The creation of fundamentalist religion…

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I was reading today how the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, has accused the west of creating the conditions which allowed the development of the extreme militant fundamentalist group that is the current enemy number one of the US and her allies- ISIS. It is a sign of how much things have changed in international relations that an Iranian president could say things like this and anyone would be listening. Even more than most of us would listen and think that he is absolutely right.

Anyone ever heard someone say this?-

“More wars are created by religion than just about any other cause.”

It is one of those truisms that, even though very easily challenged by a cursory look at history (witness both world wars in the last C) is remarkably persistent in our culture. Religion creates fervently held divergent ideas and fanatics who would defend these ideas at any cost.

Karen Armstrong (she of the Charter for Compassion initiative) has written a new book entitled Religion and the history of violence. She deals with this subject in a remarkable article in The Guardian today, which is really worth reading in full. In the article, she deals with the co-existence of violence and religion throughout history, arguing that in most cases, religious violence is intermingled with political expediency in such a way that it is almost impossible to describe the cause of the violence as being the religion itself.

She next deals with the rise of this thing called ‘secularism’, which was the West’s answer to perceptions of the danger of allowing religion to mix with politics.

When dealing with more recent religious conflicts, she had this to say;

When secularisation was implemented in the developing world, it was experienced as a profound disruption – just as it had originally been in Europe. Because it usually came with colonial rule, it was seen as a foreign import and rejected as profoundly unnatural. In almost every region of the world where secular governments have been established with a goal of separating religion and politics, a counter-cultural movement has developed in response, determined to bring religion back into public life. What we call “fundamentalism” has always existed in a symbiotic relationship with a secularisation that is experienced as cruel, violent and invasive. All too often an aggressive secularism has pushed religion into a violent riposte.

 

Every fundamentalist movement that I have studied in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation, convinced that the liberal or secular establishment is determined to destroy their way of life. This has been tragically apparent in the Middle East.

Fundamentalism as reaction, not as consequence of faith itself. Pretty much what the Iranian President is saying. Armstrong goes on to say this;

Many secular thinkers now regard “religion” as inherently belligerent and intolerant, and an irrational, backward and violent “other” to the peaceable and humane liberal state – an attitude with an unfortunate echo of the colonialist view of indigenous peoples as hopelessly “primitive”, mired in their benighted religious beliefs. There are consequences to our failure to understand that our secularism, and its understanding of the role of religion, is exceptional.

 

When secularisation has been applied by force, it has provoked a fundamentalist reaction – and history shows that fundamentalist movements which come under attack invariably grow even more extreme.

 

The fruits of this error are on display across the Middle East: when we look with horror upon the travesty of Isis, we would be wise to acknowledge that its barbaric violence may be, at least in part, the offspring of policies guided by our disdain.

It feels to me there is great wisdom in these words. Contrast them with the rising cry of violence that our government is rushing to join. The answer to violent groups like ISIS appears to be, more violence- as if this will ever put out the flames. As if this will remove the circumstances that led to the violence in the first place.

The counter cry will arise- evil can not be allowed to stand. Men of violence must be opposed. Justice should flow like a river.

But we have been here before have we not?

 

September, Castle Lachlan…

Written from word-sketches done during a recent poetry workshop I led out at Castle Lachlan.

Autumn trees

September, Castle Lachlan

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The surface of the water holds a muted print

Inked by all these early autumn colours

Leached from trees, from sky

Until a fish leaps

Rips a dripping hole in this perfect picture

Then plops back on a belly laugh

 

Something buzzes by

Lacquered like a Chinese cabinet

The air still warm enough for the burn of tiny insect engine

Converting speed to sound in this

The last gasp of a summer almost

Gone

 

Meanwhile in the ragged edge of the old wood

Small things claw and clatter by

Moving in sudden squirts to trick the hungry eye

Clinging leaves filter and flick at the low sunlight

They have not quite

Fallen

 

The ragged old castle leans on its ivy Zimmer

Watching it all go by through watered eyes

Wondering where it all went

Leaking dark memories through those broken curtain walls

The canons roars

No more

And now what?

 

Military flags, Lichfield Cathedral

The referendum in Scotland is over. The narrowness of the result has left half of Scotland relieved, whilst many are sore, even heart-broken. This is democracy by referendum I suppose – a black and white duality that gives a one-size-fits-all answer.

