Fear, Nietzsche and Beauty: approaching 2017

Two things behind this post.

  1. 2016 was, in many ways, a brutal, ugly and unsettling sort of year.
  2. This pair of goldfinches visited our garden (I’ll come back to the goldfinches)

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2016 was especially unsettling for us in the West, I think, because it was also a year that saw rising threats to the future stability and security of our Western way of life.

In no particular order, some of these threats include (and I am sure you can add your own):

  • The devastation of Syria – but also within Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere – and its unimaginable associated human cost, have left many looking on feeling both helpless and angry. On top of this, the conflict has exposed the West’s impotence to oust Assad and has hugely bolstered Putin’s influence in the region.
  • The West continues to reap what was sown by Bush and Blair’s reckless and arrogant invasion of Iraq. Western hubris to imagine that Western democracy could be catalysed in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan has been shown to be just that.
  • Putin’s latest ‘victory’ in Aleppo is part of his agenda of regaining Russian self-respect and influence in the world. Annexing Crimea, partial invasion of Eastern Ukraine, new balances of power with Turkey, cyber-hacking the USA and ruthless crushing of dissent at home – are all part of Putin’s gangsterism and empire-building strategy demonstrating his contempt for the weak West.
  • European elites seem to have no coherent answer to either the refugee crisis or the very real chance of the break up of the Euro. Italy could enter a fiscal crisis in 2017. Risks to the viability of the Euro appear to be relentlessly rising despite continual firefighting by European policy makers. After years, it is pretty clear that there is neither the political cohesion or creativity to ‘re-imagine’ a different structure for Europe that can actually work.
  • That scepticism towards Europe as an idea is shared by more and more within Europe. Brexit might be only the first step.
  • Liberal Westerners are aghast at the potential ending (or at least a serious threats to) of the onward ‘civilising’ march of liberal secular democracy in Europe and the USA. Trump and Putin (and their mutual admiration society) pose the nightmare scenario of the rise of autocratic right-wing nationalism. I mean by this  a form of nationalism that goes back to a myth of ‘our origins’ and seeks to ‘recover’ who we ‘truly’ are while simultaneously finding scapegoats blame for the ‘decline of our once great nation’.
  • The nihilistic brutality of ISIS / Daesh and its sporadic, unpredictable and ruthless violence within European cities is designed not for military victory but to spread fear and catalyse division within the enemy. One desired outcome is to sow seeds of enmity and distrust within European multiculturalist pluralist societies that can grow into ugly plants of xenophobia, racism and exclusion – to undermine Europe from within.  So far, quite a lot of progress made on this front.

The fear and uncertainty felt by many in the West today is not because uncertainty, violence, mass immigration and nationalism are new but because they are hitting close to home.

These are some impressionistic descriptions – some may be more accurate than others. The real point is not the detail but a question:

What is a response for a disciple of Jesus to living in times of deep uncertainty?

Some possible responses:

  1. Be consumed by fear at threats to our ‘Western way of life.’

There is an incomparable richness with living in the West – the freedoms and opportunities that we take for granted are all around us. It is an astonishing privilege to live in a culture that has a democratic government (and only partially corrupt form of politics). Heck, even the trains nearly run on time some of the time. These freedoms should be supported and defended as that which gives maximum freedom to most people.

But, Christians should be well aware that these gifts are not guaranteed and are certainly not an indispensable part of being a follower of Jesus. A Christian’s source of identity, security and hope does not derive from living in an unheralded time (historically speaking) of prosperity, political stability and access to infinite information.

So we are not to be people of fear, but of hope. Our ‘salvation’ does not rest on the fortunes of liberal secular democracy. Christians in the West are, after all, called to be NOT good Westerners – whether Irish, American, British or German etc. They ARE called to be faithful disciples of Jesus their Lord.

2. Live by the sword

Up there with ‘love your enemies’, perhaps one of the most ignored teachings of Jesus is that “those who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Mt 26:52)

Christians are not to be uncritical supporters of the West or of their particular state. A role of the church (however unpopular) is to call the state to account before God – and take the consequences (ask John the Baptist).

It is the West’s arrogance and militarism that has helped create the disaster of the contemporary Middle East. Rather than respond the catastrophic mess with support for more violence, it is Christians who are called to be peacemakers; people of prayer; compassion; of reconciliation and mercy.

