Monday, October 15, 2007

Soapbox is moving to Wordpress

soapbox is packing up his box and moving over to wordpress. See the new home here

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

I was there!

soapbox is back from a thoroughly enjoyable weekend in Cardiff, via the delights of Birmingham Airport - possibly one of the first airports I've encountered where they don't charge you twice the average price for everything. Unlike the motorway services stop where we paid £7.95 for a fry-up, but what better way to start a rugby watching weekend.

Sitting in a Spanish bar in Cardiff surrounded by Kiwis, Aussies and le french was a great fun. Shame the same couldn't be said for the watery poorly poured black stuff. Cardiff is a prime example why the government's insistence on putting a national stadium at the Maze is crazy. The prematch atmosphere in Cardiff was great - full of colour, and pretty darn good for the local economy too. They had great park'n'ride schemes too.

We had seats in Row U. I kid you not. 3 rows from the back. With roof closed it did feel a little ovenesque - although our french friends in front probably felt the heat a little more. The view was amazing. I was full of expectation at the fast flowing rugby I've come to expect of the All-Blacks, only to be disappointed as they failed to show up in the second half of a marvellous french revival. I had my trusty (not very good point and shoot but not a lot more) digital camera along to record the action. So i spent about 6 of the first 10 minutes taking a few photos, struggling with the light, the odd video of the haka, and then caught myself on.
In my obsession with creating tangible memories i was missing out on enjoying the occasion (certainly more than our kiwi neighbour). Its a phenomenon I've noticed at gigs - people are so obsessed with taking photos and videos to prove to their friends they were there, or just gloat, or just trying to preserve the experience to be relived, that they missed out on the wonder of what was happening - not soaking up the sights and sounds of the here and now.

The three of us had a wander around Gloucester the next day, enjoying some infantile sniggering as we walked down 'Three Cocks Lane' before checking out the memorial to Bishop Hooper - an early reformer martyred for his faith. Interestingly the Cathedral seemed more interested in telling people that Harry Potter was filmed there than celebrating a hero of the faith and man of great integrity... The cultured one of us took the Cathedral Tour while the yuth worker and student worker retired to ye olde pub for some fine ale and South Africa - Fiji...

Monday, October 08, 2007


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Great Sporting Lies and Humility

" We are being asked to believe that, less than a week after the great upheaval, players who regarded Mourhino as their mentor have thrown their lot in with someone who they ahve reason to suspect may have hastened their beloved manager's exit. T's like saying Larry, Adam and The Edge would barely look up from their royalty checks if Bono were dumped in favour of James Blunt..."
Read the rest here

I've been doing a fair bit of training over the last couple of weeks - for new staff of our ever growing plot to change the world through students. I've been ranting a lot about the Bible as I have done here too. Jaybercrow and Zoomtard also have a lot of good stuff to say on the subject. One of the things i keep coming back to and trying to live as well as hammer into people [constantly emphasise is maybe a better phrase in this context as has been pointed out!], is a sense of humility. A wise lecturer commented a couple of days ago that their is a significant difference between arguing about the 'authority of the bible' and our 'interpretation of the bible'. Often we confuse the two. If someone doesn't agree with your interpretation, its easy to claim they don't respect the authority of the bible. and again its a classic example of trying to make ourselves feel better by making someone else feel small and claiming superiority. Which is not humility. Which is not the way of Jesus. Humility is not about winning and losing. Humility respects that other people's opinions are not snatched out of the air. Humility realises that we don't know it all, that other people have much to contribute to helping us understand God, the world, each other. In fact I think that's part of what is behind Paul's teaching on the church as a body. God does not make us self sufficient. We do not have all we need by ourselves. We need others for their gifts, skills, wisdom and experience. I think this is also what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 3 - " that you may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge".
Time to stop and begin living humbly - realising others have much to teach us, that we need others. As someone working with students I see it all the time - sometimes at 19 or 20 people think they know it all and don't need anyone else. It's something I, as someone who always knows the right way to do things - my way, has had to learn the hard way and come to appreciate much more over the years. We need other people. a large part of humility is realising that.

