Wednesday, 25 November 2015

A Most Dangerous Library: My Top 10 Books on Anarchism

I am an anarchist.

It feels good to say. No qualifications; no hesitation.

I am not a liberal with a cooler fashion sense. 

I am not a progressive who needs to cultivate more discipline and patience.

I am not a libertarian with a better group dynamic.

I am not a libertarian socialist. Well, I am, but I sometimes think that’s the term used by anarchists who are somewhat embarrassed to call themselves anarchists.

And I’m sure as hell not trying to get the vote out for Bernie Sanders…

Nope. I’m an anarchist, and happy to be known as such.

I became an anarchist in the mid-90s and nothing that has happened in the intervening years- elections, wars, movements, developments- has ever led me to question that decision. I was drawn to its philosophical underpinnings- its critique, not of those in power, but of power itself; its unwavering dedication to human freedom; its belief in the social component to history; it’s convinced stance that the most effective path to social transformation is direct action.

I’m also a voracious reader- who spent years working in a used bookshop- and I’ve devoured tons of books on politics, faith, culture, and social issues.

With that in mind, I wanted to go through my stacks and compile a list of my top 10 books about anarchism- its theory, history, action.

These are the books that truly transformed my thinking- and continue to do so. These ideas, arguments, methods, and experiences are worth studying, worth preserving, and much of it is worth carrying forward.

If you’re new to the anarchist movement, I’d really encourage you to dive in and find yourself in history.

If you’re only acquainted with one facet of anarchism (Dorothy Day, the IWW, or whatever), dig in and discover the richness and variety of anarchist thought.

If you’ve been an anarchist for years, grab some of these texts for an endless source of quotes in response to the numbing static of what passes for political debate now…

And if you’re an anarchist with a wicked sense of humour, consider this a wonderful list of potential stocking-stuffers for friends and relatives who won’t shut up about Trump, Carson, Hillary, or Bernie…

They’re all available for sale online; I checked. So here we go…

No Gods No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism, Vols. 1 &2, Daniel Guérin, ed.

These two volumes are important treasure troves of some of the most important writing on anarchism from the movement’s most influential century, beginning with Max Stirner in the 1840s. Guérin’s work here is a labour of love; much of what’s here was not available in English before, or only sporadically and in limited distribution. Generous excerpts of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Voline, Makhno, and the experiences of the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War make them absolutely indispensable to any real understanding of anarchism as a philosophy and a course of action. I remember sitting on my top bunk in a hostel in Barcelona in 2000, feverishly underlining long passages. The anti-globalization was in full force, and the texts from these books leapt off the pages, crackling with intensity. They are to anarchism what the Bible is to Christians and the first Ramones album is to punks. Buy these books…

Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, Peter Marshall

Well-researched and eminently readable, Marshall gives us a near-flawless one-volume examination of  anarchism with global and historical sweep, going back through human history to libertarian thought found in Taoism, Buddhism, Greek philosophy, ancient Christianity, the Middle Ages, on onward to the Enlightenment. He includes commentary on all the prominent anarchist thinkers and documents the history of modern anarchist movements across the world. If conservative or liberal friends ever accuse you of naivety, shallowness, or a lack of historical focus, send them to this book.

Social Anarchism, Giovanni Baldelli

Human society needs to be organized to function, and anarchism, contrary to lazy stereotypes, is deeply concerned with organization, and has detailed ideas about how to do it.. What separates anarchism from most other forms of libertarian thought is its social component.  Anarchism’s primary criticism of hierarchical capitalism is that it is fundamentally unjust, and anarchists firmly hold that a better way is possible. Baldelli, who presided over the International Anarchist Congress in London in 1958 and as secretary of the International Anarchist Commission, begins to put practical meat on the theoretical bones, fleshing out the anarchist vision of social organization. He also gives inspirational suggestions of the role each committed individual can make to the common good. An Intelligent and thought-provoking read.

