Monday 29 July 2019

Not together burdened.

The demutualisation of Building Societies in the 1980s and 1990s feels like the great symbol of our fatal abandonment of interdependence. 

Many individuals might have enough resources to build or buy themselves a home.  Many others would not, unless what was literally their clubbing together generated the necessary capital.  Profit generated within many of those societies was not destined to be taken out but to be furnish further loans - until it dawned on some of those whose homes had already been built or bought that ‘terminating’ the club would mean they could have the accumulated capital for themselves in addition to their homes - cutting off the access of others to housing loans not inflated by the need to pay profit to bank share-holders.

Thatcherite legislation triggered this possibility by, on one hand, enabled commercial banks to make building loans and, on the other, Building Societies to operate as share-held commerical Banks.  So in the 1990s I twice received an unsolicited cheques or shares simply because I had money in a Building Society which was being demutualised.  I knew enough about why this mattered not to hold onto this dirty money but to give my windfall away to a housing charity.  But I did not know enough to forsee everything from the loans crisis which was to follow to the rise of ‘generation rent’.

I’ve been thinking about all this again as I’ve continued to reflect on interdependence – I now suspect that de-mutual is an opposite of sum-phero.  I also suspect that the absence of a societal appetite for mutuality is a symbol of the false binary of sovereignty / subjugation which may be part of what lies behind the country’s Brexit divide – something about which I’m preparing to talk.

And it is also at the front of my mind because I’ve been reminded of the origins of the co-operative movement – the modern English form of which was pioneered by Lancashire weavers eighteen miles away in Rochdale in 1844 when they secured more affordable groceries through a mutual society which operated without needing to generate an owner’s profit.

Within twenty years that movement had reached here.  The maps of Cross Roads in 1848 (a scatter of hamlets) and 1910 (the hamlets were coalescing into the present village, with the Parish Church built that year) come from the Golden Jubilee history of the Lees and Cross Roads Co-operative Industrial Society Limited founded in 1861; clicking on either image will enlarge it.   

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Hostile to Africa

I’ve just read on-line last week’s joint All-Parliamentary Groups report Visa Problems for African Visitors to the UK. 

African applicants are twice as likely to be refused as those from other parts of the world. 

Some of the individual case studies make me cry. 

Mauritarian applicants cannot apply from their own country so have to get a visa to travel to Morocco so that they can apply from there – something only those with particular levels of financial and time resources can contemplate doing. 

The London International Festival of Theatre was asked why it was not recruiting UK dancers when it applied on behalf of Congolese dancers explicitly invited to share their experience of Civil War. 

Some of those invited by the Government’s own Department for International Development have been refused or approval has delayed so long as to make attendance at the relevant events impossible. 

The rolling out of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s world leading work on preventing Ebola epidemics has been thwarted by a refusal to allow emerging local medical researchers to visit the UK.

I was blissfully unaware of all this when walking in the western end of the parish the day after the report was published.

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Paul preaching in Rome

The middle picture is of part of the east window in the Brontë Memorial Chapel at St Michael's, Haworth which was tentatively identified to me as being Paul preaching in Rome; the very end of Acts says Paul lived freely with his one guard.  I've now enjoyed finding the other two images (ninth and fifteenth century) which seem to confirm the identification; among other things, I note the mothers with their children in the bottom image.

Friday 12 July 2019

A proxy for justice

... in situations of war and violence, hospitality functions as a proxy for justice.  Such hospitality-as-interruption does not achieve justice but it stands in its place for a time and shows that justice is possible...

I’ve been spending time with this observation of Durham University’s Prof Anna Rowlands.  It comes from her reflection on those who live out an alternative narrative to the scandals of how we treat refugees.  She sources it to Simone Weil’s essay L’illiade ou le poème de la force.  ‘The tradition of hospitality,’ I find that Weil says, ‘persists... to dispel the blindness of combat’.

I’m struck by it as an illuminatingly simple insight.  I often fill up my own reflections with huge unobtainable pure concepts – things like forgiveness, grace, healing, justice, kingdom, love, mystery, numinous, peace.  I know I’m better off when I people my thoughts instead with obtainable hints – a conversation, a generous gesture, an act of hospitality, an unexpected kindness – stories which interrupt the unavoidable narrative of power and act as place-holders for other possibilities.

The essay’s title identifies it as being about force, ‘that x which turns anyone subjected to it into a thing’, ‘as pitiless to the man who possess it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims’.  ‘Only he who has measured the dominance of force,’ it almost concludes, ‘... is capable of love and justice’; subjugation to power’s reality is what she sees in Jesus’ Passion.

I’m used to reflecting that God cannot be treated as an object to be observed or manipulated, or that we drift into heresy when we do so.  Perhaps the parallel assertion must be that this is as true of those made in the image of God – those moments of attention and valuing recognise fully the way power has made us heretically relate thing-on-thing and briefly uncovers each of us instead as a subject rather than an object. 

I remember years ago a colleague telling me of coming away from a meeting at Church House, Westminster, finding a bereaved victim of Pinochet vainly protesting at the time of his brief arrest, and not ignoring her; they both knew Chilean Government power had been murderous; they both knew British Government power would nevertheless release him; they both knew their encounter said much more about her dead son and herself than those overwhelming facts.

The picture is of a huge scroll created at All Age Worship on Sunday, one feature of Paul’s handwritten postscript to his letter to the Galatians; you probably cannot make out the names which have been added in the spirit of ‘see what large letters I make’.