The 12th July – Re-imagining Twaddell

The ‘new normal’ is a phrase being used by a group of Christian leaders to capture something of what we are seeing of the kingdom of God at work in this time in our land. It describes what we are already seeing and what we hope to see. This post is one of a series looking at what the ‘new normal’ might look like, particularly on a society wide level.

The new normal will see churches enlarging the playing field on which our politicians get to play; providing creative solutions and hopeful imagination in the public square; leading rather than following.

The new normal will see healing of the past, honour in the present and hope for the future.

The new normal will see shalom; wholeness; the dynamic vibrating health of a society which pulses with divinely directed purpose and surges with life transforming love.

So what might the new normal look like at Twaddell – in simple terms a joint parade in which the Orange Order and local residents march side by side through the contested space. Let me explain:

The Orange Order is, “determined to use what power and influence they can muster to ensure that civil and religious liberty is maintained.” 

Sinn Fein “have consistently asserted that the loyalist people, in common with all other citizens, must be given firm guarantees of their religious and civil liberties.”

Given this shared belief there would appear to be grounds for optimism in relation to solving the parading dispute around the Ardoyne parade and potentially finding a longer-term parading solution.

I recently read Andy Crouch’s book Playing God in which he was contrasting protest marches with the Occupy movement. He noted that a march passes through space and time and then disbands, leaving space before and after for others to flow into. Marches can adjust to the space they pass through, and (unless marred by opportunistic or deliberate violence) they can coexist with other uses of space in ways that an ‘occupation cannot. To ‘occupy ‘ a space is to completely dominate its use, His ‘lens’ on marching was very different than mine and he challenged my prejudice.

I do not in the main find Orange Order marches missional, hospitable or generous. I would not choose to express my faith in that way. But in a free society, I respect the right of others to parade. In the right circumstances I would be prepared to march for civil and religious liberty as would the Orange Order and Sinn Fein based on the statements above.

It has been reported that it costs £40,000 a night to police Twaddell Avenue – that’s £280,000 a week and, over a period of 12 months, that’s a figure of some £12 million. Every one of us could think of ways to spend that money if this dispute could be resolved. The money would be secondary if there was some genuine principle involved, but both sides seem to agree on the need for civil and religious liberty – so why not march together under that banner.

A shared society requires sharing – literally half the road each in this case. A group of church leaders could apply for a parade through the contested area including x members of the Lodge returning home and the associated band members and y members of the local residents association. The two groups would form up separately and march towards the contested area. A group of church leaders would act as stewards up the middle of the road. The groups would walk quietly through the contested section of the road. At the top of the road they would separate out with one group returning to their Lodge and the others to a local community centre.

The Orange Order would have completed their march and shown a novel way to share space. The residents likewise would have registered their protest while again sharing the space. Both groups will understand that they will be under a huge media spotlight if they agreed to the plan. Anyone breaching the agreed plan will know that it would have significant negative ramifications for their group going forward.

It might not work, but our role as those who follow One raised from the dead is surely to offer hopeful solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

ps – The good parts of this idea come from my EA colleague David Smyth

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