Ashers, the diversity of Northern Ireland and loving your neighbor.

When I left Northern Ireland almost 18 months ago, it was a diverse country. In that time, I believe it has become even more diverse than ever and this is a beautiful thing. We need to be different, not simply because it would be boring otherwise but because we can learn from each other.

This applies to whether you live in Belfast or Detroit.

But the temptations still exist to pigeonhole each other. It makes life so much easier for everyone if we make huge assumptions about someone when we meet them which saves us the trouble of actually sitting down and talking to “themuns”.

Because Heaven for fend that we might actually come away seeing how we are similar.

But the real problem with ignoring our diversity is funnily enough that it leads to ignorance and arrogance.

When my worldview is threatened by coming across someone from a group that I had previously neatly squished into their box, I go on the defensive. I don’t want to be wrong; I can’t be wrong. If I am then I have to open myself up to everyone. And that could be disastrous for my beliefs.

I say all this because I have witnessed somewhat recently this very thing happening in Northern Ireland concerning the Ashers case.

Basically there are two camps. The Christian/religious camp and the LGBT equality camp.

At least that is what you may believe but the truth is that there are not two distinct sides but a blurry, kaleidoscope of differing and agreeing opinions. There are those in the church who think that all Christians are (or should be) in agreement with Asher’s and the recent DUP plan to introduce a conscience clause. Then are those outside the church in the LGBT community who think that all Christians are jerks and all look at them as perverse or abominations.

But even that isn’t right because, wait for it, there are those in the church who are gay. Yes, for many of us that is not shocking in the slightest but for a great deal more of you that just can not be true can it?

Not only that but there are those inside the church, who are gay who don’t support the Equality Commission. And if you think that is mad well there are those outside the church, who are gay and agree with Ashers and the Christian Institute on their stance.

You might need to sit down to try and collect your thoughts and preconceived notions.

I know I have. new UJ

But this is the beauty of Norn Iron. It’s a country that is changing. And changing for the better. Sure there are still bigots and there are still those who can not or will not let go of their hate. But rather than in the 70’s or 80’s or even for a huge part of the 90’s, when this was the norm, folks like this are now in the minority.

We do not have to agree. We do not have to see eye to eye. But we have to be willing to at the very least look into each others eyes.

Because when we do we may just realize that the beliefs that we hold so closely and vow to fight for so vehemently may well just be causing hurt and pain to others. Does that make our beliefs worth it? I’m not so sure it does.

Of course we still need to challenge bigotry and call out injustice as it happens. We still need to stand up for what we believe in but the minute we start dulling our love for those who are different than us simply because they are treating us poorly, the minute we have lost our own identity, not “them”.

For Christians in Northern Ireland are you willing to take the time to think through how your actions effect those in the LGBT community at large and the LGBT community in your congregations?

Love is a powerful force, much more than we usually give it credit for. I don’t really care what other groups do but as the church, our mandate is clear. It is to love everyone regardless of…..
(You can fill in what you need to here)

It that extremely hard? You bet it is. Is it the only way? You bet it is.

Are your beliefs as a Christian being challenged because someone can be gay and Christian? Or because a Presbyterian Minister can be a speaker at a Sinn Fein conference? Or because a Protestant could vote Sinn Fein and a Catholic could vote DUP?

If they are, don’t run from it. Don’t give into the voice that says they must be written off. Embrace it. Lean into it. Question why this might be the case. Look deep into yourselves and ask..

What belief is most important to you?

That being gay is an abomination?

Or that nothing is more important than loving everyone?

When Faith and Politics Collide

One of the biggest obstacles according to Brennan Manning that unbelievers have from engaging with Christians is Christians “who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle …”

And I have to admit that as a Christian that loves the church and loves being a part of a community of followers of Jesus I also find myself struggling to believe sometimes. Continue reading

The Identity Crisis of LAD and Jamie Bryson

Yesterday morning as I opened up my twitter feed to see what latest wacky method someone had employed for their Ice Bucket challenge, I soon found myself reading through another twitter discussion between Northern Ireland’s two greatest parody twitter accounts, LAD and Jamie Bryson. Only one of which is actually a genuine parody account believe it or not.

For those who don’t know and who maybe don’t even care let me explain briefly who LAD and Jamie are.

LAD are a satirical twitter account, who under the guise of a quintessential Loyalist seek to highlight the absurdities of those cultures in Northern Ireland (both Unionism and Republicanism) which from the outside must look like parodies in themselves. The obsession with flegs and culture and parades. They bring to light the contradictions that many in the political world of Northern Ireland seem to have no problem in portraying. Using twitter as their main tool as well as occasional parody videos (where they are strongest), they for the most part are successful, while being hilarious. Think, a sort of Stephen Colbert type character, that is employing the beliefs they obviously don’t agree with in order to highlight their absurdities. But with bad grammar (intentional) and an ironic love of flegs.

