It doesn’t take much to create a huge distance between people

2015-08-30 13.55.34-2This past week I was in Berlin for a work conference aimed at equipping young(er) leaders across Europe to pursue healthy Christian leadership. For some reason, Berlin has never really been on my list of “places to visit.” With so much going on leading up to this trip, I hardly even had time to brush up on its history and figure out what I might want to see during down time. Well actually, in my ignorance, I didn’t think there would be all that much to see … and I wasn’t really counting on any down time. When Sunday rolled around I was ready to hit the ground running for five hours of exploring before heading back to the airport.

01d59673cea20fedef28aee44749bb62bdadd4e913Climbing the steps out of the belly of the city into the heat of summer, I was surprised to see so few people near the Brandenburg Gate. It was large and impressive but not more spectacular than structures I’ve seen in Paris and Rome. As we passed through to the other side, my co-explorer for the day explained some of the significance of it during WWII. The significance of it isn’t tied to what it looks like but how it was used and what it meant to the people who lived on either side of it. As we walked further through the waves and blocks in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, I looked up to see the colour and the shapes in modern buildings surrounding the square. There was a story in each of these – in the hands of the people who designed them. You could nearly feel the heartbeat of the architects as they tried to convey a message to everyone who can see the sky above and feel the earth below. Words were only introduced when we entered the Topography of Terror, explaining how the city under our feet took shape in the last 100 years. Exposed and free of charge, it felt like a public announcement of repentance for past sin and a warning to never return.

2015-08-30 11.51.28-1A good few tram stops north of there, we joined the bohemian crowds filtering into Mauerpark for Sunday afternoon festivities. Passing by musicians and artists we made our way into the large flea market where we jostled our way in search of lunch. Currywurst in hand, we sat listening to a couple of different bands performing under the shade of the trees. A hill ascended in front of us and at the top stood a piece of “the wall” – a colourful backdrop for the lighthearted summer Sunday celebrations of the city. In front of it swings lifted people up and down from sturdy, tall wooden frames. Swings: flying, freedom, play, peace. Families gathered to release a hiss of colour onto the wall, creating something beautiful.

2015-08-30 13.44.15-112 feet high – the wall was part of a death strip from 1961-1989, an area designated to make sure no one crossed from East to West alive. If I had been born near there, I would have grown up with death in my backyard until I was seven, not swings. At the end of that portion of wall, I stopped where a fence replaced the concrete. A security guard in a high viz vest on the football stadium side looked at me strangely through the fence as I just stared at the abrupt end. It was less than a foot thick. I was struck in that moment by how little it takes to create such a huge divide between people. The obstacles themselves are easy to overcome but it is our militant effort to ensure that no one overcomes them without our permission that makes them dangerous.

Leading people towards hope is deconstructing obstacles and helping people move from oppression to freedom, regardless of if they are one of us or not. It is public repentance of how much harm has been done under the false illusion of good. It is recreating something beautiful and useful in the place of damage. It is rebellion against symbols of death by setting up swings in front of them. Can you hear the carefree laughter? That is hope.

Thank you, Berlin, for what you have taught me.

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cafes and christians down galway streets

“How are ya, darlin?” I was greeted by a local when I entered cafe #1 on my Galway visit: Ard Bia near the Spanish Arch (the actual Spanish Arch). The dark stone building built onto the quay was made bright inside from the rays of sun streaming through the windows. I ordered my pot of tea and a cake before pulling out my laptop to fire off some emails. There were unhurried locals enjoying a chat, a book and something from the kitchen. I followed their lead … and was called “darlin” a lot!

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Clouds painted the early afternoon sky as I drove just out of town for cafe visit #2 in Arabica Coffee House in the national aquarium where I met with a local missionary couple. For over three years Tim and Kristina have been keeping their ear to the ground, interpreting culture and doing what they can to serve the people, the church and the city. They had quickly learnt that the last thing Galway needed was another American missionary church plant. Instead, they invite people to share their table.

The following morning I was greeted by an incredibly welcoming international mix of young people in An Tobar Nua, cafe #3. Covering their walls were resources for young people to find life in their Christian heritage, life and spirituality. “Spirituality without the morality” is how Mike, the team leader at the cafe, aptly described the young people of the city to me. He urges and challenges them to return to the church of their childhood, that place that already looks like home, where they will find God and mature in their faith.

Susan and I just dodged the patches of rain as we entered The Gourmet Tart Company in Salthill, cafe #4, for the most mouth watering croissants. She had come up from Lahinch to join me for a bit of craic in the city. Although the food was excellent it wasn’t the most warm and relaxing place to have a leisurely lunch.

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Helen, originally from Dublin, met me near St. Nicholas Church before taking me to a beautiful and friendly French cafe, Javas, cafe #5. Tucked away upstairs she shared her pastoral heart for her recently acquired congregation in the heart of the city. Asylum seekers and internationals are the recipients of her teaching, leading, and care. She, too, is finding her way in the city and longing to see the truth of Jesus reclaimed from the places it has been stolen from.

The rain threatened a brief downpour and I had 20 min. so ducked into the frilly Cupan Tae, cafe #6, on the corner. I text Susan to let her know where I was and laughed when my immediate thought to share was that I was probably the only Irish person in there (good thing for citizenship!). It would  definitely appeal to most people visiting Ireland and hoping for a”traditional experience.” Unfortunately, it was the most tacky of all the cafes.

We left the city just over 24 hours after arriving. It was the longest amount of time I have ever spent in Galway. In the cafes I found that the Spirit of God is moving through the graffiti-ed streets of the city. He is calling out Christians of all traditions to seek him, find him, and hide in him. He is placing in places of influence people who are not denomination-centric. Like the cafes, there are incredible followers of Christ making a powerful difference down the side streets, to the people who need to walk through their doors – they are genuine, welcoming, and look nothing like what you might want to find if you’re hoping for a stereotype.

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*All photos were taken at Ard Bia.

Making the most of failure

Over at Innovista last week I wrote about making the most of failure. Check it out!

Innovista Ireland


“You will always pass failure on your way to success” ~ Mickey Rooney

It used to take skill to learn new tricks on a trampoline: no nets, no adult supervision, and no rules. I became really great at landing all sorts of artistic front flips as I took chances and built on what I knew. Disaster hit for me when I tried a back flip one day. With no one there who could help walk me through it, I found myself landing firmly on my neck not once, but twice. Having injured my neck fairly seriously at a younger age, my friend and I decided that maybe a third try without some feedback on how I could actually achieve it might be a bad idea. In this particular case, the goal was not worth the effort so I let it go. While it was only a minor failure in my…

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