visited some of the shops and the Ulster Museum. It was a pretty packed time, pretty representative of the previous week.

Food highlights from the trip include tablet, caramel shortbread, chunky pooh bear ice cream (honeycomb ice cream with chocolate), digestive biscuits, multiple scones, a fudge donut, an Ulster fry, a Scottish breakfast, and more. It was delicious. :)

Some pics highlighting the trip:

Pic 1: Overlooking Edinburgh

Pic 2: Following our epic climb of Arthur's Seat, much deserved breakfast of tea with cinnamon & pear scones at Holyrood Palace. (Yum!)
Pic 3: Edinburgh Castle
Pic 4: Along the River Ness looking back towards Inverness

Pic 5: On St Rule's Tower overlooking St Andrews

Now back to work! :)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

America: two short case studies

A lot has been happening in the world this past week.
From the earthquake and tsunami hitting Japan to the continued political repression in Libya to Charlie Sheen's meltdown, the media has had no shortage of headlines.
Two interesting bits of news though that I really wanted to share are news stories pertaining to the U.S.

First, it's a recent youtube video discussing the current "financial crisis" in the states. In my humble opinion, the news anchor does a brilliant job in putting into perspective the hypocrisy of some current government officials. [Why do you give campaign speeches against big government, but then enforce big government policies once in office???]
Here is the clip for you to watch and reflect on yourself:

Second, there was an article in the New York times this past week that caught my attention. It raises the question - who are we (Americans) choosing to lead our country?
It's particularly relevant to me now having spent time in Northern Ireland and hearing the stories of families who lost loved ones to the IRA and also stories from former members of the IRA.
The best quote from the article:
"If you say that terrorist violence is acceptable in one setting because you happen to agree with the cause, then you lose the authority to condemn it in another setting."
To put my indignation in context, here is a Colbert clip back from 2009 about 'how do we define terrorism.'

Even if no one is listening, we must cry out against foolishness, greed, and hypocrisy in this world, and the best place to start is in one's own country. For if we do not speak out, then we have silenced ourselves.
In this time of Lent, we reflect on what God has done, is doing, and will do and just what that means for our daily lives. We lift up in prayer all the people of this world who suffer under repressive governments, the people in this world affected by natural disasters, and all the government leaders in this world that they might have wisdom, love, and generosity in their hearts to think about more than just the next election.
In grace and peace.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Photo highlights from the year so far

I recently collected some pictures from my year in Belfast so far. Enjoy:

Pic 1: The friendship circle and the trusted mini bus

Pic 2: on baby duty at mum's and tots

Pic 3: Friday Fusion! It's team games night - I am organizing the balloon animal table. (Animals from giraffes to dinosaurs to butterflies were constructed!)

Pic 4: Another Friday Fusion tonight!

Pic 5: The general chaos of Friday Fusion during announcement time

pic 6: EBM women's group on a cross-community retreat to Corrymeela

pic 7: one of my new friends at EBM

pic 8: Christmas hamper packing: instruction time.

pic 9: I was helping sort the 300+ filled hampers by distributing organization. Whew.

pic 10: our EBM team who worked for hours in that attic space

Monday, February 28, 2011

life as we know it

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit. (a few hours early)

February was a really good month! I am feeling that I have something to contribute to the work of EBM, and I genuinely think that I have been called to be here.

February was concluded this past week with our second YAV retreat. We headed up to the North Coast of Northern Ireland for three days. We stayed in Corrymeela-Knocklayde (a house owned by Corrymeela but not part of the compound.) It's nestled into the base of Knocklayde (a very steep mountain/hill) and has glorious views of the surrounding countryside.
The glens of Antrim and the Antrim coast are two of my favorite places in Northern Ireland.
While there, we saw the Giant's Causeway, Ballintoy Harbour, overlooked Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, climbed Knocklayde, and even took a day trip to Londonderry/Derry.
It was great.

Here is the picture of our group at Ballintoy harbour:

This week I will be back full time working with EBM (lots of planning and leading activities!) but am then heading out to SCOTLAND on Saturday.
This Saturday through the following Thursday, I am meeting up with two friends from university over their spring break, and we will be spending time in Edinburgh, Inverness, and St Andrews.
Taking my rain gear and good hiking boots, so I should be set.

