08 November 2018

Slow boat to Japan (PS)

Children line up for photos at the Atomic Dome, Hiroshima.
It's been exactly a month today since we returned from Japan. I have already written about my two visits to Kobe (my mother's school and the search for her home address); now I'm adding a couple of final highlights.

First, as background, here are two more links to earlier blog posts. In 2014, at Judy's urging, I made my first visit back to Stuttgart, Germany, since 1966, when I was a teenager and my mother's parents were both still alive. There, among other things, I saw the high school my mother attended after she and her family were deported from Japan in 1948, and I saw the location of the home I lived in as a toddler in my grandparents' care as my parents finished grad school in Chicago. Fast-forwarding to this summer, after our retirement from teaching at the New Humanities Institute in Elektrostal, we took the opportunity to make my first-ever visit to Japan, where my mother was born and raised.

(In passing, I have a few important comments to make below about the Institute in Elektrostal.)

Hiroshima. We made a far-too-brief visit to Hiroshima on October 4. It had been rescheduled to that day because of a typhoon earlier in the week, and it was cut short by another typhoon that threatened to disrupt rail travel back to our host's home in Osaka. We ended up having just four hours, all of which we spent at the Peace Memorial Park and Museum, easily accessible from the train station on a convenient streetcar line.

Examining the Dome's scars.
I've explained before why I avoid indulging in emotionalism over the events of August 6, 1945, but (whatever the chain of evil decisions leading to that awful moment) at Hiroshima it is impossible to avoid the evidence of the high cost that tens of thousands of ordinary people paid for those decisions. My eyes simply had to examine obsessively every visible surface of the iconic Atomic Dome building to see the scars left by the bomb's destructiveness.

The most moving exhibits within the museum were the clothing and personal effects of those caught within the zone of greatest destruction, along with the letters and diaries documenting the final hours of loved ones. We can argue endlessly about the scientists and politicians who set up that destruction, and who were themselves trapped in the supposed logic of total war. It's much harder to justify the suffering of innocent people who were seared, irradiated, and in some cases vaporized by what really amounted to a weapons test made on human subjects.

It was inspiring to see the crowds of children visiting the Peace Memorial Park. I hope that each one of them will be part of a new generation worldwide who have no illusions about the capacity of warfare to resolve conflict.

Osaka Friends Meeting. Our last full day in Japan was Sunday, October 7. It was a great joy to attend meeting for worship with local Friends, some of whom we already knew from their kind attendance at the lecture I gave at Osaka University a few days earlier. That Sunday happened to coincide with World Quaker Day, so before our meeting for worship began, we were all part of an online video meeting with Friends in other parts of Friends World Committee's Asia and West Pacific Section.

After the exchanges of video greetings, our meeting for worship began. We centered ourselves in the welcoming silence. Almost immediately I knew that, for all the distances we'd traveled, all the newness of the location, we were in an utterly familiar place.

I remembered one of my favorite short prayers, "Lord, I want to dwell in you," and understood that once again that this prayer, this dwelling place, is real everywhere. It was also true that the scale of our gathering -- there were ten of us, including Judy and me -- was achingly familiar from our years at Moscow Meeting. I'm sure that the friendly facilities, a room in a Catholic retreat house, also contributed to the impression. But I arrived with a brain bubbling with clashing impressions and family mysteries, so these congenial outward factors don't tell the full story. There's nothing that equals the comfort of bringing these unsettling items into the meetingplace of the family of faith, and placing them at Jesus' feet.

Johan Fredrik Maurer's
descendants (as of 1948).
Family quest, recap. One advantage of moving back from Russia to our Portland home was to be back in possession of our old papers and photos. With fresh eagerness, I looked at my family records. Once again the contrast is startling: for my Maurer family tree, I have abundant records going back to Johannes Maurer, who left Ulm for Copenhagen toward the end of the 1700's, and whose son Johan Fredrik Maurer emigrated from Denmark to Norway. Thanks to the Internet, I also know a lot about my grandmother Gerd's family. But I still know very little about the history of my mother's family.

However, thanks to our trip to Japan, and the advance research that our host Takayuki Yokota-Murakami had done for us, the Japanese gaps in that history are starting to be filled in. I visited my mother's school and learned a lot about its history. I learned that my family lived in Kobe since at least my mother's birth. I know where they lived, even though the house itself doesn't exist now. I know they had a summer house in the hills overlooking Kobe. My grandfather's engineering office was included in a list of German businesses in Osaka. I know a lot more about German-Japanese business and trade relationships in the years my grandparents lived there. I can guess that those relationships would help explain why my grandfather enrolled in the Nazi party in 1934, but I may never know the answer with certainty.

My mother was too young to enroll in the Nazi party, but I understand that she was in the German Girls' League. Her school's annual report for 1942 records total membership in the Hitler Youth and the Girls' League as 65 boys and girls. The Nazi party is also acknowledged in the report's section on contributors and collaborating organizations. Although I never caught any hint of Nazi ideology in my grandfather, my mother was another matter. However she may have conducted herself in her diverse workplace at Roosevelt University, at home she never hid her racist and anti-Semitic views from us. As I try to understand all this, I can't help wondering what kinds of Nazi influences reached her through school channels -- and at what age.

