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Peace by tea and chocolate cake
Submitted by AFAN team member Mike Ward a Christian on 02/03/2011 07:53
Tags Associated with article
Tags Associated with article
John Galliano, the British fashion designer, has been dismissed by Dior after alleged anti-Semitic comments in a Paris restaurant: remarks so offensive I would not even dare print them here. Meanwhile, a Christian couple have been banned from further fostering of children after their comments on homosexuality. Mrs Johns said outside the court "This is a dark day for Christians". And I have just listened to the kind of radio phone-in that makes me almost ashamed of my faith, or at least of the views of some of my fellow Christians. Even with the delicate editing of BBC radio and the tact of Nicky Campbell, you were left in no doubt from some of the people phoning in to the programme that religious, racial and sexual intolerance is alive and well in Britain. (What is that children's chorus again? "They'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love...!") A spokesman for the British Secular Society calmly tried to make his voice heard, but was almost drowned out by the ranting. I recalled Einstein's words when he saw the atom bomb explode: "I wish I had been a watchmaker."
Of course it could be argued that these news items are the exception to the rule, and that for the most part - the silent majority who would never dream of phoning a radio station to quote some obscure verse from Leviticus or publicly insult people of another faith - we are a tolerant welcoming society. For every John Galliano, surely there are a thousand fashion designers whose views would never raise an eyebrow, let alone cause a police incident. Nevertheless, the peacemakers and the reconcilers need to be celebrated. So I give you Aileen McCorkell, whose passing at the age of 89 went unnoticed outside her native Derry but who, in her life, knew a thing or two about peace and reconciliation. Above all she knew something about religious tolerance.
The clue is where she came from - Derry. When she moved from the Irish Republic to the North after the war, Aileen McCorkell encountered for the first time the kind of political and religious division that led to "the troubles". She had worked with the Derry Red Cross since the early 1960s and when violence erupted, she was convinced that by its principles of neutrality and humanity the Red Cross could play an important role in promoting peace. Her moment came when she and her husband agreed to hold secret peace talks in 1972 between the British Government and the Provisional IRA. The meeting took place in her family home. She welcomed the delegates (including a young Gerry Adams), brought them tea and chocolate cake and, she said later, "let them get on with it". The result was a brief ceasefire and the first steps in the process towards peace in the province. Her impartiality and compassion found an echo in the later forgiving words and quiet work of Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie was killed in the Enniskillen Remembrance Sunday bombing in 1987. "I bear them no ill" he said of those who had planted the bomb. A minister friend of mine remembers that the following Christmas Eve, when Gordon Wilson was surely mourning the death of his beloved daughter the previous month, the grieving father still had time to phone my friend to thank him for his prayers and wish him a happy Christmas.
The Aileen McCorkells and Gordon Wilsons do not grab the headlines. We laugh at the tea-makers almost as much as the peace-makers. (There is the famous satirical sketch from Beyond the Fringe in which a middle-aged couple survive all kinds of disasters during the war and at each momentous event, the wife simply says "Never mind, dear, come and have a cup of tea!") But peace is a quiet yet ultimately powerful weapon, and is often best served with a cup of tea. Perhaps that's why the Alpha Course has been so successful: it is table fellowship, it is learning, opening up and sharing over a meal. It is difficult to raise your voice with a mouthful of cake. Sermons and speeches, missions and campaigns rarely win over the floating voter; we need more chocolate cake in the church.