Thank you all for the many prayers, thoughts, and kind words during these past few months. The days are already getting much longer, and Spring is definitely in the air.
In the grace and peace of God.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The American Myth

Here's another weighty post for us to chew on.

I was given a book to read by one of the members of EBM's congregation. It's entitled "The Irresistible Revolution" by Shane Claiborne.
[My disclaimer is that I don't fully agree with everything he says, but he is truly a prophet for today. Prophet derives from Greek to 'speak out' or 'speak forth' and is synonymous with 'visionary.']

Shane's style of reflecting on Christianity (primarily American Christianity) is not by providing answers, but rather through raising questions. He asks many questions about redemptive violence, but particularly: can violence really be a force for good?
This is a topic that has come up many times during my year here, both in regards to Northern Ireland and the U.S.
Can one really achieve peace by sending in soldiers carrying guns? (My observation: didn't seem to work in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and doesn't really seem to work in today's world either.)
On our trip to Londonderry over the recent YAV retreat, our guide - who was one of the survivors of Bloody Sunday - reflected on the confusion at the time: "If the army is here to protect us, then why are the rifles pointed towards us.?"

Another part of Claiborne's writing resonated with me today as I read it:
"What is crazier: spending billions of dollars on a defense shield, or suggesting that we share our billions of dollars so we don't need a defense shield? What is crazier: maintaining arms contracts with 154 countries while asking the world to disarm its weapons of mass destruction, or suggesting that we lead the world in disarmament by refusing to deal weapons with over half of the world and by emptying the world's largest stockpile here at home?
What's crazy is that the US, less than 6 percent of the world's population, consumes nearly half of the world's resources, and that the average American consumes as much as 520 Ethiopians do, while obesity is declared a 'national health crisis'."

Maybe those are oversimplified symptoms of rampant injustices in today's world, but when one steps back and looks at the 'bigger picture,' it doesn't really make much sense.

Some of you might have seen the article by Jim Wallis (who actually wrote the forward for Claiborne's book) that I posted on Facebook. For those of you who didn't, here it is again:

Do not be blinded by false patriotism about the greatness that is America.
[Good word that I learned today from a Walter Brueggemann essay: "jingoism." Defined as "extreme patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy."]
I heard a comment the other day that, "America's economy is great. The rest of the world depends on it."
Yes, it is true that the rest of the world depends on it... because we have ensured it.
In lifting ourselves up, we have pushed so many nations of the world down. Jingoism.
(Suggested reading: "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins.)

Personal reflections:
Let's explore for a moment the basic ethical implications of the American wardrobe.
Several generations ago, most of our ancestors (likely being from the working class) would have worn the same outfit for every day of the week, save Sunday when the better outfit would have been worn. (I went to the Ulster folk museum this past weekend and saw an exhibit on Victorian-era clothes.)
But today, most Americans can likely wear an entirely different outfit for every day of the week, if not month. One of the main ways this is possible is through cheap human labor.
Simple economics: by driving the costs of production down through slave-like labor in developing countries, companies ensured that their products would be affordable to the American consumer (cough, cough, Nike).
I'm not an economics expert, but it's basic business unethical policy.
People complain about losing jobs overseas, but then we demand cheaper goods and services.

We have raised ourselves up and glorified ourselves on our cleanliness, our 'success', and being the 'best nation' in the world.
But we have not stopped to look around at the carnage, the cost, and the unethical nature of our success.
This is just the topic of clothes.
Let's not even get started on other topics of oil (cough, cough, allying with politically corrupt regimes) and food (cough, cough, relying on migrant laborers while denying their children citizenship).

I am not a military expert or professor of economics but rather a concerned American citizen. I don't think these issues need a degree or a pair of binoculars to see the many unethical aspects of the American society. One simply has to have the courage to face the truth.