the soapbox - coming after your money

Thursday, September 20, 2007

a blue day

For all Chelsea fans - a day of mourning for the Special One who has gone from our midst. What will the papers write about, what will we have to look forward to in post-match interviews. Is this a case of classic boardroom and owner meddling? Was dropping mis-firing or not-firing at all Shevchenko the final straw for the baby faced billionaire? And to make it worse his buddy who was nicked from Portsmouth Avram Grant is lined up to move from Director of Football to Manager. A man with experience of managing two Isreali clubs and the Isreali national team. Hardly Champions League winning pedigree - looks like the Russian is making Chelsea his own plaything and playing with the loyalty and patience of fans who after so many years of mediocrity were getting used to success. Or maybe Kenyon's move to Chelsea was all a big ploy to convince Abramovich to do crazy things (although powerful Russians have never needed an excuse before) to plot Chelsea's downfall and United's restoration.
Given Chelsea fans are all glory hunters expect a sudden defection to the sexy football of Arsenal - another team on the rise.

And at least we can look forward to Mourhino's book - certainly won't be dull...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Egg all over the fomula one and football faces

So Fernando Alonso certainly does come across as a petulant little boy - threatening to dob in his own team if they didn't make him the big boy of the team. I guess he is a double world champion and is having to live a little in the shadow of his boy wonder team-mate. How Alonso kept his points is certainly miraculous. Jackie Stewart's claims of bias toward Ferrari did look a little silly after the publication of the emails the next day. Apparently its par for the course in Formula One and we really shouldn't be surprised, McLaren are just the ones who have got caught, big style and hauled over the coals. But does that make it ok? Is honesty and integrity fast becoming a thing of the past?

And then there's Stephen Ireland of Man City, who got caught spinning a bizarre web of lies in the midst of his girlfriend's tragic miscarriage. Proof that when we start lying it gets harder and harder to own up to the truth. Seeing his granny who he claimed had died will be interesting. I didn't realise football clubs and associations went to such lengths to check things out though.

An elaborate web of lies is what much of the media are insinuating the McCanns have been spinning. Its strange how the media has turned on the couple - in much down to the Portugese police. I've no idea what actually happened but people are very quick to crucify the McCann's. If they are innocent it's another example of lives scarred and ruined by the over-zealous media. If it turns out they were involved in Maddy's death they certainly have spun an incredibly elaborate web of lies.

Soapbox - off to invest in Northern Rock

The Charity you've all been waiting for...

Check out Whynotsmile's take on the recently arrived Dawkins Foundation.
She says it all better than I could, and makes her encounters with a certain DIY chain hilaroius and compelling reading.

I may get around to some posting of my own sometime soon when I emerge from the depression of Ireland's world cup campaign...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Life on the road

It feels strange that after almost 5 weeks in Peru, a few days in the Mournes and a week in Berlin I'm not going anywhere in the next few weeks. Life on the road isn't all bad. Berlin is a fascinating city. We (some of my colleagues and I) were there for a conference on missional leadership by the excellent Innovista. Charlie Hadjiev - a Bulgarian Pastor, recently finished a PhD on Amos led some great sessions thinking through what mission and the gospel actually is, pushing us not to settle for a narrow inadequate and simplistic understanding:

"Often when we think about mission, we make a fundamental mistake. We think our mission is to save people from 'the fires of hell'. This is all good and true, but inadequate. The gospel is not about avoiding death only. It is about new life."

Having been in Berlin last year, I enjoyed a bit more time sitting in cafes. My boss now agrees with my last year's assertion that the coffee in the Starbucks at the Brandenburg Gate is among the worst I've had in a coffee establishment. Dunkin Donuts offering wasn't too hot either, but the local places were pretty good. Being in Starbucks - for usage of their fine toilet facilities, listening to English music was unsettling. It reminded me how bland and dull globalised franchises are - totally lacking in character. Looking forward to my return to common grounds.

