I recently read with others the book of Jonah. Jonah is not cast in the best light although it makes for a good story. It got me thinking what would a short story of my life say? The following is an attempt. I encourage you to also make an attempt and let me have it.
I was born into one side of a divide, the Northern Irish Protestants. Historically the divide had been created by the rulers of England taking Ireland for itself and treating the inhabitants as trespassers. The English rulers in an attempt to occupy the land and displace the original inhabitants' transplanted thousands of Scottish and English people to Ireland. Most settled in the Northern province of Ulster.
The Northern Irish Protestants who largely remained loyal to the United Kingdom (UK) were seen by those who saw themselves as the original inhabitants as the legacy of English rule.
So on the other side were Irish Catholics.
I grew up to believe my people were God’s chosen and saw the other side as counterfeit Christianity. True Christianity had been rebirthed in the Protestant reformation and the Ulster Protestants were the finest examples of that rebirth.
I only saw the other side as a threat as many within their group demanded equality and others armed themselves to rid their country once and for all of those who has subjugated them. Northern Irish Protestants were therefore a legitimate target.
I didn’t think about how I had come to live here. Four hundred years was a long time ago, what I knew was that this was my land and my accent was a product of it.
Little had I realised that I was feeling like the native Irish when they were displaced from their lands by the rulers of which I was now something of a legacy. Not that I owned land or was wealthy but nonetheless I was a descendant of those who had been shipped over 400 years before.
The threat became so real that I viewed all the other side as the enemy. It was a war of sorts largely psychological but not without bombs and bullets.
Any attempt by the others to usurp my side was met by resistance and I took my place in the resistance. I believed that antichrist forces were attempting to eradicate my people, God’s chosen. Although I knew we were not Israel of the Old Testament it felt like we were and so those stories inspired me. I truly believed that I was a follower of Jesus and if Jesus was alive he would have been a Northern Irish Protestant standing with us.
Somehow I had missed something of the message of Jesus and indeed if he were alive and a Northern Irish Protestant I would not have liked his message and probably would have seen him as a betrayer.
Along the way, a few of the other side had shown me kindness but they were exceptions.
It wasn’t until I began to see that those leading my people did not fully believe what they were saying. I had been prepared to give my life for my people but then I didn’t understand ‘power’ and the use of it by those in power. I saw that I could allow myself to be used to further a strategy. I wasn’t prepared to give my life for another to use in brokering a deal that ensured they retained their power at my (and others) expense. Somehow I saw through it and it was then the identity that I was born into and lived began to shake.
Less sure of who I was meant I was more open and that included to the other. I could not ignore that those who helped me when I needed a place to live were from the other side. They became friends. The dividing line was becoming vague. I could still choose to place myself on my side but I knew that was something of a game.
Without knowing it, I had become open in whichever part you do. I heard for the first time the message of Jesus which was about breaking down dividing walls, loving those who persecute you and lifting you to a citizenship of heaven freeing you from earthly nationalism. It wasn’t so easy to stay free as my mind had been conditioned and still operated learnt ways.
Could I go beyond those who accepted me and extend the message of reconciliation to those who rejected me? Such was the power of seeing a unity in which hatred and bitterness dissolved that I couldn’t help myself.
The light that showed another way also showed me the truth of my own life, that I had failed people, that I had caused harm to others and the same power that ‘saved’ me could others.
I ask myself having read the story of Jonah was there any people who I felt less inclined to share. I can see in my journey at one time I did not find it easy to share with those who were of a faith other than Christian nor did I find it easy to share with those who lived outside the expectations of Christian evangelicalism.
Yet knowing that I had limited myself as a teen caused me to remain open to what God would do and in time I would see that the love of God was so boundless that I too was boundless connecting me to all and all to me.
The old ways still surface but in those moments they are a reminder of my need to turn to the love of God and in so doing they dissolve.