My grandmother wasn't on the Nazi membership list (and family lore says that she refused to join), so I don't have the details about her that the membership list gave me for my grandfather -- for example, I still don't know her birthdate and birthplace. I guess that research awaits my next trip to Germany. Also remaining in the realm of speculation: when and where my mother's parents got married; and when and why they moved to Japan.

Possibly in the "none of your business" category, except as social history, are questions about my German family's finances. I don't suppose everyone in Japan had a summer house. Having been deported to Germany in 1948, how did they come to have such a substantial home in Stuttgart by the time I was there in the mid-1950's? How did they come to be collectors of Japanese art? Even with all these remaining questions, pertinent and impertinent, I am grateful that the outlines of their lives, and of my mother's growing-up years, have become clearer.

Thank you, dear reader, for your patience with these family history posts. I'm not sure they're of any interest to anyone, but I personally love reading these kinds of stories on other people's blogs. I also have a certain amount of hope that someone somewhere with relevant experience or expertise will come across these stories and will help me fill in more of the gaps.

On Saturday, October 27, the New Humanities Institute (NGI) in Elektrostal, Russia, held its final classes. it formally closed its doors on October 30, when its official license expired. After a week-long re-accreditation audit, the Ministry of Education had refused to renew the Institute's accreditation, forcing all students to find new places in other colleges, and dispersing a truly remarkable faculty, some of whom had been teaching at NGI for its full quarter-century history.

In this public Web site, I will not potentially embarrass my wonderful former colleagues by speculating on the reasons for this sad development. I suspect that the Ministry examiners did not interview students or attend classes, and (as on the occasions when I was personally present during such audits) simply confined themselves to examining documents. I also know how carefully the institute prepared for such visits, going to great lengths to ensure that all papers, reports, and class journals were in correct order and conformed to the Ministry's expectations.

A business card I'll always cherish.
A previous Ministry order to close the institute had been successfully challenged in court, which secured a few more years' operation. Whatever the reality behind this most recent official decision, I grieve the outcome, but will be forever grateful for our years of working with those wonderful, curious, hardworking, creative, inspiring students, and for the rich collaboration we had with our dedicated colleagues.

The decision is all the more painful in that the last two years' recruitment had been on an upward trend. This followed years of declining enrollment linked partly to the low birthrate of the early post-Soviet period. Happily, the improving demographic situation will certainly help NGI's partner institution, the School of Foreign Languages (popularly known as the Kazantsev School), whose after-school language classes for schoolchildren, evening classes for adults, and preschool programs are thriving. N.B.! That school is not affected by the closure of the institute. Since I taught at both institutions during most of our years in Elektrostal, I take some comfort that half of this marvelous educational enterprise will continue.

Back in 2011, I began a blog, 32 Radio Street, for our students at both the school and the institute. I've not added much since we left, but I'm going to keep it online for old times' sake.

Saying goodbye to our conversation club at end of NGI's 2016-2017 academic year. Photo by Maria Kazantseva.

Mike Farley considers what it means to surrender all.

Christianism ... and the triumph of empty symbolism.

From GetReligion: For insights on the Trump-induced splits among religious conservatives, here are some logical places to look.

Overwhelmed by the daily stream of Internet updates? For Russian readers, Alexei Navalny's foundation presents a new aggregator to select the most promising morsels from Twitter, Telegram, and Instagram: trrrending.today. Meanwhile, in English, here's a new Daily Beast interview with Navalny.

Nostalgia is on the rise in Europe, observes Julian Baggini, but maybe it's not all bad. Meanwhile, what went wrong in Eastern Europe, and is there hope? (Book review of John Fetter's Aftershock.)

A database of paper airplane designs.

A teenage memory, not long after I first fell in love with the blues: My father caught me playing the album Chicago/The Blues/Today, vol. 1, in my basement hideout, and warned me: "Don't let your mother catch you listening to that music."

From right around that time ...

01 November 2018

Quakers and Native Americans: It's complicated

Photo by Judy Maurer  
What does an apology from [Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends] to Native Americans look like?

This question arose a couple of weeks ago at our Yearly Meeting's quarterly gathering at Eugene, Oregon. It has been put on our SCYMF Prayer Committee's agenda as an item for prayer, anticipating that we continue to pray and work together toward an answer.

One of the first things we had done on that quarterly meeting day, all of us together, was to participate in a workshop led by Dove John of North Seattle Friends Church. As background, Dove summarized the Discovery Doctrine -- the legal doctrine that supposedly justified European "Christian" powers in claiming that any lands their representatives "discovered" became those powers' possessions, and any claims by existing non-Christian inhabitants on those same lands were null and void. This doctrine was asserted by the young U.S. nation as applying to the territory that came to them upon independence, and then confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1823.

The Discovery Doctrine was never universally accepted even in Christian Europe, and in the European settlement of the "New" World, Quakers were not the only people who actually negotiated with the original inhabitants and paid for real estate. However, these precedents were disregarded by U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall in favor of...
... the uniform understanding and practice of European nations, and the settled law, as laid down by the tribunals of civilized states, [which] denied the right of the Indians to be considered as independent communities, having a permanent property in the soil, capable of alienation to private individuals. They remain in a state of nature, and have never been admitted into the general society of nations.
I recommend reading the full text of Marshall's opinion. I think it reveals his divided conscience (even despite his personal vested interest in the matter). However, his decision seems to rest on two poisonous assumptions ... and it's these assumptions that linger into the present, and must be taken into account in our work of prayer.

