I am back home in Northern Ireland this week for some meetings and preaching engagements. But I am also delighted that we have also finally been able to bring the play, ‘No Man is an (Irish) Island’, which I co-wrote with Play It By Ear drama company, to Ireland. Thanks to sponsorship by the Methodist Church in Ireland, and the Zeltmission of the UMC in Germany, we were able to show the play to a secondary school in Tipperary, a church audience in Mount Mellick, and last night in the Grosvenor Hall in Belfast. This play is all about the power of welcome – a timely message, that seems to have resonated with those in attendance. “This play should be seen by everyone in Ireland”, was just one comment after last night’s performance!
The topic of migration and refugees is one that will be with us for years to come. The huge inequalities that exist in the world, that are also fuelled (literally) by a climate crisis that will exacerbate those problems in the all too near future, means that increasing numbers of desperate people will be forced to flee or migrate in order to survive. Building higher walls and tighter borders to keep them out, is not the answer. No man is an island. No one is an island. We need each other. Everyone counts. And as simplistic and naive as it sounds, I really do believe that the only force powerful enough to get us to comprehend that, is …love. True love will motivate us to see the ‘other’, and hopefully be willing to put ourselves out for the other… so that our politics, our thinking, our giving and our religion may then be informed and influenced by it.
A New Song
That’s why today, on this Valentine’s Day, I want to share a song with you, that I just finished writing. It’s a rough recording and could certainly do with some polishing. But I did not want to miss the opportunity of sharing it today. The song relates to the refugee theme. And it’s a love song. Watch and listen to the song on YouTube
Flags have always been a part of my life. Ironic, considering that my home country, Northern Ireland, does not actually have its own official national flag! But growing up in a housing estate near Belfast during what is euphemistically known as ‘the Troubles’, you simply had to know your flags. On the one hand, our flag, the red, white and blue of the union and my almost sacramental understanding of it as an outward sign of a deeply held inner belief. And then their flag – the green, white and gold of the Irish Republic. Of ‘the other’, who no doubt had equally deeply held beliefs about what their flag meant and signified. Beliefs I could never really understand. Probably because I never tried to. Nor wanted to. At least, not back then. Flags can do that to you.
I came to the Christian faith as a young man, studied theology and became a minister of the Methodist Church in Ireland – a church that serves the island of Ireland, both north and south. My first appointment was right on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Flags were everywhere. ‘Us’ and ‘them’ were everywhere. ‘We’ were few.
In 1998 I was appointed as a mission partner to serve with the United Methodist Church, our sister church, in Germany. Again, flags – or rather, lack of them – was a theme. In Northern Ireland I was accustomed to seeing flags in churches or at particular worship services throughout the year. But the members of my German congregation had a very different attitude to flags. They had experienced the horrors of the Nazis during the Third Reich. The Hitler youth – and in East Germany, the Communist youth – with their flags and their uniforms, led the German church to be much more careful, much more critical of flags and their abuse for nationalist and populist purposes. In all my time here, I have never seen the German national flag in a church!
For the past year I have also been serving the Methodist Church in Britain (MCB) as Europe Relationships Coordinator. It’s an interesting time for this Northern Irishman, living at the heart of Europe in eastern Germany, and working for the British Methodists, particularly as the Brexit deadline approaches and the UK formally leaves the European Union. And once again, flags are having their say. It is the Irish flag, for instance, that will enable me to stay, and travel and work in the EU. Yes, I did apply for Irish citizenship and now have an Irish passport. And yes, my father, staunch loyalist that he was, may well be turning in his grave because I now not only have our flag, …but also theirs!
The fact of the matter is that I no longer think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Flags and indeed my whole sense of allegiance took on a profound new meaning all those years ago, when I became a Christ follower. Don’t get me wrong – when Northern Ireland (try to) play football, I’m a loyal member of the green and white army. Or when Ireland are playing rugby in the 6 nations, you will know where I stand. And when I watch the Olympics, I always want to see Team GB do well.
Business as Usual – LOVE!
But as Christians our true allegiance transcends countries. Flags. Man-made borders. Jesus teaches us that every single human being is created in the image of God and is therefore our brother, our sister. The apostle Paul teaches us that our citizenship is not of this earth, but is in heaven. And John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, reminds me that the world is our parish.
