What makes you brave?

“A lone figure is waving
From the thin line of a bridge
Of ropes and slates, slung
Dangerously out between
The cliff-top and the pillar rock.”
Seamus Heaney

I was terrified crossing The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge as a child. I don’t have a head for heights. Telling me to not look down didn’t help either. The thin slates beneath my feet felt too slippery. How would the loosely slung ropes swinging in the high wind protect me if I fell? I lived to tell the story  thankfully.

Today the famous thin line of a bridge that hangs near Ballintoy in County Antrim, Northern Ireland is perfectly safe. The 20m-long, 1m-wide bridge of wire rope spans the chasm between the sea cliffs and the little island of Carrick-a-Rede, swaying 30m above the rock-strewn water. I drove past the now famous tourist site on my way to explore the rock pools near Dunseverick Castle and Harbor.

The childhood memory got me thinking about the different ways we develop bravery.   Maybe it’s to stand up for something we believe in. Maybe it’s to fight a deadly disease. Maybe it’s to make a daring escape from a confined situation. Answering these questions can help move us towards greater acts of bravery;

1.  What do I want more of in my life?

2.  Am I willing to let go of what is no longer serving me?

3.  What makes me feel alive?

4.  At the end of each day have I contributed more than I’ve criticized?

5.  Am I allowing myself to go after what I want?

6.  Am I humble enough to ask others for what I want or need?

7. Am I choosing life over death in my day to day life?





20 Are we making the most of ‘the precious gift of peace’ in Northern Ireland?

“The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is a precious gift and it is incumbent on the politicians of today to make the most of it.”
–Bill Clinton.

I was just about to press the Millar doorbell when a mighty bee buzzed around me in a haphazard fashion. I was more surprised than afraid. A sign of Spring and a sign that the bees are coming. Inside I enjoyed one of Rosemary’s mashed potato and Guinness infused steak meals. As we sat in a circle relaxing after dinner Ollie the dog sat toe to toe with me. He seemed determined to get my attention. He lifted his tiny left paw in the air and held it there. He repeated the gesture a few times until I held his paw. What a sweet and unprovoked gesture of friendship and peace !

After dinner Roy, Rosemary and I headed to The Falls area of west Belfast. The Shankill and The Falls are two of the most famous roads in Belfast. They are close in proximity and share a history of political unrest during The Troubles.
roy and rose.JPG
Clonard Monastery were hosting “Redemption: A Celtic Passion.” It was a celebration of the passion and triumph of Jesus Christ in songs and music from both Catholic and Protestant cultures and traditions.
Redemption (pronounced reed DEMP shun) is the act of buying something back or paying a price or ransom to return something to your possession. Redemption is the English translation of the Greek word agorazo, meaning “to purchase in the marketplace.” In ancient times, it often referred to the act of buying a slave. It carried the meaning of freeing someone from chains, prison, or slavery. I recalled how Rosemary had recently helped me get an old bicycle back. It was a precious gift from my dad purchased in Banbridge, a few years before he died.

Clonard monastery has stood in the heart of west Belfast for more than a century and like many old buildings, it fell victim to the ravages of time. It’s just had a costly monasterial makeover to preserve the fabric of the building. Some of its Redemptorist priests have played important mediation roles in the Northern Ireland peace process. Father Alec Reid initiated secret talks between Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and the former SDLP leader John Hume and was described as being “absolutely critical” to the peace process. He started out with these two questions to Adams: What can you do to stop the IRA? Can anything be done to stop the IRA?”

Interestingly last week Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and the remaining living architects of the treaty that ended conflict in Northern Ireland 20 years ago returned to Belfast to warn that continued peace could not be taken for granted. The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement signed by the British and Irish governments and political parties in Northern Ireland on 10 April 1998 contained proposals for a power sharing executive in Northern Ireland, prisoner releases, the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons, police reform and human rights initiatives. This booklet entitled ‘The Agreement – It’s your Decision” set out the terms of the agreement and copies were sent to every home in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in advance of the referendum held on 22 May 1998.

It marked real progress but the early release of prisoners, decommissioning and police reform involved difficult negotiations . The Omagh bomb proved that the violence was not over and controversy later emerged over the RUC’s handling of information and evidence both before and after the bombing.

