This comes courtesy of Crawford, with whom I have sat around many firesides. Consider it a companion to yesterdays post. He sent me a photo, and some words describing a climb with his son. Let them speak to you as they will…
Here’s a photo. It’s of snow – so is a bit Christmassy.
The footprints you see are Matthews. We climbed a mountain together.
As I followed in his footsteps it made me consider a few things;
He is now stronger than me and more physically capable – that dented my pride and made me proud.
I was happy for him to plough his own route without waiting for me. I didn’t feel the need to call him back. He was enjoying the journey – as was I.
On occasion he stopped and waited for me patiently. without me asking him to.
When the weather turned and we had to navigate off the hill, he followed me down, trusting me to get us home safe. Following in my footsteps.
It was a time spent in the same place, together but apart.
There was something unspoken between us about the experience, something precious, a bond.
It should not have been a surprise- we were already getting used to them. We had been living ever more individualised, isolated lives for decades. We no longer formed or joined clubs, or went to churches. We even drank alone. The community we make increasingly was on-line, which was better than nothing, but none of us can pretend that it is the real thing.
So much for stating the obvious.
I am an introvert and socialise in the way that many exercise – reluctantly – but I mostly end up enjoying it anyway and know that it is good for me, even though I find it exhausting, particularly if I have to indulge in too much small talk.
Nevertheless, like most people raised as an outsider, I have always idealised community. I thought of it as a secret superpower that could rescue and restore. I spent years of my life trying to make inclusive communities with others like me, discovering (unsurprisingly) that community is hard. It strips you bare. It exposes you to all sorts of discomfort and conflict. It is also often dissapointing, particuarly if you are an idealogue like I am, because the reality of these radical communities that I have longed for is that they are often mundane – boring even – riven by small injustices and petty irritations.
The question is then, do I regret all of my attempts at community making?
Not for one moment. There is no better reason for living. There is no better feeling than friendship, no better experience than one that is shared, no better place to be than a crowded fireside.
What has this to do with advent I hear you ask.
The heart of the meaning of the word is wrapped up in the very nature of our humanity. We are above all things, social. Even people like me. We are made to be with others, not alone. The meaning we find is one that we share, not one that we make alone. The things we value are things to share with those we love (and we are encouraged to love widely).
The God who was distant comes to us, in friendship, to join our fireside conversations. Not so we will be better individuals, but so we might be better friends.
If you think I overstate this, think again.
Forget friendship as a soft power, and think instead of it as a radical force that might change the world.
Here on TFT we notice things like that because they might become roads we travel, if we let them. If we decide to walk them…
You might like to walk this one in company. There will be a post here each day heading towards the uncertainty of what the feast of Christmas will bring us this year. I intend for this journey to include lots of guest posts from writers/artists/friends because all long journeys are best made in companionship. (If you want to contribute to this journey, drop me a message.)
This advent will be my mother’s last. She may not make the whole journey, but I would not put it past her to see in another Christmas. I say this because this is the background to my advent journey. It gives an understandable sense of urgency, of vitality, of woundedness and a bitter-sweetness to each moment.
In these circumstances, the Emmanuel of God is not theoretical. It is not theological. Death and dying can be neither of these things. I say this not as an attempt to sell you a God of the last gasp, but because in these circumstances we come up sharp against the pointed truth of our own being.
But Emmanuel is first and foremost about one thing; hope. I feel this inside of me as if the hand of a God was resting gently on the small of my back.
This is what this series of writings and happenings will be about – or at least I think so. I have no plan, except just to keep walking forward in to the great wide open unknown, trusting that we walk towards love.
It means ‘God with us’ of course, but what does that mean?
What does it mean to our personal situations, right now? Is the best we can hope for some kind of sticking-plaster God who serves up ancient platitudes from haughty distance?
What does it mean to our world situation? To our damaged planet? To refugees forced out on to open sea? To yawning inequality and grinding poverty?
God with us.
The Shalom of God that passes all understanding.
The Shambala of God.
The kingdom/revolution/insurgency of God.
Perhaps these ideas, which came to us as opaque mystery, are simply not to be explained or contained. They can only be walked towards.
