Here Is Your King

So the Zoomtardage has been thin on the ground recently. Don’t blame me. Maybe my favourite Dublin blogs like Planet Potato, Stigmund, Angry French Belle and Yellow Snow are to blame since they’ve all seemed to pack it in. I caught the lacklustre off them. And don’t even talk to me about my wife, Neuro, who hasn’t told one joke since she stopped writing her blog. I didn’t marry her for crap like devotion and attention and support. It was the one-liners, impersonations and most importantly, the huge trust fund that served as bait for this hellish trap. HELLISH TRAP! Neither was Bob’s comment tango the cause of the Zoomtard delay. As intimidating as it is for someone to take what is written here seriously, it actually encourages me to write more. However, stupid stupid work place with all its demands on my time has been the reason for the gap in posting. It’s been busy down at the old God-exchange.

Scaling The Summit
There is a church in Illinois that is supremely well known called Willow Creek. The guy who founded Willow Creek is called Bill Hybels. Bill Hybels is a legend. Bill Hybels is the kind of guy who bungee jumps without the bungee just to prove he is harder than his sons. Bill Hybels is one side of modern evangelical Christianity’s personality. Its yang if you will to clever old Eugene Peterson’s ying. Peterson likes harpsichord music and early translations of Beowulf. Hybels likes books by Jim Collins and probably that tv show with Alan Sugar. Anyway, Willow Creek have this Global Summit conference every year. Its like a conference, but more challenging and I guess that is why they call it a summit. Work packed me off and sent me to the Global Summit where I got to hear Jim Collins explain how to lead people when you can’t encourage them with a pay cheque, the brilliant Ashish Nanda slowly unfold the wisdom of grooming new staff from within your organisation (encouraging to me, the local boy made good, who became a Christian in the church he now helps to lead) and got to hear Bono talk at length about his passion for the Scriptures and how his frustration with churches has turned into something kind of like awe once they understood how the AIDS crisis was a Kingdom of God issue.

This was one hell of a mind blowing conference. Sorry, summit. Everyone else was great, even though I had heard Hybels say most of what he had said before because Zoomtard is one well-connected fellow. And because he attended a Hybels training day in March. But just like the EAI conference at the end of last month, what was really encouraging was that the focus was not on making converts to Christianity. These men and women were concerned with the already here and still on-its-way arrival of the Kingdom of God. People who become disciples of Jesus are a natural outworking of the advancing Kingdom but numbers are not the point. Transformation is. Christians ended slavery. Christians have won the victories against racial hatred in our age. But still I think of Christian and I think judgemental and bigoted and self-interested and self-righteous. Then I stop looking in the mirror and think of other Christians and think much the same thing. This discrepancy is because for every Martin Luther King or Bill Hybels there seem to be a dozen Christians fighting over who has the most perfect doctrine or who is the most at fault or concerned with getting people to “tick a box for Jesus” rather than become agents in the biggest subversive cell in the world. Its still a sleeper cell but the more I come into contact with the work of people as diverse as Tom Wright, Mark Greene, Bono or Bill Hybels, I think it can be roused from its slumber.

The Troubling Art of Being Northern Irish
I was in Norn Iron last week, I was in Norn Iron last night and I have to be back in Norn Iron on Thursday for a talk I am giving. It just seems rude to me that they haven’t welcomed my constant visits with reunification. Never forget the equation of Irish Nationalism folks, 26 + 6 = 1. Last night, the church went on a road trip to a Presbyterian church who wanted to know about this new fangled idea of a church in the Republic of Ireland. As if people in the Republic would be interested in something like God. “Sure all they do down there is shout at each other in funny, cute accents and have babies and eat coal.” I am being unfair for my own amusement. Shame on me.

The church that welcomed us were actually brilliant. Everyone in the church looks forward to these road trips immensely because the banter in the cars going up and down is great and because we are always welcomed like the long lost wing of the family now returned. Stepping inside the porch yesterday was like visiting a girlfriend’s granny for the first time and being welcomed as if you were Kofi Annan, George Clooney and Padre Pio all wrapped up in one dashing figure. (These Presbyterian ladies probably don’t know who Padre Pio is though) We talked about what we are doing and why we think it matters and we sang some songs in Irish (first time ever in that church!) and answered some of their excellent questions (the people in this church were on the ball).