Last week The Times reported that Mr. Clinton called the Good Friday agreement “a precious gift” and warned it was incumbent on the politicians of today to ‘make the most of it.” He shared an hour-long panel discussion with Mr. Blair and Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister at the time of the deal, along with other key players who helped to broker the agreement. Mr. Blair warned that Brexit could easily challenge the basis of the agreement, adding that it would require “real focus and hard work” to avoid a hard border that would be a “disaster for the relationship between the republic and the UK.” Also present in Whitla Hall were George Mitchell, the ex-US envoy to Northern Ireland, Jonathan Powell, the former Downing Street chief of staff, Gerry Adams, the former Sinn Fein president, and Lord Trimble, the former Ulster Unionist leader.

Meanwhile a Labour MP has called the agreement a “shibboleth”.  It means a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important.

Here’s a few questions to ponder, please share your thoughts;

1.  Are you interested in coming to Northern Ireland to study The Troubles and the peace process?

2.  How do you oppose the use of violence by anyone in your community?

3.  What does it look like to build trust in relationships after the use of violence?

4.  Are you making an effort to get to know your neighbors?

5. Do you have personal memories, both positive and negative of The Troubles ?

Do you need support?

Visit http://www.wavetraumacenter.org.uk for more information.

The Victims and Survivors Service deliver funding and support to victims and survivors on behalf of the Executive Office.

Visit http://www.victimsservice.org for more information.





Those who survived. Those who didn’t.

On April 12 Jews around the world choose to observe Holocaust Remembrance Day. I was honored to organize Stan Meyer’s missionary itinerary when I worked for Jews for Jesus in San Francisco. This is a part of his family story.

Ruth Stateman (my maternal grandmother) came from Biala-Podlaska, Poland, on the Russian border. Ruth, her sisters Lillian and Rose; and their parents aware of the coming tragedy fled Poland, settling in Cincinnati. Sadly, their older brother and sister Rivka remained behind. These two were married, with families, big homes, and lucrative businesses. For years, my great grandmother begged Rivka to bring her family to the US, but they declined. Things were too comfortable for them in pre-war Poland. They didn’t believe anything would happen to them.

In 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. Rivka and her family were relocated to a flat with three other families on 99 Zelazna in the Warsaw Ghetto. For months they exchanged letters in Polish. The letters speak about trivial things, generally describe the desperate condition in the ghetto, and ask for Red Cross packages. In June, 1941, Rivka sent her last postcard (see picture).

Stan postcard

Except for Rivka, the family was never heard from again. They were sent to Auschwitz along with the other deportees from the ghetto where they were gassed.

On April 12  Jews around the world observe Holocaust Remembrance Day. Just as my Polish family did not truly believe such an atrocity could happen to them, many of us decline to belief that this scale of genocide and mass slaughter could repeat itself today. On this day we remember that sin clouds the hearts of men and women such that even the most progressive societies can commit atrocities such as the Holocaust. Those of us who survived are responsible to continue the memory of those lost so that this does not happen again.

For further reading please see;



50 The Celtic circle of belonging

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
George Santayana, American philosopher.

Our time suffers from a great amnesia. Rapidity, technology, stress and externalization get more of our attention than memory. Within the Celtic tradition and imagination time and memory are honored. The Celts were fascinated by the circle and particularly the  circle of time and belonging. John O’Donohue, poet, philosopher and scholar often wrote about how the rhythm of experience, nature, and divinity follow a circular pattern.

I have come full circle this past year, for sure. Although it’s my 50th Jubilee year, it’s been a brutal year. But I’m proud that I took the time to mourn my mum’s passing, for real. I gained wisdom. I hope my approach and outreach to those who have experienced a sudden loss will be more sensitive, respectful and gracious. This is treasure.

Entering the flow of the rhythm of the seasons in Ireland, after a 12 year absence, has been interesting! Although I enjoy cooler climates the weather on my bike ride today was cruelly cold and wet for April! But the daffodils and lilacs coming up out of the dead land reminded me that I too am coming up out of the deadness of grief and winter. The vibrant colors and new growth of the flowers stirred hope, possibility and the effervescence of springtime within my soul.

There was a liturgy of remembrance going on in my sifting, sorting, and organizing of photographs, memories and past experiences in these last few months. Half of my life has passed. I feel privileged to live in and go back in my memory and attend to a past time where I enjoyed days as a child in Portrush. You can see from the picture above that I enjoyed playing on the Jurassic ‘Portrush Rock’ when I was about ten. This rock has been studied here since 1799!