My FB feed is full of people suggesting that the vote was rigged or finding other reasons to blame. It seems to reflect peoples anger and hurt as well as the refusal to let go of something that felt vitalising and alive. The referendum was a blank canvas onto which all sorts of hopes and dreams were projected onto, but it lit us up like politics has failed to do for a generation. Can it really be all over?

My own feelings are very confused, for all sorts of reasons. The referendum somehow never asked questions that I could get excited about. I tried to express some of this in a previous post, but do not feel that I said it well, and in the end I was left rather sore and deflated. For all of us now however the question surely has to be, what next?

For some, the issue remains sovereignty; authorship over national fate, and so the matter of devolved powers is top of the agenda. The constitutional changes needed to achieve this, not just in Scotland, but in the whole of the UK, are likely to have far reaching consequences. It will also be a protracted process involving lots of twists and turns, dodgy deals and uncomfortable compromises. This is democracy too. We make deals with the devil and rubber stamp them with 4 yearly elections in which people vote blindfolded.

What about followers of Jesus in these interesting times? Where do we look for leadership, for inspiration, for challenge to our inertia and complicity with empire? How do we continue to seek to be agents of the New Kingdom (rather than a particular earthly one?)

I started to make a list of things that I think might be important. None of them are new, but for my own benefit, I thought it was time to restate them;

  1. Our primary allegiance is not to a flag or a country, rather it is to Jesus and the New Kingdom. This is not to say that we should not seek to be enthusiastic engaged critical lovers of the place where we live however, rather it is an encouragement to see ourselves as agents of something deeper, something purer and more loving. Something bigger than now, so that the now might be carried forwards into something better.
  2. The rules of engagement with the place we live are given to us in clues by the life of Jesus, his sermons, the stories he told, and the stories of his failing followers ever since. Our job, which sometimes seems almost impossible, is to apply these rules anew in this context, this time. We have to start with the Shalom of God, made real in the person of Jesus.  We are to people a people who first of all are learning to love. A people who seek to make peace. Too often we have been easily sucked into to making war.
  3. Jesus had a skew towards the poor, the weak, the broken. It almost seemed as though he deliberately eschewed power in all of its earthly forms- particularly political power. That is not to say that he despised people in power- witness the ‘rich young ruler’, or the Roman Centurion – rather that he preferred the company of the small people.
  4. Justice. This word clearly means different things to different people, then and now. from one perspective, Jesus’ teachings seemed to focus more on our inner lives, to the exclusion of protesting injustice, but on the other hand, you might see his whole life as being a lesson in HOW to protest injustice. How to look in the face of power and take the radical alternative path of love. How to turn the other cheek. How to scandalize by simple acts of mercy.
  5. Community. Jesus seemed to place deep value in friendship, in shared life, in teaching and learning through close community. In a shattered society, where communality has been devalued and we worship instead the gods of individuality, personal growth, me, myself and mine. The way of Jesus might be described as deliberately putting the self (my ‘rightness’, my stuff, my needs, my art, my dreams, my own fulfillment) behind the rule of love.
  6. Healing, restoration, stewardship. Again, the life of Jesus that we know about tended to be transitory, always on the move; he had 4 years on the road then they crucified him. But in all those years he sought to mend what was broken- as if to return the world to the way it was made. In our time, the whole of creation might just be broken. We are all vulnerable, particularly the poor and the weak. How might we become agents of healing?
  7. Agents of peace and love might get angry- Jesus did after all. Because being engaged hopeful critics of culture and place might often lead to outrage. It is all too easy to forget the way of love, to turn from being people of the open hand, to people of the clenched fist.
  8. Agents of the Kingdom are not bound by narrow sectarian divisions. Hard boundaries and walls were never the Jesus way. Rather he looked beyond the labels, the religious and political differences and saw real people. He even formed friendships and allegiances across the boundaries- to the frequent anger and disgust of those around him. Tax collectors, Romans, Samaritans. This was not political expediency, it was love.

How do I apply this to now – to the UK, 2014, to post referendum Scotland, to Argyll, to Dunoon, to my house, to my self? One small decisions at a time I suppose. Most of the time I feel like I get it all wrong, that my hands have formed themselves, almost unbidden, into fists.

I think that whatever happens next is not my really my concern. Rather it is to seek always to form in myself the way of love. The Spirit within me will do the rest. One shuffling step at a time.

