13 December 2018

Advent shorts

Vladimir, Russia, December 2016. (From the vault of special memories.)
December 2016, Elektrostal. (Same vault.)
Survey update: I've received sixteen responses to my survey on building a trustworthy church. On the one hand, that's too few to do much quantitative analysis (but that won't stop me, eventually!). On the other hand, the open-end answers and other comments are incredibly helpful. If you are one of the respondents, I'm extremely grateful.

Someone suggested that I add "anger" to the list of emotions in question 8(h). That was a real omission! -- especially since Judy is writing a book on anger. Thanks very much for the suggestion. It will get added immediately, at the risk of slightly warping the data, since it should have been there from the start. But with a universe of sixteen responses so far, the effect won't be devastating.

I will keep the survey open for a couple more weeks, and will recirculate the invitation to respond to it. The full explanation is at last week's blog post, and the bare, undecorated survey is at maurers.org/survey. I'd be grateful for reposts far and wide, including among people who aren't involved with organized religion.

Advent: Along with many other non-liturgical Protestants, I don't usually keep a clear separation between the anticipatory, meditative season of Advent and the Christmas holiday. Seven years ago I wrote a blog post concerning the important things I learned from others about Advent, and why we Friends do things a bit differently, and I repeated that post a year later in 2012.

2012 -- that was about halfway through our years in Russia, where we celebrated Christmas in a far quieter way that we normally do here in the USA. The New Year holiday took on the responsibilities for holiday hoopla, providing a sort of cultural buffer for a quieter, arguably more spiritually-centered celebration of Christmas on January 7. (Granted, the commercialism lingered -- Christmas music continued to be played in all the big stores right up through the second weekend of the new year.) This rhythm gave me a greater appreciation for that aspect of the Advent season that involves meditation on the impending Incarnation of God.

This year, I have mixed feelings about Advent and Christmas. It was a lot of fun to see all those old Christmas tree ornaments and garlands, in storage for the years we were in Russia, back on display on our full-sized Christmas tree. I'm enjoying the music and lights and symbols of the season very much.

I'm also missing our Russian life intensely. We were lucky to be in the midst of people who really knew how to celebrate. I confess that I even miss the snow.

But that isn't all. I feel as if the times we're living in demand a more sober approach. In the 2012 post, I quoted Jeff Dunn as saying, "I need Advent to tell me why Jesus had to die, and that he was born as a baby in order that he could grow to be a man who would be executed as a criminal." I'm probably taking Dunn's words somewhat out of his own theological context (he was focusing on our need for personal atonement), but one implication jumps out at me: God's intervention in history was and is unavoidably political.

Yes, Dunn is right -- if I think I have no need of a Savior, then I have no need of Christmas. But together we live in (and support) a system that also falls far short. This very Advent, the Holy Family's migration, their search for shelter and safety, is strangely and wickedly reflected in the trials of migrants at our own southern border. That's a situation that really merits a season of deep reflection. How can we celebrate the Incarnation when we seem to have lost the center of the Story? Jesus and his family were not symbols, not ornaments, not doctrines, not metaphors, not ethereal fables to make us feel good. They were refugees.

(via Facebook)  

The world said goodbye to an unusual hero this week: Liudmila Mikhailovna Alexeyeva. Here is Meduza's obituary.

The Nobel Prize site's coverage of the 2018 Peace Prize includes the lectures (and their transcripts) of both winners.

Virgin Galactic's space ship Unity reaches the edge of space today, finally!

Since I'm in a nostalgic mood ...

06 December 2018

What makes a church trustworthy? Seeking YOUR input.

I've put together this survey to help me think through the theme that's been preoccupying me the last few years: building a trustworthy church. I hope you'll help me by filling out the survey ... as much or as little of it as you have time for.

It's not a scientific survey; I've hopelessly mashed together qualitative and quantitative elements, there's no randomizing of the order of questions; and I've probably done a poor job of concealing my own biases. In compensation, I've also put in lots of places where you can comment, introduce concerns that I've left out, and in general let me know your priorities. I may make changes in the survey form based on your feedback.

Among the sources and biases: I've adapted some of the "eight essential qualities of healthy churches" advocated by Natural Church Development, although I've not used their wording for any of them. I've tried not to make it too obviously a Quaker-derived survey, although that too probably leaks through.

Here it is! You can also access it on this separate page, and you can use the following link -- blog.canyoubelieve.me/p/survey.html -- in letting others know about the survey. (Many thanks!!)

