Tuesday, November 30, 2010

First Stepping Stones to Peace In Ireland

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the sixth in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of indigenous and settler people in Ireland, who they were, and how they came into conflict. Next, he relates to us some of the stepping stones that led toward peace:

Two states were established in Ireland. The indigenous people, who historically were Catholic, formed a an independent republic in the south, and the settler people, who historically were Protestant, formed a government loyal to Great Britain in the north.

Over the years, an idealogical conflict broke out into cycles of violence, in the 1920s, 1930s, 1950s, and very seriously in the 1960s in these Irish states.

Republicans who were committed to a united Ireland felt unity could only be achieved through force. The Loyalists, who wanted to keep Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, felt justified in responding to the violence of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) with violence of their own kind.

Over the years these actions and events, these stumbling blocks: fear, mistrust, suspicion, separation, injustice, denial, violence, counter-violence, and the weapons that go along with these, had built walls.

He pointed out we were sitting right next to a wall, which was located outside the meeting room and at the far side of the passageway next to the community center. (This portion of the wall is at least ten feet high with a metal fence with sharp spikes atop it. Some walls near known trouble spots are 50 or 60 feet high. Reverend Good said the walls are symbolic of the divisions of the community and symbolic of all the stumbling blocks keeping the communities apart.

He turned to examining the stepping stones which help the communities come together.

First, there is reality. Reality helped various people enter wake up time, because they had lived in denial. He calls reality the first stepping stone.

As Protestants and Unionists, these people asked themselves “Why isn't everybody happy with the way things are? This is a good society. If people would just settle down, behave themselves, stop complaining, be happy.” Then, on the other hand, there were those on the Nationalist, Republican side who wanted to force everyone to their side, to a united Ireland, against the will of many others. There had to be a moment of reality for each of these groups.

There were two important realities.

There were years of violence and counter-violence. One of the realities was violence could not achieve the unity of the island. That was a very important reality for the Republican community and for the leaders of the Republican community to accept. An armed struggle was not going to achieve what they wanted to achieve. The loss of life, the letting of blood, the destruction of community, wasn't going to achieve unity.

The second reality was the one on the part of the British government in particular that there could not be a military solution to this problem. They were not going to solve the problem with all the might of the British Army and all the power available to it. This might be similar to the efforts of the a British Army in Afghanistan. This small island could not have its problems solved by an army. This is something which may have application to the world. There is something the world's peoples can learn from this. Are we ever going to solve Iraq or Afghanistan with a military solution? The answer was certainly a stepping stone of reality in Ireland.

The next stepping stone was what Reverend Good calls backstage and formal initiatives.

People who said, “We can't allow this to go on. Is there something from those in civil society or from the faith community, have to contribute?” And so began extraordinary behind the curtain meetings. Among these backstage and formal initiatives, notice some of them look large and some look smaller. Sometimes the small ones and even the large ones can seem inconsequential, but he thinks they have all contributed to this journey.

When you go to the theater, the curtain is pulled, the leading man and the leading lady come out, it looks all very simple. Yet, when you think about it, somebody has shifted the furniture, somebody helped to re-write the script, somebody adjusted the lighting to bring different perspectives to different corners of the stage, and it couldn't happen without all those people who you never see.

When he goes to the cinema, he likes to watch the credits at the end. You know, the second tea maker, the third tea maker. The first clapper board. Clapper board assistant. The credits go on and on. The interesting thing is all those people were necessary. You never remember their names. You only remember the stars who were center stage. But it took all of that behind the scenes effort to make the film.

In the same way, the peace process depends on a lot of unsung heroes talking and doing things behind the scenes.

Then we had offstage initiatives. These were very often state initiatives. For example the British government would not talk to the IRA. In 1993 a helicopter happened to land outside the Maze prison into which were ushered Jerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. That helicopter took off across the Irish sea and landed in some unknown location where they met with very high ranking British officials. Nobody was to know that. It wasn't Prime Ministers or known people coming up, yet it was the first step in the state, the government, saying, “We've got to talk.”

This talk is continued in the blog posting entitled "The Good Friday Agreement and Decommissioning of Weapons ".