I first came accross the word ‘hermaneutic’ in the conext of trying to make sense of ancient scripture. In that context, it was a helpful way to understand how the ‘googles’ that we wear, albeit entirely unconsciously, affects what we see. In a wider application, this might mean that the dominant world views that underpin our understanding of the cultures we are embedded in prevent us from seeing things that would otherwise be obvious.
One of the most dominant ideas about who we are within arose from enlightenment thinking. We used to believe that evolution was a process of ascendancy in which naturual forces decide, by process of ‘selection’, how progress continues to be made. More recently, this same logic has dominated our economics, in which ‘nature’ has been replaced by ‘the market’.
Do not think
Trust instead in evolution
To shape the world, if not for best
At least for least worst
Do not act
Worlds are not built, they
Emerged as tectonic friction
Then were abraded by natural forces
Beyond our control
Do not rescue
Let weakness whither
Set the fittest free to celebrate
Do not regulate
Let greed sow seeds
Like forest trees, then let
Free markets grow
The market, left to it’s own devices, is then thought to be self-regulating and capable of finding the best solution not just to any economic solutions but to all associated human implications.
Climate change has forced us, kicking and screaming in some cases, to re-evaluate this hermaneutic because free market economics is destroying the very integrated natural ecological system that inspired it.
The second hermaneutic also comes from the natural world. We know already how trees communicate with each other through the mycorrhizal network, but the more we look into this, the more remarkable is the relationship between fungal life (thought to be a third of all life on the planet) and the rest of the natural world. It seems that the truth is inescapable- life is found not in the individual spiecies, but in the ways they connect and interact. The ways the co-operate and support one another.
I write this post for two reasons; firstly, I am looking for help. Secondly as an act of deliberate vulnerability.
Almost everyone I know who ‘writes’ feels like an imposter. This is particularly true of poets. Partly this is because the value or quality of writing is very subjective. How do you judge one poem against another? How do we ever know that what we write is ‘good’? Frankly, friends are unreliabe witnesses and even if we get some wider exposure, praise can feel hard to accept.
This might always be true, even when we have been ‘published’. One of the wonderful things that I have done is to curate collections of poetry for Proost, which involved giving previously unpublished poets that delicious sense that someone else had read what they had produced (out of the depths of their being) and liked it so much that they wanted to put it in to print. Whilst I hope and believe that this may well have helped some people along their creative path, in my own experience, the boost that this kind of recognition gives can be fleeting.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not think that confidence and self belief are necessary for artistic expression. In a post about a decade ago I wrote this;
…I decided that great art does not require confidence (although as in all things, it may well help) but it does require tremendous courage. Because what we create, we create out of ourselves. And once created, it leaves some tender vulnerable part of ourselves out in the open where the wolves still range…
I have been gathering some work for a new project, which will be entitled something like ‘After the apocalypse’. It is a collection of poetry/meditation in three parts; before, during and after. If you have read my blog before you will already know the themes, but this project deliberately sets the pandemic as the backdrop for protest, hope, activism and change. The intention (when courage allows such a thing) is to take this project on the road somehow with a series of ‘conversation’ events- poetry readings/art/music/discussion – in which I hope we can start to dream together of a better way of being. Not that I have all that worked out yet of course…
I asked Si Smith if he was interested in collaborating, and he graciously said yes. If you don’t know Si’s work, then you should check out his blog here. He is fantastically talented artist, graphic novelist and illustrator. He is also a very generous bloke who has done a lot of curation/support of other artists and I often feel that I have simply asked too much of him. The imposter inside tells me that my work should not sit alongside his. This feeling was made keener when the publisher we were hoping to work with informed me that they were not interested after all. All the old doubts, which never went away, flood out in to the open once again.
Finding a publisher for any written material is very hard, particularly for poetry. I have quite a lot of experience in and around the edge of this world and know well that there are now many routes to market through self-publishing and using on-line resources, but still, a pubisher who knows his/her business is what I am hoping for. The problem of course is that so are thousands of others. How on earth do we cut through the noise and find someone who is willing to give this project a chance?
In the spirit of the sort of vulnerable courage described above, I decided to ask for help.
If you have read anything I have written and found it to have usefulness or value, then you already have my deepest thanks. However, if you also have any contacts or suggestions for a publisher, then I would also be very grateful.
