21 July 2005

Chaos and community, 2005

Bearing each other's burdens: I don't want to read too much into recent events—explosions in London, kidnappings of diplomats in Iraq, increasing anarchy in Afghanistan, Sudan's government flunking Diplomacy 101, Bush's declining popularity, return of targeted assassinations in Israel/Palestine, increasing evidence of global warming, and on and on—but the word that comes to me is chaos.

The only antidote I know to chaos and its main consequence, fear, is to build up community. (The false variant of ceding more power to those who best know what's good for us, our governments, is not an antidote to fear, it is a surrender to fear.) Speaking directly to Christians, we need to be thinking about how we bear one another's burdens, and how to keep the doors of universal hospitality wide open to anyone who wants to experience this sharing of burdens.

As a terminal introvert, I find that this takes a real effort, but I'm so grateful to know who at Reedwood Friends Church, at Friends United Meeting, and in my other webs of caring relationships, I can call on when my personal chaos or the world's threats seem to be overwhelming. In some (hypothetical) catastrophic situation, these are the people I or my relatives would call on for help. Just knowing that (and remembering that I cannot pass beyond God's care) keeps fear at bay.

Recently I apologized for calling on a friend of mine for help. She reminded me that I wouldn't hesitate to do the same thing for her. (True.)

The people in our churches and communities probably are ready to think about and do more for each other than we might assume. When two of our members at First Friends Meeting in Richmond, Indiana, asked the meeting to take their war tax resistance under their care and oversight, our (probably majority Republican) meeting agreed not only to accompany these Friends to any tax court proceeding but to be prepared to provide practical support in case the proceedings ended in confiscation of property.

Kind questions: Recently, London's mayor Ken Livingstone and an Israeli spokesperson had an exchange typical for modern public discourse: Livingstone suggested that the way the West treats the Arab world was a cause of terrorism, and that our past miscalculations were coming home to roost; and the spokesperson, along with many others, charged that Livingstone was apologizing for terrorism. We are apparently not allowed to reflect on root causes (no matter how obvious) without being counted among the enemy. "Don't think, just use our message." (See New Statesman, "The Politics of Delusion.")

My first response was to remember a book about dealing with difficult personalities. Sometimes you just have to calmly repeat your truth over and over in the face of such blasts.

I also remembered these words by Yakov Krotov, which I also quoted somewhere in my Evangelism and the Friends Testimonies forum. His advice concerns bearing a courteous Christian witness across lines of faith, but I think his disciplines are useful for general discourse as well. In my mind, I combine these principles with the one from the book on difficult people: keep calmly repeating what you believe, over and over.
... I have formulated five principles which aid me in my efforts not to proselytize, and still bear Christian witness. They are: 1) ask only kind questions; 2) answer only kind questions; 3) understand that our fight is against evil spirits, not confessions; 4) understand that love means the sharing of information; and 5) care more for individuals than organizations.

In asking only kind questions, you can ask, "Do you know you are a sinner?" [I—Johan—would add, "... although probably no more than I am" and would probably not open a conversation with this line!] This is a kind question. A question such as, "Do you know that Catholics are enemies of Christ?" is an evil question because it elicits ill will towards Catholics. Another evil question is: "Do you know icons are idols?" Refrain from asking such questions in order not to elicit ill will. This means that you voluntarily resolve never to be the aggressor, never to attack a denomination. If you want to provide some information in another form, you can use the third principle.

In answering only kind questions, you are not obliged to answer questions which contain a form of trickery. When someone asks your opinion of the Unification Church, you may answer honestly, but honesty is not enough. You also need some wisdom. The same question can be asked with opposite intentions. A person can ask about Catholics because he hates them. He may only want to receive from you ideological fuel for his hatred. If you are preaching publicly, he wants to manipulate you as a weapon of his hatred. Don't elicit ill will. Ask him to speak to you privately.

Our fighting is against evil spirits, not confessions. "We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph 6.12). Here is a secret if you enjoy condemning centuries of the veneration of icons, for example. You want to condemn icons as a dangerous example of worshiping idols? Condemn the spirit of idol-worshiping without mentioning icons at all. Let your listeners decide for themselves whether icons are idols. Give them principles and leave the conclusions to them.

This tactic must be done very carefully and seriously. If listeners feel that you are holding back because of some manipulative intentions, you will lose. You must really feel that not icons, nor the Roman papacy, nor Russian Orthodox nationalism, for example, are the main enemies. They are only 'flesh and blood,' but you can and must fight against the spiritual roots of evil. Certainly this is difficult, because most people, even adults, better understand concrete things, not abstractions. You must feel that you are struggling not with principles, but with principalities. You must attain to the spiritual experience of the concreteness of 'heavenly places.'

Love is sharing information. This simple truth allows us to share information about salvation. It makes oneself a missionary. If you want to be the best missionary, share information not only about Christ, but about yourself, and share it not only with your listeners, but with those who don't listen, those who don't want to listen, even with those who want to deprive you of listeners, to make you silent, to expel you.

This means that you should admit your denominational affiliation when you preach to newcomers. Do this not to convert others to your confession. Do it in order to avoid accusations of trying to look like you are Russian Orthodox. Such accusations have already been made in Russia. ... From my point of view missionaries must show not only honesty but also love, which includes tact and scrupulousness.
(Yakov Krotov, "Is it possible to witness and not proselytize?", from God in Russia: The Challenge of Freedom, ed. Sharon Linzey and Ken Kaisch. Lanham MD: Univ Press of America, 1999, pp68-91.)

Romance and power: A recent article in the Oregonian (by Todd Lewan of the AP), "Nine months after storms, a baby wave hits Florida," included this classic scene:
... Woolard and de la Cruz are enjoying their first baby—a 6-pound, 2-ounce boy, whom they named Michael. Like many Florida couples during the hurricane blitz of 2004, they did more than take refuge in the closet.

"It really was romantic," de la Cruz, a 39-year-old medical technologist, recalled recently, hours after her son was born. "We'd just gone through a traumatic storm, and we'd helped each other through it, and—well, it gave us a real feeling of closeness."

Says Woolard, a 41-year-old forklift operator: "Our power was out for three days. What else were we going to do?"

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