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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, November 04, 2002
    From Ballycastle Library
    I've been in Northern Ireland nearly a week now. A week spent mostly at the Corrymeela Community's Ballycastle centre in conference / retreats led by theologian-on-the-edge James Alison, with some time in Belfast, other times wandering on the coast at this top tip of the country, or along the one-long-high-street which is Ballycastle. And punctuated by many, many conversations with centre staff, visitors and local folks, all of whom are making this a rich rewarding time.

    Alison brings a whole new language to theology, one which attempts to sideline the language of violence, sacrifice, 'atonement' and all that stuff supposedly essential to the faith. He replaces it with fascinating, if difficult, concepts about our being trapped in a cycle of scapegoating 'others' so as to keep our group identity, a cycle which we can only break if we put ourselves in the scapegoats' position (the Christ position); about our cultivating 'disinterestedness' in the 'group' (church structures, for instance) so as to achieve a pure and freeing relationship with the 'other other' (God). Well, plenty to chew on there, a provocative theology of peace and reconciliation to get things going inside my windswept head.

    Belfast was full of explosions and flashes in the sky. They were colourful and for the most part friendly - it was Halloween night. The Corrymeela offices are in a grand crescent in Botanic, the university quarter of the city, regarded as a 'safe' area throughout the troubles. It's cosmopolitan, it's youthful and lively, and it's where the Community began, when Ray Davey the University Chaplain formed a group to explore reconciliation issues.

    I'm no expert on Irish isues despite having read a fulsome GCSE NI History course book cover-to-cover last week. So I'm not going to pronounce on first impressions. Just to say I'm interested in one strand which has emerged in conversation and observation - the troubles are at last partly a class thing - or economically linked; it is easier to talk endlessly about peace when you're comfortably off, easier to take up armed struggle if you're desperate. More time in Belfast with various folk who've invited me there may reveal more - or contradict these thoughts.

    Meanwhile It's back along the long-high-street, beside the golf club, over the beach and up the hill to Corrymeela, to catch up on today's papers and glow with glee at Wayne Rooney's killer winner against Leeds yesterday. The TV in Cedar Lodge, where I'm staying, gives a furry picture, so I had to squint at the screen to make it out last night, but it was worth it. For this, and many other things right now - hallelujah!