Davie…

Posted in Uncategorized on August 18, 2009 by Phil Alcorn

This will be a short post. I have much to say, about Bosnia and what God told me there. But for now, I just wanted to share this.

I met Davie today. Davie, of Davie and Cliff. I never ever knew Cliff as a part of Davie and Cliff, I just knew him as Cliff. I knew he had once had a friend called Davie, who was now gone, for various reasons. I knew about Davie, I was told about him, who he was and what he was like. I was told about the friendship he and Cliff shared. But Davie disappeared for a while. A long while. But I met him today. Really randomly… God was involved.

We talked for a while. He told me about himself. We talked about Cliff. And as I went to leave, he stopped me. He pulled me back to him, and took my hand. And he told me he wanted to pray with me. And he did so.

I didn’t just meet Davie today. I met Jesus too.

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My friend…

Posted in Uncategorized on June 16, 2009 by Phil Alcorn

Cliff… I want to write so much more about him than this blog would ever afford me. I want to write, because I never want to forget… never. I never want to forget the lessons I learned from this wee Belfast man… the lessons about love, about hope, about struggle and addiction and humility and friendship and fellowship and joy and sadness and life…

And I don’t want to have to explain who Cliff is… I don’t want to have to give a background, name the date and place and circumstances in which we met. Because, to be honest, most of the few people who read this blog knew and loved him, and  no words that I can say about my relationship with him can or indeed should change who he was to you.

And I miss him. I really do. I miss seeing his toothy smile as he laughed with friends… I miss listening to him making up lyrics to songs he loved but didn’t quite remember. I miss having him tell me to look after the girls, to make sure they got home safe, to look out for their safety… I miss looking into those eyes, and seeing love look back out at me… I miss giving him a hug goodbye and feeling his leather jacket as I gave him the manly pat on the back…

Cliff’s hope and his existence were found in a bottle, when first we met. This man, who had done so much already in his life, who had studied, worked, married, had children, been involved in his church… this man who, due to various events and circumstances, had found himself on the streets of Belfast, was leading out his existence through booze and ciggarettes. And I doubt he ever thought it possible that he would touch the hearts of so many. This man, who caught a glimpse of love in action… who caught a glimpse of God in action, of God’s kingdom working… this wee man, who caught a glimpse of hope and dared to go after it… this man, uncle cliff, taught me about love. Taught me about hope. Taught me about humility. He taught me about grace, and showed me even the smallest glimpse of what can happen in this city.

Cliff was my friend. And it hurts, it really does hurt not being able to see him. It hurts, knowing that only when I follow where he has gone, will we likely see one another again. It hurts me… to know that my friend is gone from this earth. To know that no new memories will be made…

But I thank God, I praise Him for the time He granted us… for the time He blessed me and my friends with having our dear uncle cliff with us. For the lessons God used him to teach me… for the way God worked in mighty ways in and through my friend, even when he couldn’t see it. Thank you Lord for those times… thank you Lord for the memories, the precious memories that become all the more priceless in the knowledge that they now hold and represent this man that we loved so much… this man that You created, designed, used, and loved, deeply and passionately loved… this wee man from the streets of Belfast who became our friend, our brother, our family. Thank you, thank you Lord for Cliff. And please take good care of Him God… I miss him.

It’s just not ok… and it never has been

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2009 by Phil Alcorn

I was in the middle of a post to go here, and I had to stop. It just wasn’t coming across clearly, and I think I need time to process it some more before I go making any statements.

But for now, I will say this. I met with a friend tonight. And we were awoken to what we, the Christian church in the west, and particularly in Northern Ireland, have become. We, Christ’s followers, have become so afraid of offending people, even each other, that we won’t even do each other the loving service of calling each other up on behaviour that is unGodly and not right. Behaviour that I have witnessed so many times even over the past 2 weeks… behaviour and statements and speech and attitudes which are not only not promoting God’s kingdom here on earth, but actually paint Christ in a bad light! And I have taken part in these times, these failings. Even, even things as seemingly simple as struggling with our Bible study, prayer times, and so on, we will justify to each other with soothing statements like ‘It’s ok, everyone struggles with that’… which is true, but that doesn’t make it ok to just accept and go on with a mediocre attempt at reading and praying!

