14 December 2017

Love me, love my music

Smokey Robinson's song in gapfill form.

The video I showed in class after the gapfill exercise.

Another gapfill exercise. Audio (YouTube) here.
I don't like you but I love you
Seems that I'm always thinking of you
Oh, you treat me badly
I love you madly

You really got a hold on me
You really got a hold on me, baby

I don't want you but I need you
Don't want to kiss you but I need to
Oh, you do me wrong now
My love is strong now

You really got a hold on me
You really got a hold on me, baby...

(from "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," by William "Smokey" Robinson.)

For many of my classes, I ended the class period with something lighter than the main agenda for the day. On the chalkboard, I had lyrics for a song, but with words missing that the students would fill in as they listened to the track. Naturally, blues and soul were one of my sources, along with interesting songs I found on allmusic.com and other sources. Gospel and peace songs, and old standards from Eva Cassidy, also made it on the list. You can sample them here. (Some of the audio links only work in Russia.)

On the day I played "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," one of my favorite tracks from the film Standing in the Shadows of Motown, it finally struck me how the lyrics didn't really stand up to close examination -- at least not as advice for a healthy relationship. I hadn't allowed time for any discussion during that class, but I planned to use the song for two more classes. In those periods we had a chance to talk about what the singer's relationship was like, and how they'd feel and act if they found themselves in such a relationship.

You can probably think of some other songs that have similar messages -- "Chain of Fools," just off the top of my head, and "A Fool in Love." I didn't necessarily avoid such songs, but now I was better prepared to go deeper.

There's a corner of the blues and soul world that can get pretty grim. In class, however, I was never tempted to use some of the songs of domestic abuse and murder in my collection. (Robert Nighthawk performing Joe Clayton: "I went down to Ely / to get my pistol out of bond. / When I got back home / My woman had gone. / Gonna murder my baby ....") We did occasionally use songs that got close to that edge, like "Joliet Bound" and "5-O Blues," because they shone a spotlight on particular times and places.

Many of these songs hardly seem to qualify as "entertainment" -- they seem more like raw data about evil and cruelty. I was not tempted to sentimentalize this music, especially after  hearing some of the nightmarish stories collected by my sister Ellen, after her time in the Audy Home, the juvenile jail in Chicago, and later in protective custody at the state's Medical Center Complex. (As you may already know, she escaped from that facility and a few days later was kidnapped and murdered.)

The dilemma for the blues audience, especially for someone like me for whom the musical qualities alone reach to a very deep place of pain and ecstasy, is to differentiate between that raw data and the danger of its normalizing influence. For example, when are we hearing honest testimony and when are we hearing masculine swagger? These days, when we're starting to count the cost of that swagger publicly, it's worth thinking about.

It's only fair to point out that the blues and its derivative genres have as much emotional range as any lyrical genre of music, from plaintive ("Eisenhower Blues") to utterly sweet ("Sweet Little Angel," obviously), and much more. After fifty years of listening to this music, I understand Willie Dixon's words, "The blues is the truth. If it's not the truth, it's not the blues." Or as Russian blues singer Olga Ponomaryova said, "I did not choose the blues, the blues chose me. That's the way it is.... I compare it to when I go to church for confession. The situation is exactly the same: you can't lie."

Odessa blues. This is not music for those who can buy their way out of any pickle.

Jonas Cox on the spirituality of Eric Clapton's music. (Part one.)

GetReligion on Jerusalem, American evangelicals, and a renewed plea for journalistic precision.

What's behind Russia's long-haul truckers' protests?

David Dark on Nashville's Will Campbell legacy.

David Frum explains how to build an autocracy.

Olga Ponomaryova.

07 December 2017

Seeing red, part two: On the other hand

Phishing e-mail of the type I received. You too? (Source.)  
The podcast host's question: "What do you make of all of these conspiracy theories that Trump, our president, is in bed with the ... is in cahoots with the Russians?" (The Warzone episode 23, "From Russia with ... love?" - 03:10)

Podcast guest Natalia Antonova's reply, in part:
I think you have to take all that stuff with a grain of salt ... I think it is very obvious that Putin did support Trump's candidacy in our election, and I think he did it with the mindset that Hillary would win anyway, and I feel like, when Trump won, I guess they've been recalibrating, and we see the effects of that.