Update: Here's a link to the bare survey form without decoration or commentary: maurers.org/survey

A lot of Quaker energy has gone into reassuring skeptics and wounded refugees that we Friends are not like "those people," referring to the zealots, authoritarians, and religious entrepreneurs who have sometimes given faith a bad name. But what are we affirmatively promising? And how do we increase our capacity to keep our promises and become more trustworthy?

Let's say you are someone who's presently not in a church, but you're not totally allergic to the idea of being among people of faith, and are ready to learn what guides and motivates us believers, and to see whether it confirms a growing sense of faith already within you -- but you are not in the market for theatrics or manipulation or enmeshment with nationalist politics. What can our church promise you?

It's those concrete promises, and earning a reputation for keeping them, and using that reputation to increase our accessibility, that I'm interested in learning about. If you have already had experiences with churches that are trustworthy, or, sadly, with untrustworthy churches, or simply have an idea of what such a community might include, I'd like to learn from you.

Nancy Thomas's next chapter in her selected stories from Bolivian Quaker history.

Here's what a war on Christmas might really look like. (Thanks to Fulcrum Anglican for the link.)

More on John Allen Chau (my subject last week): Arthur Davis has more questions; and Todd Whitmore is angry.
It seems, then, that Chau failed not just in secular terms, but in theological and evangelical terms as well, and so my anger is also directed—unless they did whatever was in their power to stop him—at whoever trained and formed him in ministry, for they are also otherwise culpable for his death.
Peter Marks describes a fascinating collaborative process within the creation of the musical Hamilton.

An update on Internet regulations in Russia.

Russian scholar of Pentecostalism loses his teaching position.

Kat Baloun goes to Finland ...

29 November 2018

The dilemma of the uninvited missionary

John Chau and his mother Lynda (Instagram); source.
News story:
The family of an American missionary has forgiven the native tribe which killed him when he arrived uninvited on their island last week and are urging authorities not to hold anyone but him responsible for his death.

John Chau, 27, was killed on North Sentinel Island last week as he attempted to visit the tribe. Local fisherman reported seeing the tribe drag his body days after Chau paid them to take him as close as they would to the island before he kayaked over to it.

He had written to his family beforehand and told them not to blame the Sentinelese people if he did not make it out alive. [Source.]
Dilemma? What dilemma? Isn't it totally obvious to everyone that, if you and I are not wanted in some remote (to us) corner of the world, we shouldn't go there?

Well, maybe not to exactly everyone:
  • If you are a religious skeptic, or an exvangelical, you might be 99% sure that there could be no justification for John Chau and his ilk to intrude on North Sentinel Island.
  • If, however, you are in the Christian culture described by Chris Stroop in his Playboy article exploring Chau's motivations, you might be 99% sure that such intrusion might not only be justified, but possibly imperative.
Admittedly, I've set up this polarity to put myself somewhere in the middle. When I first heard the sad news about John Chau, I actually started out agreeing with the no-justification point of view. But here's some of what began nagging at me almost immediately.

I'm stating up front that I believe the Holy Spirit can ask us to do something that is entirely against conventional wisdom, secular skepticism, and even the law.

Don't worry, I'm not saying this to one-up skeptics with my heroic piety. For one thing, I do not believe Christianity is undergoing persecution in the secular West, nor do I believe that every criticism of Christianity and the Christian establishment from those skeptics is wrong. They're often right! Furthermore, if I propose an action that is completely out of step with law and culture, and claim supernatural inspiration, I had better be under the discipline of a praying community that's committed to biblical reflection, and not just relying on my own pretensions -- especially if those pretensions are a residue of the kind of uncritical glorification of missionary martyrs described in Stroop's article.

Within this frame as a believer, George Fox's famous exhortation (my emphasis) came unbidden to mind:
This is the word of the Lord God to you all, a charge to you all in the presence of the living God; be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come; that your life and conduct may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one; whereby in them ye may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you: then to the Lord God you shall be a sweet savour, and a blessing.
In these words, Fox elaborates the charge Jesus gave his disciples in Acts 1:8 (context) to be his witnesses "to the ends of the earth." He outlines an essential component of Quaker missiology: we are not transferring knowledge, but directing people to the witness of God that is already within them. Although it's hard to see how any specific island is automatically off limits for someone who actually believes in God, I don't interpret these words as open-ended encouragement to get in everyone's face everywhere with just any form of contact. Early generations of Quakers established practices of discernment by which their ministers obtained their communities' permission to make journeys for both evangelism and pastoral care beyond those communities' boundaries.