Anarchism: Arguments For and Against, Albert Meltzer

At only 71 pages, this is almost a pamphlet, but it’s a great introduction to the basics of anarchist thought by answering the criticisms brought against it by liberals, Marxists, Social Democrats, the far right, and the average individual. A great resource, small enough and inexpensive enough to buy in bulk and give away!

The Essential Works of Anarchism, Marshall S. Shatz, ed.

Published in 1971, this great small paperback provides generous excerpts of major anarchist thinkers (Proudhon, Bakunin, Tolstoy, Emma Goldman and Rudolf Rocker are all present) as well as contributions from the heady days of 1968 and following, such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the Dutch Kabouters.

The Anarchist Reader, George Woodcock, ed.

A similar exercise to Shatz’s work, this paperback is similarly packed with great works from across the anarchist spectrum, but has the benefit of being thematically organized (the basic stance, the basic criticisms, the contradictions with the Marxists, the criticism of education systems, etc.). Woodcock cares deeply for his subject and making sure it is well represented.

Anarchism, George Woodcock

Anarchism arose from historical conditions, and Canadian scholar and biographer George Woodcock details the development of anarchism through the lives of the men who were its greatest proponents as well as through interesting details of the nature of the societies in which they lived, worked, and struggled. Detailed, scholarly, and fascinating to read, the book is a classic.

 Anarchist Organization: The History of the FAI, Juan Gómez Casas

Ever been explaining your anarchism to an average citizen and had them confusedly and condescending say, ‘But how would that work?’ Actually, there was a time when millions of workers were anarchists, getting on with running their trade unions and industrial committees. These were the anarcho-syndicalists, who saw the trade union as the basis for revolutionary action. Nowhere was the movement stronger than in Spain, and this book chronicles the history of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI), the unique organization of Spanish anarchist groups. It’s not a snappy page-turner; it’s a dense and somewhat dull work.  Nevertheless, it’s a powerful history. These were the anarchists who ran Barcelona and other centres of Spanish industry, keeping the factories humming, keeping public transportation on time, all the while fighting a brutal civil war with the fascist armies trying to bring down the Spanish Republic and Stalinist communists determined to do away with them from within. That history alone makes this an important work, and worth giving a good going over.

 In Defense of Anarchism, Robert Paul Wolff

This is another very short work (113 pages), and its size gives no indication of how dense it is and how much concentration it takes to read. The book is pure philosophy, laying out, in a very specifically academic way, a logical underpinning for anarchism.  As such, it is primarily concerned with teasing out the concepts of authority and autonomy, the strengths and weaknesses of democracy in all its forms (direct, representative, and majoritarian), and the legitimacy of the state. Most people will not find this an easy read by any means- I have a PhD in contextual theology and had to re-read several pages more than once- but it rewards the readers efforts by laying the groundwork for a solid, intellectually-sound embrace of anarchism, which is to be preferred to the sort that comes from seeing V For Vendetta twice and thinking it’s really cool…

Who’s Afraid of the Black Blocs? Anarchy in Action Around the World, Francis Dupuis-Déri

Anarchism will never be just about doctrine and theory; action remains its beating heart. But what action should be pursued? Who should make those decisions, and how should they be made? This book goes to the heart of those questions with a detailed examination of the Black Bloc tactic. It’s a fascinating look at a challenging subject. Dupuis-Déri gives ample space for Black Bloc participants to speak for themselves, discuss their activities, and the motivations behind them. The media caricatures of mindless thugs masquerading as demonstrators drops away quickly, revealing very thoughtful arguments (there’s a lot of sociology degrees in these crowds) and conscientious actions (although most often associated with direct action against corporate property and battling cops, Black Blockers very often simply march with other demonstrators, run first aid stations, etc.).