First, Realpolitik: Whatever misgivings we might have today about the "extravagant" and "pompous" claims of colonial powers and their descendants (most of us!), it's too late to do anything about it. "it becomes the law of the land and cannot be questioned."

Second, "savages" must bow down to civilization, if they are to be allowed to live. We of course are far too progressive to believe this (at least stated so bluntly) nearly 200 years after Marshall, but are we able to assess the damage done to actual humans and their communities by this principle, and its ever-more-subtle iterations, over the centuries?

And even if we are able to begin to comprehend the damage, Realpolitik is always right at hand to discourage our attempts at redemption.

Back to Dove's workshop. After background information on the Discovery Doctrine, we counted off by tens. We were all then ejected from the room -- all but one out of every ten, symbolizing the devastating effects of death and exile on the First Nations' population. After spending some time in exile, we were admitted back into the meeting room to reflect on our experience.

Some practical commitments arose among those reflections: first and most urgent, a commitment to find out who had preceded us as inhabitants of the specific places where our homes and meetinghouses are located. We also wanted our Friends community to respond to what we learn, to apologize to those people, and to their descendants, and if possible to find a path toward redemption.

I became a Friend during my university years in Canada, and remained a member of Ottawa Friends Meeting for about ten years. In 1974, Canadian Yearly Meeting was drawn into a concern for right relationships with people of the First Nations by a dramatic incident at Kenora, Ontario, that began during our yearly meeting sessions. (Brief background here.) Shortly afterwards, I was involved in helping host the termination point in Ottawa for a Native Caravan in fall 1974. Their arrival at Parliament Hill was disrupted by a riot, provoked by a small contingent of radicals that I don't think was part of the Caravan, and by an overreaction on the part of the RCMP. I was in a group that got caught in between these two forces. That was my first, and so far only, personal encounter with riot police in full gear.

Canadian Friends worked at Kenora for peaceful resolution of the crisis, and after the direct conflict ended, they also helped arrange for expert analysis of the mercury pollution situation that had been a contributing factor in the crisis. To this day, a concern for justice for Aboriginal people has remained important to Canadian Friends.

At our quarterly meeting sessions in Eugene, Dove's workshop touched on the mixed record Friends have had over the centuries. William Penn gets credit for honest dealing with American Indians in negotiating for land. His son Thomas was another story, notorious for the 1737 "Walking Purchase" that cheated the Lenape nation in a rigged land purchase. John Woolman and other exemplary Friends believed that Quakers and Native Americans could learn from each other, but as the appetite of European Americans for land and resources grew, Friends participated in the many evil ways by which the original inhabitants were forced to adapt. In place of the violent elimination of obstinate Indians -- the old conventional wisdom -- Friends advocated a new conventional wisdom, to civilize and christianize. That was the liberal view of their day. Just around the same time as Marshall's decision, Friends participated in setting up some of the first of the extensive network of church-run boarding schools into which Native American children were placed, with or without family approval, with the more or less explicit goal of making them more like white Protestants.

It is easy now to mock Friends for their participation in this approach, but that would imply unfairly that all Native Americans were only passive victims. It would marginalize those who, for example, made deliberate choices for Christianity, and whose own churches continue to this day, including a few Friends meetings. For a hint of this more complex reality, read this article about the Christian Reformed Church's 2016 Synod at which the Discovery Doctrine was declared a heresy.

"Heresy" is the right word. The Discovery Doctrine was not just defective colonial-era political theology. It was yet another face of our ancient enemy -- the primordial sin of objectification, of false witness, of denying the sacred image of God that lets us all regard each other as we regard Christ. For this reason, the first motion in answering the question with which I started this post ("What does an apology ... to Native Americans look like?") should be prayer. We need humility, curiosity, endless love as well as boldness. We need to overcome the double paralysis of Realpolitik and smug superiority. We need to confront racism that is so deeply embedded in our systems that I am sure the word "diabolical" is not too strong. We can't just choose from a political menu; in shaping and addressing any apology well, we need the leading and power of the Holy Spirit, and the cross-shaped (cross-cultural, cross-political, cross-fertilizing) community that the Spirit makes possible.

Does an apology include some form of restitution or reparations? This question comes up in relation to slavery as well as our nation's evil record of relations with Native Americans. I can list the defensive objections that might arise:
  • It was so long ago.
  • I earned what I have.
  • Not guilty! As an immigrant, I have an alibi. (For example, I was born in Norway. We Norwegians did our own Viking-era mischief much longer ago!)
  • Mostly freeloaders will benefit, not honest victims.
I think these objections miss the point, spiritually.

It's not just that murder and genocide don't have statutes of limitations, although that's true. (John Marshall's interpretation of the Discovery Doctrine, that it's too late to reverse the consequences of conquest, should not still be allowed to decide things.) The main point is that repeated clusters of deliberate, organized cruelty, resulting in massive suffering, become almost like nodes of demonic oppression.

Whether you believe in an intelligent Satan (along the lines of Peter Wagner's ideas) or a more impersonal mechanism of demonic evil (Walter Wink), we shouldn't pretend that such nodes just go away. Their evil persists. The basis for apology and repentance is not white guilt or shame or any form of self-flagellation. Instead, it is to conduct spiritual warfare against the demons of racism and oppression and false witness, to declare them off-limits in the land that we now share, so that we can conduct our future stewardship -- and make our public investments -- in freedom and mutual regard.