I don't know whether John Chau's mission to North Sentinel Island, and his service with All Nations, met that kind of discernment threshold. I'm simply trying to get past the all-or-nothing polarization on the question of uninvited, intrusive missions.

Certainly, any prospective missionaries' proposed invasive mission to a hitherto-uncontacted people group should get a serious challenge from their home communities:
  • How and why do you feel directed to this mission? Convince us despite our great misgivings!
  • How have you prepared -- what research and training have you done -- for this specific service? What do you still need to do? (We might add our own requirements.)
  • How have you been influenced by the history of Christian missions and martyrdom? Can you regard that very mixed history with critical reflection as well as admiration?
  • Are you prepared to die in the service of your mission? And, given that you propose to be a "sweet savour" to God and "a blessing" to those you contact, how do you evaluate the possibility that you could cause them to die?
  • Whether you are accepted or rejected, live or die, how do you envision the continuation of your mission?
Many churches put candidates through these tests and much more. Doubts about invasive missions, however, go well beyond questions of individual suitability. Even the most qualified, dedicated, consecrated missionary threatens the receiving community with all sorts of dangers, as skeptics justifiably point out: diseases, cultural distortions, ecological and economic disruptions, even genocide. Why isn't this list of dangers absolutely decisive in any discussion of uninvited mission?

For one thing, a genuine leading to contact a hitherto-isolated community presumably carries God's wisdom that the contact will eventually result in blessing. The first contact-initiators may die (as in the "reckless colonialism" of Operation Auca, mentioned in Stroop's article), but in God's timing, the long-term outcome is redemptive.

This reasoning relies on belief that valid prophetic leadings really do happen. But there are some less spiritual aspects to consider as well:
  • When does military or police enforcement of an uncontacted community's isolation become imprisonment as well as protection? (North Sentinel Island is guarded by India's military.) Is there a form of infantilization involved with deciding that no contact can be allowed? What assumptions are being made about the power structure on the island, the consequences of genetic isolation, the hopes and fears of minorities within that culture, the intellectual capacity of its people to evaluate and adapt to change? Are those who repel invaders speaking for everyone in the community, or for an elite? Is it enough just to assume the best? (I acknowledge that the motivations of those asking these questions should also be under scrutiny! What do they hope to gain from their intrusion?)
  • With global warming and the rise of ocean levels, and other impending ecological dangers facing all humanity, do we have the right to assume that the world's uncontacted communities must sink or swim on their own? When, if ever, do they get a voice in meeting our common fate?
  • Finally, humanity always seeks contact. In human history, most boundaries prove to be temporary, and many are actually destructive. If eventual contact might be inevitable (based on such factors as great-power military claims on land and sea, detection of mineral wealth, acquisition of desirable isolated spots by oligarchs, etc.), is it better that the initial contact be made by a genuine missionary driven by love, rather than a more mercenary representative of humanity?
As the film The Mission illustrated, there is no simple answer to any of these questions.

Screenshot from The Mission.

A couple more links to thoughtful articles related to John Chau's mission and fate:

Mere imperialism? (GetReligion)

The missionary-martyr dilemma and the rest of the Jim Elliot story. (Christianity Today.)

Update: Morgan Pomaika'i Lee and Mark Galli interview All Nations' executive Mary Ho on the podcast Quick to Listen.

Speaking of Quakers and mission: As the Bolivian Yearly Meeting of Friends (INELA) prepares to celebrate its 100th birthday, its history is about to be published. Over the next couple of months, Nancy Thomas's blog will tell parts of the story, including the question of when that history actually began.

Craig Barnett on shape and meaninglessness.
For the Quaker way too, as practised for its first three centuries, life has a definite purpose; to become completely responsive to the leadings of the Inward Guide. This means allowing ourselves to be led, loosening our grip on the reins of our life and consenting to the life that wants to be lived in us. The goal of the Quaker way is not autonomy and independence, but the ‘guided life’, an experience of life that is surrendered to the healing and transforming power of the Spirit within.
Jonathan Merritt on America's epidemic of empty churches.

Russia, Ukraine, and maritime confrontations: Andrew Roth on Ukraine's Azov Sea ports. Natalia Antonova on what's in it for Putin. Jim Kovpak on the decisions facing Ukraine. Tetiana Bezruk on what more we can expect.

Going to the Netherlands for tonight's blues dessert, with Shakedown Tim and James Harman...

