On Sunday night, I journeyed by train to Belfast, Northern Ireland. I had a wonderful, home-cooked meal at the home of David Shepherd, principal of Belfast Bible College. On Monday morning I spoke to a crowded hall at Belfast Bible, ranging from students of the college to youth workers, to older women who stayed over from the women’s Bible study that directly preceded my lecture. Again, a fun and receptive crowd as I spoke about the forgotten art of spiritual discipline. I lunched with David Rock, the boss of Methodist youth workers on the island. He’s on a sabbatical, finishing his D.Min. paper for Chap Clark on the “fresh expressions” movement in the U.K., so we chatted about that and other assorted things.
David then drove me to the home of Gareth Higgins, a man who had previously only been a figment of my imagination. It would be impossible for me to even begin to cover in a blog post the conversation that Gareth and I had. We talked about mutual friends, theology, church, IKON, Sojourners, Hauerwas, Ireland, Emergent, publishing, Soularize, and more. I arrived at 3pm, and we talked until 2am. At around “half seven,” several others joined us and we had an IKON “Last Supper”—you can read about what a “Last Supper” is in Peter Rollins’s How (Not) to Speak of God. I’m proud to say that I have now joined the litany of Americans to have gotten in a shouting match with William Crawley. Although the Last Supper tradition is to bury the guest in the back garden if s/he doesn’t win over the crowd, Gareth broke up one particular round of shouting by saying, “This may be the first Last Supper at which one of the guests is buried in the back garden!” But, truth be told, Will stayed late into the evening and we had a great time—he’s a lovely man, as the Irish would say.
Next morning, Gareth loaded me in his car and drove me around Belfast on what he called the “Troubles Tour.” Truth be told, I was a bit foggy on the history of Ireland—both ancient and modern—prior to my trip. I didn’t really get that Ireland and Northern Ireland are distinctly different countries, nor did I quite understand the causes of the bitter and violent fighting in Belfast until 1994. One would be hard-pressed to find a better guide than Gareth; he grew up amidst the fighting, he is close to people who have lost friends and relations to the violence; and has experienced the trauma of the conflict up close, and has spent the last decade directing a peace initiative. My eyes were opened. (My only regret is that I didn’t record the tour as I did in Johannesburg last year.