Bad Things, Good People


As a massive Ulster Rugby fan, I was devastated to get a text from a friend on Saturday evening to tell me the tragic news about Nevin Spence and his family. Nevin was an incredible talent to watch and was destined to be a regular fixture in the Irish midfield in the next few years once the old guard of O’Driscoll and D’arcy retired.  Sadly now he’ll never get to pull on the green jersey and represent his country at senior level after the events that took his life as well as that of his father and brother.

There has been a lot of talk in the press about Nevin’s faith and it was no secret that he was a Christian with a personal faith in God, as this article in the Irish Times from last year demonstrates:

“Listen, I’m making as many mistakes as you or anybody in the street, I suppose I just have to hold up my hands about it. I’m not perfect, I don’t want to be put on a pedestal as I know my own limitations.”

Like his team-mates, Spence grew up in a Christian home, but at school started to challenge the faith he had been brought up in.

“I don’t think it’s too unusual. I suppose I went off the rails, I don’t mean I was into drugs or anything like that, but I turned my back on Christianity, but something was always pulling me back.”

Spence still lives in rural Northern Ireland, in a small town where he goes to church twice a week and everybody knows his background. Yet, he is unwilling to give talks just yet.  He stresses that this isn’t due to shame, but simply because he is still learning a lot about his faith himself. Spence never believed he could be a professional rugby player until late in school, and is delighted that he can be a Christian in his chosen profession.

“The Ulster team is a great place to be a Christian. It’s funny, Paul Marshall and I would help each other at training, if we catch each other swearing or whatever, it’s just good to know we’re looking out for each other.  There’s a group of 30 lads here, and the banter won’t change amongst us, nor would I want it to. There’s no divide amongst the Christians and the non-Christians. For me the Bible is about actions speaking louder than words. I’ve just got to be careful my Mum doesn’t catch me swearing on TV again.”

In a country where religion has been the cause rather than the solution for many problems, this special group of Ulster rugby players are determined to keep using their own brand of muscular Christianity at Ravenhill as long as their careers endure.’

And we are left to wonder why? It is the question in all of our minds, if not on our lips. Why such senseless waste of human life? Why do 3 men from one family die in such a tragic accident? Why do 3 people who trust God end up dying in a slurry tank? Why do bad things happen to good people?

I don’t think any of us can answer that … we simply don’t know why.

But we know a few things which perhaps it’s good to remind ourselves of at a time like this, when so many people are asking the same “why” questions:

  • Accidents happen in this messed up world and none of us are immune. The Bible even tells us that we will go through hard times … “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows, but take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.
  • Life is precious – “Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise.” Psalm 90:12.
  • We can turn to God in the midst of our confusion and shock and horror. He can deal with our sense of outrage, injustice, bewilderment. He gave His only Son to die a horrible, shocking death when He was still a young man. When Jesus gave His life, when He suffered, He was bearing our pain as well as our sin. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering” Isaiah 53:4.

So we shouldn’t turn on God and run away from Him in our sense of horror at what has happened. We should run TO God because He can handle all of our questions, our tears, our anger. There is nowhere else to run to, but this is not the final word. One day God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.” Revelation 21:4.

Meanwhile, until then … let’s run to God with all that distresses us because we know that when your world comes crashing down and your dreams get shattered, His purpose still remains.


The Greatest Ever?


It’s a question that will raise all sorts of debates and arguments but Lionel Messi has become Barcelona’s all-time leading goal scorer with 234 goals … at the age of 24 … but is he the best player of all time?

There’s an argument that it’s impossible to compare him to the likes of Pelé, Cruyff, Maradona and Best because football has changed so much with the professional era, but regardless of era, his tally of goals is still staggering, averaging 2.8 goals per game.

He has won every domestic honour possible with Barcelona, who are close to being the greatest club side of all time, but he is still missing a World Cup winners medal with his beloved Argentina.

Can he really be classed as the greatest when he hasn’t achieved the greatest honour in the game?


The Curse Of The Ten

So the All Blacks finally put their 24 year old ghosts to bed and won the Rugby World Cup for the second time in their history, but it was far from simple as many, including myself, would have thought.  They won the game 8 – 7 with the winning kick coming from Stephen Donald, their fourth-choice fly half who wasn’t even included in the initial World Cup squad.

With Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden all suffering from the injury jinx, there’s one thing for sure, I wouldn’t want to be the next player to pull on the All Black number 10 jersey.  I can’t think of any other instances in rugby where it has felt like a jersey is cursed, but know from being a Liverpool fan that it has happened mostly with the Anfield number 7 shirt, with less than 50% of players wearing it, performing well:

Kevin Keegan; Kenny Dalglish; Nigel Spackman; John Aldridge; Peter Beardsley; David Speedie; Dean Saunders; Nigel Clough; Steve McManaman; Vladimir Smicer; Harry Kewell; Robbie Keane; Luis Suárez

Regardless of their injury jinx, the All Blacks fully deserved to lift the Webb Ellis trophy, going undefeated and scoring 301 points in seven matches, cementing their position as the best rugby playing nation on the planet.


