"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Nature Deficit Disorder

My father suffered chronic ill health throughout his working life as a research scientist, almost certainly brought on as much by stress as by physical disorder. In mid life he was fortunate to inherit some capital from his parents. With this he was able to take up dairy farming. He was a city man until then, knowing little if anything about animal husbandry. He was also a proclaimed agnostic. But with much practical advice and help from others, plenty of hard physical labor and long relentless hours with never a day off, he succeeded in creating a compassionate farming business around a dairy herd that he adored! Mum said he loved his cows more than her?! Perhaps!
There was little financial reward for his efforts, but alongside a return to excellent physical fitness, without doubt he found some kind of spiritual healing and fulfillment that had been missing in his previous city life.

The National Trust looks after places of historic interest or natural beauty on a permanent basis for the benefit of the nation across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Tourists coming to the UK love visiting these places. Chartwell, the home of Winston Churchill, is always popular. The Trust has large tracts of heath and moorland, woodland and coastlines, protected for all to enjoy nature at its very best. Yesterday I heard that the Trust is concerned that our children today are losing touch with nature, in alarming numbers. 

It so happens someone had just told me that most children in her (rural) school class of 30 did not know what a primrose looked like.

The Trust are calling this Nature Deficit Disorder.

Come on everyone, we need to get children engaged with nature again. Let them out into nature, to explore and touch and feel and really appreciate their natural heritage.
This is important, because by losing contact with nature, with the land and the soil, with the animals and the plants, I believe that a part of our soul dies - and we deny our kids a spiritual experience, a means to develop and nurture their spiritual literacy - essential for a good life.
And we do not have to own a farm to renew that connection and get our kids involved! Many find less expensive and more readily available succor working the land within their own gardens, with healthy homegrown fruit and vegetables a valuable byproduct of their endeavors. And for those without a garden, there are our allotments, or community gardens, such as the thriving Clinton Community Garden in New York City. (This is a huge and  inspiring success story of urban regeneration. Taking in hand an ugly lot in the heart of that city, that had been abandoned for many years and strewn with all kinds of debris including dumped cars, keen volunteer citizens have created a green garden sanctuary, a place of tranquility for all to enjoy. With more than 100 plots now actively cultivated, it has a waiting list for those who would like a share of the action.)
There is some hope because there seems to be a real resurgence of interest in getting back onto the land, getting back to our roots, seeking a reconnection of soil and soul. 
But we must involve our children in all of this.
What about those who for any reason are unable to find some land with which to make such a connection? There are parks, river and canal banks to explore on a sunny weekend, there are window boxes and tubs and all manner of other containers we can grow stuff in. We can take our kids by bus out into the countryside for nature walks. We can ask teachers to do nature walks with the kids and let them build up nature tables with their interesting findings. We loved doing that as kids. Why has this practice apparently stopped?
If we don't reach out to nature, learn about it, understand and respect it, if we don't reconnect with soil, then we miss out on a great deal. We miss out on solace and healing at a spiritual level. We can then turn our wounds, our own brokenness, against the natural world. And that is what we are doing. By our thoughtless actions we can damage the very soul of nature that could help us most in our own healing.

The trouble is that this powerful source of healing is itself now hurt. Nature has become the docile dog that will savage the child who innocently pokes it in the eye. We are hurting our planet. If we do not act quickly, it may turn on us and destroy us.

And healing our kids' Nature Deficit Disorder is the best place to start. 
They are after all our future.

Adapted from Healing This Wounded Earth - Eleanor Stoneham 2011

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Why do we need money?

I heard today that many children think money just happens to appear out of a hole in the wall when required! Why should they not? It's logical really. When I was a little girl many moons ago I thought that as long as my mum had checks left in the checkbook then she could go to the bank and take out as much as she needed. Oh wish!
Why do we need money?
Greek Philosopher and scientist Aristotle explained in his Politics in c 330BC why money had been invented. The art of acquisition, he said, for which a currency was required, arose out of the simpler barter of goods, which he saw as quite natural and healthy. But when ‘The supply of men’s needs came to depend on more foreign sources, as men began to import for themselves what they lacked, and to export what they had in superabundance: …in this way the use of a money currency was inevitably instituted.’ And then the trouble began.
Because there is a distinction, as Aristotle pointed out, between essential and therefore laudable expenditure for the daily needs of food, shelter and clothing, and the acquisition of money for acquisition’s sake by profit associated with retail trade. The latter he censured:

"because the gain in which it results is not naturally made, but is made at the expense of other men. The trade of the petty usurer is hated with most reason: it makes a profit from currency itself, instead of making it from the process which currency was meant to serve. Currency came into existence merely as a means of exchange; usury tries to make it increase."