If you're ever in Berlin - do the walking tours. We did a Third Reich one - 4 hrs walking around with an excellent guide who knew his stuff and was pretty funny - and had the best walking backwards technique I've ever seen. 90% of the city was destroyed in the war so a lot of the tour is "this car park was the site of Hitler's bunker", it was disturbingly fascinating to see the remains of cells in the basement of the SS and Gestapo HQ - now site of a Typography of Terror Museum, and to hear how Berliners call the Soviet Memorial to the Unknown Soldier (commemorating some of their 20 million war dead) - 'the memorial to the unknown rapist' due to the 90,000 Berliners raped by conquering troops. War isn't a pleasant business, and our guide was at pains to point out that the Nazis weren't superhuman monsters but humans like each of us capable of acts of extraordinary evil. Sobering stuff. The national guilt in Germany over the war and the Holocaust is incredible, and their process of coming to terms and living with that. Having seen what the Spanish did to Peru and Bolivia, and aware of the mess the British Empire made of much of the globe, I wonder how much remorse Spaniards or British people have for the actions of previous generations. And where do you begin to draw a line? For those of us living on Northern Ireland, that's the question - how do we deal appropriately with the events of the past, what does it mean to move forward?
Hope becomes an important concept - despite growing up in a 'hell and brimstone' culture - seeing and being reminded of stuff like this, the thought that one day those who perpetrate horrendous acts will be held to account gives me hope, while i tremble and throw myself on God's mercy and grace because (to paraphrase Gary Haugen) I know that the same attitudes and thoughts that existed in the hearts of Hilter and Stalin are in mine...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

On tour in Peru - Cusco and Machu Picchu

A 3am start the day after our return from English camp was met with much excitement (and the odd bit of morning grumpiness) as we flew off for our team holiday - 3 days in Cusco including one at one of the newly voted 7 wonders of the world - Macchu Picchu. We could feel our chests tight with the altitude which was cancelled out by the wonderfully clean mountain air. None of the the black snot that signalled the pollution of Lima! We had a whistlestop city tour of some of the main sights in and around Cusco - a combination of Inca ruins and Spanish architecture.

It was fascinating to see a Dominican church built on the ruins of an Inca temple. The Inca stonework was incredible - no cement or mortar used the stones were precision cut to fit and lock together. We detected some of the animosity from the guide that can only come from a people subjugated in the violent way they were by the Spanish. On a 'mission trip' it was interesting to observe the effects that forcing Catholicism had on the locals. We also visited Saksaq Waman- not sexy woman but more Inca ruins which from the air form the shape of a Puma's head, with the town of Cusco forming the body. The Incas really were pretty amazing people. The best was saved for another 3am start - a one and a half hour minibus ride followed by 2hrs in a baltic train to Aquas Calientes - the town beside Machu Pichhu.

Machu Pichhu is an Inca settlement at the top of a mountain. The scenery alone is breathtaking as jungle covered mountains appear from the morning mist with the coming up of the sun. That this sanctuary or city could be built in such a place without modern technology is stunning. The Spanish didn't discover it and it was only found in the early 1900's covered in jungle. Its incredibly beautiful and peaceful, slightly disturbing on learning some of the stories of sacrifice, and still mystical - people are still unsure as to its exact purpose. A hike up the Inca trail - in the burning sun gave still more magnificent views down onto the ruins I'm more used to seeing on my coffee packets. We had all sorts of fascinating discussions about the Inca's beliefs and how God would view those in the silence looking down at the city as most of the tourists left. It may just be ruins on top of a mountain but it one of those place you have to see for yourself to appreciate it, the skill of the Incas, and the God who gave them the skills to build it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Paint, holiday camps and ethical tourism - Peru part 4

Leaving Caraballyo was an emotional experience. Although some of our Spanish wasn't great we had formed bonds and built friendships with many of the people there, especially Cara and Emma who had been before as part of the UUJ team. The warmth and generosity of the people in San Martin as they welcomed 'the gringos' won't be easily forgotten.

