Advent conspiracy 3: the best is yet to come…

This is part of our daily collaborative advent project, which will be spread accross a few locations/blogs.

Today’s piece comes from singer/songwriter Bob Fraser, who has written some of the soundtrack to my (and perhaps your) earlier life.

We would love you to come with us on the journey. The simplest way to do this is to subscribe to one of the blogs, and then you should get a daily notification (you can always unsubscribe later!) Otherwise, you can interact with the posts via the usual social media platforms (although I am no longer doing twitter.) A few shares and likes will help us make connections too…

Our intention is to move forward with hope, savouring questions and having no fear of doubt. We live in darkness but look towards light.

Photo by Matti Karstedt on Pexels.com

How must it feel to have your homeland occupied by the enemy, to be dispossessed of your land, to have your home bombarded and devastated, and reduced to a pile of rubble? How must it feel to lose relatives and friends, lose possessions, lose dignity, and be surrounded by devastation, chaos and uncertainty, knowing no security, and not knowing where the next meal may come from, or whether you even have a table to sit at? How would we cope with no electricity, no running water, living the life of a refugee in a climate of fear? What must it be like to be frightened by the callous actions of extremists, and equally fearful of your own emotions which may boil over in desperation demanding justice and revenge?

For an ordinary bloke wanting to live a peaceful, meaningful life, earn a living, care for a family, bring security and protection to those you love, and maintain a grip on beliefs and values, a life in that kind of environment would be severely restricted.

Even when a cease fire is declared, providing desperate civilians a much needed opportunity to assess the damage, look after the wounded  and somehow go on with their lives, it’s a fragile peace and experience suggests it will not last, that conflict will resume, and there will be yet more suffering.

Sometimes, our hearts can feel like that enemy occupied land – battle weary, battered and bruised after yet another enemy onslaught. Every now and then there is a temporary cease-fire, giving chance to re-group, offering new hope and encouragement to keep going. Yet, after only a brief respite, another bombardment comes, threatening to destroy much of what we had salvaged from previous wreckage. Enemies know how to target with precision any weakness in defences. Their aim is to steal, kill, destroy, immobilise, silence, and distract. They know how to create dis-unity, spread lies and confusion, cut off supplies, extinguish hope, break the battle line, prey on the vulnerable, sever communication, dampen spirits and create exhaustion.

Options are limited in a situation where most of what is happening is outside our control. The only choices available are probably equally daunting. Neither choice comes without risk. Neither is right nor wrong. We can remain victims, hunkering down until the next cease-fire, longing for peace, yet existing and surviving rather than really living, but at least being close to roots and family and all that is familiar.

Or, we can gather all those we love and anything we can salvage, and start out on a path that is unfamiliar, heading for a destination which is unknown, taking on a new adventure with hope of a better life.

Whichever option is chosen, we’ll need to cling to the hope that even though life at the moment is not how we imagined it would be, the best is yet to come.

Advent conspiracy 2…

This is the second part of daily collaborative advent project, which will be spread accross a few locations;

This one (obivously.) Steve Broadway, who has a prodigiously varied output of drawings and photographs here. Graham Peacock; pantomime dame, chaplain, former methodist minister, terrible cricketer, who has a wonderful eclectic, thoughtful blog here.

We will also be having some contibutions by the fantastic singer/songwriter Bob Fraser, who has written some of the soundtrack to my (and perhaps your) earlier life.

We would love you to come with us on the journey. The simplest way to do this is to subscribe to one of the blogs, and then you should get a daily notification (you can always unsubscribe later!) Otherwise, you can interact with the posts via the usual social media platforms (although I am no longer doing twitter.) A few shares and likes will help us make connections too…

Our intention is to move forward with hope, savouring questions and having no fear of doubt. We live in darkness but look towards light.

Today’s reflection comes from a typically honest Steve Broadway, pondering matters of faith…

Advent is particularly associated with waiting… but for me, this year, Advent will be a little different from the Advents of the past. My own ‘faith journey’ has stalled – so much so that I’ve decided to take an indefinite sabbatical from attending church services while I endeavour to wait for this period to pass.


In some ways, agreeing to be a part of a ‘multi-blog collaboration’ seems both inappropriate a little scary.

I am an early riser. I’m usually up by 5am.


At various times in my life, I might have used this time for prayer and/or reading daily reflections/Bible passages.


I no longer do such things.


I can no longer be bothered.


And yet, since moving house, I now frequently find myself in my ‘Thinking Seat’ staring out of the window at the dawn of a new day.


It’s something of a magical time.


Could it be the start of my journey to rediscover my faith?


“Caught by the light of some small heaven” (as my good friend Ian has described it) perhaps?

Advent conspiracy 1

Today marks the first day of another season of Advent. It also marks the beginning of a daily collaboration with some blogging friends, in which we will be sharing a post each day over our different platforms.

These will include

This one (obivously.)

Steve Broadway, who has a prodigiously varied output of drawings and photographs here.

Graham Peacock; pantomime dame, chaplain, former methodist minister, terrible cricketer, who has a wonderful eclectic, thoughtful blog here.

We would love you to come with us on the journey. The simplest way to do this is to subscribe to one of the blogs, and then you should get a daily notification (you can always unsubscribe later!) Otherwise, you can interact with the posts via the usual social media platforms (although I am no longer doing twitter.) A few shares and likes will help us make connections too…

Our intention is to move forward with hope, savouring questions and having no fear of doubt. We live in darkness but look towards light.

To get us started, this is a view from one of my favourite places, the site of St Blanes chapel, built in a bowl of Isle of Bute hills on the site of a monastery established by or after Catan, an Irish missionary saint, some time in the 500s.

Amongst and around the viking graves and medieval church walls, you can see marks and mounds in the earth from the earlier religious settlement. A boundary wall marking the division between ‘secular’ and ‘sacred ‘space, simple beehive cells made from piles of stones in which monks lived. A well still full of fresh sparkling water. Wild plants whose ancestors may have been planted as part of a monastic garden.

