I was born in Belfast in 1975, grew up during the northern Ireland Troubles, and now I live in North Carolina. I write and speak about connection to the earth, cinema and the power of dreams, peace and making justice, and how to take life seriously without believing your own propaganda. I'm happy to be a work in progress.
I grew up surrounded by the political and religious conflict in northern Ireland (which I spell with a small 'n' because I feel connected to both Protestant and Catholic communities), and my family experienced the impact of violence in profoundly challenging ways. I remember seeing the film of Gandhi’s life that was released when I was eight years old, and being inspired and confused. Later I was impacted by the transformative urban, national and international work of Tony Campolo and Sojourners in reducing poverty, preventing or resolving violent conflict, and empowering people to change their own lives. At 18 years old I spent my first summer out of high school experiencing huge lessons about race, poverty, and education in Camden, NJ, returning the following summer; once back in Belfast, with friends I co-founded a peace-building non-profit called the ‘zero28 Project’. Named after the phone area code for northern Ireland, zero28 wanted to begin with one thing that everyone in my troubled home society had in common; and to proceed from there by facilitating creative opportunities for people to meet across traditional community boundaries, to work together using radical non-violence to transform our society, to help nurture activism for peace, social and economic justice, challenging racism and homophobia, and a concern for the planet. Zero28 was formally established in 1998, while I was also pursuing a Ph.D. in Sociology of Religion, focusing on the role of apocalyptic beliefs in political prejudice.
Working with zero28 meant we got to develop the skills of negotiation with often challenging political figures, event planning and promotion, dealing with the media, and facilitating a team of activists to manage the overall project. Among other initiatives, zero28 invited Irish Republican (IRA) leaders to speak in Protestant churches, and Ulster Loyalist (Protestant paramilitary) to speak in Catholic monasteries; challenged elected representatives in the media; painted out sectarian graffiti, replacing bigoted slogans with apologies; made space for dialogue about controversial issues – introducing conservative Christian leaders to the LGBTQ community, putting on a workshop production of Daniel Berrigan’s ‘Trial of the Catonsville Nine’ to galvanize opposition to the war in Iraq, showing up at meetings of Prime Ministers to see if we could help…zero28 ran film festivals, poetry nights, dinner-conversation spaces, alternative religious events; spoke at festivals and conferences like Greenbelt and the Glenstal Ecumenical Conference; were invited to Basel Cathedral in Switzerland (where Carl Jung once argued with his grandfather’s sermons) to share zero28's learning; took part in academic symposia and emerging church gatherings in the United States; were involved in an initiative on forgiveness in Jerusalem and visited the Middle East twice.
Work with zero28 ran parallel to academic and consulting projects, including a United Nations-funded initiative examining the relationship between people’s images of God and their attitudes to violence; helping develop an Ireland-wide programme to address the question of how to deal with difference in the Anglican Church; and informing the conversation between government and churches about how faith-based social initiatives can be better resourced. I co-taught postgraduate courses in International Peace Studies and Reconciliation Studies in at the Irish School of Ecumenics (Trinity College Dublin) from 2000-2008.
I also worked assisting in retreat leadership with the Celtic spirituality writer John O’Donohue; and I've hosted retreats in the United States and Ireland since 2007. I have been a contributing editor to Sojourners magazine (writing on film) since 2009.
In 2010 I was delighted to become involved with founding the Wild Goose Festival, a national justice, spirituality and art festival which launched in 2011. After four years with Wild Goose I moved into the work I find myself in today - writing, leading retreats, and creating festival spaces (including the Movies and Meaning community), all of which focus on the idea of shaping a story that will help us live better.
I believe that there can be no such thing as a sacred-secular divide; and that being human is the greatest gift – and opportunity - each of us has. Being in the world continues to amaze me; and so while I’m here, I want to do everything I can to help people live better. We are called to face the violence, injustice and poverty around and within us, by giving a cup of cold water to those who are thirsty, to visiting those who are hidden, to providing warmth in the cold light of difficult days. We can do it better. We can do it creatively, with sonic booms that resonate to the soles of our feet, with light-borne images that cause us see more clearly, with words that make life feel like a long and utterly elegant poem. And art is one of the ways we do it. Film and writing happen to be the ways that have touched me the most, and the media I’m happiest working with, but the no matter the form, the purpose is the same: to learn how to tell a better story.