I mean, look at whats at stake!! Do we even believe the message we bring?? If we did, would we not fight for EVERY soul, for EVERY person we met who didn’t know Christ!? Would we not lovingly call each other to account on things we do which are not ok, which damage the kingdom?! Would we not laugh at the idea of remaining silent to adhere to ‘political correctness?! This life, these things are SERIOUS guys!! Yes, it’s ok to have struggles, and yes, we all have them… but it is NOT OK to sit back and use that as an excuse not to change!!! God is just WAITING to bless us if we would only wake up and hold each other accountable, wake up and realise that some things are worth fighting for, worth being ridiculed for, even worth putting friendships on the line for!!

I realise I have rambled on and said more than I intended to. Be assured, I will be thinking more on this issue and making a more coherant post sometime soon… because these things are NOT OK, and please dear God let us act on them even now!!

I leave you with one final thought that chilled me to my very core… chilled me because not only did hearing it out loud make me realise how awful and how big a danger this statement is, but also that I myself am guilty of it, even now… it is a statement my friend made to me this evening as we discussed things…

‘She told me that she genuinely feared that if, in 5 years time, she lost her faith, her Christian friends here in Northern Ireland wouldn’t even breach the issue with her for fear of being too controversial…’

Ponderings…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 17, 2009 by Phil Alcorn

So, check me out. I write to you now from my iPod, the first time I think I have officially done so… and part of me feels like the biggest need ever for having a blogging app on my iPod. It’s now been a little over two months since I last posted a draft… And while it seems like so much has happened, it also oddly feels like not much has happened at all…

It is three months, almost to the day, since Cliff’s funeral. A full quarter of a year. And part of me feels so disturbed by how UNdisturbed I sometimes am by that fact. Three months have gone by, and life has gone on with them. And I find myself wondering, am I any different?

The past three months have seen their own changes too. I now find myself with nothing left between me and graduation but two exams. And yes, occassionally I fear to have my four years at Queens defined by a single slip of paper I will receive at the end of it all… but that is a post for another day. For now, I find myself marvelling at how fast my time here has gone… All the things I always said I’d be around to doing, all the friends I have made, the people I have fallen out of touch with, the lessons I have learned and mistakes I have made… And it strikes me, I don’t think I’m ready for all that to be over. Much as I know the next chapter of my life is charging down upon me, I’m not ready to leave this chapter yet. I have too many things still to do, to many relationships still to invest in, too many goals to achieve…

But perhaps I’m just being naive… Let’s face it, even if the next chapter WEREN’T approaching fast, there are still opportunities it looks like I’m never going to get a chance at again…

A little of the past three weeks…

Posted in christianity, community, Foy Vance, friends, Queens, rain with tags , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2009 by Phil Alcorn

Three weeks ago, my friend was found dead in his living room. He was found by other friends of mine.

It was Valentines day. I had been out in Carrickfergus helping at an International Students event when I got the message. Standing outside the gates of Carrickfergus castle, I got the message that would change a part of me forever. At 14:22:09 on Saturday 14th February 2009, the message came in.

“Phil. Cliff is Dead.”

I called right back, not wanting to believe it. The chill had already taken a hold of me, and part of me knew it was true. The friend who sent me that message does not joke about such awful things.

The next hour or two were a blur. I wanted, of how I wanted to leave… but I had come on a bus full of International students… there was no way to get back to Belfast until the trip was over. I walked around the castle on the tour, half in a daze. The weather reflected my feelings – grey and cold… a fewspittles of rain coming down, almost as if the clouds weren’t sure what it was they were trying to do.

I remember phoning my Dad… it was my Nana’s birthday, I was meant to be going home for a birthday dinner. I didn’t go home… I went to my friends house once I got back to Belfast. She had been there, she had been one of the ones to find him. I went to see how she was… other friends came round. It was an alien day…

Cliff was my friend. Our birthdays were on the same day… only two days after the day he was found. He was only two days off his 55th birthday.

Cliff taught me so many lessons about life. Lessons about how to love, how to care… how to look out for others, how to laugh in spite of a situation… he shared my musical tastes, he taught me about humility and gentleness, he showed me that everyone has a story, and that everyone, EVERYONE, has worth. Cliff changed me. God used Cliff to change and guide me.