Leaning in are huge trees; oaks and sycamores – ancient, but more recent than the placing of the stones.

But the stones themselves – they are old on a different scale. Shaped by the igneous intrusion that formed much of these parts.

It is a place of reflection. A place when our hubris is measured against almost-infinity. Our place in things becomes so tiny so ephemeral.

Wierdly however, this place never erases my individuality, rather it contains it. Rather than reducing me to so much blown chaff, as relevant (and as irrelevant) as a fallen leaf, it connects me.

But what is this thing that I feel connected to?

The old answers never felt authentic, even when I pretended greater confidence. They used language and ideas given to me that were at best merely a mode of travel, they were never a destination. Perhaps there is no destination. But still, in moments and in places like this, I find myself sensing something beyond myself that draws me. I have no pressing need to define it, to categorise, but I feel hints of sometihng vitalising and alive beyond almost anything else in my experience.

Are these just the fanciful meanderings of a middle aged man? Perhaps, but if so, I am in good company at St Blanes chapel. People have been seeking the same answers there for one and a half thousand years, despite the intervention of Vikings and the Reformation (incidentally, apparently the minister there refused to play ball with the reformists, and he was so loved that they let him be.)

Advent is not about certainty, it is about a sense of something more ‘felt’ than known. In my experience it contains a longing that can not be easily described. It is perhaps best understood as a fleeting transcendent connection to something beyond

The most tantalising thing of all is that what I think I sense most strongly in these moments is goodness.

Almost as if at the centre of all things is…

Daily advent reflection- anyone want to contribute?

Photo by Luca Nardone on Pexels.com

Advent begins on Sunday. I love to allow seasons like this to shape some contemplation, and so intend to put together a daily reflection thing via my blog. Does anyone want to contibute?

Advent is about anticipating something better. Hoping for light that is still to come, even in present darkness. Do whatever you like with this this. Could be a poem, an image, a video clip, a song, or a painting, or anything else that provides a space for others to be still for a moment and reflect.

How is it that still, you love things by becoming them?

How was it that this brown-skinned man with the heart of a woman

Took upon herself another name for everything, so we could

Encounter her in all these beautiful things and bleed with her when she

Lies broken? And just when all seems lost, she whispers still –

See, I am making all things new.

Even you.

It can be hard at first to step aside from both secular and religious cliches about the approach of Christmas, at least until you allow yourself a bit of space to think again about the nature of this season.

  • the time when winter is still deepening, the coldness increasing, the days shortening
  • the creak of increasing Christmas pressure coming at us from our screens
  • fears of scarcity despite our abundance
  • the end of last year and the approach of the next
  • the certain knowledge that there will be a new spring
  • the simple, all surpassing idea of immanuel, the god who loves things by becoming them

If you would like to join us for the journey, reply here or drop me a message. You need espouse no particular position of faith. Just help our hearts open a little when we need it most.

What might climate activism look like in small rural communities?

Following on from the last post, in which I attempted to describe my feelings around a new attempt to form a climate action group for my local area, I have been continuing to consider the problem of how to respond creatively and with integrity to crisis of our time.

There is a need for all of us from time to time to take an inventory not just of our own personal place in the world, but how this relates to the great goodness the world contains. If we are to treasure the gace hidden in all things then we must also seek to be part of it and not just consume it, or be an unwitting part of its destruction. The great disatisfaction this sets up in many of us at present is the feeling that we are powerless to change the very destruction we are seeking to avoid. This itself is a place of personal and collective sickness of spirit.

As for myself, I have tried to make as many changes that I could towards sustainability – the growing of food, the recycling, the fixing and reusing, the buying second hand. However, I also feel guilty because of the destructive things that I do – the vehicles I drive, the leaky home heated with fossil fuel, the over consuming western culture within which I still participate. Like many of us, this sets up chains of cognitive dissonance that twist me up in ways that are profoundly self defeating.

I am privileged to live a comfortable life in a beautiful place between mountains and sea. This privilege places me on the outside, removed from cutting edge consequences more visible around greater concentrations of humanity, particularly in the poorer southern parts of the world. Discussions about climate change here are made from a position of climate privilege and collective blindness about the mess we have made (and continue to make) of our ecosystems. We look at mountains covered in spruce plantations and think they always looked like that. We dodge deer on the roads forgetting entirely that they are there because of a lack of natural predators. We celebrate iconic single species such as otters and sea eagles with no clear idea of their loneliness and the total unbalanced ecosystem that our patterns of farming and resource extraction have created.

My attempt to respond to these issues has already proved problematic, for these sorts of reasons;

  1. There are some vested interests that might well get in the way- for example, how can a council funded organisation protest against the council and hold it to account?
  2. It seems that death by detail is likely. There are so many strands of potential action (allotments, recycling, plastics, beach cleaning, forestry, diversity, single species protection, ocean protection zones, conservation farming, rewilding, etc.) How do we prioritise?
  3. The detail is often reflected in individuals with passions and hobby horses. These are not necessarily ‘local’ or directly relevant to OUR location here and now. Again, how do collectivise around one particular issue or small set of issues?
  4. We all have egos in the game- we like to think that our passion projects are the most important. We can then be dismissive of others and fail to add collective value.
  5. What is the appropriate response to a climate emergency HERE in Argyll? My feeling is that small scale consumer/citizen focussed activities of the kind that are being promoted through the Dunoon Area Alliance (a funded community support organisation) (for example green mapping, recycling, plastics campaigns etc) are important in that they give people a feeling of getting involved, but they are not proportionate to the scale of the emergency. None of these actions are transformative or would make significant impact, apart from perhaps at the informational level.
  6. There seems to me to be a difference between an activist group and small-scale community activities. Both have important roles to play but require different approaches/structures/memberships.
  7. Activism most likely involves a degree of confrontation, which is not for everyone.
  8. There is a lot of complacency about climate change and loss of habitat diversity here in Argyll. We consider the landscape to be ‘wild’ and ‘natural’, because it is largely open country. It is in fact neither of these things.