... I don't want to be one of those people who says, like, "It's all true," but I also don't want to say that none of it is true. I feel that it's a complicated issue and we have to be very careful and allow for nuance. And nobody's a fan of nuance in the States or in Russia, so, like, I am the least popular commentator by the way on this subject, because I've always asked for nuance.
In my original "Seeing red" post, I tried to be nuanced -- yes, Russian agents of one kind or another were almost certainly attempting to influence the election, but on the other hand, don't let those Russian efforts distract us from studying the specifically American factors that led to the presidential election's disastrous outcome. Based on the arguments I've been having since I wrote that post, it might be useful to list some of the nuances and "other hands":

Yikes! The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming! Just kidding! I couldn't resist a link to an article about one of my favorite films from my teen years. Nobody is really that panicked about Russia now, right?

... On the other hand, I think some of Trump's opponents really are tempted to revive Cold War fears of Russia as a rhetorical crowbar in their attempts to pry Trump out of power. I want to remind people that, as trite as it might sound, the Russian people are thoroughly decent, kind, and insanely funny people, with the same small minorities of idiots, xenophobes, and kleptomaniacs that any society has to deal with.

... On the other hand, Russia (among other nations) suffers from a long and very specific historical pattern of dysfunctional relationships between the ruling classes and the general population. The essential decency of ordinary Russian people might not be reflected when the people at the top decide to safeguard their wealth and power on the national and international stage.

Russian hackers working for military intelligence tried to compromise our politicians' e-mail and even the Internet infrastructure of our voting systems.

There are at least two "other hands" here. First of all, I think this charge may very well be true. On the other hand ...

(1) The evidence is circumstantial. The experts who have studied the evidence don't generally assert that Russia's involvement is proven, and lazy assumptions shouldn't cause us to miss this point.

Even given this presumption of fairness, it is hard for me to imagine any global actor other than the Russian leadership who would stand to benefit from the particular selection of targets attributed to these hackers. That selection emphasizes political and military figures of interest in the Russian authoritarian political context; they're generally not financial, industrial, or intellectual-property targets.

(2) The USA's intelligence agencies do the same thing. Is there anyone's e-mail or mobile phone safe from NSA hacking? In fact, don't Russian and American taxpayers alike assume that their taxes are paying for competent spies and covert influence campaigns? What are we Americans getting for our estimated annual intelligence budget of $73 billion?

Nuance alert! This second point is not an argument for equivalence or against vigilance. In the case of our own government, we should not assume passively that our government is always playing on the side of the angels. We should constantly defend and promote our values, whether we're demanding accountability for domestic surveillance or for the way we treat other countries. Asking for accountability from our own agencies and politicians doesn't contradict being utterly realistic about threats from elsewhere, and analyzing those threats for both method and motive.

I don't argue that we're no better than other countries who spy and hack, but I really hate the imperial mentality that says that, when we Americans do something, it's automatically ok because God bless America etc.

Russian commentators who are essentially sympathetic with democratic ideals sometimes caution us with yet another nuance: Don't credit Putin and his team with more sagacity or strategic vision than they actually have. To do so just plays into their hands, amplifying their own efforts and fitting right into the "Make Russia Great Again" agenda.

The Russians threw the election to Donald Trump! As I said in my first post, and as Natalia Antonova said on the podcast, Trump almost certainly had Putin's support.

On the one hand, the question "What exact forms did this support take?" is a subject that is totally worthy of investigation.

On the other hand, an investigation fueled by anti-Trump and Red-baiting animus is the last thing we need. We should distinguish between two very different targets of any careful and non-hysterical process:

(1) The hacking and cyber-attacks mentioned above. Those campaigns started long before Trump and are likely to continue long after him. They take place in many parts of the world. Even if Trump himself turns out to be as innocent as a proverbial lamb, the technical investigation is worth doing, and our capacity to detect future incursions is worth building.

(2) The alleged complicity of Trump, his campaign, and his staff. By law and by custom, American politicians should be allergic to the blandishments of foreign powers. Let's establish the facts of this (unique, we hope) episode of apparent flagrant corruption, and wherever those facts lead us, let's restore and reinforce the norms that used to prevail.

On the related subject of cable and Internet propaganda such as Facebook and Twitter campaigns, and news and opinion channels such as RT and Sputnik, there are lots of nuances to consider.

On the one hand, social networks are under pressure, and quite rightly so, to improve their screening and transparency, so that fake news, political campaigning, and bullying can be exposed, labeled appropriately, or even blocked altogether if needed.