An illustration from the radio this morning: Lyse Doucet is a superb international correspondent for the BBC. She was talking of why she risked her life reporting from Aleppo. Her reply was unescapably moral: it was a privilege to see what was happening and tell the human story of suffering. She recalled her Catholic upbringing and that she had been taught to be ‘my brother’s keeper’. She was there to use her training and experience to help give a voice to those without a voice. Her actions are a fantastic model for Christians. Non-violence is not passive, it is courageous and bold on behalf of the weak and vulnerable. It speaks of risky love at cost to ourselves. It speaks of a radically different narrative to the men of war.

3.   Accept the fate of the world

nietzscheThe brilliant atheist Friedrich Nietzsche (with impressive moustache) talked of amor fati – love of fate. By this he meant that we should overcome our weakness of trying to seek salvation or moral perfection in this world. Rather we should grow up and say YES to all that exists; embrace all of life, both its miseries and joys. There is nothing else higher or better than life as it is.  It is Christian weakness and illusion to believe that there is – and Nietzsche hated such weakness. He believed in strength and power rather than perverse ideas of pity and compassion.

Nietzsche was absolutely right – if God is dead. For without God all we do face is a pitiless world where the will to power wins out and compassion is mere stupidity (sound familiar re a certain President elect?). Fatalism and power are the responses of faithlessness – quite consistent for an atheist but not exactly an option for a Christian.

4. Hope, compassion and beauty

Rather than 1-3, can I suggest that in a violent and uncertain world, Christians are to be people of hope, compassion and lovers of beauty.

Christian hope rests not in politics or nationalism but on the victory of God won in Christ. In him we have the certainty of resurrection life, forgiveness of sin, new life in the Spirit, a mission give our lives to, a God to love and a church and world to serve. We are to be people who believe in, are shaped by and share good news – whatever the world is doing around us.

That good news includes Paul’s command to ‘remember the poor’ and to live a kingdom life that is ‘good news to the poor’. God’s people, like OT Israel are to reflect God’s heart for those cast aside by the power structures and politics of the world:

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Deut. 10:18-19

As recipients of God’s grace and compassion, we are to share grace and compassion generously with those in need like refugees fleeing from unimaginable violence.

Finally, back to those goldfinches. I like bird watching and think goldfinches are particularly pretty. Now some people I know don’t like birds at all and I think Starlings are frankly evil. So my point is not about birds per se, but beauty.

There is something captivating and transcendent about beauty – maybe for you it is a landscape, a sunset, a person, a poem, a tree, a painting, a crashing wave on a beach or a crafted piece of clothing?

Beauty reminds us that this life, this world, is full of goodness, made by a loving creator. It is to be treasured, savoured, enjoyed and looked after. Since God’s ultimate agenda is renewal and healing of this broken and violent world, Christians are to be life-affirming and world-affirming.

Part of being people of hope is to pause and give thanks for the beauty we see every day. Part of being people of hope is to create beauty with our hands and with our words.

Hope, compassion, beauty: these, I suggest, rather than fear, violence and fatalism, form a Christian framework for approaching 2017.

Paul and the Christian life (4) Lynn Cohick

Continuing posing through The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life: ethical and missional implications of the New Perspective leads to a chapter by Lynn Cohick of Wheaton College called ‘The New Perspective and the Christian Life in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians’.

9780801049767Just to reiterate the context of this discussion: the big question of this book is how does Paul the Jew – now a follower of Jesus the Messiah – envision a life pleasing to God? How does he see the relationship with Jewish belief and practice of his day [shaped around the Torah] and what it means for both Jews and Gentiles to live a life worthy of the gospel? What are the implications of these questions for living the Christian life in the 21st century?

The lens into these questions for Cohick is Ephesians. She begins by contending that while the sins forgiven aspect of Paul’s gospel has been front and centre, the communal and transformational flip-side of his gospel has been muted within the church.

She summarises the fruit of NPP on Judaism as highlighting how

“a Jew’s faithfulness to God’s law did not earn him or her salvation; rather this obedience represented the correct response to God’s election or call.”

