Harold Good on Johnston McMaster’s Overcoming Violence

image“This book is a must for the desk of every pastor, priest and teacher. It ought to be available to every serious student of religion and ethics. … [It is a] manual for those of us who wish to overcome violence and to pray for and work for a lasting peace on this island.”

That’s how the Rev Harold Good summed up a new book by the Rev Dr Johnston McMaster, Overcoming Violence (Columba 2012), launched last month at the Irish School of Ecumenics in Belfast.

McMaster is a Methodist minister and the coordinator of the Irish School of Ecumenics’ Education for Reconciliation (EFR) programme. The EFR programme focuses on adult continuing education in the community, and is sadly ending this month due to a lack of funding. (Online versions of EFR course material can now be accessed here.)

Those of us who teach on the Irish School of Ecumenics’ Master’s programme will miss the contributions of Johnston and his EFR colleagues Cathy Higgins and Denis Anderson.

In his remarks at the launch, Good – also a Methodist minister – acknowledged the contribution of EFR as well as commenting on Overcoming Violence. I’ve reproduced a sampling of Good’s remarks below, and you can click here if you wish to listen to his full remarks, and McMaster’s response to them.

Harold Good on Johnston McMaster’s Overcoming Violence

The first thing I want to say is congratulations … on this truly remarkable piece of work. It goes without saying that this book didn’t just come out of nowhere, it came out of Johnston’s 15 years of study and commitment to the theme of this book … through the Education for Reconciliation programme.

[The ending of] Education for Reconciliation is going to leave a gaping hole in what is offered to people in the wider community. … At the height of its activity there were as many as 1800 people in one year involved in this programme … and if you add up the 15/16 years that this programme has been on the go, you have involved thousands, literally thousands of people in Education for Reconciliation. And just as we need it the most, the programme is ending, and that is to be deeply regretted. …

This book must not be seen as an end to EFR’s on-going contribution, but as a legacy … of this particular programme at ISE.

Within Methodisism I have to say we have not given to Johnston the recognition and acknowledgement that we should and which he so richly deserves. … We are not so good at affirming those whose ministry takes them outside the boundaries of the traditional. And with the authority that has not been given to me, on behalf of your Methodist colleagues here, and a host of people within the wider Methodist family who do recognise and affirm and acknowledge … we want to say thank you for what you have done.

I firmly believe that this book should be required reading for every pastor, priest, preacher or lay leader of every congregation or community, and every seminarian. … And I would suggest it should also be on the A level RE syllabus.

… But I have to go on to say I found this to be a very confrontational book. … If you’re open to being informed and disturbed and challenged this is your book.

… I say it’s a confrontational book because to begin with it confronts us with our history or our histories … and this is particularly important for those of us who have little or no Irish history, and there are many of us … who have little or no background in Irish history.

… Johnston, you write of anger and frustration at a system of formal education and theological education that you felt sold you short [in Irish history]. … Having gone through the same educational system … I resonated with what you said.

… But here is a very readable summary of our history, covering as it does 400 and more years of our history, and here Johnston confronts us with the complexity and the conflicts and paradoxes of our history.

The more you go on reading, the more you realise there is nothing straightforward about our history. … And if you think in simple terms of goodies and baddies, then read this book, and then you will realise that it is not like that. So that’s my argument for making this book required reading for all … particularly those of us with any role of pastoring or teaching … in the church or wider community.

… [The book] also confronts us with a very pertinent question of today. As we reflect on the events of a century ago, how will we reflect on and commemorate these events?

[Johnston is an expert on commemoration] … and he reminds us … because of our histories, commemoration in Ireland will be contested. On either side there are chosen traumas and selected events; such events are woven into our identities … and our identities are shaped by violent events in our history.

… [He says] we now need to find some way to walk through history together, by entering into each other’s chosen traumas and victories. Is there any other way than by walking through history together?

… We will also find ourselves confronted [in this book] by our ambiguity towards violence … Johnston leaves us in no doubt whatsoever about the negative and destructive role of religion in our history. … He confronts us again with our flawed images of God, the God we wish to create in our own image.

… Johnston asks us to be very clear in our understanding of Christ’s sacrificial death. … I would suggest when you are reading this portion, find a very quiet room, a very quiet place, and sit and try and understand more clearly what you are being asked to consider in this passage. It’s a discussion of the meaning of redemptive violence. It asks us to think about blood sacrifice and its impact upon us and our behaviour. … Blood sacrifice and redemptive violence have been [bound up] in Irish history.

… If those of us who are preachers are to take this book as seriously as it deserves, I think there are some sermons that will need to be rewritten if not torn up …

Finally … in chapter 9 Johnston McMaster leaves us in absolutely no doubt that Jesus is central to our understanding of reconciliation.

There is no question, there is no ambiguity, Jesus in his uniqueness is central to our understanding of reconciliation. … Particularly the Jesus of Matthew – the Jesus who acted and lived in active nonviolence.

Eric Gallagher [a former President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and active peacemaker who died in 1999] … said many wise things. … I remember two in particular that have relevance for today:

One, our problem in Northern Ireland is due to serious lack of proper Christian education. … And second … watch out for Johnston McMaster! And how right he was!

So for both of these reasons I am truly honoured to be associated with this book and to commend it. … This book is a must for the desk of every pastor, priest and teacher. It ought to be available to every serious student of religion and ethics, and a manual for those of us who wish to overcome violence and to pray for and work for a lasting peace on this island. … Thank you, Johnston.

(Image: Johnston McMaster and Harold Good at the book launch)

2 thoughts on “Harold Good on Johnston McMaster’s Overcoming Violence”

  1. My late husband would have been proud and privileged to sponsor and publish this book by Dr McMaster.
    Sadly he passed away in 2009.
    However, he did leave a legacy specifically for publications on Celtic Studies which we as his family would be glad to persue.

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