In the picture, The East Strand is behind me. The Skerries and The Scottish Islands are to my right, and the gentle hills of Donegal to my left. Circling and gathering up these fragments and memories of my life is unifying. I feel a new strength and poise that wasn’t available to me before.

I noticed that the Hebrew word for Rock below indicates firmness, stability, and faithfulness. The Greek word for “True” means much the same thing. Psalm 18:2 from The Message translation of the bible came to my mind ;

I love you, God
    you make me strong.
God is bedrock under my feet,
    the castle in which I live,
    my rescuing knight.

Rock in Hebrew.JPG



On a day trip to Donegal recently I stumbled upon an ancient well. It was dedicated to St Colmcille. Columba was an Irish abbot and missionary credited with spreading Christianity in what is today Scotland at the start of the Hiberno-Scottish mission.

High King of Ireland tradition says that around 550 A.D. Columba was travelling in the Fanad area when he lost his prayer book. He came across a deer drinking from this same well and his prayer book was impaled on the deer’s antlers. Delighted at having found it he blessed the well. The well has been a place of pilgrimage ever since. In 563 A.D. he travelled to the island of Iona, Scotland where he established a famous monastery.

I didn’t see any impaled deer’s but I did get squeamish watching this cow happily chewing on barbed wired, as you do !

cow in Donegal

My time here in the port area has been a type of pilgrimage and liturgy of remembrance. A time and way of honoring my mum’s life and the memories and life she gave me. I’m not sure where I go from here. In a few days we will honor the memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his passing 50 years ago. It’s interesting that his final book was called “Where do we go from here”?

Thank you for journeying with me through this season in my heart. I’d love to hear about any circles of time, belonging or intersection you’re noticing in your own life !



23 A David Psalm

God, My shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows;
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.

The Message – Eugene Peterson.

What a rich psalm. It’s a favorite of mine and the most popular psalm in the bible. It’s not hard to imagine the life of a shepherd here in Ireland. Sheep and farming communities are scattered all over the Irish landscape. It’s interesting how the shepherd king David was deeply anointed yet he regularly found himself in difficult and dangerous circumstances. I’ve taken comfort in this psalm a lot this year and also in the knowledge that the anointing of the Lord kicks in at the lowest times in our lives.

David, as a young boy, obediently fulfilled the task assigned to him by leading his rock eating sheep along grazing trails. Food or moisture was sparse in ancient times and shepherds had to keep the sheep out of the farming areas. The stubborn and tough sheep had to trust the shepherd and his trusty shepherd’s crook implicitly. Descriptions of lush meadows sounds poetic and abundant but the sheep were probably positioned right in front of tiny tufts of green rock. Jesus picks up the same imagery of this type of followership in John 10 when he declares, “Follow me. I am the good Shepherd and my sheep know my voice.”

I see two leadership bench marks  in this psalm;

The shepherd is good. He will lead us down the path laid out for us. Sometimes it might go through the valley of death. But if you follow him, i.e. confess sin, invite him into your heart, drink large drafts of the Holy Spirit each day and feed on the green pastures of his word (spiritual nourishment) you will get what you need for right now. Sometimes we receive vast rivers of life giving water. Sometimes we receive tiny amounts of moisture from hard tufts of green rock. We follow by obeying and trusting in the right now.

There’s also a righteous path even though we walk through frightening and dangerous times. If we invoke his help, to coin a term used in old English, ‘he compassionates’ with us. He is our friend, adviser, and protector even when others fail us.

If you feel burdened in mind, emotions, or will you can chew or meditate on this psalm. The good shepherd will be faithful to give you the rest and direction you need. Like a good cup of tea in Ireland or Britain it can calm your nerves and make you as steady as a rock. The good shepherd is a loving and compassionate leader.


The wreck of HMS Saldanha

Over centuries and millennia the crashing Atlantic Ocean has carved a unique coastline along Ireland’s western seaboard. I’ve been fortunate to experience living on the northeastern seaboard for the past four months.

