Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ireland; Four More Attempts

Hmm...shall we get into the real depths of the Emerald Isle?
Can I just reiterate how much I love that place.

First of all, we stayed in the Shire. No exaggeration. The Shire. It was incredible. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting and reveling in the green. It was such a stark contrast from the yellows, browns, and blacks that I have become accustomed to, sad as that thought is. We went shopping at a massive grocery store before we got to the Cottages and I bought as authentically as I could for the week. Let's just say that there is nothing like sitting on an ancient, creaky, wooden picnic table watching sheep on the side of the Mourne Mountains while slowly munching sausage, cheese, eggs, and soda bread, washed down with some Irish Breakfast tea.
It's easy to see God in moments like that. He must enjoy the Irish countryside as much as I did, because he seemed present everywhere. Especially at the monastery we had class at. The place was phenomenally beautiful. One of the only buildings I've ever seen and thought Ah! Contemporary architecture can be just as beautiful as architecture of old.


I went to a service there. (Yes, this is skipping a bit, but that's fine) It was lead collectively by the six monks who live at the Monastery. One would lead in the hymns, one had a sermon, one the reading of the Gospel. Each man demanded respect in his own unique way, and yet they worked together to make an enriching and powerful service. Think of it like a tapestry. The small pictures and designs can be intricate and beautiful, but the entire thing is what is breath-taking and majestic.

So, clearly, God lived in Rostrever. He was apparent everywhere, but there were places he seemed very far from.

We spent a day touring Belfast. Mainly in a bus, which took a bit away from the experience, but not much. I knew some of the history of the Troubles. I understood the division (mostly), and had heard of the murals and the violence. Really, I knew nothing. Everything I thought I knew was shot to hell when I stood under the Union Jack looking across the street to buildings covered in Green and Orange. When you stare face to face with a "peace wall" that has the names Israel, Palestine, Nicosia, and Berlin carved into it as its "sister places".

That will haunt you.

So will the murals. There are plenty of them. Around every street corner it seems. It's so strange to see something that honors men in black hoods with Kalashnikovs. It's even weirder to see that mural painted above a grocery store. And then to think that the very people the wore the masks because of live 2 blocks away, and are honored by their own loyal friends just the same.

Now, on top of all of that, do it in the name of religion.

But really, its not about the religion. Protestantism and Catholicism don't really have anything to do with it. It's all about politics.

There is some redemption in Belfast, though. There are glimmers of hope. The city itself is improving (read: rebuilding), and is on its economic feet. The Troubles have technically been over since 1998, and this is most apparent in the citizens. I had heard that the "new" generation (my generation) was trying to avoid the troubles. Trying to distance themselves from it all. I actually had an encounter that displayed this pretty well:

I was walking alone through the Belfast airport waiting for our flight out to Amsterdam (Yup, I jumped around again. This is not in chronological order at all. Think of it as a Tarintino movie). I was heading towards the airport coffeeshop (read previous posts to find out how much I enjoy these two things put together). A rather attractive Irish lass caught my attention by asking if I was interested in learning about the Bank of Ireland. I stumbled with my words at first. Originally, I was quite excited that a local thought that I was Irish, and then I realized that I was going to have to tell her I was from the States, and thus, I needed to have no accent (I pick them up extremely easily. Especially inflection. Especially when talking to locals. So this was rather difficult to do). So, I told her and her co-worker (who was later revealed to be her mother) that I couldn't exactly join the Bank of Ireland, and yada yada yada. We got to talking, mainly because people really want to know where you are from in the States if you talk with them. They didn't know Colorado, and the conversation turned into me trying to explain the difference between "mountain people" and "hillbillies". Oye. (there's a point to this, I swear). Then I was asked about why I was in Ireland (to study), if I had any Irish family (yes, to which I was told "oh yeah, all you Americans do"), and what I had seen in Belfast. At this point the mom left the kiosk we were talking at (relevant, I swear). The girl asked if I had seen "the murals, and all that stuff". I tried to be as polite and politically correct about it and just said yes, that I had. And that was it. She said something like "cool", and the conversation went on. A bit later, her mom returned, and proceeded to ask me the same question. Once again, I tried to be polite: "Yeah, we saw them on our tour".

"Well, which ones did you prefer? The Green ones, or the Red, White, and Blue ones?"

I froze. There was no real way to answer this question properly. I told her that I liked the Green ones better. I did this half trying to gauge which she would prefer herself, and half being honest (politically, I'm a bit more of a nationalist. I love Ireland so much I think it should just be its own entity completely. However, I understand the nationalistic point-of-view and its political necessity all the same. But I digress...). I chose wrong. She upturned her face and asked me why. I then realized I needed to save myself from looking like a stupid, knows-nothing-about-what-actually-happens-here American, and say something other than "I like those colors better", and I still hadn't quite caught her affiliation yet. So, naturally, I said something that made me look like a stupid, doesn't-know-anything-that-actually-happens-here American. I opened my mouth and out came "Well, the Green ones we saw were less violent than the Red, White, and Blue ones".

