How Can We Give a Voice to Incoherent Rage?

I was at Skainos last Thursday night for the “Listening to Your Enemies” event, part of the 4 Corners Festival. There were many profound moments, which others have blogged about effectively elsewhere (links below)

Let me put on record a couple of things which occur to me. First, I was deeply impressed that so many people, unfamiliar with the area and unaccustomed to protest, who walked through the demonstration to attend the meeting. Second, there were more people inside the building than outside. Third, at least as profound as anything said on the platform were the stories shared from the floor, and all were sensitively and gently handled by Lesley Carroll, the Chair. Fourth, I am passionately committed to these kind of events and to the process of listening to those with whom we disagree.

So why am I still uneasy?

Perhaps one reason is that whilst by some measures the event was a success it was not good for the community of Inner East Belfast. It wasn’t good because of the media coverage, it wasn’t good because of the violence and threatening behavior, it wasn’t good because it stirred up tensions and enmity which, whilst it is always there, managed to burst through the thin crust of civility last Thursday.

And for what?

One local resident said to me, and it cut because she has a point, that I, and many of those who attended, don’t have to live with the consequences of the event. I can leave with the memory of a stirring occasion and a great story to tell. Don’t get me wrong, it took courage to come to Skainos for many who attended. Real courage. Their attendance is significant. But what can be done to ensure that events like these don’t simply become another type of troubles tourism?

The other thing for me is that in a sense Thursday night was easy to attend. The two speakers were articulate and thoughtful. They had considered stories to recount and did so eloquently. Even the things which were difficult to hear were told coherently.

After they had left the building I accompanied Dr John Kyle across the road to the protesters, to inform them that the event was over. I was there simply as wingman for John, who bravely sought to engage those outside the Bethany. The anger he encountered was vivid, real and deep. It was so deep as to be incoherent. There was nothing that was easy to hear, and not a thing said in a considered or intelligible way.

I found myself wondering about that. What would the meeting inside the building have been like if the protesters had the stage? And how many of those who were inside would have attended such an event?

And this is the crux I think. Those outside have no advocates that we can hear or understand. They have no voice other than incoherent rage. They are the least respectable aspect of our community because they don’t conform to the social norms.

I’m primarily a theologian who tries to think theologically about what I encounter. I’ve written about this form of advocacy before on this blog. Of how in Exodus chp 1 an enslaved people speak only in incoherent groans and who are acted up0n by the powerful who are the only ones with a voice in the narrative. And it is their groans that God hears.

It strikes me that if our Gospel calling is to give a voice to the voiceless then it means not just attending events like ‘Listening to Your Enemy’ but also to finding ways of listening to the protesters.

But it might mean even more, and that is actually standing with them to help them find a voice, or maybe even being that voice in what is currently a wilderness.

Dave Magee

Gladys Ganiel

Steve Stockman

Gary Mason

9 thoughts on “How Can We Give a Voice to Incoherent Rage?

  1. Thank you Glenn for this thoughtful reflection on the reality of an enraged people last Thursday night outside Kainos (and on other occasions elsewhere in past times). The causes of the rage, the rightness or wrongness of their position, all these are judgemental issues which have no place compared to the infinite, unconditional love and mercy of God towards his people. Yes, the mob enraged and voiceless ARE His people and your reference to Exodus is timely for us who profess to be believers. Thank you for engaging with their “incoherent groans” and your invitation to people (all of us) to stand forward and attempt to articulate their sense of enslavement and lead these voiceless people to a better place. For it is liberation from that sense of enslavement which will ultimately set us all free.

  2. This is a very timely word. It is very easy for us from the leafy suburbs to be affronted by the behaviour of the incoherent mob, but as our Methodist President Heather Morris said on Sunday night at a Lisburn circuit service, each one of that mob is also a beloved child in Christ. We don’t live in that region of East Belfast and it can be very hard for us to understand the mind-set of those opposing what appears to us to be perfectly reasonable. Our reaction tends to be “Stand up for what you believe in” which is well and good, but the “incoherent mob” is also standing up for what it believes in. It requires a lot of careful and nuanced diplomacy to bring these two sides together – something that Rev Gary Mason and his team at East Belfast Mission have been trying to do for many years, usually quietly and away from the media spotlight. I have no easy answer to the current situation, apart from suggesting restraint in our knee-jerk reactions (and I include myself!) and asking for prayer for all those who are quietly and determinedly working away behind the scenes to lower tensions and bring about better understanding amongst those with widely differing points of view.

  3. Glenn, thank you for this honest, thoughtful and courageous commentary, it gives us all deep food for thought.

  4. Thanks Glenn – and all those involved – unfortunately I couldn’t attend but want to support the brave (and risky) step taken by you and your Skainos team to have peoples’ stories told – and heard – despite (especially!) when they are difficult to relate (and perhaps even harder to listen to)

  5. This is a helpfully thought-stirring reflection on the Listening to your Enemies event,especially in relation to those fellow citizens who chose to protest outside with incoherently angry voices. Thanks for sharing.
    A couple of thoughts: First, the reference to the Exodus account of an enslaved people’s incoherent groanings prompts a question about the identity of the oppressing pharaoh in this context. Second,it’s my impression that our Northern Irish voices are often incoherent, even when not angry.

  6. Thanks all for the comments and the challenge. Good question Denis.

    Think I would look at the Pharoah as any person, institution etc who has the power to shape the dominant story or control the message. What do you think?

  7. I will be completely honest and say that some of those voices are the same voices that cry out the loudest when a flag isn’t flown or a perceived ‘right’ is infringed or a decades old issue they want to hear about isn’t being heard. To be frank it is not always a good thing to give those voices much space as they suck up reasoned thought and restraint like a worm-hole for the psyche. Just a few of these voices can turn a protest into an angry mob. So my question is why bother trying to reason with someone who is completely outside of reason. I believe we should sincerely love them but that doesn’t mean you give oxygen to fan flames of hatred. So let’s concentrate on sidelining them and by constantly going around them and still engaging with their children and offering our help in as many ways as we can, even to to point of sacrifice, we can hope to slowly slowly wear down their resistance and their numbers.
    One of the main differences between the few really angry voices and the Hebrews under Pharaoh is that these people are not living in a world of oppression that invades every aspect of their lives. They live in a pretty free and tolerant society
    I am sorry if I offend some people it is not my intention.

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