The American myth rests on its laurels of oxymorons. ('Peacekeeping missiles.')
Put jingoism aside; step back and examine the picture.
What American politicians and military generals choose to spend American tax dollars on impacts the world. If we choose to continue to strengthen our military, the rest of the world will take note and respond accordingly.
I would wager good money that percentage-wise, more non-Americans are aware of our foreign policies as Americans are. Why? Because our foreign policy impacts them.

Why just God bless America? Instead, why shouldn't God bless everyone in this broken and hurting world?
(Why America is not, and should not be in my opinion, considered a Christian nation is a topic for another day. But in the meantime, pray for the Christians in Iraq and Afghanistan who are struggling to cope with the loss of a family member due to an American missile.)

Redemptive violence does not work. So why does the U.S. government think armed troops around the world will ensure peace?
When will it be time to beat our swords into ploughshares?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr cried out in response to the Vietnam war, "Every time our government chooses to use military force to bring about change in the world, it once again teaches our children the myth of redemptive violence, the myth that violence can be an instrument for good."

Blessed are the peacemakers.
The first step in loving your neighbor is being able to trust them. This is something that many Northern Irish struggle to do. It's hardest when one doesn't have a relationship with your neighbor; your neighbor is simply a name with a label such as "Protestant" or "Catholic," "Prods" or "Fenians."
For trust to be built, we must begin to get to know our neighbor. And that can be scary.
If we were to cut our defense budget, that means we would have to trust our neighbors.
But what if one of our neighbors turns on us? (Well, on September 11th, terrorists attacked a financial building, not a church. I have a feeling they weren't actually attacking Christianity, rather American/ Western economic policy which some people then linked together.)
So before we ask the question 'what if,' shouldn't we be asking the question, 'have we already turned on them?'
Question the ethics of the American system... What is more patriotic than questioning government, right? John Adams and T.J. would appove.

Question the American myth. Question why the American flag is flown above the Christian flag. (Does our loyalty really lie first to our country then to God?)
Question why your clothes are so cheap. Question why your food is so cheap.
Question why we consume half of the world's resources.

There aren't any simple answers, and I don't claim to know any solutions to the world's problems.
Maybe in your examinations you will find that you like living in America and living the privileged life.
But then I would urge you to reflect on the warnings of James 5 (NRSV): Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

As we question, even when we don't have the answers, our eyes can be opened to see the larger picture, and we can begin to change our actions.
Buy fair trade, consume less fuel (buy a more fuel efficient car! carpool! walk! take a bus! public transportation sucks: start a revolution!), get to know your neighbors, travel outside of your neighborhood and get to know more people!, and most of all - let's support one another through it all.

Part of Christianity is the community that we can form with one another through our faith. We gather together not in violence but in peace. And we are all invited to the table, for it has been prepared and is simply waiting for us.
Let us lay down our ploughshares, call for all nations to lay down their swords, and then dine together.
Through the peace and grace of God.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Halfway here, halfway home

This past week marked my halfway mark. I have been in Northern Ireland for exactly 5.5 months and have about 5.5 months to go. Halfway here, halfway home, depending on your outlook on life.

How am I settling in?
It's been awhile since I was asked that question, which is very much indicative of my state in Belfast. While it doesn't necessarily feel like my permanent 'home,' one still uses the phrase when heading 'home' from a day of work. It's definitely feeling like a home.
Two weeks ago, I was working across the street from Stepping Stone, the office of EBM that I usually work in, and it was definitely weird not being a part of the everyday banter and hustle of the place. As I returned back to my normal routine these past two weeks, it feels just like that: my normal routine. Being comfortable and confident in the work that I am doing.

What exactly am I doing here?
Everyday bring different tasks and activities. Since I am working on Sundays, my 'sabbath' day varies from week to week. Sometimes I take a Monday, sometimes a Friday, sometimes a Wednesday, etc.; every week it's different.
The past two weeks have had me leading a Sunday evening worship service, doing multiple pastoral visits, helping out with Friday Fusion and Dance Nation, helping brainstorm and look at the larger calling of East Belfast Mission as the organization moves into Skainos, and much more! I also have had the pleasure of leading Friendship Circle multiple times as we have explored the topic of 'remarkable, but ordinary people.' This has more or less culminated in a craft project: decorating picture frames using cut out words from magazines to form a collage on the frame. In the frame we will put a picture of someone in our lives that is 'remarkable but ordinary.' The women have done a wonderful job! I will hopefully get a group picture of it over the next few weeks as we do a 'show and tell' time. :)
Life has been very full as I have been helping and thinking and dreaming and talking and a small share of 'doing.'