A good friend asked me a few days after that day how everything that had happened fit into my perception of hope. He said that my last serious blog post had been titled ‘Hope, still under examination‘. And it is, it is still under examination. Foy Vance sang a song called ‘Two shades of hope”, and in it he sings a line that I never really understood.

“Hope deals the hardest blows…”

It is the final track on an album titled ‘Hope’. At the time I heard it, I thought I had an idea what he was getting at… but it wasnt until the past few weeks when I think it has really hit home. There were so many things I hoped for, so many things I still hope for. I hoped that one day, Cliff would trust in God to save him. I hoped he would do his body a favour and lay off the drink and the fags. I had hoped to share our birthdays together in celebration, to sing elvis songs with him again loudly and badly. I had hoped he could come to church with me some day, and maybe even help me out in a talk for the youth. I hope that, one day, I will see him again in heaven. I hope that his family will be comforted during this time and the times to come. I hope Cliffs memory and his story will inspire those who knew him to be ever more loving and caring to those they meet, and will even inspire those who never met him.

And I think Foy is right. By itself, hope can deal the hardest blows. I can hope for these things, but during the initial stages after Cliffs death, I was struggling under the uncertainty of it all. I mean, the very definition of hope implies that the outcome is ultimately unknown. And I didn’t know how to face that… how to face the prospect that despite all my hopes, they may never come to fruition. I mean, some of them haven’t come to fruition. I never got to share my birthday party with Cliff. I never got to sing Elvis with him again. He never did give up on the booze or the fags…

But is this where I have made my mistake? In focusing on hope, have I lost focus on the other two remaining graces? Faith, and love? If I had true love, would I not have made more of an effort to do everything in my power to reunite Cliff with his maker? If I had true love, would I not understand that God’s decisions are perfectly just, and that events that happen on this earth will be used in perfect love to help us grow, learn, and come closer to our Father? If I had true faith, would I not be able to hope without the need for clarification, without the need for certainty?

Even things like the news last night, that an attack was made on an army base in Antrim, resulting in the death of 2 soldiers and serious injury of others including civilians. The real IRA have claimed responsibility, and the gunmen went so far as to fire at the downed victims even as they lay on the ground. Talking to friends, many of them are fearful that it will spark a return to the ‘old days’, that retaliation will spark retaliation and it will all become out of hand once more. Is the hope that our country could have peace enough?

God has been teaching me a lot recently. I believe He has more in store for our wee country than we expect. And I believe that whatever happens, God is not done with us yet. And after the past few weeks, I know that this hope is enough for me. This hope IS enough, because I know that despite the terrible things that go on around us, God is good. I have faith that although I never understand WHY things happen the way they happen, that God still loves us, and loves us perfectly. And so I will try and learn from His love. I will hold onto the lessons He is teaching me, and hold onto the lessons He used Cliff to teach me. And I will hold onto the hope that I will see my friend Cliff once more.

Cliff was a special friend. He grew up in a ‘church family’. He became a Christian as a younger man, and became heavily involved in his church. When I met him, he was living on the streets, was addicted to alcohol and ciggarettes, and never revealed to me that he had ever at any stage made any sort of committment to God. But this wee Belfast man taught me truths about love and care and humility, and even God, that I will never forget. I miss you, Cliff. And I love you. And I hope that one day, we will sing again together in the company of our Father. I will wait for that day, our Kid… have your best singing voice ready…

Brief plug…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 7, 2009 by Phil Alcorn

Not something I commonly go in for, plugs, but I believe this merits some attention…

Some of you may know that amateur photography is a hobby of mine… and there are a few people whose work has inspired me immensely as I muck around with my own photo-taking. A friend of mine, and fellow blogger, Connor, is one of those people. Personally speaking, I find his work outstanding, and seeing as he has just released a new photo book of photographs of his travels from around the world, I thought I’d give him a wee plug. There are some stunning shots contained within, and if you’re a coffee-table photo book kinda person (or even if your aren’t!) you should definitely check it out…

As an additional point, he does photoshoot sessions (portraits, family portraits, engagement shoots etc…) – check out his work on his website.

