Good post about royalty and land reform

I really like the work Maddy Harland, editor of Permaculture magazine does. She is wiser than me, and doesnt shoot her mouth off at the drop of a hat, so when she writes something, it’s usually well worth reading.

She just posted up this article about Royalty, nature, and land reform – three things I hold (inevitably) quite strong opinions on. I am not a fan of the idea of the royal family, although I have nothing against them personally – I dont want to kill them or anything. Anyhow, all that nonsense aside, Maddy puts an interesting perspective on them, one born of a bit more reflection than I am known for giving…

Land reform in this current society is indeed one of THE big questions, and is only likely to become more of an issue as time goes on.  I have not read HRH’s book – ‘Harmony’, nor in all honesty am I likely to, but I’m glad Maddy has, and I trust her to comment upon it with sagacity, worth checking out.

Review: The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A – Z

The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A – Z by Emma Cooper.

I have a lot of gardening books, and I have looked at lot of other gardening books – but I have never seen one quite like this.

Most gardening books are basically either manuals, scientific text books, or encyclopaedias, but despite a title which might lead one to think that Emma Cooper’s book falls into the latter category – in fact it needs a separate category altogether.

This charming and easy to read book is in reality a manifesto – or perhaps its a kind of love-letter. Emma has used the conceit of an A-Z as a handy way of organising some of her thoughts, taking us through a series of plants and horticultural terminology according to their rank in the alphabet.  Now if you are looking for a book which works as a kind of exhaustive garden dictionary, then this is the wrong book – it isnt intended for that purpose. Rather it pulls together an almost random group of plants or ideas under a letter heading; P for instance is for Parsley; Peas; Peat; Peppers; Permaculture; PH; Phosphorus and Potatoes, while N is for Nasturtiums; Native; Nectarine;  Nettles and Nitrogen.  It then provides a short essay on each subject, and each one is delivered in Emma’s trademark accessible and knowledgeable style. She is a very ‘friendly’ writer, her work is easy to engage with and despite her wealth of knowledge you dont ever feel as if she is talking down to you.

I really like the book, as I say, it’s easy to read and it’s interesting, but that isnt really waht sets it apare. Most importantly Emma manages to exude a love for the subject – and this is what I mean by calling it a manifesto. Really this is a book which tells us to love our gardens, our window boxes or allotments – whatever we have to grow things in.It is a book which has mud under its fingernails.

Emma is a kind of garden evangelist, spreading the good news of growing things.

I think you can spot that I really like this book – but that’s not to say I dont have any criticisms, I was not sure about at least one piece of her advice, that Comfrey can be taken internally. Everything I have ever read before warns against it, and I’m not inclined to take her advice on that (sorry!)

The other negative aspect I think is the design, I think the wrong fonts have been used, which is a shame because it detracts slightly from the appeal of the book – however this is a very subjective thing, and I am a bit nerdy about fonts and suchlike. In any case, that side of things is down to the publisher not the author, I just dont think they’ve called it quite right.

The pictures throughout the book are great, and I love the fact that this is not a coffee table book, rather its the kind of book which can go with you out into the garden or wherever you go to think about growing things.

So in sum then – buy this book if you love gardens. Buy this book for people who need to love gardens. Dont buy this book if you want a full A-Z of plants and whatnot, there are plenty of other books out there for that purpose, this is a much more interesting and unusual text. This is a delightful and inspirational manifesto of gardening lore, with lots of good ideas and helpful information, and I’m looking forward to more from Emma.

The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A-Z by Emma Cooper is published by Permanent Publications. RRP £14.95 ISBN: 9781856230469

Emma Cooper’s blog and podcast are available here.

Great post on mysticism and activism

A wonderful piece of writing here from Pinch of Salt about the link between mysticism and activism, something I believe to be pivotal within what we sometimes call new monasticism.

In my book, which looks at new monasticism in the UK, I mention a few of the key figures and movements which have influenced the development of a new monastic way of thinking, three of the key figures are Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. This article clearly defines the link between them, and brings clarity to the vital link between mysticism and contemplation, and action.

My thoughts on Piracy

Kester Brewin has been writing a series of articles about Piracy, and how it can/should be re-understood in the context of the church. It was a long and interesting series, following on from some stuff which I didnt hear at Greenbelt.

