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