On the other hand, "foreign agents" such as RT and Sputnik, are a slightly different matter. They are not masquerading as private citizens or civic organizations, and they are a mix of propaganda and actual competent journalism -- and our commentaries about them should help us train audiences to distinguish the two. After all, do we think that our own American outlets are entirely free of pro-USA bias?

The requirement imposed on RT to register as a foreign agent in the USA was, predictably, countered with a similar requirement on American-sponsored outlets aimed at Russian audiences. Having appeared four times on one of those outlets, I happen to admire them, but I can't pretend not to know that their purpose is to give an alternate viewpoint to their audiences.

In their own words, "RFE/RL journalists report the news in 23 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established. We provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate." Excellent mission -- and let's be sure that they live up to it, so that the primary propagandistic content of such outlets is in fact their fairness.

A missiological "on the other hand" ... Why people still speak Guaraní.

Mark Kellner wonders why reporters aren't more curious about Kate Steinle's family's faith and lack of vindictiveness, and about the funeral in a winery.

Shaun Walker describes Navalny's presidential campaign and its motivational power.

Who's left to fight for Russian academia?

Kaitlyn Schiess writes one of the best articles I've seen on the church's response to (or responsibility for) sexual assault. Also: Rachel Waltner Goossen on historical justice and the legacy of John Howard Yoder.

Nostalgia warning!! Hamilton, Ontario, 1983 ...

01 December 2017

Confronting fascism together

Screenshot of Rossiya-1 talk show on the Nikolai Desyatnichenko episode. Link to video.
"Shame and a scandal." "He should be taken out and shot!" "Is he a traitor or an idiot?" "Look what crawled out of the ruins of our proud Soviet educational system!" "The poison of political correctness." "A shameful rebuke to our proud veterans!" "On his knees before the Nazis." "He's all 'forgive us, Adolf'!"

These were some of the reactions to Russian high school student Nikolai Desyatnichenko's appearance at the German federal legislature on its annual day of sorrow commemorating the victims of war. He was one of several young people, German and Russian, invited to summarize their research on the war losses of the other country. (DW news story.) At best, accusations were hurled (in the video above specifically by Vladimir Zhirinovsky) at the school and local government, because "of course, a 16-year-old can't figure these things out," says Zhirinovsky, despite the research Desyatnichenko carried out, and his memories of his own great-grandfather.

Reality check: the central message of Desyatnichenko's presentation was simply the following: (1) Many ordinary soldiers had no personal desire to make war. I have heard the same thing from Russian veterans! (2) Finally, "May common sense prevail and the world never again see war." (This concluding sentence was left out of the Rossiya-1 discussion linked to the photo caption above.)

In the resulting storm of controversy, the Russian presidential press secretary pointed out that the student clearly was not an apologist for Nazism. Among the insults and demands for investigation and punishment, other positive voices were also heard. Among the most eloquent were these words from 83-year-old journalist and commentator Vladimir Posner, whose essay was entitled, "I'm glad that there's such a boy as Kolya Desyatnichenko." Excerpts:
We can summarize the reactions [to his speech] very briefly: pure baiting and hounding. And it doesn't matter whether it came from super-patriot writers like Zakhar Prilepin, or a legislator, or mass media -- the fact is, he was being baited. And you know what struck me the most? It was the fact that the boy being treated this way was demonstrating the best features of Russian humanity.

This is what I have in mind: I'm referring to the ability to forgive, the ability to understand, the ability to understand the suffering of another person, even if that person is your enemy and even if that person causes you to suffer. This is an utterly striking feature which I haven't seen among others the way I've seen it among Russians. This is one of our unique features, and one of our best. It is a feature that is particularly suited to the Russian personality. Not rancor, not hatred, not dull cluelessness and intolerance, but a willingness to forgive, heartfelt kindness, and compassion.
When I first read about Desyatnichenko and the controversy around his Bundestag appearance, I remembered my visit ten years ago to Elektrostal's own World War II museum. Here's how I described my impressions:
The romanticization of the military is something very different from the sober, thoughtful counting of the costs of past wars. In the last few days, I've seen remarkable examples of the latter task--and they remind me that I'm living in a country that has suffered from war losses on a scale that dwarfs anything we Americans have ever experienced. The Soviet Union lost 27 million soldiers and civilians in World War II, not to mention a huge amount of housing stock and infrastructure. Many dead soldiers have never been found, identified, and properly buried, but a small group of Elektrostal's young people have been participating in "expeditions" to battle sites in the Novgorod area, going to locations identified in archives and by elderly residents as being possible sites for recovery of remains and war paraphernalia. The Elektrostal museum "To the Memory of the Unknown Soldier" has abundant patriotism but not a shred of war glorification. Instead, there's a subdued and very moving sense of respect for the war dead whose recovered battlefield possessions form the basis of the collection. Photos and videos show the grim work of uncovering, sorting, and cleaning bones, identifying them when possible, and then giving them a loving Orthodox burial. German remains and paraphernalia are treated with equal respect. "We don't make distinctions and we're not concerned about blame," said one of the museum workers.
(Original post.)

