06 May 2021

Living without lying

Pravda (Truth). Cropped from source.
"One of the hallmarks of the former president was his ability to turn any accusations against him into an attack on his opponents. True to form, this morning he set out to appropriate the term 'the Big Lie' for his own. Rather than meaning his refusal to admit he lost the election, he wants to use the phrase to mean the opposite: that it refers to 'The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020.'" Heather Cox Richardson.

"But they have softer ways, more therapeutic ways of implementing a totalitarianism. And so that's why we don't see it coming, we Americans, because it's all happening under the guise of helping and of social justice and so forth. But these people who saw the same sort of thing happen in the Soviet Bloc, that's why they're trying to warn us." Rod Dreher, source, speaking about his recent book, Live Not By Lies.

"Speaking as an agnostic, here's my question. How can you stand there on Easter with candle in hand, while simultaneously poisoning people and committing robbery on a cosmic scale?" Russian Twitter.

"What is truth?" -- Pontius Pilate.

In the fall of 1973, many of us at the Institute of Soviet and East European Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa were following the fate of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who had just given permission for his GULag Archipelago to be published abroad. Some of us eagerly pre-ordered copies from the YMCA Press in Paris, and in January 1974 our copies arrived.

For Solzhenitsyn himself, the consequences of his decision to publish his book were not long in coming. On February 13, 1974, the world learned that he had been arrested the day before, and had been expelled that day to West Germany.

As a sort of final shot at his opponents, he had prepared an essay, "Live Not By Lies," and had left instructions that it was to be released in the event of his arrest or death. It was dated February 12 and released on the 13th, the day of his exile.

Solzhenitsyn was -- and is -- a problematic figure for many. A courageous and persistent champion of free speech and the rule of law, he also tended to romanticize the Russian state (not its rulers, especially not Peter the Great and his successor tsars) and bitterly criticized the cultural decline of the consumerist West. Many of Olesya Zakharova's observations in her article "A Linguistic Look at Russia's Human Rights Record" apply to Solzhenitsyn's criticisms.

Nevertheless, I continue to admire Solzhenitsyn and his essay, including its advice for life in a time where "truth" has become a flexible commodity. Judging by the Mohler/Dreher interview quoted above (note: I've not read Dreher's book), Solzhenitsyn's essay (or at least its provocative title) may be co-opted by those who are warning that militant leftists and atheists are waging war on Christian civilization -- and that we should therefore be preparing for a totalitarian future.

Unfortunately, a totalitarian future is not out of the question, and the degradation of truth would almost certainly contribute to it. Too many ideologues (some on the left, some on the right, some unclassifiable) insist on their own tissues of half-truth, innuendo, and gauzy mythology, as an adequate standard by which to indict their enemies' alleged lies and conspiracies. In all these blasts of propaganda I see no evidence that actual Marxists are behind critical race theory, for example, nor do I see much Gospel content among those claiming to stand for Christianity. Through all that fog, I still see great wisdom in Solzhenitsyn's advice to those who don't consider themselves militants but who nevertheless yearn to resist the bondage of any oppressive system. According to this advice in "Live Not By Lies" [English; Russian] such resisters will reject service to falsehood, in favor of a commitment that they:

  • will not sign, write or print in any way a single phrase which in [their] opinion distorts the truth
  • will utter such a phrase neither in private conversation nor in public, neither on [their] own behalf nor at the prompting of someone else, neither in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, nor as an actor
  • will not depict, foster or broadcast a single idea in which [they] can see a distortion of the truth, whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science or music
  • will not cite out of context, either orally or in writing, a single quotation to please someone, to feather [their] own nest, to achieve success in [their] work, if [they do not] completely share the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue
  • will not allow [themselves] to be compelled to attend demonstrations and meetings ... contrary to [their] desire
  • will immediately walk out of a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film if [they hear] a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda
  • will not subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed.

I want to go a step further and think about the implications of Solzhenitsyn's advice for the church. On a theoretical level, could we agree that the church must be a place that doesn't require servile behavior within its community, and also shelters people who take risks for truth in the wider world?

To go beyond theory, I see two contradictory realities in the church communities I know:

  • The church is the ONLY social institution that must, by its very nature, resist ideological conformity. Once we find our unity in Jesus, we may differ in our understanding of how to live as his disciples and what the ethical consequences of such a life might be, but we are united that we are in this adventure together, and we ultimately are for each other. In any Christ-centered church, there is room for the radical, the conservative, the evangelical, the socialist ... that is, in any church where people actually cherish each other more than than their own angle on the world. The church also has the capacity to distinguish vital theological conflicts from cultural, generational, and temperamental misunderstandings masquerading as theological issues -- should it choose to use that capacity.
  • The church reflects the distortions and pressures of the larger society. This is inevitable in any church that is actually accessible to the larger community, where people come in with all levels of woundedness and/or maturity. Churches may be (consciously or unconsciously) tempted to build themselves up by forming their identities around something other than Jesus. Those false identities might involve mythologies and common enemy lists that are anti-Gospel, however masked they might be in vague Christian platitudes or stern biblical "teachings" that we're required to take on as a condition of being approved by the church's authority figures. Is it any coincidence that the Quaker meeting over here has practically zero Trump followers, while that one across the state line seems to have a Trumpian majority?

So: to answer Pilate's question, "what is truth?", can we start here? (I'm serious -- let's discuss!)

  • Truth involves assertions and explanations that can be shared among people of goodwill who can freely make observations and ask awkward questions without fear of political or social rejection.
  • Truth is never immediately and completely obvious to anyone based solely on their social status or claims of exclusive knowledge.
  • Truth will never separate people from God's love. Where God's love prevails, truth will never separate people from each other.

