Writings 1990-1999


Kenneth Westhues

Catholic New Times, 14 February 1999; on the web by permission, August 2003

To anyone hungry to know what community development is and how it is happening in Canada, both these books provide solid, satisfying nourishment. Yet their flavours are distinct.

MacAdam's book brings coherently together four essays of his own with eight by other Christian social activists. The object is to promote a particular economic strategy (CED—Community Economic Development) as a way of living the gospel in our time.

What lucid, well-crafted chapters! Each describes actual, ongoing, economically successful grass-roots projects that give shape in readers' minds to a general concept of CED and persuade readers of its worth. McAdam discusses the Riverdale Economic Ministry in Toronto, the Montreal Community Loan Association, and Lutherwood CODA in Kitchener. John Bird analyzes New Dawn Enterprises on Cape Breton, the Edmonton Recycling Society, and a wild-rice co-operative in the Wabigoon Lake First Nation. Ed Bennett, Dianne Heise, and Laura Reilly report on community-shared agriculture in Perth County, Ontario. Greg MacLeod gives an update on the Mondragon experiment in Spain, by some standards the largest CED project in the world, with $2.5 billion in annual sales.

MacAdam's book is pan-Canadian not only geographically but religiously. The CED projects reviewed here have been supported and sponsored by diverse denominations, from Anglican to Mennonite, Roman Catholic to United. The authors are similarly diverse. In her introduction to this book, former CNT editor Janet Sommerville, now secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches, gives a symbolic ecumenical blessing to its overall thrust and purpose.

On account of its breadth, clarity, readability, and practicality, From Greed to Good should be top choice for study clubs and discussion groups in parishes and congregations across Canada. The book should be ordered in bulk.

Bulk orders are recommended also for The Lichen Factor, though its readership will be more in universities than in churches. If professors in social work, sociology, community psychology, and similar fields have good sense, Jim Lotz's masterwork will be required reading in community development courses well into the next century.

Not that Lotz's book is full of technical or turgid academic prose. On the contrary, it is as readable and engaging as MacAdam's, even more practical and personal.

Lotz is a freethinker. His arguments are not founded on scriptures of any kind. There is nothing institutional or formulaic here. One gets the sense that the author has hammered out every sentence in the manner of a blacksmith at an old-fashioned forge: uniquely, painstakingly, authentically, with enormous strength and will.

The difference between MacAdam's and Lotz's books runs deep. The former is aimed at recruiting supporters for church-assisted CED programs. The latter is aimed at helping readers think for themselves about the Canadian economy, and about what kind of initiatives they might undertake for enriching and improving it.

Lotz is drawn to the lichen of the North. They are symbiotic life-forms of algae and fungi, metaphors for human cooperation and mutual aid. Lotz also respects the sometimes mutually destructive combat of the caribou, and the sometimes foolhardy circling of musk-oxen herds.

For Lotz, CED is just one imperfect variation on the broader theme of community development. The latter is his main focus. For understanding what it means he draws upon nature and practical projects (like L'Arche or the Antigonish Movement), but also on poetry (Eliot, Yeats), literature (Frye, Orwell), politics (Havel), philosophy (Gramsci), and above all his own experience.

In today's teenage vernacular, The Lichen Factor is a totally awesome book.