15 February 2018

Realism 2.0

Madras (Oregon) sunset
The conventional wisdom:

You want sane gun control policies? A day in Washington DC without a new outrage? A genuine presidential election in Russia? Don't hold your breath!

As I noted after Russia's 2016 legislative elections, the advice to "be realistic" is too often simply a wet blanket to smother our hopes for something better. This evening on television, in response to the cries from Stoneman Douglas High School students and parents, pleading for action on gun control, I heard that same old cynicism: "Why," asked the worldly-wise, "should we expect a genuine response this time?"

We in fact won't do any better this time than we have before, if we surrender to this passivity. But the opposite of passivity isn't frantic perfection! I like these words from Jim Manney:
There’s an old saying that we should “pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.” It’s been attributed to Ignatius (though there’s no evidence that he said it), and many think it captures the Ignatian spirit: turning it all over to God in prayer and then working tirelessly and urgently to do God’s work. I prefer to reverse it: “pray as if everything depends on you, work as if everything depends on God.” This means that prayer has to be urgent: God has to do something dramatic if everything depends on me. It also puts our work in the right perspective: if it depends on God, we can let it go. We can work hard but leave the outcome up to him. If God is in charge we can tolerate mixed results and endure failure.
In any given moment, we may have no guarantee that our vision or our resistance will prevail, but we're working "as if everything depended on God." Listen, we are a happy people -- it has been given to us to work in collaboration with the Holy Spirit, accepting success and failure with an eager persistence and willingness to pray and learn and try again.

I have this odd intuition that, in fact, we're finally gaining on the bullies. They've overplayed their hand. A couple of years ago I saw a documentary on the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The vicious German machine-gun fire cut into the lines of invading troops coming ashore with awful effect, but those same machine gun bullets were strangely ineffective when traveling through more than a few feet of water. The water's resistance was enough to slow the bullets to a nonlethal speed.

Similarly, I dare to hope, our own increasing resistance may be taking its toll on the bullies.  The #MeToo movement is shaking up ancient assumptions of impunity for sexually aggressive power figures. Domestic violence, even by highly-placed White House officials, is no longer a "private" matter. Corruption and arrogance in state and federal cabinets are provoking resistance, too. Strangely, Donald Trump's relentless barrage of abusive Twitter remarks may itself lead to an outpouring of "we've had enough!"

Another case of resistance: as the Russian authorities try to shut down the exposes of corruption and the election-boycott campaign of Alexei Navalny's team, they don't give in to traditional fatalism. Instead, persistence and humor keep the team's message accessible. (Example: want the snowbanks cleared from your street? Spraypaint Navalny's name on the snow, and chances are it will get shoveled!) Even Navalny's banned Web site remains at least sporadically accessible.

After yesterday's catastrophe in Florida: the millions spent on lobbying against gun control in the USA may not be enough, this time, to ward off the day of reckoning. True, the number of guns already on American streets still will be in the hundreds of millions for a long time to come, so there are no simple solutions. But this time our outrage may finally force recognition that changes are needed and demanded. The U.S. Constitution's first-amendment guarantee of free speech has limitations directly connected to public safety; the exact same consideration must be restored to the second amendment's right to keep and bear arms. Best of all would be to modify that amendment, but a close second might be to require all gun owners to become part of a "well regulated Militia." Whatever the ultimate solution, let's keep the pressure on the politicians to focus, for a change, on our children's right to stay alive, or be prepared to explain themselves to an angry electorate.

If I'm right that the bullies may soon be, at long last, in retreat, I don't want them to be replaced by progressive bullies. Rage, however righteous, can be dangerously intoxicating. The discipline of "working as if everything depends on God" recognizes that many of our efforts will be tentative and partial and experimental. At first we may simply be shaking off the habits of passivity, before we gain confidence in the ways forward. If we allow ourselves to be heroically critical of the principalities and powers, but cut off those who criticize us, we'll soon be creating new oppressions in place of the ones we fought.

Over thirty years ago, I attended a conference on discernment at Quaker Hill Conference Center. I remember Jan Wood defining discernment, not as finding certainty or uniformity, but learning to turn our faces toward God. That's what realism has come to mean for me.

David Byrne's repost: Guns are about freedom....

A spiritual analysis of gun violence from William De Arteaga.

Brian Beutler tours the confusing funhouse of rightwing conspiracy theories. (Reminder from last summer that the "left" is not immune.)

Election day in Russia is March 18. In Yekaterinburg, people are discussing just about anything else.

Friday PS: Another victory for citizens making noise: a Russian professor, fired for protesting low pay, is reinstated.

Roger Ridley and Grandpa Elliott, together for the last time on a Playing for Change video...

