Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.
There it was. After years of hearing about it on news reports of “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, I was looking over towards the Bogside.
It was my first visit to Ireland in 2004 and I was in Derry/Londonderry. So ignorant had I been that I had previously supposed that the Bogside was in Belfast. What on earth makes me think that I can make a connection between that visit and our situation today?
By the time you read this, the uncertainty over whether the country will leave the EU and on what terms may well have been resolved. Whatever has, or has not, happened, however, it has been a shame to see such a cavalier attitude to the Irish border question evident on this side of the Irish sea. Many have simply been impatient over what appears to them as a minor issue. Yet over there it is a matter of life and death, with the impending threat of a return to sectarian murder and mayhem.
Why was there such conflict in Northern Ireland?
One factor was that of identity. People were either Protestant or Catholic, schools were segregated and, in the larger towns and cities, the two communities lived separately. The emphasis was on difference. It was a “them” and “us” situation. Another factor was that many on both sides of the divide felt that to be true to their group they had to be “hardliners”. Taken to the extreme, “hardliners” were prepared to kill both the enemy, and any on their own side whom they saw as traitors.
Which brings me to the “Chuckle brothers”, otherwise known as Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley. They ended up in the power-sharing government at Stormont, former sworn enemies, and I would say former “hardliners”. Somehow or other, both of them had seen the virtues of talking and listening to “the enemy” and of turning away from enmity and hatred.
A sculptor has depicted this in Derry/Londonderry. There is a hollowed-out statue which people can stand behind so as to look through the eyes of the life-sized figure. Seeing through another person’s eyes (think also of Burns’ poem To a Louse – “O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!”), that requires imagination and empathy. It also requires rethinking and reassessing “hardline” views.
Paisley and McGuinness challenge us when our convictions contribute to strife (or troubles) within our families and communities. Perhaps changing our minds on certain contentious issues could be a sign of strength, rather than a sign of weakness. Who do we see as “them”?
We at King’s Stanley Baptist Church are a small group of Christians who seek to be welcoming and inclusive, because we believe Jesus Christ was and is like that. Wen we say, “All are welcome,” we mean it. We look forward to welcoming you to the 1940s garden party on Sunday 9th June and to any of our Sunday services.
With Christian love,
Robert Draycott (Rev)