Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A Thing About The Flegs

So there's a thing that's been bothering me in all this talk about The Fleg Protests, and it is this: I keep hearing the protesters referred to as 'scumbags', 'lowlifes', 'hoods', 'morons' etc.  Of course, this is simply classic Northern Irish tribalism, but with the boundaries rotated.  Nowadays, instead of splitting into 'Nationalist' and 'Unionist', we're splitting into 'the ones with sense' and 'the eejits'.  But This Simply Will Not Do, because Tribalism has never served us well, and in order to move forward, we need to move together.

It's rather depressing to see politicians trot out the same old lines night after night: "They started it", "They attacked us first", "Our rights are being stripped away", "They get handed everything and it's being taken from us". In the midst of this, I've been impressed by the likes of Naomi Long, who said, after receiving a death threat, that she wants to build a shared future which includes everyone, and specifically, which also includes those who issued a death threat against her.  Naomi is one of those incredibly impressive people who can, under pressure, take a loaded question and instead of giving the same old answer, can inject her response with grace, sense and vision.  Kind of a bit like Jesus.  She's also funny on Facebook.  Also like Jesus, maybe.

Anyway, I think this is the right way to do things.  We need to build a future which includes everyone.  And we can't do that if we write people off because they're a bit undesirable, what with their hoodies and their bricks and their funny little accents (Although there's a fabulous irony in one area of Belfast mocking another area for their accent.  A bit like the pot calling the other pot a pot.).

* WARNING: sudden swing into Religious Talk coming up about now *

Now, part of this of course comes down to churches, and this brings up another point. Since announcing my Intention To Become Mrs Smile, several people in church (and outside it) have asked whether I'll be moving house.  The underlying question often includes the nuance 'to somewhere a bit nicer'.  I can't blame them, since this is what has happened to pretty much every couple who have got engaged/married in our church in the past number of years, and in churches in the area.  It's not as if it's a bad area, it's just not necessarily the most desirable, so people assume you'll want to get out of it when you have the option, to have more bedrooms and a bigger garden, and a place to park the car.  But I have no intention of going anywhere, mainly because my stress levels would go through the ceiling if I had to move house, but also because I believe that the local church is the hope of the world, and the hope of the local area as well.  We can't make a difference in an area unless we live in the area, worship in the area, serve the area, and know people in the area.  Too many people of my generation are off to the 'big name' churches, which are often in the nice middle-class areas, serving the nice middle-class areas, attracting the nice middle-classes.  Too few hang around in the places that are struggling because their members are elderly (and therefore often having wisdom and experience, but not necessarily fond of drums), or unchurched (and therefore with fresh vision, but also crazy ideas during Bible studies), or too stretched in their resources (and therefore having to rely on God, but not really knowing that the work they do can be paid after the end of the month, even though it's already on a budget of about £3 per week).

Now, my church isn't quite in that situation (although too stretched in the resources department is true, so feel free to send us money (no, seriously)), but we want to serve the community we're in, and by and large we do that best when we actually live there and know the area and know the people.  We'll never do it if we start labelling people, whether as scroungers, skivers, shirkers, lowlifes, scumbags and chavs, posh, holy, mature, needy, useful or anything else.  We'll do it if we get to know people as people, and we see their good, bad and annoying only after seeing our own good, bad and annoying, and only after realising that the reason we can live with the bad is that we've been redeemed by a gracious God who sees everyone else as being precisely as good/bad/annoying as he sees us.

Of course, then they might join our church and do weird things like go all fundamentalist or not understand the doctrine of prevenient grace or not like our cool new worship singing (it is interesting to note that people who are not in the habit of going to church very often quite like the Old Ways Of Doing Things, Thankyouverymuch, although we like to think that they'll be all cool like us (not like me, I'm not cool at all.  But like the cool people)).  And they may have to miss the Bible Study to go and stand at the protests, if those happen to clash, but that doesn't mean that they have nothing to input to the study, it just means that maybe we'll have to learn from them over a cup of tea at a more convenient time.

But I digress. I'm just saying that if we've deserted a particular area because it wasn't 'nice enough' for us, then we can't really stand and wring our hands and look down on the people who live there as if they are in some way inferior.  I'm saying that maybe we need to stop thinking we can have All The Nice We Want and if other people get left behind, tough.  Because we have to Share The Nice, people.

At some point I may give you my rants on The Middle Classes, Spiritual Journeys, and General Christian Bollocks, but I have been specifically asked to share my rant on Youth Work, and that may be next.

It is also entirely possible that I am completely wrong about all of this, and that I will change my opinion tomorrow.  So don't get too worked up, like.


Nick Heath said...

Well said. more please.

hargaden said...

As is so often the case, this is so good it makes me reconsider joining Google Plus so I can +1 it instead of having to write a pointless comment!

Sharon Gilmore said...

Thank you both. Kevin, you can just write '+1' in future, and we'll all Know what you mean.

Louise Brogan said...

very good, will be following your blog from now!

Diane Holt said...

Really refreshing to hear - and as my role is Church in the Community Advisor with Tearfund your comment about the local church being the hope of the world totally resonates as do your thoughts about living and getting to know about your local community. Almost makes me want to blog myself - but I will be following you from now on.

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