For good reason it seems, Aristotle did not trust money because he could see that it could feed an insatiable desire way beyond what was necessary for our needs and he saw this as unethical.He had a good point.

In addition to life’s basic survival necessities of warmth, clean air, medicine, clean water, food and housing, all human beings worldwide have a need and a human right to be free, to be respected as equals, able to choose their own destiny and to fulfill their full emotional, intellectual and spiritual potential. We are all entitled to the five basic human justices, of monetary and social justice, economic and environmental justice and of the right to peace.
But how to achieve this?
One of the reasons behind the appalling riots in English cities last summer was given as materialism. Now that should hardly be surprising. Given the huge disparity between the rich and the poor, is it any wonder that youngsters crave what they see as the material goodies flaunted by other people, as fuelled by marketing?
I believe that global justice will only come from our compassion and vulnerability and spirituality, qualities that need to be reflected in our financial housekeeping.

Satish Kumar writes: "This notion of spiritless existence can be described as materialism. All is matter; land, forests, food, water, labour, literature and art are commodities to be bought and sold in the marketplace - the world market, the stockmarket, the so-called free market… Business without spirit, trade without compassion, industry without ecology, finance without fairness, economics without equity can only bring the breakdown of society and destruction of the natural world. Only when spirit and business work together can humanity find coherent purpose." (Spiritual Imperative, in Resurgence).

Adapted from Healing this Wounded Earth 2011

Monday, 26 March 2012

Trial by Trolls - is there hope for our world?

Isn't it time that each and every one of us started bearing our own share of responsibility in the shaping of our world?

I know that it's 23 years since His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama gave his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1989, but what he said has as much relevance today as then. He emphasized that responsibility doesn't only lie with the leaders of our countries or with those who have been appointed or elected to do a particular job. It lies with each of us individually. The next day in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture he elaborated on the theme:

"The realisation that we are all basically the same human beings, who seek happiness and try to avoid suffering, is very helpful in developing a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood;
a warm feeling of love and compassion for others.
This, in turn, is essential if we are to survive in this ever shrinking world we live in. For if we each selfishly pursue only what we believe to be in our own interest, without caring about the needs of others, we not only may end up harming others but also ourselves. This fact has become very clear during the course of this century. We know that to wage a nuclear war today, for example, would be a form of suicide; or that by polluting the air or the oceans, in order to achieve some short-term benefit, we are destroying the very basis for our survival. As interdependents, therefore, we have no other choice than to develop what I call a sense of universal responsibility."

Where are we 23 years later? Not in a very good place from where I'm sitting.

I read a piece in yesterday's Sunday Times about "The Torment of Trial by Trolls." For the uninitiated a "troll" is technically someone who deliberately disrupts online commentary with assaults on other contributors or by repeatedly taking threads away from the topic. But as the article points out it has become shorthand for all kinds of internet abuse. First we had road rage. Now it seems that many people are prepared to be abusive, obscene, insulting, mocking, bullying, and so on towards other people when they can hide behind the anonymity and distance of Twitter and Facebook and other social media. What is going on here? Why do we abuse strangers so freely?
Have all these people really nothing better to do with their time than abuse strangers? It seems that some of these trolls are perfectly decent people when met face to face.

Where is that " warm feeling of love and compassion for others" within this kind of beahviour? Is there hope for our world? What about empathy for our fellow beings? And what about the Golden Rule? Treating our neighbors as ourselves?
And not only should we confine the scope of our responsibilities to our own home patch. It is a matter of global justice that we have equal concern for the conditions in which our brothers and sisters live in poor parts of the world.
In December 2001 a Statement was issued by 110 Nobel Laureates on the one-hundredth anniversary of the launch of the Nobel Prize. It included a plea for us all to reassess our global obligations to one another. Again it's eleven years ago but it seems we don't learn anything with the passage of time. This is what those Laureates said:
"The most profound danger to world peace in the coming years will stem not from the irrational acts of states or individuals but from the legitimate demands of the world's dispossessed. Of these poor and disenfranchised the majority live a marginal existence in equatorial climates. Global warming, not of their making but originating with the wealthy few, will affect their fragile ecologies most. Their situation will be desperate, and manifestly unjust. It cannot be expected, therefore, that in all cases they will be content to await the beneficence of the rich. If, then, we permit the devastating power of modern weaponry to spread through this combustible human landscape, we invite a conflagration that can engulf both rich and poor."