22 November 2018

"Don't skip to the end."

I'm amazed at how a phrase from one book (Kate Bowler's Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I've Loved) can also shine a light on another very different book (Anthony Ray Hinton's The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row). I'm not going to tell you where Bowler uses the phrase -- consider it a tease to get you to read the book. It's just a clue to an important insight that both authors illustrate unforgettably: Whether we are on death row, or facing stage four cancer, or simply are privileged/condemned to love someone in either situation, don't stop living.

On a Moscow subway escalator, I once saw a t-shirt that proclaimed: "You always have a choice." (I agree with this, most of the time. Sometimes I think, "Among those choices are the choice to reject cliches on t-shirts.") Deciding to make choices was a crucial moment for Anthony Ray Hinton, three years into his 30-year ordeal as an innocent prisoner on death row -- but it wasn't a shiny secret weapon to overcome all the betrayals that had led him to that ordeal. Nor did it deliver him from the roller-coaster of hope and crushing disappointment as the state of Alabama continued its legal campaign to deliver him to the executioner no matter what. It didn't keep his mother alive long enough to see his ultimate vindication. But he had the choice to remain alive, aware, persistent, never losing sight of the truth that he was innocent. He claimed the choice not to give up and "skip to the end."

The legal drama that threads through Hinton's story is extremely important -- it is a vivid stress test for our whole system of criminal justice, the demonic distortions of racism, the tactics of ruthless power prevailing over the ideals of fairness, and the fearful randomness of life. Hinton quotes Supreme Court justice Breyer: "If this court had not ordered that Anthony Ray Hinton receive further hearings in state court, he may well have been executed rather than exonerated." And the chain of events leading to the Supreme Court might never have happened had Hinton's case not come to Bryan Stevenson's attention. And on and on....

Beyond that legal story, and interwoven with it, is Hinton's account of spiritual and psychological survival on death row, the unlikely friendships he made, the biblical faith he rejected and then re-examined, the book club he started, the decisions to forgive, the refusal to accept any shortcut that didn't acknowledge his innocence.

Kate Bowler's story has very little outwardly in common with Ray Hinton's. She's a young respected author and seminary professor, a Canadian transplant in North Carolina, and not a convenient suspect in a racially-compromised murder case. But she too faces a lethal deadline: the universe has conspired to impose an untimely death sentence in the form of cancer.

The cruelties she experiences are different from Hinton's, but they're real. Cruel irony: as an academic, she's a student of the prosperity gospel movement. More than just an "objective" scholar, she has immersed herself in churches shaped by this heresy (my word, not hers) and as a result is subjected to all the ways that movement explains non-prosperous outcomes. Even though she herself is anchored in healthier theology, she can't help hearing the exhortations and accusations: Everything happens for a reason. All things work together for good. God has a better plan. Our God is a God of victory. And the constant invitation to self-doubt: It's me, isn't it? There must be unexamined sin.

For Bowler, as for Hinton, the stakes are huge: Not just one's own physical end, but also separation from those one loves. And there's nothing one can do about it, despite the pervasive positivity demanded by some in our culture. As Bowler puts it,
Wherever I have lived in North America, I have been sold a story about an unlimited horizon and the personal characteristics that are required to waltz toward it. It is the language of entitlements. 
I'm not sure that black families in Alabama were sold exactly the same story, but in both books, we receive amazing raw intelligence about how the authors confronted life's lack of guarantees and found deeper anchors. Please read them, if you haven't already, and receive their hard-earned, non-glib encouragement.

Felix Culpa and our moral comportment.

The Grinch who stole Thanksgiving?

On this Earlham School of Religion leadership resources site, I found a (pdf) report on a consultation on discernment, containing a conference response I wrote over three decades ago. It's an odd sensation reading my words long after I'd forgotten writing them.

Over one-fifth of Russians live in poverty, about 28.3% live comfortably. Half the country lives between those zones. Here's RFE/RL's summary; here's the original report with many more stats and charts concerning income and income inequality, the labor market, patterns of consumption, and more.

TechRepublic's guide to holiday gift-giving.

Introduction to Tim Berners-Lee's SOLID project. (Can the World Wide Web really be "re-decentralized"?)

Being a nobody while being yourself.

Sam and Dave in full thanks-giving spirit.

15 November 2018

A special brand of patriot (1914-1918)

This past weekend, the world celebrated the end of the First World War. Here's my microscopic contribution to that celebration: a tribute to those who agreed with St. Martin of Tours (feast day, November 11!) who said "I am a soldier of Christ; it is not lawful for me to fight."

