I find myself conflicted as I sit down to write this weeks “Coffee with Colm” installment on this Easter weekend, which also marks the 21st Anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. That agreement, hard won through many difficult conversations, ushered in a period of relative peace to the north of our island after thirty years of war, somewhat sanitized by its being referred to as ‘the Troubles.”
The reality is it was war. War ostensibly fought between competing religions and ideologies.
I also find myself asking, what has religion ever had to do with spirituality? with God? Very little to be honest. Religion is a human attempt at putting a ‘system’ around something that is fundamentally beyond human comprehension.
Religion is business. And, businesses compete for bums on seats. Spirituality is a relationship. No competition. War, too, is business.
For a fire to exist, you need three things; fuel, heat and oxygen. For a business (or religion) to exist you need three things; a brand, systems and people. Remove any one of fuel, heat or oxygen and a fire cannot happen, remove any one of brand, systems and people as they relate to a business, in this case a religion, and it also ceases to exist.
According to the web (s it must be correct, right?), there are 12 super-brands in the world when it comes to religion; Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism and an estimated 4,200 sub-brands, including Catholicism, Protestantism, Sunnism, Shii’ism and so on.
4,200! They can’t all be right, can they?
And yet, maybe they are? Maybe they are all pointing the way home to the One, the Source, to God?
Religion is geographical, look at the map below. Spirituality is not, look into your own heart.
The problem is, religions are vying for business. All cafes are vying for business too, but they don’t kill or maim other cafes customers! And, by the way, in case you have any desire to respond to my piece by pointing to recent radical Islamist atrocities, check your own ideological history to contextualize any argument against the fifty-six years of the Spanish Inquisition and the almost four centuries of the Crusades. Not to mention the ‘Troubles’ Just saying.
For the record, I am Catholic, although I am practicing less and less as I ascend through the levels (get older) and consider my own views, rather than blindly accepting those passed down by my forebears – great people with good hearts, my mother Doreen and father Tommy, who in turn took their views of the world from their respective lineages being born white and Irish. That said, in considering my own views, as a Level 56 Irishman, I am happy to accept Christianity as my pointer, as my ‘Google Map’ and I thank the Lord Jesus for pointing my way home.
But what if mam and dad had been born in Beijing? Or Baghdad? Isn’t it likely they (and I as a result) would have a different view of God? Highly likely. That’s religion for you.
(a humorous aside… The fact that I am practicing less means I have scuppered one opportunity; years ago when I mentioned I was a practicing Catholic in the company of certain people, a man of a different religious ideology also prevalent on our little island suggested I keep practicing and some day, perhaps, I would get good enough to be a Protestant! Hahaha. Brilliant in fairness. Anyway, I digress…)
Yes, the Good Friday Agreement was forged following conversations; many, many, tough conversations and conversations take place between people, not between religions.
Lyra McKee, the gay 29-year old journalist who was shot dead on Good Friday was ten days past her eighth birthday when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Little did she know then that her name would forever be entwined with the conversation around it, the conversation around religion, the conversation around gay rights, the conversation around human rights. But there you go. Lyra McKee’s tragic, senseless, untimely death has ensured she is part of the conversation forever. She didn’t plan it that way, it just is that way. Her loving partner, family and friends wish it were different (as do I though I never knew her) but it’s not.
Yes, I am Catholic. And MY son is gay.
My son, Steven, of whom I am SO proud (I’ll borrow a piece from Scripture if I may, Matthew 3:17, And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”) is a beautiful twenty six year old gay man with a heart as big as his smile. And that’s saying something!
Years ago, a Christian friend, upon hearing Steven was gay suggested to me that I probably had a problem with that, given my religion! NO! My response was, “MY God doesn’t make junk. MY God gave me Steven. Steven is gay. Steven is fine with it. I’m fine with it. MY God is fine with it. Deal with it.” (Perhaps I should have had a problem with this Christian friend but choose not to – again scripture: Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”)
I thank Steven for granting me permission to involve him as part of this conversation. “Love ya, Ste xo.”
My dear reader, Since hearing of Lyra’s death, and knowing that Easter represents rebirth, renewal, I was conflicted and struggling to get the timbre right in my head for this piece when a good friend posted a Lyra McKee TEDx talk on Facebook.
I watched it, laughed and cried through it and realized I need to let Lyra speak for herself.
The war is over. Let’s make sure Lyra’s death isn’t used as a spark by those bent on reigniting war on our island. Her partner, Sara Canning appealed for peace:
“Lyra’s death must not be in vain. Our hopes and dreams, her amazing potential was snuffed out by a single barbaric act. This cannot stand. Lyra’s death must not be in vain because her life was a shining light in everyone else’s life. Her legacy will live on in the light that she’s left behind.”
Remember I said earlier for fire to exist it needs fuel, heat and oxygen – let’s give her death plenty of oxygen through the medium of conversation which she obviously so truly loved, but let’s remove any heat from that conversation, no matter how difficult. War cannot revisit Ireland.
In this video, she advocates peace, understanding and tolerance. I can think of no better way of wishing you and yours a Happy Easter than to ask, if or no other reason than you are appalled by her death, that you watch and listen to the words of this inimitable, irreplaceable, brave out, gay, young, strong Irish woman, Lyra McKee.
If you choose to watch or listen (11:32 mins) and deem it appropriate, pass the link on and, together, we will have moved the conversation on in Lyra’s memory. I believe she’d be ok with that.
Lyra Catherine McKee (31 March 1990 – 18 April 2019)
Thank you for sparking this and many other conversations.
Rest In Peace.
I thank the TEDx community for this You Tube video and trust they understand my motivation for using it here.