Beyond that, Dupuis-Déri’s work explores the nature of violence (is breaking a Starbuck’s window a ‘violent’ act, equal to the act of forcing a coffee grower to live in poverty to keep coffee prices artificially low?) and the differences between public, private, and personal property- extremely important distinctions which deserve to be recognized as such. Most importantly, he emphasizes again and again that Black Bloc is a tactic, not a group or a movement. That tactic deserves to be discussed intelligently, which he eminently does. 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

‘The New(er) Colossus’ (with Apologies to Emma Lazarus)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles[1]. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome[2]; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!"[3] cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired[4], your poor[5],
Your huddled[6] masses[7] yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse[8] of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless[9], tempest-tost[10] to me,
I lift my lamp[11] beside the golden door![12]"

[1] The Dept. of Homeland Security advises that the current definition of ‘exiles’ is ‘whites of European descent, corporate investors, medical specialists, actors and/or other celebrities, hereditary royals, and those who can provide documentation of income of no less than six figures’.

[2] The definition of ‘welcome’ is subject to change without notice. Please see a uniformed Dept. of Homeland Security officer to see if you currently qualify for a welcome. Please be advised that if you do not currently qualify for a ‘welcome’ according to the current DHS definition, you might be detained, incarcerated, and/or shot.  

[3] Storied pomp is now preferred. See note 1.

[4] You may be required to explain the source of your tiredness. The current definition of 'tired' is 'a mild fatigue, such as might be caused by missing of a meal, a long flight, a missed nap, etc.' The physically exhausted, those suffering from mental collapse due to trauma, or those suffering from malnourishment run the risk of being denied entry. Please see a uniformed Dept. of Homeland Security officer to be advised as to the current state of tiredness. Please be advised that if you do not currently qualify as ‘tired’ according to the above DHS definition, you might be detained, incarcerated, and/or shot.  

[5] Please see the income advisory in note 1.  

[6] Huddling is currently discouraged.

[7] The Dept. of Homeland Security advises that the current definition of a ‘mass’ is 'between two or five (but no more than ten) whites of European descent, corporate investors, medical specialists, actors and/or other celebrities, hereditary royals, and those who can provide documentation of income of no less than six figures'. If your ‘mass’ does not meet these standard requirements, you will be assessed as a ‘pack’, ‘swarm’, ‘flood’, ‘crowd’, or ‘herd’. If you are unsure if you qualify as a ‘mass', a uniformed Dept. of Homeland Security officer can assist you. Please be advised that if you do not currently qualify as a ‘mass’ according to the DHS definition above, you might be detained, incarcerated, and/or shot.  

[8] The Dept. of Homeland Security advises that ‘wretched refuse’ is now being assessed according to the current definition of ‘exile’. Please see note 1.

[9] The Dept. of Homeland Security advises that the current definition of ‘homeless’ is ‘owning at least one home’.

[10] The Dept. of Homeland Security advises that the current definition of ‘tempest-tost’ is ‘light turbulence, e.g. that found on an standard passenger plane.’ If the tempest that tossed you was more severe than this, you run the risk of being denied entry. If you are unsure of the state of your 'toss', a uniformed Dept. of Homeland Security officer can assist you. Please be advised that if your 'tossing' does not currently qualify as a ‘tempest’ according to the DHS definition above, you might be detained, incarcerated, and/or shot.  

[11] The Dept. of Homeland Security advises that the current definition of ‘lamp’ is ‘any one of several forms of surveillance, both public and private.’

[12] Please be advised that the current Dept. of Homeland Security definition of ‘golden door’ is ‘a wall’.  

Syrian refugees: We Owe Them...

When the earliest Christians faced persecution in Jerusalem, the biblical text says many fled to Damascus

(difficult to imagine anyone fleeing *into* Syria these days...).

Extremists followed them there, threatening them with violence and religious tribunals, but the extremist leader, a Turkish Jew named Saul, was converted by a young Syrian Christian named Ananias

(the event occurred in 'Straight Street' in Damascus; the headquarters of the Syrian Orthodox Church is still there, on ‘Straight Street’).