That is why it will be pretty much business as usual for me and the rest of my Methodist family in Europe come the 31stJanuary. The UK may be leaving the EU on that date, but as Partnership Coordinator for Europe I will be helping the Methodist Church in Britain to continue its joint ventures with all its partners in Europe. We will remain active members of the European Methodist Council and its sub-committees, indeed honoured and delighted as MCB to be co-chair of the council in the coming year (together with UMC Germany). The national youth gathering of the Methodist Church in Britain (3Gen) will continue to invite, welcome and be enriched by their guests from the wider European Methodist family. Every district of MCB is currently being actively encouraged to seek and initiate church twinning and partnerships intentionally with churches in Europe. Group visits and joint mission encounters to, from and with our partners in Europe, will continue as before. And the many social, diaconal and missional initiatives of our partner churches all across Europe will continue to be supported with grant aid, scholarships, mission partner appointments, and prayers.
Why? Quite simply because we are Christians. Our allegiance is to Christ, and through Christ to the world. Our mission and our calling remain the same, and for that reason, we will keep flying the flag, so to speak. Being church. Journeying together. Humbly doing faith in love.
Here is a brilliant little documentary about INSPIRE Chemnitz. INSPIRE was started in 2014 by 8 Christians in Chemnitz who have a heart for the Brühl neighbourhood. We work and collaborate with all kinds of people to share light and love and breathe new life into this part of town. We are grateful to Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church for encouraging us and helping us to make this short film. Hopefully it will inspire churches to engage their communities and bless their neighbourhoods. For more follow us on Facebook or here.
So, dear friends, I found the password to my blog site and can finally write here again 😉
When I am on the road doing my Irish Evenings with songs, stories and reading from my book, people quite often ask me if I have a CD of my songs. Well
now I have! I have finally made a little EP of four songs to test the waters before maybe doing a full album.
The songs are in English, but I have English and German translation on the inlay inside the CD. The music and lyrics are all my own – just me and my acoustic guitar. Songs about love, life, faith, social justice… and domestic violence. Take a listen to this one below – dedicated to all sufferers of domestic abuse. It’s called ‘Taste of Home’
The EP costs 5 €. Let me know if you want one – I can even send you a signed copy 🙂
Hier das Gedicht vom vorigen Beitrag jetzt auf Deutsch…
Der gestürzte Baum
Ich hörte sie nicht mal fallen.
Tageslicht offenbarte sie mir, da wo sie lag.
So selbstverständlich ausgestreckt.
Still. Verlassen. Am Boden.
Gestern stand sie aufrecht. Groß.
Mit spindeldürren Armen gen Himmel erhoben,
In einem demonstrativen Akt der Anbetung,
Irgendwie majestätisch. Sogar trotzig.
Jene gleichen Arme erniedrigt
Mit knochigen Fingern in einem Akt der Verzweiflung ausgedehnt.
In der Hoffnung, von jemandem gefangen zu werden. Von mir? Vergeblich.
Jetzt keine Bewegung mehr. Ihre leblosen Glieder, wie eingefroren,
Fangen den verhängnisvollen Moment ein, der die Krone löste und die Königin stürzte.
Der ultimative Schnappschuss. Von einem Akt Gottes. Auffällig durch seine Abwesenheit.
Dessen Atem bläst, wo er will. So sagt man, zumindest.
Kein Zeuge mehr. Sie ist unfähig zu sprechen.Vom Kommen und Gehen.
Von verbotenen Begegnungen und Narben, die erinnern an genommene Freiheiten.
Also nimmt sie die Namen ihrer Peiniger mit ins Grab.
In ihren Gedächtnis geätzt. Nun ins Vergessen geschnitzt.
Die Ringe unter ihren Augen könnten sicher Geschichten erzählen.
Von damals, angewurzelt, als der heftige Sturm durchmarschierte. Den Untergang diktierend.
Oder vom Volk. Von Macht. Von Frieden drehen.
Sie war dabei.
Durch Regieren und Herrschen und die gemeine Zeit;
Und als das Mauerblümchen den frischen Wind herbei tanzte,
Und neunundachtzig Herbstblätter von braun zu rot in blühende Landschaften blies.
Wir vergessen, wie viel sie weiß. Nicht mehr.
Im Dreivierteltakt nahm sie jeden Blatt von dem Mund, bis sie jedes Mal blass aussah.
Die Früchte ihrer Arbeit aber rings rum in Sicht.
Wie sie, ein Atemzug Frischluft. Schützend. Nährend. Sie atmen Leben aus.
Warum habe ich sie für selbstverständlich gehalten? Ich hörte sie nicht mal fallen.