The referendum was seen by some followers of Jesus as a means by which justice might be increased, by which love could have more elbow room, by which old wounds could be exposed to the therapy of new sunlight. Hopes and dreams became wrapped up in an ideal of renewed nationhood. Amidst the disappointment perhaps all we can do is return together to the way of Jesus. The point was never nationhood, it was love.

May we followers of Jesus be part of the healing of our nation. May we try always to see through the eyes of the poor, the weak and the broken. And when others around us seek to build walls of division, let us smile and step back, hoping for the best, whilst looking for cracks, through which the light can get through.

paved with light

The Crown of London…

I have been listening to some music by Lau’s Kris Drever of late.

One song has stuck with me- writen by Kris’s brother, all about the fate of the 17th C Covenanters after the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679.

It seems all the more poignant a song in the wake of the recent Independence referendum, reminding us of the mess of politics and religion that gave birth to the Union of the United Kingdom. Some people remember the Covenanters as Godly heroes who stood up for truth against oppression. At the time they were seem more in the way we would see the Taliban fighting Jihad. Disenfranchised people in the grip of religion that proclaims truth whilst entirely missing the point.

The so called ‘English’ Civil war involved many thousands of Scottish soldiers fighting on both sides, but most tellingly on the side of the Parliament. Many of these were lowland Scots who saw themselves as fighting a Holy war to free Presbytarian Scotland of all Popery and Catholicism. There was some skulduggery along the way though- the Covenanters switched sides for a while and eventually invaded the North of England but were defeated at the Battle of Preston. After the Civil war, they were eventually defeated in Scotland by a Parlimentary army under Cromwell. The trouble did not end there though, as after the Resoration of the Crown, Charles II did not remember the deal he had made with the Covenanters.

Following the restoration of Episcopacy rebel ministers began to preach at secret open-air meetings in the countryside known as ‘conventicles’ A period of sustained persecution began. Oppressive measures against these illegal field assemblies where attendance was made a capital offence[1] led to an outbreak of armed rebellion in 1666, originating in Galloway. Advancing from the west towards Edinburgh, a small force of badly armed Covenanters was defeated at theBattle of Rullion Green in the Pentland Hills, a location which caused the whole tragic episode to be misleadingly named the Pentland Rising. To quell unrest in south-west Scotland, the government brought in 6,000 Highland soldiers, described by its enemies as an “inhumane and barbarous Highland host” which was quartered on suspected Covenanters and was accused of committing many atrocities.[1]

A further rebellion broke out in 1679, after the unexpected success of a group of covenanters, armed with pitch forks and the like, against government forces led by John Graham of Claverhouse at the Battle of Drumclog. For a time the authorities looked in danger of losing control of the south west of Scotland, as more and more people joined the rebel camp at Bothwell near Glasgow; but only a few weeks after Drumclog the rebels were defeated at the Battle of Bothwell Brig. In the weeks before the battle the Covenanters spent more time arguing among themselves than preparing for the inevitable counterstroke, which did much to contribute towards their downfall. Of 1,200 captured rebels taken to Edinburgh, some 400 were imprisoned in an area of Greyfriars Kirkyard over the winter months.[2]

It was the survivors of the Greyfriar Kirkyard that found themselves shipped off as slaves in the fateful ship ‘The Crown of London’. There is more of the story here.

This from here;

So, in November 1679, these unfortunates were lead on to a ship, the Crown of London, in Leith, where they were to be transported to English plantations in America to become slaves.

Under the command of one Captain Patterson, the Crown of London set sail in December 1679.

The captain’s planned course is unknown, but the ship’s first port of call was Orkney where, on December 10, 1679, she sheltered from a storm off Scarvataing, a headland in the parish of Deerness, a mile or two from the sheltered bay of Deer Sound.

In gales typical of the season, the ship was driven on to rocks after her anchor chain snapped. The captain and crew escaped the doomed vessel by hacking down the ship’s mast and clambering across it to reach land.

The prisoners, however, were not so fortunate.

They had been confined to the hold and the hatches battened down under the captain’s orders. The reasoning behind this act was simple – the captain would be paid for the number of slaves on board the vessel and recompensed for those who died on the voyage. He would receive nothing for an escaped prisoner.

So, when the ship left port, Patterson took steps to make sure none did.