What then might local climate activism look like in Argyll? What are the major issues impacting on our ways of living here? What industrial processes that have shaped our interactions with the natural world, for good or ill? Which problems should be our priority and where do we put our energy? In a previous post I asked these questions;

What are the industrial processes that are destroying the Cowal environment? This takes us straight towards the three F’s- Farming, Forestry and Fishing. They are all sacred cows with huge local power and social capital. Challenging established practices will upset people we know and love.

Where can we see examples of local counter-cultural political/social/economic alternatives that we can learn from? We have to think both big and small, in that we need to hold an idea of transformation that is also LOCAL.

For example, S mentioned a small Irish town that has become fully ‘sustainable’. Coll has its own independent power grid. Other towns have gone fully plastic free. Some places have used local politics to revive collective action. Other places have converted almost all shared spaces into collective food growing areas.

What can we learn from these examples and how can we hold our own political systems to account for their lack of ambition?

I think these are important questions here, and in my mind at least, they already start to suggest areas of engagement. I have been inspired in part by this;

(You can read more about this here.)

The thing about this piece is that despite its visual and political impact, it has created significant reaction. It was also largely the work (I think) of one or two people, who did not ask for permission, beyond talking to the owner of the land on which the structure was built.

It is also proportionate to the landscape and location. It is made of local timber and can be seen from distance, whilst doing no damage. Some people objected, but it has largely recieved local acceptance, even to the point or retrospective planning permission.

More than this, the power of the object comes from artistic, creative playful question making. It might be regarded as theopoetic. The shape and idea is deceptively simple, but the more you think about it, the more it starts to shift the way that people see things.

This structure offers a meeting point, a space to share ideas and make small revolutions. Power to those who made it, I say.

We can’t all build an ark – although then again perhaps we need one in every area – but we can learn a lot from this approach. Local, thinking big and small. Proportionate to the scale of lanscape. Using local skills. Slightly subversive, making a statement for others to respond to without preaching. Using art rather than persuasion.

There are also some clues there about the nature of the group that might support such activity. Clandestine, confronting work of this kind probably needs a supportive, safe community behind it, who are prepared to share the work and the potential adverse reactions.

I have some ideas already, but obviously can’t talk about them here yet… However, if you are local and interested to know more, get in in touch.

Time to get back on the picket lines?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

I attended a meeting last night of people considering starting a climate change action group. First meetings of this kind are always difficult. People come at the meeting from all sorts of positions and we all feel the need to state our credentials. The outcome was fairly predictable in that (like much of the debate on climate change!) we got lost in detail. I ended up feeling frustrated and struggling to remain hopeful.

It is no easy thing to commit to another group-based activity. Not for a battle-scarred introvert such as myself.

It was all buzzing in my head, so that this morning I was up at the crack of dawn, wanting to write some thoughts down- pretty much my standard way to process things. (If I REALLY need to work things through I turn to poetry!) I wrote this as a starter;

We are killing ecosystems. Our industrial processes are eating the planet from under us. Our over-consumption is creating huge unfairness and inequality.
Here in Cowal we live amongst such natural beauty, but this obscures a terrible truth: our hillside is dying or already dead. The ancient forests are gone, replaced by ecological wastelands. Deer numbers are exploding. Everything is out of balance.
In the face of all this we feel powerless. Partly this is because ‘The problem’ is not on a human scale. It is too big. There are too many components, too many power dynamics, too many distractions, too many voices who seem to offer conflicting information.
Many of us have tried to change as individuals. There is a whole industry set up to make us all individual green consumers- to sell us green products and services. Mostly this is just ‘green-washing’. Individual consumer action cannot and will not reverse climate change.
Many of us have also been part of collective action at some level- attending protests, lobbying MPs, starting food-growing initiatives, demanding better from our supermarkets. This kind of action can unite us and bring hope that things CAN change but they are not sufficient. The climate is still warming. Diversity is still being stripped away from our already denuded landscapes.
Our problem is two-fold;

  1. Unsustainable industrial (including farming/forestry/fishing) processes at both global and local levels
  2. A lack of political/social/economic alternatives to the unsustainable consumer culture we have created at global, national and local levels

The question, once again, is what do we do about this. I am not interested in consumer choices. Whether I use plastic bags or drive a Tesla will not help one jot. Neither have I any patience for passive ego-preening discussions, even though I have been guilty of indulging in them too often myself. Here is my current thinking;

There is a lot of activity taking place in Dunoon already. It is good to know about it and to support it but there is no point in replicating it. Movements towards change often break down into factional competitive fiefdoms and we want no part of that.
What we do not have is a local place/mechanism to express our outrage and to collectively convert this outrage to action.
Whilst there are many ways that we might do this I believe we have to stay focussed first and foremost on how ‘The problem’ (as defined above) is encountered in Cowal. In other words;

  1. What are the industrial processes that are destroying the Cowal environment? This takes us straight towards the three F’s- Farming, Forestry and Fishing. They are all sacred cows with huge local power and social capital. Challenging established practices will upset people we know and love.
  2. Where can we see examples of local counter-cultural political/social/economic alternatives that we can learn from? We have to think both big and small, in that we need to hold an idea of transformation that is also LOCAL. For example, Siobhan mentioned a small Irish town that has become fully ‘sustainable’. Coll has its own independent power grid. Other towns have gone fully plastic free. Some places have used local politics to revive collective action. Other places have converted almost all shared spaces into collective food growing areas. What can we learn from these examples and how can we hold our own political systems to account for their lack of ambition?