Eleven years later has much changed? It is a fact that we have the technology and productive resources to eliminate worldwide misery, poverty and injustice. Consider the power of the internet in the Arab Spring, in mobilizing the Occupy Movement.

And it seems that all many of us can do is waste precious moments, hours, days, weeks of our lives in abusive behaviour against our fellow brethren whilst hiding behind the anonymity of that same technology!

Sometimes I feel real despair, ashamed to be a part of the same human race.
Can anyone offer any words of hope?

Friday, 23 March 2012

coffee and cake Mallorcan style!

Sadly this sees the end of a wonderful week I have spent in Mallorca. It's just as beautiful as I remembered it from previous visits many years ago. On the whole I have found it very clean. There are more cars, of course, with many more holiday hotels and apartments, but the road quality has improved at the same time and signposting is excellent. One day it poured with rain all day and was cool, but the week also saw people sunbathing and swimming in the sea (although I have to say they were brave!). It is of course quite quiet at this time of year. I imagine it will be very busy in the peak summer months when the package holidaymakers descend on the island. As for the businesses - they need that trade. Items in the shops are being reduced by 20%, 40%, 60% - I even saw one 80% reduction - so business seems bleak at present for the shopkeepers.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Monday, 19 March 2012

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Beautiful Mallorca Day 1

OK I have to 'fess up.' Only a day after standing up and telling a group that we have to lessen our footprint on this earth I fly away for a short sunny winter break. I never claimed to be a saint. And I really have reduced substantially the number of air miles I fly each year - taking more breaks now much nearer to home than I ever did. And I needed time and space away from it all to give my latest manuscript a careful review before it wings its way to the publisher in a few weeks time. So please forgive me a few chinks in my own environmental armour. Mea Culpa!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Compassion is not an Option - it's key to our survival.

"Compassion is not an Option - It's the Key to Our Survival"

I love serendipity!
Last night I gave a talk to a small gathering of local Wesley Guild members on the need for empathy and compassion in everything we do - in our economy, our media and creativity, in our communities, in our healthcare and workplace, in the environment in which we live - and yes - in our faiths; all these things I have looked at in some detail in my first book and that was my message: Compassion is not an option. We hope locally to take this message forward - to start our own conversation on compassion. 

Amazingly on the same day I hear that Karen Armstrong is getting set to launch the latest phase in the establishment of her Charter for Compassion - there will be a spanking new website that she will present along with a lecture "What is Religion" to be delivered at Simon Fraser University Center for Dialogue in Vancouver on March 22nd.
You can watch both the lecture and the Charter update live on the Charter for Compassion website 7-9pm Pacific Time. So be sure to tune in.

Because, in Karen's own words; 

"Compassion is not an Option - It's the Key to Our Survival" 

What will you do towards making a more compassionate world?


Monday, 12 March 2012

What we should know about writing

Why do I write?
That's a very good question. Last Saturday was a glorious spring day. The sun shone, it was unseasonably mild, and I just wanted to put away my laptop and get out in the garden and up to the allotment to prune shrubs and pick Brussels Sprouts. But no, that wasn't to be, as I had another engagement, and there I was gathered with perhaps fifty other like-minded Christian writers at a day organised by the Association of Christian Writers. We heard from Liz Babbs about how to promote our work, and Roy McCloughry kept us on track with his thoughts on the theology within our writing.

But one question kept on cropping up. How appropriate is it for Christians, brought up with the idea of humility ingrained within us, to push ourselves into mainstream promotion, building the much vaunted 'platform' beloved of publishers these days. This has been the subject of some debate already around our Facebooks, but came to a head on Saturday and comments are still flying around.

Fact is, we all know times have changed - social media has done much to move the goal posts of promotion, self-promotion and communications generally. And publishing is not what it was - there is a planet-load of books out there craving our attention. But what we are talking about doing here on the social media is building relationships, not just connections - thank you Liz! And thank you also Liz for a great biblical quote which really captured our imagination - it has been flying around cyber space ever since.

I think it all really boils down to that big question; why do we write?
Do we write because, as some people put it, we have to, it is in our blood? Do we write to earn our living? (very unlikely that one if we write books - as Liz reminded us - 85% of book writers don't make anything from their books at all - only a very few book authors could afford to give up the day job). Do we write to entertain, to get a serious message across, to educate, to support the work we do?

