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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 218: April 2014

[Return to related issue on Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Well, here we go again, 2014 is already more than a quarter of the way gone. I’ve already commented on the mild winter; we have outside taps where the pipes come out of the ground which are liable to freeze and burst unless well insulated. There is permanent insulation on the pipes but I would add significant insulation around the tap area when quite cold weather approaches, defined as -3 degrees C or lower. My taps remain uninsulated, the first winter for a long time, if ever. On occasions I have thought we weren’t going to hit any cold weather in a winter and then, before spring, cold hit and the taps got insulated. Not this year. Our outside taps have remained uncovered and useable throughout the winter.

I have also been giving you a monthly account of our schizostylis and it flowering (well a few flowers) throughout the winter. I planted a number of new, spring bulbs late last year and I noticed just this week what looked like a pretty, pink one starting to flower in the middle of other foliage. No, I was wrong, another schizostylis flower blossoming... This with a plant whose flowers are finished before Christmas in a colder year. As a gardener I can attest to winter warming over the past thirty years.

Anyway, time to turn off that tap and move on to the next item......

Christian nonviolence (failure of)
I was in discussion with someone who isn’t of the Christian persuasion and they asked me – why is the nonviolent position/tradition within the Christian arena so much a minority one. I stress that this was a genuine question and they weren’t out in any sense to ‘get’ me. Well, I answered as best I could – and I am used to proclaiming the nonviolent version of Christianity - but I think I didn’t do very well because part of his reply was that “You should have been a politician” (ouch).

So I’ll try and explore that question a bit more here having reflected more on it. I’m not a theologian or expert so this is my take on it, and there are many aspects....

a. The Christian church got power, or the power got the church. Power, or the prospect of power, makes you feel like you can do and achieve things. And so you can, in some ways, and not in others. But to go for power in this way – in the Constantinian ‘settlement’ allying church and state – was to destroy the ‘power through powerlessness’ which is at the heart of the Christian message (and this ‘power through powerlessness’ is totally compatible with nonviolence).

b. Christian teaching about loving enemies, peacemaking and so on came to be understood in a ‘private’ or spiritual sense without implications for public life. Gandhi said that “The only people who do not see Christ and his teachings as nonviolent are Christians” (this quote is available as a downloadable poster from INNATE as part of our poster series).

c. Teaching about Christianity came to be passed to those who either had an interest in supporting the status quo or had no reason to challenge it. This was privatisation of faith again in the latter case.

d. The understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion also came to be understood in a privatised, spiritualised sense. The suffering of Jesus became part of a spiritual thing rather than it also being part of life and a way to change things. I am not advocating we get ourselves crucified, literally or metaphorically, but Jesus’ willingness to suffer was woefully misinterpreted.

e. Biblical passages were deliberately misunderstood or misquoted. “I came not to bring peace but a sword” was clearly not literal, and whether or not it is an accurate quote it could mean a variety of things (including cutting things apart). Jesus, unlike the Prophet Muhammad, did not engage in warfare, but even in Islam ‘jihad’ can be understood as part of a spiritual struggle rather than literal warfare.

f. Being top dog was a change for the Christian church to being persecuted. It looked like a positive change – but it was disastrous because the church became the oppressor – and lost its way.

g. The reason the Christian church moved away from it early traditions of nonviolence and communitarianism included that the passage of time made it possible, and what made sense at a time of millenarian thinking – early Christians thought the ‘kingdom of god’ could come at any time – was questioned. When they realised the end of the world wasn’t necessarily going to happen any time soon there was a reassessment of ‘being in the world’. Unfortunately this and other factors meant throwing out certain values (peacemaking and communitarianism as mentioned above) and introducing other approaches, pragmatic accommodation to power for example. The twentieth century German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg described the early Christian church as communist in consumption if not in production; this sharing disappeared quite early on, and even the Christian objection to usury (charging interest) was buried in the medieval period.

h. The peace message of Christianity could never be wholly eradicated; the ‘peace churches’ (Quakers, Mennonities, US Church of the Brethren) and the Catholic Franciscan tradition (and in modern times Pax Christi) have kept it alive. However, once the ‘pragmatic adaptation to power’ model took hold in Christianity, those who espoused peace and nonviolence were depicted as naive and foolish and often persecuted within Christendom.

I find that ‘Christian’ backing of the military and militarism is profoundly un-Christian, profoundly at odds with anything I understand about Jesus and Jesus’ message.