First Friends Meeting in Richmond, Indiana, was probably a majority-Republican church in the late 1980's. It was a well-established and respectable institution in downtown Richmond, when its monthly meeting for business received a request to counsel and support several of us who were refusing to pay our income taxes, or part of them, in observance of the Quaker testimony against supporting war. First Friends prioritized Gospel obedience over conventional respectability and supported these law-breakers who insisted that, even when it comes to paying taxes, God, not Caesar, should have the last word. 

I'm sure that most members of First Friends did not plan to become tax resisters themselves. Probably the majority had never even heard of such a practice. Even so, they decided to support those who asked for counsel and accountability for their witness, minuting the church's readiness to accompany them to court if it should come to that, and to help them out in practical ways if the path led to financial hardship. For me, this story has always been a case study of a church's ability to accommodate dramatic differences in understanding of discipleship.

Related posts:

Division of labor, part one, part two.

Love and truth and religion addiction.

Publishing Truth -- ethically!

Olga Misik updates Solzhenitsyn for the year 2021.

Julia Duin on covering Pentecostals who exalt Trump: "... There's a lot of America that feels this way. And most journalists are utterly missing it."

Roger E. Olson asks where God is in this pandemic.

Bill Yoder interviews Peter Epp on Siberian Mennonites.

Steven Davison considers "that of God" -- and the language of Light -- in the gathered meeting.

Keith Richards removes a string.

Billy Branch and friends in Chicago: "Help Me."

29 April 2021

Digesting 2007, for better or for worse!

It's a great relief to be sorting through old material for today's blog post, especially after last week's sad and intense post. This time I'm putting together a selection of posts from the year 2007, the year I became an instructor at the New Humanities Institute in Elektrostal, Russia.

There's just one problem: I'm not quite the same person that I was back in 2007. I'm not sure I would make the same judgments about Friends United Meeting's sexual ethics policy, for example. However, that old post really does represent my thinking at the time, and therefore must go into an honest time capsule. That, in general, was how I selected these items from that year: I looked for items that convey a sense of the time, whether it's my then-persistent defense of Friends United Meeting (a theme that has almost disappeared in recent years) or my naivete about working in Russia.

I'm aware that this occasional exercise of assembling annual digests is 100% self-indulgent, although I hope you'll find something that is interesting or amusing, or that reminds you of things that drew your attention that same year. Aside from the gratification and mortification involved in re-reading stuff I'd long since forgotten that I had written, it gives me a chance to clean up the formatting, replace some of the dead links and lost videos (where possible) and restore photos formerly hosted by Photobucket.

Before getting to the chronological part, here's an item out of order:

April 2007's Quaker Blog Carnival was my contribution to a tribute that a bunch of us Friendly bloggers paid to Martin Kelley and his quakerquaker.org hub, a service that expanded our audiences and promoted inter-Quaker conversation way beyond the traditional institutional channels.

Back when I was involved with Quaker Life magazine, I wrote an editorial nearly every month. [Now a quarterly, in those years Quaker Life was published ten times a year.] I didn't realize how addictive that form of expression would be! For me, maintaining a Friendly weblog has allowed me to indulge that need, with the very important added benefit of receiving almost immediate feedback.

Cherice and Chris have wonderfully summarized many of the blessings of the world of Quaker blogging and the Grand Central Water Cooler of the community, quakerquaker.org. I agree with everything they've said. Not only do we discuss important ideas and leadings that cumulatively help us be more faithful people, we also give each other glimpses of our personal worlds and generate new ties of mutual care. (I certainly experienced that when my mother died.)


January 2007: Worship seeking more understanding.

In part, I was confronting my inner curmudgeon: "I shouldn't pretend that my settled views on a subject have been settled all that long!"

...[I]f it were up to me, worship would be outwardly pure and austere. In my fantasies, the community gathers in subdued joy, simply and reverently sits and waits on the Holy Spirit, responds with sincerity and mutual forbearance to the Spirit's inward and outward manifestations and our often fumbling attempts to be faithful, and at some ripe moment recognizes that meeting for worship is over. Before or after that adventurous hour (using the word "hour" loosely), we also gather for "education"--to help each other understand the issues of being a biblically-informed group of disciples who want our practice to match our faith, and who want to design processes of access for children and newcomers to be in possession of all the information, and all the models, that we have drawn upon for our encounters with God.

At our regular meetings for church governance, we would, as a community, prayerfully agree on what additional elements might be added to the worship period to serve our primary hunger to entrust our worship to the Holy Spirit.


February: The unbearable lightness of being Quaker.

I served as general secretary of Friends United Meeting for seven years, 1993-2000. During those years (and for many years later), I often found myself writing in defense of FUM and the ways Friends misunderstood or even misrepresented it. I've included a couple of examples of these essays in this digest, starting here:

Among its many other wonderful qualities and shadowy sins, FUM is still paying for the decades it spent trying to pretend that it was truly "united," served by a staff and a leadership caste that, by and large, was highly invested in presenting the best face to each end of the spectrum, trying to be good friends (and actually succeeding miraculously often) with people who were often not friends with each other. Among the survival tactics: publishing a magazine that was as inoffensive as possible, therefore hardly ever carrying any substantial news, and publishing two lines of Quaker curriculum, Living Light and Living Word, for a market that was so small that it could barely sustain one.


March: Rootless.

When my immigrant mother died in February 2007, I was in the midst of reading a series of books about immigrants.

Actually, I didn't plan this theme; I didn't see the connections until she died. Only then did I think of her story -- born in Japan, involuntarily exiled to Germany, choosing to emigrate to the USA, but never reconciled to American pluralism -- in light of those books.