I got a Northern Irish death glare. Do yourself a favor and never, ever get one of these. She said "On no! That's totally backwards. Those Greens ones are so much worse." Welp. Nice going. Foot so far into mouth. She leaned in close and whispered "The Red, White, and Blue ones. Remember that." Then left. Yikes. I felt awful. I ended up apologizing later to her daughter "if I had said anything too offensive, or come across as an uninformed American", she assured me that everything was fine. I ended up seeing the mom later, and she was perfectly nice again (It was only later that I realized that I should have said that I liked the Greens better cause I am a fan of Celtic. That would have saved me some trouble).

Later, I realized that these two had perfectly epitomized the Troubles. The older generation not only cared about it enough, but she went out of her way to find out what I thought about it, and then proceeded to tell me how wrong I was. However, when it came to working, she pushed my uninformed opinion out of the way and was more than cordial again. The new generation didn't care about it at all. She just asked if I had seen the murals and then moved on. It's the classic "yeah, that's part of our past" mindset. It's incredible what you can glean from a simple airort conversation.

The Irish are a fascinating people.

Speaking of which (I promise this is almost over. éire just has a lot of good stories to offer.), let me flesh out Ned and the Five Attempts. The day before we went to Belfast, we traveled down to the Republic (see. Tarintino.). I was so excited. Dublin. Dublin! Giddy is an appropriate word. We go there and toured Kilmainham jail. Which is fascinating. You may recognize it from various U2 music videos or recordings, it has incredible acoustics. Then, we were on our own for the rest of the day.

Naturally, five of the guys headed quick for the Guinness Stockhouse. It was a really decent walk from where we were, which was perfect, because we got to see a good chunk of Dublin in a short amount of time. We went from the university area, to a shopping square, to churches, and finally to a rather depressed neighborhood before we reached the Stockhouse. I look back on this now as such a blessing, because most people only stayed around the shopping district. Then, the factory was lovely. Just a very well done tourist attraction. Top it off (literally and metaphorically) with the best view in Dublin. The top floor is called the Gravity Bar, where you can claim your "free" (with admission) pint straight from the brewery. 8 minutes from brew to glass.

So, take quite possibly the best beer you will ever have. Add four friends who are loving every second as much as you. Then finish with a 360 degree view of the town you've wanted to see your whole life. That, right there, is life.

Back to the Irish people. After the tour, we headed to a pub on the way back to the bus. We were treated exceptionally well. The owner of the bar (the previously mentioned Ned) sat us himself, asked us where we were from, and actually cared to listen to what we had to say. He took our orders, and had a witty, Irish quip for everything we said. Perfect. We, naturally, ordered Guinness with our meal. Ned then told us of how he had worked for the company for forty years before opening the pub we were then sitting at. Clearly the man knew his Guinness (I asked him if it comes straight from the factory. His reply: "Rolled it here meself this marnin'!" There's Irish humor for you). He taught us how to properly drink a Guinness. The first "attempt" as he called them, sips to us non-Irish, has to be "past the Harp". On Guinness pint glasses there is a logo with a harp right above it. According to Ned, your first sip should make it past that picture. Sip is an improper word really, gulp is probably more accurate. "You should feel it back there in the back of your throat". We all did. Then he said, "Alright lads, so if you wan' ta drink a Guinness properly, ya get 5 attempts total. That was the first." I thought maybe he was just trying to push more beer on us for profit, but when asked, he preserved that it was just the way the Irish do it. I gotta hand it to Ned, it really does make the Guinness better. Trusting an Irishman when it comes to alcohol is probably smart (or really stupid depending on the circumstances).

Sheesh...I am not succinct. 'Course, there was a lot to say about Ireland. I didn't even mention Tommy Sands (the bard of peace. He played a full three hours in my cottage. His daughter danced jigs. They played traditional songs, I sang along. It was heavenly. Just amazing.) There was a ton learned, and other things that I thought I knew that were shaken up. One thing I do know for sure though:

I'm going back. :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Wired again. Plugged in again. Online, and in the know.'s a strange experience to not know what the world is up to without you.
My only source of information for the past week was a Financial times....yesterday.
It was awesome.