Our next task was a spot of painting in casa AGEUP, repainting the exterior cream from its original light blue. Painting was great fun, the girls seem to get more over themselves than the walls and a few white handprints appeared on people's clothing. Its often nice to do something you see tangible results with, which was definitely the case here.

Next stop was English Encounter 2007 - and English Camp for Peruvian students. Around 25 of us headed off to a little holiday camp in a part of Lima where the sun actually shone for some intense English speaking, English lessons and English bible studies. We enjoyed not just a bit of sun but the opportunity to really get to know the students, and in many ways it would have been great to have the camp nearer the start so we could have continued to deepen those relationships and continue conversations. No camp is complete without a campfire which eventually lit with the help of a little gasoline, although we almost lost Rob in the process!

After the team holiday (in a post to come) there really was the sense of beginning to come home. we lost Jo in Cusco, as she stayed on to go visit Puno and Lake Titykaka. Before Cara flew out on the 10th we had a goodbye dinner with the guys from AGEUP. Apart from being some of the best chicken and chips i've had it was a really emotional evening with more than the odd tear shed. The AGEUP staff - Juan, Yenny, Adela (and her husband Juan) , and Jose have been incredible in how they welcomed us, loved us and looked after us. The warmth of that love was so evident that night, despite the language barriers. It has been a real privilege to be part of their family and we're really going to miss them. One of the things we did notice is that Peruvians and Irish people do seem to share a similar cheeky sense of humour, not only did we feel incredible loved but we had so much fun with them. There will be more reflections to come im sure and one definately has been how thankful, generous, affectionate and loving the christians we met in Peru are. We definitely have a lot to learn from them...
Some of the Peruvian dancing was also strangely familiar:

Monday, August 13, 2007

delta delights

More on the last week or so including a trip to
Machu Picchu later. After losing our baggage for two days on the way here Delta airlines further enhanced my love for them by overbooking our flight from Atlanta to Dublin and leaving Paul, Naomi and I spending a sticky night tonight in a Comfort Inn in Atlanta before hopefully making it home a day late

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Halfway musings

Well my system is well and thoroughly detoxed and i may even be a little slimmer thus allowing my brain to beign musing on some of what we´ve been experiencing here in Peru. One thing that´s been very noticeable in churches is how often people say ´gracias´ when praying. After listening to a Tim Keller sermon on the bus on the way home today (that´s the sort of christian geek i am) i was pondering is the thankfulness and generosity shown by christians here as compared to how we live at home related to how much we actually believe the gospel. In wealthy countires we have everything we need and do we really acknowledge how much we need God or do we just do religion - good stuff? More to follow....

Its been interesting how easy it has been to go without things, like the two days without our luggage, and even for a coffee snob like myself who has 3 cups a day, i've only had 3 my whole time here. Peru produces some really good coffee - the cafedirect beans from macchu picchu are pretty good yet people here don't seem to get to enjpy some of the really good stuff they produice because its all exported. One of the women in Caraballyo, when asked if she uses vegetables (given there are fields of vegetables around the community) replied tellingly 'no, the good ones all go to you' meaning overseas. The world is so small and connected, frightening to think our demand for vegetables and coffee actually deprives the people in the countires that produce them from enjoying the good fruits of their land...

After some more painting the last couple of dayswe're off for an English camp this week and we are actually camping. A few English lessons and some Irish culture are being hastily prepared. For those of you who have been to Slovakia - sound familiar?

We return on Sunday night and get a 6am flight to Cusco for our team holiday - a few days at one of the new 7 wonders of the world - Macchu Picchu which should be stunning - as long as no-one gets altitude sickness. We've done pretty well on the sickness front and hope it stays that way...