All of these books are excellent; I'd be hard put to rank them. The first one is Philip Marsden's The Bronski House: A Return to the Borderlands. It is a part biography and part travelogue, but as a hybrid it is seamless, with the wholeness of a wonderful novel....

Dubravka Ugresic's edgy but deeply humane novel The Ministry of Pain is superb at portraying the cost of separation from one's homeland, coupled with the aching confusion of seeing one's homeland become a battle of violently competing identities--the situation faced by every refugee from the civil wars of the former Yugoslavia....

The last book I read was the one that affected me most deeply: Nikolai's Fortune by Solveig Torvik. Like The Bronski House, this book is based on fact: every major character of the five generations populating this historical novel actually existed, and all of the major events really happened....


April: The hyphen within.

Frustratingly, I could not find the original blog post by "quakerboy" that kicked off these reflections. I hope I've included enough context to make up for that deficit.

Paradoxically, who we are is a people of hospitality and tender ears. This is precisely why some of our meetings and churches receive people who have allergies and grievances, or who are by nature skeptical. Those people are precious! Among other things, they keep us honest, they keep us from getting stagnant, and they deserve our attention. If we don't exercise a stewardship of our testimonies and learnings, obtained over the course of centuries, we have nothing to offer them but secondhand cliches (whether liberal or evangelical) delivered in a sort of quaint, antiquarian container. Our guests deserve generous hospitality, but they also deserve stable hosts -- hosts who provide loving access, but who maintain that stewardship, while not forgetting that the process of going from guest status to host status must be available and transparent.


The hyphen within, part two.

May: Why it's hard for me to criticize biblical literalists. [Even though I do!]

Here I'm reflecting how different cultures read the Bible in different ways, cutting across neat divisions of literalism vs liberalism.

Donald Miller and Joel Carpenter ... speak about the role of the Bible in specific social contexts, Miller in what he calls "new paradigm" churches in the USA, and Carpenter in what used to be called the Third World.

Many of us in North American and European Quaker circles are accustomed to arguing about the legitimacy of mining the Bible for rules and models and debating points. Some of us get devotional goosebumps from its ancient eloquence, and experience being drawn closer to the Holy Spirit by the experience of meditating on the Bible. Some of us are comfortably caught in a mesh of linkages between doctrine and Biblical passages. We may even assume from habit that a passage means a certain thing when on its textual face it may not. I gave an example here recently -- the passage that is often cited as proof of the Bible's plenary inspiration and inerrancy, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, makes no such claim. More than that, of course, our present Bible was not even assembled when Paul wrote those words, and literalists rarely seem to acknowledge that a lot of work by human committees had to be done before that assembly was completed -- with some variations in the resulting canon among different broad traditions of Christians.


June: Recording ministers, calling pastors.

Some questions and answers (?) on two separate (if often related) Quaker practices: recording ministers, and recruiting pastors.

In recording ministers, aren't you setting up a hierarchy, implying special status, or putting people on a pedestal? In theory, no. Our doctrine of the equality of all persons is not threatened by saying "this person has a public gift, and we feel led to confirm it publicly." However, if gender or social status or other irrelevant criteria entered into the process, smoothing the way for some and blocking others, that would compromise the practice of recording. Also, if recorded ministers were treated with undue deference, or were given any privilege other than being permitted to exercise their gifts, that undue deference would also be a problem.

The denial of recognition of public ministry, especially when denying people who by social stereotype are not seen as carrying spiritual authority, can represent the opposite problem--a form of marginalization. I remember one example of a modest but spiritually gifted woman being considered for recording, in the face of opposition by men who used the equality argument despite their own prestigious credentials in their work settings. Moreover, the absence of explicit recognition of public gifts does not prevent elitism and power plays. When criteria for recognition are not explicit, those who want recognition or influence for the sake of their own agendas will still find ways of getting it, but without transparent criteria and accountability.


July: Absurdly happy.

A blog post inspired by Colin Saxton and David Niyonzima at Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions.

Just as the brightest, most unfiltered light we can see comprehends all colors, the children of the Light must comprehend all conditions. Together, we must be ready to shine the light into places where unspeakable horror is hiding. We may be personally sheltered from those realities in ways that David Niyonzima has not been; as a teacher, he witnessed the massacre of all of his students. And, individually, we vary in our capacity to see those things, both by location and by temperament. But together we can see, and we can shine. For me, happiness and joy are names for that experience of shining together, and are subversive of the shadows in which the principalities and powers conceal themselves to do hideous things to God's beloved creation.


Also ran: The FUM retreat: what did we accomplish?

Absurdly happy, part two.

August: What is really wrong with Friends United Meeting.

A post that starts out (defensively?) with what is not wrong! How many of these alleged virtues and defects are still accurate? Which observations might you (or I) make differently almost a generation later? 

But now the walls of suspicion may simply be too high for such dialogues to be institutionalized in organizations such as FUM. When significant groups of Friends in the more liberal yearly meetings use the language of money (as in threatening to cut off funding) to communicate with FUM, and when individual meetings in the more evangelical yearly meetings threaten to leave their yearly meeting if it doesn't cut ties with FUM, then it's time to be honest about the alienation we're witnessing.

There were once substantial centrist groups that held FUM together, groups who believed that love is a bridge that doesn't require the opposite shore to be symmetrical to theirs. I don't know how much of that constituency still exists. From the liberal side, the most pro-FUM message that I hear seems to be that by staying engaged, "we" can change FUM. What qualifies them to change FUM is not specified--by all indications it's not passionate support for FUM's central goal, which is to energize and equip Friends for evangelism.

More, including many interesting comments.

September: Gospel order revisited.

This post was originally written as a sermon, in response to a request to address accountability and discipline in the church.