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Indigenous and Settler People in Ireland

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the fifth in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of the how Reverend Good and his congregation kept their church open for all denominations when there was a serious rumor something bad would happen in the Shankill Road neighborhood. Next we heard about stumbling blocks and stepping stones, in the history of indigenous and settler people in Ireland:

Our lives are filled with stumbling blocks and stepping stones – the stumbling blocks in Ireland are its history . The history of Ireland is a story of two peoples trying to share the same land. At this basic level, it is a fairly familiar story around the world, as well as part of the history in America. There are an indigenous people and a settler people. In the case of Ireland, the settler people coming from Scotland and England, and the indigenous people being the native people of Ireland before the settlers came. Each of these people having their respective distinctive cultures and traditions. The settler people being mainly Protestant, mainly Presbyterian and Episcopal. The indigenous people being Catholic. Those are their distinctive traditions.

It's too simple to say it is Catholic and Protestant. For many of the people involved in the conflict, and for many of the people involved in the violence, Church is far removed from their agenda, let alone their understanding of Christian faith. Someone who might state they are fiercely Protestant, perhaps hasn't been in Church since they were baptized at all. Also, there are Catholics who adhere to their Church nominally who didn't adhere to their Church or to the teachings of their Pastors about violence, and may do quite the opposite of those teachings. So it is too simple to say it is Catholic and Protestant.

What people are saying is that Catholic represents the Nationalist, indigenous, Catholic people of Ireland. And Protestant represents the settler people. When there was conflict over land, there was said to be conflict between Catholic and Protestant, in a shorthand way of referring to the sides.

That is not to say that religion has not been used. He already spoke of the Protestant clergyman who said it was okay to take tea together but not to pray together. Religion has been used by the Church leaders in the past to add to the conflict. Certainly, among the Protestants it was not considered wise to be too close to the Catholics who were so lost in their beliefs. The Catholic Church once had the position that Catholics cannot go the weddings or funerals of Protestants. They weren't to go into a Protestant Church. And it is wrong to marry a Protestant, and if you do, the children must be raised Catholic. All of that contributes to suspicion, division, and fear, and this very quickly can turn into hatred. On the other hand, a Church which has as a statement of belief that the Pope is the anti-Christ or Satan, as the Protestants once did, that doesn't do much for building good relations, does it?

It all gets mixed up. On the one hand we want to say it has much more to do with territory than theology, it has much more to do with culture than with creed. That's true! But on the other hand that religion has been used as a wedge to put suspicion and fear between people. And its gone unchallenged by the Churches, largely, and they allowed it to brew. They allowed people like Mr. Paisley to build their empires upon that kind of fear and suspicion.

Whether it's America or South Africa or Ireland, the settlers tend to have the feeling they are a chosen people. The Protestants in Ireland will tell you they have a responsibility because this is the land that God gave them. You may think that's ignorant. Reverend Good was in Texas recently he noticed on the breakfast table a little carton. It was from the Promised Land Dairy. There was a quotation from Deuteronomy (26:9), “He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey;”

We all have to think about how our religion, our biblical journey has impacted upon our politics. That is what has happened in Ireland. The Irish don't have a dairy called The Promised Land Dairy, but there are people who think this is the land that God gave them and that nobody can challenge that. They feel they have a right to be here and they had a right to take somebody else's land because it was God who gave it to them. (For those who don't know, the northern province of Ireland, called Ulster, was colonized, to use a neutral term, by peoples from Great Britain, mostly from Scotland, where they originally moved mostly into unoccupied areas, after the Flight of the Earls. This colonization took place in the 1600s.)

In 1922 the indigenous people wanted to become independent of Great Britain and came to be called Republicans as they were committed to a new republic. They happened to be mostly (Roman) Catholic. The settlers wanted to stay in union with Great Britain and came to be called Unionists as they wanted to stay in union. They were mostly Protestant. The simple seeming solution in 1922 was to draw a line and say those south of this line would be in an independent republic and those north would stay in a relationship with Great Britain. But the populace wasn't so neatly divided; therein lies the recipe for continued conflict.

