Everything is Spiritual by Rob Bell: Part Memoir, Part Hymn for Humanity

My eyes had already welled up with tears after the first three pages of Rob Bell’s latest book, Everything is Spiritual: Who we are and What we’re doing Here. Those early pages took me to his grandmother’s front porch on a windswept farm in central Michigan, introducing me to the grief and love that shaped him and set his life on its course. My emotional response testifies to Bell’s skill as a storyteller, which makes Everything is Spiritual a quick, …

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Church as ‘doing life with all kinds of people’: Review of ‘On the Brühl’

On the Brühl, a documentary short profiling the work of Carrickfergus native Rev Barry Sloan in the German city of Chemnitz, has won the best short film documentary at the 2020 Burbank International Film Festival. The film is framed by images of far-right anti-immigrant protests in Chemnitz in 2018. Between the scenes of police in riot gear, On the Brühl juxtaposes those violent events with the warm, welcoming community-based meeting hub, ‘Inspire’, that Sloan helped establish in the city in …

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Love’s Betrayal: The Decline of Catholicism and the Rise of New Religions in Ireland by Peter Mulholland: New Insights on Recent Religious History

In Love’s Betrayal: The Decline of Catholicism and the Rise of New Religions in Ireland (Peter Lang Publishers, 2019) Peter Mulholland offers a frank and often bruising account of the decline of the authority of the Catholic Church in Ireland since the middle of the twentieth century. Mulholland follows in the footsteps of ground-breaking studies, such as those by Tom Inglis (Moral Monopoly, 1987, 1998) and Louise Fuller (Irish Catholicism Since 1950, 2002). What sets Mulholland’s work apart is how …

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Religion, Spirituality and the Search for Meaning during the Covid-19 Pandemic

According to many accounts, there has been a modest resurgence of religious practice in Ireland and the UK during the covid-19 pandemic. Nationally representative surveys commissioned by the Iona Institute and Tearfund found that surprisingly high numbers of people were accessing religion virtually, and that people were praying more. My own survey of faith leaders on the island of Ireland confirmed these trends, as have further polls by Christian Aid, Catholic Voices/York St John University, Dublin City University, and Durham …

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Féile Discussion: British or Irish or both? Unionism, Protestantism and the national question …

The Virtual Féile is well underway, with events continuing through Sunday. Monday, I took part in a lunchtime discussion on unionism around the theme of ‘British, or Irish or both: unionism, Protestantism and the national question’. It was chaired by Prof Jennifer Todd and my conversation partner was Prof Christine Bell. The conversation was framed in this way: Until the late 19thcentury, it was commonplace for unionists and Protestants of all varieties to see no problem in identifying as Irish. The …

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The Churches and the Lockdown Legacy

I am part of a conversation on ‘The Churches and the Lockdown Legacy’ on today’s Sunday Sequence (BBC Radio Ulster), also featuring Passionist priest and commentator Fr Brian D’Arcy and Rev Norman Hamilton, a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church. Tune in at 9 a.m., or listen back here. The discussion is wide-ranging and includes reflection on the possibility of the permanent closure of some churches when the Covid-19 pandemic is over, how churches have moved on-line during the pandemic, …

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Church during Lockdown? – From Virtual Religion to Bronagh Lawson’s ‘Belfast: City of Light’

Earlier this week, the DUP’s Edwin Poots suggested that churches could reopen as part of a process of exiting the Covid-19 lockdown. Poots’s comments have provoked debate. Fr Paddy McCafferty of Corpus Christi parish, Ballymurphy, told BBC Radio Ulster that if reopening could be safely achieved ‘we should certainly look at every possible way of achieving that’. Poots’s DUP colleague Paul Givan made a case for opening of churches with large buildings, arguing that social distancing could be achieved in …

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A Triple Rainbow of Hope: Good Friday 1988

By now, we are all familiar with the rainbow as a symbol of hope during the Covid-19 crisis. Today, I am reminded of a Good Friday story of hope from our past: the sighting of a triple rainbow at the end of a Falls-Shankill Good Friday walk, organised by the ecumenical Cornerstone Community in 1988. The 1988 walk took place in the shadow of one of the most notorious periods of the Troubles, memorably recounted in the documentary 14 Days. Those …

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Book Review: The Irish Presbyterian Mind by Andrew Holmes

At a recent academic seminar, I remarked (only somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that what defines Irish Presbyterianism is that it cannot agree on anything. I was alluding to the fact that historically, Irish Presbyterians have disagreed on a range of theological, social and political issues; indeed, over several centuries Irish Presbyterians have been preoccupied by such ‘family feuds’. Today, Presbyterian disagreements tend to be reflected in rather crude caricatures of so-called ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative evangelical’ wings of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland …

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How Should we Remember Seamus Mallon? Together – in a Spirit of Christian Love and Forgiveness…

The passing of Seamus Mallon should remind us that Northern Ireland’s hard-won peace is due to the efforts of men and women of integrity whose non-violent politics and personal sacrifice got us to that point. We are fortunate that in the last year of his life, Seamus left us a memoir, A Shared Home Place, that not only recounted his historical role in the peace process but was orientated towards the future. In it, he advocated political ‘generosity’ and proposed …

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Death of Broadcasting Pioneer Marian Finucane (1950-2020)

