From inner East to outer East

It’s been a long time since I visited this blog. A lot has happened since my last post in February 2011, although its mainly been the addition of a baby to the family and house move. Plus I think my attention span has suffered due to facebook and twitter to such an extent that writing a blog entry seems like so much….effort.

So it is from sunny Ballybeen that I write, having just put nine month old Linus to bed. We’ve moved from an area (lower Woodstock) where too many people asked “will the car be alright?” when they visited, to another neighbourhood where people coming in still make assumptions about the area.

I think I have some plans for this blog. Maybe to try out characters I’ve been developing for some short stories, sketch ideas for talks in church..not sure. In the meantime, here is a picture of my dog after his bath this evening.


Community development and church planting

It’s been interesting to see new churches being planted in the Belfast area over the last few years, of all shapes/sizes with various theological emphases (albeit still broadly similar). Any leaders that I have met recently tend to come from creative or graphic-design based backgrounds, and are still working in those high-tech, constantly changing professions. This background also comes through in the style and presentation of those church projects.

Why is it then that Christians from a community development background are not planting churches?

(I make the distinction here from clergy, some of whom I know, who carry out their ministry very much with a CD ethos).

The relationship and congregational aspects of church life seem to me to fit with the strengths of community development principles, and people from this background are perhaps better suited to the rough and tumble of dealing with personalities in church. Furthermore, the CD focus on people rather than buildings and institutions I believe fits in with biblical principles.

I could think of a few possible reasons why they are not planting churches:

  • disillusionment with mainstream church understanding and appreciation of the value of community development
  • a desire to encourage communities to engage with existing denominations, churches and fellowships in their neighbourhood, rather than complicate things with building new ones
  • tiredness! Working with people and communities for limited tangible results in the short term is demanding
  • a constant need to challenge authority!

Thinking out loud here, and with no answers or quick fixes myself. I just sit with church people sometimes and think to’re very enthusiastic and all, I don’t doubt your intentions but…what you want to do achieve might take a loooong time. Perhaps too long for most churches to commit to.



A place worth caring about

I cycle past this stretch of road almost every day. Typical of some of bad planning round these parts. We have some expensively assembled footpaths, trees planted, and benches..all remaining totally unvisited. At the same time these walkways stretch out alongside rows of derelict buildings and vacant business units. There’s another public space round the corner, the junction where Castlereagh road meets Templemore Avenue and the Ravenhill Road…there’s some seating and pretty paving right in the middle of the junction, like a traffic island. And now both these new developments look increasingly sorry for themselves – its not from over-use. There are probably numerous examples near where you live.

Why are so bad here at creating public spaces? Money has been squandered on these projects from Government budgets whose enforced cuts will affect us all.

James Kunstler on delivers a great lecture on suburbia and civic life in cities, pointing out how the US is particularly bad at this, and gives other examples of healthy civic spaces in countries like France. He argues we have created too many public spaces that we don’t think are worth caring.

The New Jersey Turnpike to the Newtownards Road

I was down the Newtownards Road tonight for a community discussion on the history of Ballymacarrett in East Belfast. There were many rich, funny, poignant, and shocking stories shared by those present about the area’s heritage. Van Morrison was mentioned a few times as an East Belfast man who referenced the area in some of his songs. During the evening I kept thinking back to the American singer-songwriters I love, and how they have romanticised their hometowns to such an extent that millions of people travel to these places as a result. How are American artists so much better at this?

Twice in the past 18 months I’ve travelled across the New Jersey Turnpike on the East Coast of the US – referenced in so many popular songs by performers such as Simon & Garfunkel and Bruce Springsteen. Stopping at a service area it felt like just another road, and a badly pot-holed one too! I think the Newtownards Road could hold just as much mystique if done the right way. Some novelists have managed it with Northern Ireland as a setting, maybe its time for musicians.

There’s a Dr Feelgood video at the top of the page because I watched a brilliant documentary about them on the BBC iPlayer last week called Oil City Confidential. It’s everything a rock documentary should be – fast-paced, gives a social context, doesn’t take its subject matter too seriously. Anyway, the members of the band talk at length about how, inspired by American blues music, they wanted to create a romantic image of their home town Canvey Island as the “Thames Delta” using the oil fields of the estuary as a backdrop. It worked, as fans of the band travelled there from all over the world based on the scene that they created.

What stories and places from where you live would make a great song? Scrabo would be a good one.

how to vote…??

While reading virtual methodist’s thoughts on politics and democracy this evening the first piece of election literature dropped through the letterbox from the Ulster Unionists/Conservatives. I watched the Labour manifesto video yesterday and no doubt the rest of the South Belfast candidates (even though I believe we live in East…) will follow suit on the doors over the next couple of weeks.

My own party is not fielding any candidates, as we prepare to focus on local government and Assembly elections…so I find it hard to decide who to place the X beside on 6 May. None of the main parties seem to be able to combine distinctive policies with strong leadership. While the sectarian carve-ups and hypocritical double-jobbings seem to continue across the board. First past the post doesn’t make it any easier either!

A good friend (standing for Westminster in my home constituency of Strangford) highlighted this great clip which sums up the bland  rhetoric battle being waged between the big players:

Winter at the duckie, Newtownards

Scary Bible verses

I get weekly emails from Evangelical Alliance called “Friday Night Theology.” Sometimes I find them really interesting, other times less so but thats how it goes with these things. It was great this week as they posted the ten scariest Bible verses according to the ever-excellent Ship of Fools website.

Having been brought up on the gory imagery of nightmare hymns like “there is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins” I find some of these suitably grisly in a nostalgic way:

1. The ban on women teaching in church (1 Timothy 2:12)
2. Samuel’s instruction to ‘totally destroy’ the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:3)
3. Moses’ command ‘Do not allow a sorceress to live.’ (Exodus 22:18)
4. The ending of Psalm 137 ‘Happy are those who seize your infants and dash them against the rocks’
5. The gang rape and murder of a concubine (Judges 19:25-28)
6. The condemnation of homosexuality (Romans 1:27)
7. Jephthah’s vow which led to his daughter being sacrificed (Judges 11)
8. God’s instruction to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:2)
9. The instruction that wives submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22)
10. The instruction that slaves submit to their masters (1 Peter 2:18)

Phew  – where to start??