This talk is continued at a blog posting entitled "First Stepping Stones to Peace In Ireland".

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Church in Shankill Road Finds Its Courage

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the fourth in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of how he and his wife were assigned to Shankill Road in Belfast and how Father Murphy and he organized a meeting of clergy in Belfast for the first time to take the first halting steps toward reconciliation. From that, Reverend Good told us about a critical time for his church in the Shankill Road neighborhood:

There was such awful violence in the streets that rumors started too. One night there was a rumor something terrible was going to happen a certain night. It happened the rumor was this event would take place on Sunday night. The church always had a service on Sunday evening. Building up to that afternoon, people were getting wood, tin, hammers, nails and anything they could get, and they were blocking up their windows.

And some people in his church said we must cancel the evening service. Reverend Good asked why would we do that? They responded they must cancel the evening service because something terrible was going to happen on their road. He said, “Well, I think that's all the more reason why we should have our service.” And they decided to go ahead. Some men said they were going to get a hammer and nails as they needed to protect the windows of the church. Reverend Good said, “I don't think we should do that. Let's leave the lights on in the church, and the door open. That way if people are frightened, then they need somewhere they can come, and we should be here for them.” The church people looked skeptical. Yet, one little lady said, “Reverend, if you're going to do that, I'll be here, cuz you'll need a cup of tea.” Another little lady said, “Well Maisy, yah couldn't be here on your own luv; I'll come with yah.” Then one of the men said, “You'll need some men around the place too to keep an eye on yah, ya know.”

The lights never went out and the doors never closed for that night or for three weeks after that. It became a place of refuge, a place of comfort, a place of safety, where people, both Protestant and Roman Catholic could come. There were Roman Catholics living in that neighborhood as well. Again, it was the church seeking to respond in these very dangerous and stressful situations.

This talk will continues at a blog posting entitled "Indigenous and Settler People in Ireland ".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Clergy of Shankill Road and Falls Road Meet

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Goode who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the third in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of the influences from his father's experience and from his experiences in mostly white and mostly black churches in the Midwest of the United States of America. Next we learn of his experiences upon his return to Ireland.

When he was due to return to Ireland in 1968, he asked to be placed in a “quiet” parish, perhaps a rural parish, if possible somewhere in the midlands of Ireland due to the fact his wife had grown up there. Part of his ministry had been in the Republic of Ireland. That's where he met his wife, who knew nothing about Northern Ireland. These connections to middle Ireland were part of the balance which had been produced in his life. She and he thought they needed a break from all the pressures they'd been through professionally, and the burdens of raising two little girls they'd brought into the world. They had in their minds five years in Ireland to undo the pressure of the wonderful but sometimes trying experiences they'd faced, and then they'd move back to the States.

The word came back that instead of going to the midlands of Ireland, they were going to Shankill Road (There was a stir in the crowd, probably because Shankill Road was a hotspot within the hotspot of Belfast during the Troubles). Within a year they found themselves in a very different spot. They just did their best because they believed in their hearts they must do what they were called to do. Ministerial reconciliation is part of the package.

Not everyone in those parts of Ireland sees it that way.

Reverend Goode remembers Father Murphy, who is the administrator of one of the cathedrals not far down the road from the Forth Spring Center. Father Murphy often had the same thoughts as Reverend Goode at the same time. Father Murphy and Reverend Goode thought at least a slender bridge between the two sides in the conflict should be established in the Shankill Road. They thought the people of the church should do it, as no one else appeared like they'd do it. They invited as many of the clergy as would come to meet together. It was the first time a meeting like this had been called in this type of setting. The meeting was good.

At the end of it, the clergy decided to meet again, and that they should bring some of their main people with them, non pastors and ministers. Then the discussion was, well where then would they meet? Because the meeting would have more than clergy, they couldn't meet in the Falls Road, couldn't meet in the Shankill Road. All the potential places had heavy associations with one side or the other. Those from the opposite side, literally wouldn't be safe in the opposite area from the group they were part of.

