Archive for hope

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…

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.