>'Look at this!' my friend was whispering. We were in first year Maths and we were bored. His right hand was under the desk and my attention was drawn to the small oval-shaped metal badge, coppery brown in colour, which was in his palm. 'It's an original,' he went on, his voice warm with pride. I'd never seen a Ulster Volunteer Force badge before. I took it, lifted it closer to get a better look, and fingered the inscription round the perimeter - “For God and Ulster”
For my irreligious friend the badge was just something cool - a major advantage in the ongoing game of school one-upmanship. For me, a young Christian, a convinced Protestant, a fervent loyalist, the motto resonated. It was like an incantation which summoned from the pit of history the faith of my forefathers - their principled resistance to submersion in an alien way of life; their readiness to voluntarily sacrifice everything for the safety of the Empire - a readiness immortalised in the mud of no-man's land at the Somme; their unflagging conviction that their cause had Divine Right.
These were heady images for someone growing up in South Londonderry at a time when, it seemed, a majority of its population were winning an open rebellion against the lawful authorities. And in course of time it was the same essential convictions which led to my involvement in unionist politics and the loyal orders.
Even after a decade that slogan, along with the sight of an Orange banner or the sound of a flute band, still calls to something primeval in me. Ulster is my home, loyalism my culture and I am proud to be able to call myself an Orangeman and indeed an Ulsterman. But other convictions have also been born in the interim. Maybe it was listening to Bob Dylan: 'For you don't count the dead when God's on your side,' that helped me to think about the price we have paid for our community loyalty to competing theocracies on this island. Maybe it was the growing realisation that the motto divorces the Old and New Testaments, for it sits more easily with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob than with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Maybe it was the discovery that investing political arrangements with divine imperatives makes all reasonable compromise with our neighbours a form of apostasy.
Whatever it was, I now see in my rational moments that For God and Ulster speaks of the tension in which my Christian life is lived out in this world. The ingrained preference for a particular lifestyle which is the product of my Ulster Protestant upbringing cannot be the final arbiter of my behaviour, for it is sometimes in conflict with my loyalty to Christ. This is the same Christ who said: "Render unto Caesar, the things that art Caesar's, and unto God the things that art God's." The motto on the badge now reminds me that it is here, on this space of earth, that Christ's ultimate lordship has to be fleshed out and for such a single purpose I was redeemed.