Now Syrians-

mostly Muslims, but many Christians as well-

face persecution from extremists, and many western Christians want nothing to do with them.

Perhaps they fear the disruption of their comfortable lives;

perhaps they don’t understand all of the issues surrounding the Syrian War, and just don’t want to get involved;

Perhaps- somewhat ludicrously- they think that because the extremists are Muslims, and most of the people fleeing them are also Muslims, that the people fleeing are somehow in league with the people they are fleeing from…

Perhaps they’ve never been in a position of having to flee the onslaught of maniacs, and because they’ve never had to run for their lives, they can’t imagine that anyone would ever have to run for their lives…

Perhaps they forget that the family of Jesus had to run for their lives once, fleeing a militia of child-killing maniacs, and were refugees for years…

Whatever the reasons, the global Christian community owes Syrians a great debt for taking in the earliest Christians who fled persecution.

We owe a great debt to Ananias, a Syrian who laid aside his fear of meeting with an extremist and delivered to him instead a message of love and healing.

We owe a great debt to Syrians who have taken in thousands of Iraqi Christians, fleeing the chaos that American incompetence unleashed.

We owe a debt to Syrians because they are our neighbours;

They are hungry, and they need something to eat;

They are thirsty, and they need something to drink;

They need clothes, and we have clothes;

They are sick and we have doctors;

They are trapped, and need to be freed.

We owe Syrians a debt because today- right now- Jesus is Syrian…

… and we have failed to recognize him…

We owe them... and it's time to pay up. 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Radical Christianity: A Reading List

Every so often, I’m asked to explain how I’ve arrived at my position of devout Christianity and implacable anarchism.

How can I reconcile a Christian vision while embracing a socially and politically radical one?

How can I attend Mass and solemnly kneel before the Eucharist wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt?

How can I decry violence and refuse to condemn out of hand putting a brick through a Starbucks window?

How can I respect authority and support those who break into military bases and destroy US warplanes?

How can I call myself a devout Catholic and long for the final destruction of the Church hierarchy, women priests, and full, open LGBT inclusion in the Church?

How can I call myself a pacifist and hold up as an inspiration a Catholic priest who joined the Colombian ELN guerrillas and was killed in action fighting the Colombian army?

Well… It’s complex…

But the bottom line is this: I’m drawn to the radical Christian tradition, that rich seam of Christian praxis that, throughout history, has chosen to dissent, question, and yes, to resist.  

The radical Christian tradition always exists as a parallel, an alternative, an opposition to the traditional, centralized, hierarchical, comfortable, influential, and, above all, powerful expressions of Christianity.

It looks at Jesus and doesn’t see a role model of middle-class morality but a challenging figure whose last words to his followers before his execution for treason were ‘when you get arrested, don’t worry about what to say. God will give you the words…’

It’s a tradition that says, if Jesus was raised from the dead, then nothing is impossible and nothing can ever be the same. The empire that killed him can’t simply go on as normal on the Monday after.  

No. If what we say about Easter is true, things have got to change. And if the powers that be want it all to stay the same, then we resist.

I’m often asked to suggest some books that might help people to best understand my outlook, and I usually think of one or two titles off the top of my head. But for this post I wanted to really try to think of the ten books that were the real life-changers, the true paradigm-shifters.

They’re all available for sale online. I checked.

Needless to say, these are not the only books that have influenced my thinking on this subject, but these are my indispensables, and ones that I’d love others to experience.

And, again, no getting on my case for what’s not here. This is my list; make your own.    

So here they are, in no particular order. ..