I wonder whether, ten years later, it is still considered acceptable to treat German remains "with equal respect." But in the current atmosphere, I'm more struck by the irony that the memory of the defeat of German fascism is defended and romanticized by some in Russia with yet another version of fascism.

Here, by "fascism" I mean the potent combination of racism or folk-nationalism, militarism, authoritarianism, and a brutish degeneration of social norms.

Posner's glowing description of the ideals exemplified by young Desyatnichenko, contrasted rhetorically with the attacks on the student, sounded very familiar to me. They're a version of a familiar Russian exceptionalism, one that I heard many times, especially from Eastern Orthodox priests and writers. I remember the lady at the cosmetics counter telling me, "We Russians never attacked anyone." An artist said to me, "The church never turns away a contrite heart, never withholds forgiveness." A priest told me, "You Westerners are all straight lines and sharp angles. We are round, organic, and compassionate."

Of course, Russian exceptionalism has its counterpart values in American exceptionalism. The parallels don't stop there.

Russia and the USA defeated German fascism as allies.

Both countries are now enduring the phenomenon of home-grown fascism and rabid nationalism.

Among the targets in both countries are people asserting the right to examine history truthfully, including the stories of victims trampled underfoot by the cannibals (to use Ilya Grits's term) of war and militarism in both countries.

Both countries are suffering from mockery of the desire for mutual understanding and inclusiveness -- a desire caricaturized by the term "political correctness."

In both countries, Muslims and people of color frequently find themselves targets of brutish behavior or worse.

(In a wicked twist, the current U.S. president encourages these attitudes. As far as I know, even Putin has never publicly stooped this low!)

Russia and the USA were allies in the 20th century struggle against fascism. Maybe there can be a new form of "collusion" between Russians and Americans today -- the Posners and likeminded Russians, of whom there are many, working together with American small-d democrats to resist social fragmentation and alienation, and raise up the humane values enshrined in our respective exceptionalisms.

In fact, I'm sure it's already happening. Right?

The Romanov execution and anti-Semitic hints of "ritual killing."

Paul Goble on Russian charity: the poorest Russians give proportionally more than the rich.

'Tis the season for workplace giving. (Thanks to @CRANEunfolds for the link.)

Mike Farley and ... the rattling of our mind's junkyards ...

Pops Staples...

23 November 2017

"Becoming the church we dreamed of" part two

Happy Thanksgiving! (Fall in southwestern Oregon -- Valley of the Rogue State Park, last Sunday.)
(Part one.)

Yearly Meeting: a definition
(from quakerinfo.org)

Yearly Meeting refers to a larger body of Friends, consisting of monthly meetings in a general geographic area connected with the same branch of Friends. This body holds decision making sessions annually. The term "yearly meeting" may refer to the annual sessions, to the body of members, or to the organizational entity that serves the body of members. For most purposes, a yearly meeting is as high as Quaker organizational structure goes. Each of the 30+ yearly meetings in the U.S. has its own Faith and Practice, and there is no higher authority in the structure of the Religious Society of Friends, although yearly meetings network with each other through branch associations and other Friends organizations.

[Also see wikipedia's definition.]

Eugene Friends Church and other Friends participating in the formation of Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends are considering some Big Questions. We were in Medford, Oregon, last Sunday, so we missed the Eugene Friends Church worship service in which people contributed their answers to the first question right during worship.

Here for easy reference are the two questions:
Why are we joining together instead of going our separate ways? What holds Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting together? (Examples: Common beliefs/theology? Relationships? Friends' testimonies? Other?)

How should we make decisions that affect the whole of SCYMF? (Examples: refer all decisions to the yearly meeting as a whole? Choose reps to make some or all decisions? Let a specified group make urgent decisions? Other?)
I love the idea of inviting responses to these questions during worship. It is a wonderful way of expressing the importance of covenant and community -- and of transparent process. Has anyone else done something similar?