Richard Sudworth has made a response to Kester’s series of posts, taking  a stand against some of what Kester has to say, and also bringing in the kind of work that Peter Rollins has been involved in.

Indeed the two are from a similar mould, they both write stimulating and challenging prose which I find intriguing and troubling at the same time, in general I’m a fan. But what about their arguments?

In the first place I should say that I think its important there are people like Kester and Pete out there doing their thing. My personal view is that we need to have people like them asserting points of view which are unpalletable and challenging, whether we eventually agree with them or not. I have written before that we need to ‘re-wild’ the church, and that we need to be a lot less comfortable with our faith/religion.

But having said that, and albeit that I am no theologian, I do have a number of issues with some of the stuff they say, lets take the piracy thing.

First there is the concept of piracy itself – what is it really? Is it the great heresy, full of creativity and innovation? I would argue that it isnt. I would say in fact that piracy is simply free market capitalism taken to its logical conclusion.

Piracy is basically a way of making money and obtaining goods or services by finding a way of getting it from other people at the lowest possible cost to yourself. Capitalism encourages the people at the bottom of the ladder to strive to get up it, and it encourages the idea of taking a short cut if possible. That is called ‘efficiency’. Thus we are all trying to stay ahead of others, and in our own way, through systemic exploitation,  all contributing to the death and destruction, rape and torture of others, but for most of us its a few steps removed from our hands. For the archetypal pirate, its right there in front of them.

Piracy also serves another purpose, that of safeguarding the orthodoxy. While there are pirates in the seas, we must have gunships, soldiers, private military contractors. The threat of piracy is what legitimises the defence of the orthodoxy, the pirates are out to get us, so we must have something to protect us. Piracy therefore is a necessary part of our system, rather than being the innovation, its the bogey man which is used to keep children in their beds. (I dont use bogey men stories to keep my kids in their beds… much.)

Oh and my opinion of why kids like pirates? The idea of piracy is one of having what the world offers, without the need for adherence to an ethical code, its basically getting stuff, without responsibility to others save your loyal buccaneer pals. The dream is to buckle a swash, steal some treasure, and sail off into the sun with not a care in the world, looking for an island full of willing maidens, or even unwilling ones if necessary. Kids like pirates because we socialise them into liking the idea that you could have everything you want, without needing to be the poor sucker at the bottom of the pile who has to clean up the mess. The pirate is top dog, answerable to no man but himself and those he chooses (the pirate ship as democracy scenario), he (yes usually it is a he) spurns the idea of obeying the external rules, and chooses to take what he can instead with a piratical wink and an unaccountable forgiving nature for young people (Long John Silver, Capt Adam Penfeather etc).

So I dont hold with the utopian concept of piracy, I do understand the horrendous situation faced by some of the pirates in Somalia, fish stolen, toxic waste dumped, etc etc, and I can understand why they do what they do. Does that make it right? Not at all. Nor does their action make it right that the US navy patrols the area with gunships and missiles. None of it is right, and it is all caused by the disaster that Somalia has become, a disaster which has been exploited by the richer nations to legitimise their own ways of thinking/behaving, and to be hauled out as another example of what happens when ‘Africa goes bad’.

On another form of piracy, that of ripping off music and films, and the ubiquitous complaint that the anti piracy adverts at the beginning of DVDs are annoying. This aggravates me on two fronts, firstly, the whole DVD piracy thing is actually right. Organised gangs do make lots of money from counterfeit goods, they might not wear jaunty hats, and they may live in houses not boats, but these pirates are responsible not just for one form of crime, but for many forms. Any criminologist can tell you that people involved in this form of organised crime are more likely to be involved in other forms, whether that be drugs, prostitution or whatever. This is just another way of making money.

Does that translate to those illegally uploading and downloading music and films on the internet? No, but there is a difference between music and films, in particular the scale.  Iwould suggest that there is a huge moral question over whether we should watch hollywood films at all. The vast sums of money spent on the industry are obscene, and the disparity between the elite and the oppressed are only aggravated by the development of the film stars. Not to mention the fact that the development of the film industry has spawned brainless TV entertainment which is slowly killing our minds, and also taken us away to a large extent from the interaction of live entertainment, which at one time we might each have been a part of. That’s a discussion for another day.

