We’re just over halfway through a tour of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland organized by my U.K. book distributor. I must say, everything has gone extremely well. The schedule is rather hectic, and we’ve not gotten to bed before 12:30 a.m. yet. The last two nights, in Glasgow and Belfast, meetings were held in beautiful downtown concert halls that seat around 3000 people, and all tickets were sold out. (In Belfast, the irascible Rev. Ian Paisley had people out picketing us for charging admission and for meeting on a Sunday night!).
Two orchestras play as part of the program before I speak: the New Scottish Orchestra in England and Scotland and the New Irish Orchestra across the channel. The latter hopes to be a force for reconciliation between north and south. The program also features a singer, Moya Brennan, who is very well known and popular—she used to spell her name “Maire” until she got tired of everyone mispronouncing it. (Her sister Enya has ridden the wave of popularity of Celtic music, and was nominated for an Oscar for her music in Lord of the Rings.) Moya published a controversial autobiography over her last year, in which she confessed to an abortion at age 19 (still illegal in Ireland), numerous affairs, and drug and alcohol problems. She had a dramatic conversion, and now attends a charismatic house church in Dublin. She’s an ideal singer for this tour, because her Catholic background is well known here and her conversion story was major news. She sparked the revival in Celtic music, and now champions much new Christian music.
This morning we went on a tour of Belfast and saw the barbed wire, detention centers, flaming murals, etc., that are so prominent in the news. Politics are in a relatively calm phase now, but there is little Protestant/Catholic dialogue.
I’ve never felt more relaxed while speaking, which is amazing considering our lack of sleep, the tensions of figuring out a new culture and audience every night, and the normal exigencies of travel. Yesterday was especially tense because we drove from Glasgow to the coast and learned that our ferry had been cancelled. We caught a truck ferry two hours later, crossing very rough seas with 70 mph winds, and arrived at our hotel 20 minutes before I was to address a group of 150 clergy from all denominations. I can always tell how nervous I am by the perspiration rings under my arms, and so far they’re in the “calm” range! Last night (or early this morning), as we were lying in bed, Janet and I both commented that prayers of people back home have made a huge difference. When I’m relaxed, I feel much more free to improvise, play with the audience, get more passionate in my stories.
As part of the tour I spoke at John Stott’s All Souls Church in London, a rather intimidating place in view of its history. Just before I went on the platform Stott put his hand on my shoulder and said to me, “Remember, Philip, these are your friends here.” I realized that most times when I get up to speak I feel as if I have to overcome, to win over an audience, and really that’s not necessary. It helps me to remind myself they are friendly—they have showed up because they’ve read something of mine, and they’re already on my side. That little change in perspective has helped a lot. Now I am aware I have friendly supporters back in the U.S., and an audience already receptive.
Tonight is Dublin. What a change, to go from fiercely minority Belfast, with its fortress mentality, to Catholic Dublin with its literary heritage and long rich history and cosmopolitan mentality—all in a two hour drive. We saw C. S. Lewis’s birthplace in Belfast this morning; maybe tormorrow we’ll see James Joyce’s!
Tonight Moya Brennan’s Irish band has promised to take us on a late-night tour of Dublin’s pubs. If there’s no band playing, they’ll provide the music. They’re very good: the guitarist plays for “River Dance” and others are nationally known figures here. And on Thursday we’re supposed to see the guys in the U2 band again. I’ve discovered that when people find out we know Bono, that impresses them more than all my books and articles put together.
Copyright © 2002 by Philip Yancey