But why is the Christian peace tradition so small today in Christianity? I think still the same factors mentioned above apply. Perhaps the decline of Christian belief in most of ‘the West’ may bring about a partial change of understanding to be more favourable to the peace gospel – I think the ground has shifted a bit - but we shall have to wait and see. And we need a return to the original communitarianism as well.

Lo lie the fields of Athenry
Anna Lo, Northern MLA and Alliance Party Euro candidate in May, put a cat among a few pigeons by anna-ouncing herself in favour on a united Ireland, and partition to be ‘artificial’, even though she said she didn’t expect to see it (a united Ireland) in her lifetime. She also pronounced herself to be “anti-colonial” (though she didn’t explain what she meant by that). This appeared in an Irish News interview, 20/3/14, but was widely covered elsewhere. The scattering of the pigeons was mainly due to the issue of whether she was damaging her chances in the May Euro elections, and the Alliance brand in general, already targeted over the flags issue by loyalists. Part of the reason for Alliance becoming a loyalist target, literally in some cases, was the disreputable action of the UUP and DUP in fomenting anti-Alliance feeling for party political gain when Alliance were, in Belfast in December 2012, at least trying to advance a compromise over the flags issue at Belfast City Council. As the old Norn Iron slogan goes, “those who stand in the middle of the road get run over”.

My thoughts here will be mainly on whether Norn Iron is or isn’t a colonial situation but I wanted to talk briefly about the Alliance Party itself. There are a lot of sensible people in that party, and it has always been quite a broad church in terms of views though usually understood as ‘unionist’ with a very small ‘u’. A lot of the people involved would be quite community oriented, and not in a sectarian sense. My disagreement with it would be primarily its often fairly conservative economic views.

So is the North a ‘colonial’ situation? Perversely I would say it is neither ‘colonial’ nor ‘post-colonial’ through the division is clearly in origin a colonial one. You can only understand the early 17th century Plantation of Ulster as a colonial venture; to regard it otherwise is flying in the face of reality (much of England’s involvement with Ireland in the centuries before and after the Plantation of Ulster was also colonial). And the divisions put in place then are the divisions which continue today, through so many changes of context and culture (but not religion in terms of the Catholic/Protestant divide).

So why do I say it shouldn’t be labelled ‘colonial’ today? Partly the passage of time and the fact Northern Prods belong to this place. They may be the more recent settlers but all of us come from somewhere else originally. Another complicating factor is partition because that, while based on the largest area which would give a Protestant and unionist majority in perpetuity, stood the colonial, planter model on its hand by making Prods a majority within the boundaries of the North. Time and identity with the land (in the sense of territory) make them belong in a way which, to describe the situation as ‘colonial’ would be simplistic because it would lead to the obvious response of ‘kicking the colonists out’ (and we know where that led in the Troubles). Britain has committed itself to disengage if a majority want a united Ireland.

And why do I say it can’t be labelled ‘post-colonial’? The issues, the divisions, which colonialism brought are still with us. The Good Friday Agreement helped to bring a cease to the fire of the Troubles but it was neither a panacea nor the ultimate, successful solution. The next ‘solution’ probably won’t be a final agreement and solution either. Segregation in living patterns and life in Northern Ireland continues. Power may be divided up but to say it is ‘shared’ is being too charitable. We are not over the issues which colonialism bestowed upon us.

John Hewitt’s poem “Once alien here” addresses this issue of Ulster or Northern Ireland Protestant identity – the final verse goes

“So I, because of all the buried men
in Ulster clay, because of rock and glen
and mist and cloud and quality of air
as native in my thought as an here,
who now would seek a native mode to tell
our stubborn wisdom individual,
yet lacking skill in either scale of song.
the graver English, lyric Irish tongue,
must let the rich earth so enhance the blood
with steady pulse where now is plunging mood
till though and image may, identified
find easy voice to utter each aright.”

I really like this poem as an expression of Protestant belonging. But we perhaps also don’t have the language to express succinctly the nature of the issue or issues in Northern Ireland. Where does being neither ‘colonial’ nor ‘post-colonial’ leave us in Norn Iron? ‘Semi-colonial’? A society with ‘proto-colonial’ features? Obviously a ‘conflicted society’, a divided society, a problematic society. It can be described but I suspect there is no one, easy adjective to do the job.