This was a fusion of ethnic, religious, cultural and political identity with Judaism of Paul’s day – expressed in various ways among sects like the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, Sadducees etc. And in this, she argues, Jews were quite typical of other religious identities of the ancient world.

In Ephesians, there is not a contrast between the narrow, ethnocentric, legalistic Jewish identity as opposed to the abstract, neutral and broad Gentile identity. The disaster within Christian anti-Jewish rhetoric is where the ‘Jew’ “who represents the pride and arrogance that plague humanity.” The benefit of the NPP is that it has demonstrated that Jews of the first century were no more arrogant than humanity in general and can’t be used as a foil for the ‘humble’ Christian who accepts God’s grace.

The better way to see things is how Gentiles and Jews both have identities: ethnic, cultural, religious, political. Paul is rejecting Gentile idolatry, but also any Jewish claim that Torah obedience carries special weight and that it should be adopted by Gentiles. Cohick puts it this way:

Paul theologically shifts the doing of the (ritual and cultic) law from a universal mandate for God’s people to a sociological category representing a cultural display expressing Jewish heritage. The Jewish believers continue to practice their heritage but must refrain from insisting that gentile believers within the same community embrace Jewish cultural practices.

Reading Ephesians via a NPP lens, Cohick contends, rightly highlights how the ‘Gentile question’ is the driver behind the letter’s ecclesiology: there is a profound ‘recalibration’ going on about who now are the holy people of God. Gentiles have become recipients of the Spirit. Their inclusion is a sign of the universal ‘power of the cross to make all believers new.’

2:14 is a revolutionary statement in the ancient world – one new humanity, within one body, through the death of the Jewish Messiah (2:16). Both Jews and Gentiles are adopted into God’s family through faith in Christ (1:15) and both remain Jews and Gentiles. This new humanity foreshadows the inheritance to come in the new heavens and earth – a humanity of diversity and unity. The shocking and radical inclusion of the Gentiles is for Paul a deep mystery (3:6).

Until that eschatological new creation, the present age is ruled by powers and authorities opposed to the work of God (2:2)

The gospel challenges the spiritual rulers and principalities that keep their power in part because they separate and destroy; they “build” hatred between peoples rather than tear down dividing walls of hostility. The peace these rulers promote is pacification of the weak by the strong. This is not the peace of Christ, which brings together all members of his body in love.

The response is for God’s people to put on the armour of God – this is apocalyptic language and imagery, but the method of warfare is respect, generosity, forgiveness, faith and so on not aggressive, triumphalistic posturing.

Paul frames his injunctions to practice forgiveness with his conviction that spiritual evil forces rampage about the world, wreaking havoc and su!ering. Humans are victims of such powerful evil. Paul asks the community to put on their “new self” that is fitted for godly behavior that imitates God and walks as Christ walked (Eph. 5:1–2). This new humanity, Jew and gentile, one in Christ, by its very existence declares ultimate victory over sin and death, and life eternal in the new heavens and new earth for all who call upon the name of the Lord.

Cohick offers some interesting observations on the contemporary relevance of the inclusion of the Gentiles is in the ‘nonprivileging of status’ of whatever sort – even that of Western theological traditions, now a minority voice within the global church.

The “we” of the American churches needs the “you” of the global South and the Asian churches. The “we” of Paul and his Jewish compatriots is not a “we” of dominance, of paternalism, of superiority; it is a “we” of chronological experience of God’s revealed truth.

And she expands on this contemporary application

Today in most US churches, it takes daily diligence to resist the siren call of consumerism, nationalism, and individualism and to embrace fewer material goods and more global church identity. Paul’s kinship language would be a good place to start in renewing our minds and thus our practices and pocketbooks. A goal would be an ethnically and racially integrated local church experience, one that does not privilege one ethnic or racial approach over another. A baby step in this direction might be partnerships between currently homogeneous churches within a city. The danger here is that the wealthier church might call the shots or imagine itself as the “senior partner” of the pair. This same temptation exists when an American church partners with a church in the global South. Paul’s call to be one body requires tremendous restraint of will in the relinquishing of control by the dominant group and the intentional empowering of the least of those in its midst.