In our conversation classes in Russia, we showed the film Einstein and Eddington several times over the years. At the center of the film is the collaboration between Albert Einstein and British Quaker astrophysicist and mathematician Arthur Eddington. Eddington's pacifism comes up several times in the film. With the arrival of compulsory military service, Eddington wanted to apply for exemption as an objector, but, instead, Cambridge University certified that he was performing work of national importance.

This is how he explained his position:
My objection to war is based on religious grounds. I cannot believe that God is calling me to go out to slaughter men, many of whom are animated by the same motives of patriotism and supposed religious duty that have sent my countrymen into the field. To assert that it is our religious duty to cast off the moral progress of centuries and take part in the passions and barbarity of war is to contradict my whole conception of what the Christian religion means. Even if the abstention of conscientious objectors were to make the difference between victory and defeat, we cannot truly benefit the nation by willful disobedience to the divine will.
still from Einstein and Eddington
Conscientious objectors often faced fierce criticism from their fellow-citizens, whose own friends and relatives were facing bullets, mustard gas, and all the other hazards of combat. In one scene in Einstein and Eddington, the astronomer is accosted with that notorious symbol of shame, the white feather. Although this specific scene may be fictional, these confrontations happened often.

In Eddington's case, thanks to strong support from fellow academics who realized that his work on Einstein's theory of relativity was of paramount importance, he was allowed an exemption in order to plan for the 1919 eclipse experiment which appeared to vindicate Einstein's revolutionary ideas. Eventually, the authorities challenged his status, and it's possible that the only reason he wasn't eventually court-martialed was the end of the war.

Corder Catchpool. Source.
Some conscientious objectors served in combat situations as noncombatant medics, facing the same hazards as soldiers. Among those Friends who served in this way, I'm choosing Corder Catchpool as a source of inspiration for this post today -- not because he was the only Friend to make that decision, but because he wrote so vividly and persuasively about the agonizing choices he faced.

In 1918, Catchpool's sister and brother-in-law published his wartime letters, On Two Fronts, in which he describes his experiences on and near the front lines with the Friends Ambulance Unit. The first half of the book describes those experiences -- at times with passion, at times with humor ... and sometimes with ghastly precision.

Things changed when compulsory military service began in 1916, and the military chain of command tightened around the small bands of pacifists who operated the Friends Ambulance Unit. Catchpool could not reconcile himself to this development, and resigned his position. He applied for an absolute exemption from service while rejecting any form of alternative service that involved military oversight, and when his application was refused, he began four rounds of courts-martial and imprisonment at hard labor. Indeed, he was still in prison when the first edition of On Two Fronts was published. The correspondence from this period, after his resignation from the ambulance service, constitutes the second half of the book.

Here are some of my favorite passages from On Two Fronts:

Serving in the Friends Ambulance Unit:
[November 1914.] Both among civilians and soldiers (wounded and otherwise) I find very large opportunities for spreading Peace principles; I tell them how I hate war. This is a new idea to most of them, except the mothers who have boys at the Front. They generally agree in word if not in fact. Of course one always assumes that this war must go on till a lasting settlement can be arrived at. To suggest other than that would hardly be playing the game to the authorities, who have enlarged the rigidities of the military machine to admit a band of peace lovers [the Friends Ambulance Unit] bent upon a mission of love. But one suggests that this may be the last war, if the right spirit prevails in human hearts. [pages 27-28]

[January 1915.] But when I hear our guns booming, and the burst of the shell after, "poor Germans," I say to myself involuntarily, "I hope no one was hurt by that one," or when I see them firing with rifles and shrapnel upon a Taube [early German monoplane], as they did this morning from our courtyard, I shudder to see him brought down. I ought to be wild with joy, I know; but then I am a poor soldier, and a special brand of patriot. [49-50]

