Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Mark Driscoll and the Gospel of [escaping] white trash: Part 1--11-13-2010 Update from Pastor Mark O'Driscoll on the family lineage of former Irish kings turned pirates
Update from Pastor Mark O'Driscoll
By: Pastor Mark Driscoll
on Nov 13, 2010
Dear Mars Hill, It’s late here in Belfast, Northern Ireland (we are eight hours ahead of Seattle), and before I went to bed I felt compelled to write a quick update. On Sunday I left with my dad, Joe, to visit Ireland—a place we’ve both always wanted to go. We started out in County Cork in southern Ireland. We traced our family heritage as far back as we could go. The records were destroyed amidst civil unrest in the early 1900s, though, so anything before 1800 is tough to get. But I still learned a ton.
The O’Driscolls ruled for three hundred years with around ten castles in southern Ireland, near the city of Baltimore, which we visited. I actually got to see one of the remaining castles, which was a moving experience. After three hundred years of rule, a new king whom we fought against overtook our land and made us peasants. [emphasis added]
Apparently we were also sea pirates who were fond of seizing ships filled with wine. We also liked to take castles from the Norse and have a lot of children while drinking stolen wine. In 1845–1890, a massive famine hit Ireland. The nation had been 8 million people until 1.25 million died, and 1.5 million fled the country. I went to the ship dock where my great-great grandfather, James, at the age of forty-eight, sailed from Ireland with his sixteen-year-old son. His wife died, probably of typhoid or starvation. The walk to the ship took weeks for James, and the sailing took months and many died on the "coffin ships." They landed at Ellis Island, where the Irish were not welcome. So, likely after dropping the "O" from "O’Driscoll," he moved to Ontario, where he married a nineteen-year-old at the age of fifty-one and had seven kids while dairy farming. She hated that life, so they moved to the U.S. and settled in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He homesteaded his land and built his own home at the age of seventy-one. My dad was born on that farm. I was born there also.
My dad moved to Seattle when I was about a year old so he could get work in construction [emphasis added]—something he continued until he broke his back over twenty years later, feeding me and my four siblings while my mom stayed home to tend to us. As many of you know, I met Jesus at the age of nineteen after having been a non-Christian Catholic. Some Catholics are Jesus-loving Christians; I was just not one of them. My dad also met Jesus. Last summer I had the honor of baptizing him in the Jordan River along with my son and his grandson, Calvin Martin Driscoll. He and my mom, Debra, are with us at Mars Hill, which is a great blessing.
My whole family has been saved and is walking with Jesus. It’s pretty surreal to see what God has done in my life, and tracing my ancestors’ journey was been a bit emotionally overwhelming since God’s grace is so obvious in my life. From pirate to pastor is a lot of grace. [emphasis added] From County Cork we headed up to Dublin. There we saw the Book of Kells exhibit, learned a lot about the political "troubles," visited a prison and a few large churches, and had a ton of fun—including a pint and some stew at the Guinness Storehouse. We also visited Cashel Rock, which was a magnificent ancient church and monastery built in the lush rolling hills of Ireland and is where Saint Patrick baptized the king of Munster.
Tonight we are in Belfast of Northern Ireland. Tomorrow I am preaching to a few thousand men at The Mandate conference in downtown Belfast. Your prayers would be appreciated. That God would take the great-great grandson of an Irish peasant who was starving to death from a long line of drunkards and wife beaters to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to a few thousand fellow Irishmen is very emotional for me and an overwhelming grace of God in my life. [emphasis added] On Sunday I will not be at Mars Hill. Instead, I will be preaching at Bloomfield Presbyterian Church in Belfast. Monday and Tuesday I will be training Christian leaders and yelling at young men like I do the guys at Mars Hill. Then we will return home by God’s grace and I’ll be preaching my final sermon of the year at Mars Hill before taking some time off to write a book and enjoy my high school sweetheart and our five blessings.
So, if you think of us, pray that the gospel goes forth by God’s grace. This is one of the most religious cities in the world. It is filled with ancient churches and nearly everyone says they are a Christian—half claiming Catholic and half claiming Protestant commitment. The nation is torn between the north, which is British, and the south, which is independent. There is a great need for real revival—true, deep, heartfelt, passionate, uncompromising mission to see people meet Jesus and not just be moral and religious. Lastly, I want to thank the elders for granting me the kindness of taking this pilgrimage with my dad. The gospel of Jesus Christ is making more sense and bringing me to tears more often than any other time in my life.
The month after Driscoll wrote the above he took to Twitter to announce that he and Grace had started up a book, that the two finalist publishers were in town, and then joked that the title was unsettled. “Your Best Wife Now” was a jokey suggestion.
There are a number of things that could be said about this account, one of them being that not everyone would necessarily take Mark Driscoll's account of Irish history in general or even necessarily of the O'Driscoll clan in particular completely at face value.
But the simplest and most direct thing that may need to be said about the Driscoll family history as recounted by Mark O’Driscoll is that they’re white trash. Full stop. They may have been reigning as kings as far back as a millennium ago but those kings got deposed and the Driscoll line turned into peasant farmer stock that made its way to the United States where there’s no more blunt nor less delicate way to describe the Driscoll family line in Mark Driscoll’s narrative than to say they’re a long history of white trash.
For a guy who has kept saying he’s a nobody trying to tell everybody about somebody, what benefit could there be in regaling Mars Hill and the entire internet-reading English-speaking world with tales of the clan of O'Driscoll as kings who were made peasants who became pirates whose genetic stock led to Mark Driscoll, who has said God called him to marry Grace Martin, teach the Bible, train young men, and plant churches? The answer given by Driscoll himself was “from pirate to pastor is a lot of grace”, an explanation that depends upon Mark Driscoll somehow being party to the piracy of his Driscollian forebears a century or two before he was even born.
There's an axiom in film criticism you may have come across before that says a film isn't just “what it's about” but “how it's about it”. The tension between Mark Driscoll's old saw about being a nobody was for years in tension with the dynastic narrative running through his sense of individual and family identity. If you take seriously that you're really a nobody trying to tell everybody about somebody, then your family name is of no concern--who you know about that you wish to speak to everyone counts for everything. He must become greater and greater and I must become less and less, for instance.
"From pirate to pastor is a lot of grace" is a meaningless statement if applied to the entire history of the O'Driscoll clan. On the other hand, it may reveal something crucial about Mark Driscoll's sense of identity that he can imagine that the manifestation of "a lot of grace" can be read into how the history of the O'Driscoll clan has led, thus far, to Mark O'Driscoll. It is a name Mark Driscoll can present for himself as the embodiment of that "lot of grace". Driscoll has described himself as more a prophet than a politician but the undercurrent that through Mark Driscoll the O'Driscoll clan has a new leader of kingly/prophetic stature seems implied even in places where it isn't explicit--in other words, Mark Driscoll's individual story of divine commission can be construed a "redemption" not just for Mark Driscoll but for his whole family in general and even for, and Driscoll really seemed set on going here, the Driscoll/O'Driscoll name as a whole.
After all, if at one point the O’Driscoll’s had ten castles as a sign of their rule, Mars Hill would go on to have at least a half dozen campuses. Under Driscoll’s founding, vision and leadership, the implication can be, the O’Driscoll legacy involved an empire with more global reach than the clan could have possibly had when they were more officially kings.
But this account is, you could say, the developed presentable photographic image. Mark Driscoll himself is the finished image of “grace” and redemption not only for himself but for the family name of Driscoll. But by his own account this story of patriarchal redemption didn’t start with him. It started with a guy named Joe.