Anarchy and Christianity, by Jacques Ellul

‘All the churches have scrupulously respected and often supported the state authorities. They have made of conformity a major virtue. They have tolerated social injustices and the exploitation of some people by others, explaining that it is God’s will that some should be masters and others servants… ‘

This slender volume (109 pages) packs an incredible punch. French theologian Jacques Ellul is a master of economical writing, never wasting a word. But he nevertheless deftly lays out his philosophy of political dissent and non-cooperation. In a nutshell, he doesn’t say that every Christian needs to become an anarchist but, in light of his reflections from the biblical text, they’d be foolish to rule it out. Ellul sees no basis in scripture for hierarchies or power, and therefore he envisions a Christian faith that is anarchistic- actively resisting every inclination of the modern state; not liberal or reformist, but radical.

The Future of Liberation Theology, Marc Ellis and Otto Maduro, eds.

‘This God of the Bible sets one other prior condition for any Christian theology: listening to the cry of the oppressed. God is the God of the cry of the victim of injustice. God hears the cry. A theology deaf to the poor weeping for their innocent suffering is also dumb before God and before society. A theology which is dumb before the oppression of the majority finds it hard to escape charges of cynicism and triviality’- Leonardo Boff- ‘The Originality of the Theology of Liberation’

My doctoral work was based on the legacies of Latin American liberation theology, so I had a very hard time narrowing down a potential list of dozens of titles to one or two. But if my bookshelf were on fire, this is what I’d most desperately try to save. This astonishingly broad collection came out of Maryknoll School of Theology’s ‘Summer Institute for Justice and Peace’ in 1988, and is a very good place to begin exploring the foundations of liberation theology from a healthy majority of its greatest thinkers. The depth of insight here is striking, particularly as ‘liberation theology’ has become somewhat of a catch-all definition for any Christian writing vaguely about politics and activism. The writings here lay out a new way of doing theology, theological reflection with a new focus, priority, method, and direction. It’s a scholarly work, but its scholarship is rooted in praxis and dedicated to social transformation.

(NOTE: this work exists in two forms: a 500-plus page edition titled ‘The Future of Liberation Theology' and a 226-page version titled ‘Expanding the View: Gustavo Gutierrez and the Future of Liberation Theology’. It’s going to be much harder finding the longer text, but you should put in that effort.)

Radical Christian Writings: A Reader, Andrew Bradstock and Christopher Rowland, eds.

‘My Good people, things cannot go well in England, nor ever shall, till everything be made common, and there be neither villains nor gentleman, but we shall all be united together, and the lords shall be no greater master than ourselves. What have we deserved that we should be kept thus enslaved? We are all descended from one father and mother, Adam and Eve.’- John Ball, English clergyman, 1381.

Expressions of radical Christianity are nothing new. This fine volume draws together a wealth of writings from across two millennia, bringing together Church Fathers, Levellers, Anabaptists, feminists, Abolitionists, French Communist priests, German antifascist pastors, anarchist theologians, Civil Rights strugglers, anti-Apartheid fighters, Latin American guerrillas, and LGBT activists. Through it all, there is the incredible notion that the message of Jesus means the transformation of everything, utterly incompatible with slavery, injustice, marginalization, and oppression.

Sword of the Spirit, by Dhyanchand Carr

‘We need to undo the tremendous damage our quietism to the very image of God among people. The image of god as an arbitrary sovereign monarch who sets up and tolerates evil powers and value structures and who tells the oppressed people that they should humbly suffer is a false image. It has nothing to do with the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who is an abdicating God and desires human societies to grow into God’s own maturity and to reflect the corporate reality of God. So for God’s own sake we need to be constantly involved in destroying all false images of God. That can only be done by being true to God’s passion for justice and by reflecting God’s humility and corporateness in all structures we create.’

This book by a Tamil theologian is a good place to begin exploring Christianity outside of its dominant Westernized forms. Most Christians in the world are not white, not wealthy, and might live as minorities in unstable or oppressive conditions. With all that in mind, their theological approaches to Western notions of obedience to political authority, the importance of wealth, hierarchical structures within the church, and Christian public influence can differ significantly, and European and American Christians would do well to engage with them.

