Dorothy Day and Anarchism

There’s a good article here about Dorothy Day, a founder of the Catholic Worker movement and a committed Christian anarchist. Dorothy Day is one of the great latter day heroes of the faith, and somebody who I think will come once again into greater popular understanding in the next few years.

Her legacy, the Catholic Worker Movement, which she founded with the itinerant Peter Maurin, is one of the groups I mention in my book, which is due out in May.

One of the issues for Christians to face is warfare, and our personal reactions to it. For Day it was striaghtforward, she was a pacifist, even in the face of WW2.

When she insisted on pacifism even during World War II, and spoke on behalf of Catholic conscientious objectors to that war, she received a lot of criticism from members of the hierarchy in the Catholic Church. Her pacifism was taken as a personal affront by some in the hierarchy. They confronted her and said, “Who are you, a laywoman, to speak on behalf of this, on behalf of Catholic CO’s?” And she said, “I’m speaking on behalf of laypeople. We’re the ones who do the fighting.”

Forty years later, in “The Challenge of Peace,” the U.S. bishops named her personally as a witness of nonviolence in our times. That was a sea change, brought about partly because she remained faithful to that vision her whole life. That’s her gift to the church.

Read more about the Catholic Worker Movement here, their members do some sterling stuff, as I have previously reported.


Organic cotton in China?

On my visits to India this year, I’ve been particularly interested to talk to Indian people about their perspective on China, with whom, many feel, the Indians are engaging in a new cold war.

Of course my particular interest (not withstanding the wider geo-politics) is in textiles and raw materials, especially cotton. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Mumbai Bio Fach for a short time on my last trip, and was fascinated to see the scope of organic and sustainable products on offer from India. But as yet the potential is largely untapped, it is seen as an export market, not a domestic one – a situation which is likely to change rapidly I predict.

India, like China, produces lots of cotton. In the area of organic cotton at least India has the jump on China. The Indians also have the benefit of qualifying for potential Fair Trade accreditation, wheras Chinese cotton is unable to apply because of the government’s human rights record.

What China can do though, is move incredibly fast.

So when the Chinese do decide to go for Organic cotton in a big way, which they are bound to, it will be very big. Some of my friends are already leading the way in terms of pioneering large scale organic cotton farming projects in China, and they seem to be nearing the end of the red tape which has held them back so far.

The situation in China is very serious, if you want a good example of how destructive conventional cotton can be to an environment you can look to China where huge irrigation and chemical inputs have contributed to desertification on a massive scale. Chinese cotton, like central Asian cotton, while cheap to the consumer – exacts a high price from those caught in the tail end of the production cycle.One government official went so far as to claim that the price of environmental damage to land and health offset the country’s 10% economic growth rate. This report makes sobering reading.

It’s no suprise then that moves are apparently afoot among Chinese government to press ahead with organic cotton farming trials. And you just know that when it happens, it will of course be massive. But so far my Indian friends arent too concerned, they have an established foot hold in the organic cotton market, they have a number of well established producer groups who meet ethical standards, and have proven to be socially and environmentally beneficial to their communities, and they have a manufacturing base which is in some sectors keeping up with demand.

I must say though that they do seem a lot stronger in knit production (tee-shirts and so on) than wovens (formal shirts, trousers) which is perhaps a reflection on the demand rather than the background of the producers. Organic cotton seems to sell much more readily in fashionable teeshirts and cutesy baby clothes than it does in formal and work wear – this is perhaps a reflection on price and fashions rather than anything more serious.

But yes dear reader, expect to see organic cotton coming on strong from China in the next few years, it’s about time. And for those still buying new garments in conventional cotton, please remember that in doing so you are participating in environmental havoc and destruction. The choices are there, you can buy organic or second hand if you need to buy at all.

Saint Martin of Tours, patron saint of soldiers and conscientious objectors?

Saint Martin of Tours, whose feast day is November 11th (tomorrow) in the West, as well as being something of a big noise in France, is also officially the patron saint of soldiers, but might I reckon  just as well be the patron saint of conscientious objectors.

He was around in the fourth century AD, and was a real European, born in Hungary, growing up in Italy and ending up in France.

Martin, a forced conscript at the age of 15 into the Roman army in which his father had served as an officer, was hardly a model soldier.In fact there was not much that Martin of Tours modelled which had anything to be said for it in worldly terms.

Martin of Tours was a youngster when he decided that against the ways of his family, he wanted to join the Christian church. He secretly became a believer, and when in his mid teens he was conscripted into the legion, he apparently had to be chained up before he would take the oath.

Once taken though, Martin felt he must uphold his oath, and faitfully carried out his mainly ceremonial duties as a soldier, albeit an unconventional one.

One of the most famous stories concerning Martin’s unusual behaviour is from his time as a soldier, it has the young officer riding out on his horse when he saw a beggar half frozen in the street. Instead of ignoring the man and riding on like his fellow officers, Martin jumped down and slashed his own cloak in half, giving one half to the poor man, and keeping the other half for himself. It seems as if this was a turning point for him, he is said to have dreamed that night that he had given the cloak to Jesus, in a stark reminder of the words of Jesus…

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

It was about two years after this time that Martin was finally sent out to war, when nomads invaded and he was called up to fight in the front line. His previous determination to fulfill the oath he had made seemed to have waned and become replaced with a determination to follow Jesus’ ways, and rather than fight he said:

“Put me in the front of the army, without weapons or armor; but I will not draw sword again. I am become the soldier of Christ.”