What is one important 'lesson' that I have learned here?
"Listening is a rare happening among human beings. You cannot listen to the word another is speaking if you are preoccupied with your appearance or impressing the other, or if you are trying to decide what you are going to say when the other stops talking, or if you are debating about whether the word being spoken is true or relevant or agreeable. Such matters may have their place, but only after listening to the word as the word is being uttered. Listening, in other words, is a primitive act of love, in which a person gives self to another's word, making self accessible and vulnerable to that word." - William Stringfellow
The importance of listening can't really be overstated. I have learned the most about the people of Belfast by simply listening. It's often hard to slow ourselves down long enough to listen to others, but it's so important.
From listening comes understanding, and from understanding trust can be built. There has begun to be more listening in Belfast, but the people have not begun to truly understand and trust one another. Just by listening to people's conversations, particularly their rhetoric of 'us and them,' one hears the 'peace walls' and murals that are present in people's minds and not just in their neighborhoods.

Vocab lesson:
suss it out = work it out
Ta = often used to end a conversation, more or less 'thank you', often taught to younger children in place of 'thank you,' but used by all generations
peelers = police
yer man/ yer woman = often used in conversation to generally mean that woman/man

We are off on our second retreat to Ballycastle (city on the North Coast) on Monday. It's hard to believe the second retreat is already here!
The weather has been lovely lately. Some days of rain and cold, but generally the next day brings back mild temperatures and weather.
In grace and peace.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Citing Wikipedia is Never a Good Idea....

Hello faithful blog readers!
Hopefully you aren't reading this out of sheer boredom from being snowed in to your house.
If you are, please know that Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow today, so there will be an early spring!
Although, according to the Washington Post, his success rating is 39%.
About the same success rating as most weathermen anyway.

The week continues to go well; more on that later. For now, I wanted to share a youtube clip with you. If you have the time on your hands, it can tell you all you ever wanted to know about what exact country I am in.
While I am on the island of Ireland, I am not in the Republic of Ireland . No, I am not in Great Britain, but rather the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
How exactly does it all break down?
Watch and learn. :)
(My apologies that it cites Wikipedia... But I do approve this message.)

In grace and peace.

Monday, January 31, 2011


So this week, I am stepping back from my usual routine of activities, except for a few evening activities like Dance Nation and Friday Fusion, to explore a different side of EBM - social economy!!! I have the pleasure of shadowing the head of EBM's social economy 'department,' Peter. (The best advice I got for the week from Peter himself - he recommended that I bring a flask of coffee with me.)
Well, I don't drink coffee, but I did have three mugs of tea today.
This morning was primarily paperwork, learning a bit about the overall organization of EBM's 9 thrift stores and cafe, and getting organized for tomorrow's shops meeting for shops' managers.
The manual labor portion of the day began at 11:30...

When a business moves into a new office from a previous office space, they are left with issue of what to do with all of the 'old' (but often still quality) office desks, partitions, chairs, etc.
There is always the option of paying for the items to be landfilled. (Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.)
EBM has started to provide an alternative option though!
Social economy began a furniture refurbishment project this past Fall and are currently trying to open a business furniture shop (office max - style). So, EBM provides free pick-up of the items... And it's a win-win for both parties.
EBM will be able to re-sell the furniture. (In the meantime, EBM has a large warehouse to store everything.) And the business profits by not having to pay to landfill it and also are able to maintain their social/environmental consciousness. Hooray!

One company in Belfast has just consolidated its business from five offices throughout Belfast into one new office building overlooking the Lagan River.
So from 11:30 to 6:00, I traveled with Peter around to three of the former office buildings and assisted in the removal of dozens and dozens of office chairs, reception desks, partitions, three-ring binders, microwaves, fridges, dishwashers, filing cabinets, rolling desk cabinets, and more. In all, Peter, myself, and the truck's two-man crew filled up five medium-sized lorries to the top. (It makes me a bit sick to think about option 1, if all of the stuff had been landfilled.)