Remembering Forgetting, by Ciaron O’Reilly

‘Philosophically, we were Christian-anarchist-pacifist. We attempted to combine the praxis of intentional community, hospitality to the poor, and non-violent resistance to the institutions of death and privilege. We linked with the Catholic Worker movement on the move since 1933 and with the faith-based ploughshares movement. We took a cue from Jesus to resist the temptations of wealth, power, and status with which he had wrestled and had rejected in the desert. We were careful not to be seduced into managing the poor or managing dissent, but chose to operate on the margins where the spirit and conscience have room to move.’

I first met Australian activist Ciaron O’Reilly in Ireland when he and others started the Dublin Catholic Worker. It was just after 9-11, and the US was ramping up for war. I was working with the Irish anti-war movement and was fascinated by Ciaron’s mix of deep spirituality, anarchism, and active resistance to the war. That resistance came to a head when he and three other Catholic Workers cut through the fence at Shannon International Airport and took hammers to a US warplane en route to Iraq. They then knelt on the runway and waited to be arrested. Their trial dragged on for years, until an Irish jury found their actions justified and acquitted them all, much to the fury of the US government. In this book, Ciaron lays out a vision historic Christian pacifism and active resistance to war and power. It’s a compelling read.

Jesus and Politics, by José María Casciaro

‘Jesus tells them quite clearly that he is not the nationalistic Messiah-King which Satan wants, but the humiliated and transcendent Messiah-Son of God, who saves by ways quite distinct from those of men and devils.’

Casciaro gives a detailed and easily-read exploration of the politics of Palestine in Jesus’ day, and how Jesus’ own self-understanding transcended it. A very interesting section goes into the possible politics of his disciples, and postulates that at least three of them probably zealots, a radical party that endorsed armed insurrection. Basically, Casciaro thinks Jesus didn’t just associate with tax collectors and sinners, but wasn’t afraid to count as close friends those the powers that be would have labelled terrorists. Yet Jesus urges them beyond the desires for political revolution to something much deeper and ultimately far more transformational. Casciaro’s positive engagement with the dreaded term ‘terrorist’- a word over which so much hysteria has been poured- is reason enough to give this book a look.

The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You, by Leo Tolstoy

What is this state for whose sake such terrible sacrifices are demanded? And why is it so absolutely necessary? Since the end of the eighteenth century almost every step in advance made by humanity has been hindered rather than encouraged by governments. Such was the case with the abolition of corporal punishment, of torture, and of slavery, as well as the attainment of liberty of the press and the right of public meeting.’

Leo Tolstoy’s Christianity was an entirely ethical one which ignored church dogma and embraced universal love and brotherhood. This led him to denounce violence in every form and the state, he argued, was violence in its more organized form. From there it was a small step to political anarchism, for Christianity as Tolstoy saw it was totally incompatible with the state with its endless coercive structures, military, and police. Tolstoy’s vision offers a compelling challenge to many western evangelicals, who often hold patriotism and civic and national pride nearly at the level of spiritual devotion.

Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation, by José Míguez Bonino

‘The participation of Christians in the revolutionary struggle is not merely an aspiration: it is a simple fact. Among the guerrillas, in the political parties, in the shanty towns, in the university, among the peasants- wherever the revolutionary ferment is at work, there are Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, working shoulder to shoulder with other men. They are found in jail, among the tortured and murdered, with the persecuted and exiled. And, when some measure of success is achieved, they are there with the others working for a new society and a new man.’

If I were asked to pick one volume that best captures the essence of Latin American liberation theology (other than an edited anthology), I’d pick this one. Bonino’s book is a concise, easy to read, but rich snapshot into a historical and theological moment, when Christianity produced a direct challenge to structural oppression. It’s difficult for us to imagine the full scale of the Latin American ‘National Security’ states, where bureaucracy, the military, the land, the industry, and the Church were part of a cohesive system of power, control, and very often terror. Bonino exquisitely lays out the Christian answer to such a situation, a vision of the God of scripture as the God of life and liberation, outside the system, not on the side of the powerful but in the midst of the poor. It was a thoroughly revolutionary vision, and an absolutely compelling one.