08 February 2018

February shorts

In last week's post, "Smoking gun with silencer," my comments included a charge that Donald Trump had conned his way into the U.S. presidency. (See the full set of comments for the context.) Keith Saylor wanted me to say more precisely what I meant by "conned" ... a fair request. I'd like to repeat a part of my reply here:

You [Keith Saylor] charitably summarize my "con" argument this way: "It seems to me you are suggesting that Donald Trump conned his way to the Presidency by misusing or abusing the confidence in electoral process and the office of the Presidency to degrade the political culture for personal and general economic interest."

I don't think that Trump set out to degrade the political process. My argument is slightly simpler: He tricked a significant number of voters into believing that he would be a more competent leader than Hillary Clinton. Her case depended at least in part on her resume (activist, Senator, Secretary of State, etc.) and, consequently, her familiarity with how things are done, along with her policy priorities, which were standard-issue centrist reforms.

Trump's case was dramatically different. He denounced the political and financial establishment ("the swamp") and said, basically, "Rely on my intelligence and intuition as a get-it-done businessman who gives it to you straight." His utter disdain for political correctness simply reinforces this impression as someone who is not controlled by convention or the establishment.

Now I'm sure that a certain segment of his base has in fact gotten what he promised and demonstrated before the election: a transgressive figure with no verbal filter. This bull-in-a-china-shop behavior continues to delight them. This may be a function of their extreme alienation from the politics of the past; I just don't know. But it would be wrong for me to say that this specific segment was conned into voting for Trump.

I simply cannot believe that this segment accounts for all 60 million of his voters. Among those voters must be millions who actually believed his promises to clean out the swamp and who took his claims of expertise at face value. They surely hoped that his brutish behavior would cause a creative upset, not a destructive one. These are the people who were conned, in my opinion. They did NOT expect the degradation, collapse of worthwhile norms, administrative incompetence, chaotic and contradictory political signals, and exaltation of wealth that have marked his tenure so far. They may have made a comparison between Candidate Trump as intuitive genius and Hillary Clinton as the "swamp" candidate, but not between her and the rolling crisis we're experiencing now.

PS: It's not a "con" if he didn't intend to deceive, so my argument above is a bit incomplete. What really seems deceptive to me are two things: the "drain the swamp" claim, when in reality his regime is marked by very wealthy and well-connected Cabinet members and others; and the claim of being more intelligent and better-informed than others (in some cases FAR better), when he apparently counted on being able to operate by feel and fiat.

It doesn't seem quite fair to charge that he fully intended to make such a mess of things, or to wander so close to authoritarianism. But, whatever he intended, his actions, compromises, and inadequacies have led us into crisis territory. And all that is without considering whether he is so beholden to actors in Russia that he cannot act to secure our electronic borders.

The Winter Olympics have started! It's the one recurring event of the sports news cycle where the country of my birth, Norway, plays an outsize role on the world stage, so pardon me for any temporary inconsistencies in my conceit that I'm a world citizen!

Ellen looks at ski jumping coverage.
Norway's first curling matches of this year's games (mixed doubles) came up with wins. However, curling wasn't one of my childhood fascinations at Olympics time. The two sports that I loved following were ski jumping and biathlon. This remains true.

One other early victory for the 2018 Norwegian team: they managed to return 13,500 eggs ordered by mistake for the team's kitchen.

This year politics will play a larger than normal role in the games. North and South Korea will field a combined team for women's ice hockey, presumably without USA permission. On a sadder note, 47 Russian athletes and coaches lost an appeal to be included in these games. As a result of the doping scandal, those Russians who were found eligible will compete under the banner of the Olympic Athletes from Russia, rather than the Russian national flag.

In general (with exceptions!), the Russians I've talked to about this scandal have two responses, often given together although they may seem contradictory:

First, the penalties imposed on Russian athletes reflect anti-Russian attitudes in the West; and secondly: yes, doping happens -- it's just part of the normal culture of corruption in Russia. (Also, some ask "what about" the doping that goes on elsewhere in the world? Back to the first point: their claim is that since doping goes on everywhere, only politics can explain why Russia is singled out.)

Back in March 2017, did you see opposition politician Alexei Navalny's video "He's not Dimon to you!"? That expose of Russian prime minister Medvedev's allegedly ill-gotten real estate began with the tiniest initial clue: finding out who owned the location where the prime minister's online purchases of sneakers were delivered.

