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.