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.
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?
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.