29 December 2005

Year-end shorts (well, perhaps not short shorts)

Radioactive Muslims: To my utter relief, I'm still capable of outrage. This story of our government monitoring radiation levels at mosques, homes, businesses, and office buildings associated with Muslims—almost all U.S. citizens, for what that's worth—was the stimulus I needed.

I'm all for monitoring any location that is linked to a credible threat, whatever the religion of its owners. That's what courts, judges, and warrants are for. Any time frame beyond the very first half-day after receiving the credible threat gives the monitors time to get a warrant. Any delay after that is blatantly illegal. If we Quakers finally succeed in living in apostolic power and shaking the countryside for ten miles around, as George Fox challenged us to, I expect that we too would be subjects of urgent monitoring, but after that first tremor, there better be a warrant.

In this present case, why were warrants not obtained? Since the agencies involved refuse to comment on this specific situation, perhaps we'll never know. The U.S. News story says, "Officials also reject any notion that the program specifically has targeted Muslims. 'We categorically do not target places of worship or entities solely based on ethnicity or religious affiliation,' says one. 'Our investigations are intelligence driven and based on a criminal predicate.'" Is it possible that this many locations were each fingered in some kind of "criminal predicate"? Or, as seems more likely to me, the investigators were perhaps acting on a suspicion or rumor or disinformation campaign involving Muslims in general and nobody in particular. How long can civil liberties survive when such repeated monitoring of whole religions and ethnic groups without judicial oversight can be carried out on government say-so?

On the other hand, now that we do know something of what happened, what would have been the proper response of the government to rumors or allegations of terrorists' nuclear intentions? One thing I'm sure of: somehow, the system of checks and balances must be involved.

Thank God that some of those government officers have consciences. Because of that golden thread of idealism—because some have the courage to risk demotion and perhaps worse—what is hidden in darkness gets forced out into the light. Sadly, I'm not betting we've seen everything. And if we citizens and our legislators do not impose political consequences on an administration so hell-bent on doing whatever it wants, there will be more. Jefferson's line, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance," is often used to justify a strong military, but its application is far wider. It takes aim at any form of laziness or passivity that surrenders the public arena to the arrogant.

2006: The Year of the Boy? Arthur O. Roberts, Quaker philosopher and poet, has just published his reflections for January 2006, hopefully to be available soon on this section of the Northwest Yearly Meeting Web site. [UPDATE: It's there now.] (If you're not familiar with his monthly reflections, enjoy browsing awhile.)

While you're waiting for the full essay, here's a representative excerpt. After citing a number of statistics from our yearly meeting and George Fox University, almost all indicating a spread of ten percent or more between male minorities and female majorities, Arthur says:
Certain public educators over the past decade have expressed concern about boys’ education. They note a pattern of higher drop-out rates, more trouble-making, lower academic performance. diminishing enrollment in colleges, etc. It’s a touchy subject, however, and has elicited some strident feminist reaction, especially to charges of “feminization” of curriculum and pedagogy. Feminist scholars insist gender bias persists favorable to boys, not to girls. (See rebuttal at www.drheller.com/jan95.html). Three decades’ worth of social effort makes it difficult to overcome a mind-set about females requiring special efforts to rectify disparities. It’s hardly “politically correct” to posit a male group needing special attention. . . . But in respect to education, at least, it seems logically compelling.
I was immediately reminded of a sorely-missed friend and collaborator of mine, the late Betsy Moen, who died twelve years ago in Madurai, India, while doing research on gender patterns in activist leadership. In the late 1980's, she and Oswald Murray and I led a Right Sharing of World Resources study tour in Jamaica. While there, Betsy gave a talk at a seminar organized by Geoff Brown at the University of the West Indies, and the next day she summarized her talk on a Jamaican Broadcasting morning television interview show.

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

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

Betsy's point: while in any given class, women may be more exploited than men, still men are exploited, too; and, equally with women, they need to open their eyes. Most of all, we should not be "targeting" people, as if they were mere subjects, fair game for our development theories; we should be targeting systems.

So ... Arthur's queries about paying more attention to the education and development of boys make sense to me. To give focused attention to the special needs of boys is not to reverse the drive toward equality, it is to examine reality and expose oppressive systems. However, I do have one caution: if the attention toward male brain research and boys' unique development patterns becomes just another trendy grant magnet, rather than an honest approach to an understudied subject, both boys and girls will lose.

