The Gospel According to Christy Moore

‘I wish more people had been here to hear that.’

So whispered a parishioner from St Oliver’s Plunkett’s in Lenadoon, who was sitting behind me last night at Fitzroy Presbyterian’s performance of ‘The Gospel According to Christy Moore,’ in St Oliver’s Plunkett’s Church.

Rev Steve Stockman of Fitzroy had just asked the Catholics in the audience for forgiveness, because of what he identified as his forebears’ oppression of their forebears. Indeed, over the course of the evening, Stockman explained that he saw the Fitzroy musicians’ performance of Christy Moore – in a Catholic Church – as a type of repentance and identification with the oppressed.

The evening at St Oliver Plunkett’s was part of the programme for Féile an Earraigh. There will be a repeat performance this Sunday, 18 March, at Fitzroy Presbyterian at 7 pm. Though the symbolic impact of the event may not be as great in Fitzroy as in Lenadoon, it’s worth attending just for the exceptionally high quality of musicianship.

Despite the parishioner’s wish for a bigger audience, there was actually a fair-sized Thursday evening crowd on hand to enjoy the music and, I think, to be genuinely moved by not just by Stockman’s apology, but by the way in which the event marked the identification of one community with another.

By that I mean that by humbly asking to perform Moore’s nationalist songs in a Catholic Church, the Presbyterian musicians were saying they wished to come alongside that community – to enjoy music, to prayerfully consider a painful past, and to try and build a better future together.

On his blog, Stockman elaborates on the thinking behind the event, describing how what started out as a ‘gimmick’ to entice university students into church had become for him a much more spiritually engaging experience:

An American group from Fuller University were with us and one of their staff said he had been singing Irish songs to the students and I asked him up to sing one. When he started into The Fields Of Athenry I was sitting beside him wondering if this song had any right to be sung in Church. It was then that I had an epiphany. The Fields Of Athenry and some of the other Irish songs that Christy Moore sings are songs of oppression with an Old Testament ring to them and a hope for the liberation from oppression (e.g. Amos 5) that Jesus declared right at the outset of his ministry (Luke 4: 18-19).

This revelation took me to a place of social discomfort. I was born and raised in the Protestant Unionist British side of the tragedy of Irish divide. As a result the oppression that Christy Moore sings about through hundreds of years of Irish history has been caused by those of us intending to sing the songs and commentate upon them. The youth of today would cry “Awkward.” Last year in Fitzroy though we had author Nicholas Wolterstorff who has said, “In taking side of the exploited, Christians find themselves in opposition to some of those who confess the same Lord.”

It is more of this discomfort that the Irish people need if we are going to be honest and authentic with our former enemies, ourselves and our God. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God promised them people, “14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” This is one of those ways when we humble ourselves and admit to having and turn from our wicked part of the tragedy.

Doubtless Stockman’s apology and request for forgiveness will annoy the ‘whataboutery’ brigade, especially those who think that it makes no sense for those of us living today to apologise for our ancestors, as well as those who might think that the other ‘side’ has more to apologise for – particularly when it comes to recent history.

But the dynamics of reconciliation are complex, and it is doubtful that Northern Ireland will ever have any sort of meaningfully integrated or reconciled society unless there is some apologising and forgiving – including acknowledging a painful past and extending grace to one another.

Of course, it is easier to wait for the other side to apologise, foregoing the individual or communal self-examination necessary to recognise that everyone (even those who did not participate in violence) has been somehow implicated in sustaining the divided, sectarian society on this island.

At the end of the performance, St Oliver Plunkett’s Fr Martin Magill noted that elsewhere that evening for the Féile, there was a roundtable discussion of the Ulster Covenant. Themes around covenant were also explored last week by Rev Johnston McMaster at the Centre for Contemporary Christianity’s Catherwood Lecture.

Magill asked us all to ponder how those of us today might think about a new covenant – with each other rather than one side against the other – for building a shared future together. Courageous and symbolically rich events like the Gospel According to Christy Moore seem to me like a good place to start.

  • Good grief.

  • iluvni

    Sounds so bad you’d wonder if Marie Jones had a hand in it

  • wild turkey

    “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things”

    Philippians 4.8

  • Pete Baker

    Gladys

    I agree with what the Danish Culture Minister said in 2007

    we don’t apologise for what the Vikings did 1,000 years ago

    Does that put him, and me, in “the ‘whataboutery’ brigade” [“especially those who think that it makes no sense for those of us living today to apologise for our ancestors”]?

    And, of course, there are those who would be apologising for something that they, themselves, actually did.

    Bloody supernaturalists. 😉

  • Scáth Shéamais

    I don’t think “Fields of Athenrye” is part of Christy’s repertoire. Also, I’m not sure what the man himself would say about the premise of “a Biblical thread of justice working its way through” his songs.

  • sonofstrongbow

    Looks like Steve Stockman is trying to take David Latimer on the inside rail in the race for a ‘Sorry’ Prod for a future Moderator.

    As I’m always ready to help, and picking up Pete Baker’s theme, here’s a suggestion; perhaps Steve could go down to Ikea with a song in his heart and apologise to the staff for all those monks in olden times forcing themselves onto the sword blades of Viking tourists?