Matthew’s Gospel and George Fox’s commentaries presuppose that these offenses occur among people who have roughly equivalent amounts of power, or the offenses involve a person’s public behavior that threatens the reputation of the church. When one person has power and control over another, the victim may not be at all in a position to confront the abuser privately. In the church, that’s what the elders are for—to provide the safety and healing that’s essential to keeping trust and obedience real. For anyone who has been betrayed, trust remains a nice abstraction until you—the church community—do what it takes to provide that healing and create that safety. That’s why the elders of that meeting with the sharp-tongued member could no longer dodge the issue. They appointed a pair of people who spoke with him, and he was also required to give up his church responsibilities for a season.

I love how Fox talks about the spirit in which we deal with offenders—“in the power of the Lord, and spirit of the Lamb, and in the wisdom and love of the truth.” That instruction to act “in the power of God” reflects how Gospel order constantly links back to the cosmic context, God’s purpose of unity in heaven and on earth. Just as the offender threatens that unity, a half-baked or politicized remedy may also threaten it.


From 2019: Out of order.

October: Gratitude.

Thoughts as my first Halloween and Thanksgiving  holidays in Russia approached.

One of my circuit breakers tripped the other day, and my neighbors didn't know what to do. I had no key for the breaker box. The owner of the apartment lives four hours away. After trying everything I could think of to get into the breakers, I thought I remembered some numbers stenciled onto the wall downstairs near the elevator. The stencils were inked onto a stucco-like surface and were almost unreadable, but if I looked at one of the words just the right way, it looked like it might say "Elect ..." Dubiously, I called the number, was given another number. I called that number and was given yet another. When I called that third number, success!! -- the dispatcher promised an electrician would visit me shortly. And so he did -- he fixed the ceiling fixture that had shorted, he reset the circuit breaker, and, after giving me a friendly lecture about not buying cheap fixtures, he charged me all of $4!

What if I'd succeeded in resetting the circuit breaker on my own? I probably would not have found out what caused the short in the first place.

In looking back over my many visits to Russia since 1975, giving up certainty and giving up control have been constant themes. For every loss of familiar procedures, familiar guarantees, there's been a gain: techniques and procedures are replaced by relationships and kindness. Both the exchange and the lesson have been invaluable. I'm sure that, before Thanksgiving rolls around, I'll have a fresh crop of examples.


November: The romance of war.

Putin's plan -- Russia's victory!
Patriotism Russia-style, or at least the tiny samples I got to see in Elektrostal.

My seven-year-old friend, who lives up Yalagin Street a short ways, is with his grandmother today. I can tell -- he's sending me a steady stream of text messages on her cellphone, asking me when I'll be stopping by again. I'll probably drop in on him and his brother this evening after my last class.

These days, whenever I visit, he's always eager to show me a new fighting technique. He loves to demonstrate how to slither along on the floor, holding his gun high so it doesn't touch the mud of his imaginary battlefield. He drops down from the top level of his bunk bed, cushioning his fall (as he solemnly explains to me) by bending his knees just right so that he lands soundlessly. His gun is slung over his back, his rubber knife is in his sock, his eyes sweep the bedroom for signs of the enemy. Now his back is to the wall and his toy grenade is in his hand as he edges toward the door, ready to peek into the corridor. His face is utterly serious as he sets out to capture singlehandedly the living room....


December: Elektrostal's hospitable artists.

An Edvard Grieg concert at the Paustovsky Central Library was a wonderful conclusion to my first semester in Elektrostal.

I sat there in the audience, simply marveling: here I was, a Norwegian-American and fan of Grieg's music, sitting in the obscure industrial city of Elektrostal, Russia, listening to this familiar music being played by Russian pianists and a noted violinist from Dagestan! Singer Antonina Yegorshina performed several of Grieg's songs, lovingly translated into Russian. And Zalmina Abueva, in her own remarks, praised the composer for his faithfulness to the spirit and natural surroundings of his native Norway. On the walls were my new friend Alexander Poroshin's paintings from his ongoing exhibition at the library.


I tried to pick an article or two from recent Russian Religion News postings to link here, but decided just to point out this resource once again.

Gary Abernathy: Why USA's conservatives should support reparations.

Friends World Committee for Consultation is conducting a search for a new general secretary to serve the World Office.

Margaret Fraser writes on receptivity, personality, transformation, and Eoin Stephenson's lecture at Ireland Yearly Meeting. She observes:

Saul/Paul was so filled with the righteousness of his efforts to persecute the followers of Jesus, that he needed a booming voice, a bright light and temporary blindness to stop him in his tracks. No gentle insistence to pack a spare tire for his chariot, or to rethink his mission; no invitation to breakfast would have stopped him in his tracks. He needed the entire works for transformation to happen. Fortunately, most of us can be reached by something gentler, if we are willing to open ourselves to listen.

More on Stephenson's lecture here.

I've posted several individual clips from this Muddy Waters/Otis Spann appearance at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival in October 1968. Here's the whole set, with Muddy Waters on vocals and slide guitar, Otis Spann on piano, Luther "Snake Boy" Johnson and Pee Wee Madison -- guitars, Paul Oscher -- harp, Sonny Wimberley -- bass guitar, and S.P. Leary -- drums. (Thanks to commenters for the lineup.)

22 April 2021

Mikhail Yurievich Roshchin; Johan Fredrik Heyerdahl. Two tributes.

Misha (screenshot from Yakov Krotov's "From a Christian Viewpoint," svoboda.org); Johan Fredrik (photo by Judy Maurer)

It's been a rough few days. On Saturday morning, I learned that Misha Roshchin, my oldest friend in Russia, had died just a few hours earlier in Moscow. Then, just yesterday, as I was planning what to say here about Misha,  I was hit with the news that my dear cousin Johan Fredrik Heyerdahl had died earlier that morning, Oslo time.