But at the end, over tea and coffee and sandwiches with the crusts cut off, one of our number was told by one of their number that she thought we were anti-Catholic. Anti-Catholic!? Hearing about this on the way home irrationally annoyed me and the aggrivation lingers this morning. How could you think we were anti-Catholic? For the love of all that is Roman, I set up a training conference at a Catholic seminary so that Protestant students from this girl’s college could understand Catholicism better and relate to their Catholic brothers and sisters. I am doing my MA in theology under a Catholic priest. I hope to start a Divinity degree next year at a Catholic seminary. My sister is a Catholic theologian. My parents are practicing Catholics. I am a baptised, communed and confirmed Catholic. One of my “constellation” (Bill Hybels-ese for the group of people who inform and inspire you) is a Catholic philosopher. And the partial list I have offered in my defence could be presented by any of the seven people who visited that church last night.

The reason this irritated me so much is not, of course, because there is any hint of truth in it or that the girl in question was in any way malicious in her accusation. But what annoyed me was that you just can’t win with Northern Irish Christianity. We didn’t say anything that could be interpreted as anti-Catholic last night but because we didn’t begin with a preamble whereby we stated that Catholics are Christians too, she feared we in the group, (maybe the majority group) in evangelical circles who don’t have that simple truth as a foundation stone. We have a pretty lovely little patch of land we call home here in Dublin’s suburbs. We meet with and pray with and work with the Catholic and Church of Ireland clergy regularly. They are our friends. It is taken as a given that we are all brothers and sisters through Jesus. It doesn’t need stating. But we go to a similar nice place on the edge of Belfast and because we don’t state it is taken as a given that we are the opposite.

It is a Catch 22 though. We didn’t go there to start a theological dispute. If I had begun my input with, “Vatican II is amongst the most exciting developments of the 20th Century and I advise you all to investigate the writings of Chiara Lubich…” then there might well have been outrage from hardliners in the congregation.

I am an ecumenicist. That is a word that is misunderstood everywhere. By that word, I mean to declare that I believe all churches are in error. I believe that Presbyterians should work with Baptists and Pentecostals and Anglicans and Orthodox and Catholics, not because I have hope that those other churches can be reformed, but because I have the even bolder hope that my own denomination can be reformed. I believe Christians of all persuasions should pray together, work together and live together because if we are rigourous, Presbyterianism, Catholicism, Anabaptism and any other -ism you care to mention is a heresy. We are all simply Christian. We all have sinfully wrong ideas about God and he accepts us anyway.

In Northern Ireland, true inter-Christian relationships are a long way off because you still have to declare yourself one one side or another. I guess the problem is that sides still exist. It would be such a frustrating situation to live in if you had to navigate through icebergs of hardliner exclusivists on one side and softheaded uniformists on the other. It seems as anachronistic as placing an iceberg slalom course on a motorway. We have work to do together, we have direction and momentum. Navigating around big cold blocks of frozen water probably isn’t the safest way to go about things.

The Epilogue
There was a moment of Dave-genius on the drive home last night. You’ve heard the urban myth about the philosphy student who sat down to his end-of-year paper to read the question, “Why?”? He simply writes, “Why not?” and then leaves the exam hall and gets a 1:1. Dave told the follow on story of the Christian philosophy student who when faced with the same question wrote, “Jesus.”. The student failed, but then got a million euros when he sued the college for discrimination. Classic.

Classic like Breathing Earth, a site that charts carbon emmissions, births and deaths around the globe and these thoughts from Malcolm Gladwell on child prodigys and why they often are just mediocre when they grow up. I intend to be an OAP-prodigy. I am going to win the Tour De France at the age of 70, at my first go.

Your Correspondent, Come and listen to what he has done.

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