  • wild turkey

    “And, of course, there are those who would be apologising for something that they, themselves, actually did.”

    PB, perhaps i have this wrong, but is there a slight typo in the above?

    ‘would’ should read ‘ should’?

    if so, i am in complete agreement

  • Pete Baker

    wt

    No, no typo. I’m not in the business of prescribing who should apologise – and I wouldn’t want to start getting into the question of whether such apologies would have any meaning.

    I used ‘would’ in the context of Gladys’ dubious contention “that everyone (even those who did not participate in violence) has been somehow implicated in sustaining the divided, sectarian society on this island.”

    In that context, everyone should apologise. But only some would be apologising for something that they, themselves, had actually done.

  • napoleoninrags

    I understand and empathise to some extent with the point about apologising for deeds of ancestors – whether it is something we actually are able to do on behalf of those long dead and gone; and whether it is proportionate or necessary.

    However, there is no doubt that the reason for violence in Ireland in living memory has its roots in the distant past, in the acts of ancestors; and those who have indulged in violence have attempted to justify it on the basis of acts done in the past. So, if we’re to move forward, we have to find some way to acknowledge past injustices and violence on both sides of the politico-religious divide.

    What a distortion of the event to see it merely as an apology, or see it as a failure to recognise wrongs done by Irish republicans. There is a real risk of missing the wood for the trees here…. apology is shorthand for a way to begin, with humility, building a better future. We don’t have to worry about building a better future with the Vikings, but we do need to put our shoulder to the wheel in building a better one with those we live alongside on this piece of land. As Christy put it (in a very Christ-like way, whether he intended it that way or not), “I wanna meet you where you are.”

    Gladys hasn’t missed the wood for the trees, and she’s even provided clues for the key points by putting them in bold font. Still, I’ve no doubt some will continue to focus on the A word…

    For those prone to quote ‘proof texts,’ try this one for size: “Love your enemies.”
    That’s not about a feeling, that’s about action.

  • Jimmy Sands

    Sounds so bad you’d wonder if Marie Jones had a hand in it

    Phil Coulter and Moya Doherty are helping music police with their inquiries.

  • Pete Baker

    “We don’t have to worry about building a better future with the Vikings”.

    And what has that got to do with the price of fish? If you’re criticising, as Gladys did, “those who think that it makes no sense for those of us living today to apologise for our ancestors” then that’s a general point. If it fails elsewhere, then it’s a flawed argument.

    “apology is shorthand for a way to begin, with humility, building a better future”

    Yeah, napoleoninrags, it’s not really the “A-word” at all.

    More smoke and mirrors from the supernaturalists.

    “Gladys hasn’t missed the wood for the trees, and she’s even provided clues for the key points by putting them in bold font.”

    And yet Gladys neglected to put in bold font the quote I highlighted earlier – which forms the basis for both the flawed analysis and the proffered resolution.

    As I said, I used ‘would’ in the context of Gladys’ dubious contention “that everyone (even those who did not participate in violence) has been somehow implicated in sustaining the divided, sectarian society on this island.”

    I don’t doubt the sincerity of the desire for resolution, “in a very Christ-like way”. But it’s completely wrong-headed.

  • Turgon

    There are a number of problems with Mr. Stockman’s apology.

    Firstly as Pete points out it is problematic to say the least to apologise for the action of remote ancestors. Furthermore it is pretty unlikely that Mr. Stockman is in actual fact the descendent of the oppressors of the Catholic Irish population: more likely he is the descendent of poor peasant farmers much the same as most of the rest of us.

    Next is the problem of on whose behalf he is apologising. He has no mandate to apologise of behalf of the P/U/L population as he has no elected role within that community. He may be able to apologise on behalf of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church but even then he should really only be doing it if he has the agreement of the Kirk Session of Fitzroy: annoyingly the Presbyterian church is remarkably democratic. It is unclear what specific role in the oppression of Catholics (or anyone else) Fitzroy has had but if they feel the need to apologise through their minister that is a matter for them.

    Next the theology of such an apology is problematic to say the least. The idea of collective guit and collective punishment had been abandoned long before the end of the Old Testament and the New Testament is fundamentally interested in personal apology repentance etc. and not in collective repentance, contrition etc.

    All of us have done things in our lives of which we are (or atleast should be) less than proud and all of us have had occasion to have to apologise or at least all of us should have apologised at times even if we did not. I have no doubt Mr. Stockman is no different to the rest of us in this. Such apologies are humbling even humiliating for all of us: probably why we do it less than we should.

    It is, however, much easier to apologise for something which one cannot have been involved in as it allows the appearance of humility but with the feeling that one is being righteous and indeed affirming one’s own goodness and humility. That is often better called false humility and self righteousness.

  • BluesJazz

    Is this thread for real???
    If so, I suppose I should apologise for the antics of some of my Trilobite ancestors who may, on occasion, have, eaten more than their fair share of plankton.

    just don’t mention ‘the spanish inquisition’.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Sweet baby jebus and the holey vegan.
    Lord Zeus will not forgive those who do not believe in HIM !!

    (worst ever on slugger)