Haha, best moment of the day for your imagination to recreate:
It's about 1:30 in the afternoon. We had just filled up our first lorry at office #2. The truck was away transferring the stuff to the warehouse. Peter went to get us cups of coffee/tea. I am left guarding a large stockpile of desks, filing cabinets, etc. on a sidewalk in downtown Belfast. I am chilling in my jeans and ski jacket, leaning up against a filing cabinet which is blocking me from the wind.
Needless to say, I got some curious looks from the business people passing by.
Overall, successful, successful day, and even with all of the hard work, thoroughly enjoyable.

But after it all, I am simply knackered. (British slang = tired.) I will sleep soundly tonight and likely awaken to a few blisters on the hands and a few new muscles in my arms. :)

In grace and peace. Zzzzzzz.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reflections and Anecdotes

Here are three reflections and anecdotes from the past few weeks. None of the them are really connected in one theme, but hopefully you will be able to understand a bit more about my life recently in Belfast.

"But you know, I can't complain."
It was my second visit with a woman from the Friendship Circle who hasn't been well over the past two months. With the cold winter setting in so early and the nasty flu season in the UK, many of the pensioners in East Belfast have been struggling health-wise this winter.
As this woman is 89, her health has been faltering; between her eyesight, heart problems, and swollen feet, she has been confined to her house over the past while. During my first visit before Christmas, she was rather low in spirits, but on this visit last week, the spirit in her voice was back. She was telling stories about how as a child her family had a chicken that would chase her around and peck at her heels. Her mother didn't believe her until she saw it happen one day; they had chicken for dinner. (But she wouldn't eat any of it!)
But through some stories of her life and the narrative of her illness, including worrying about the continued loss of her eyesight, she kept repeating, "But you know, I can't complain."
The Friendship Circle, and really East Belfast, is full of these women who have seen their share of sorrow, personal loss, economic turmoil, health failings, and for some, even the second world war. But they remain strong in their faith and are quick to remember and put others who are also suffering before themselves. It's truly humbling.

Every day brings a new adventure and opens up my eyes a wee bit more.
Last night, following Dance Nation (I got to dance with the older class - OW! I am getting old!), I met up with a flatmate to head into the city to catch the 3 pound showing of Black Swan. We got to the cinema though, and the showing was sold out.
The guy YAVs had invited us over to their flat in North Belfast; they had an Australian traveler staying there through 'couch surfing'.
(Couch surfing is an online society that you can join. In exchange of letting travelers stay at your house, you can use the site to find people to stay with all over the world. No worries, you leave reviews for both the travelers and the hospitality on the site!)
Well, we headed out towards the guys' flat to celebrate Australia Day - on Australian time - with an Australian (and them too). Happy Australia Day!!
On the way out to their place, my flatmate mentioned that there had been a bomb scare in North Belfast earlier that day... Sure enough, our bus had to detour around the cordoned off section but dropped us where we needed to be. Scarily enough, the police lines were next to the guys' neighborhood.
When we got to the house, one of the guys was at church; turns out his church, Fortwilliam and McCrory Presbyterian, was letting some displaced people stay there over night. Included in that group were some Irish Travelers, comparable to gypsies or roma but not actually from the same ethnic group. Funniest story that he had from the evening was that the Irish travelers were requesting for the police to find them a tv to watch a show that was on: my big fat gypsy wedding.
In honor of them, we watched it as a group that night. Main highlights of the show:
- Irish travelers like to throw over the top weddings. So, the bride's wedding dress was cotton candy pink and weighed over 20 stone, comparable to 280 pounds. Cotton candy explosion complete with mechanical butterflies that flew around the dress. Classy.
- another group of travelers who had applied for building permits on some land were getting kicked off of it.
Stereotypes abound for the Irish travelers, but poignantly enough, there were many non-travelers out protesting the bailiffs throwing these families off of the undeveloped land.
Through the tackiness and commercialized product of it all, the show raised many questions about the prejudices that are too often just another part of life.
For all of the advances that have been made in this peace process, how can some people still think taking human lives is a viable way of making your voice heard?
If you'd like to read more about the bomb threat: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-12289914
The best comment that I heard in response to the bomb threat came from a staff person at EBM whose gut wrenching comment was, 'I thought those police evacuations were a thing of the past.'
Before yesterday, I had no idea what an Irish traveler was, had never watched 'my big fat gypsy wedding,' and hadn't really realized the sheer hassle involved when a bomb threat is made.
Every day brings a new adventure and opens up my eyes just a wee bit more.