Hope, still under examination…

Posted in christianity, confused with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2009 by Phil Alcorn

I’m never really sure how to start. I’m almost certain I have said this before, most likely many times. However, I’m also tired enough right now that I’m not going to bother going back to check. But it is true, I’m never really sure how to start off one of these blog posts…

Billy Connelly has the same problem, seemingly. He says the middle of the show is fine, whatever happens happens, but the start… the start is much harder to work out. Dylan Moran is the same, to name one of my absolute favourite comedians… within the first four minutes of his quite epic stand up show ‘Monster’, he tells us that he never really spends a great deal of time on ‘hello’. It’s one of those portals of conversation, he says, that people get very freaked out about… because you can use ‘hello’, and then you’re on your own. You have started something, you have engaged in dialogue in some way with another person, and you are now expected to make their attention worthwhile…

But alas, I am becoming side-tracked… although I am rather glad that I have now succesfully, with the aid of that little anecdote, managed to begin this post. We are now past the start… the pressure has lifted a little…

Now, looking back, it is now approaching four months since I last posted anything on this blog of mine. In that time, I have written two drafts which have gone unpublished. In the seven months PRIOR to my last post, I made a measly ten posts (if memory serves me correctly). I also believe that it was within that seven month period, although I could be wrong, that I undertook a slight blog redesign, giving it the title ‘Hope’ and changing the general layout. ‘Chasing the light’, looking back, actually held deeper meaning for me at that time (and still does) than I think I realised even then… even the site redesign of a much darker background and a picture of lights in the night seem to resemble the journey I was embarking on, a journey through dispair and pain, a journey chasing after the light in the distance…

I am aware that sounds perhaps a little overdramatic… but when I think about it, where I have come over the past year, where I have visited on this journet, I have been to some pretty dark places… places within myself, where at times I very nearly lost hope. I’m not saying that what I went through was more serious than any of the struggles faced by any amount of people on a daily basis… I am well aware that there or people out there who have dealt with and daily deal with problems far greater than were I have been… but still, suffering is all too real for the one experiencing it…
And some of you reading this may have noticed this in me when we interacted in the non-cyber world in the past year… and again, some of you may not. But hopehope has been an idea that has been driving me for a long time now. Even in the times when I feel like I nearly lost it, it was still shining its light for me to follow, to chase, to pursue…

This post is not about what happened to me over the course of a year. It’s amazing just how much can happen in just one year… things have happened in the the past 12 months that have been absolutely awe-inspiring, total high times… and there have been things that have been pretty low. And throughout everything, throughout the times of light and the times of dark, the shining hope has never gone away. Sometimes I wandered away from it, and it took other people to point me back in the right direction… some people have done that for me more times than they can know… almost like they were my ‘spiritual sat-nav’, though I doubt I have ever truely told them just how much they have meant to me…

That kinda got away from me a bit… but I will leave it in. Some things never change, and I still don’t like deleting parts of posts… it just doesnt fit my haphazard style! Anyways, like I said, hope has been a subject under a lot of examination by me over the past while. Even when I didnt realise it, the subject of hope was still invading my life, still turing up in the oddest places, in the most subtle of ways… and in doing so, it has made me think all the more about my own journey toward hope… about what hope truely means, at least for me. You see, hope is defined as confident expectation in the Encyclopedia Britannica. But, isn’t it the nature of all things to have an opposite? Light and dark. Black and white. Faith and doubt. Love and hate (or is it apathy?). Hope… and despair. But then, is dark truly an opposite of light, or merely a absence thereof? Is black an absence of white? Doubt an absence of faith? (with love, we perhaps are not sure whether apathy or hatred fits the bill here, but that is a question for another time). And so, is despair not an absence of hope?

Two days ago, a good friend of mine introduced me to ‘thunks’. Seemingly they are questions which on the surface seem ordinary, trivial… but questions which, when thought about, can make you stop in your tracks and really ponder. Now, that is probably a horrible definition, seeing as I’m going from memory, but you get the general idea… Anyway, it was from this discussion on thunks that she sprung me with a question that has been circling my mind for a long time now: ‘To understand happyness, do we need to have experienced sadness?”