Who lived here in the area now named Portland, Oregon, and who are their descendants? This (pdf) booklet begins to give some answers.

Oregon's nations and languages. UPDATE: Hemisphere (and more) map. (Credit.)

Unlearning the Doctrine of Discovery in the USA, and in Canada.

Reporter's Indigenous Terminology Guide ( and pdf download).

From scandal to solidarity: Lindsey Paris-Lopez looks at Elizabeth Warren and Native American visibility in perspective.

Bryan Mealer on some evangelicals stumping for Democrats.

Joe Carnes-Ananias on increasing Bible study participation among busy people by ... asking for more commitment.

"Lord, keep me weeping" asks Stacey Hare. ("I know what you're thinking: 'you must be great at parties'.")

25 October 2018

Quakerism of the future

John Yungblut's pamphlet Quakerism of the Future: Mystical, Prophetic, & Evangelical dates back to the exact year I became a Friend -- 1974. I think those three adjectives remain compelling right now, 44 years later.

Granted, as a deep student of Carl Gustav Jung and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Yungblut's definitions of those three adjectives may not have exactly been old-school. This particularly goes for his reflections on the word "evangelical." But the dynamic conversation among these qualities -- different definitions and all -- may be vital if Friends are to grow in usefulness to the Body of Christ, and to those who've not yet been convinced.

The stakes are high. Instead of growing in our ability to offer radical hospitality to those who might find refreshment and liberation among us, FOUR of the yearly meetings I've served and loved have divided. Why, dear Friends, could you not have used our differences as fertile resources to keep each other more honest, more genuinely progressive AND evangelical, more equipped to reach out to our fractious and fragmented neighbors, instead of prioritizing our tightly calibrated internal purity filters!?

Here I've sampled a bit of how Yungblut, with clarity and courtesy, models the conversation among these disparate but necessary qualities:

Mystical ... I totally understand that we're not all mystical, and we don't elevate mysticism as some super-subtle elite key to understanding Friends. But right from the start, we've honored the spiritual gifts that George Fox and some of his companions had -- a particular sensitivity to the inward movements of the Holy Spirit. They didn't exalt those "openings" above the confirming testimony of Bible and community, but those inner confirmations anchored the movement in spiritual reality above earthly hierarchy, above social status, above the claims of wealth and power. In our own day, as authoritarians and their sophisticated technologies confront angry skeptics and anarchists, all with their own competing mythologies demanding our loyalty, we need those God-given anchors. We need to take the time to listen deeply inside ourselves, seeking and finding the inner witness of God that the mystics correctly tell us is there.

I love the quotation Yungblut found in E. Herman's The Meaning and Value of Mysticism. It applies every bit as much now as it did when she wrote in 1915:
Thrust down by victorious institutional, rational, and moralistic forces, the mystic note floats up from the depths -- now muffled, now clear. Every now and again the penalty of success overtakes the ruling system, and Christian [people], disillusioned of a hollow civilization and an externalized church, listen to the submerged melody and find it a song of deliverance, and out of such moments of reaction are born the great spiritual movements, whether explicitly mystical or only showing deep affinities with Mysticism!
Nobody is demanding that all Friends be mystics like Fox or Penn -- though Yungblut insists that the capacity is within each of us. I just plead that this precious influence be welcomed in the mix.

Prophetic ... In identifying the prophetic imperative, Yungblut provides another compelling quotation, this time from our near-contemporary Friend Lewis Benson:
In Fox's preaching about Christ the prophet he identifies himself and the Quaker movement with the Hebrew prophetic tradition and he regards his oppressors as standing in the priestly tradition ... For Fox, Jesus' death on the cross is not just the death of a prophet, but the death of the prophet of the end-time, who was sent to end the succession of prophets and to be the living head of God's people in the New Covenant. Fox's mission was to restore prophecy to the central place in the life of the Church, and he saw that this would involve a head-on clash with the priestly establishment.
Yungblut directly links the prophetic ministry of Friends, including our advocacy and action for social justice, to our "mystical consciousness of Jesus' presence in the gathered company, and of his immediate prophetic utterance through the spoken ministry of one of its members, chosen by him for the purpose...." He also warns:
The white heat of early Quaker testimony cooled when the mystical consciousness that supported it died down. In the same way, institutionalized good deeds in the form of service, no matter how well-intentioned and dedicated, are not capable, themselves, of rekindling the fire of this same mystical consciousness.
Yungblut goes on to survey possible sources of "rekindling," noting that "the opportunity of the sixties, to serve the cause of civil rights under the inspired leadership of the contemplative revolutionary, Martin Luther King, Jr., has gone by, and no amount of nostalgia can bring it back." At the time, he saw seeds of possibility in intentional communities and "life centers," by which I think he's referring to the Movement for a New Society and similar experiments. What would a current survey suggest?