I think there is a genuine argument that the music industry needs to change its structure and methodology, I find Steve Lawson’s arguments very persuasive on this, and while I personally do not conduct illegal file sharing, nor do I suggest anyone else should, I can understand the suggestion that music is much better given away for free like this. There is a social and economic reasoning behind it which makes sense.

Is that the same for films? No, because films dont have the same dynamics, they cant come live in your living room like a band or musician can, and the cinema and the concert hall are two quite different places. There does need to be new thought on all this, but to moan about anti piracy ads on the front of your dvd makes no sense at all to me. Is it subversive to try and rip off films and music? Or is it just an attempt to obtain goods and services at the lowest possible cost to oneself? The latter being the orthodox view of this society by the way, and one which as I said before inevitably results in piracy of one sort or another.

Do I think that we need heretics (a la Brewin and Rollins) in the church, I do actually yes, I think this links to an earlier post I wrote about re-wilding the church. I think there is a calling on some to be provocative, to be wild and out there, in all directions. They help the rest of us by making us re-examine our comfortable philosophies. Richard Sudworth also correctly points out that any group can be on the margins depending upon its context, no one form of Christian faith community has the monopoly on being marginalised. I am more and more of the opinion that we need to be fully accepting of all kinds of church and Christian practise, and a bit more demanding of ourselves in terms of discipleship.

Richard Sudworth questions the morality of what Kester and Pete are espousing, suggesting that it undermines any notion of an objective truth based morality, and of course it does. Both these guys are very much of the postmodern school (imho) and seem to come close to denying the very pillars of our beliefs. While I can understand the point they are making, I feel that in this case postmodernity misses the point. What we need is rather than a postmodern frame of reference, a pre-modern frame of reference, which requires not disbelief, but an active suspension of disbelief on our part. I’ll write more on this another time hopefully.

So on balance, while I am interested, intrigued and stimulated in my thinking by these questions of piracy and the orthodoxy of heresy, I am less than convinced by all the arguments, well done to Richard Sudworth for taking it all apart much more insightfully and eloquently than I ever could, and lets all keep listening to one another.

squatters, tents, coffee – that sort of thing

As we’ve previously established, one of my major current obsessions is housing. Being kind of homeless at the moment (albeit not roofless thank goodness) makes me more keenly aware of the built environment.

With the weather we’ve had already, and the likelihood of more cold weather to come before we hit the spring, I’m now glad that we didnt go with any kind of tent or caravan option. I notice Mark Boyle, the freeconomy guy (used to call himself Saoirse, think he’s back to Mark now) is sticking with the caravan in his search for a cashless existance. I suspect its easier to do this when you dont have children!

Anyhow, I wont deny that the notion of squatting has crossed my mind from time to time. I have to admit its not likely that I would ever go for it, what with so many sensible people in my life, but I can certainly recognise the inherent ridiculousness of empty houses in a time when people need places to live.

The Nunsthorpe estate, where we want to live, has a large amount of empty houses, one day I’ll take a camera round and document a few of them. It vexeth me muchly that these properties lie empty and unloved – and it makes me think ‘why?!’

We tried as you know to get into one such property through legal means, in other words by finding the owner and trying to convince them to let us live there. But it came to nothing.

To see houses and flats lie empty and boarded up, going slowly damp and broken down seems abhorrent when many people in much worse situations than me are without shelter – it just seems wrong! Mind you, on reflection it doesnt seem a lot better that two people can live in a house with four bedrooms…

Anyway, a couple of pretty high profile squats have come to my notice of late, one in London, and the latest one reported today in the Independent.

While I am not quite an ‘all property is theft’ type, I am nearly there, and soin this case at least, I would struggle to feel particularly sorry for the owners.

The ongoing economic downturn doesnt seem yet to have caused a drop in rental prices, nor even noticeably a drop in house prices up here, and I do wonder if we will see an increase in squatting again as the peasants revolt against the system.