There was one Presbyterian minister who was very opposed to all things ecumenical, but he'd come to the meeting. His name was Donald Gillies, and he said in his Scottish accent, “I don't mind coming to this upcoming meetin, but I want to make one thing clear: There must be no praying. If you want to meet and have a cup of tea, that's all right, but there'll be no praying together.”

Father Murphy couldn't get his head around this, and queried, “You're saying we can't pray together?”

Reverend Gillies said, “No. No-No. No praying together. Tea is all right.”

To accommodate this man and to make sure he came with us, we agreed there would be no praying.

But there was no resolution of where to meet.

At the end of the day, Reverend Goode remembered there was a Jewish leader who had said he knew he wasn't Catholic or Protestant, but if there was any way he could help to let him know. So Reverend Goode phoned him up to ask would there be any chance of the group meeting in the synagogue?

The leader said it would be wonderful, of course. So it was agreed the meeting would be at the synagogue.

The Jews brought the Christians together.

And the Jews put on great suppers for them all so there was no question about not going back to them again, because the suppers were so wonderful!

This talk continues in a blog posting entitled "A Church in Shankill Road Finds Its Courage".

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reverend Harold Good on Similarities Between Sectarian Versus Racial Conflict

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good (many sources spell his name “Good”) who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the second in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of the influences when he was a child and young man. Next we learn of further influences from that time as well as later ones.

Reverend Good related another influence on him was his father who was the President of the Methodist Church of Ireland in his time. When the violence was just beginning in what would become known as The Troubles, the 30 year sectarian war in Ireland, the violence first flared in particular in the border areas. His father suddenly had to deal with the fact a young policeman from his congregation was murdered by sectarian assassins. His father was affected greatly from his prior history with the young policeman. His father had baptized the policeman and had known him as a child.

As a consequence, his father wrote a letter to the leaders of the other churches in Northern Ireland: Presbyterian, Church of Ireland (Related to the Episcopal Church in America), Roman Catholic, and Methodist. After his father passed away, Reverend Good found copies of the responses his father kept. His father's letter had asked the other religious leaders, “In the light of all that is happening in our land and in light of what looks like a potentially dangerous situation in this shift toward sectarian conflict, I feel we as leaders of our respective churches should meet.” Now, these leaders had never met and he suggested the four of them should meet to see if there was something they could do. All four replies are similar. They say, “It's a thoughtful idea. We appreciate your letter. But the time is not right.”

His father was shocked that the leaders of Christian communities could not bring themselves to work for peace. His father went to a Methodist Conference in 1959, and told the attendees how, in the absence of a support from the other leaders, he himself had gone to see the Republican leaders to plead with them not to engage in a campaign of violence, and to suggest to them that if they wanted to campaign for a united Ireland, they should do it in a non violent way. The “Republican leaders” phrase was probably a veiled reference to the IRA.

After telling us where he came from, Reverend Good noted his early experiences caused him to react as he transitioned into adulthood, rather than remaining unaffected.

Reverend Good decided he wanted to see the wider world, outside Ireland. He was given an opportunity of serving in Ohio. Shortly after he was married, he and his wife set off to serve on the staff in a large church in the Northeast Conference in Ohio as a youth pastor. He and his wife served for two happy years. After two years, he felt he had more to learn. He had an opportunity to go back to school, so he went to Indianapolis where he did Pastoral Education and got a Masters.

He wasn't to realize at the time the impact all this would have upon his ministry. It not only helped him to understand how you engage with people, it helped him look at a wholly different way of looking at how to engage people, and trying to understand people in situations he never would have encountered formerly. Not only did he get a Masters of Technical Education, while he was there in the mid-60s in the USA it was a difficult time. This was a defining time in history there and in the life of the churches too. He remembers extraordinary things.

When he was in the church in Ohio, there were two black families who wanted to join their church. There had to be a meeting of the church board to see if these black families could be admitted into membership in the church. Of course, the church had a long history of overseas missions to bring people who were entirely black into the family of God. So Reverend Good couldn't get his head around why the color of these people's skin was an issue. Now he heard things being said like he'd heard in Ireland, but the context was different. In Ireland the remarks weren't made about the color of someone's skin, but the color of someone's politics. He began to realize some of the parallels between racism and sectarianism, particularly the subtleties.