Exercises like this are also a good opportunity to reconsider the whole concept of a "yearly meeting" in an era where its usefulness is no longer taken for granted.

A couple of years ago, Micah Bales asked, "Is it Time to Get Rid of Yearly Meetings? " (My response: "Yearly meetings, myth and reality.") Just last summer, I had another long discussion about these themes with some Friends with ties to both Northwest and North Pacific yearly meetings. One Friend pointed out two important trends:

First, yearly meetings may be evolving from a model based on geography and shared history, to a model based more on shared theology or ideology. This trend goes back nearly two centuries, if not longer.

Second, a crucial function of those wider bodies -- mutual accountability and particularly the role and preparation of elders -- is weakening in the old system and is being at least partially replaced by more informal processes and by new institutions such as the School of the Spirit.

I don't want to pour cold water on any sorts of experimentation that might help renew Friends discipleship and provide love and accountability for local Quaker meetings and churches. But I still love the old concentric model that I described in the "myth and reality" post. Maybe one reason it seems less attractive is because we've just taken it for granted rather than deliberately investing our enthusiasm and commitment.

In some cases, maybe we've over-bureaucratized yearly meetings and routinized business rather than expecting our gatherings to serve as the forum where we ask each other whether Truth is prospering in each of our local settings, and how we need to coordinate with each other to meet the needs in places where our testimonies are being challenged. As we consider a world full of spiritual, social, and economic bondage, are we too busy maintaining our systems to consider these challenges creatively? Can we make room for new partnerships between the old yearly meeting-as-forum and new initiatives? Two generations ago, such partnerships included the New Call to Peacemaking and Right Sharing of World Resources. What are today's experiments in partnership?

I have heard of a couple of yearly meetings that have experimented with a radically simplified agenda -- if only for one annual session. How did it go? I was present for one such experiment, a carefully planned session of Iowa Yearly Meeting FUM at which most routine business was set aside to consider whether to remain in Friends United Meeting. This example was a response to a specific crisis, but maybe at another time and place, the sheer urgency of focusing on the needs of people who have never heard of us would be "crisis" enough.

The Iowa example brings up another huge problem: local Friends have come to associate "yearly meeting" (the annual gathering as well as the ongoing structure) with conflict and church politics. I've heard this complaint in many places. We might be too busy arguing instead of figuring out together how to build our prophetic and healing presence in the world. We desperately need to restore the ability to extract value from conflicts and diversity instead of hiding or suppressing them.

We also need to learn how to deal with those among us who actually (perhaps subconsciously) love conflict and are too fond of being partisan heroes.

I'm not ready to give up on the yearly meeting as an institution worth preserving and re-energizing. The simplicity of the concentric structure has a huge advantage, as long as its processes are prayer-driven and transparent. A yearly meeting serves as a clear and constant and public access point into the web of relationships that is the Quaker family beyond the local church.

Ideological and programmatic associations may come and go; they may focus on specific initiatives; often, they may be the long shadows of gifted individuals. In the meantime, the yearly meeting can keep plodding along, not seeking to out-dazzle its partners, but cherishing relationships, channeling resources, and providing mutual accountability for those initiatives, and always asking, does Truth prosper?

My responses to the "big questions" are based on my love for this traditional concentric organization of the Friends church. The church is nothing more or less than the people who have -- now and throughout history -- gathered around Jesus, learning what it means to live with him at the center, and helping each other to live that way, including its ethical consequences. This learning and mutual support, and our desire to make this kind of community accessible to others who would be blessed as we have been, are the elements that connect us. No matter how far beyond the local church we go on the organizational chart, God remains at the center.

When we make decisions that affect the individuals, and (in the next level of connection) our member churches and meetings, those decisions ought to be made by people we can trust and hold accountable, and to whom we've granted authority to hold us accountable for our commitments.  We choose these people based on the spiritual gifts we see in them, and on our experience of their trustworthiness, not on their social status. I like the way Eugene Friends are instructed concerning decision-making at meetings for business: everyone may attend and contribute, but the presiding clerk looks to members and active attenders in discerning when a decision has been reached.

Our leaders and representatives can make decisions on our behalf when necessary, but basic decisions on faith and practice should, sooner or later, be ratified by all committed participants in the meeting or yearly meeting. And the default question remains, "What does God want to say and do through us?"