Screenshot from today's video. Outside Navalny's HQ.
Today's sensational new video from Navalny's anti-corruption team, which alleges connections between Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko, oligarch Oleg Deripaska, and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, describes another investigation that also began with a minor and apparently unrelated incident. A group of provocatively-dressed young women, accompanied by a film crew from Lifenews (specializing in yellow journalism favorable to Russian authorities, now defunct), showed up at Navalny's Moscow campaign offices in an apparent attempt to embarrass his team. Curiosity about these women and their mission led to a chain of further discoveries. (For more, see the video, which has English subtitles. See this evening's Washington Post article here.)

By the time I saw the new video, nine hours after its YouTube debut, it already had half a million viewers. At the end of the day, it has 1,145,000 views on Navalny's own YouTube channel alone.

Friday PS: Oleg Deripaska is not happy. Fresh summary on RFERL.

Jen Zamzow asks whether churches should handle sexual abuse allegations internally.

That "evangelical" label, again: Jonathan Merritt with John Stackhouse.

Rapper NF: where Christian hip-hop and Eminem meet. (Some NF tracks included.)

More on Russia's upcoming presidential elections: Alexander Kynev. Natalia Antonova.

With the U.S. Pentagon being force-fed yet more money, what happens to the money they already have? Here's a bit of probing by Nick Turse.

Buddy Guy's "Skin Deep" gets the Playing for Change treatment. (Thanks to Bill Denham for the link.)

01 February 2018

Smoking gun with silencer

April 29, 1974: At first, Nixon offers transcripts rather than tapes. Source.
Today, Elizabeth Drew's article, "Holding a President Accountable," was published on the New Republic's Web site. Just seeing her name reminded me of the Watergate case which she chronicled in her book Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon's Downfall. In today's article, Drew lists the factors that make removal of Donald Trump from the presidency highly unlikely, despite the strong case she makes that Trump's mischief against the accountability process far exceeds what Nixon attempted.

Drew is also one of the many voices of the Watergate era that are featured in Slate's podcast Slow Burn (season one), devoted to that high drama. A couple of nights ago I listened to the final podcast of the Watergate epic. As the podcast documents, one of the turning points for some of Nixon's staunchest supporters was a voice artifact from the last batch of tapes demanded by the independent prosecutor's office -- a recording of Nixon ordering that the CIA be told to contact the FBI with a request to back off. The release of that incriminating tape led to the collapse of Nixon's remaining support and his resignation just days later.

That recording has been nicknamed the "smoking gun." In the comparison between Watergate and the Trump presidency, some have noted the absence of a similarly dramatic moment of shock in the current situation. However, the full contexts, then and now, are not comparable. Part of Watergate's shock was the dramatic contrast between the respectability of Nixon and his family and his political party, on the one hand, and his cynical manipulation of power behind the scenes, along with the [expletive deleted] language on the recordings that so shocked Billy Graham and others invested in all that respectability.

Today there is nothing but shock. The news cycle is an unending chronicle of insults, innuendos, power struggles, dog whistles. At the center of this chaos is the "chaos president," whose sole point of reference seems to be himself. We search in vain for a single smoking gun because the whole edifice of normal governmental accountability is on fire.

The differences between Watergate and today are dramatic, but the underlying moral dramas may not be so different. This is where the smoking-gun metaphor breaks down. Maybe "poison gas" might be a better metaphor. Slow Burn quotes Republican senator Hugh Scott, minority leader, in 1974, reacting to the Watergate transcripts: "a shabby, disgusting, immoral performance by all those involved." The podcast then gives us these comments from Elizabeth Holtzman, then a member of the House Judiciary Committee, as she now looks back at the totality of those recordings:
And you never heard him (him, meaning the President) say, "What's the right thing to do for the country? What's the right thing to do under the law?" It was always kind of "how do you get away with this" and "how can we stonewall here?" It was just, you know, like thieves conspiring and plotting and scheming.
Of course we cannot conclude that Nixon never agonized over the ideals he seemed to be trashing, just because he never did so on tape. Similarly, we can't know for certain that the private Donald Trump does not at least occasionally wonder whether he is fully living up to the high expectations of his office. But the public silence is deafening.

More suggestive points of comparison between the two eras: Here's Elizabeth Drew, in her book, Washington Journal, describing her thoughts on Chuck Colson's plea-bargain in Federal court, June 3, 1974:
The people who surrounded Richard Nixon probably do and did love their country, and had their own peculiar sense of what that meant. It is still not clear that Colson understands why his country is being "torn apart." It is as if these people were utterly detached from what they did. And, having manipulated the symbols -- country, flag, religion -- they are inevitably suspected of continuing to do so. When Colson turned to religion, he was seen as engaging in the ultimate manipulation. That he then talked as enthusiastically about Jesus as he had once talked about Richard Nixon does not mean that he has not believed firmly in both. The religiosity of the men around Nixon was and is a striking thing, and it is something very hard to deal with. It is not polite to mock or suspect people's religious beliefs, and these men used that on us. They made their patriotism and their piety part of their politics. All of which gives fresh meaning to the point that we have a government of laws.