Ethnic boundaries broken; radically different attitudes between identities forged in opposition to each other; equality and humility as identities are relativised; a new humanity marked by the Spirit, existing as a powerful alternative to the world; peace, unity and shalom – it is this sort of focus and insight that flows from a NPP reading of the text.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curious goings on in England

Discussion between a radio presenter and the Bishop of Leicester about a person who has been dead 530 years

Presenter: “Is he forgiven, Bishop?”

Bishop “Of course he is forgiven. As we all ultimately are.” (or words to that effect, not sure of exact quote)

King Richard III ProcesssionThey were talking, of course, about King Richard III who is to re-buried in Leicester Cathedral on Thursday. About 35,000 people lined the route to the Cathedral y’day, via the Battle of Bosworth site, and thousands are queuing for hours today to view the coffin.

What do you make of this?

No shortage of interpretations and opinions floating about I’m sure: for me it seems to highlight what a peculiar and conflicted place contemporary England can be.

All in all a rather strange and eccentric mish-mash of sentiment, fuzzy theology, contemporary campaigns to recover the last Plantagenet King’s unjustly tarred reputation (had you heard of a whole movement of ‘Ricardians’?), historical tourism and search for English identity.

Sentiment: – people throwing white roses on the coffin: a sense of grief; some sort of emotional connection to a long dead king.

Fuzzy theology: as quote above. The Bishop seems to be advocating some form of ultimate reconciliation. The sub-text you pick up from wider coverage is that the Established Church’s assumed role is to baptise and bury everyone regardless of life and evidence of faith. For those holding to this sort of ecclesiology, normally then final judgement would be left in the hands of God’s grace and justice. But the Bishop is pushing this further: it appears that God’s role is to love and accept all since that is what he does? I wonder how Justin Welby who is officiating on Thursday will put things.

Contemporary politics:  I don’t know enough about English history to get how and why rehabilitating Richard III is so significant to a lot of people .. anyone help me here?

Historical tourism: as always in our ‘economist’ society, just under the surface is a barely concealed delight at the fantastic financial boon the finding of Richard III’s body will be, and is already, for Leicester. There is a whole tourist industry in the process of formation.

English Identity: every day English news and media is dominated by immigration, UK Muslim insurgents going to Syria to join ISIS, the loyalties and identity of the UK’s Muslin population; fear of Islamic insurgence and terrorism on UK soil etc etc. This sits starkly side by side with the Richard III story. I wonder if the fascination with Richard III is a sort of reassertion of English identity – a reconnection to the past in the face of a much more internally complex, global and uncertain future?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

Ian Paisley and the politics of purity

Ian PaisleyOn hearing of the death yesterday of Ian Paisley, I went back and re-read the chapter I wrote on Paisleyism in my book Evangelicalism and National Identity in Ulster 1921-98. [I see it is a bargain at £132.50!]

The title of the chapter was ‘”Ourselves Alone”: Paisleyism and the Politics of Purity’. It feels like it was written in a previous lifetime and sparked some thoughts below.

Tributes pouring in for the ‘big man’ have pretty well all revolved around two things: the wit, humour and warmth of the man in person; and the fact of his finally, and remarkably, doing the ‘right thing’ and participating in power-sharing with Sinn Fein.

There is of course no little irony that this move –  coupled with his bonhomie relationship with Martin McGuinness – eventually cost him the leadership of the party he founded. For it was Paisley who, from the late 60s onwards, dispatched one Unionist leader after another for ‘betraying’ the cause of Ulster by doing some sort of deal with the British or the Irish Nationalists. Finally the ultimate outsider ended up centre-stage and did what he had vitriolically attacked those leaders for doing – dealing with the reality of some sort of power-sharing arrangement in Northern Ireland.

His later alienation from the DUP, and relative estrangement from the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster which he also founded, seemed to have left him feeling bitter and betrayed. That last interview he did on the BBC with Eamon Mallie seemed to surprise many people who, making assumptions about his joking around with McGuinness, jumped to the attractive conclusion that Paisley had suddenly become an avuncular liberal who had left behind those problematic and divisive religious and political convictions.

I don’t think I would revise too much of what I said back in 2003. His was a personal and political identity forged in conflict; given shape and content by separation from the impure Other. The Other included the mother of all harlots Rome,  ‘liberal’ (!) Irish Presbyterians, the WCC, Methodists, Baptists, the British, the Irish Govt, Irish nationalism, Irish Republicanism, weak Unionists, even the Orange Order, and, towards the end, fellow DUP leaders like Peter Robinson who turned, Brutus-like, on their leader.