As they say, the revolution will not be televised, it will be blogged (or probably twittered – blooming middle class squatters 😉 )

P.S.  Looks like we can make bio diesel from coffee grounds – so maybe the middle classes can save the world after all! LOL.

back again to save the world

well it has happened again, I managed to dodge the blog for what seems like an epic amount of time, hundreds of hours have gone by, wordpress has even changed the layout of it’s dashboard and everything – very disoncerting!

But here I am, back on the blog, I suppose the reason I have been away is that I’ve just been under too much pressure from other things, and usually when I am holding too much, something drops out of my hands, in this case it was the blog, could be worse I suppose.

I have been more or less managing to keep up with reading my feeds though, although I was a little disheartened to see this morning that I have 99 feeds waiting to be read.  So I read one, by Hamo writing on his backyard missionary blog.  Hamo is a good writer and incisive, he usually has something interesting to say (although occasionally wonders off to talk about four-wheel-drive vehicles…) but this morning he provided a piece about changing the world.

The gist of the post is: ‘when I was a youth leader I used to tell people they could ‘change the world/be a history maker’ etc, but now I realise we need to be content to be ordinary’ that’s a little short, so you need to read the whole thing to get the proper take on it.

But I want to say that while I do agree with the excellent Hamo in one way, I profoundly disagree in another.

I believe that each of us can make a big difference, can be a world changer, and in too many cases we settle for a very poor second best.  The trouble is, we are too easily bought out, go too often for the ‘serving two masters’ approach.

Lets be honest, how many of us are living sold out lives of Christ-like passion?  Not many, we’re too interested in making sure we’ve bread on the table, and a roof over our heads, despite the fact that the Bible says not to worry about these specific things.

Hamo is right about the unhelpfulness of those who ‘prophecy’ about the ‘great things’ each of us may accomplish, this is by and large just a cold-reading bit of ego feeding, and should be put a stop to.  What we do need is that constant challenge, that egging on to go a bit further, to turn away from the world’s way of doing things and to live differently.

As we do so, the ordinary becomes the extra-ordinary, the insignificant becomes significant.  Changing the world can be found in a conversation, not in ‘getting a position of influence’ as if that was what Jesus modeled.  Jesus impact was as much about touching a leper as healing one, and in our ‘ordinary’ and ‘insignificant’ lives, we can do precisely that.

We shouldnt let ourselves get disappointed with lack of success, or lack of recognition, because that is precisely the opposite of changing the world.  We should be disappointed with our own failure to change our own lives, and we should be on our knees asking for the grace to live differently and follow Jesus example.

In all honesty this is probably what Hamo was saying anyway, but I want to say dont give up on changing the world, strive to go beyond yourself, hold the big dreams, but dont neglect the little things.  Dont be driven by a desire for significance, but be bold in a an attempt to live differently and in doing so, you too can change the world.

how to read blog posts

Lots of people I talk to, particularly people who read this blog, dont seem to know a lot about how to use feed readers, or even why one would want to use one.  So here’s a basic guide to why people (including me) use feed readers, and basic how to.

When you visit a blog to check for new posts, you have to navigate to the page, often people have blogs bookmarked, so they can go straight to them, but just as often they dont.  This kind of blog reading is fine, if you only want to read one or two blogs, but once you get deeper into the world of blogs, (and it doesnt take long) you will find there are lots of very interesting blogs out there, which are full of fascinating stuff, which you will want to read.

So you end up with a whole list of sites to visit, and you have to navigate to each one, to be honest it gets to be a pain.  This is when the usefullness of feed readers begins to kick in.

With a feed reader, you have only the one page to look at.  You go to that page, and it shows you a list of all the blogs you have subscribed to, and whether they have any new posts.  Many bloggers post infrequently, and if you have to check their page all the time, only to find there are no new posts for days/weeks on end, it gets a bit wearing.  But a feed reader will tell you at a glance if there are any new posts.

The picture above shows what my feed reader looks like at the moment, you can see that there are five unread feeds, all Treehugger (which produces upwards of 40 posts each day) and I can quickly scroll through them on the right hand panel, to see if there are any I want to read or not.

If I find it really interesting, and want to see what comments there are etc., I can quickly navigate to the blog site, and follow it from there.