I spent the Watergate years in Canada. Back in 2005, I briefly recalled some of my memories of that era.
During those years I was getting my undergraduate degree at Carleton University in Ottawa. When the famous Saturday Night Massacre occurred, I dropped everything and took a bus to Montreal and a train to Washington, DC, blinking in the morning light outside Union Station and finding my way to the White House fence, where I found others from all over the country who had been drawn by the elemental currents of history to gather at that spot.

The eve of Nixon's resignation, National Arts Center, Ottawa ... Ottawa's own Rich Little performed as part of a four-day engagement (if I remember correctly). Rich Little was well-known for his Nixon impression. He obliged again that evening. I was there for that apparently historic performance—I'm told that the next day he dropped that part of his act.
Someday I'm going to have to look at my diaries from those years and see what I noted on a day-to-day basis about Watergate. After all, I was a political science student ... although my focus was the Soviet Union.

Craig Thompson: I don’t think I’d ever heard the phrase "disenfranchised grief" before I came back from living overseas.

Morgan Lee conducts an amazing interview with Rachael Denhollander on Larry Nasser, the Gospel, forgiveness, and justice.

Mary Elmes, a Quaker heroine who chose obscurity: a profile and book review in The Times of Israel.

Is the white, middle-class, well-educated sector of American Quakers facing "a steady slide of downward mobility"? Chuck Fager presents the evidence.

V.V. Putin, the short course -- from oligarch to kleptocrat. Author Ruth May necessarily leaves out a lot of details, both positive and negative. The biggest positive omission: the stabilization of the country's economic life after the chaos of privatization and default. Maybe the biggest negative is here.

Despite their fame and enduring importance, the Rolling Stones have been almost invisible to the Grammy voters. But this year they won the Grammy for traditional blues, for their Blue and Lonesome album. (Two tracks below.) The album is a great romp, but the best of a whole year of blues? Really?

"Hate To See You Go." Nice music, but couldn't they have done better than this cliche-ridden "urban" collage of a video?

"Ride 'Em On Down"

25 January 2018

To Russia with love

"The most realistic path to political change in this country." (Found on vk.com)
The Russian presidential election is less than two months away. There's already a lot of skeptical commentary about whether the word "election" (which implies actual choice and the possibility of change) can even be honestly used for the process. Yes, much of that commentary will come from outside Russia, but it's also a huge theme on vk.com (vkontakte, Facebook's big rival within the Russian-speaking world) and other social media in Russia. To risk a generalization, the older the commentator, the more audible the sigh of resignation.

The election season, then, threatens to add to the cloud of negativity around the great nation of Russia. Three months after our own departure from the country, it seemed right to counter some of that negativity, not by spraying nice deodorant on the politics -- that I won't do -- but by looking back on just a few everyday things about Russia out of the many details of daily life that I intensely miss.

No kidding! This package came to us from the
postal workers at P.O. 144010, Yalagin St.
Before my first detail, I want to stipulate one huge category that I can't possibly cover adequately: the people. From the Russian Orthodox peace activist with whom I shared a talk show appearance, to the young woman who cut our hair, the dear members of the Russian Quaker groups, the extraordinary students and colleagues at our Institute in Elektrostal, the Baptist seminarians, the neurologist who treated my plantar fasciitis, the grocery store cashiers, refrigerator techs, poets, librarians, Kurskii railroad cafe workers, bus conductors, taxi drivers, hockey players, and not least, the postal workers who sent us candy for Christmas!!! ... the wonderful memories of friendship, kindness, patience, sympathy, and hilarity come flooding back.

Just sampling a few lesser things I miss severely:

Buying prescription drugs

If you live in the USA, your medicines are dispensed manually: you get a bottle with your name on it, and the pills are counted into the bottle while you wait in line, if you're lucky. If you've run out of refills, you will have to wait until your doctor authorizes a new supply.

Lisinopril in familiar box
Russia spoiled me. As soon as the staff at our local drugstore got to know us, we didn't need fresh prescriptions for our routine (that is, non-narcotic) prescription drugs. Just say the name of the drug and the dosage, and you get the blister packs in seconds. If one store is out of a particular medicine, there are five more pharmacies within ten minutes' walk.

Blood and urine tests were practically as easy: the clinic/collection point was one minute away from our apartment, and results were available online later that day or the next.