It was with these words that he became for me, the patron saint of the conscientious objector. Not a coward, not a desertor, just someone who refused to fight.

He went on to become a sack-cloth clad monk, and to live his life in a way that should stand as an example to all of us, eventually being buried in a paupers grave despite his family’s social standing.

Among other things he can be credited with is the establishment of monasticism in Gaul (France) and a missionary career marked by going to meet people in their homes, rather than demanding they come to him in a church or temple.

Martin of Tours was faithful to his beliefs, famously he got things wrong and wasnt always well recieved, but he was faithful and carried on anyway.

All of which reminds me of a prayer which Mark Berry posted the other day, written by another soldier of Christ, Thomas Merton, which neatly sums up the attitude which I think we each should take to this life of Jesus following:

My Lord God I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

(Thoughts in Solitude.  Thomas Merton)

Visit either of these two sites for more of a biography of Martin of Tours.


I was suprised to hear a lad I went to school with many years ago on the radio the other morning. Suprised at first because I’d forgotten he existed, and then because of all the kids at my school, he was probably the least likely to turn up on the Today programme.

The interview was to do with the fact that during a tour in Iraq, Lance Corporal Dryden had been blown up in a roadside bomb, the bomb killed his friend and blew off Mark’s right arm, he also lost the use of left.

I recently found this article from last year in the Indpendent, I wish Mark all the best. This is a war that should never have happened, and his injury, not to mention the death of his colleague is another tragic reminder of that fact.

We need international arms control now

Every year, approximately 730,000 people die because of armed conflict. That is 2000 people every day, or 83 every hour, a bit more than one person per minute, tick… tick… another one gone.

Not all these people are ‘combatants’, many are innocent civilians, mown down while trying to live ordinary lives. Used as human shields, the ‘unfortunate’ target of misdirected weapons, or perhaps just the reasonless target of a militia man. In many countries children are forced to become soldiers, toting automatic weapons at an age when they should be playing with their friends.

In 2006 campaigners scored an important goal, getting the UN to agree to begin a process of agreeing a treaty on controlling the arms trade. But now its three years later, and we dont yet have that treaty.

In October 2008  the U.N. General Assembly voted 145 to 2 with 18 abstentions for a resolution. Who were the two spanners in the works? Zimbabwe and America. I’ll say no more about that pairing. But the anti campaigners role out the hackneyed claims of ‘guns don’t cause conflicts’ and ‘the West is not to blame for the ills of the world’.  Well duh. But guns sure as anything are really useful when you want to kill people, and the West sure does make a lot of money out of selling them.

We need the UN to decide to reopen negotiations again in 2010, if they do so we could at last see a step forward towards controlling this vile trade, which not only robs lives on a minute by minute basis, but also feeds poverty and oppression throughout the world.

We need the UN to act, visit the Control Arms site today to learn more and to add your support, and expect to hear more about the subject here.

Catholic worker pair protest at arms fair

London Catholic workers Katrina Alton and Fr Martin Newell a priest of the Passionist order, were arrested today after conducting a peaceful protest outside the DSEi arms fair.

The pair poured red paint over a sign advertising the fair, before raising their own banner, which declared: “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.” They then knelt in prayer for 45 minutes before being arrested by police for criminal damage.

The red paint was to represent the blood of the many innocent lives that will be taken by the use of these weapons, their protest was a brave demonstration of resistance the vile arms trade which is a ‘legitimate’ and ‘important’ part of this country’s economy.

Katrina said she said she wanted to challenge those in power “to think what a difference could be made right now if all this money and resources was used to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and care for the sick just as Jesus asks us to do.”

Martin said: “We hope and pray that our action here today… will open the eyes of those who see but do not perceive, so that hearts of stone will be changed into hearts of flesh.” Read more here.

This is the second time (at least) that Martin has been arrested for protesting against this arms fair, last year he went to jail for a similar protest, which involved pouring five litres of red paint onto the ground, while another London Catholic Worker member Zelda Jeffers lay next to the fair’s check-in desk covered in red dye.

Martin refused to avoid jail by paying a fine for criminal damage, arguing that to do so would be “to co-operate with a system that is fuelling murder and mayhem around the world by promoting and protecting the arms trade.”

I interviewed Martin for my book in the spring, and found him to be a guy who is full of peaceful wisdom, and deep seated conviction, two qualities which I admire greatly.

It is vital that we support people like Katrina and Martin as they make these public declarations of ‘not in our name’, for otherwise we stand by as people use our tacit support to take the lives of others. The Catholic Workers as a worldwide movement espouse personalism in regards to getting involved with issues, which I think is a very good idea. Its too easy to pay a bit of money to a charity to do our caring for us, allowing us to live lives that are full of compromise and hypocrisy, content in the knowledge that we’ve handed over some blood money.

HT APOS, find out more about the good people of the London Catholic workers here.

Read a previous post about another London Catholic Worker protest here.

to co-operate with a system that is fuelling murder and mayhem around the world by promoting and protecting the arms trade

provocation from down under

Jarrod McKenna is back writing again, seems like he’s up to other stuff too, as this article demonstrates.

He was part of a small group who peacefully disrupted some wargames at a military base in Australia, I love this quote from an arresting officer:

“You need to realize that war is money. And money makes the world go round. As soon as you realize that, the sooner you can fit in like the rest of us…”