How do you get a feed reader?  I personally use the google reader, which is very simple.  Simply create an account on google, using your email address and a password, then you can set up your reader.  Once you have your account, you can either visit your favourite blogs and subscribe to them by clicking the rss logo on the site… Or you can simply use the add subscription panel in the feed reader and put the relevant url’s into the box.

I keep up with about fifty blogs, and most of them are generally pretty interesting.  If I wanted to I am sure I could read even more widely, but I find that this gives me enough to be going along with 😉  If I didnt use a feed reader I would never be able to read them all.

I warmly reccomend you find a reader you are happy with, and then gentle reader, kindly subscribe to my feed…  Any recomendations for good feed readers or handy tips for optimising the process are warmly welcomed.

nbn festival – a glimmer

I’ve been pondering the concept of this ‘no big names’ festival, which I mentioned before here and here.

Today I was struck with a bit of inspiration by the hairy bass genius that is Steve Lawson. Actually I knew Steve when I was a kid, he was hairy then too. But hirsuteness aside, he wrote today about his plan to tour a series of ‘house concerts’, in other words he turns up and plays a gig in somebody’s house. They have invited friends or advertised it, they’ve worked out a way to pay the musicians, etc.

I thought, ‘dang, if that aint a touch of genius’. It’s much more sustainable and do-able than a larger scale gig. It offers a completely different kind of musical experience, one for which Steve perhaps is well equipped, better than the likes of U2 for instance! But having good music played in an intimate setting is brilliant.

Then I met a guy who has a cinema in his house, he’s done a spare bedroom out with a big screen and surround sound etc, and I recognised the same kind of potential that the home gigs model has.

What if we did a festival where the gigs, talks, exhibitions, whatever were in people’s homes, gardens, public spaces, etc? Yes you would need people to be willing to host the different events, and there would be a fair amount of logistical management involved, but it could be done surely! It offers a smaller scale, more relational experience, with no room for big names, or big costs, or big egos. A couple of larger scale events which could be held in public parks or similar could be open to the general public… so much potential for goodness! Can I get a witness?!

As well as the above mentioned good things, this is a totally scalable and replicable project, you could spread it across a large area, or keep it contained in a small one. And you could even host one in your own town. Easy peasy. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Birkman test update

I promised ages ago that I would write about the Birkman test we did, and I am now (eventually) keeping that promise.

The guy who did our Birkman test was Jon Mason, who’s blog you will find here.

I was not keen on the idea of the Birkman test at first, I was sceptical of how much it would really offer to anyone who had a reasonable amount of self knowledge.  But on deeper analysis, I began to see the value of it.

Essentially what Birkman does is give you a language to explain how and why people react to certain to different stimuli. It gives a way to understand what motivates people, what demotivates them, what their needs are and what their stress behaviour is likely to be.

I think the day I spent doing the Birkman test was useful, it helped me get a better idea of some of the reasons for the strange behaviour of others.  However, unless you are a skilled practitioner it would be hard to use the Birkman principles to analyse the behaviour of others without them going through a Birkman profile.  For somewhere with established teams, where people are stable and where relationships are mature, a Birkman session could be very helpful to deal with problematic team dynamics.

In a situation with fluid teams, new people coming in and out, I would say that the Birkman is unlikely to be massively helpful without a skilled or trained Birkman tester on hand.

So I was wrong, the test was useful, but I was also right, because this was not a test which taught me stuff about myself.  I knew the things about me that it told me.  However others didnt necessarily know those things.

It’s not so much a personality profile, as a teamwork tool, and in the right circumstances, potentially a pretty valuable one.

Pete Rollins – Irony and Fetishism

A really well crafted piece of writing from the excellent Pete Rollins this morning explores the concepts of irony and fetishism as strategies to avoid change – to avoid confronting the real issues of our lives.

I sometimes agree with the stuff that Rollins writes, sometimes disagree, sometimes just get confused, but whichever way it goes, his writing is always stimulating and challenging.

This particular article immediately makes me consider how much our fellowship gatherings are fetishes, ways of avoiding dealing with or confronting the lifestyle changes we need to take on.  We can use these church meetings (to use an uncharacteristicly electrical metaphor) as insulation against change rather than the conductor of it.

The article is well worth a read and meditation – and along the way provides one of the clearest explanations of irony I’ve seen, which Alanis Morisette could have done with reading.