Only in Russia? Poetry readings on your bus ride.
Minibus sign: "A few minutes of terror, and you're home!"
Public transportation

I can't find too many nice things to say about driving in the Moscow region -- there were simply too many cars for the road system. Aside from the unpredictable duration of the trip, driving required developing a fine intuition for knowing when to yield and when to be aggressive, when to obey the rules and when to drive on shoulders and sidewalks. After two years, we sold the car we had inherited, and relied exclusively on public transport.

And why not? Almost every inch of Elektrostal (pop. 150,000) was reachable by buses running on convenient schedules that were posted on the Internet. Trains left nearby Fryazevo village for Moscow every 20-30 minutes at all times except the noon hour, connecting us to Moscow's unrivalled subway system in a little over an hour. Buses to Moscow were slower, but the Moscow bus stop was one minute away from our apartment.

Transportation costs were, admittedly, subject to high inflation. From September 2007 to September 2017, bus fares in Elektrostal nearly tripled. However, actually paying fares was easy ... you don't need exact change or a ticket. Once a guy got on board a Fryazevo-Elektrostal bus with a thousand-ruble note to pay the 20-ruble fare. The driver didn't have that kind of change: "Do I look like a bank?" The passenger appealed to the rest of us, and pretty soon practically all of us were involved in getting him the change he needed, with a lot of good-natured ribbing. Instant community.

During our last year in Russia, we began using the Yandex Taxi system, an Internet-driven taxi ordering and monitoring service with an Uber-like mobile phone interface that really took all the uncertainty out of using taxis.

Cheap Internet

Ministry of Culture blocks theaters from showing the film
The Death of Stalin. Plane is labeled "By Internet." (Source.)
In our apartment, for 100 Mbps (maximum speed) we paid under $10 per month. Now that we have given up our apartment and are in the USA, we see that our Elektrostal provider is running a special: for about $1 more, we can get 132 channels of cable television! We probably would not have paid that extra dollar if we'd stayed, since we rarely watched television, but when I look at what our friends here in Oregon are paying for Internet service, there's no comparison.

True, our actual speed rarely reached that theoretical limit, but nothing we did on the Internet required anywhere near that speed, even with two laptops, two tablets, and two phones connected all at once.

We were sternly warned to use a VPN in Russia, which we did. Now VPNs have been declared illegal. I have no doubt that they are still in use, one way or another.

Internet service on our mobile phones was also very reasonable. We paid about $6/month per phone for unlimited domestic voice and SMS usage and 4G Internet. However, we had to pay full price for the phones themselves; they were unblocked and not bundled into subscription contracts. On balance, it was an economical arrangement. I've kept my number and can use it even from the USA when I need to receive SMS texts -- for example to connect with my Russian bank.


Russia's constitution -- in the bookstore's fantasy section.
I miss Russian humor -- and as a dedicated follower of politics, I especially miss being around Russian political humor. Of course, in this highly politicized presidential-election season, I'll have access to a lot of it through the Internet, but that's just not the same as the stage whispers among our students, or the side-comments in the teacher's lounge.

Political humor in Russia is nothing new. In Soviet times it was far riskier, but nevertheless persisted, and some might say it came into full flower during the late Soviet era. (Heard on Radio Yerevan: What's a Russian classical trio? Answer: A Russian classical quartet after an overseas tour.)

Humor can make life bearable, but it also has a shadow side. The sad tradeoff of the current consolidation of Russia's "power vertical": the less hope for positive change, the more cynical humor. This kind of humor is a two-edged sword; the emperor might not have clothes, but who cares? What do you want me to do about it?

Still, I bet Americans have no idea how much Russians are able to laugh, not least at themselves. It's just not part of the stereotype here. And I miss it.

Friday PS: Winter

This morning, the following "one year ago" picture showed up in my Facebook feed. I actually miss winter ... except the ice.

Our courtyard one year ago, at 7:14 p.m.

Last September we led a learning tour of Moscow, Elektrostal, and St. Petersburg. I'm already thinking of what to include in the next edition of our tour.

Becky Ankeny: Hope and living water.

Now that's what Jim Kovpak calls Russophobia.

Three items on Russia's upcoming presidential elections: by Elena Solovyova, Leonid Ragozin, and Andrei Kalikh. Please read these writers with care: you will learn something about the wisdom and danger of passivity, and maybe the uselessness of glib insights from the West.

Last week, Mark Hummel's Blues Harmonica Blowout came to Eugene. At first I was startled to hear such ecstatic music in such staid concert surroundings (the Shedd Institute's Jaqua Concert Hall), but then I realized why it was entirely suitable: utter virtuosity. Among many other great musicians, I was delighted to hear Billy Boy Arnold, now 82 years old.

On this video, the guitarist on our left is one of my favorites, Charlie Baty.

19 January 2018

What's so urgent about sex?

