This Easter time many thousands of Christian people across Northern Ireland will gather to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. They will do so in churches, houses and communities where they will share the stories- as laid down in Christian Scripture- of that event some 2000 years ago. Of those who gather, many will be convinced of the truths told in those stories. They will speak of it as a reality in their own lives and will have developed a whole way of life in response to these truths. Others, however, will gather less assured of the truth of the stories. They will have some beliefs and they will be clinging in hope to these. Gathering with others to hear and recount these stories will help them on their journey of faith.
Of course, in Northern Ireland not everyone is Christian. Indeed, not everyone is a person of any faith. Many are atheist. Atheists too gather- in the ‘real’ world and online increasingly- to tell their story of the truth- that there is no God at all. Just like the theists, these believers in a Godless existence gather round stories of this truth and live lives according and in response to it.
Two truths, diametrically opposed to each other. At times, of course, those with these competing views meet and discuss them. This even results in conversions for some- in both directions. And then they hold the opposing truth as their own.
The truth is a strange thing. And it is an important thing to many of us. Nowhere more important it seems than in Northern Ireland. Coming out of the most recent conflict here, we have had a very long debate about how we might get to the truth of what happened here. Much of the debate has, rightly, focused on the people who were victimised in the conflict- those who lost loved ones or those who were killed and injured themselves.
I have heard two ways of getting to the truth spoken about often in these past years.
One is recovering the truth through the courts. This would involve police investigations resulting in arrests, prosecutions, trials and convictions. During this process the victims of the crime would hear the truth of what happened and they would also get justice.
The second involves setting up a form of ‘Truth Commission’ whereby an official process is put in place to facilitate the bringing to light the wrongdoings of the past- on the part of the state and of non-state participants also. While mooted as not being designed to end in criminal prosecution this process would still have some weight behind it and would result in an official record of the wrongdoings of the past.
There are merits and demerits to each of these two different options of truth recovery. The purpose of these words is not to examine them in this light.
Rather, at this Easter time when we are thinking of the word ‘rising’ in a variety of contexts, there is a form of what feels like truth rising in me and it is this: I don’t think either criminal prosecutions or a truth commission will happen here. Ever. I think there will be too many people implicated for such an official and honest narrative of the past here to emerge. It will be stymied. I hope that my viewpoint here is not just weary cynicism.
I think we run the real risk of spending the next generation chasing truth through processes that will never deliver it. In the mean time victims continue to suffer the uncertainty of not knowing whether or not they will get their day in court or their day in the truth commission witness seat or viewing gallery. And in the mean time, all of us here will limp onwards spending huge amounts of time, political energy and money on what will never be.
Dwelling for a moment in my opinion as if it were truth, I would end where I began; reflecting on how Christian and atheists alike share their truths, develop narratives, explore implications and learn to live lives accordingly. They do so through gathering and listening- to speakers and to each other.
I was struck by an interview I heard on Radio Ulster recently with a woman whose husband had been brutally killed in Derry in the early 1970s. She had been left widowed and alone to raise a large family. I got the sense that her life had been a real struggle. She was being interviewed because her story and those of 27 other women who lost loved ones are told in a book called, ’Beyond The Silence’ by Julieann Campbell (ed). When asked how it felt to be included in the book she replied that after a lifetime of being treated like a nobody, she now felt like she was somebody. This is the power that telling one’s story can have. Such books and others like it have an important part to play in how we piece the truth together of our past. As do other creative outlets such as plays and songs and poetry.
Perhaps, then, we need to think of smaller scale and less official ways for people to come together to simply tell their stories of what happened here. Perhaps we need to challenge ourselves to become a listening place. Someone suggested to me some years ago that we should put recording booths all over the towns and cities of this country and simply allow people to come into the booth and speak about their story- no judge, no jury, no international chairperson- just the story. Might this get closer to the truth? This is only one suggestion (beset with all sorts of difficulties, I know) and I offer it not as the be all and end all.
Finding creative ways to get at the truth will be difficult I know. However, unlike the two methods that I hold will never come to pass, other less formal ways could happen. If we really do this, we may be able to find ways that those who seek the truth may be able to hear that truth. It may take time and creativity. But I think it will be worth it.
Jim Deeds is a husband and a father from Belfast. During his 44 years, Jim has worked as a busker; a film maker; a play write; a bar man; a glass washer; a social worker; a therapist; a manager of a children’s home; and an NHS manager. He is currently a pastoral worker for the Diocese of Down and Connor and an author. It is this variety in life experience and his observations that Jim brings to bear in his writing, always looking for the spiritual amongst the ordinary day to day. His book of spiritual reflections and poetry is available at http://shanway.com/product/surfing-lifes-waves/priced £7