I'm not the right person to provide formal biographies or eulogies for either Misha or Johan Fredrik, but I can't let the week go by without saying something. So here are two tributes based on my own personal recollections of these two, and the influences they have had on my life.

Mikhail Yurievich Roshchin, September 14, 1952 - April 16, 2021

Misha, 1996
Translation Group, 1997
Power of Goodness arrives from Grozny,

My relationship with Misha Roshchin began in 1993, during the first months of my tenure at Friends United Meeting. He began a correspondence with us by fax, asking a question (if I remember correctly) about the Quaker figure Hildegarde in Nikolai Leskov's story "Vale of Tears" (1892). Learning that Misha was a member of the Moscow Friends Meeting, I turned to him for help when my colleague Bill Wagoner and I began planning a trip to Moscow, Elektrostal, and Serpukhov (the last being Richmond, Indiana's sister city) for fall 1994.

Misha and the Friends of Moscow and Elektrostal meetings did a wonderful job arranging our visit, with Misha greeting us on our arrival at Sheremetyevo Airport. I spent most of my time in Elektrostal, and Bill in Moscow, so I didn't really spend much time with Misha until my next visit to Moscow, in 1996. During that visit he and I walked all over Moscow, and we talked for hours. The first Chechen conflict was coming to an end; as Misha briefed me on that war and on Friends participation in the peace movement, I realized that he had more than a passing knowledge of the context. Later I learned (from others!) that he was a senior faculty member of the Institute of Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, specializing in Islam and the Islamic populations in and near the Russian Federation.

For many years, Misha was a valuable co-worker in the publishing projects of the Quaker US-USSR Committee, which became the Friends International Library. The first project I was personally involved with was Tatiana Pavlova's Russian translation of John Woolman's Journal. Next came a Russian-English bilingual edition of the classic Lighting Candles in the Dark. That book was followed by a trilingual edition (adding the Chechen language), renamed Power of Goodness, that included several stories from Chechnya thanks to Misha's extensive contacts. He also arranged for this last edition to be printed in Chechnya.

During my four years as clerk of Moscow Meeting, Misha was assistant clerk. When I gave up the clerkship during our sabbatical year, we swapped places and I became one of the assistant clerks. We didn't always agree, but we always remained in close communication. When open discord broke out in our meeting over the Ukrainian conflict in 2014, he tended to favor the Russian nationalists' point of view, but together we succeeded in encouraging the meeting to issue an even-handed call for peace in the region.

Misha and I went on the road together several times -- to Yaroslavl in 2005, for example, for the Benjamin Britten War Requiem concert on the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II, and to Kremenchug, Ukraine, for the Russian-speaking Friends retreat in 2011. He also visited Reedwood Friends Church in Portland, Oregon, and George Fox University in Newberg, when I was on the Reedwood pastoral staff. During that visit, he was also able to make contact with the Old Believers community in Woodburn, Oregon. (Before becoming a Friend, Misha had been part of the Old Believers community in Moscow; his old church was part of our walking tour in 1996, and on Tuesday, this is where his Moscow family and friends observed his church farewell.)

In 2016, Misha's mom Liudmila died. If you understand Russian (there are some English fragments, too), or would simply like to hear his voice once again, you will appreciate this recording that Judy made when, at her suggestion, we spent some time together after meeting for worship, with Misha talking about his mother's life and showing us photos and clippings to illustrate his remembrances.

Rest in peace, Misha! Eternal memory!

Johan Fredrik Heyerdahl, October 21, 1937 - April 20, 2021

In Bergen, 1974
Axel and Johan Fredrik
Rolf Jacobsen's autograph, thanks
to Johan Fredrik

In 1971, shortly after finishing high school in Evanston, Illinois, I went to Oslo to visit my grandparents. One afternoon, they told me "Your cousin Johan is here to take you to see his family." I walked out to the car parked outside, and the man by the car greeted me cheerfully: "Oho, so you have the same stupid name!" We were both named Johan Fredrik because we were named after the same ancestor, Johan Fredrik Maurer (1817 - 1887).

Johan Fredrik Heyerdahl was actually my father's cousin. His mother was my grandfather's sister Sol, who had four sons and no daughters. (I still remember her exclaiming with mock [?] ferocity, "Mannfolk!")

As it turned out, Aunt Sol's sons became very important to me, especially two of them: Axel and Johan Fredrik. When my parents threw me out of the house just before my high school graduation (a story I've told before), Axel wrote to me right away from Canada, offered to sponsor me as an immigrant, and suggested Carleton University in Ottawa as a place for my higher education. After a year working at a telephone factory to earn university tuition, I took him up on his offer.

Two summers later, in 1974, I went back to Norway, and returned again in 1975 on my way to the Soviet Union. During these and subsequent visits, Johan Fredrik and I had much more time together. I soon learned why the back of his car was always full of books; from 1965 until 1982, he was chief editor of the Norwegian Book Club. He had an infectious love of books and writers -- but unlike me, he knew or had interviewed many writers first-hand. He alerted me to the Norwegian writer Jens Bjørneboe, whose English-language translator (I found out to my delight) was someone I already knew -- the Philadelphia Friend Esther Greenleaf Mürer. He described interviewing Doris Lessing, whose novels I had inhaled in college. He got to know writer and singer-songwriter Alexander Galich during Galich's year of exile in Norway. He introduced me (literally!) to the poets Finn Strømsted and Rolf Jacobsen.

He also loved music, especially jazz, and took me to many of the jazz spots in Oslo and Bergen. Thanks to him, I got to meet Jan Garbarek and Ole Paus. When Judy and I visited Oslo in 1985 -- Judy's first time in Norway -- he made sure that we had tickets to hear the amazing cellist Mstislav Rostropovich perform in Oslo.

