Sunderland P. Gardner Lecture by Alastair McIntosh
The highlight of the Canadian Yearly Meeting (CYM) on Sunday and, to many, the highlight of the entire 2015 Yearly Meeting gathering, was the Sunderland P. Gardner Lecture by Alastair McIntosh.
Alastair McIntosh has been called an ecowarrior due to his ecological activism. Elaine Bishop, our Presiding Clerk, described him as an “uncomfortable Friend.” She also compared him with an Old Testament prophet because he was bound to make us feel discomfort.
Alastair McIntosh grew up in a close-knit community in Lewis, a remote island in Scotland. The theme of his talk was colonization in what we now know as the United Kingdom. He ran through a brief history of land evictions, starting with the Highland Clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the Irish famine in the mid-1880s, which resulted in some one million deaths. Land, originally a Divine gift, a source of community, and the very source of life, was commodified. This colonization process was continued when the native peoples of overseas lands were evicted, driven into reservations and, in the case of some tribes, exterminated. Those evicted by the British in the British Isles had no choice but to become oppressors in turn, displacing native peoples. This process represents the replacement of soul by the rational.
Alastair has worked with the poor in a disadvantaged area of Glasgow, an area he considers parallel to an Indian reservation. In the 1990s, he successfully defended Lewis and Eigg against gigantic development projects. In the latter case, he and his fellow campaigners were instrumental in averting the stripping of a mountain to build a vast network of roads in England. To achieve this result, Alastair worked with a group of activists to create a great stir in the media, with headlines along the lines of “God’s mountain desecrated.” Alastair’s negotiations with and protests against Lafarge, a French industrial company specializing on construction materials and planning the project, resulted in him working for 10 years with the company, on a range of issues related to environmental sustainability. His expenses were paid but he did not receive a salary.
For Alastair, the revolution to reverse colonization involves three stages:
– Remembering (i.e., past pain and grievances)
– Re-visioning how the future could be
– Reclaiming (what was lost)
In closing, Alastair had a recommendation for the Canadian Yearly Meeting, which is currently at the stage of re-visioning its own future. He recounted the story of a wise old lady in Papua New Guinea. Finding Alastair and his colleagues sprawled out on the tropical beach, she exhorted them: “Don’t be lazy! Sit up! Our lives are short! We have only so much time to do what God has called us to do.”