Irish broadcasting pioneer Marian Finucane died suddenly at her home yesterday, age 69. The Irish Times writes: Over the course of a career spanning almost five decades, she was at the vanguard of media and social change in Irish life, in particular when it came to the position and rights of Irish women. For millions of listeners across generations, her voice was as familiar as that of close family members. She will be remembered for her role on RTE’s Liveline phone-in programme; …

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What a Day Out with the Redemptorists says about the Future of the Irish Catholic Church

On Saturday I took part in a day-long gathering for friends and associates of the Redemptorists in Ireland. The event grew out of a similar meeting at the 2018 World Meeting of Families in Dublin, during Pope Francis’ visit. Given that my biography of Redemptorist priest Fr Gerry Reynolds, Unity Pilgrim, was published earlier this year, I was asked to facilitate an afternoon workshop on ‘Unity Pilgrim: Challenged by the Stranger, Welcoming the Stranger’. I co-facilitated the workshop with Ed …

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Book Review: The Catholic Church and the Northern Ireland Troubles, 1968-1999, by Margaret M. Scull

A rich and carefully-researched new book, The Catholic Church and the Northern Ireland Troubles, 1968-1999 (Oxford University Press, 2019), offers fresh insights on the changing role of the Catholic Church and the personalities that drove its interventions during that fraught period. The author, Margaret M. Scull, a post-doctoral research fellow at NUI Galway, writes in a clear, accessible style, ensuring the text will be of interest not only to scholars, but a general readership. There will be a Belfast launch …

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From ‘Unions and Unionism’ and Brexit, to Seamus Mallon’s ‘Shared Home Place’ …

Next week, Queen’s University will host a symposium on ‘Unions and Unionism: Brexit and these Islands’. It’s an apt opportunity for reflection given the increasingly tumultuous Brexit negotiations and the DUP’s place in this precarious process. The symposium begins on Thursday 24 October, 4.45-6.30 pm with a keynote address on ‘Exodus, Reckoning, Sacrifice: Three Meanings of Brexit’ by Kalypso Nicolaidis, Professor of International Relations and Director of the Centre for International Studies at the University of Oxford. Friday 25 October …

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How Loyalism Remembers: Review of Ghosts of the Somme by Jonathan Evershed

‘… commemoration of the Somme represents a (if not the) chief means by which Loyalists are able to participate in the political, cultural, and social life of Northern Ireland and attempts to circumscribe particular commemorative forms risks further alienating Loyalists from processes of peace-building in which they already perceive themselves as having little stake.’ – Jonathan Evershed, Ghosts of the Somme, p. 19 This is the most important argument in a new book by Jonathan Evershed, Ghosts of the Somme: …

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Contentious Rituals: Parading the Nation in Northern Ireland by Jonathan Blake – Essential Reading for the Summer Season

Contentious Rituals: Parading the Nation in Northern Ireland (Oxford, 2019), a new book by American political scientist Jonathan Blake, is essential reading as Northern Ireland’s summer parading season begins in earnest. Blake helps us understand why those who parade – and those who don’t – are almost always talking past each other. Readers of this book should gain a better understanding of why those who parade genuinely feel that their culture is under attack and believe that their participation in …

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Book Review: Neither Here nor There – The Many Voices of Liminality, featuring Pádraig Ó Tuama

Liminality. It’s not necessarily a word that pops up in everyday conversation – unless you are an anthropologist. A new book, Neither Here nor There – The Many Voices of Liminality (The Lutterworth Press, 2019), edited by Timothy Carson, offers an impressive range of accessible, eclectic, entertaining, and informative meditations on liminality. Among its 17 contributing authors is poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama, leader of the Corrymeela Community since 2014. Liminality is the disorientation or unsettling that takes place …

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Richard Moore on Forgiveness – Launch of the 2019 4 Corners Festival

The 2019 edition of the 4 Corners Festival (30 Jan-10 Feb) was launched on Friday, with Derry man Richard Moore addressing a prayer breakfast at the Holy Family parish centre in North Belfast. The 2019 Festival theme is ‘scandalous forgiveness’ – something which has characterised Moore’s life. When he was ten-years-old, Moore was walking home from school when he was struck and blinded by a plastic bullet fired by a British soldier. He never regained his sight. But he has …

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How will we Remember Martin McGuinness?: Review of David Latimer’s ‘A Leap of Faith’

A new book by Rev David Latimer, A Leap of Faith: How Martin McGuinness and I Worked Together for Peace, tells the story of the surprising but strong friendship between Latimer, the minister at First Derry Presbyterian Church, and the late Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin. It was a controversial friendship. There were those within Latimer’s own congregation, the wider Presbyterian Church, and unionism more generally who found it difficult to contemplate his close ties with a former IRA commander. …

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Fr Gerry Reynolds’ Anniversary & his 1994 Sermon on Forgiveness after the Ceasefires

I am writing a biography of Fr Gerry Reynolds, a Redemptorist who served 32 years in Belfast’s Clonard Monastery. His ministry encompassed some of the most difficult days of the Troubles; and he dedicated himself to praying and working for an end to the violence. So I am perhaps more aware than most that today is the third anniversary of his death. I also am aware that while I began the biography a few months before he died, it is …

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