Saturday, 1 May 2010

The joy of history about real people

If anything more exciting than glancing through what we historians have to call "sources" were invented, I would still continue to do the former...

The history of Christian anarchism is not just about thoughts or stories of things left undone because they are too difficult. Peter Maurin, who said this, should have known better himself.

The story of Christian anarchism as a tendency is about real people. Striving for a communal life as true Christians, like the Diggers or the Christian Fraternity (Zwijndrechtse Nieuwlichters). Being hardworking - and I mean really hardworking, the phrase is being misused nowadays for right-wing propaganda -, downtrodden and poor and yet proudly cherishing own gatherings where the Spirit is considered to be present. Making the people concerned come alive and calling them into or back into some collective memory is one of the most beautiful things I can think of.

When I came across Christian anarchism as a tendency in the workers' movement I soon heard about the Children of God (Kinderen Gods, in Frisian: Berne fan God), somewhere in the peat-moor areas of Frisia. An area forgotten by official history. Ideological class warfare at university level these days comes with the story that peat workers were not really all that poor after all. Of course they would say that, since the socialist and anarchist movements were born in that part of the Netherlands, and socialism did not happen, apart from Stalin's Gulag, everyone should know that by now.
Socialism means: no Coke or hamburgers and long queues for clothes without logo - repeat after me - and it was defeated by the United States of America.

So the peat workers are left aside, being declared not even poor and rebellious after all.
Yet they were. And the area is still the poorest of the Netherlands, the riches made by digging up the soil and selling it as a fuel went somewhere else. And the Children of God were doomed to even more oblivion than the socialist and anarchist movement.

Then two years ago I decided to gather what scarce sources there were to be found and write about the Children of God as precursors of the Christian anarchist movement. Since the peat workers cherished their own mystic preacher who said that there is only freedom to be had in real lived-through love of God the idea of their being forerunners seemed appropriate.
I gave them a mention in my article in the reader Religious anarchism. I wrote about them in the Annual on Anarchism (Jaarboek Anarchisme) and put the article on the net.
I pinched the only biographical article on the aforementioned preacher and put it on my own portrait gallery [a project under construction].

Yesterday I found a comment to this article by someone who thanks me for putting information on the net about her "well-known" ancestor. "Well-known" may be taken with a pinch of salt. A bit puzzled by her reaction I put the name of the preacher in the search engine and found I had inspired someone to write a Wikipedia-lemma in Frisian on the preacher, Marten Jans van Houten, which specifically quotes my article on the scarcity of sources.

Sources may be scarce, but stories may be told and live on, and whatever sources there are should be brought to the light and to life to remind the downtrodden and seemingly voiceless that they have had a voice all along.
Knowing to be part of this effort is my joy and my payment (I never got to work at a university - they have Business to be studied, not working class people).
A story I wanted to tell this day, First of May 2010.

Illustration: typical Frisian bell-cage in De Wilp, the village where Van Houten preached. His church has been torn down.