Evangelical ... In naming this quality, Yungblut admits up front that he expects push-back, both from the more orthodox part of his audience and from those who want nothing to do with evangelicalism as understood among typical liberal readers of Pendle Hill Pamphlets. To the latter, he is clear about the fatal cost of cutting themselves off from their New Testament roots.
When I suggest therefore that Quakerism in the future must be evangelical, if it is to survive, it is first of all because I believe that only this recognized connection with our tap root can prevent our withering in time, like any other cut flower. ... To have survival value I believe the Society of Friends must be evangelical in the sense of preserving a faith that is demonstrably and organically related to the gospels in the New Testament.
Yungblut affirms this sense of "evangelical" in the sense of a movement formed and informed by the Scriptures -- sprung from the Christian "phylum," to use his metaphor. However, he also describes and sets aside the more recent meaning of the word "evangelical" -- emphasizing "salvation by faith in the atonement of Jesus." Yungblut does not exactly reject us doctrinal evangelicals as Friends. Having encountered evangelical Friends at the 1970 St. Louis conference of Friends, which grew from an evangelical Quaker initiative, he wrote: "... as a member of the liberal side of the spectrum, I feel that being challenged in this manner by other members of our own household of faith is a very salutary experience."

He goes on to make two points: (1) The emphasis on literal salvation through Christ's atonement for our sin (and the crucial identification of the historical Jesus with the eternal Christ) is a doctrine he personally cannot accept without making some crucial distinctions; but (2) we as Friends must nevertheless remain united as a New Testament faith. His doctrinal arguments seem dated to me -- limited by modernist assumptions springing from "recently acquired evolutionary and depth-psychological perspectives" requiring "that I henceforth distinguish between the Jesus of history and the evolving Christ myth."

Since Yungblut wrote those words, our understanding of how faith and science relate has continued to evolve, weakening rather than strengthening the modernist perspective. Even so, Yungblut's arguments with orthodoxy do not reduce the main service of his pamphlet, undiminished after four decades: encouraging a courteous, fertile, and productive conversation about Quaker revival.

A fourth adjective? ... I affirm the ongoing importance of being mystical, prophetic, and evangelical, but I'd like to advance another adjective: pentecostal. I don't mean joining the branch of Protestantism bearing that label, but I do mean to suggest strengthening these interrelated capacities that I believe were once part of our spiritual inheritance from the earliest days, but may have weakened:
  • readiness for a wider emotional range (I'm speaking as an introvert here!)
  • welcoming a wider range of social classes
  • a greater openness to healing
  • a deeper attentiveness to spiritual gifts.
What capacities do you believe we ought to strengthen?

John Yungblut did not take the survival of the Friends movement for granted. Near the beginning of his booklet he wrote:
... In my judgment the only Quakerism that can survive in the future will have to be mystical, prophetic, and evangelical. These are the qualities that, taken together ... are the very best elements in our tradition. They constitute what, it seems to me, we should want to survive. If I could be sure that they would be better preserved in the future by some other fellowship of believers, I, for one, would not hesitate to join others in a dedicated dissolution of the Society of Friends.

Peter Brierley's article (PDF), "Nominal Christians," is an interesting survey of the measurements of Christian commitment among Europeans, including some comparisons with Christians in the USA. Brierley summarizes the vocabulary that has been accumulating over the last few decades to describe the waxing and waning of Christian self-identification, the categories of "spiritual" and "religious" and the effects of migration: "nominal Christians"; "notional Christians"; "fuzzy Christians"; "nones"; "invisibles" ... and so on.

Speaking of vocabulary, Roger E. Olson adds another term, postconservative evangelicals, and explains where he/they fit in among contemporary theologians. (You decide whether his sampling range is adequate.)

Are you able to drink the cup of Jesus? Or did you think that, when Jesus became Lord, you'd be sitting pretty?

Thirty years ago, Rodney Clapp interviewed Eugene Peterson, reminding me of the qualities I'll always associate with him.

Garret Keizer considers existing conventional wisdom about the rise of Donald Trump, and persuasively adds another factor: the pull of pugnacious nihilism. Teasers:
...It may not be out of bounds to quote from a nearly forgotten book by Nazi turncoat Hermann Rauschning called The Revolution of Nihilism. Published in 1939, and subtitled Warning to the West, the book characterizes Hitlerism as a form of vacuous "dynamism" with "no fixed aims" and "no program at all." A movement of "utter nihilism," it is "kept alive in the masses only in the form of permanent pugnacity." ...

A sense of radical incredulity, spectacularly typified by Trump’s refusal to believe his own intelligence services, is but one manifestation of the nihilism that brought him to power. What makes him "the real deal" in the eyes of his most ardent admirers is largely his insistence that almost everything else is fake.

In looking for blues dessert, I went to Moscow's Roadhouse club and "I Found My Peace of Mind."

18 October 2018

Good news or bad news, part two: Believe Me

 Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images; source.  
"Believe me, folks, we're building the wall, believe me, believe me, we're building the wall."
"I love women. Believe me, I love women. I love women. And you know what else, I have great respect for women, believe me."
"I am the least, the least racist person that you've ever met, believe me."
"The world is in trouble, but we're going to straighten it out, okay? That's what I do. I fix things. We're going to straighten it out, believe me."
"So let me state this right up front: [in] a Trump administration our Christian heritage will be cherished, protected, defended -- like you've never seen before. Believe me."
Donald Trump's repetition of this phrase, "believe me," led historian John Fea to adopt it as the title of his recent book, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. The puzzle that faced the self-identified evangelical author: why did so many white evangelical Americans believe Trump, to the point of voting for him as president? ... And all this in a field of candidates that had at least three other choices that adhered far more closely to the culture of politicized white evangelicalism -- Carson, Rubio, and Cruz.