One member of crew did attempt a rescue by breaking through the deck with an axe. His valiant efforts meant that around 50 prisoners escaped and made it to the Deerness shore.

The remainder perished as the ship broke up and sank. It is said that over the following days, bodies washed up over three miles of the Deerness coastline.

Why do these things matter?

They are part of what made our nation. Upheavals that led to the death of thousands. Power ebbing and flowing, rebellious ideas flaring and then being snuffed out. Religion being employed as a cutting edge. And in the middle of it all cruel powerful forces use small people to achieve their own ends…

The peaceful democratic process of the recent referendum seems such a blessed contrast.

We would do well to honour this process- no matter whether we are saddened or relieved by the outcome. Let the killing times be at the back of our minds- after all, not so far away, just across the Irish sea, they never quite stopped…

Here is the song;

That’s what set’s the poet free…

I am sort of in between jobs at the moment- one of the joys of doing agency work. There is a song that keeps coming in to my mind;

Having said that- on Sunday, I got paid for talking about poetry all day! It was such a lovely day that I kind of feel bad for even taking the money. The soup was good too- not a cold dog in sight.

I am referring to the poetry workshop that I ran for the Castle Lachlan Trust out at Inver Cottage Restaurant. I had three punters- and it was such a privilege to share a day full of words with them. Each person used poetry in different ways, but it felt like something was being set free in each of us…

Blog Action Day 2014…

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I am going to take part in this again this year.

The theme this year is inequality. If you are blogger you might like to join in…

Over the last seven years thousands of people from over 100 countries have taken part in Blog Action Day, creating global conversations on poverty, water, climate change, food, the environment, Power of We and Human Rights.

So it was natural for the team to look back through the fantastic posts from our amazing Blog Action Day community for inspiration for this year’s theme.  And we found it.

We quickly noticed a common thread within your posts, across the varied Blog Action Day themes of the last several years that always aroused great passion and empathy. Inequality.

Your collective passion to highlight, take action and overcome inequality in it’s many forms inspired us to make it our theme for 2014 Blog Action Day.

The Blog Action Day community are not the only ones concerned about inequality. If you take look at your news, documentaries, top political or social concerns or even the conversations you have with your family and friends, inequality a hot topic.

Whether it is economic, racial, gender, disability, faith, sexuality, health, education, political, social status or age, inequality unfortunately seems to be on the rise, affecting more people and limiting the opportunities they have, in many different ways.

For Blog Action Day 2014, we want you to think about inequality and contribute to the global discussion on October 16, by writing blog posts, creating video or graphics, taking photos, sharing interesting stats and facts, or just commenting on other people’s posts.

You might want to cover how you, your friends, family or community have been directly affected by inequality, how an historic situation was overcome, or a current issues that needs addressing.

Over the coming weeks we will be adding suggestions and insights from our not for profit partners that you can use in your posts, but if you have a great idea on how to discuss Inequality, please share it in our comments below and remember to register your blog or social media profile so you can be listed on our participants page.

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End of the Cricket season…

 

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We played our last matches of the season on Saturday…

This was a 6’s tournament hosted by Vale of Leven Cricket club. The format of these tournaments does not normally suit my game- each side has only 6 players, and 5 of them bowls one over each. Vale added a few more rules to ensure as even a contest as possible; no LBWs, and a different pair of batsmen had to open in each game. 6’s cricket is all about high impact hitting, athletic fielding and tight bowling.

Innellan CC (my team) really struggled to pull together a side, and so in the end I pulled in some help. This included Euan, Louie and his dad Phil.

And we beat everybody! It is an unusual thing for me- I am not really used to winning cricket matches, let alone whole tournaments. Louie batted out of his skin- he is a rising star and is on the verge of the national Scotland under 15’s team. We all bowled well, but somehow I managed to find a crop of fast spinners that people found impossible to hit. One of my overs was a maiden. Will kept wicket rather than bowling- something he loves to do, hiding from the pressure of being the bowler that everyone (but Will himself) thinks he is. In the end I decided that he was due a rest- and he crashed a few fours to complete his day.

I was very proud of my little team- not only did we win, but we played the game as it should be played. We were courteous, friendly and fair, and when others were getting angry and aggressive we just ignored them and carried on doing our thing.

Now the season is done. The dark space of winter welcomes no cricket. We are left only with memories.

And a trophy on the mantelpiece…

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