In my spare time I like to listen to popular music and occasionally still go to the odd ‘rock concert.’ Recently I was at the SSE Hydro to see Take That and I was recounting my concert experiences to one of our Elders who was explaining that after a Coldplay gig he’d been at (who would have taken him for a fan of Chris Martin, I thought to myself), one of our members had tapped him on the shoulder at Church and asked him if he’d enjoyed the gig. He’d been spotted in the crowd!
Standing outside the Hydro entrance waiting to go through security, I was reflecting on how things have changed since my early days at the Apollo Theatre in my adolescence. Venues are bigger, merchandising is more expensive, and security is ever present. Then of course in a matter of 8 days we had the tragic events at a rock concert in Manchester arena. The shock and horror of that incident is still hard to comprehend. This tragedy was then followed by another tragedy on London Bridge and the surrounding area. Soon after we saw armed police on our own streets in the city centre, and we began to wonder where this hatred comes from, question when it will end and try to work out how we should feel and respond.
In that personal process I have been journeying back to an event I attended at Bishopbriggs Academy on 26th January. Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is the charity established by the Government to run such events in order that communities may learn lessons from the past and create a safer, better future.
Surely we need to do that with an even greater urgency now. One of the speakers was Umutesi Stewart who was born near the small city of Gisenyi, Rwanda in 1984. When genocide engulfed her country in 1994 she fled her home with her mother, brother and two younger sisters. She spent the next four years on a dangerous march for survival through the jungles of Congo, during which time her mother and brother were murdered. She said, in a clear message of hope, “We should not be slaves of our past but learn from it to shape a better future.” Despite a tragic early life which has undoubtedly shaped the woman she is now, she has chosen to define those experiences in a fresh light. She has worked in Northern Ireland with groups from the Shankhill and Ardoyne areas of Belfast to promote peace and reconciliation. She is currently working on her autobiography to inspire and give hope to others by showing them that life can go on, no matter how desperate and dark things may seem. Love is stronger than hatred. Life conquers death. Light chases away the darkness. Jesus has shown us the way to happiness and that pathway is humility.
In these desperate, dark and uncertain times, that gives me hope too. May it be so for you too