I spent the last week in Ireland. The land of my dreams.
I loved every minute.
Quick rundown of events now, real update later.
Tuesday - 15.9
Flew from London to Belfast. Plane was cancelled so I spent most of the day in the airport. Nothing new for me. Got some good slow down time that set the pace for what was to come. Bought a new book. Life of Pi. Loving it so far. Got to Rostrever late at night.
Wednesday - 16.9
Took in surroundings. We lived in small cottages (reminiscent of small ski cabins). I took photos and enjoyed the rolling hills of the island. (Photos are up with locations tagged) Had class in local monastery. Went into the town during the afternoon, experienced a true Irish country pub. Listened to peer-made songs and poetry at night.
Thursday - 17.9
Same routine as day before. Except! Famous Irish singer/songwriter Tommy Sands came and played only for us. In my cottage. Thing of absolute beauty. Sung loudly to the tunes I knew :)
Friday - 18.9
Excursion to the Republic. Rostrever is located in Northern Ireland, and this was our only day in the actual Republic. I soaked it all in. Visited ruins and a tomb supposedly older than the Pyramids (take that Egypt...). Toured a Dublin jail. Broke off of the main group and headed to the Guinness factory with four other lads. Had an absolute blast. Got the best view in all of Dublin. Experienced a Dublin pub, courtesy of the pub owner (he taught us how to properly drink a Guinness). Returned to Rostrever.
Saturday - 20.9
Toured Belfast. Saw a war-torn city. Experienced destructive nationalism. Saw where I would align myself politically, socially, religiously, and footballishly.... Let the horror of the Troubles sink in. Prayed for Ireland. A lot. Landed on the coast. Stepped deep into the Irish Sea. Returned to the cottages. Celebrated a friends birthday (finally figured our just how to properly make a Carbomb ;).
Sunday - 21.9
Went to church at the Benedictine Catholic Monastery up the road. Thought about that service the rest of the day.
Monday - 22.9
Packed up. Headed to Amsterdam.

That was but a taste. The first gulp of the Beautiful Black. According to Ned (our Irish pub-owner [if you're ever in Dublin, go see Ned at the Pale. He'll treat you right]), that's all the way down past the harp on the pint glass. The next five attempts will come soon :)


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Please Just Take These Photos From My Hand...

Based upon the wise council of a friend, relative, and ally ;) I have put up all of my photos online! I am rebelling against the typical Facebook albums because I really don't do a lot of photos of people. But there are some cool things to see in there, I promise.

If you are looking at the albums, try using the Album Map feature. I tried to locate every picture as close to where it really is as I could.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I Like it in the City When the Air is Thick and Opaque...

  1. Back in London.

    Yes. Please.

    Love this town. Love it's feel.

    Just dig it.

    But I've said that already. Perhaps I should tell some tales why...
    1. Locals are just great - There are quick-food-pick-up stores here, Pret A Manger. They're kinda a cool concept. Tons of pre-made, but fresh sandwiches and the like, just waiting for you to give them a home. You would like these places. There is one right by our classroom here in Holborn. One of the baristas is a really cool woman from Argentina. Her name is Barbara, very Spanish sounding. We started talking because of my accent (how's that for a paradigm shifter, eh?), and she likes Colorado a lot. We talked for probably ten minutes that day. Two weeks ago. I still get all of my coffee drinks for free there. Guess it pays off to go out on a limb and talk to a complete stranger. And with my rate of coffee consumption, it really pays off. See? Locals are just great.
    2. Excellent Theater - Brits love plays. Not musicals necessarily, but plays. Straight up British plays. We've been to three so far. Tom Stoppard's Arcadia was our first, and it skyrocketed itself to the place of my favorite play ever. A comrade likened it to a theatrical Gilmore Girls... Quick paced, lightning wit, heavy cultural referencing, but with a bit of Quantum Physics and Philosophy thrown in there. I've since seen two different versions of Shakespeare's As You Like It. It's hysterical. I have a new appreciation for the bard. Go see something at the Globe. And do it as a groundling, just stand for the whole thing. It makes you truly appreciate theater.
    3. Pubs - Really, that's enough said. I feel as though I was engineered to enjoy a pub. They have wonderful ambiance. Dark(er) lighting, with bold, solid colours and wood finishes. Then, they take this great ambiance, they open up the windows and doors, and they promote you taking their product (more on this later), outside! To enjoy in fresh air. How foreign is that? Then, they put on British music (which just. plain. rules. Go listen to: Franz Ferdinand, Adele, the Smiths, and Snow Patrol. Right now. This can wait.), BUT! they play it soft enough for you to have an engaging conversation. In fact, they promote conversation. Every person in a pub is talking. No one is looking around, scoping people out, or somewhere-else-in-their-mind. They're all right there, enjoying each other's company. It just forces you to have a good conversation. Or to make one with your local neighbor, who's bound to be just great (see above).
    Pictures of London are to come...


From rest immediately back to fervor.

