Subversive Parables

talents-page1.inddYesterday I was privileged to be with a great group of people who work for or are linked with Together For Peace in Leeds. We looked at an on-the-ground attempt at peacemaking in communities, and reflected a little on some of the thinking that has helped us on our individual and collective journeys.

One guy who came in for a very honourable mention was William Herzog, who’s book ‘Parables As Subversive Speech’ is a really helpful piece of work.

The discussion reminded me of a comic project that the mighty Steve Beckett and I collaborated on a few years ago for a magazine called ‘A Pinch Of Salt’. It was a Herzog inspired version of ‘The Parable of the Talents’. Download and enjoy.

talents-page1 and talents-page2


Michael Foot

Sad to hear yesterday of Michael Foot’s death, a real champion of the Left, and a great hero to many of us. It’s good to know that idealists can make an impact, be funny, and live a long life of passion.

There are lots of good quotes from him, and lots of eulogising articles, particularly of course,  in the Guardian, but my favourite quote of his, and I know this is actually a paraphrase cause I can’t remember it exactly, was when he described himself as an ‘inveterate peace monger’ – what a great thing to be. I hope I can say the same thing about myself.

The posh and the volunteers

A really good article in the guardian today talks about the return of the posh to popular society. It talks about various aspects of posh, and how they have become acceptable again in public circles, its well worth a read.

But as a class warrior (ha!) myself I am worried about the seeming rise of the posh towards a perhaps now inevitable Tory victory in the next election. I find Dave, Boris et al a troubling group who seem to work on the basis of an old school of patrician conservatism – although the same could of course have been said for Blair. Basically I dont really like our political system, but let’s gloss over that for now.

What I have been considering is the potential changes in society that a Tory government would bring, I fear that many of the progressive social institutions that arose under labour will disappear – I’m talking Sure Start, extended schools workers and so on. What will have to appear in their place is the volunteer – arguably a good thing I suppose, as a perpetual volunteer I must support the idea. But it does concern me that the kind of voluntary social care provided is provided as ‘charity’ or elitist conservative patronage.

However, what will be will be, and I suppose every cloud has its silver lining, with the new posh will probably come the new mods – and mod music is some of the best music in history.

By the way, also on this kind of subject is a video of a Copenhagen confrontation (more like a love-in) between Boris Johnson and George Monbiot (himself just a bit posh) on carbon emissions and electric Porsches. It’s also on the Guardian – newspaper of choice for posh lefties everywhere.

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.

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.

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

Free Shane Claiborne download

Here’s a link to a talk that Shane Claiborne gave to a recent Holy Trinity Brompton gathering, you can download the mp3 or stream online, and it’s free.

I’m very fussy about what talks I listen to, there arent very many great communicators out there with great messages, but this guy is certainly one of them.