This is the church I dream of becoming.

An appeal for Christians in the Middle East: Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, meets with Patriarch Kirill in Moscow. (Thanks to fulcrum-anglican.org.uk for the reference.)

Street-naming as political theatre: In Washington, DC, local politicians are considering renaming a section of Wisconsin Avenue -- the section in front of the Russian embassy -- Boris Nemtsov Plaza in honor of the assassinated opposition leader. The desire to embarrass is blatant and (to my mind) just plain stupid. However, instead of making its predictable objections, the Russian foreign ministry could have neutralized all that scheming by simply deciding to treat the whole thing positively: "Thank you for honoring our former cabinet member and vice premier, tragically cut down in his prime!"

How did 1917 change the West?
Russia and America have spent the last 100 years as mirrors held up to one another, revealing in excruciating detail both the loftiness of our ambitions and our frequent failures to live up to them. Indeed, our almost ubiquitous failures to live up to them. Russia and America – and perhaps the west more broadly – have constructed their contemporary selves with clear and abiding reference to one another: the American way was American because it was the rejection of the Soviet way, and vice versa.
Jamie the Very Worst Missionary describes the Church for All Cynics. Jerry Jones on The Challenge of Thankfulness. Finally, Laurel Shaler with Three Tips for Generating Gratitude.

"Do Lord (Way Beyond the Blue)"

16 November 2017

"Becoming the church we dreamed of" part one

Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends approves its name.
When I arrived in the Pacific Northwest in 2000, I found myself in an extraordinary community of Quakers: Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church. It seemed to be a marvelous association of churches: it was a humanely and intelligently evangelical Christian community with a warm, generous culture and a deep commitment to Quaker discipleship.

No doubt my joy at finding this beautiful community, after seven years of leadership in the (then) polarized atmosphere of Friends United Meeting, lulled me into a false sense of security. Of course, Northwest Yearly Meeting had its own ancient fissures and unhealed traumas. Its decision in 1926 to leave Friends United Meeting (at the time it was Oregon Yearly Meeting leaving the Five Years Meeting of Friends) was surrounded by conflict, echoes of which I could still detect in my first visit to Oregon eighty years later. Other tensions were newer. However, my own experience over my seventeen years' connection with Northwest Yearly Meeting have mostly confirmed my first positive impressions.

If I had my way, the community would have been preserved and I would be continuing to serve it with uncomplicated devotion. But unity was not preserved. Reedwood Friends Church, where I'm a member (along with my dual membership in Moscow Meeting, Russia) is already no longer a member of the yearly meeting, and Eugene Friends Church, where I worship most Sundays, is on its way out.

I described the rupture from my point of view last February in this post. Toward the end, I tried to express a "silver lining" for the separated churches:
Churches that are already clear that their local practices cannot remain in alignment with the Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice have now been invited to form their own new yearly meeting with help from a NWYM transition team ... and compile their own Faith and Practice. I dearly hope that, first, the churches that are unable to align with current NWYM Faith and Practice will in fact have the dedication and energy to form this new body in collaboration with that NWYM transition team. Second, I hope this new body is as committed to biblical authority and Quaker discipleship as NWYM wishes to be. The task of compiling a new Faith and Practice is a wonderful chance to restate core Friends insights for a jaded world. Third, I hope that this new yearly meeting will lavish love and care on its mother yearly meeting, rejecting resentment and cynicism in favor of an enduring hope for reconciliation.
Some of these wishes are already coming true. Not having had anything to do with these developments, having been in Russia most of the time since last summer, I can't provide on-the-spot reporting or take any personal credit, but what I've seen from a distance is encouraging.

The new yearly meeting that is emerging from these developments named itself Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends. The formal membership structure and entry process are still being defined, and it's by no means clear that all churches or individual Friends who might find themselves outside Northwest Yearly Meeting will become part of this new yearly meeting, or even when they might make that decision. This uncertainty has not kept the new yearly meeting from working toward clarity on its identity and discipline

Some of this progress is evident on its Web site, scymfriends.org. On a more journalistic level, there's background information on quakernews.com. After the founding sessions at George Fox University last summer, there was a general meeting last month at Eugene Friends Church in Oregon, and another is scheduled for February 2018. In the meantime, I've joined a task group that is working on recording and licensing policies to propose to Sierra-Cascades Friends.

Another piece of this work: at our last Eugene Friends Church monthly meeting, we were all invited to submit our thoughts on the following questions as a contribution toward the yearly meeting's development.