Paisley’s sense of persecuted righteous prophet was there in that BBC interview. His career was built on personalized politics. In 2003 I looked at some of his rhetoric and concluded that by it

Paisley establishes that hostility to him is equivalent, not only to hostility to Christ, but to biblical truth, the values of the Reformation, and Ulster’s place within the United Kingdom. The power of ideology lies not only in its connection of contemporary political events with dramatic spiritual battles, but in its fusion of traditional Ulster siege mythology with Paisley’s own destiny and actions. He has personalized the Ulster unionist myth of the persecuted faithful. In a sense, his whole politico-religious career has been a conscious re-enactment of the past. (179)

The remarkable success of Paisleyism, I argued, was built primarily on it being a particular form of nationalism that was organized around a theological core of deeply held evangelical beliefs. The result was an innovative cocktail of fundamentalism and an intense localised form of nationalism. There is no room for doubt, complexity and shades of opinion within a nationalist myth. This was why, in a BBC vox pop after his death, ordinary Protestants, one after another, primarily talked of him as a great leader / defender of Ulster etc.  The breadth of his support was political and nationalistic rather than being based on his faithfulness to the Reformation solas.

At the end of the chapter I wrote that Paisleyism would lose its coherence and potency without the threat of imminent betrayal. I think this has happened. Paisleyism had gone as a movement well before yesterday. The DUP continues to struggle out of the shadow of the big man and chart its way in a new power-sharing era. A key to the future in the North will be how successful it can be in leaving behind the ‘politics of holiness’ – as well as how successful Sinn Fein can be on the other side of leaving behind its own toxic nationalist myths.

Comments, as ever, welcome

A personal sketch of the 1912 Ulster Covenant

Tomorrow the 28th of September 2012 marks the centenary of The Ulster Covenant. As a way of reflecting on events 100 years ago, allow me to tell a story of two sides of my family tree. First the text itself:

‘Being convinced in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster as well as of the whole of Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious freedom, destructive of our citizenship and perilous to the unity of Empire, we, whose names are underwritten, men of Ulster, loyal subjects of His Gracious Majesty King George V., humbly relying on the God whom our fathers in days of stress and trial confidently trusted, do hereby pledge ourselves in solemn Covenant throughout this our time of threatened calamity to stand by one another in defending for ourselves and our children our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom, and in using all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland. And in the event of such a Parliament being forced upon us we further solemnly and mutually pledge ourselves to refuse to recognize its authority. In sure confidence that God will defend the right we hereto subscribe our names. And further, we individually declare that we have not already signed this Covenant … God save the King.’

The Unionist Side

I recently had a browse of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland website and looked up signatories of the Covenant. Very quickly I found the signatures of my grandfather George (18), my great-grandfather Rev Samuel Mitchel, Presbyterian minister in Enniskillen  (56), his wife Marie who signed the separate women’s Declaration in Enniskillen (address given, ‘The Manse’), and my great-great grandfather, Rev David Mitchel (1825-1914), retired Presbyterian minister attached to Hamilton Road Presbyterian Church in Bangor.

The three men had probably met up in Belfast together on a sort of pilgrimage. I know that my grand-father cycled to Belfast from Newry to be there. They must have listened to Edward Carson at City Hall warning of the imminent dangers of Home Rule before signing the Covenant within the building itself.

It was a Saturday, but felt like a Sunday; a holy sacred and solemn day, filled with significance. Pretty well everyone went to church, just as they would the next morning. But what was different about this act of worship was the way it transcended any theological distinctives and united the signatories within a broad politicised Protestantism. The document they signed that day promised to resist Home Rule ‘by all means which may be found necessary’. The formation and arming of the Ulster Volunteer Force gave shape to this threat.

It may have been a century ago but that day, and other events of that decade, are still within touching distance. I remember my grand-father quite well – a real gentleman. I can imagine him as a teenager, there with his father and grand-father, both Presbyterian ministers; three generations together, men of the church, men of Ulster, men of Empire – men of their time.