Theoretically, evangelical faith rests on the proposition that the gospel of Jesus Christ is very literally good news. Its promises may not involve a change of political leadership, but they are concrete: healing, liberation, reconciliation and eternal fellowship with God. Of course, for "news" to be "good," there must be something "bad" in the prevailing context, and Jesus indeed arrived in a time and place of bad news: imperial occupation, marginalization of women and of all non-Romans, economic distress, capricious justice, not to individual cases of illness, conflict, and so on. Jesus and his rapidly-expanding community of disciples found room for everyone who received him. In succeeding generations, Christian reform movements (including Quakers) who sought to MCGA -- Make Christianity Great Again -- referred back to that founding generation chronicled in the biblical book of Acts.

The "Playbook of the Christian Right" as described and documented by John Fea is different. Its motivations are three factors that are arguably all non-biblical:
  • fear as an attention-getter and mobilizer
  • nostalgia as definition and reassurance for the chosen tribe
  • power as the best way to relieve fear and secure the tribe.
(These elaborations on the three factors are mine, but I believe they're faithful to Fea's analysis.)

Fea follows the thread of fear throughout white evangelical Christian history in the USA from the colonial era onward. Fear of the enslaved race, fear of the immigrant, of Rome, of the communist, the homosexual, all perform the necessary role of alarming the audience, of scaring the money and the votes out of that audience. As Fea shows, there's nothing new about this playbook.

Fear is a fraudulent motivator; it requires narrowing the audience's concern to itself, excluding anyone who can possibly be described in unsympathetic terms -- the indispensable THREAT. That narrowing function is enhanced by another historical con game -- nostalgia for a golden age when nobody messed with the USA and its middle-class paradise. Making America great again assumes that there was that earlier condition of American greatness that must be restored.

This assertion is at the center of Trump's emotional appeal; everything else is just details to be asserted or ignored almost according to whim -- the Wall, Dow Jones, tariffs, crime, Vladimir Putin, North Korea, and so on.
Nostalgia is ... a powerful political tool. A politician who claims to have the power to take people back to a time when America was great stands a good chance of winning the votes of fearful men and women. In the end, the practice of nostalgia is inherently selfish because it focuses entirely on our own experience of the past and not the experience of others.
This nostalgic con game is based at least in part on a mythology that John Fea has dealt with in his previous work: that the USA is a Christian nation whose downhill path coincides with Supreme Court decisions on separation of church and state, and on abortion. Fea examines one stream of this Christian nationalism: Baptist preacher and prime Trump fan Robert Jeffress and his "America is a Christian nation" sermon, and the role played by David Barton in supplying the talking points for Jeffress and other proponents of politicized nostalgia. The audience for this appeal ignores the structural sin that marginalized (arguably) the majority of people in structural sin and oppression, while guarding the privileges of those on top, during any "golden age" you might propose.

The Christian nationalist message also automatically excludes the millions whose lives were improved by other developments at the same time as the Supreme Court decisions -- notably those affected by the Civil Rights movement. It takes no account of the environmental movement, the increasing awareness of domestic violence, advances in police accountability, reductions in crime rates, and other positive trends.

According to the Christian Right's playbook, the solution to these dangers and the path to national restoration is having the right people in power. John Fea provides a fascinating gallery of Court Evangelicals who personify the overlap between Christian celebrityhood and membership in Donald Trump's circle of influence. He describes the three groups from whom those celebrities come: the Christian Right as we've come to know it over the years (Jerry Falwell, Jr., Richard Land, James Dobson, Robert Jeffress, for example); the "prosperity gospel" movement (Paula White, Mark Burns); and the Independent Network Charismatic community (Lance Wallnau, Cindy Jacobs).

What can a Christian historian offer us as we work out a vision of discipleship in the Trump era of slashing indifference to stewardship and social justice? With unsurprising cautions about the limitations of the past as a source of lessons for the future, Fea suggests the following themes:

Hope, not fear. Here Fea starts out with a quotation from Christopher Lasch:
Hope does not demand a belief in progress. It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of things is not flouted with impunity. Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to most who lack it.
For Fea, the Civil Rights movement is a signal demonstration of the power of hope among those who had every right to feel hopeless, who were operating from the margins, but who persisted. Hope is the element that keeps us engaged with the future.

Humility, not power. In part, this involves a practice of presence rather than domination, of community rather than individualism. Fea links this perspective with the Civil Rights movement's nonviolent orientation:
The civil rights movement never spoke the language of hate or resentment. In fact, its Christian leaders saw that all human beings were made in the image of God and sinners in need of God's redemptive love. Many in the movement practiced what theologial Reinhold Niebuhr described as "the spiritual discipline against resentment."
History, not nostalgia. Rather than inventing an ideal history to motivate a narrow audience, Fea asks us to look at actual history. Again, the Civil Rights movement provides a crucial example: those seeking justice had to look at the historical record with utter realism. However, embedded in that history and enshrined in its documentation were the ideals to which the civil rights leaders were demanding accountability. History records the undeniable aspirations and promises that we work to make real: we're all created equal, with certain inalienable rights; we're entitled to due process and to the equal protection of the law.

