Good questions

Just back from a lovely, wild, blustery Dock Walk in the windswept Titanic Quarter.  Our search for a sheltered place to listen to our Wordlive reading today led us to discover a whole new previously-unexplored part of the TQ! – a path out to the very edge of the Musgrave Channel, directly under the towering Samson and Goliath cranes.  Walking in their shadow, sheltered from the elements by a crumbling old wall, we shared insights and questions from our readings in the book of Job in the past week – and listened together to one passage, which appropriately enough began with the words “The Lord spoke to Job out of the storm…”

The book of Job is a huge, profound, difficult, deep grapple with that eternal question: why does God let bad things happen?  After 38 chapters where different characters (Job’s comforters, and Job himself) struggle with that question, God finally speaks in the last chapter.  His answer is surprising and uncomfortable – he doesn’t give the “why”, he doesn’t explain Job’s suffering away by revealing the reasons and rhythms that made it necessary.  He instead asks a series of questions – in breathtaking, poetic language – that remind Job (and us) of his power and majesty.

It’s not an answer that’s going to satisfy everyone – but it satisfies Job.  He doesn’t know Why, but he knows God, and that is enough.  Out in that windswept Titanic Quarter beneath the massive cranes, I know we were all thinking about the times we’ve asked the same questions as Job – and as we talked, prayed, listened to the incredible old hymn How Great Thou Art and stood in the midst of soft showers, turbulent sky, warm wind full of the scents of rock and rain – I think we were all reaching for that same answer.  Here’s just some of that awe-inspiring passage – the questions that God asks of Job:

How did I lay the foundation for the earth?  Were you there?  What supports the foundation?  Who placed the cornerstone, while morning stars sang, and angels rejoiced?…
Did you ever tell the sun to rise?  And did it obey?…
Job, have you ever walked on the ocean floor?  Have you seen the gate to the world of the dead?  And how large is the earth?  Tell me, if you know!…
Where is the home of light, and where does darkness live?  Can you lead them home?…
From where does lightning leap, or the east wind blow?  Who carves out a path for thunderstorms?…
Who sends torrents of rain on empty deserts where no one lives?  Rain that changes barren land to meadows green with grass…

(Job 38)

Radio, books, TV…

Another great time at the Beeb today – once again my dulcet tones will be sounding sonorously from your radio in the near future.  No crack-of-dawn start for the recording this time – all comfortably pre-recorded at a nice sensible daylight hour – but for the actual broadcast, you’ll have to be listening at 5:45am on Radio 4  (I know! – who’s going to hear that?!).  I am your one-minute-and-fifty-second Prayer For The Day this Saturday (16th) and then every day next week (18th-22nd).

Thank goodness for being able to catch up on iPlayer, eh?

For those of you for whom Radio is just a high-tech modern gadget and you can’t see what’s wrong with a good old proper book (hi Susan!), the Dock Book Group is meeting again on Saturday 30th July at 9:30am in the Premier Inn coffee lounge.

We’ve been getting our teeth into some fascinating books over the last couple of meetings – Rob Bell’s Love Wins and Tim Keller’s Reason For God both provoked passionate discussion and much debate, and both had their admirers and detractors.  Another thing both books shared in common (weirdly, since they are poles apart in so many ways) was a propensity to quote Belfast’s own C.S.Lewis at great length – especially his masterwork Mere Christianity.  So we thought it was high time that Book Group went back to the source and read this classic, which has been foundational for so many people.

Mere Christianity is nice and short (though don’t be fooled – it’s short but it’s deep!) and has been around long enough that you’re quite likely to find a second-hand copy without too much trouble.  If not, any good book shop should be able to point you in the right direction – or tread the well-worn path to Amazon, where you can get it as a book, an audiobook, a journal, a Kindle edition, or as a second-hand paperback for 1p!

And so to TV… every year we try to resist it, but is anyone else helplessly addicted to The Apprentice as the final approaches on Sunday night?  And just to add to the nail-bitingness, there’s a vague Titanic Quarter connection – Jim’s sister works in the TQ!  (Told you it was vague…)  Although I have to confess that I’m putting patriotism aside and rooting for Tom, the slightly mad inventor.  He has somehow managed the unique trick of surviving the last 11 weeks of cut-throat competition while remaining friendly, approachable, funny and decent.  I’m not sure if that counts for much in Alan Sugar’s world, but – whether he survives the final cull or not – Tom gets the Dock thumbs-up for keeping his integrity in a dog-eat-dog world.  (And for inventing the ‘Emergency Biscuit’.)


The fortnight in pictures

High time y’all had some nice pics to go with all the events and excitements of the last few weeks, since the launch of the Dock Business Plan.  On the night of the launch I have to confess I was too busy/excited/hopped-up on stress to remember to take many photos – any at all in fact, except this lonely specimen, taken before the guests started to arrive, of the tables awaiting the distinguished guests and the gourmet food…

What I do have are lots of pictures of the Business Plan.  (And, as you can see from the middle pic, lots of Business Plans – nearly 1000 to be precise, all currently living in the VW Campervan while I try to figure out where to store them…)  I couldn’t be more pleased with the way the BP has turned out – or with the impact it has made even in the few weeks since its launch – emails, phone calls, letters, new contacts, offers of support – even (as you can see) a few missives on very fancy headed paper…

The Business Plan was launched amidst all the excitement of the Maritime Heritage weekend, and if you haven’t already seen the vid (why not?! Click here), these pictures hopefully give some flavour…  lovely to see all the life and bustle around the TQ – a true living embodiment of the vision of all those concept pictures from a few years ago.

