Resilient Communities are the Foundations of a Resilient America.

Illumination

The church needs to acknowledge the legacy they have created. When people see scripture as a licence to violate and punish people … the bar is set much lower for the local thug who thinks he can kick my head in. The church needs to deal with that.” — Lyra McKee

In 1990, the Troubles in Northern Ireland had been going on for two decades. Martin McGuinness, as a commander of the IRA, had plenty of blood on his hands – British soldiers, Northern Irish Protestants and even Catholic “traitors” to the cause. He likely ordered many of the killings of over 300 members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The Reverend Ian Paisley, leading the Northern Irish Protestants, was whipping up his followers into frenzied hate, and leading them in marches through the Catholic sections of Northern Ireland. He was aided and abetted by the 97% Protestant RUC who stood by as his mobs stormed Catholic homes. The RUC also killed over 50 of their Irish compatriots (nearly all Catholics) including 28 civilians. So-called “Peace Walls” were keeping the Protestants and Catholics separated because religion had been weaponized. And on March 31, Lyra McKee was born in north Belfast’s “killing fields.”

She grew up in an environment of hate and distrust and almost constant discord. Demonstrations were frequent, and frequently became violent. Precociously – ferociously – intelligent, she early on recognized that she was “different.” When she was 11, she recognized she was gay. Gay – in an Ireland, especially a Northern Ireland, in which religion was tribal, and those who were “different” were treated with hatred, hostility and fear. She lived the loneliness of the shunned; she heard the damnings of her difference from the pulpits; and came to recognize how the hatred harmed those weaker than she.

In 2007, when Lyra was 17, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness – who had never even spoken to each other – became the leaders of Northern Ireland. They built a bond of trust – recognizing their differences but subsuming them in a mutual desire to make their country a better place. Their relationship became amicable enough that they were parodied as the “Chuckle Brothers,” and for a few brief moments progress was made. The “Brothers” were all too soon broken up by Paisley’s age and McGuinness’s infirmities but in the gridlock that has followed they left a legacy of an uneasy peace.

Lyra became a journalist of some renown, focusing on the lost – the disadvantaged and different of today, and the missing and the dead of yesterday. She wrote of both the promise and the soft underbelly of the shaky peace – the first to recognize that political peace did not mean the end of the personal upheavals of the Troubles: the number of deaths due to suicides in Northern Ireland in the 20 years since the “peace” brought by the Good Friday Agreement exceeded the number of deaths by violence of the 30 years of the Troubles.

Lyra died April 18th in Derry, where she’d moved to be with her partner. She was standing beside a policeman when she was shot by a member of the New IRA – a cowardly masked gunman looking to destroy the peace Lyra sought for herself and for her land. But in the aftermath, a fragile flower perhaps sown by McGuinness and Paisley bloomed: both sides – Unionist and Nationalist, Protestant and Catholic – denounced the killing and the killers.

There are lessons here for us as we try to build trust in those of our communities where progress is crippled by distrust. If Paisley and McGuinness – both with blood on their hands – can come together to achieve shared goals then there is hope that we can find leaders in our own communities to do the same. The key, of course, is finding those among the fiercely partisan who are willing to sit down and work together toward a common vision of a better future. The Lyra McKees of the world are like UV lights that reveal the leadership invisible in ordinary daylight as well as the unintended consequences of hatred. The tragic loss of such lights leaves our communities darker places.