Freeing up peace impasse with WD-40

David Stevens Memorial Lecture and Presentation of CRC Award for Exceptional Achievement, Parliament Buildings, Belfast, Northern Ireland. @NI_CRC #CRWeek15
David Stevens Memorial Lecture and Presentation of CRC Award for Exceptional Achievement, Parliament Buildings, Belfast, Northern Ireland. @NI_CRC #CRWeek15

Freeing up peace impasse with WD-40:
The David Stevens Memorial Lecture by Rev. Harold Good
by Allan Leonard for Northern Ireland Foundation
1 October 2015

At the third annual David Stevens Memorial Lecture, the Rev. Harold Good used a physical metaphor of a tin of WD-40 lubricant to illustrate the need to ‘unlock and free up the mechanisms’ of peace building.

The Chief Executive of the Community Relations Council, Ms Jacqueline Irwin, introduced Rev. Good by reviewing the life of Mr David Stevens, who was a founder member of the Council.

Mr Stevens was also General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches, and also served as Spiritual Director and Chief Executive of the Corrymeela Community.

Ms Irwin said that Mr Stevens valued reflection, and cited a positive role that churches have in the voluntary sector: “Churches have a tradition of moral and social care [in our community]. There are bright spots.”

Mr Colin Craig then gave a tribute, explaining Mr Steven’s appreciation of going beyond mutual tolerance of one another, to where community is where one can feel that they belong, not just tolerated.

“What can we do today that will make a difference, so that drip-by-drip we can get to reconciliation?” Mr Craig asked the audience.

Rev. Good immediately paid homage to Mr Stevens, describing him as “a pilgrim”: “It is up to us to continue with the journey.”

Having taken off his tie, joining the rest of us appreciating the fine, sunny afternoon, Rev. Good then produced a tin of WD-40, mooting: “How do we break the impasse?”

He suggested proceeding with uncomfortable conversations, holding up a book with a title of the same two words:

“Only through conversations can we hear, understand and challenge. It was conversation that brought us to where we are [the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and beyond]. We need to put on the table that which we find uncomfortable.

“We need to be strong enough to have uncomfortable conversations,” said Rev. Good.

He added that such conversations must be had not only by our politicians, “but also in our golf clubs and churches”.

So what can we bring distinctively to the conversation?

“Your story,” he answered.

Rev. Good then suggested three words to help free up the conversation:

  1. Confession (Honesty)
  2. Grace (Generosity)
  3. Forgiveness

Confession (secular alternative: Honesty). Rev. Good made the observation the whole world is more comfortable living in denial than dealing with honesty: “We hide behind our irreconcilable narratives.”

He proposed a Day of Acknowledgement, with the purpose of identifying with each other, as a kind of “spirited WD-40”.

Grace (secular alternative: Generosity). Rev. Good noted that many that were unhappy with the early release of prisoners (as part of the Good Friday Agreement) were from the churches.

But Rev. Good explained that the scheme wasn’t about justice, but allowing all to be part of a new beginning, “whether you deem them worthy or not”.

Forgiveness (no secular alternative!). Rev. Good recalled when asked what is forgiveness,  the Dalai Lama replied, “Who knows what forgiveness is?” Rev. Good thought that perhaps only those who have forgiven and have been forgiven.

Here, he recommended the film, “A Step Too Far”.

Rev. Good concluded by saying that “to unlock the rusty mechanisms” to deal with the past, we need more than laws and legislation, quoting Nelson Mandela: “Reconciliation has to happen in the hearts and minds of people.”

“You can’t get a change of heart in a spray can,” said Rev. Good.

Allan Leonard is a board member of the Community Relations Council.

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