Please consider commenting on last week's post on "Unvarnished Quakerism." I'm not just looking for comments on the existing items; I'd also love more questions that you think should be in the list.

Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (Paramount 1968) Seeing this film is the only high school field trip I still remember! Source.
Heterosexual men who can't or won't hear "no" are back in the news, along with women's time-honored tactics to ward them off. As unlikely as it is that anything I say would be read by any man who needs enlightenment -- and at the risk of being accused of virtue signalling -- I'm going to persist in asking my questions, and I'm going to begin by paying tribute to my late friend Betsy Moen. During a Right Sharing of World Resources study tour in Jamaica about thirty years ago, she addressed the then-current fashion of focusing on women as the "targets" of economic development. As I recalled in an earlier post,
While there, Betsy gave a talk at a seminar organized by Geoff Brown at the University of the West Indies, and the next day she summarized her talk on a Jamaican Broadcasting morning television interview show.

Her talk was entitled, "Why Target Women?" She explained why women were "targeted" in much contemporary economic development work—resources devoted to women were far more likely to benefit the whole family, according to credible research, whereas men tended to spend additional resources on themselves.

However, after describing the efficacy of targeting women in development work, Betsy asked a powerful question: what are the assumptions and consequences of this strategy for men? Are men just a problem to be bypassed, or are they themselves worthy of attention? Clearly, the old development methods of transferring more money and power to men don't work, but is neglect the only other option? Have we assumed that men cannot be educated to be responsible fathers, productive economic partners, collaborative leaders?
In the specific area of sexual boundary violations, men are perpetrators far more often than women, so why target women as the ones responsible for fixing the situation?

In targeting men, we'll have to work at several levels. The most frustrating and intractable cases, involving men who seem undeterred by fear of consequences, might need to be worked primarily at the systems level. Sex addicts, for example, are just as destructive and self-destructive as other addicts, meaning that persuasion won't work and fear-based disincentives probably won't work either. For their own protection and the protection of others, they need to hit a brick wall, and then be directed into treatment, while we also help victims heal in every possible way, including the poison of shame.

For those men who still believe or take advantage of the ancient double standards, but who aren't total sociopaths, maybe persuasion and education have a better chance...? I hope it's starting to dawn on these operators that they can't count on social impunity anymore. For them, fear of a devastating exposure might work. As I argued a couple of years ago,
Not every accusation will emerge from a 100% clear-cut predator/victim encounter. My point is that sexually aggressive people are now living in a far riskier world, and they have to face the question of whether their preferred lifestyle and image are really worth it.
As we survey the wreckage left by boundary-violators and the huge outpourings of outrage and counter-reaction greeting every new celebrity scandal and every new debate about "consent," there's something I just don't understand, and this may reveal what a sheltered life I've led. The mystery: why does it seem so important to have sex with someone before you know that person well enough to understand their boundaries? I ask this because every discussion of determining what constitutes "consent" seems to presuppose that having sex is so urgent that those boundaries ought to be measured and crossed (with whatever form of consent the pundits finally agree on) as soon as possible!!!

I get that, in a new relationship, either partner may be simultaneously attracted and a bit ambivalent, hopeful and fearful in practically equal measures. When you assume a truncated timespan, it's understandable that signals may not be all that clear! Some of the more measured recent discussions of consent seem to grant this, while still somehow assuming that the ultimate and obvious goal is sex that very night.

(That tired old male defense, "she was just a tease," precisely exposes a predatory mentality that puts gratification before understanding. Honest flirtation can certainly include teasing, but subsequent resistance of any kind should tell the one being teased that something dangerous is going on.)

But, seriously, aren't there many delightful ways of expanding each one's knowledge of the other before sexual boundaries are crossed? Isn't that exploration a joy? And isn't the willingness to show restraint in itself a gift to the other? How do we begin to challenge the presumption of urgency and raise up a positive, even erotic role for restraint?

George Fox University's tagline is "be known." (The university's Web site makes the very relevant point that, among other things, "to be known is to be heard.") Maybe the King James Bible translators gave us a precious insight when they translated "to have sex with" as "to know." I don't want to hide behind a fake piety here -- we understand that not every episode of "knowing" in the Bible was sweet and romantic. But as we try to understand what "targeting" men means, maybe we can teach this insight:
  • I want to know you. I want to know you as much as any one person can know another. In fact, I believe that, knowing you this deeply, I can trust you, not just allowing you beyond my most intimate boundaries but entrusting you with my life.
  • I want to be known by you. I want to reveal to you how I came to be who I am. I want to offer you joy and comfort, not bitter memories. As the Song of Songs reveals, sex is very much part of this knowing, but by far not all.
Not every sexual encounter will match this level of knowing, but every sexual encounter obtained by lying about our good intentions will certainly end in pain. The more lying and coercion, the more pain. I may indeed have lived a sheltered life, but honestly, this shelter (based on a biblical appreciation of sex as "knowing") is available to everyone, and seems a lot nicer in the long run than the world's urgent and chaotic addictions.