And how might we express this outrage? My hope is that we can do something like this;

 The outcome of this work will hopefully be playful, creative activism

  • Art that reveals, challenges, informs (think of the Ark)
  • Subversive action (non-violent and not illegal!) to raise awareness over specific local issues
  • Informational activities such as conferences (as per the Mid Argyll group)
  • Community play- building things in the landscape, feasting together, singing and sitting round fires, telling hopeful stories.

I don’t know if the others in my embrionic group will share this vision with me, and if not, I will need to challenge myself along these lines;

Like all of us, I have my history, my past failures and even worse, my past successes. I have my own hobby horses and passions. I am a grumpy poet who does not do small talk and has a low tolerance for bullshit.

Having said that, I believe in the power of community. I see no greater hope. If we can find some collective momentum through this group, I will hang in there, despite my own inevitable limitations and frustrations.

As I further reflect on all of this, I realise that more than ever, I connect with things through my spirit rather than my intellect. Whether I stay involved with this group or not will be much to do with whether it sings in my soul. At present, the song is distant, but there are interesting echoes…

How should we remember?

Poppy field on a June evening by Jeremy Bolwell is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Today, here in the UK we keep a two minute silence for rememberance day, inaugurated, at least in part, to help us hold in our minds the futility and brutality of the War to End All Wars (which turned out to be wrongly named.)

Despite (or perhaps because of) the increasing historical distance from the last great war, my impression is that rememberance day in Britain is becoming a bigger deal. Celebrations are more elaborate than decades ago. Silences are held in supermarkets. Social media feeds are full of Sasson and Owen poetry and the US cult of the soldier-hero has cross the Atlantic.

I often wonder if it would be the same if there had been no second world war. Much of the modern popular cultural idea of ‘Britishness’ seems to have been defined by this conflict- the spitfires and the plucky island standing as a last bastion against oppression. We case ourselves not only as victors, but as noble warriors. As if the Empire never happened. Brexit, cast in this light, is both logical and correct. Other parts of the world have a very different idea of Britishness- after all, there are only 22 countries on the planet that we have not at some point invaded/annexed/otherwise appropriated.

This matters. Consider the amount of wars since the end of the last ‘world war’. Below is an alphabetical list, which is far from complete. Most are directly related to the mess left behind by Empires, and we had the biggest of all. (Taken from here.)