Why are we joining together instead of going our separate ways? What holds Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting together? (Examples: Common beliefs/theology? Relationships? Friends' testimonies? Other?)

How should we make decisions that affect the whole of SCYMF? (Examples: refer all decisions to the yearly meeting as a whole? Choose reps to make some or all decisions? Let a specified group make urgent decisions? Other?)
My fondest wish -- that Northwest Yearly Meeting would remain united -- did not come true. It was tempting to grieve that rupture indefinitely ... and, to be honest, the grief is not going away soon. However, it is a wonderful comfort to realize that nothing so far is blocking my existing friendships and actual collaborations with Friends in Northwest Yearly Meeting, and I plan to hold on to every relationship I possibly can. In the meantime, I look at developments in Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends with the attitude that Shane Claiborne expressed in his book, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical.
... [W]e decided to stop complaining about the church we saw, and we set our hearts on becoming the church we dreamed of.
Part two.

Amy Hollywood on prayer and the Psalms.
Psalms are crucial to understanding Christian practices of prayer because they are full of images, rich with detail about the relationship between the speaker and the persons, animals, and objects around her, including, of course, God. God is named, praised, and thanked, worshiped, feared, and railed against, not without images, but through and in them
RT.com as a foreign agent: a Russian journalist's view.

Greg Yudin: Who writes Russian history nowadays: the state or the citizens? (Also see Nanci Adler's response.)

Tim Berners-Lee on net neutrality and the future of the Web.

Edvard Munch through the eyes of Karl Ove Knausgård and Ingrid D. Rowland.

"It's Too Late Brother" ... psycheDELTA Blues Band, Moscow.

09 November 2017

Election week reflections 2016 (repost, mostly)

October 21. Preparing to vote by e-mail.
November 9, 2016 -- one year ago today -- was the normal working day in Elektrostal, Russia, that I'm describing in the following paragraphs, the day we learned that Donald Trump was to be the next U.S. president. I wrote the original post in part to make some political and spiritual commitments. I'll be re-reading those commitments and try to decide how faithful I (we?) have been.

A couple of months earlier, in a post entitled Russian avos' and American politics, I cited this conversation:
One of my colleagues asked, "If it's not a secret, what do you think of your presidential candidates?" I mentioned my doubts about Trump, and she replied, "If Clinton wins, we already know how she feels about Russia -- she's not exactly our friend. In any case, we more or less know what she will do. Don't you think it would be a lot more interesting, even fun [veselo] if Trump became president? After all, he'll have advisors, a cabinet; people will make sure that he can't do too much harm. And life will not be boring!"
What do you think of her predictions now?

And what do you think of the "fantasy" in the final section below? "It's my fantasy that in the months and years to come, churches will play a unique role." Is it happening?

Here follows the repost:

I've never been able to resist watching election returns, wherever I might be. So I got up on Wednesday morning at 3:45 a.m. (eight hours ahead of the USA's Eastern Standard Time), made some coffee, and settled in for three and a half hours of streaming video from CBS News before I'd have to leave to teach our first morning class.

I kept CBS News streaming into my smartphone as I walked the 35-minute icy path to the Institute, picking my way through the most slippery places with my cane. By the time our first class of the day started (at midnight on the U.S. East Coast), it was very clear that the tide had turned toward Donald Trump. For a few minutes we projected our news feed onto a classroom screen -- it was our Mass Media class, after all -- before tackling our subject of the day, an article about the "Depressing Food of the Depression." It wasn't until our second class of the morning that a little alert from the news site Lenta.ru came on my laptop screen that Hillary Clinton had conceded.

I spent a good portion of the previous day, the actual U.S. election day, in the wonderful company of seven graduate students at the Baptist seminary in Moscow, teaching theological English. Toward the end of our session, I played Nate Macy's song "Grace to You" as a gapfill exercise, and to my delight, after we worked through the blanks, they wanted to sing it together. One of the students picked up a guitar and worked out the accompaniment with delightful results.

These wonderful hours at the seminary provided nurture and perspective for the less wonderful hours to come -- following the election returns from across the Atlantic.