The people of that church would not thought of themselves as racist. They were saying is it fair to these people to have them come into our congregation? Will they be comfortable with us? What about some of our young people, will they feel comfortable with their children? He thought, “Where have I heard all this before?”

Later when he went to Indianapolis, he had made it known to his management he was available for any part time work in the church and such would go along with his studies. He ended up being a pastor at a church with an entirely black congregation. He was at this church when the news came Martin Luther King was assassinated.

He remembers very clearly that week and saying to the members of this church you'll want somebody from your own community to minister to you in on Sunday. He said he wasn't sure he'd be well equipped to minister to them in this situation. There was a wave of grief across the nation. It was a grief for a person who had symbolized all the things of which the black community had dreamed. But his congregants said no, you're our pastor. You minister to us. Then he found what it was like to try to enter into the feelings of a community where he didn't know so much.

This was another defining moment which lead him to his future.

This talk continues at this post entitled, "The Clergy of Shankill Road and Falls Road Meet"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Financial Crisis in Ireland

I have only been to Ireland twice and know only a handful of people there.

So, I do not have many special insights into the recent news that Ireland is facing a financial crisis of immense proportions. Sure, when Greece got really bad last spring, Ireland was mentioned, along with Spain.

What is the perspective of the average Irish person about this economic crisis:

Now keep in mind, this discussion is about the Republic of Ireland. The North is facing it's own issues, which are tied into the belt tightening of the United Kingdom.

I know in 2005, houses in Dublin, which, of course, is in the Republic, were millions of euro each. Mortgages were 50 years or more to make the payments somewhat affordable. But the streets were jammed with vehicles, the stores were packed with people, and the skyline was filled with cranes. Basics were high cost and the exchange rate made me feel like the US was a struggling nation. Lots of eastern European immigrants or foreign workers were working in Dublin.

If the Irish have to bail out the banks, the estimate for that alone is: €50 billion.

There are 4.5 million people in the Republic.

That's 11,111 euro per man, woman, and child, just to keep the banks from tanking. Or in USA dollars: $15,331 per man, woman, and child.

That's a lot of doing without to scrape up enough to pay back that amount of debt, eh?

What about the basic fairness of supporting the Irish banks?

With the government having made a commitment to the banks, all the taxpayers are keeping the bank's investors afloat, while those investors are not being asked to "take a haircut" as the phrase goes for incurring a loss on a bad investment. And the banks don't have to close down, or fire anyone as far as I've been able to determine.

This “take a haircut” concept was contemplated in a way as you can read about here.

Why would any investor do this? Reduced risk, I suppose. Getting out of a situation now rather than face disaster later, or a long period of uncertainty and stagnation. The article notes that Standard and Poors has downgraded the four big Irish banks' long term credit ratings.

But the 85 billion euro bailout package for Ireland which was approved by Europe’s finance ministers has been described as not requiring banks or bondholders to “take haircuts”.

Are the european leaders unwilling to spread the hit to any investors? Are they afraid investors would bring down the economies of Portugal and Spain in a flash?

I wonder.

Randall Parker (But Who Caused Irish Financial Crisis? 2010 November 24 Wednesday) has tracked who the bondholders are in Irelands banks:

British banks provided
German banks provided
US banks
$25bn and
French banks

Total lending of
non-Irish banks
to Irish banks is approximately

So these non-Irish banks invested in the Irish property boom, I mean bubble, and now, rather than take any loss, even when the interest rate was higher than for non-risky loans, the Irish taxpayers must pay all these other countries back because their government and now the IMF are insisting the government must make good on all these bonds.

Why don't they tell the truth? They are hoping to stave off a greater collapse

Here's a link to more about the money side of Ireland's problems:


I know last spring (May 2010) as many of the eastern European workers had left as could afford to leave - there were no new jobs in Ireland.

Apparently now, the Irish themselves are leaving to find work, reminiscent of hundreds of years of colonial rule and the majority of the period of the Free State and the Republic.

Here's a link to a story about the Irish looking elsewhere for work:


I wonder if they will send money to their former home? The Irish government better hope so!