Fidel and Religion, by Frei Betto

‘The name of Jesus Christ was one of the most familiar names to me, practically from the time I first had use of reason... Yet I really didn’t acquire a religious faith. All my effort, my attention, my life was concentrated on the development of a political faith. Yet never did I see a contradiction between the ideas I upheld and the idea of that symbol of that extraordinary figure who had been so familiar to me’- Fidel Castro.   

In May 1985, Brazilian priest and theologian Frei Betto traveled to Cuba where he gave several lectures and talks to students, priests, and lay people. He also met with President Fidel Castro for a series of nine conversations on the topics of politics and religion. And what conversations they are, very often beginning at ten at night and concluding as the sun comes up. These are not canned interviews that we might expect from a head of state, eager to steer away from controversy- polite, amiable, but ultimately shallow. Castro fully engages with his usual mix of voracious intellect, scrupulous attention to details, and the argumentative skill of the young, fiery lawyer he once was. This is true dialogue of the highest order, full of respect, candour, and complexity.

Jesus in Bad Company, by Adolf Holl

‘The truth is that Jesus was not at all reliable. He roused people’s anger and provoked unrest, was a stumbling block and a cause of scandal. He escapes every attempt to pigeon-hole him. He is severe when one might expect him to be mild, yielding where one might expect him to be decisive. He prayed in the temple and called for its destruction, upset his own family and then included close relatives in the circle of his disciples… ‘Jesus the King of the Jews’: even the notice pinned to the cross was an appalling embarrassment. It is not surprising they finally nailed him there: at least he’d make no more trouble.’

German Catholic priest Adolf Holl strips away from Jesus all the solemn, quiet decency in which centuries of Church hierarchies have framed him to reveal a complex, difficult, and divisive figure, one who offers nothing but difficulty and hardship. So why do so many comfortable, middle-class Christians follow this guy? Holl argues that they don’t; the Christ of the Church, he insists, is not the Jesus of the Gospels, and if we actually followed him, the whole history of Christianity would look very different.  Yet Jesus is still there, asking us to decide. And for those that do, nothing is ever the same.

Alright, that’s your reading assignment. Off you go!

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Ecology: Looking After the House

The root of the word 'ecology' is οἶκος, the Greek word for 'house'.

So ecology isn’t only about taking care of the natural environment (although that’s certainly part of it);

'Ecology' is the study of- and care for- our house.

When we think of ecology this way, it helps us to reflect on the fact that we didn't build the house, and we can't rebuild it if it gets wrecked.

It also helps us to reflect that there’s only one big house- one house for us all.

There is no separate house for one race and one for another.

There is no 'male' house and 'female' house;

no 'gay' house and a 'straight' house;

no 'Irish' house and 'British' house,

no 'Muslim' house,

no 'Christian' house,

no atheist house…There is simply the house we all live in; 

the house that feeds us, clothes us, warms us, refreshes us all.

With that in mind, let's all do our bit to care for the house and everyone who lives here.

Be mindful of the cleaning rota,

Pay your bit of the bills, and pitch in for someone if they're skint. 

Ask before you eat something marked by someone else, and don't leave your stuff all over.

Be generous with what’s yours, and don't take advantage of generosity. 

Remind the loud and pushy that they're not the only ones living here.

Make sure everyone gets a chance to talk at house meetings. 

Please turn the lights off when you leave a room,

Remember to feed and water the plants and animals. 

Listen to music with headphones when someone else is reading.

Be courteous about other’s feelings when it comes to voicing your personal beliefs; no one’s obligated to agree with you. 

Wipe your feet.

Clean your own dishes and everybody help out with the pots.

And when anybody shows up at the door- no matter who they are- welcome them home...