Friday, July 27, 2007

Who let the dogs out? - Peru part three

To quote another song, dogs are everywhere here in Peru, well especially in Caraballyo, although most are pretty inactive and docile. However we have learned that Peruvian dogs seem to enjoy the Peruvian way of life which tends not to be too fast paced. Powerwalking in a European way to get back to the petrol station from which we get the bus back to lima seems not such a good idea, as the hole in my t-shirt from an overexcited dog now demonstrates. No skin broken so no fear of getting rabies. We've been working in San Martin in Caraballyo for two weeks now. The roof on the community house is now complete, there's a 3m hole dug for a latrine, and there's now a fence running along the back of the kids playpark and the path shielding the sight of the rubbish dump in the background. We've discovered some of the genius of HSBC's local knowledge ad from the local handyman and community leader Crescento who with a chain and piece of wood took out a pole concreted in the ground in two minutes which took us a couple of hours with our rocking back and forth method. We´ve loved working with Luis the carpenter putting up the roof, one of those people with a constantly smiling face who we managed to have great chats with in spanglish. The universal language of football is a great starter. Paul and I and a few of the girls have been getting into playing football with some of the kids and the guys who drive the mototaxis. We've seen the sun and blue skies in Caraballyo for the last week which has meant lots of sweating, even when just doing nets. The Paul and Sam combo is becoming a pretty fearsome attacking force. For those who are aware of my footballing prowess, the stony bumpy pitch and the dust seem to help. It's exciting to see how AEGUP (thePeruvian IFES movement) are committed long term to community development in partnership with the community. The last couple of days we've been able to do a bit of mini kids club with arts, crafts, songs and bible stories. The kids seem to get it all, which is great. This weekend is independance weekend so there's flags everywhere and we're getting the chance to see some of the big parades in Lima. We've settled in really well, helped immenseley by Rob [Rob Clay Rivers - to give him his full title], anamerican doing a year here with LatinLink. Sorry a North American, as we've realised that american refers to any native of the two continents of the americas. Watching the Copa america final at his house was pretty good too. One of Rob's other contributions has been giving us another team member. His friend Jo came to stay with him for a week and get involved in the stuff he was doing and has ended up joining us for the whole time. Its been funny thinking back to this team almost not happening but we've got a great bunch of people with Emma and Cara staying from the Jordanstown team, and now Jo. Its added a great dynamic, perspective and banter. As a team we've been digging into Colossians which has been great, and i've been rereading Colossians Remixed - which is one of the best books i've read in the last couple of years, both for the context of the Roman Empire and for translating Paul's subversive message into a global consumer culture. Lima is no different with McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut et al in evidence - although Paul and I's sneaky Pizza last night from a local joint was pretty heard to beat... the girls weren´t so impressed but it was his birthday...

Soapbox - currently enjoying a free (involuntary) weight loss and detox regime

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Pets and Poverty - Peru part two

The strangest sight so far has been the woman on the bus with two snails in a plastic bag with a little lettuce - not lunch but merely pets it seemed. Saturday 14th saw our first day working in the community of San Martin at Caraballyo. The green fields of vegetables were a welcome relief from the greyness of Lima - the city of 11 million were the sun never seems to break through the smog. The sight of this little community on the edge of a rubbish dump was however a different sight. After the dustiness and rubbish came the smell of the rubbish and the pigs that feed on the rubbish. As we stepped out of the mototaxis, the first thing to my shame that i noticed about the kids [apart from them being pretty cute] were that they looked pretty dirty and the last thing i wanted to do was touch them. I had to remind myself what Jesus would have done and make a concious effort to get stuck in, but after my self-centred concerns the kids weere so affectionate and really glad to see us, and to play. Football not being my strong point, the only people I can beat are kids so its all good! We will be putting a roof on the community house built by AEGUP - the Peruvian IFES movement, who after consultation, are working in partnership with the community leaders. They've also built an amazing little playground that provides a splash of colur in the midst of some of the drabness. Its going to be a real learning experience and privilige to work alongside AEGUP as they demonstrate integral mission and get to know some of the locals with my pidgeon Spanish. Lima has been in the grips of strikes for the last few weeks although we haven't seen much apart from riot police around the centre. all is quiet, but Independance Day on 28 July should be fun.