I was born in 1994 in Nairobi Kenya. Two Northern Irish missionaries who were living in Nairobi adopted me. I came to Northern Ireland with my sister and my parents in the 1990s. I grew up in peacetime, I do not remember a time of inter-communal violence, I do not remember bombs but the mark of those years of trouble has left its impression on all those I love and adore.
Northern Ireland is a country marked by extremes. Extreme levels of kindness, humour and courage, yet the extremes of hate, bitterness, anger, and fear can be felt and seen all around us.
I live in Downpatrick and on my street we are Catholic, Protestant, Agnostic, Muslim, Republican, Arab, Romanian and many more. We live in peace, we lend each other tools, we help each other in need, we look out for the elderly and we try to live well together. This is the world my grandparents spoke to me about as a child when they lived off the Oldpark Road in the early sixties. They spoke of a time where Protestant, Catholic, Jew and Gentile lived together in peace and without fear.
Yet there is great brokenness in our midst. The legacy of trauma, tragedy and fear can be felt and seen around us. Though the guns are largely silent, the cries for justice ring loud. It is my sense that the work of my generation is to discern what is ours to let go of and what is ours to let carry forward. For those things we discern we must carry, we must ask ourselves… how can we carry these things differently to our parents and previous generations?
The Good Friday Agreement, to me, means a resetting of the parameters of inter-communal relationships. Our relationships today are bound by consent- not domination, respect rather than revenge and inclusivity rather than exclusion. Thich Nhat Hanh writes that the… “the work of the West is relationship”. The work of Good Friday Agreement is not merely set out in the 36 pages and various addendums but it is the invitation for us to lean into another way of relating to each other. The work of Good Friday and the spirit of the agreement for me, is the invitation of the Holy Spirit to… beat our swords into ploughshares… to love our neighbour as ourselves, knowing that … the rain falls on the just as well as the unjust. It is the invitation to work and walk with wisdom and justice and to know that “a further shore is reachable from here”.
My Good Friday meditation is to imagine what the next 25 years could be for my daughter.
Many people voted for the agreement, not because they liked it, but because they wanted their children to grow up in peace. Now we have peace, we must ask how then can we live well together, for we all live under the mercy of God.
John McGrath is a solicitor in a leading commercial law firm. He is deeply committed to the restorative justice tradition, and to dialoguing across faith and cultural boundaries. He is a Board member of Contemporary Christianity.
This article is part of a series marking 25 years since the Belfast Agreement/Good Friday Agreement that was signed on 10th April 1998. To view other articles that relate to the Agreement, please click here.
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.