Mark Sayers Round Up

It was a privilege to host Mark Sayers for our Reimagining Faith event this week. We have podcasts of his sessions coming soon, but first we wanted to reflect on some of the wisdom he shared. Here are the thoughts from our Research Assistants.

Lauren

In a time of tumultuous culture change, Mark encouraged us to reframe this cultural moment from crisis into opportunity. He made a useful analogy to the Australian bush fires to explain this point. As it stands, we’re seeing a lot of cultural ‘bush fires’ burning around us. These fires leave a wake of destruction in their path, yet when they either burn out or are put out, what comes out of the ash is a potent compost from which the Australian bush can spring into life again. What we know and can hold on to amidst the cultural flames is that Christ will redeem all things - and all things will be made new.

The session was full of discussion; framed and provoked by questions which urged us to think deeply about the world around us. Mark urged us to take a moment to consider and reflect upon what the ‘diamonds’ of Northern Ireland are. In other words, what can 'our wee country' bring to the global conversation? Northern Ireland is often written-off as being backward, and in many ways ‘behind the times.’ What if, we are actually ahead of the times? What if, we are ahead of the times, and can actually speak into the tribalism of our day with authority because of our troubled past? What if instead of tourists coming to visit our Peace Wall - symbolic of years of discord, hurt and bitterness, we could reframe the conversation to celebrate Northern Ireland’s diversity? What if, instead of dwelling on our divided past, we were able to look forward and speak hope into the future? What if The Troubles have provided us with a credible and experienced voice when it comes to reconciliation efforts across the globe? How then, can we as a community, engage with the cultural wars around us? More importantly, how do we ensure that the Church is ‘relevant’ in these ‘strange days' without forfeiting the Truth of the Gospel?

 

 

Joey

After reading his book ‘Strange Days’, it was wonderful to hear Mark Sayers speak at the Reimagining Faith session. His insight into why he thinks we are experiencing rapid cultural climate change has left me stirred and encouraged.

Leaving England for Northern Ireland in September last year led me to a cultural experience I didn’t expected. I had no pre-conceived idea of what it would be like living in Belfast, but it surprised me to see how religion is still such a vital part of life in Northern Ireland, especially having come from an increasingly secular England. This led me to saying to my friends at home, “it feels like Northern Ireland is 10 years behind England – culturally, and in 10 years time it will have caught up.”

I came to realise that this was the projected version of the story that many Christians in Northern Ireland had bought into. It was then so revitalising to hear Mark counter that story, sharing his thoughts that, “maybe the old story is that Northern Ireland is 10 years behind the rest of the West. Maybe the world is heading for the contested space that Christians in Northern Ireland have currently found themselves in. Maybe Northern Ireland is at the front, not playing catch up.”

At times it’s hard to navigate life as Christian in the public square. Do we withdraw and let the tough conversations pass us by, hoping to avoid conflict and appear again once it’s all blown over? Mark offered his thoughts on how we as Christians are placed in a wonderful position to be the creative minority in Northern Ireland and the world. What we can offer our nation in truth and in grace by the power of the Spirit has the ability to transform culture. By demonstrating the radical love of Jesus and living how He lived, intervening by offering a Christ-centred alternative to what this generation is currently being offered, culture and our world can and will be changed.

 

 

Chris

This was a fantastic opportunity to listen to Mark’s unique insight into life as a Christian in the increasingly secular and “progressive” world in which we find ourselves. Through two teaching sessions and interactive discussion, Mark reframed how we view culture through a Biblical lens. As someone who has previously read Mark’s book Strange Days, I valued the opportunity to hear from the man himself here in Belfast.

Discussion, whilst wide ranging, was informative and encouraging, particularly in our Northern Irish context where we tend toward cynicism when the odds are seemingly against us. However, we were reminded that God is the head over every power and authority; even in the increasing uncertainty regarding our local assembly.

Mark highlighted the growing complexity of the world, particularly with regards to news. We are constantly bombarded with news (or fake news) stories through our smart phones. This has created a prevailing angst in the world, which has resulted in every space being contested between news outlets who would be considered as either “left” or “right” on the political system. Not even Apu from The Simpsons is immune (With calls to remove the character who is considered an unhelpful caricature of Indian culture).     

We also considered the post-Cold War era in which a prevailing world view told us that the West was heading toward a period of continuous economic growth. A post-conflict era with incredible optimism, all exacerbated by the tech boom and rise of the internet. However, 9/11, the disappointment of the Arab Spring, the rise of ISIS and Brexit have proved that we are not truly in a post-conflict era. It is therefore important that, we as Christians, offer a hopeful alternative to the prevailing narrative of the world; to show Christ in our context of Northern Ireland.