It is grand, the way men give their all -- their comfort, their lives, gladly to serve their country, in a cause they believe to be right. But when I look out of my window at night, as I do now, and see the bright starlit sky prostituted by those blood-red patches of flame, I turn away sick at heart, and go to bed and think that they with all the sublimity of their sacrifice, are dupes; we, dupes; all the world, dupes of the handfuls of charlatans who make wars, exploiting, trading upon, those nobler traits of human nature. "Your country needs you," cry armament manufacturer, Junker, Chauvinist, well knowing that at that cry millions of hearts that beat true and honest will begin to beat proudly and courageously, and millions of men will march out to slay their brothers. Thank God from the bottom of my heart for the inestimable privilege of being allowed to try to patch up the results of this ghastly mistake. But oh! the infinitesimal effect of the patching. the awful smallness of one's self amidst these vast forces. I was chatting to a lad in the wards this afternoon; both arms amputated, and he was trying to compose a letter telling his fiancée about it. Another case, in a bed near by, a young watchmaker from Besançon, writing to break it to his father, whose sole support he is, and whom he has never before left in his life, that he has lost the sight of both eyes. [50]

[March 1915] ...I'm certain I'm a saner man to-day than I was before I had to do with soldiers. they are just dear human souls, pretty simple mostly, lovable and the very salt of the earth for kindness. I haven't seen them at a bayonet charge -- I may do yet -- but of this I'm certain, that the souls lag behind those charging bodies; it isn't the souls we know and love that do it -- it's the devils that you and I are responsible for having left prowling about on the earth. And when they come back bleeding, and it's all over, that frenzy -- they're so still and gentle and loving again. [73]
Application for exemption; trials; imprisonments:

Detail from announcement of the Military Service Act (1916). Source.

[1916, addressed to the local and appeal tribunals] Conscience does not primarily object and refuse, but commands. It commands loyalty to the voice of God in the heart. I think this is the same thing, whether it is called religion or morality.

I am not chiefly concerned to secure exemption from military service, but to bear witness to the Truth as it is revealed to me: knowing that I do this whether I obtain exemption or not, so long as I remain true to principle.

I have little desire for my own safety and comfort, when hundreds of thousands of my fellow-men of all nations are laying down their lives. Most strong young men to whom the ideal makes an appeal are possessed by a passion for adventure and sacrifice in a noble cause. I am no exception: I understand and honour those, my comrades, who have enlisted in the army to fight, as the believe for the right. The greatest sacrifice I have ever made is to withhold from sharing with them their sublime self-surrender. But I too am enlisted, not merely for three years or the duration of the war, under a Captain who also calls for adventure and sacrifice in His name: whose commands to me are unmistakable, not only to act towards enemies in a very different spirit, and to overcome them redemptively with very different weapons from those which are being used on the battlefields to-day; but also to proclaim His commands and win recruits to His cause.

It is deeply painful for one who has tried, however falteringly, to give his whole life in joyful service for God and humanity, to find his allegiance to the law of the State in jeopardy. For the first time in my life I have become acutely conscious that the command of the State may be for me no longer compatible with the command of God, to whom loyalty is supreme. ... Although I cannot undertake "alternative service" under the Conscription Act (for this would imply a bargain with militarism, which I believe to be utterly wrong), nevertheless I would respectfully remind the Tribunal that, provided they are satisfied with the genuineness of my conscientious conviction, the Act (Section 2, 4.3) and Government instructions for its administration, enable them to grant me absolute exemption. [109-110]

[January 1917] We had a lovely little meeting in one of the cells last night before being locked in -- at the same time that Woodbrooke was having its prayer meeting. The thought uppermost in our minds was, "Peace I leave with you, My Peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth give I unto you; let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid." And we remembered that the promise was for all; not for us, or for our friends only; and especially all who suffer and sorrow. We sang, "Jesus, the very thought of Thee," and "How sweet the name of Jesus sounds." A soldier and two civilians came in, and stayed quietly. [113-14]
I want to do more than admire Catchpool and his comrades. I want to continue proclaiming those same commands and win recruits to the same cause. I want to be marked as that same "special brand of patriot."

If you served on the staff or committees of Friends World Committee for Consultation around the same time I did, you will remember a dear Friend, Heather Moir (1928-2009), who served in many roles, including clerk of FWCC Section of the Americas. Heather was Corder Catchpool's niece.

The film Einstein and Eddington can be viewed on this page (at least as of this evening).

More about Eddington here.

The same page has a brief biography of Catchpool.

The Journal of the Friends Historical Society has a fascinating article on Catchpool and his involvements with Germany.

When did World War I finally legally end?

A Remembrance Day sermon: scandalous or self-evident?

How Dove's Nest trains churches to keep children safe.

Micah Bales: Elijah, the widow's mite, and a way of hope.

A mini-documentary on Johnny Cash's concert at Folsom Prison.

James Cotton died last year, and Matt "Guitar" Murphy just this past June. Sobering how the generations pass....

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 (pdf; 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.

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From right around that time ...