The Return, again. Earlier this year I wrote about Andrei Zvyagintsev's amazing film, The Return. Now that we're paying attention to boys, with Arthur Roberts's encouragement, I wanted to report the lively discussion we had in our TV room recently when a friend of mine came over to our house and saw this movie with our family. Rather than describe the exact discussion we had, I'd like to encourage you to rent or borrow the film yourself and watch it in a group. What does it say about boys, about fathers, about their relationships? What myths of manhood are evident, and (here's where our discussion got lively) which of those myths actually have some health to them? Are the apparent exaggerations of masculinity in the film peculiar to Russia, or are they more universal? (Are they even exaggerations?!) Is it riskier to exaggerate masculinity or to marginalize it? Are these our only choices?

Righteous links: If you read Russian, you might enjoy this article about our new Friends International Library trilingual version of Lighting Candles in the Dark, entitled Power of Goodness. ~~ Has President Bush himself fallen victim to sophisticated pattern analysis of his communications? Read this. ~~ The wonderful urban monastics at 24-7prayer.com have started a new program, Living Generously, an international evangelical program that has a lot in common with our own Right Sharing of World Resources. ~~ One of the best essays to emerge from our waiting and waiting and waiting for the return of our Christian Peacemaker Teams hostages in Iraq: Gene Stoltzfus's examination of the culture of terrorism.

Friday/Saturday update: More links. Direct link to Arthur's "Year of the Boy" article. ~~ The grass is always greener, and the power more plentiful: the view across the Russian-Ukrainian border. ~~ Frank Decker on "When 'Christian' Does not Translate" (pdf) in Mission Frontiers, September-October 2005. ~~ And Anita David's eloquent message, "Our Day," from Baghdad, on Electronic Iraq.


Anonymous said...

The media do continue to glorify the macho image for men. There are some counter influences, but this image remains strong in our culture. Bush exemplifies it (and Kerry, in his pathetic attempt to unseat Bush, went to great lengths to appear more macho than Bush, even bringing his hunting rifle along and at many campaign stops killing innocent animals to prove his manhood). Our churches often do this in their men's ministries as well. At my own church, the fall men's meeting was focused around a football theme rather than a theme from scripture.

But didn't Christ show us a different way? Many people at the time Jesus walked on earth were disappointed in Him because they were looking for a macho messiah who would conquer the empire through military force. Jesus was an incredibly strong character whose strength did not rely at all on the macho stuff. He was a nurturing, suffering servant. He demonstrated a much better way to be a man.

There is a problem with males in our society. Christian churches should know the answer. Focus on the person of Jesus Christ. Teach boys and men an image of manhood based on who Jesus Christ was, and contrast it sharply to that of his opponents at the time and our culture today. I have seen references in early Quaker literature to the "tendering" men underwent as Christ transformed their lives. We can see that in the men around us who allowed Christ to take them to a very deep place. I see it in you, Johan. I see it in Arthur Roberts. We can see many other examples in our churches and meetings.

I appreciate the link to Gene Stoltzfus' article. What he says is so true. We can't really domesticate war. Its worst horrors will burst out in some way, clandestine if not open. And this is closely related to the topic of how males are socialized. The horrors of war and terrorism are the ultimate expression of the male ideal too often upheld in our culture.

It is also important to face the truth of American history. Lately I have felt compelled to respond to cliched remarks about America's glorious history with the truth. There are good parts to our history, but there is so much that is horrible - literally dozens of wars of aggression, genocide, slavery, oppression, the toppling of democratic governments and the installing of tyrannies, etc. Empires always fall, and America is an empire and is destined to fall if we don't change course. To do that, we must face our past (and present), repent of our sins, and change course. Those of us who point that out are not running down America; we are seeking to save America - first, by saving its soul.

Johan Maurer said...

Martin Luther King's April 4, 1967, sermon on the war in Viet Nam, also rooted his motivation for dissent in his desire to save America.

The most powerful recent writing I've seen that backs up what Bill says about war is Chris Hedges' book War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning.

What I believe I'm challenged to do by my relationship with God is to live my real life, not play a role. My real life may be more or less similar to "typical" masculinity, but whatever it is, it won't be because I want to match an image or role.

Trusting in the Holy Spirit (my nominee for #1 Quaker testimony) should free us from the insecurities that tempt us to hide within roles.

Thanks, Bill!