He also introduced me to the Russian-Norwegian pianist Natalia Strelchenko, whose career I followed until I learned to my horror that she was murdered in 2015 at her home in the UK.

Johan Fredrik's literary interests ranged worldwide. Among the authors he recommended to me were David Grossman (starting with The Yellow Wind), Milan Kundera, and the writers of the Charter 77 movement in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia.

As with Misha, some of our best conversations happened when we traveled together -- to Bergen in 1974, for example, and to Hamburg in 1999. On one visit I remember just spending a couple of days in his little cottage in Sweden, talking and listening to music, and going to the town of Arvika for Chinese food. But staying home also had its advantages -- hanging out with his wonderful wife Else and their three daughters, all of whom could more than hold their own in the world of ideas.

Whenever I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself for the hard years growing up in a violent and chaotic family, I have to remind myself that my extended family did so many amazing things for me -- things that, without exaggeration, gave me a future. The Brothers Heyerdahl played a central role in opening that future, and now we have said goodbye (in this world) to the last and youngest, Johan Fredrik. How I will miss you. How I will pray for your family!

UPDATE: I just cannot resist adding this story about Johan Fredrik. When my dear grandmother Gerd Maurer died, I found out through a phone call from him. He was sitting next to her body, and said he would be sitting with her for a while, because that was the right thing to do. There he was, talking to me calmly and kindly, across the ocean, with my grandma right next to him.

The multilingual Power of Goodness project is now under the care of Friends Peace Teams.

Supporting the human rights of Palestinians in the U.S. Congress. (Analysis of H.R. 2590.)

The Quaker testimony of equality: what is its foundation?

It seems a good time to post (not for the first time) a different kind of blues, thanks to Mstislav Rostropovich:

15 April 2021

A Right Sharing reunion

Right Sharing of World Resources newsletters 2021 and 1987. Sources: 1987 and 2021.

A month ago, the Quaker organization Right Sharing of World Resources gathered a group of former Right Sharing trustees for a reunion, inviting input on visions for the future of the organization. The following observations are mine alone, not approved by staff or trustees, and subject to comment and improvement by any of them!

As both a former staffer and a former trustee, I loved the idea of hearing first-hand what was going on in the world of Right Sharing, a program for which I cannot pretend to be objective. Although I've been a contributor for years, I was only vaguely aware of some of the developments since my time of direct involvement, and this March 2021 reunion-by-videoconference seemed like a great way for me to get caught up. Despite its obvious growth in scale and sophistication, was Right Sharing still the human-scale development aid and development education program, relying heavily on relationships, that I'd known and loved?

(Some background: Right Sharing emerged as a concern at the World Conference of Friends in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1967, where the words "right sharing of world resources" were first used as part of that gathering's concern to confront poverty and economic injustice. [See these pages from The Friend's coverage of that conference.] In the European yearly meetings, the implementation of this vision mostly devolved to the individual yearly meetings. In London Yearly Meeting, for example, a One Percent Fund was established, to be managed by a Sharing World Resources committee that carried the program on for the next twenty years.

(For the Friends World Committee for Consultation's American Section -- now Section of the Americas -- a One Percent More fund was set up in 1969, and a Right Sharing Committee was set up in 1974 to work alongside Right Sharing Committees in five USA yearly meetings and with interested Friends in other yearly meetings. Interestingly, the money generated by the Right Sharing vision started coming into FWCC before any Right Sharing program was established; the Section had to scramble to organize good stewardship for this burst of support. For this background, I've drawn on Herbert Hadley's history of FWCC, Quakers World Wide, as well as my own memories.

(I began as staff for Right Sharing in January 1986 -- following Sharli Powers Land, who also edited FWCC Section of the Americas publications -- and I left the staff in March 1993. The late Roland Kreager followed me as staff; during his tenure, Right Sharing of World Resources left the Friends World Committee umbrella and became a separate organization with its own trustees. I was very glad to serve on this group in those early years. In this interview, current general secretary Jackie Stillwell gives a very helpful summary of today's Right Sharing. In recent newsletters, you can see vivid examples of both similarities and differences between the "old" Right Sharing and today's program.)

In the last year of my service, Betsy Mathiot (known to many of us as Betsy Moen during her years of active involvement with Right Sharing) was guest editor for an issue of Hunger Notes, and asked me to write an article about my experiences with the program. In the resulting article, I tried to summarize what I'd learned over the seven years I served -- including a growing appreciation of the limits of development doctrine, the importance of relationship, the temptations to corruption that we ourselves can allow through ignorance, and the pitfalls of project-oriented management. 

One of the biggest differences between then and now, I feel, is that the lessons that I was barely able to put words to, have now become embodied in a thoughtful and well-balanced way. Relationships are still encouraged, but field representatives in each country now provide reliable links between the support community and the local groups whom we're privileged to encourage and learn from -- links that seem more conducive to stability, trust, and practical mentorship than our older reliance on almost random volunteers. Instead of spreading ourselves across ten or more countries, today's Right Sharing focuses on three -- India, Sierra Leone, and Kenya. 

Another important program focus is support for women's groups, which represents (to me) the conscious adoption of an insight that was just part of the gradual learning process in my time: aid to women supports the whole family, whereas, too often, resources acquired by men are spent by those men on themselves. The World Bank and others documented this reality already in the early 1970's (if not before), but an organization with limited resources and a human-scale vision does well to turn insight into program. Men are not shunned -- a couple of the the field representatives are men -- but the community-level participants and leaders are women.