The Irish Nationalist / Republican side

The Rev David Mitchel I just mentioned was a first cousin of John Mitchel ‘The Patriot’ (1815-1875); orator, journalist, controversialist, fervently anti-English Irish nationalist, himself the son of another Presbyterian minister in Newry, Young Irelander, bitter opponent of O’Connell’s pacifism, transported to Van Diemen’s Land for inciting revolution, author of Jail Journal (a hugely influential book within 19th and early 20th century Irish nationalism), and, at the very end of his life, MP (although declared ineligible since he was a ‘convicted felon’).

Mitchel can fairly be called the father of violent Republicanism. He was one of Padraig Pearse’s four ‘ghosts’ – the dead but inspirational forefathers of 1916. Mitchel was the ghost legitimating the use of physical force to liberate Ireland.

So, two very different sides of the one family who knew one another. Conversation over tea at family gatherings with Rev David and rebel John must have been interesting. But both sides in their own ways embedded beliefs that gave shape to the rest of 20th century Irish history (as well as having a nice line in beards).

A belief that violence, or the threat of violence, is in certain circumstances justified and trumps ‘illegitimate Government’.  For Unionists, the Ulster Covenant represented a covenant with each other (not with God) to resist British failure to maintain their side of a contract of honour to protect the Union.  Such resistance was heroic, necessary and morally right. The violent rebellion of 1916 glorified martyrology, death and violence in the cause of the nation – the rebels taking onto themselves the right to bear arms even though they were a tiny minority at the time.

Both sides are shaped by nationalist narratives that claimed that God was on their side. See the text of the Covenant for how it ‘sacralised’ the political cause of opposing Home Rule. And see 1916 and Pearse’s religious rhetoric for how Christian imagery would serve the cause of his ‘blood sacrifice’. My Presbyterian grandfathers would not have put in those terms of course. They fitted within the overwhelming Protestant consensus that they had no other choice but to resist such a manifest threat to their political, religious and economic existence and that God must obviously be on their side.

Both sides saw themselves as fighting for ‘liberty’: one from the alien and disloyal threat of Rome Rule, the other from the crushing power of English occupation.

Both sides were battling to protect, maintain and express their own political, cultural and religious identities. For Protestants like my grandfather and his forbears, it was a time of ‘threatened calamity’ that called for radical unity – wherever it may lead.

Both Irish nationalist and Ulster Unionist narratives united people into opposing ‘identity blocs’. Unionists like my grandfathers were overwhelmingly at this time ‘Irish’. By the end of the 1970s only about 3% of Protestants would describe themselves this way. Previously significant differences of identity (between Presbyterian dissenters and the Anglican establishment for example) would be subsumed within an all-embracing Unionist political identity.

Both sides developed negative ‘identities of opposition’. The zero-sum politics of siege and fear of ‘the Other’ would dominate the rest of the century. Both were defined by what they were not: Unionists were not Catholic and (increasingly) were not Irish. Whatever Irish nationalists were, they were not British and did not exactly share Unionist’s view of the Empire as a benign force for good. Both sides saw themselves as more rational, advanced, and obviously morally, culturally religiously superior to the Other.

Both sides used the power of the state to implement and reinforce and propagate its own identity – which included wildly differing interpretations of Irish history. One led to De Valera’s Catholic Ireland, the other to James Craig’s ‘Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people’. Both sides excluded and marginalised the Other as they gained the freedom to assert their own identity within a political space –whether Northern Ireland or the Irish Republic.

Of course these are all generalisations but I want to contend they are broadly accurate. This deep entwining of religion with narratives of power, self-interest, fear, exclusion and violence in Ireland has been, in my opinion a disaster and a curse. It is a form of idolatry that has deeply damaged the authentic witness of the church as followers of a crucified Messiah who rejected violence.

Its legacy is one where churches still find it incredibly difficult to even begin to imagine how to distance themselves (not remove themselves) spiritually and theologically from particular political and cultural identities. And this has deeply damaged their witness and mission to an alternative kingdom of the one true Lord.

As you can tell from my family tree, ‘historically’ I’m a Presbyterian. But I’m also one by practice – if a Christian first. So I’ll explore in a couple of more posts next week how this fusion of religion and national identity around ‘Ulster’s 1912 pact with God’ played out within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland during the 20th century.

Comments, as ever, welcome.