V and V recipes (1): Sunflower burgers
Well, here we go [You already said that – Ed]. The start of a series. ‘V and V’ stands for ‘Vegan and Vegetarian’ and I consider vegetarianism to be essential in a measured response to feeding all the people of the world in a situation where, with global warming and climate change, harvests and food production will be more uncertain. The problem these days is that I have too many ‘V and V’ recipes to cook them all – but I am going to share some of my staple diet [Are staples vegetarian – Ed?] [You remind me of my children, when young, laughing at the listed presence of ‘stabilisers’ in food stuffs – how could children’s bicycle ‘stabilisers’ be in there? – Billy]

Sunflower burgers
I used to bulk build these when part of a parent-run youth group on residential trips where we were self-catering but I hadn’t made them for years, somehow they had fallen off my regular repertoire. But I started to make them again recently. They are tasty, handy to make, and if I don’t give exact quantities it’s because you can vary amounts according to what you have available, and how you like the burgers.

The basic ingredients are sunflowers, bread and onions (around about a third each by weight) but you need a food processor of some kind to grind the sunflower seeds, make breadcrumbs, and puree the onions to mush (tears may be in order at some point in the mixing process). I would use 4 slices of wholemeal sliced bread, about 200g; one mug-and-a-bit of sunflower seeds, about 250g; and three medium or two large onions, 250g or a bit more if you like the burgers very oniony. Don’t worry if the amounts are not exact, so long as there is enough moisture in the mashed onions to bind them together they will work – and you can add more onion to the mix if you need it. This amount will give you enough to feed 4 people with two medium burgers each.

You can use nuts instead of sunflower seeds, or a mixture of sunflower seeds and nuts but sunflower seeds, bought unprocessed and particularly in wholefood stores, can be a lot cheaper than any nuts. For additional flavouring you can add some curry powder or wasabi (horseradish), herbs of different varieties (e.g. fresh or dried parsley, basil, thyme, sage etc) according to taste, some garlic or maybe some green or red chilli if you want to spice them up. Pepper and salt according to taste but no salt if you are using soya sauce at the end (see later).

Grind your sunflowers (or nuts) until they are fine and starting to ‘stick’ a bit to the sides (the oil coming out a bit). Put them in a large bowl and add the breadcrumbs. Blend your onions with any herbs (if fresh) or chilli etc until it is mush – you depend on the liquid from this to bind everything together so they need well chopped to smithereens – and add to the sunflowers and breadcrumbs. Mix well, perhaps first using a knife. They reduce a lot in size when pressed and shaped into small, thick (maybe 2 cm high or a bit more, and maybe 6-7 cm wide) burgers using your hands, pressing the mixture together well.

Heat a heavy frying pan generously covered with oil and cook the burgers on a moderate heat until medium brown, possibly 15 minutes to let the onion cook somewhat. Add more oil to the pan if you think it needs it. Don’t put too many burgers on the pan at one time so you can use a cooking slice to lift them cleanly and check how they are doing. Turn them a few times, and they should be done when well brown on both sides. Before taking them off you can, if you want added salt, sprinkle on some soya sauce which will evaporate rapidly. Keep them warm until ready to serve with a sauce of some kind, a tomato or parsley sauce would be good. But you can also eat them cold as a picnic dish.

An easy tomato sauce can be made by heating mustard seeds (the bottom of the pan half covered) and then adding a chopped large onion, sautéing that, then adding passata (or tinned chopped tomatoes, even fresh ones if you have lots and they are ripe) and whatever flavourings you like. If you don’t have whole mustard seeds you can use mustard powder to be added after the onion has been cooked. Parsley sauce is just a savoury white sauce (whatever condiments you want added) with lots of chopped parsley – I would suggest leave it heating a minute to two to cook the parsley a bit but that’s up to you (you can use soya milk for the white sauce, rather than cow’s milk, if you want to keep it vegan). This can all be served with mashed potatoes or parsnip or a variety of other vegetables. And there you have a dish fit for an ordinary citizen or a good burgher.

- - - - -

Meanwhile the INNATE coordinator is recovering from shock at UK postal prices which, the service having been priced up for privatisation, has had prices increased again. Greedy gets. To post a light letter from Belfast to Dundalk, just across the border, counts as ‘international’ mail so far as the UK Post office is concerned; UK£0.97. For An Post prices are the same for all-Ireland and it’s €0.60 the other way, which at current exchange rates is around half the Northern price. Anyway, he says he is being driven from pillar to post; maybe I could say he should try pushing the envelope. That’s it for now, I’ll see you again soon, Billy.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

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