  • Afghanistan: Civil War, 1989
  • Afghanistan: Soviet Invasion, 1979–1989
  • Afghanistan: U.S. and NATO Invasion, 2001–
  • African Union conflicts
  • Albania: Civil Conflict, 1990s
  • Algeria: Fundamentalist Struggle Since 1992
  • Algeria: War of National Liberation, 1954–1962
  • Angola: First War with UNITA, 1975–1992
  • Angola: Second War with UNITA, 1992–2002
  • Angola: Struggle over Cabinda Since 1960
  • Angola: War of National Liberation, 1961–1974
  • Anticolonialism terrorism
  • ANZUS Pact
  • Arab League
  • Argentina: Dirty War, 1960s–1970s
  • Argentina: Falklands/Malvinas War, 1982
  • Armenia: Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, 1990s
  • Bahrain: Anti-Regime Uprising, 2011
  • Bolivia: Revolution, 1952
  • Bosnia: Civil War, 1992–1995
  • Brazil: Generals’ Coup, 1964
  • Burkina Faso: Coups, 1966–1987
  • Burundi: Ethnic Strife, 1962–2006
  • C
  • Cambodia: Civil Wars, 1968–1998
  • Cambodia: U.S. Interventions, 1969–1973
  • Cambodia: Vietnamese Invasion, 1978–1979
  • Canada: Quebec Separatist Movement, 1960–1987
  • Central African Republic: Coups Since 1966
  • Central Treaty Organization (Baghdad Pact)
  • Chad: Civil Wars, 1960s–2000s
  • Chad: War with Libya, 1986–1987
  • Chile: Coup Against Allende, 1973
  • China: Border Clash with the Soviet Union, 1969
  • China: Border War with India, 1962
  • China: Civil War/Revolution, 1927–1949
  • China: Invasion of Tibet, 1950–1959
  • China: Quemoy and Matsu, 1954–1958
  • China: Tiananmen Violence, 1989
  • China: War with Vietnam, 1979
  • Cold War Confrontations
  • Colombia: Internal Insurgencies, 1970s–2000s
  • Comoros: Coups, 1980s
  • Congo, Democratic Republic of: Invasions and Internal Strife Since 1998
  • Congo, Democratic Republic of: Kabila Uprising, 1996–1997
  • Congo, Democratic Republic of: Post-Independence Wars, 1960–1965
  • Congo, Republic of: Civil Conflict, 1997
  • Coups
  • Croatia: War with Serbia, 1991–1995
  • Cuba: Bay of Pigs Invasion, 1961
  • Cuba: Communist Revolution, 1956–1959
  • Cuba: Missile Crisis, 1962
  • Cyprus: Communal Conflict Since 1955
  • Czechoslovakia: Coup, 1948
  • Czechoslovakia: Soviet Invasion, 1968
  • D
  • Djibouti: Civil Conflict, 1991–2000
  • Dominican Republic: Coup and U.S. Invasion, 1965
  • E
  • East Timor: Independence Struggle, 1974–2002
  • Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
  • Ecuador: Border Dispute with Peru, 1941-1998
  • Egypt: Anti-Mubarak Uprising, 2011
  • Egypt: Nasser Coup and Its Legacy, 1952–1970
  • Egypt: Sinai War, 1956
  • Egypt: War of Attrition, 1967–1970
  • El Salvador: Civil Wars, 1970s–1980s
  • El Salvador: Soccer War with Honduras, 1969
  • Eritrea: Border War with Ethiopia, 1998–2000
  • Eritrea: War for Independence, 1958–1991
  • Ethiopia: Civil War, 1978–1991
  • Ethiopia: Revolution, 1974–1978
  • Ethiopia: War with Somalia, 1977–1978
  • Ethnic and Religious Conflicts
  • European Defense Community (EDC), 1952–1954
  • F
  • Fiji: Ethnic Conflict and Coups Since 1987
  • G
  • Georgia: Civil War, 1990s
  • Georgia: South Ossetia War with Russia, 2008
  • Germany: Berlin Crises, 1948–1949 and 1958–1962
  • Germany: East German Uprising, 1953
  • Ghana: Rawlings Coups, 1979–1981
  • Greece: Civil War, 1944–1949
  • Grenada: U.S. Invasion, 1983
  • Guatemala: Civil War, 1970s–1990s
  • Guatemala: Coup Against Arbenz, 1954
  • Guinea: Coup and Massacre, 2008–2009
  • Guinea-Bissau: Civil War, 1998–2000
  • Guinea-Bissau: War of National Liberation, 1962–1974
  • Guyana: Ethnic Conflict, 1960–1992
  • H
  • Haiti: Civil Conflict, 1990s–2000s
  • Hungary: Soviet Invasion, 1956
  • I
  • India: Ethnic and Separatist Violence in Assam Since 1979
  • India: Invasion of Goa, 1961
  • India: Jammu and Kashmir Violence Since 1947
  • India: Naxalite Maoist Uprising Since 1967
  • India: Nuclear Standoff with Pakistan Since 1998
  • India: Partition Violence, 1947
  • India: Sikh Uprising, 1970s and 1980s
  • India: War with Pakistan, 1965
  • India: War with Pakistan and Bangladeshi Independence, 1971
  • Indonesia: Aceh Separatist Conflict Since 1976
  • Indonesia: Communist and Suharto Coups, 1965–1966
  • Indonesia: Irian Jaya Separatist Conflict Since 1964
  • Indonesia: Wars of Independence, 1945–1949
  • International Arms Trade
  • International Criminal Court
  • Invasions and Border Disputes
  • Iran: Coup Against Mossadegh, 1953
  • Iran: Islamic Revolution, 1979
  • Iran: Nuclear Standoff Since 1979
  • Iran: War with Iraq, 1980–1988
  • Iraq: Gulf War, 1990–1991
  • Iraq: Kurdish Wars, 1961–2003
  • Iraq: Revolution and Coups, 1958–1968
  • Iraq: U.S. Invasion, 2003–2011
  • Ireland: The Troubles, 1968–1998
  • Israel: Attack on Iraqi Nuclear Reactor, 1981
  • Israel: Conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah, 2006
  • Israel: Palestinian Struggle Since 1948
  • Israel: Six-Day War, 1967
  • Israel: War of Independence, 1948–1949
  • Israel: Yom Kippur War, 1973
  • Italy: Anti-Mafia Campaign Since 1980
  • Ivory Coast: Civil Disorder, 1999–2004
  • J
  • Jordan: Civil War, 1970
  • K
  • Kenya: Mau Mau Uprising, 1952–1956
  • Kenya: Post-Election Violence, 2007–2008
  • Korea, North: Nuclear Standoff Since the 1990s
  • Korea, North: Seizure of the Pueblo, 1968
  • Korea, South: Invasion by the North, 1950–1953
  • L
  • Laos: Pathet Lao War, 1960s–1970s
  • Lebanon: Civil Conflict, 1958
  • Lebanon: Civil War, 1975–1990
  • Liberia: Anti-Taylor Uprising, 1998–2003
  • Liberia: Civil War, 1989–1997
  • Liberia: Doe Coup, 1980
  • Libya: Anti-Qaddafi Uprising, 2011
  • Libya: Qaddafi Coup, 1969
  • Libya: U.S. Air Attacks, 1986
  • M
  • Macedonia: Ethnic Conflict, 1990s
  • Madagascar: Independence Movement and Coups, 1947–2008
  • Malaysia: Communist Uprising, 1948–1960
  • Mali: Ethnic and Political Conflict, 1968–1996
  • Mauritania: Coups Since 1978
  • Mexico: Drug War Since 2006
  • Mexico: Zapatista Uprising Since 1994
  • Middle East Negotiations
  • Mozambique: Renamo War, 1976–1992
  • Mozambique: War of National Liberation, 1961–1974
  • Myanmar (Burma): Civil Wars and Coups Since 1948
  • N
  • Namibia: War of National Liberation, 1966–1990
  • Nepal: Maoist Insurgency, 1996–2006
  • New Caledonia (France): Independence Struggle, 1970s–1990s
  • Nicaragua: Contra War, 1980s
  • Nicaragua: Revolution, 1970s
  • Niger: Ethnic and Political Conflict Since 1990
  • Nigeria: Biafra War, 1967–1970
  • Nigeria: Coups and Ethnic Unrest Since 1966
  • Non-Aligned Movement—The Bandung Conference
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
  • O
  • Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC)
  • Organization of American States (OAS)
  • P
  • Pakistan: Taliban Conflict, 2004–
  • Palestine: First Intifada, 1987–1992
  • Palestine: Gaza Conflict, 2008–2009
  • Palestine: Second Intifada, 2000–2006
  • Panama: Torrijos Coup, 1969
  • Panama: U.S. Invasion, 1989
  • Papua New Guinea: Bougainville Independence Struggle, 1988–1998
  • People’s Wars
  • Peru: Shining Path Rebellion, 1970s–1997
  • Philippines: Huk Rebellion, 1948–1953
  • Philippines: Moro Uprising Since 1972
  • Philippines: War on Islamic Militants Since 1990
  • Poland: Imposition of Martial Law, 1981–1983
  • Puerto Rico: Anti-U.S. Terrorism, 1934–1954
  • R
  • Romania: Fall of Ceausescu, 1989
  • Russia: Chechen Uprising Since 1994
  • Rwanda: Civil War and Genocide Since 1991
  • S
  • Serbia: Kosovo Secessionist Movement, 1990s
  • Sierra Leone: Civil Conflict, 1990–2002
  • Solomon Islands: Separatist and Ethnic Conflict, 1999–2003
  • Somalia: Civil War Since 1991
  • South Africa: Anti-Apartheid Struggle, 1948–1994
  • Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO)
  • Soviet Union: Conflict with Iran over Azerbaijan, 1945–1946
  • Soviet Union: Conflict with Turkey, 1945–1953
  • Soviet Union: Downing of Korean Airliner, 1983
  • Spain: Basque Uprising Since 1959
  • Sri Lanka: Tamil Uprising, Late 1970s to 2009
  • Sudan: Civil Wars in South, 1955–1972; 1983–2005
  • Sudan: Conflict in Darfur Since 2002
  • Syria: Anti-Assad Uprising, 2011
  • T
  • Tajikistan: Civil War, 1990s
  • Terrorism: Global History Since the 1940s
  • Thailand: Military Coup, 2006
  • Thailand: Muslim Rebellion, 2004–
  • Togo: Coups and Political Unrest, 1963–1990s
  • Turkey: Kurdish War Since 1984
  • U
  • Uganda: Anti-Amin Struggle, 1971–1979
  • Uganda: Civil Conflict Since 1980
  • United Nations
  • United States: War on Terrorism, 1990s–
  • Uruguay: Tupumaro Uprising, 1967–1985
  • Uzbekistan: Conflict with Islamists Since 1999
  • V
  • Venezuela: Anti-Chávez Movement Since 1999
  • Vietnam: First Indochina War, 1946–1954
  • Vietnam: Second Indochina War, 1959–1975
  • W
  • War and Weapons Conventions
  • Warsaw Pact
  • Western Sahara: Polisario-Moroccan War Since 1975
  • Y
  • Yemen: Anti-Government Uprising, 2011
  • Yemen: Civil War, 1960s–1980s
  • Z
  • Zimbabwe: Anti-Mugabe Struggle Since 1983
  • Zimbabwe: Struggle for Majority Rule, 1965–1980