As Christians we believe that the gifts we have are God given. We are all unique, we all have our own unique gifts to take into the world, and it would be wrong not to use them, wrong to 'hide our light under a bushel.' At the same time Jesus was humility writ large. And he was vulnerable, compassionate, spiritual, self- effacing even.
Is it right therefore to shout about our gifts from the rooftops?
It really all depends! Depends on what?

As a little girl I was always being told to shut up! Undeterred, I carried on asking, reading, seeking, asking more and more. Later in life events took a different turn - you can read about that elsewhere, but my life was changed. The points on the railway track changed and I went across them. As with all points the ride was bumpy for a while - but I was now travelling down a totally new and different and unknown track. But I believe I was called to do this and have no regrets. (Well one actually. I wish I'd listened to my mother as a kid when she told me to do my piano practice - it's much harder to learn now!) I have a serious concern for the world, for the environment, for the deep global wounds and the deep healing needs of humanity. So I write - and talk - to groups big and small - in church halls and churches and sitting rooms - to get a message out there. And speaking engagements come naturally - as I said, I love talking!!
But you may not like to do that. It doesn't matter then. Don't do that. You have other gifts, things I simply could not do so easily. You may be writing to support the work you do, the business you have. Perhaps your patients, clients, students, would like you to put your own ideas in writing for them to use. You may be a great entertainer, or at least have a great sense of humour - something Liz displayed so well in her talk. After dinner speaking comes to mind if you have such a gift. Building a platform should not have to be forced. It should be simply expanding the range of our gifts, to be prayerfully achieving whatever we feel our calling may be.
So let's not stress ourselves out with whether we should be doing this platform building. If it feels right for you, it is right. If there is a niggle somewhere in our minds, then back to the prayers and the drawing board to rethink our gifts and how we are to use them in serving Christ.

And what was that quote?
Habbakuk 2:2 "Then the Lord answered me and said: 'Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it…" The version on Saturday from a different Bible went something like "write answers on a billboard large and clear and rush to tell others…"

So we can all write in our own ways, tell others in our own ways, and not get hung up about it! I'm going back now to my billboard to finish writing that talk I've been asked to give on Thursday!

What are your views dear reader - that's if you've got this far down the page!?!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Archbishop's call for a change of human heart

"The trouble with virtually all forms of revolution and modernising strategies is that they change everything – except the human heart. And until that is changed corporately, nothing is significantly different in the long run."

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, from his inaugural address
in York Minster

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Small scale organic farming can feed the world

There is an American advertisement: “You have a vote; you vote 3 times a day; Change is possible.”

Following on from my last post on Chinese farmers, this next piece sprang to mind. Because organic, small scale, local farming CAN feed the world.
I was at a conference organised by The Faraday Institute last year and Peter Melchett was speaking of our eating habits. He has been policy director of the Soil Association, the UK’s main organic food and farming organization, since 2001, as well as running an 890-acre organic livestock and arable farm. He gave us plenty of cause for optimism and hope, by showing us examples of where our behavior has been changed, towards a more organic lifestyle. We are in the grip of a false assumption, he said, that we cannot control our current food situation – that cheaper foods, less wildlife, lower animal welfare, lower nutritional content, are inevitable consequences of our need to feed a growing world population. A sound ecological system can feed the world, and organic farming is a significant part of that model. A UN initiated report, not reported widely enough, shows us that organic farming can feed the world. We don’t need factory farming. We can change our food culture, change our shopping habits, educate the young in good food, show them how to grow it themselves...

The rest is very much down to us.

You have a vote; you vote 3 times a day; Change is possible.

The photo: Might look a mess to us but for the pigs it's heavenly bliss!

See Novak, Sara. "UN Report Released: Can Organic Farming Feed the World?" 03 January 2012. HowStuffWorks.com. 06 March 2012.

and the Report itself: Agro Ecology and the Right to Food.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Without nature a part of our soul dies

"Little boxes on the hillside," the song goes. "Little boxes made of Ticky Tacky… and they all look just the same…"

Malvina Reynolds wrote this song, made popular in my youth by Pete Seeger, among others, in protest against the new tract housing and suburbia explosion she saw on a drive out from San Francisco in the early 1960s. I was living on a farm, milking cows and growing vegetables, and this song was very meaningful to me. I couldn't bear the thought of living in any kind of suburbia, and losing my space, the trees and woodland, the garden, the ponds, the cows and all the freedom of the open countryside.

So all this sprang to my mind last night whilst watching an oh so sad documentary (The Fastest Changing Place on Earth) about the plight of farmers in China being evicted from their land to make way for factories and high rise apartment blocks and the development of mega cities; all in the interest of industrialisation and economic growth.