There's also definite continuity with the Right Sharing of the 1980's and 1990's. Most of the groups in partnership with Right Sharing consist of women learning how to create and manage their own small businesses and getting loans for their businesses, which when repaid will in turn enable others in their communities to get similar loans. The majority of the groups we worked with did exactly the same -- and I'm sure met some of the same challenges, whether they were operating street food stands in Cairo, weaving in Dhaka, or tending water buffalo in Madurai District.

These are some of the things I learned during our Right Sharing videoconference last month. In small groups, we were also invited to contribute our own ideas of what Right Sharing might look like, what directions it might take, in the next twenty years. Surveying the results, among the important points raised in our small groups were these: (this list is edited by me alone, and I bear sole responsibility for the emphases and omissions!) 

  • Continue to acknowledge and encourage the shift in power that occurs when funding decisions are made in the field, by people in touch with local realities, rather than by a central North America-based structure composed of people who are often racially and culturally disconnected from the "beneficiaries." 
  • By emphasizing partnerships with women, we reflect the often-documented reality mentioned above, that when resources go to women, the whole family benefits….  However, as Betsy Moen said years ago in her Right Sharing talk at the University of the West Indies (mentioned somewhere in the middle of this blog post), where does that leave men? Betsy's question may lead to fruitful conversations and partnerships in the next generation, but, in our small group, we all agreed that we want such conversations to multiply, not divide, our strengths. They should not divert attention from our primary focus.
  • A huge benefit of transferring power to our locations of service: great sensitivity to local culture, and cultural appropriateness of our activities and ideas. One participant in our small group gave an example: she had thought it would be great for women in a program in Sierra Leone to have motorcycles but was cautioned by local partners that this would be incompatible with local expectations and patterns. However, this leads to another query: what do we do when local patterns support oppressive systems, as early Friends encountered in advocating the equality of women, and, later, in rejecting slavery? (Here's an example from 1985.) How do we have the courage, humility, and spiritual authenticity to raise these concerns without making things worse?
  • Two related concerns that were raised in small groups: let's work to increase the diversity of our own trustees and staff; and let's include domestic violence as one of the realities faced in our work.
  • As Right Sharing grows, do we go wider (partnerships in more countries) or do we go deeper where we already work? Everyone seemed to agree that, unless God gives us a specific leading to expand, confirmed by prayerful discernment, we ought to stay focused on our current locations and the networks we've built there; and in any case, we ought not to let those existing commitments be weakened for the sake of geographic diversity.
  • How should the climate crisis figure into strategic planning -- in both our organizational operations and our partnerships?

In sum, I found the whole videoconference encouraging and inspiring. May Right Sharing of World Resources continue to thrive, blessing participants at every point in this extraordinary international network of relationships.

My article on Right Sharing of World Resources for the October 1989 issue of Quaker Life.

Right Sharing continues to be represented in the most recent Faith and Practice of Britain Yearly Meeting.

Vorkuta. I find this photo almost unbearable.
From RFE/RL's Matthew Luxmoore: The costly history and sad decline of one of Russia's most remote Arctic cities, Vorkuta.

From a city I love (the city where my own sister died of a gunshot wound at age 14), another police-shooting horror story.

... as another horror story unfolds in Indianapolis.

Another story from Luxmoore: controversy around a priest's relatively mild defense of Aleksei Navalny.

Beth Woolsey tells us where all her words have gone.

"Come Go With Me" -- Mavis Staples. (No hatred will be tolerated.)

08 April 2021

Faith and trust in Capernaum

In the Gospel of Mark, at the beginning of the second chapter, there's the familiar New Testament story of the paralyzed man (Mark 2:1-12, The Message; NIV). Four men were carrying his stretcher, hoping to ask Jesus to heal him, but the house was so crowded that they couldn't get past the door. Instead, they made an opening in the roof and lowered the patient into the room. Verse 5: "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'"

Leonid Kishkovsky, protopresbyter within the Orthodox Church in America, rector at Our Lady of Kazan Church in Sea Cliff, NY, USA, and a respected ecumenist in the larger Christian world, gave this very brief sermon back on March 28, opening up an aspect of the story that I'd never really considered. If you have considered it, feel free to smile at my late awakening.

In less than five minutes, he makes these important points:

  • Jesus responds to the faith of those men by healing the patient and sending him home on his feet, carrying the stretcher on which he had been lowered through the roof.
  • We don't know anything about the stretcher bearers except that they were men, and there were four of them. From the text, we can't say anything about their relationship to the patient. But it was their faith that decisively impressed Jesus.
  • People have various understandings of the word "faith." Some emphasize faith in the doctrines and teachings of the church. Still others understand that faith is best expressed in fulfilling the commandments and statutes of the church.
  • Not so many of us (he goes on) would connect "faith" with "trust" -- although in Russian, the word "faith" and the word "trust" have common linguistic roots. In other words, if we believe in God (have faith in God), we are demonstrating trust in God. [The phrasal verb "to believe in" comes from that same linguistic root.] This might be the simplest and most direct way of understanding faith.
  • In this account, we also see another dimension of trust: the trust that the paralyzed patient shows, most obviously, to those carrying him. And, together, they trust that Jesus can save him.
  • Let's orient our lives as Christians around trust -- that is, trust in God and trust in each other. Let's be friends to each other, so that we are each ready to entrust ourselves to each other. Amen.

To understand the importance of the patient's faith in his stretcher-bearers, all I have to do is to imagine myself in this scene, experiencing their scary improvisation, lowering me through the roof without tipping me off the stretcher.

For decades, one of my most urgent concerns as a Quaker has been the role of trust as the most basic Quaker testimony. Trust in God lies at the very foundation of our teachings on peace and nonviolence, equality, simplicity, and our method of church government -- centered (in all our flavors and branches) in the expectation that the whole community prays together to discern the will of God for each other.

