by Keith Thomasson
from Signs of the Times No. 71 - Oct 2018

This CD is part of a series of interviews with leading Christian thinkers and activists such as Jean Vanier and Timothy Radcliffe.

I shall be reviewing the other interviews too. It would be fruitful to hear an increasingly diverse range of people be interviewed.

I have listened several times and read the booklet too. Both are well-produced and complementary. The booklet would be improved by having chapter markings that corresponded with the CD tracks.

The interview has an extemporary feel, yet I imagine the conversation was well planned. It is akin to radio at its best, yet makes up for something that rarely happens on air, namely an extended interview with a theologian. The quality has captured my interest similarly to that of Melvin Bragg’s TVinterview with Dennis Potter, ‘Seeing the Blossom’.

Padraig O’Tuama, a self-declared ecumenist rooted in Irish Roman Catholicism, is one of two people who share leadership within the Corrymeela community in Northern Ireland. On hearing this information, I wanted to hear more of how such a leadership model could be fruitful for para-church organizations.

Padraig is a poet and theologian and combines the two skills. He recently gave a presentation at the inaugural Church Times Festival of Poetry at Sarum College. Here he is in conversation with Raymond Friel, a published Scottish poet and experienced leader within Roman Catholic education, and a dynamic and insightful interviewer.

Padraig is invited to explore leadership in the midst of conflict, and he is deeply influenced by the Jesus of the Gospels. Padraig reflects on the challenges of being Christian and gay. He movingly recounts his experience in story and poetry. The interview is punctuated by Padraig reading several his own beautiful and searching poems. Padraig also brings an interesting perspective on leadership as he is a leader who is lay.

Padraig’s exploration of the tension between Jesus’ ministry and the institutional church that has developed subsequently, is captured by the words ‘creativity’ and ‘chaos’. This could have been enriched through a connection with ‘emergence’ and the writings of Tim Harle.

I shall explore three strands of the conversation that have touched me.

First, I valued Padraig’s comments on Gesture as Leadership. He referred to the handshake between Queen Elizabeth and Martin McGuiness. He captures this in his poem, ‘Shaking Hands’ which begins with the pertinent question, ‘Because what’s the alternative?’

This has encouraged me to return to earlier reading on ‘embodied leadership’ by authors such as Amanda Sinclair, and to think further how gesture can help address conflict, bring healing and go beyond ‘yet more words’. Further, as part of my work with adults with learning disabilities, I am becoming increasingly open to the place of gesture within our common life. I wonder how I can incorporate gesture into my communication?

Second, I heard and read during Lent Padraig’s ideas around Jesus’ suffering. This enabled me to embrace with greater clarity during Holy Week a way of understanding Jesus’ suffering. I quote, ‘I think the death of Jesus reveals the heart of God, God’s great love for people. I think the death of Jesus reveals humanity, that we are frightened of something that might be for the good, and that in the name of protecting the good, we will do the bad, which is to punish.’ Padraig relates this to the contemporary incidence of torture.

Finally, Padraig’s evocative story about identity offers very valuable comments for all committed to understanding the other, whoever that might be, and ultimately ourselves.

Padraig’s openness to faith and diversity of opinion is inspiring in the world today. It is primarily a hopeful message he proclaims.

Keith Thomasson is Senior Chaplain and Spirituality Advisor, Alabaré Christian Care and Support.