I’m a stupid American. And like most other stupid Americans I have generally had no knowledge of the world beyond North America, and little desire to have any. But in the last few years, as I’ve grown old and boring enough to actually watch the news now and then, and as I’ve been taught more and more about the vast spiritual and physical needs of people beyond out borders, I’ve learned words like “Asia” and “Australia.” And I’ve had the opportunity to go to far off exotic lands like Norway, Ecuador and, yes, even Ireland.
My only trip to the land of fish, chips and Guinness was about two years ago while touring with Michael W. Smith in the UK. We stopped in Belfast and played at a Protestant church. I was the opener, playing only fifteen minutes each night, and as I finished my second song of three that evening a man began climbing the stairs to the stage. The crowd hushed as he approached the microphone, whispering to me that he had a brief announcement to make.
“Just a brief announcement. If you’re parked in lot C you need to move your car. There’s a group burning cars.”
*giggling from a few in the crowd*
“If you’re laughing right now you must be a visitor to our church. I’m not joking. They’re burning cars and you need to move them if you’re parked in lot C.”
*a brief pause while a few people casually rose to, presumedly, move their cars from lot C*
He then explained that the violence was being carried out by a group of Catholics in the neighborhood who did not want this crowd of Protestants parking in front of their houses. This group had had harassed Protestants in the area before. These Catholic fellow Christians called their protectors, an armed gang in the area with ties to a political faction, to run the Protestant concert-goers off. Then…
“Back to you Shaun.”
I was dumbfounded. I didn’t want to sing. I wanted to pray. So I did.
We prayed for a few minutes for the enemies of the crowd, for the crowd to be empowered supernaturally with the ability to love their enemies, for healing and unity among Christians in Ireland and around the world, for the protection of those in the parking lots moving their vehicles, for this church to be a beacon of peace and forgiveness and gentleness to a neighborhood inhabited by hatred, and for God’s names to gain renown somehow through the night’s drama.
Then I played my last song. I left the stage. And I retired to a pastor’s office where I sat, nosed pressed against glass, looking for any signs of trouble, any reasons to flee, and wondering what I would do if I lived in Belfast for more than a day. Would I be as persistent in my church going, as forgiving as I was that night, and as casual about the beliefs I held? Probably not.
Ally’s faith looks different from mine because his life is different from mine. His language is harsh by American evangelical standards at times. He drinks alcohol openly and so does, I’m guessing, every Christian he knows. His faith appears through his writing to be impassioned and urgent, graceful, focussed on the matters that matter and not legalistically trivial and nit-picking. His words on politics, faith, music, sports and daily life where he lives keep the window open to a night and a nation where I learned to pray for my enemies and first felt tethered to, knitted together with, another kind Christian and the Church world-wide.
Thanks Ally for your honesty and faithful blogging. My prayers are with you and the rest of my spiritual family fighting within itself in N.Ireland.
Got thoughts? Post a comment below or discuss on my message-board.