In our own times, the centrality of trust in our lives as a community has never been a more important legacy for the Body of Christ as a whole. If we can, for the sake of discussion, set aside our mystical and metaphysical theologies about church and simply focus on its functional definition, is there any other social structure where we meet together in utter vulnerability? Not only are we publicly saying that our faith/belief/trust is in God (which is no longer a reliable source of social approval!), but we are also meeting to carry each other, to risk for each other, to confess our weaknesses, tragedies, and addictions to each other, and relate our natural and supernatural experiences of God to each other.

I have never been part of a Quaker meeting or church where trust was always experienced at an ideal level. But there's something significant I've noticed in our Camas Friends Church's meetings for worship by videoconference over this past year. We have, in fact, become bolder in sharing our vulnerabilities with each other. It's this experience, week after week, that tells me Kishkovsky's sermon is solid.

Related posts:

What is our vocation?

The most important question.

Trustworthy, part one, part two, part three, part four.

On the basis of Paul's list of women co-workers (Romans 16:1-16) and other factors, Beth Allison Barr doesn't believe in male headship. (Dear Quakers: if you're tempted to pass this by because "we don't have this problem," please think again! First of all, historically we have had this problem. Secondly, Baptists are our brothers and sisters in faith; on the wider stage, our exceptionalism ill becomes us.) Thanks to Jim Fussell for the link.

What is the muon G-2 experiment and why is it so important? (And why should we remain cautious and wait a while before abandoning the Standard Model?)

Chuck Fager shares fascinating biographical writings by David Zarembka, who died in Eldoret, Kenya, of COVID-19 on April 1. Gladys Kamonya, David's wife, had just died of this same disease on March 23.

April 8, 1865: General Ulysses S. Grant was having a hard night.

Becky Ankeny on living with actual hope.

Nancy Thomas is Just Asking: poems based on Ephesians.

Kenny Neal, "The Things I Used to Do" and "Since I Met You Baby." Watch him hand the guitar off to Guitar Shorty at 9:30, then play the rest of the song on the harp.

01 April 2021

April shorts

Spring comes to the Northern hemisphere. This year I feel it more deeply than usual. I'm not exactly sure why, but it may have something to do with another feeling that has been unfamiliar in recent years: normalcy.

I don't want to exaggerate this normalcy -- aside from a massive container ship causing unprecedented traffic jams in the Suez Canal, we have many of the usual signs of official overreach, bad planning, indifference, or incompetence in high places -- whether we look at refugee children on our own USA borders; Brazil's COVID crisis; Russian authorities' gratuitous cruelty toward Aleksei Navalny; or the fractured humanitarian horror in Yemen. Here in the USA, we're reliving May 25, 2020 in excruciating slow motion, as a court in Minneapolis, Minnesota, tries Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.

Nobody I know claims that the USA's new president, Joe Biden, is perfect, but he is manifestly fulfilling the role of a president in time of crisis. He is assembling a cabinet of people who actually respect government, who seem to appreciate the agencies they serve, and are good at it; his administration communicates daily with the press; he serves as an effective communicator of his own policy initiatives; and those initiatives seem scaled to the challenges faced by an ailing and very fragmented superpower that is suffering from deferred maintenance at every level.

Finally, he is not a source of daily embarrassment and scandal. Maybe that's what feels like normalcy.

Christ; Mark Antokolsky; State
Tretyakov Gallery; source.
Holy Week, by the Western calendar -- it's a time when I particularly feel the contrast between human cruelty and the infinite mercy of God, a contrast made so acute by God's son's treatment at the hands of people. He was arrested, tried, treated as a political football and framed as a challenge to the Roman empire, mocked, and subjected to a humiliating execution.

He is God's answer to whatever it is in the human heart that resorts to cruelty. Wherever that impulse -- to bind, humiliate, torture, and kill each other -- continues to grind on, we Christian people, as his body in the world, ought to be getting in the way. Some of us are best at analyzing and strategizing, others at teaching and mobilizing, others at direct action, others at prayer, still others at evangelizing in broad and narrow channels to everyone still bound by the mythologies of violence. Thank you for whatever you might be doing to challenge cruelty.

My Holy Week reading.

I've written before about the importance of radio in my youth, and specifically about disk jockey Ron Britain, whose weekday and Sunday radio programs on WCFL in Chicago were my reliable havens in a chaotic and sometimes violent family life. 

Britain's program was a riot of humor and spontaneity -- in addition, of course, to the Top 40 tracks that were the station's bread and butter. (This interview touches on some of these antics and how they were arranged. Here's a sample show.) He even read commercials in the same style, with the same sound effects, and apparently the advertisers loved it. One of my favorite memories of Ron Britain was his visit to our high school in 1971, to be interviewed by our television production class. His biggest influence on my life was introducing me to the blues, for which I wrote and thanked him a few years ago. I was delighted to get King B's courteous response.

Two days ago I learned that Ron Britain died last October 25. After 62 years with his wife Peach, her unexpected death on October 19 apparently undid him. He ended his own life the day before her funeral. Now he is buried beside her.

Robert Feder wrote this wonderful appreciation of Ron and his place in Chicago radio history.

One of the high points of my years in Russia was participation in a Russian Orthodox-Protestant conversation group. This Zoom conversation under the care of the Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative brought back some of the memories of those meetings.

The next event on the Quaker Religious Education Collaborative's calendar: April 20 and 22, on collaborative Quaker youth ministry.

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism provides a working definition of antisemitism that is not simultaneously a means of suppressing criticism of Israel as a nation or of its policies with respect to Palestine. Here are two commentaries from Mondoweiss: mainly positive, and somewhat more critical.

Another rendition of last week's track, "Walking Blues" -- this time the musicians are Liz Lucas and luthier A.J. Lucas.