That weekend was also a fabulous backdrop for Dock Walking – allowing us to visit the evocative interior of the Drawing Office, walk on a pirate ship, and watch an aerial display of stunt flying.  (When was the last time that happened at your church, eh?!)

More outdoor-church experiences last week – it was great to be back with the friendly crowd from St Oliver Plunkett’s parish in West Belfast to join them for Mass at the Rock, deep in the woods above the Glen Road.  You might remember I was there for the first time (and indeed for my first-ever Mass) last year, and it was powerful once again to worship in the open air in that forest clearing, which had been used to hold Mass in secret when the country was deeply, fatally divided, and is now being used to hold Mass in a time of ever-greater unity and understanding.  Powerful stuff.

Last week, as you’ll know if you follow the Dock feed on Facebook, there was some apprehension that we had managed to choose a day of thunderous weather to hold the ARC BBQ.  I’ll admit that even my optimistic heart had a few qualms when I saw the storm clouds above the apartments…  (as well as getting to see how they clean their windows – it’s done by bungee-jumpers, who knew!)

But in the end all was well, we got the only clear 2-hour stretch of sunshine in the whole day.  Optimism wins again!!


The Dock Vision

(This is a summary of the presentation from the launch of the Business Plan – a good chance to clarify The Dock vision at this stage in its development!)

Everyone needs a BHAG.  That’s a Big Hairy Audacious Goal – something big enough to fire the soul, to be impossible in human strength, to be possible only with God’s help.  Here in The Dock we have three of ’em (because just one or two isn’t big enough or hairy enough) – and they are:

1.  A Shared Future Church

It used to be fashionable to knock Belfast as the place where people beat seven bells out of each other in the name of religion.  Anyone who’s lived here through the last decade, or been part of any of the many prophetic, bold church communities who reach out beyond their four walls, knows that simply isn’t true any more.  Time to show the world how much Belfast has changed.  Time to take the unique opportunity offered by the fresh start in the Titanic Quarter to live out a Shared Future expression of church from Day One – together.

We propose a kind of ‘Chaplaincy Sofa’ – a welcoming, relational space where absolutely anyone can connect, find friendship and start a conversation – and where you might find yourself chatting to a Chaplain of any denomination.  A ‘shared medley’ where differences are respected, similarities are celebrated, and faith brings hope and joy into daily lives.

The BHAG is a shared expression of church so bold and loving that visitors across the world think to themselves, “Well if they can do it…”

2. A Community Hub

To build community, someone needs to put the kettle on.  In a busy, thriving area like the Titanic Quarter – filling up fast with residents, businesses, entrepreneurs, filmmakers, students, tourists and many more – life can easily pass by in a blur of work, eat, sleep.  We need ‘thirdspaces’ – neither home nor work – where friendships can grow, neighbours can become more than nodding acquaintances, groups can meet to ask that most basic question of community life: “So, how was your day?”

The Dock aims to kick-start those questions, those conversations and those connections; to completely steal one of the straplines used by the TQ Ltd developers, where once we built ships, now we build communities.

The BHAG is to see a day where people moving away from the TQ cry big snotty tears of emotion to have to leave behind the friends they’ve met and the community they’ve become part of.  To create a place where people belong.

3. A Beautiful Boat

Here’s the sweet part: where will all these chaplains hang out, where will the sofa be located, where will all these community-building conversations take place?  On a boat.  The Dock seeks to buy a beautiful old boat, about 100 feet in length and preferably with more than one deck (restaurant barges, clipper ships and riverboats are all under consideration), and moor it in the heart of the Titanic Quarter at the Abercorn Basin.

The boat will be a cafe space, stuffed with comfy old sofas and offering top-quality fresh locally-produced food – the kind of place you can pop into to grab a quick coffee and read the paper, or meet a friend for a long lingering lunch, or gather with your mates after work, or join a book group, or host a barbecue, or… – you get the idea.  It also offers a space for the chaplains to connect that doesn’t look like a church from any denomination, and so we step onto neutral waters together.

The BHAG is to have this boat moored in the TQ within this next year, so that The Dock can be part of the Titanic Quarter community throughout this tremendously exciting Titanic Centenary year.  Given that we’re starting from scratch, that is big and hairy and audacious – but kind of exciting…

Interested?  There are all sort of ways to connect – through the Dock Walks (a pilot project for living out that shared church), the Meet The Neighbours events at the Arc Apartments (a pilot project for living out that community hub), or by finding out more about The Dock itself (it now exists as a company in its own right, and has recently launched a Business Plan which you can find here).  You can contact one of the two Chaplains who have already been appointed, Chris or Karen.  You can sign up for email updates.  You can join us on Facebook.  You can pray for the vision to become reality.  You can visit the TQ and see first-hand the tremendously exciting the pace of change in the old Docks (Chris works part-time for the Titanic Walking Tours and can wholeheartedly recommend getting out there on foot to see all that’s happening).

However you do it, stay in touch!

Did we ever think we’d see days like these in Belfast?   What a huge privilege to be living through these incredible times for our nation, our churches and our city.