That Day In September

“I don’t believe I had witnessed the wrath of anyone’s God that morning. What I had been a witness to when I looked up at those burning towers was the ultimate evil that man is capable of. The evidence of just how deep hatred could run, how far it could go.

But I had also been a witness to something else that day – down on the ground. I witnessed the ultimate goodness of man, the evidence of how strong courage could be, to what lengths it would go. I believe God was in the hands of everyone who reached out to someone else. He was in the arms of people on the streets as they embraced one another. He was in the tears of strangers who cried together. He was in all the lives that were given in the line of duty, in the acts of heroism. He was in the hearts of the people across the country who, as they watched the horror from afar, felt compassion.”

Extract from Artie Van Why’s book “That Day In September”

Writing The Right Headlines

So it’s official … Northern Ireland currently produces some of the greatest golfers in the world.  I’ve never been a huge golf fan … really only ever watching the majors when they came about, but the past few weeks have had me glued to it.

In mid-June, Rory McIlroy bounced back from the disappointment of the US Masters, stunning the golfing world with a masterclass at the US Open where he finished eight shots clear and broke numerous records in the process.  It granted Northern Ireland status as one of very few countries to have back-to-back US Open champions, not bad for a country with a population of 1.8 million.

Fast forward four weeks and the British Open provided Northern Ireland with an even prouder moment when Darren Clarke held his nerve and clinched the title of 2011 Open Champion, making him the third golf major winner from Northern Ireland in 15 months … a truly remarkable achievement.

Twitter was buzzing with the news and one tweet summed it up perfectly…

It’s hard to explain what Darren’s win means to Northern Ireland . It’s not just about golf it’s about beating the odds. We are good at that.

@EamonnHolmes on Twitter

Sadly sandwiched between these two great sporting achievements was another glimpse of everything that is so badly wrong with things in Northern Ireland.  The annual Twelfth parades caused a number of nights of rioting at flashpoints across the province causing numerous injuries to police officers and innocent people caught up in the senseless violence.

When are these stories finally going to be written out of our newspapers and replaced with stories of hope?


Only Love

May 1st 2011 will undoubtedly be another one of those days in history where you remember where you where and what you were doing when you heard the news … the news that after almost 20 elusive years, Osama bin Laden had been found and killed by US Special Forces in Pakistan.

Obviously the outpouring of joy from Americans was clear to see when a crowd formed at the White House chanting “USA, USA, USA!” while others were interviewed on camera using words like payback, revenge, score-settled and karma.

To be honest I find it hard to celebrate death … it sounds like an oxymoron and it feels wrong … even if it is the death of the most evil man in recent history. Maybe it would be different if I was an American citizen or had a more personal connection the events of 9/11 but from where I stand it’s difficult to know what to feel and how to react.

Part of the following quotation has been trending globally on Twitter for the last few hours so I thought I’d post the full thing here …

‎”I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

What is the right response?


Gracias por todo El Niño

I’m not going to pretend that I’m not gutted about this … because I am … majorly … but the deal has been done and Fernando Torres is now a Chelsea player … with around £50 million coming back in return.

Torres was genuinely the first world class player that Liverpool have signed in a very long time and I can remember queuing to get his name printed on my shirt on the day we signed him back in 2007 … I queued so long that I was actually late for work!   You couldn’t argue with his record of 81 goals in 142 games and when he was on fire he was unstoppable.

The problems started with his persistent injuries and the frustration that came out of that … then came the lack of domestic silverware when he has tasted World Cup victory with Spain and the final nail in the coffin … the abysmal start to the current season which leaves us out of every domestic cup, not in Europe and not going to qualify for any European competition next season.

In all honesty I can’t blame him for wanting to leave … his heart wasn’t in it and he wants to win things and he no doubt will with Chelsea but a part of me still feels that Andy Carroll has a very big number 9 shirt to fill … only time will tell!


“Used To Believe In God…”

I used to believe in God. The Christian one that is.

I loved Jesus. He was my hero. More than pop stars. More than footballers. More than God. God was by definition omnipotent and perfect. Jesus was a man. He had to work at it. He had temptation but defeated sin. He had integrity and courage. But He was my hero because He was kind. And He was kind to everyone. He didn’t bow to peer pressure or tyranny or cruelty. He didn’t care who you were. He loved you. What a guy. I wanted to be just like Him.

– Ricky Gervais –

Found this pretty interesting blog post over at supersimbo.  In it Ricky Gervais admits he is now an atheist but opens up about his past and how he was brought up by his mother to believe in God thinking that it would keep him out of trouble.

Check out the full ‘Holiday Message’ here.

H/T Ragamuffin Soul & supersimbo