Instant message to me on Vkontakte, November 9.
Soon after our second Wednesday morning class ended, we began getting congratulations on Trump's victory from our Russian students and colleagues, in person and on social networks. They must have assumed that we had done the (in their minds) sensible thing and voted for him. That evening, I had a long conversation with a retired engineer -- one of those who had congratulated us. She explained (as we already knew) that the main Russian television networks had made it clear that Clinton was hostile to Russia, making Trump the far more desirable candidate. With some indignation, she told me that Clinton and the foreign-policy establishment figures around her were falsely accusing Russia of hostile intentions. "We are a country of peaceful people," as she summed it up.

Russians can be excused for putting foreign policy concerns above America's domestic agenda. And it's that domestic agenda that threatens to give me ulcers. Well-meaning people can reasonably differ on many policy issues, but this election cycle's corrosive campaign and its outcome reveal deeper problems, of which I want to focus on just one symptom: the way Barack Obama has been portrayed in social-network posts by people close to me, and what that says about our sources of information.

Some of my friends and acquaintances acknowledge that Obama has covered all the conventional expectations of a U.S. president, helping guide an economic recovery process and health care finance reform in the face of unrelenting Republican opposition. He has carried out his roles of global leader and national pastor-in-chief with competence and often with grace, especially at times of crisis and tragedy. With his record of extrajudicial killings-by-drone, he's no hero to me, but objectively he's just doing what imperial presidents are supposed to do -- and, to his credit, he seems to have resisted the influences of far more hawkish advisors.

Other friends and relatives seem ready to circulate material about Obama that I can only describe as outrageously false -- so aggressively false that I would have thought that this stuff comes from some parallel universe where a mysterious anti-Obama is busy totally destroying the freedoms of the anti-USA for his personal enrichment, while opening the back door of the anti-White House to Islamic terrorists. Here's what really drives me nuts: if allegations of criminality at this level came to me, I would do some checking before passing them on. Even if I thought the media was already too corrupt, too bought-off to look into these sorts of charges, I would not pass them on without some kind of proof or at least a caveat. "Thou shalt not bear false witness."

It's my fantasy that in the months and years to come, churches will play a unique role. The global family of faith may be the only institution that brings together people holding these diametrically opposite viewpoints. I know this is true in our own Quaker yearly meeting. It may be the one place where "irreconcilable differences" can be transcended, if we are determined to resist the fragmentation promoted by the most hateful media.

Those who are overjoyed by Trump's victory will still need to pray for him -- and it's just as important for those devastated by his victory to pray for him as well. For eight years I passionately opposed George W. Bush's warmaking and slander of Muslims and fiscal shell games, and for eight years I prayed for him daily. I prayed for him for my own sake -- in order to manage and rebuke my own rage -- as well as for his.

Having the mind of Christ, we can also devote ourselves to other specific tasks in the wake of this election, dividing the labor according to our gifts and leadings. We need to diagnose the role of racism, of elitism and social alienation, and other evidences of primordial evil and structural sin in whatever guise they have taken in our day. I can imagine forming book groups and Bible studies, and then taking the time to work out strategies of divine resistance we will offer our congregations. The Friends meetings of Portland, Oregon -- both liberal and evangelical -- studied the situation after September 11, 2001, and began systematically planning visits to congressional offices. At around the same time, a small group of churches and pastors also began staging social exorcisms in government locations in Portland and Salem, Oregon, praying publicly to cast out the demons of violence, greed, and racism.

From a God-centered perspective, this spiritual warfare utterly transcends the divisions between liberal and conservative; the more pertinent division is between those who live in hope and work to bless the community, and on the other hand, those who just stop caring. Let's put fresh energy into community-building, not letting anyone get marginalized, no matter whom they voted for.


Back to 2017 and some fresh links:

D.L. Mayfield's experience of U.S. election night 2016. "I announced to the faithful gathered at my house. He is going to be our next president."
The twist that I never saw coming was that the apocalyptic threads of theology I picked up as a child can be traced parallel to evangelical Christianity’s obsession with obtaining cultural power. In years where democrats were elected (or civil rights demonstrations skyrocketed), Christian apocalyptic thinking became more popular, books were sold, theologies of a world getting worse and worse until it suddenly ended grew. But when things were looking up—Republican presidents, for instance—the end times language quieted down.
Luther goes global: Martin E. Marty reviews coverage of the Reformation's 500th birthday.

A powerful call and warning to parents serving cross-culturally: no child soldiers, no child sacrifice.

David Roberts writes on the epistemic crisis that goes well beyond Donald Trump's success or failure in his current legal challenges. (How does this analysis affect my "fantasy" of the church's unique role?)

Ruthie Foster, "Phenomenal Woman"