the winter blues
It's been sunny here. I would say that since we have been here in September, on average, it has only rained 1.5 out of 7 days.
But unfortunately, that still doesn't mean that the winter blues haven't stayed away.
The past few weeks I have been feeling rather down. Stuff just hasn't felt right at work, and I have been feeling downright grumpy. It is probably not serious enough for a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder, but it's definitely the winter blues.
Coupling with that is the fact that it's the tough year: the transition out of undergraduate life. No winter break retreat to the parents' house for free laundry and home cooking; no Sinfonicron production to brighten the gloomy days of winter; no exciting start of classes with a fresh new schedule; no sunken gardens to meet in for a game of muddy ultimate frisbee; no longer surrounded by several thousand college kids willing to discuss Dickens and developmental psychology and the horribleness of parallel fifths.
The problem with Belfast in winter is that the sun rises no earlier than 8:30 and sets no later than 5:00.
Mathematically speaking, 2/3 of the 'day' the sky is dark.
It's a battle every morning with the alarm clock; my university roommates can attest that I was already addicted to my snooze button. One also has to mentally steel oneself from eating dinner before 5:30 and going to bed at 9:00.
One of the best lines that I remember from orientation is a former YAV saying that sometimes, just getting out of bed means that you have already won for the day.
So far, I have always made it out of bed: win.
Some lights that shine through the darkness: the wonderful people of EBM who are always there to provide support and some laughs. Training for the Belfast City Marathon! (Some of us YAVs and maybe even Doug Baker! will be WALKING it.) Walking around the city and even along the coast up to Bangor this past weekend have helped to bring in some fresh air to the cobwebby brain cells. Plus, all of the wonderful letters, cards, facebook messages, and prayers that are emanating from all over the U.S. have helped to bring smiles, and a few tears, to my face. Thank you all for your support during this year!
The winter blues will soon enough turn into the green of spring, provided Punxsutawney Phil comes through. And until then, I am continuing to take daily life in stride and remembering to enjoy the little things.

In grace and peace.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A church is not a building...

Skainos (noun, Greek origin): 1. tent 2. presence, dwelling 3. frailty, weakness, as of the human body
EBM adopted the name 'skainos' for its building project several years ago.
Since January 2010, the congregation of EBM has been meeting, gathering, worshiping, and working off site. One year later, the church has been leveled, and now construction of the new building - Skainos - has begun.
It's difficult in times like these to remember that the church is more than a building.
During the week, it's frustrating to not have rooms or supply closets in which to easily turn for craft supplies or to continuously have to be creative about where groups can meet.
Through it all, it's important to remember that a church is the people who make it up. Even during this time of seeming limbo without a building, East Belfast Mission is still a thriving church.
Part of the planning around EBM this past week is beginning to look ahead to moving back into the building. In the next year and a half, what does the congregation need to be sustained; how do community groups need to be notified about the brand new building about to be open for use?
Through it all, this song often comes to my mind:
"A church is not a building, a church is not a steeple,
A church is not a resting place, a church is a people.
I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together,
All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we're the church together."

Centuries later, we think back to the early Christians who met not in grand cathedrals but rather in small groups. With or without a building, a church is still a church.
God is present not only in a house of worship, but rather throughout all of our daily lives.