Tomorrow is remembrance Sunday, the day when we remember what happens when we allow international relations to decend in to war, and the terrible human cost that has to be paid in the prosecution of this war.
Or at least this is what I think we are remembering, but with a heavy heart, I have to say that this is perhaps not the primary message being communicated within our culture each year in association with this solemn day,
All war is evil. Some are more evil than others. Those leaders who take us to war do so with the explicit compliance of we, the citizens, fed as we are by images of the noble heroic soldier sacrificed in order to preserve our ‘freedom’. This idea has some historical truth, but this truth obscures as much as it reveals.
I am going to celebrate this day by posting this video, because I think we need to hear from an actual soldier.
“Not surprisingly, this sense of bleakness and futility has seeped into wider culture. A recent international survey of young people found that 75% believed “the future is frightening”, 56% thought “humanity is doomed” and 39% were “hesitant to have children”.
Climate change is a critical issue and one that will require considerable political will and social resolve to challenge. Hallam and Franzen and similar thinkers insist that only an apocalyptic vision will persuade people to take action. In reality, as the environmental journalist Hannah Ritchie has observed: “Once anger transitions into hopelessness, we struggle to achieve much at all.” Telling people that there is no future is hardly conducive to getting them to act to change it….”
I have written before on this blog about how the ancient myths from the beginning of Genesis might be read as an allegory of the rise of mankind, from our start as hunter gatherers, to farmers, to accumiulators, to city builders then to the destructive rise and fall of empires. You can read more about this reading of the Bible here.
You may wonder what some ancient stories from the Bible have to do with climate change?
I think the stories we tell each other in order to make sense of our world matter, and perhaps none more than our origin story. We have been raised on the idea of human progress, defined technologically. Even with the destruction of world wars and the real and present realities of climate emergency, this myth is very hard to counter. We still hear grand plans to solve our problems technologically; some brand new carbon scrubbing technology, or brand new electric cars.
But what if we need to go back to the beginning? What if the problem started when we forgot the theology, the ecology, the politics and the economics of the garden of Eden?
What if, as we ate the fruit of the tree in that ancient story, we separated ourselves from the harmony and balance of the ecosystem that sustains us? What if this was our ‘sin’ all along, and that these sins are now finding us out?
The fruit from tree of the knowledge of good and evil
Most of the problems that our world is faced with at present are economic ones.
Or to put it another way, the way we organise our economic relations at both macro and micro levels is both the cause and the sustaining circumstance of global warming.
Or to put it one more way, any solution to the climate emergency has to be an economic one.
These things being said, where are the economic solutions? Why are different economic arrangements being not being openly discussed and debated in the mainstream media on a daily basis? Where are the breakthrough ideas? Where is the careful economic critical analysis of just how our economies are bringing us towards disaster? More importantly, what might be the best economic solutions?
Part of the problem is political. After all, economic theory is mostly seen through the lens of sectarian politics. ‘Progressive’ left wing solutions have been so effectively dismissed, vilified and undermined that it has become entirely logical to dismiss them as crackpot communism. Consider the efforts to introduce a version of the Green New Deal both sides of the Atlantic and the partisan campaign fought against it.
Another part of the problem is that the power of wealth suffocates all threats to their own ascendancy. This is not always deliberate (although often it is) rather it is an emergent quality of privilege and systems that have evolved that enshrine inequality and over consumption.
Then there is something about the nature of economics itself as an acedemic discipline. Remember the Post Crash Economics Society? The study of economics has too often happened within the comfort of its own establishment. There are many notable exceptions but the students revolted for good reason.
Having said all that, the ideas are there if you look for them. More than this, I would argue thtat we MUST look for them. We must find a way to educate ourselves so that when we hear both political parties talking about national debt and gross domestic product as the main economic factors that determine and justify economic policies we can scoff in their faces from a position of knowledge. With that in mind, the point of this post is to propose a couple of places to start.
Next, consider the brilliant work done by Thomas Piketty. Here is a TED talk he did about the role of wealth in our societies, and how this is pulling us towards destruction.
Finally, one of our own Kate Rowarth, who has given us a very simple and powerful model that might replace our dominant neoliberal hegemony. Here are 7 short vids that might change the whole world- start with this one and follow it through.