On our way back to London, we stopped in the town of Coventry. Don't worry, I'd never heard of it either. We had a bit of an introduction by the profs as we wound our way into the town. It was bombed out during the Blitz in '41. And they took us specifically to the Coventry Cathedral. I wasn't expecting a ton (mostly because I hadn't been paying attention during the intro-lecture on the way in). We marched upon the Cathedral en masse, and I relized it might be a good place for pictures. Then we crossed the threshold, and I beheld something so much more.

Notice anything interesting about this photo? There's no roof on the church. It's been blown off for over 60 years. Here's a better look:

I passed through that threshold and was hit by an overwhelming force of reverence for this place and these people. This church was utterly destroyed. I mean dismantled. There was little left. Walls. Feet of pillars. Part of the alter. Window-frames. Some with glass still in them.


Coventry is now called the City of Reconciliation. The citizens vowed to pursue reconciliation rather than revenge. They began their quest with the people of Dresden, Germany. Dresden was leveled by the British, mainly in revenge for Coventry. And then the people, the actual lifeblood of the city, they reached out their hands and helped pick their "enemies" off the ground.

I'm not sure how to express how I feel about this, but really, this is quite the example of God. This is how humanity should act.

Kinda gives you chills, eh?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

And Then... Rest.

I've spent the last few days in Birmingham, England. But not really in Birmingham (explanation later). If you don't know, B'ham, as it's called on highway street-signs, is a large industrial town North-West of London. It's a big town, and it feels a lot like Chicago. My friend, and current roommate, Sam, described it as concrete. Which is pretty accurate. Not only is there a ton of the stuff around, but for some reason Birmingham just feels concrete. Some big cities can feel warm, inviting, filled with reds, burgundies, mustards, neons, and welcoming, London is definitely this way. I think that may be my favorite city in the world. There's just something about it. Birmingham, on the other hand, is blue-white, reflective, cold, rigid, rutty, and bristly. I did not quite get comfortable there.

Although, we did stumble upon a market; this very multi-cultural, cheap, almost-flea-market area. I enjoyed that quite a bit. I found a Union Jack zippo, which is perfect for my incessant need to fiddle. I just flip it around, and open, and closed, and over and over; kinda like Pyro from X2. Without the teenage angst.

But! Most of our time has not been in the city. Quite contrarily, it has been in a small Quaker community just outside of town. Woodbrooke's population is small, and its median age dropped significantly when we arrived. It's kind of like a large bed-n-breakfast. Complete with a gorgeous garden in the back, a lake with boats, an unlimited supply of hot tea, homemade meals, and rain. Lots of rain. I love the rain. But it's keeping me from taking many pictures, so there may not be a very good feel for Birmingham on here.

This place has been so needed. There's just an overwhelming sense of peace. You will slow down and reconcile yourself with your surroundings here. There is no choice, it just happens. Which is so nice. And needed. I think I'll be ready to tackle 10 more days of London after this. I'm actually really excited about going back. Also, random, I have an excellent sense of direction in the city. How bizarre.

Anyway, more important things. Like God. It's quite difficult not to recognize Him here. It's not a human sense of peace that floods you while you're here. ' Course, the professors have set up this place to promote focus on God as well. We had the Theological Philosopher John Hick come speak to us a few days ago. It was an...interesting talk. His position is one that transcends most traditional religions and finds the truth (to live for, and love God, and live a compassionate life of selflessness) of the Ultimate Reality (God) is drafted in all the actual religions of the world. As a result, one does not have to follow the Way, Truth, and Life of Jesus to reach what humans are meant to do by becoming as close to the Ultimate Reality as possible (salvation and heaven). He is brilliant, and I found myself agreeing a lot with his points. He did an excellent job pointing out inconsistencies and false pretenses among our thinking, which was needed. However, I noticed how much of the class' responses were apologetic, on-the-offensive, "this is what the Bible says...", which was quite disappointing.

I think that there is a lot to Hick's point of view. It is impossible for us to judge just who among us will end up with God after this life, God reveals His truth in ways that are catered to our own understanding (so, His love can be found in places that one might not expect it to be in), and we should recognize the incredible achievements of anyone, not matter their religion. However, after fleshing things out with one of my professors (who is a former student of Hick's), I can see where I differ from him. I still think that Jesus is the incarnation of God who died for all our sins, and should be regarded and worshipped as such. And I think that ultimately, it is up to God to decide who will be with him at the end, not for us to guess.

God is also revealing himself through his own words (hmm...imagine that). The Chaplains are reading through the book of Isaiah, which has so far been incredible. It's amazing what deep and mind-blowing truths were revealed to a relatively insignificant group of settled wanderers in ancient Palestine ;) I'm so excited to continue this practice and to continue to find God in a place that I haven't before.

Oye... I need to learn conciseness...