Perhaps wars are inevitable. Perhaps some evil always needs to be resisted, and this sometimes requires us to kill people. You could even take this logic from the Bible, despite the correctives made by Jesus recorded in the same.

Here is a poem from Listing which I offer as my qualified remembering of what war is, grateful that I have lived in peace, despite what was happening in other parts of the world where soldiers were fighting in my name.

A time for war

There is a time for all things under heaven

A time to dig trenches and put up barbed wire

Then run to our deaths into withering fire

A time for mass graves, for mums to wear black

Time to kill and to maim- a time to attack

.

A time to dehumanise, a time to breed hate

A time to decide the whole nations fate

A time when all truth is wrapped up in lies

For secret policemen and neighbourhood spies

A time to manipulate the news and the media

A time of unassailable powerful leader

.

A time of expedient centralised power

Cometh the man in this our dark hour

A time for Guantanamo, a time for Auschwitz

A time of gas chambers and motherless kids

A time to throw rocks and let loose the rockets

A time for dead eyes to be fixed in dead sockets

.

A time for insurgents, a time to suppress

To disappear dissidents, and people oppress

Of brave freedom fighters and terrorist cells

For Robin to Hood and William to Tell

In some foreign field or in our back yard

In red sucking mud or in ground frozen hard

.

Lie bones of our children who answered the call

Now ‘glorious dead’ with their names on a wall

A time to break up and time to destroy

A time to make men of every small boy

Over by Christmas or just a bit more

Now is the time for us to make war

On this thing called ‘woke’…

I have form. I was a social worker, and we have long been regarded as the ‘woke police’. I have also written previously about my feelings regarding so-called ‘political correctness’, saying this; If it is ‘political correctness’ to seek speak of people who have been broken and marginalised with dignity and respect- then I am all for political correctness. For some, these confessions will render invalid any further comment on what ‘woke’ might mean, and that is part of the problem. The debate is so polarised, so politicised, so that it has become almost impossible to be thoughtful or neutral.

Photo by FPD Images on Pexels.com

Where does the word come from anyway?

Given the normally pejorative way we hear the word ‘woke’ used, it may be a surprise (or perhaps not) to hear that the word began as black resistance against prejudice and oppression. It was almost unheard of until it began to be used as a call to stay awake following the killing of Michael Brown in Missouri by police in 2014. In the febrile partisan (and institutionally racist) US environment, the term soon began to be used as a single-word summation of leftist political ideology, centered on social justice politics and critical race theory. This framing of “woke” wass soon entirely bipartisan: It was used as a shorthand for political progressiveness by the left, and as a denigration of leftist culture by the right.

The anti-woke backlash

How do we try to understand this new phenomena of antagonism towards all things ‘woke’? Is it just reactionary crankery, or perhaps something more sinister? On the right there appears to be a firm consensus that ‘woke’ liberalism is a direct enemy of ‘freedom’, defined loosely by the percieved (or actual) de-platforming of writers/artists/speakers whose views do not fit the liberal ideal. Liberalism is then seen as corrosive to the traditions of society.

It is of course notable that hose rendered victims by this woke liberalism are noticably different from the people that the original ‘wake up’ was meant to protect. They are whiter and from much more privileged backgrounds. Their victimhood is celebrated as surprise as much as outrage.

Meanwhile those pointing out the actual victims of widening inequality within society can be dismissed as ‘woke warriors’. In this way, we see a familiar switcharoo – a way to claim victimhood in the face of the victimhood of others, in a way that could be described as ‘gaslighting‘.

Perhaps there are real victims of woke liberalism; people whose views do not fit the mould, and so have been cast out of their positions as writers/broadcasters/journalists/speakers/comedians/musicians. I am sure Morissey would define himself as one of these. Or perhaps their freedom to hold certain views directly result in a lack of freedom for other people. There is no equivalence here, surely? Hundreds of years of slavery and exploitation weighed against the calling out of historians like Andrew Roberts and Lawrence James for their defense of Empire?

