I've always loved the first of May. Maybe it is the Celtic and European blood in me, or the feminine, or the longing for justice and the appreciation of those who forged the struggle, or the family birthdays which fall this month, or simply the rising sap of life and creation itself - all topped off by those champagne breakfasts I enjoyed on this day in Oxford - but I adore it. Of course it 'works' so much better in the northern hemisphere - 'oh to be in Paris now that Spring is here', as the old song has it? (and indeed I've been blessed to be in that beautiful city of liberty in May on a number of occasions). Yet it is such a gorgeous symbolic celebration of veriditas - greening - in so many senses of the word. It rings for me, sings to me, dances in me: with joy, with hope, with transformation...
After the recent bombings in Paris, our Toowoomba Gooodwill Committee leadership decided to hold a gathering to bring together community leaders to strengthen our social cohesion and resilience. Held at the University of Southern Queensland this was well attended, facilitated by Professor Michael Cuthill and expert in research on social cohesion. Speakers also included the Mayor of Toowoomba Cllr Paul Antonio, Inspector Mike Curtin from Queensland Police Service, Venerable Wu Ping from Pure Land Learning College, Professor Ken Udas from USQ, and university student Sophie Ryan. Bishop Cameron Venables also led an engaging question and answer session with the panel of speakers and contributions from the floor - not least a several positive contributions from members of the Toowoomba Muslim community. Key themes included positivity, whole community engagement, valuing diversity, partnership building, leadership into action, open and truthful education, and acknowledgement of the need to read sacred scriptures and traditions in context and with a deep spirit of love and humanity, acknowledging potential 'texts of terror'. For my own introductory words as Goodwill chairperson click below on read more...
This morning a number of members of the Toowoomba Goodwill Committee met at St. Luke's to consider ways to strengthen our city wide work of peace and harmony in the face of violent events overseas. Several of us in Toowoomba have been to Paris in recent years to speak and work with UNESCO on peacemaking in our world. So there is a particular extra poignant sadness among us at the recent events in the French capital. Our hearts and prayers also however go out to those who have suffered similarly in Beirut and other places in recent days. All this reinforces our need to work more closely together for peace at all levels, to educate and address religious bigotry, and to extend a compassionate and informed welcome to refugees who are escaping from just the kind of horrors the media has reported.
We join with the Taize Community in France in the following prayer:
Eternal God, we want our thoughts and acts to be based on your presence which is the source of our hope.
We entrust to you the victims of the attacks in Paris and in Beirut, and in so many other places and their families and friends as they mourn.
With believers of all backgrounds we call upon your name and pray: may your peace come to our world.
how soon we forget - seeking peace in Paris in 'Bloody Week', speaking of cooperation as EU elections struggle with it
It is a delight to be in Europe in beautiful spring weather. It is not a very happy political 'European spring' though. All over Europe, on the brink of EU elections, uncertainty prevails and doubt is common about the 'European project' of community. For an expatriate European like myself, immersed in many historical memories, it is a troubling sight. Ironically, I am in Paris this week, speaking at UNESCO with Toowoomban friends about our 'Building a Model City of Peace and Harmony' initiative. My own particular theme is Co-operation: something from which so many Europeans seem to wish to stand back.
Partly doubts about EU cooperation are understandable. The European dream seems rightly hollow to the millions who are unemployed, and to the poor and ethnic minorities struggling for recognition, for decent housing, work and living conditions. The EU can seem so distant to many, apparently overly bureaucratic and a feeble tool for more immediate concerns. Hence unhealthy right-wing parties have gained ground across the continent and even France, a founding co-pillar of the project, moves in the direction of British cynicism.
How soon we forget though! This coming week (21-28 May) is 'La semaine sanglante' - or 'Bloody Week' - in Paris, the anniversary of the final episode of the Paris Commune of 1871 (see photo above: from the memorial in Pere Lachaise cemetery in paris where the last stand of the Communards was made). Recent historical examinations of death and burial records suggest that the actual week's death toll (probably around 7 000) was significantly lower than the more outrageous figures (of 20-30 000) which have long been touted, and which were used (by notable figures such as Lenin) as an example of the true barbarous heart of capitalist 'order'. Yet even such reduced figures are a staggering witness to the deeply bloody past violence of Europe, consequent on deep national, social and economic divides.
The Paris Commune was a deeply ambiguous, but, historically, vitally symbolic, event. In one sense it was a magnificent act of faith and a living adventure of hope, created by some of the most wretched of people in the most wretched of circumstances. Karl Marx and others, then and since, have commended it for putting an abstract concept of freedom and justice into reality, however shortlived. Great contemporaries who lived through it, like Victor Hugo and Emile Zola, were also deeply moved by its genuine social idealism as well as shocked by its own internal violence, as well as the greater violence of its repression. What is sometimes forgotten however is that the Paris Commune arose out of the despair, anger and humiliation of the Franco-Prussian War. Indeed, the proclamation of Kaiser Wilhelm as Emperor even took place in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles in January 1871: a staggering affirmation of Prussian power at the heart of former French glory. Crushed by the rising, recently unified, German Empire, the Parisians refused however to accept the surrender made by their national leaders. Instead they proclaimed a new form of society in the Commune. It was thus a product of a century of such conflict and bloodshed all across Europe. Its legacy was also lasting. Among those caught up in the politics of the Commune was George Clemenceau, later so important in insisting on crippling reparations on Germany in 1918. One can but imagine the thoughts and feelings which flowed through him as he concluded the Treaty of Versailles, remembering the scenes and indignities of his youth. The outrages of the Commune's rise and fall, as an apotheosis of European divisions and violence, thus flowed right through to the second world war. The European Community project was an attempt to end it for ever. It still is.
How soon we forget. The EU is hardly perfect but it requires development not destruction. Its doubters, sometimes for self-interest, are looking in the wrong direction. Recent studies continue to state the reality that social and economic division is a much more genuine and difficult challenge than any migration of peoples or cultures which they bear. In Britain, 1% of the population own as much as the poorest 55% and their wealth is increasing by 15% a year whilst others struggle. Such statistics are reflected elsewhere. Hardly any European today would wish to replicate the politics of the Paris Commune, yet perhaps its uncomfortable ideals have something to say to us, lest Europe descend further into uncooperative and unnecessary division and violence. Australia, still buoyed by comparative economic advantage, might take note too.
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.