150 million people apparently have left their families to go to the cities to find work. With the increased wages they can then earn the families supposedly have a better standard of living and the youngsters then hanker for the latest Nikes, computer gizmos, etc. But at what cost to family cohesion and real happiness? And there were evidently plenty of unhappy people, having their world ripped apart. Is the world mad? Can Skype calls ever truly replace the family unit all being together in one place? Can young mothers really want to say goodbye to their young children for months or years in exchange for tedious rush hour traffic in high- rise cities with pollution and crowds, materialism and consumerism? What is worse is that many of the evicted farmers have still not been provided with the high quality apartments and the schooling for their children that were promised as part of the deal. Even more are resisting eviction. Such farmers are labelled as "backward" because they don't give up, will not sacrifice "self interest" for the good of the nation. Many are scared that if they make too much noise their children will suffer. They can only complain anyway to the Party Secretary and he also is scared of losing his job if he doesn't toe the party line. These are our brothers and sisters. These are all humans like you and me.

And humans need nature, and contact with the soil. This is where our roots are happiest, where our souls are nurtured. The irony is that here in the West we tolerate the city noise and crowds and busyness all week in the interests of making more money and then dash out of the cities like lemmings on Friday night to go to the country, away from it all, away from the mess we have made of our working lives, back to our roots.

Without contact with nature a part of our soul dies.

Strangely enough, just a few hours earlier yesterday, I had listened to The Food Programme on Radio 4. There I heard from Michael Pollan and Sheila Dillon how China is losing the wisdom and health of its food traditions as the fast food chains arrive, with an accompanying increase in the diseases of the Western world; obesity and the resulting cancers, diabetes, heart disease etc. But Michael gave us a glimmer of hope - and here is the huge irony. As farmers resist eviction and their land gets taken over for building, urban people from big cities in China are taking suburban plots of land with the help of the CSA, Community-Supported Agriculture, and growing their own food again!!

Meanwhile, much of China's wonderfully productive and fertile agricultural land becomes the victim of building and development, and possibly polluted beyond redemption.

Does China really want to embrace all our materialistic and consumerist values to the full? These values don't seem to be serving us too well at the moment!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Climate Change where Science meets Faith

At last a Climate Change book that looks at the whole issue and what we should do about it from the perspective of the compassionate Christian, rather than from the purely selfish perspective of saving our own skins or from a knee jerk reaction to materialism (although that does matter as well)! Having said that the book does come in for some criticism of its lack of any substantial action plans- what one reviewer calls a "lean menu."
A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions is by Katharine Hayhoe climate scientist and geoscience professor at Texas Tech University, (and with her credentials she surely writes with authority) and Andrew Farley, who is, according to his Amazon bio, lead teaching pastor of Ecclesia, a growing church on the high plains of west Texas. Now a scientist and a pastor getting together on this is a powerful combination. Andrew apparently co-hosts "Real Life in Christ", said to be a thought-provoking TV program that airs every Wednesday morning on ABC-TV in west Texas and New Mexico - but I couldn't find the link for that - perhaps someone else can, and let me know. Andrew is also author of The Naked Gospel. and God Without Religion. Not sure about that idea - I need to check it out - but of one thing I am sure - we certainly need to bring compassion and the idea of personal responsibility into the equation in all aspects of our lives - not just in thinking about the suffering humanity that is the fall out from climate change - and something I've written about at some length in Healing...

Lighten our darkness?

We're having a discussion on our Facebook group page about the trend towards "darkness" in contemporary fiction, and whether this is to be praised - or not. From a Christian perspective there is a strong view that we should not be perpetuating the theme of the dark side of life but rather shining light into that darkness. Violence begets violence, whether by word or deed. Wounds unhealed have a nasty habit of being carried forward and used to wound others. It reminded me of something I wrote about Arun Gandhi, who used to travel the world trying to keep alive his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, based on the principles of love and truth. Arun tells the story of the young teacher in one of his lectures who raised the question of ‘the corrupting effect of violent movies, TV shows and obscene and violent music on the young people in America.’ Should they avoid such things, she asked. This, he replied, placed the cart before the horse. Those who live a life of practicing ‘truthfulness’ would not want to watch or listen to any such media in the first instance.
But such a noble life is not so easy for many of us to achieve. We can only aspire to it. We do at least have a choice.

It's Time you knew - by Transition Rachel at YouTube

Many reasons to love La Gomera



with vapor trails


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