They are not however perfect. More on that later.

In the other corner we have Jamie Bryson. A young (at least I assume he is, his baby faced features make it truly difficult to tell), proud, Loyalist who was seen as a spokesperson of sorts for the fleg protests of November 2012, after Belfast City Council voted to fly the Union Flag on a select designated number of days, rather than the entire year. And yes, this did warrant country wide street protests and violence. Want to fight about it?

Jamie is passionate, of that no one can deny (is this a lyric?) but his own contradictions are his downfall. Like continually lambasting LAD for their “hateful” and “vile” attacks on those in his culture, while being caught on camera in a crowd of people throwing missiles at another community. D’oh!

But they both have something in common which may just be the last thread of hope for reconciliation between the two.

They both have an identity crisis.

With LAD, I’m never quite sure of who they are supposed to be. While they make a very good go at using humor to view the political situation in Northern Ireland, they often find themselves being sucked into petty twitter disputes with the likes of Jamie Bryson. They break out of character, which weakens the power that their satire has, as rusty and as rough around the edges as may be sometimes.

Compare this to earlier in the year when someone from the aforementioned Stephen Colbert show, tweeted from his characters account something which was deemed racist. It wasn’t. It was a use of satire to highlight the ignorance of racism. He wasn’t really being racist.

Rather than personally taking to twitter or social media to get angry or annoyed, he and his writers took a breath, stayed in character and delivered this amazing response on the next edition of the show.

This is what LAD need to perfect if they are to truly shake up the political landscape of Northern Ireland.

They need to understand that Jamie is someone who has a limited voice in politics and since many of his ideas would have been embarrassing at the height of the troubles, they should seek to make fun of them without getting personal. This only gives Jamie more ammunition and also distracts LAD from what they do best. Making fun of those who have outdated and harmful views on how Northern Ireland should be run.

Lately, Jamie has threatened to expose the real faces behind the LAD account. He says he knows, and he may well do. But LAD should put an end to this and expose themselves (simply their identity that is, nothing illegal). This would take the one trick Jamie could possibly have up his sleeve and would give LAD the chance to concentrate on doing what Northern Ireland politics is crying out for them to do.

Jamie’s identity crisis is just a little more sinister.

As someone who claims to be a Christian but sees no problem in attacking his fellow Christians, he fails to understand the life that Jesus came to offer everyone. Concepts like, loving your enemies, forgiveness, caring for those who face injustice (and no, having your flag taken away doesn’t count Jamie), and turning the other cheek. His faith is one based on fear, fear of the unknown, fear of what would happen if his identity, one held together by a tradition that is famous for it’s role in dividing communities not building it, was placed in something much larger, much more beautiful than “For God and Ulster.”

This is only important because the Gospel that Jamie believes in is far removed from the life that Jesus led where He challenged His own tradition and most pertinently for Jamie, one that is unrecognizable from the call to love His enemies.

Until Jamie, sorts this muddled view of His faith then His identity will always be confused.

For Jamie, this will diminish his great passion that he could direct at building a Northern Ireland where we make the next leap from peace to one where we trust those on the other side.

Perhaps even, to a time when there is no other side.

But for now, as Jamie threatens and promises to finally expose the faces behind LAD, maybe there is one possible explanation for why he keeps stalling.

One that no one would see coming.

What if Jamie Bryson is LAD?!

Now wouldn’t that be amazing?

How Twitter Hid Joseph Kony.

In the world we live in today it is easier to put your voice out there than in anytime in history before. Anyone can publish their opinions as a blog or as a tweet. We can share pictures instantly with anyone, anywhere around the world. It is pretty amazing when you think about it.

One of the ways that social media has been particularly beneficial is through the spreading of ideas. More so, the spreading of ideas that can change people’s lives for the better. Sometimes, something comes along that goes viral. Not since the invention of the television have we seen anything with quite the same effect as the internet has had on news and media.

You may remember two years ago when Invisible Children launched their Kony 2012 campaign. Continue reading

Peter Robinson, Racism and Ducks.

If a group of local people were to make a man from a racial minority feel intimidated and discriminated by erecting signs reading     “local housing, 4 local people” outside the home he was about to move into; most people would assume this was a racist attack.

Most people in this case it would seem, do not include the Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson.

For the DUP leader, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a goose. Continue reading

How NOT to disagree with Jamie Bryson.

If you follow politics in Northern Ireland and are on twitter you will most likely have heard of Jamie Bryson. Jamie is a Loyalist activist who was an early member of the Protestant Coalition and a leading light in the Flag Protests that began in December 2012 after the Belfast City Council voted to only fly the Union Flag on designated days and not all year round, which until that point it had. Continue reading