That question, or one very similar, has not only been on my mind for a long time, it has also been infiltrating my life in ways I never expected. Allow me to explain…

Heroes is a television show I fell in love with as soon as I started watching it. It is the secret (or not so secret) dream of every guy, I reckon, to be the hero… every childs secret wish to have superpowers of one sort or another. I mean, think about it… from when we were no age, we have grown up with the teaching that there are heroes and villains. The comic books we read when we were younger, the childrens stories we were told as we headed off to sleep… the TV shows we grew up watching, the movies we went to see, even the stories we were taught in Sunday School (if we went) taught us there were heroes and there were villains (though I find it interesting how in children’s accounts of bible stories, we never hear about the darker side of our heroes lives… with the exception of Jesus, every other bible character has a history we never seem to be told in Sunday School – David is a prime example!). Movies like Aladdin, The Lion King, Fern Gully… TV shows like Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Transformers, Thundercats, Bucky O’Hare… Comic book heroes like Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman… all these things taught us there were people who were good, and people who were bad. It was so clear, so black and white, so easy to understand… it wasn’t until we started growing up that we saw all the different shades of grey colouring our world. One of the first places it became evident for me was actually within myself… knowing what is good, and what is bad, and feeling this intense struggle, this intense battle between the two fighting within… the battle between good and evil, light and dark… black and white… and, inevitably, my actions came out grey. Sometimes I was good, and often I was bad… contrary to what media had taught me in my youth, I was neither a hero of justice nor a supervillain… I was caught annoyingly between the two. Neither hot nor cold… lukewarm, one of the very things the church in revelation was rebuked for…

Now, back to Heroes. Although a truely fantastic show, it too fell into the stereotype in its first two seasons. By the end of season one, we had seen two main characters develop and emerge into the world. One, the hero – standing for justice against all odds, a heart full of love (even his power is based off his ability to empathise with people), overcoming personal doubts and pain to stand for what is right and good and to defend his fellow man. The other, the villain. A character of true malice, of evil, acting out of a thirst for power and significance in the world around him… Light, and dark. Black, and white.

Jump forward to season two, and although situations have changed, the premise remains the same. Our villain, although now powerless, is still exploiting those around him, still murdering, still hunting to regain his power, his significance. Our hero, although technically fighting on the wrong side for a while, is still following after the cause of good, the pursuit of justice. And even then when he is helping the wrong side, it is because he has been tricked into doing so – still believing he is fighting on the side of good, of the side of the light. Yes, Heroes was at this stage still following along to the media status quo.

Jump forward once more, and we are in season three. At the time of writing this post, we are actually only halfway through the season, but the point I hope to make from it is clear from the first few episodes. To avoid spoiling any more of this fantastic series than I already have for those who have yet to see it, I will say only one thing about season 3… the lines become blurred. Black and white becomes a very realistic shade of grey… characters discover within themselves a disturbing truth, one which actually became the title of one of the episodes of the season… they discovered within themselves a duality. The potential for good, and for evil. The ability within themselves to perform acts of utmost heroism, and utmost evil. Essentially, our heroes and villains became humanised… we finally saw in these characters lives the truth which lies in each of us – we are grey.

And when I saw this happening in Heroes, it genuinely shocked me… I loved it, absolutely loved it, but it did shock me… that this theme of duality, of light and dark, ofhope and dispair had followed me all the way to one of my favourite TV programs! And it is still following me, coming up again in the conversation with my friend which I already mentioned… and so to return to that conversation, I now pose that question to you. To understand happyness, to we need to have experienced sadness? To understand hope… to we need to have experienced despair?

There is so much more I would like to say on the topic… I really clould go on and on, listing more examples from my life and friends lives which centre around this very question… but I’m not going to. This is already turning into one of, if not THE longest post of this type I have ever written on here. So instead, I shall finish with, in the way of Jerry Springer, a final thought. I mean, with all this thinking on hope, you also have to ask what the point is. What I mean is, you have to ask what the point is in thinking about hope to begin with… I like to believe hope still has a large part to play in this world. With the world in the state it’s in, with so much of the worlds population below the poverty line, the economic crash, the war in Israel and Gaza… I firmly believe that hope, the hope that Christ preached, can make a difference in the world today. But for those of us who try to help show that hope, perhaps this question that has come up for me time and again is even more significant than we thought. Surely to help people, we need to see things from where they are. To help people, dont we need to stand with them, in the onslaught of fear and pain and despair? To point them in the direction of hope, don’t we need to understand where they are? To truely appreciate all that hope is and what it can do… don’t we need to understand how far it brings us?

For now, I am going to sleep… it is very very late at night right now. But, please, do ponder that with me… and please, do share your thoughts.