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Archive for June, 2016

Suffering, music and creativity: reflections on a week in Ireland.

Over the past few days I have spent a wonderful 6 days in Ireland. First two in Northern Ireland, hosted by Drew Gibson of Union College, exploring the magically beauty of the north coast for a day (Drew was a missionary in Kenya and when he first took some of his friends from there to see it one said “Gibson there’ll be no Irish in heaven.” “Why’s that?” “They’re already in heaven) and another day in Belfast, and the main memorials and signs of “The Troubles”. Illuminating conversations with Drew about how it impacted him and some of his friends who joined the paramilitaries. Then down south and the magical culture and music of Galway, the magical beauty of the countryside and Cliffs of Moher, the history of Limmerick, invasions and battles, and finally Dublin. The magnificent beauty of IrIMG_4601ish Celtic culture combined with Christianity through Patrick illustrated so powerfully in the amazing Book of Kells.

Then with it being the centennial of the Easter Uprising of 1916 a lot of historical exhibitions were happening, so I explored all the anguished suffering since the English arrived, particularly from the Tudors on and above all Oliver Cromwell. The crushing of any Irish resistance, the confiscation of lands given to Scots and English settlers, and the execution or slavery, of so many Irish. At this point Catholicism became fused with Irish identity as a point of resistance to the English. Those who stayed were left with a quarter acre of land on which potatoes were the only crop they could grow enough to feed a family. Then the famine and the English did next to nothing in the way of providing any relief, despite the fact that the wealthy landowners made huge profits from exporting the produce of their stolen lands. 2 million Irish left for overseas to get relief and 1 million died at home. If it was not for money sent home from all those who did so well in the USA many more would have died. Genocide really, first from Cromwell and then Victorian England. And then as the Irish spirit began to rise again in the twentieth century and the hope for home rule grew, resistance and division from the Ulster Protestants allied with the British military, more suffering for 100 years. And all this from a Protestant Christian country!!!

The other side of Ireland was all this music and joy of the Irish people expressed where ever you went. You did not need any itunes, live music was everywhere. And the generosity and hospitality was as good as it gets. In the evening I went to a night of Irish music and dancing with a meal and some Guiness. Wonderful, spiritual and we all joined in with great joy. I was struck with this painful 5 centuries of suffering and death and this joyful expression of wonderfully creative music and other arts. It seemed paradoxical. But as I reflected I realised in my own world of music, popular at that, it seemed that great musical creativity came out of suffering, just looking at the second half of the twentieth century.

American country music came out of the hardships of those living in the Appalachians and eking out an existence. Of course many of them were Irish and Scots and brought there music with them. Then black soul and rhythm and blues coming out of the suffering of the blacks in the south. ThIMG_4600ese two came together into rock and roll in the 50s as the Johnny Cash and Ray Charles movies showed. And folk music came out of the hardship of the depression and the dustbowl in the Midwest ending up landing in all the creativity of Bob Dylan. Then to go into my era, the British rock explosion, which picked up from American rock and roll when it became domesticated, came out of those youth raised in the hard times of the north in post war Britain. It was a hard life if you read the biographies of those artists. Of course at the forefront of this were the Beatles and I recall a comment Paul McCartney made in a documentary of the concert he organised in New York post 9/11. He of course grew up in a large Irish Catholic extended family in Liverpool and his father was a band leader, hence his wide musical tastes. But he said how his parent’s generation survived through the depression, war and post war scarcity was largely through coming together and making music. And then the history of those bands for their first four or five years was usually pretty hard, living off scraps. Lennon and McCartney of course both lost their mothers while teenagers, but they along with Dylan were voted the 3 top song writers by a Rolling Stone poll (in the reverse order I have to acknowledge).

I may sound a bit like an oldie now who thinks all the good times have passed, but I wonder if this is why there is often a lack of real creativity in much contemporary music. Perhaps it also explains why the one great band of the latter part of the twenty century was Irish,U2. It has of course wider implications, because most of the moves in contemporary culture and society is to remove suffering from the lives of people (euthanasia being most extreme) and yet the biblical record and theology sees suffering as often having a significant formative and redemptive role in life, something we need to reflect and work on more in our understanding of the fullness of the gospel. Sadly of course some strands of contemporary Christian interpret the gospel as being the removal of suffering in this life. How much of the fullness of life would we lose it that were the case?

 

Anyway some initial reflections that were running through my mind over my last couple of days here. I would welcome any comment that would help refine and develop my thinking.

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