Some of the articles I read these past few days that led to these meditations are the following:

Elizabeth Bruenig, "The Aziz Ansari debacle proves it's time for a new sexual revolution." Related: Caitlin Flanagan: "The humiliation of Aziz Ansari."

Andi Zeisler, a thread on Twitter.

Morgan Guyton, "How can we talk forgiveness in the age of #MeToo?"
For evangelicals, Jesus’ penal substitution is the same thing as Donald Trump’s pardon pen. It erases all culpability, all accountability, all responsibility for processing, growth, reparation, and reconciliation. This is because evangelical atonement is “objective,” not “subjective.” It’s about satisfying God’s wrath against sin, not about giving a Christian believer the courage to face the evil he’s done with integrity.
Ann Voskamp: "The Church's Weinstein Moment: nailing some theses for assault to the door of the Church."

Peg Conway, "Shades of grey: toward real-life Christian sexual ethics."

Addicted to crisis?: when we gather together in times of crisis, let's remember who we are.

Edward Snowden talks to Daniel Ellsberg.

Perpetual War Watch: William Hartung says that 2018 looks like an arms bonanza.

James Harman medley -- another video from his partnership with Junior Watson and Esben Just.

11 January 2018

Unvarnished Quakerism (comments needed)

This is the second Thursday in a row when I've felt completely floored by something coming out of the U.S. White House. I'll save my few comments for the link section below.

Our Quaker church, Eugene Friends Church, has been remodeling its Web site. We'd like to add a section of basic information about Friends, and I was asked to draft something for discussion for that purpose.

Several other Friends meetings and churches have put together Web-based resources for similar purposes, but I thought I'd try to start from scratch. If you know of a site that you particularly like, please let me know in the comments -- at the very least we might link to it.

I especially welcome comments on the draft I've pasted in below. Just to set some context, here are the principles I tried to observe:
  • minimum of Quakerese
  • undefensive about diversity while reflecting the strong Christian commitment of our church
  • low-key tone
  • not assuming the reader is an intellectual; friendly to diverse temperaments
  • not repeating points already well made on the site
  • not pretending to be encyclopedic (but what crucial elements have I left out?)
  • reasonably up-front about our ideals without pretending we're perfect
In addition to missing topics, how could this presentation be improved? Don't worry, it won't be published without local testing as well! I'd really love to hear from people who are not Friends already, who don't have an emotional investment in our typical ways of describing ourselves.

Here's the draft so far:

Exploring the world of Friends

Are "Friends" and "Quakers" the same thing?

Yes. The term "Quakers" started out 350 years ago as a nickname for Friends -- at first it was a sarcastic tag, then Friends adopted it and have used it ever since. Historical background (scroll down to section VIII).

Are Friends Christian?

Yes. Friends began as a reform movement among British Protestants in the mid-1600's. We rejected the established churches' ceremonialism, enmeshment with government, and reliance on priests as intermediaries, and proclaimed that "Christ has come to teach his people himself." Historical background.

OK, but are all Friends Christian?

There's nobody at the top of the Friends movement to enforce theological conformity. As with all non-authoritarian religious movements, we have our liberals and our fundamentalists, and everything in between. Eugene Friends come from the evangelical Christian community of Quakers; we're decidedly Christian, enjoy exploring what that means for ourselves and our community, and are not manic about imposing exact definitions. More context.

What roles do Quaker women have in leadership?

Leadership is based on spiritual gifts, not social categories. From the very beginning of the Quaker movement, women have participated in leadership, including the role of minister. In past times, this principle of total equality was not honored as diligently as we'd like, but today it's our intention to maintain and practice this central teaching of Friends. Historical/biblical background.

You say "there's nobody at the top" -- so who provides leadership for a Quaker congregation?

We envision the Friends church as people who have gathered together with Jesus at the center. We are learning what it means as individuals, families, and church to live with Jesus at the center, and helping each other to learn how to live this way. Pastors help us by coordinating our work, teaching and preaching, and providing ways for the church to be open to the wider community. Elders keep a watch on the emerging gifts of the people, work with the pastor to see what pastoral care and encouragement the people need, and help set priorities for the growth of the church. The presiding and recording clerks serve the church by chairing the meetings for business (where the church as an organization is governed) and recording the decisions. More context.

Among Friends, what's the difference between a "minister" and a "pastor"?

