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.

Friday 11 January 2013

On What We Should All Do This Evening

So you'll have heard by now of the Flag Protests which are sweeping Belfast, and making us Look Bad On International News.  Now, the truth, of course, is that the majority of us are going about our daily business without much difficulty, and that the riots have been on about 3 roads; but none of this looks terribly exciting on the telly, so they have to make it look like we're all out there throwing bricks at whatever gets in our way, and generally setting fire to things and yelling a lot.

Still, every now and then they(*)'re having a Big Protest, in which they aim to bring Belfast to a standstill.  In fairness, this is not difficult: as we've seen in the past when a lorry parked itself in a bus lane, or a set of traffic  lights went out, or someone fell off a bike at a particular junction, Belfast's road network is built on the principle that "Every action has an equal and entirely complementary reaction, which will only ever compound the original problem until the whole thing stops moving altogether".  I could probably bring Belfast to a standstill myself, simply by placing a cardboard box in the middle of a carefully-chosen road junction (**).

But tonight is one such Big Protest, with people coming out in droves in the likes of Greyabbey to register their disgust at the flag not flying twenty times as often here as it does in the rest of the UK.  It is possible that this could have a negative effect on local businesses, most of whom have no influence over the Thing About The Flag and are only trying to Get By In Times Of Recession, so a Counter-Thing has been suggested, which involves us all going to local cafes, pubs and restaurants this evening to have a Nice Time.

Now this is precisely The Sort Of Thing I Like, as I would much rather live in a city which has pubs and cafes and restaurants, and has plenty of them for me to choose from, even though I don't really eat out, than live in a city which doesn't give me the option of eating out but which has a flag flying above a building I can't even see.  So I suggest that we all take this on board and eat out tonight, or, as in my case, have a cup of tea out.  And maybe if we see protesters who we know we should offer to take them for a cup of tea also, and they might see that it's Quite Nice to go for a cup of tea and it's also warmer than being at a protest, and then maybe they will calm down about the flag thing and we can all just Be Friends And Have A Nice Time Drinking Tea, which is, in any case, much more British than complaining(***).

(*) 'they' being a group of people who spell things badly on Facebook
(**) I don't plan to.  I'm just saying I probably could, because that's how Belfast's road network is constructed
(***) I mean, seriously, did you see the portrait that Kate Middleton has pretended to like?  Seriously people: follow the lead of your Monarchy - no matter what happens, smile and nod, and drink tea.

Sunday 6 January 2013

In Which It Is Seen That I Have My Good Points.

Well, it's now been 11 days since the Big Engagement, and I'm pleased to say I've started to calm down.  Once or twice, I've been so tranquil as to almost have non-negative feelings about the event.

While it is clearly, in many ways, a curse to greet all happy events with terror and despair, I must also admit that it has its good points.

For instance, it is widely known that if you spring any kind of Joyous Event upon me, you must give at least 3 days' notice before expecting a positive reaction; by the time I re-surface, most of the celebrations have been and gone, so I'm useful as a kind of second-wave celebrant (I say 'celebrant'; that may be over-stating it a little, even after a few days in bed).  And once I DO get happy, I have stickability; I'll remain happy for a lot longer than those fly-by-nights who'll grin like Cheshire Cats at anything.  They'll move on to their next Good Thing; I've worked hard to get to this point, and I am sticking the HECK with it.

Also, I strongly believe that people who are happy upon command are shallower kinds of individuals; it takes Someone Special to become utterly destitute when anything good happens.  There is an (admittedly highly-strung) underground network of us anxious types, and we really are Quite Something.

Thirdly, I have always believed that everyone has to do a set amount of worrying in their lives.  I'm just getting mine out of the way in one large block of 35 years.  Come June, I'll be chilled out and unflappable.  You wait.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

An Important Announcement

So, yes, the other thing that happened in 2012 was that Boyfriend Smile asked for permission to become Mr Smile, and I granted it.

Now this is all well and good in theory, but then of course one realises that one has committed oneself, so we're (by which I mean, I'm) just getting over the freaking out phase.

We have made some plans already, and hopefully the nuptials will not be too far off, but the best thing is that this means I'll no longer have to have Boyfriend Smile coming round every evening to be entertained; instead he will actually live here (I'm not moving house; he's coming here), and can entertain himself without my help. So I should have more time to blog and so on.

I would promise not to bore you all to death with the wedding details, but I'm sure you will appreciate that I'm so unlikely to mention it that it's more likely you'll be begging for details.  We'll see.

Books For 2013

Right, this isn't THE post for today, but I've set my reading challenge for 2013.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Sharon has read 0 books toward her goal of 35 books.

I'm not sure whether the widget automagically updates as I read things, but we'll see.  This time I've gone for 35 books, up from last year's target of 30 (I managed 32).  The previous year I only aimed for 15 and managed 17, so you can see I'm upping my game this time round.

I have some books I'd like to read.  They are:

Nathan Coulter
Wolf Hall (started)
Great Expectations (started)
The Poisonwood Bible
The White Tiger
A Place on Earth
East of Eden
Bleak House
Brave New World
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

The Radical Disciple
Prayer (the Philip Yancey one)
Something about discipleship... suggestions are welcome

I may, of course, read entirely different books, depending on what catches my attention.

Further suggestions are welcome.

Edit [2nd Jan, 2.40pm]: Following further suggestions, the following have been addded:
How to Train Your Dragon
The Island
The Cross and the Switchblade