Fea's book is very helpful on diagnosis, but his prescriptions are general, modest, and few. It's up to us to use and expand the tools he provides. For example ...

For our conversations with other Christians, especially those who are captives of Christian nationalism, Fea provides a standing imperative: stick with truth. It's perfectly consistent with an ethical and loving approach to conflict to be persistently grounded in truth: the Gospel doesn't indulge in fear, it challenges fear. Nostalgic myths need to be countered with the actual record of history, good and bad. Those facts include the many ways power corrupts even the faithful.

For our own behavior in the intense conflict of these days, truth is also our only reliable guide. This may mean that we can't provide our secular allies with the kind of rhetorical overkill that "solidarity" seems to demand. As a brief case study, take this article by Jen Butler, "Is Democracy Done? The Road After Kavanaugh." I generally agree with both the direction and the urgency of Butler's call for a "loud, public, theological voice" to counter the anti-democratic forces she identifies. But this kind of rhetoric is not truthful:

... [C]onservatives who have been chomping at the bit to undermine minority rights and let corporate greed run amok. "Chomping at the bit" and "corporate greed run amok" is political trash-talking. Nobody wants anything to "run amok."

Today our elected leaders have made gods of greed. Every decision they are making benefits the top .1% of the wealthy rather than the majority. Every decision? Even the recent bipartisan agreement to aid opioid-addicted sufferers? It is possible to make a devastating analysis without resorting to exaggeration or attribution of motive.

Note that I don't criticize strong rhetoric as such. When Butler goes on to say,
Today, our elected leaders worship false gods to amass their personal and party power. They look the other way for their own political gain while our president praises tyrants, and white supremacists, locks children in cages, mocks sexual abuse survivors, and exploits his office to enrich his own family at great cost to global peace and security.
... I question "worship false gods" (maybe it would be better to say, "appear to worship false gods"), but everything else seems true. All I'm saying is, I resent it when politicians of all kinds attribute evil motives to their opponents rather than sticking to actual facts. When our faithfulness to truth weakens in favor of incendiary rhetoric, however decent our motives, we begin using the same playbook that got us into this mess in the first place.

Another contribution from John Fea: How the American Bible Society became evangelical. When I was at Friends United Meeting, I enjoyed participating in American Bible Society's meetings and their online programs. It had the most inclusive range of denominations and confessions of any ecumenical organization I knew. I saw it as an example of "functional ecumenism" (along with Christian Peacemaker Teams, World Peace Tax Fund, etc.) in favorable contrast to "conciliar ecumenism." I guess the litmus test mentality crept in here, too.

Related: Good news or bad news?
Hell, holiness, and Jerusalem.
Sowing in tears, part two: Red Hens, resistance, and love.

Mike Farley on God’s love for us, which, temporary and powerless as we are, somehow reaches us through this spiritual hyperlink that is the cross....

Jonathan Petersen interviews Bryan Loritts on white evangelicalism and racial bias.

Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta asks authorities to investigate threats against a reporter. (More of Novaya's reporters have been killed than reporters of any other single Russian media outlet.)

Navalny vs Zolotov? Probably not.

From Joan Baez to Taylor Swift: How musicians found a political voice.

Won't you hurry 'round the bend?

Indian Blue Live at the Dew Drop from Louisiana Northshore on Vimeo.

11 October 2018

Kobe: the quest continues

Staffers of Kitano district tourism office and Yuto Masumoto of Osaka University help me find my grandparents' home.
"We think that's where they lived, but it looks like that place is now a parking lot."
Continued from Stuttgart shorts; Slow boat to Japan; Deutsche Schule shorts.

A couple of months ago, when I found the notice in the U.S. soldiers' newspaper Stars and Stripes, offering the property of "P. Schmitz" for lease and giving its location, I thought I'd finally found a crucial clue to the location of my grandparents' home in Kobe, Japan. It made sense: I knew that my grandparents, Paul and Emma Schmitz, and my mother had been deported to Germany on an American ship in 1948; and my mother had always told me that their property was confiscated for American military use. The newspaper announcement appeared in May 1949. When we went off to Japan last month, I took the Stars and Stripes information with me, assuming it referred to their home.

Eight days ago, we went to Kobe to visit the current incarnation of my mother's school. Three days later -- last Saturday -- we went back to Kobe for most of the day, in search of my grandparents' home. With us we had a valuable co-researcher, Osaka University student Yuto Masumoto, who is studying Russian and who had offered to help us in our quest. Yuto was a godsend, helping us find the places and people we needed, and serving as an interpreter. In return, we gave him some Russian coaching and promised to stay in touch and send additional language resources. Our time with him was a great delight.

Many of the grander houses owned by Kobe's prominent foreign residents were in the Kitano district, so that district's tourist information office was our first stop. Two of the office's staff members took the Stars and Stripes information I brought and referenced it to their huge books of maps. Their conclusion: the address I gave them was a summer house up in the hills, not the family's city home. Did I have any other information that would help them find that city home?

Once again I leafed through the fresh information I had just received -- the stack of papers that Takayuki Yokota-Murakami's German-language colleague, Ayano Nakamura, had prepared for our visit. There was one sheet I'd been avoiding looking at too closely, simply because of its title, but it turned out to have the missing details:

A slice of the document I'd been avoiding.
There in the "last address recorded" column for party member # 3444593 was a street corner just ten minutes' walk away from where we were. "We think that's where they lived," the kind staffer told me, making a circle on the map, "but it looks like that place is now a parking lot."