What motivates those who fight against the woke?

Here in the UK, we have a government at the end of its own extreme neoliberal rope. One of the sidenotes of Liz Truss and Suella Bravermans time in the public eye was their apparent commitment to fight the good fight against the woke. Who can forget this;

Nothing unites like a common enemy, and much of this feels like the search for just that. The puzzling thing for me is the degree to which it remains a successful ploy. People I respect seem genuine in their disgust at something that may or may not exist and is as easy to hold on to as smoke.

Are they seeing something I am not because of my own woke lefty prejudices? Or perhaps the sense of being boxed off from our own identities by the rise of something ‘other’ it iself a universal fear, particularly in a society in which our grounding and identity has been splintered and eroded by consumerised individualism. Without a strong sense of our own collective identity (we are above all social apes after all) we are all the more fearful of losing what we have left.

When we add things like replacement theory to this mix, it becomes highly toxic. Arguably it is this combination that has allowed the logic of the ‘toxic environment’ our government has proudly promoted in relation to refugees entering the UK.

Photo by Ahmed akacha on Pexels.com

Wait- have we not seen this before?

Of course, the anti-woke backlash is not new. For example, it is fairly well understood now that British antipathy towards the European union that was finally consumated in the Brexit vote had its origins at least in part in the writings of the clown king himself, Boris Johnson, during his tenure as a right wing commentator. He was able to spread lies and distortions to create in the minds of the British public an idea of the EU as political correctness ‘gone mad’, characterised as a tangle of red tape and unbent bananas. This article in the Irish Times says it all. Johnson used the same old switcharoo, making victims where there were few if any.

In the USA, the stain left by the civil war has left racial fracture lines deep in the psyche of the nation. Racism and half-percieved fear-based prejudices are political engines exploited to this day, not least by Trump and his fanatical supporters. He has overtly supported far right groups and railed against the poor immigrants he wanted to keep behind his great big beautiful wall. When the facts of injustice were not on his side, the anti-woke blunderbus was aimed at critical race theory, as if this was the cause of the very problems it was trying to highlight.

If you are caught out in a lie (as Johnson and Trump have been repeatedly) most liars do not tell bigger lies, rather they find ways of making liars out of those who have called out the lies in the first place. This is the anti-woke trick – a way of nullifying injustice by whataboutary and putting on the clothes of victimhood. It is as old as the hills.

It is now properly oot…

As a by-the-way, After the apocalypse is now out on all those unmentionable global websites that used to sell books and now sell everything.

It is also available on our website here, so forget what I just said.

After all the hard work by lots of people to get the book into some kind of shape – the editing, the design work, the proof reading… and of course Si’s magnificent images – I think it time to take make grateful pause.

It is not perfect. A few errors slipped through. The print quality on the images has not totally passed the Smith test. Despite this, I am feel a sense of satisfaction that I have not always felt after a book has been completed. I think it is because this book, despite its limitations, is as honest as I can be. Its limitations are my limitations. If it carries any hope, any beauty- these are ones that I have lived through or am reaching towards. Also, despite the commercial nature of any project like this, the book was not written to sell anything. It started in frustration, anger and dissatisfaction with the world we have made, and ends in a great sigh of connection with the spirit that sings within us all.

I hope people will read it, but if you don’t that is OK. I needed to say these things anyway. More than this though, I feel a sense of responsibility towards the ideas that the book contains.

I stand by the anger. There is lots to be angry about. But we can not exist on anger alone.

I appreciate the pause that poetry gave me, the chance to ponder and reframe the way we look. But pausing is only the beginning of change.

And even if the book offers no blueprint for betterment (because I know my limitations) I think it carries some clues. It feels to me as if these are not my own insights, but ones I have discovered, almost by accident, in the margins of the scribbles I was making as poetry was forming. This is the gift of poetry – it takes is both inside ourselves and then, if we are lucky, it draws us towards new places.

Or perhaps it is nothing to do with luck. My contention is that if a solution is anything at all, it begins in the ‘theatre of the spirit’ (as Havel put it), or to put it another way, we first have to re-encounter the meaning of our lives as individuals, but even more so collectively. We have to remember that the human world we live in has been made by humans, so it is quite possible to re-make it.

In the next season of the life of this book, I hope to be bring together some actual ‘theatres of the spirit’, by putting together some gatherings where we read together and dream together. If you are interesting in hosting/attending then get in touch.

It is hard to choose poems from the book now. They are all fragments of a five year journey. But this one will do.

.

I want to live

.

I want to live in a world in which refugees are welcomed

As if coming home. As if the food they are given

Was cooked by their own mothers.

.

I want to live in a world in which people share what they have

With those who have nothing. Where fear of scarcity is foolish

Because we finally recognised abundance.

.

I want to live in a world in which love for neighbours

Made hedges and fences inconvenient. As if real estate

Is not real after all.

.

I want to live in a world in which guns are things for museums

Behind glass with suits of armour. Where tanks are

Used only to store liquid.

.

I want to live in a world in which nothing is expendable, as if landfills

were already full. As if bags of bolts and empty cans

Can be used again tomorrow.

.

I want to live in a world in which children are thrilled by birdsong

and gloriously appalled by black beetles. Where great adventure is made

Out of mountain and forest.

.

I want to live

Theopoetics 4: gathering some useful strands

This thing that we can loosely call theopoetics may not have one narrow definition, but that does not mean that we can’t describe it, both in concept and (more importantly) as a practice. As part of my own personal exploration, I have been gathering some of this material together and here is some of it, hopefully organised in a way that makes sense.

The bits and pieces here have been gathered from the web, both fixed pages, podcasts and videos. There are a few books out there which i have not read yet, and probably never will, because I am much more interested in theopoetics as a way to understand and shape practice, rather than as an intellectual exercise.

