Life in Belfast, part 5
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Oh goodness. My blog writing is atrocious of late. But, if you read my last post a month ago, you know that I feel a wee bit overwhelmed with work. The frequency of posts is not likely to increase in the near future sadly. Much happening at the moment.
I just sent my good friend Dusty Katzenmiller off to the airport for his trek homeward to get married in April. I have known Dusty for several years, and he has been part of the contemplative community at Riverbend prison even longer than I have, which means more than three years. A month after I moved to Belfast, Dusty jumped across the pond to Würzburg, Germany to begin his PhD in Liturgical Theology and Ethics. He graciously booked his return journey home through Belfast so we could have a couple days together. Good times. Good conversations. I now await my next visitor, which will either be my cousin Zack in one month (just in time for my birthday!) or a very special someone in mid-April…
I have booked my return journey home now. I will say farewell to Belfast on April 30 and head to Dublin for a morning flight on May 1. I’ll return to Nashville then and pretty immediately begin working on my MPhil dissertation. I have just submitted my 4,000 word proposal for this dissertation and am excited to get it underway. The working title is Voices of the Forgotten: Exploring the Possibilities and Implications of Inter- and Intrapersonal Forgiveness with People in Prison. The literature on forgiveness is as vast as it is diverse. Lots of different theories and perspectives. In my reading, what seems to be missing from the literature are the voices of the currently incarcerated. Most of the literature address forgiveness through such lenses as psychology, theology, ethics, politics, law, personal testimonies of victims/survivors, etc. All these are terribly important and very useful in considering the complexities of forgiveness. Yet, my proposal referenced over 30 books on forgiveness, and not one provided insights from people in prison. So I aim to head into Riverbend Maximum Security Institute and the Tennessee Prison for Women and ask current inmates what significance forgiveness has for them. For my purposes, I am particularly interested in the perspectives of those individuals with life sentences or who are on Death Row. With no hope of returning into the ‘free world’ and little-to-no hope of engaging in relationship with their direct or indirect victims, what role does forgiveness play for them? Do they feel it is necessary to receive forgiveness? If so, why? Are they able to forgive themselves for what they have done without receiving forgiveness from those they have harmed? Is self-forgiveness possible or ethical then without interpersonal forgiveness? If not, what implications exist for those who have not and probably will not receive forgiveness? Is personal transformation possible without inter- or intrapersonal forgiveness? How does all this play out for those claiming Christianity, for whom forgiveness is an integral part of their faith? These are some of the questions I hope to explore with those behind prison walls.
May 1 then will be a big day: I leave Belfast and return home, AND my editor at Cascade says they will aim to have my book published at that time. I am most excited to get this book out so millions of copies can be sold (HA!). I do have some things in the works with the book, though. The official title is Letters from ‘Apartheid Street’: A Christian Peacemaker in Occupied Palestine. I have read stories from the book here in Belfast twice now, and they were quite enthusiastically received. So much so that some folks have discussed the possibility of flying me back to Belfast this summer to do book signings because so many people want the book! Quite exciting to be sure. Coming up on March 26, I am doing my biggest talk to date. St. Oliver Plunkett Parish in southwest Belfast has organized an event solely for the purpose of me reading stories and reflections from the book. The event is called “Blessed are the Peacemakers: Nonviolent Resistance in Occupied Palestine” and will be one and half hours of just me. Somewhat intimidating. The flyer we made is
picture to the right here. The picture is one I took in the South Hebron Hills of a man crying out to Allah after Israel demolished his home. The guy organizing this talk emailed me yesterday to say he would be contacting the press close the 26th and wanted to know if I would be OK with him giving them my phone number for an interview. I will likely do a final talk on the book here in Belfast with Clonard Monastery in late April.
Additionally, I just received an official invitation from Messiah College in Pennsylvania to come speak on the book in the Fall. I have a panel reviewing the book for the Christian Scholars’ Conference this June, and I aim to do several talks in churches and other venues this summer in Nashville and hopefully in Forth Worth, TX. I am also speaking to David Hazard (co-author with Elias Chacour of the best-selling Blood Brothers) about doing a joint book event in Washington, D.C. Lots underway. Feels surreal. I can’t believe this is all happening.
Other than book stuff, I have 10,000 words of papers to write before April 17, as well as a full week intensive class starting Monday, a retreat to Holy Cross Monastery, preparing for the March 26 talk, making the syllabus for the Lipscomb class in the fall, continuing to make preparations for the Journey through Conflict storytelling workshop at Riverbend this fall with Alistair and Wilhelm, and actually trying to breathe and enjoy my last 7 weeks on this island.
Thanks to those who follow this blog. Apologies again for the lack of activity.