This week I ventured westward to  what’s fondly called ‘Ireland at its best’ or ‘pure Donegal.’  County Donegal has 800 miles of beaches and one third of the beaches in the Republic of Ireland. I set a goal this year to walk on each beach and dip in the water. Ballymastocker Beach was my first. Voted the second best beach in the world by Observer Magazine (coming second only to the tropical Seychelles), it sits on the Fanad Peninsula and has lovely secluded sandy dunes which provide a natural coastline defense.

Majestic sheep are scattered along the steep cliffs above Lough Swilly. The Lough is a glacial fjord or sea inlet lying between the western side of the Inishowen Peninsula and the Fanad Peninsula. It’s one of three glacial fjords in Ireland.

One of Ireland’s worst ever marine disasters occurred in this beautiful area in the 1800’s. The HMS Saldanha was a Royal Navy warship. From her base in Lough Swilly, she patrolled the seas against attack from Napoleon. After setting sail with HMS Talbot on the night of December 4th, 1811, a fierce storm forced the ships to turn back. Men on the signal tower of HMS Talbot witnessed Saldanha’s last moments, After hitting rocks, her hull broke in two and she was swallowed by the waves. Those who escaped died in the freezing water. Over two hundred bodies were washed up on the shore. It is said that the Captain died after a local tried to revive him with whiskey on the beach. Twenty miles away, a servant shot what turned out to be the Captain’s parrot. Its collar was inscribed: ‘Captain Pakenham of His Majesty’s Ship Saldanha.’ Earlier Pakenham had been Captain of Greyhound when she wrecked off the coast of Luzon in the Philippines in 1808.

On Sunday December 4, 2011 a special ceremony was held to mark the 200th anniversary of the sinking of HMS Saldanha. It was the first commemorative event. Until then there had been no permanent memorial to their deaths.

There is fascinating history everywhere in Ireland. I can’t wait to see what my second Donegal beach visit yields.




Feelings are not the enemy. Not expressing them is.

I have high praise for the truth tellers amongst us. Why? Because I live in a world that obstructs and represses authentic feelings and the expression of them, at every turn. I might live in a society where everyone has the right to freedom of expression and opinion. But not everyone has been actively encouraged to develop it or nurture their inner life. Maybe they don’t know how to. Maybe they’ve been idle. Maybe they’ve been beaten down or shamed. King David wrote the ultimate guide to expressing the full range of human emotion in the prayerbook of the psalms. He wrote some of them from a cave of persecution. And, he didn’t get into that cave alone. Others helped to put him there.

It takes courage to identify and express what you’re feeling when it’s unpopular. I notice how social media has made it easy  to share and maybe hide behind other people’s articles, ideas and opinions. Yes, it’s nice that we can share and exchange ideas but  not at the cost of developing and voicing your own feelings, thoughts and taking a convicted stand. Your voice matters.  Your feelings matter.  Your truth matters.

If you were actively encouraged to not feel, or to shut down your feelings, for whatever reason, this poem is for you. If you’re a man who benefited from patriarchy but you live with a closed, imprisoned or armored heart this poem is for you. If you have unfelt emotions and you don’t know what to do with them this poem is for you.

There is great dignity and freedom in feeling and expressing our feelings. Don’t let anyone tell you different. I will follow this post up with a comprehensive list of feeling words.

You can’t get ‘over’ a feeling
You can’t get ‘past’ it
You can’t ‘release’ it
You can’t ‘let go’ of it
You can’t transform or transmute it
You can’t even ‘heal’ it.

All these ideas come from the mind,
not the body, not the Heart

They are all subtle forms of violence
sneaky ways of saying ‘no’ to a feeling,
aiming for its disappearance,
its death.

We learn to let go of ‘letting go’
We stop trying to release
We end the exhausting effort to heal

Instead, we are present
We offer a feeling our simple presence
Our non-resistant attention
Our love

Here’s the good news
In this field of presence
the feeling is no longer a problem,
an enemy, an aberration, a stain,
a block to freedom.

It is no longer ‘something wrong’
It is no longer ‘negative’
It is no longer a threat
it is no longer an unwanted child.

You are now its guardian, its protector
its loving parent, its home

And held lightly, in a still space of allowing,
the feeling stays for a while, or moves on,
or returns,
or never returns
but either way,
you are held from the need
to find healing elsewhere.

You do not heal feelings, you see,
they heal you, when you allow them
to guide you back
to your original wholeness,
your loving nature,
your breath,
your place on this Earth.

Poem by Jeff Foster.