That Nazi party list had other nuggets of information for me. At long last I had a birthplace and birthdate for my grandfather, which I hope will help me find out more about his life and his ancestors. But here's the item that really pulled me up short: if the records are accurate, he was a party member from the early years of the Hitler regime -- starting April 1, 1934. In my growing-up years I'd vaguely heard that he had joined the Nazi party, and also heard an explanation for his membership -- that it was obligatory for a member of the small business community among the Germans in Japan (and that my grandmother Emma refused to join). However, I'd never had such a direct confrontation with the cold facts of his Nazi membership.

Emma and Paul (and me) in Oslo.
My memories of Paul Schmitz are uniformly positive. Among other things, he is the one who gave me a copy of William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, the first serious book I ever read about Hitler and the Second World War. Still, I now have a few questions I wish I'd known to ask.

I also wonder what the conversations were like between him and my father's parents. I know they met; I have a photo of my German grandparents at my Norwegian grandparents' home in Oslo. Did my father's father talk about his service in the Norwegian resistance army, reporting to London on the movements of German ships, and helping smuggle people across the Swedish border? There are just some gaps that documents by themselves won't fill in.

Those were a few of my thoughts as we walked to the parking lot indicated on our map. I stood among the expensive cars and thought to myself, "This might be the neighborhood where my mom grew up." None of the buildings in the neighborhood looked as if they'd been built before World War Two. After all, what that war didn't destroy could have been leveled by the 1995 earthquake. I was going to have to be satisfied with walking the narrow streets of my mother's childhood ... and I was.

There once was a home here ....
View from the parking lot.
Weathercock House guide showing us a chart of the old foreign residences. A prominent German businessman
and his family lived here; we felt sure that my grandparents would have been part of the social life in this house.
We say goodbye to Yuto Masumoto at Kobe's Sannomiya Station.

A finale of sorts: Slow boat to Japan (PS).

Choose your George Soros: is he a rich Jewish investor (choose a well-worn anti-semitic meme) or a favorite atheist straw man (insert favorite anti-Zionist meme)?

The ecumenical patriarch grants independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. RFE/RL's comparatively even-handed coverage; various Russian-language voices.

Oscar Romero is to be canonized this Sunday. Also: setting the record straight on how Oscar Romero's faith was transformed.

How the Goblin is redefining the solar system.

Frida Berrigan thinks about cheetahs, and the inheritance of children.

One of the commenters: "This is the most original rendition of The Sky Is Crying that I've ever heard." I agree.

04 October 2018

Deutsche Schule shorts

Not my mother's Kobe

Not my mother's Osaka

German school today
German school in my mother's time

First annual report with my
mother's name.

Student 21. Erika Schmitz.

This post is coming to you from the bullet train taking us from Osaka to Hiroshima, Japan. (See Slow boat to Japan for background.) Just a few words today about our trip two days ago to my mother's school in Kobe.

The school that my mother attended, the German School in Kobe, has changed a lot. Today's Deutsche Schule Kobe International has an English-language track as well as a German track, and pupils finish sixth grade with three languages -- Japanese, German, and English. In my mother's time, the school was located in the hills overlooking Kobe, and now it is on the Rokko island in a new eco-friendly building.

We met with the new principal, Frank Pitzner, who presented us with a book commemorating the school's first century (1909-2009). I've not had a chance to review it in detail, but I noticed that the book seems to deal with the Nazi period directly, rather than downplaying that aspect of its history as some other institutions (as Frank Pitzner observed) tend to do.

We talked about many other things, including the school's adoption of the International Baccalaureate program back in 2006. (I have memories of the same process at the Ramallah Friends Schools.) We enjoyed our brief tour of the facilities, and I especially enjoyed feeling the energy of the children streaming all around us on their way to after-school activities or to their waiting parents. We looked at some of the school's historical artifacts and photos.

None of that really equalled the simple experience of seeing my mother's name on the school rolls. It's among the very few actual points of data that I've ever seen about the German side of my family before 1948. Somehow her childhood -- her whole life before I came along, actually -- became a lot more real to me.

We had originally planned to visit Hiroshima before these days in Kobe and Osaka, but Typhoon Trami got in the way of our plans. Instead of heading for Hiroshima immediately after getting off the ship in Yokohama, we stayed in that port city for two days until the typhoon had passed and the trains had been able to return to normal service. Our own exposure to the typhoon was limited to about three hours of strong winds and lashing rains, which we observed from the windows of our ninth-floor hotel room. We were in no doubts about the solidity of our hotel, but it was interesting to feel it sway in the wind. Other parts of Japan were more severely affected, and three people lost their lives.

Everywhere we went in Yokohama, Osaka, and Kobe, street crews were cleaning up downed trees and broken branches. However, unlike our experiences on the U.S. east coast, the typhoon roared through its land path quickly, with sunny skies the very next day.

I'll return with a more typical format next week. We're twenty minutes away from Hiroshima.

[Update: Another typhoon is heading to Japan and is expected to disrupt transport in and out of Hiroshima tomorrow. I'm adding this update on the train back to Osaka.]

Next chapter: Kobe -- the quest continues.