A piece of community art made by a wonderful group of people brought together by an experience of grief

Definitions

This is a paraphrase of the definition provided by ARC, whose webite is here.

Theopoetics is what happens when art/form/style/forms and intersection with spirituality, with a focus on community, change and embodiment.

It is about seeking to make the practice of poesis – the meaning making – one of the central parts of life.

It is not new. It is not ‘another way of doing god-stuff’ – rather it points to things that have always happened and always been part of religious practice.

Theopoetics requires that we have space in which to make our own spiritualities, which might be understood as a rejection of ‘monorthodoxy’, and the deliberate decision to allow a generous concept of orthdoxy, in which it is not true to say that there is ‘no such thing as rightness’, but rather that this is much broader than our prejudices might have led us to believe. This is not the same as saying ‘everything goes’, but it would suggest that our adventures are not just limited to one denomination, one tradition or even one faith.

Practice

Like many theological movements, it perhaps started in reaction to a concern about how we have place some forms of theology on pedestals, particularly seeing it as an intellectual journey. In this way of doing theology, art, if used at all, is merely metaphor through which we encounter intellectual truth. This kind of theology tends to be white, male and controled within the acedemy.

BUT, within theopoetics, the act of creating art is itself an epistemology (which is another way os saying that it becomes a different kind of knowing. Or perhaps a way of understanding the limits of our own knowing.

Perhaps we can also say that the process is as important (if not more important) than the product, or the object that is created. The act of making resonates with memories/hopes/hurts/loves that we feel within our bodies as much as we name them consciously.

It might be about helping us engage with our present or about letting go of our past, letting the spirit connect with the Spirit…

We are describing art here as a spiritual discipline, in which we make things out of our community and our shared experience as well as individually. In this we consciously value both creativity and co-creation.

Art might also been seen as prayer…

…or protest…

…or as a way to be hopefully consciously engaged with our own culture, our own location.

Embodyment

I have heard this word used for some time now, and have at times felt threatened by it. Perhaps this is because I have never been particularly comfortable with my own body. As a young man, my religion taught be to hate my physicality, particularly my sexuality, which was almost always to be supressed and was a source of shame. I was always taller than those around me, and often overweight, which, when combined with a crippling lack of self consciousness meant that my escape was into my head – to the worlds I could create, or have created there by others. Like many of us, I learned in a deep subconcious way that my body was not to be trusted, that it was ugly and that the best parts of life were lived externally, intellectually and even excarnately, via the on-line world that increasingly characterised my being. Add ot that, my body is older now, with all the changes that brings.

To hear the word ’embodyment’ being used as a spiritual practice is in stark contrast to the religion I inherited, but that is not to say that there were no embodyed experiences. I grew into a relgion that was charasmatic, with ecstatic ‘moves of the spirit’. People were ‘slain’ or shaken from head to foot. People danced. People shouted. As I reflect on that from a safe intellectual distance, it is interesting to me that in order to move beyond the intellectual straighjackets, the mostly middle-class white English people I grew up amongst needed some kind of holy-spirit madness to give them permission to engage their bodies with mystical experience. My memory of much of this is that I watched from the outside, playing musical instruments, disturbed and slightly embarrassed by much of what I was seeing, desperate to look like I belonged. Other people were fully caught up in these experiences. I thought there was something wrong with me because I was not.

So what does embodyment look like to me now? I think it has to start with small things. I have to first stop trying to force an experience that years of conditioning (and my introverted personality type) have taught me to avoid. There are many practices such as exercise, meditation, centring, etc that might be able to help me, but the one that I have found most useful is… art.

As I create (for example as I begin to contruct a poem) a lot of the work takes place within my head. My chosen medium is after all the written word. However, increasingly I seek to go beyond the bounds of my understanding and to attend to what is happening within my body. For me this often begins with my emotions. As I write it is not at all uncommon for me to weep or to discover that I my heart is racing and my teeth are clenched.

In writing poetry, I am also seeking to connect. This is really hard to describe, but anyone who writes as much as I do will know that there are times when you are not writing the poem, rather it feels as though you are recieving it. These moments are not intellectual so much as mystical. They are a bodily response to something that feels beyond my body. I would always resist describing this experience as being ‘given to me by god’, because who am I to say where inspiration comes from? Rather I am happy to say that I sought connection to the deeper parts of my body which are themselves part of the great becoming.

Photo by Kat Smith on Pexels.com

Poetics as radical engagement

To throw in another buzz-word, we might also say that poetics is concerned with Intersectionality – theopoetics as a way towards a new place. Intersectionality is an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege. It is perhaps not suprise that theology made on the margins through art would have this as part of its DNA.

Perhaps we might also see embodyment itself as a radical practice, in that the body has long been a place of suppression. Power and prejudice is aimed at, and felt by, the body. To deliberately reject these powers and say that this is MY body, inside of which MY art matters, and MY understandings of the living god matter- this is itself a political statement.

This also resonates powerfully with the idea of ‘pre political spaces’ in which change is dreamed and rehearsed, and in which ideas about change start to form and find cultural momentum. I wrote about this here.

It would seem appropriate to finish with a poem. Unsurprisingly, my last book has gathered much of my poesis, or my theopoetic journey. More than this, it has also hugely benefitted from Si Smith’s poesis, as in the image above.

This poem is my truth for today;

I choose goodness

I caught a glimpse today

Of my capacity for goodness

I thought it gone away

But there it lay

Like a laughing flapping fish

With its mouth wide open

For despite being the epicentre of my own unfolding event

I still know what it means to love

Despite all my callow grasping

I know what it means to give

Despite my tendency to measure myself and find you wanting

There is joy to be found in your victory

I am a man full of holes

But it did not all leak away

I am broken

But I am not destroyed

Today, I choose goodness.

And I call it love