In peace and grace.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

the significance of daily life: random ramblings

I heard a comment recently from a person about how he has heard over the years a number of sermons defaming Harry Potter and its use of "witchcraft."
My initial reaction was to laugh and dismiss the criticisms as basic remnants of 17th century superstitions.
But then, I began to think about it more.
My first question to these critics would be whether they have taken the time to read the works. The Harry Potter series is more than just "witchcraft" - it deals with important 'themes' of death, love, friendship, "good" persevering despite the odds, and many other aspects of daily life with which people of all ages struggle.

The books also reflect on the dangers of living in fear, the importance of relationships through times of trouble, and even violence. (For example, Rowling continuously emphasizes the gifts of each individual character to the plot of the story. The forbidden spells/curses are the ones that torture or kill one's opponent.)
I have read multiple reflections about the de-humanizing effects of violence, but I remember Rob Bell's reflections the clearest. In reflecting on the wider subjects of torture, and war, and the Holocaust, he discusses how the effects of torture and murder do not just impact the victim; the inhumane aspects of the acts implicate the doer of the deeds and spread throughout society which remained silent and did not protest. (On a side tangent, how long do brides continue to expect diamond engagement rings when the high demand fuels wars and inhumane living conditions for workers in the industry?)
But how long does the church waste its breath on defaming Harry Potter and remain silent on sectarianism, senseless violence within our society, and the war policies instituted by our governments?

What happens when fear becomes such a part of daily life that society becomes complacent?
A topic that has come up over the past few days while I have been back in Belfast, is how the extraordinary became the ordinary during the Troubles.
When going out shopping in City Centre, one would not be able to park the car and leave it unattended along the road. A person had to be in the car at all times - unattended cars would be towed and often destroyed for fear of a bomb.
Another aspect of daily life was constant searches.
- Automatically having your handbag ready to be searched when walking into a grocery store or shopping mall. (People would go to the South and walk into the store holding out their handbags at the ready... Only to realize how ridiculous they looked.)
- Being ready for a police stop while out driving. (Even today, police stops include armed officers holding submachine guns.)
In hearing Belfast residents reflect on some of these "symptoms" of the Troubles, the general comments revolve around how awful it was that it all just felt like normal life. That after awhile, one grew complacent about all of the bomb threats and scares; while they were scary, it still became part of the ordinary. (A believable excuse when one was late to work was "there was a bomb threat.")

There is still a lot to be learned about what happened in Tucson, Arizona over the weekend. But what is important that we recognize the symptoms of the times and choose to not remain silent. (And realize the larger implications that this "symptom" draws attention to.)
We cannot grow complacent about the fear, the bigotry, the violence, and the extremism in our globalized world. We cannot distance ourselves from them. We must wake up and realize we are in the year 2011. That superstitions about witchcraft were due to the ignorance of our ancestors. (Censorship of Huckleberry Finn is a topic for another day.)
Becoming complacent about daily life is not how we are called to live. We must realize just how closely this world is connected. Whatever the results of the elections in South Sudan, we must realize that we have been implicated in being bystanders over the past decades as men, women, and children were killed in the name of religion all over the world.

The significance of daily life is that we realize the presence of God in it. That despite the cruelty that humans can have towards one another, God is calling us to choose civility and compassion. That in all of the hate, sadness, and maddening injustices of the world, that we stand together, in relationship with one another, despite our differences, and we carry this message out to the world.
So take some time to yourself in quiet reflection as you are reading this. Reflect on your place in this world. Think about how your words or daily actions might contribute towards hurting your neighbor. Sometimes it's not what we did, but rather, what we didn't do.
(I am not exempt from this self-examination.)
The importance is that we try to heed the call to mend bridges, heal wounds, provide comfort, and move forward together. Through it all, providing the much needed support for one another. And hopefully in the process, we can discover our true selves and what humanity really means.
Therein lies the significance of daily life.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I leave you in grace and peace with these words of Stringfellow:

"The restoration of the original identity of a person - in all its particularities and all its relationships, in the totality of its political significance - the renewal of a person's wholeness, which is the initiation into holiness, is utterly the effort of the Word of God... Instead of being somehow transported "out of this world," rather than indulging abstinence, evasion, or escapism, rather than fabricating some isolation or separation or privatism, the irony in being holy is that one is plunged more fully into the practical existence of this world, as it is, than in any other way." - William Stringfellow