We Friends are not much for rigid distinctions! In general, we don't distinguish between "laity" and "clergy," so in a sense, we are all ministers. Most Friends churches have one or more pastors, who have particular responsibilities to coordinate worship services, arrange for pastoral care, and represent the church in the wider community. (Specific responsibilities are determined by individual Friends churches.) Friends whose spiritual gifts are reflected in various forms of public ministry may become recognized by their churches as "recorded ministers." More context. Even more context.

Where does the Bible fit in?

The Bible has a central role in our discipleship and discernment. Most Friends agree with early Quaker theologian Robert Barclay that the Bible is "the only fit outward judge of controversies among Christians; and that whatsoever doctrine is contrary unto their testimony may therefore justly be rejected as false." In general, Friends cherish and study the Bible but do not indulge in hot controversies over literal interpretation. Historical background.

Do I have to be a pacifist to be a Friend?

Through the centuries, almost every official body of Friends has taught that we are to reject war and has encouraged conscientious objection to military service. However, we can't claim that all Friends have always observed this teaching. As with all Friends teachings, it would be important for you to study the Friends doctrine of nonviolence and its biblical context before you decide whether or not you can agree 100%. You don't have to consider this alone; pastors and elders stand ready to help you think through whether this or any other feature of Friends faith and practice is a real impediment to your wholehearted participation with Friends. Historical expression.

What are the "testimonies"?

"Testimonies" is Quaker language for the ethical principles and practices of Christian discipleship that we hold dear. It's an important part of what we've learned about living with Jesus at the center. 
  • We choose leaders based on their spiritual gifts, not social status or other irrelevant criteria
  • we make decisions together as a praying community; each member has a voice, and decisions require substantial unity
  • we live simply, avoiding waste, luxury, and vanity
  • we uphold nonviolence in our personal lives and as citizens
  • all people are made in the image and likeness of God; we oppose discrimination of any kind.
These principles are listed in various ways by different Friends churches, but almost all such lists include features very similar to this summary. Example.

Where can I find out more about Friends?

Eugene residents and visitors: please come visit us in our natural habitat (Sunday worship) or contact us to meet our pastor or an elder or to borrow from our library.
There are many online resources to learn more about the Friends movement. The QuakerSpeak videos are one such resource. For example:
Each QuakerSpeak video has discussion questions and a transcript. Not every member of Eugene Friends Church would agree with every nuance of these videos. As you have probably already noticed, we Friends don't put much effort into pretending we're all alike.

Friends World Committee for Consultation is an organization that keeps Friends all over the world in touch with each other. Browse the links for the regional sections of FWCC in Europe and the Middle East, the Americas, Africa, and Asia and the West Pacific.

Ready to plunge into some foundational Quaker writings? Here are some links to get you started:

Robert Barclay, Apology for the True Christian Divinity (1678)
Margaret Fell, Six Epistles; Women's Speaking Justified
George Fox, Selected Epistles; Journal, vol. 1; Journal, vol. 2

How Norwegians seem to feel about Donald
Trump's comparison of immigrants' homelands.
Around midafternoon I opened my browser to Twitter, and was surprised to see Norway on the very top of the "trending" list, having reached 115,000 mentions. Naturally, being Norwegian-born, I was curious, but my curiosity soon turned to shock. I was soon directed to this explanation:

Trump derides protection for immigrants from 'shithole' countries

Since there are more Norwegian-Americans than there are Norwegians, having come here from the old country by the boatload back when Norway was an impoverished country, I could not find any possible way to interpret this bizarre commentary other than toxic ignorance and racism.

Equally distressing was another much-tweeted analysis that said White House staffers were not concerned about the backlash from Trump's comment -- it will play well with his base.

This, dear evangelicals, is our "dream President."

Among the many sarcastic and vitriolic responses to Trump's idiocy (often pointing out why Norwegians might not now be flocking to the USA), there was a breath of sanity from James Martin, SJ, editor at large with America. He said,
"Why are we having all these people from sh#*hole countries come here?"
1) They are our brothers and sisters in need.
2) They are often fleeing war, violence or famine.
3) There are children among them.
4) It's the right thing to do.
5) That's who we are.
Shortly afterwards, he added:

The other evangelicals. ("There are more of them than you think.")

Martin Marty begins a new year of commentary.

My denominational-bureaucrat nerves were creatively jangled by Christy Thomas, writing on why the United Methodist Church might need a barbarian like Donald Trump.

Restoring perspective: Scientists are rethinking the very nature of space and time. (Thanks to 3QuarksDaily for the link.)

Just in time to help me recover a bit from s#*holes, a newer version of Buddy Guy's autobiographical song, "Skin Deep."