02 February 2006

I Googled myself ...

Google's Chinese site... but not the way you think—I didn't put my name into the search engine. (I did do that a few years ago and found out from several sites that I was on my way to hell because I'd signed some ecumenical anti-war statements as general secretary of Friends United Meeting.)

No, this time I'm referring to something else. The story began a week ago on Monday, when my beloved laptop computer's hard disk lost its drive. No amount of motivational urging seemed to bring Cranespoon's drive back. (That's its name.)

I phoned my computer's HMO (I'd paid in advance for its health care when I bought the computer), and in a couple of days a padded box arrived to transport my shiny paperweight to what I was assured would be a clean room, where its drive would be restored. In the meantime, I used our old desktop computer, affectionately named the Amethystspoon, using files stored on a yet older computer, Titaniumspoon. Its ancestor, Woodenspoon, a first-generation Pentium computer, left us less than a year ago, after years of honorable retirement as a Linux box serving our family network.

Cranespoon returned yesterday after its hard-disk transplant. My work files had all been safe—backed up on the Titaniumspoon, and as attachments sent to gmail, and on a distant vpn server—but my idiosyncratic set of programs needed to be reassembled. That's where Google came in: when looking for Google Desktop for indexing and new-mail announcements, I saw they had assembled a big bunch of useful programs all into one download—Desktop, Picasa photohandling, Firefox browser, Realplayer, Adobe Reader, Ad-Aware. After that one-stop Google site, I only had a few more places to visit for downloads: openoffice.org for my word processing, and sourceforge.net for GAIM instant messaging, Audacity audio file handling, and Juice podcast receiver. After a day of downloading, and a few more traditional CD installations—Corel WordPerfect, Palm Desktop, Olympus DSS Player—my computer had regained its drive.

Letting Google have so much of my hard drive gave me pause. I enjoyed John C. Dvorak's defense of Google in light of the China controversy (and his account of the dubious antiquity of their supposed motto "Do no evil"). I enjoy the whimsy of a search engine that offers Klingon and Pig Latin versions of their home page. I'm even slightly glad that they may actually represent a civilian entity with more intelligence capacity than the National Security Agency. I just hope that this whimsy and the moral transparency that characterized their agonizing over the Chinese restrictions will prevent them from becoming the information-utility equivalent of Enron.

From out of the mouths of non-Quakers comes the essence of Quaker evangelism: "Fresh Ministry" interviews Erwin McManus:

EM: "Every human has God placed evidences within their soul. Postmodern evangelism is extracting those evidences from the soul and show them to them. I say, 'Inside you is a craving you need to listen to.'"

FM: How has postmodernism affected the church?

EM: "The churches that will cease to exist are not those who are doctrinally errant, but are spiritually errant. You can't get away with it anymore. You can't just talk about what the bible says, you better flesh it out or you are dead."

"That's what's exciting about the world in which we live. Only the viable church of Jesus Christ will survive, the inauthentic need not apply. I want to live in the world that if the church is not the revolution that Jesus died to establish 2000 years ago it ceases to exist. I want to live in a world where the church has no more crutches, or buffers to guard her from injury. I want a church where a culture no longer protects her. Whenever the gospel enters an environment, it prevails."

"Its not about structures, strategies, programs or patterns. If you don't rediscover the apostolic, you'll die!"

I am wholeheartedly in unity with these sentiments, but too often they strike me, upon reflection, as a sort of evangelical machismo. Does it eventually mean more than having digital projection confessionals, or having Starbucks in church (or even vice versa)? Is it just another version of entrepreneurial church-building by and for personality-driven "highly effective" males? (Well, usually males.) Those nun books are looking better! (Reading Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede reminds me of how radical "enclosure" can be, how defiant of the world's values.)

Or is something else, something new, going on when we hear such brave statements as "I want to live in a world where a culture no longer protects [the church]"? I posted on another weblog my sense that there is a deep mutual reinforcement between the concepts of evangelism and civil disobedience, or, to use the tagline of Christian Peacemaker Teams, between the concepts of evangelism and "getting in the way."

PS: What makes it all so complicated is that even the alpha males of evangelicalism sometimes get it right (let me think: have I ever had mixed motives??) and anyway, they no longer have a monopoly on airtime. What gives me hope are little evidences here and there, such as the prayer letters from the InterVarsity workers at Reed College, of Jesus himself showing up without warning or authorization. These letters are just too tender for me to post here, but miracles happen. (NOTE: The husband in this InterVarsity team, Michael Havens, is the grandson of the late beloved Friends Joe and Teresina Havens.)

And I can't do better than to get an eyeful of the stories at 24-7prayer.com.

What does 'carnal' mean?—a preface: For some time, I've been wanting to reflect on the word "carnal"—for example, as it was used in the letter from a Friends meeting in Indiana to Quaker Life, protesting one of our articles. An interesting weblog entry from Peter Blood anticipated some of the subject, and I've been thinking a lot about both the cheer and the distress I feel reading his words. (Thanks to quakerquaker.org for the reference.)

Not a moment too soon, there's growing evidence of a willingness to discuss these tender subjects of physicality, sexuality, and holiness. Twice recently, the Barclay Press Web site has also opened a forum, via book discussions on Real Sex and Sexuality and Holy Longing, to address sexuality in a helpful way. Further back, I remember Herb Lape raising concerns in the context of New York Yearly Meeting's rewriting of its discipline; and I vividly remember Friends United Meeting's struggles to survive the clashes of angry Friends on both "sides" of sexual-ethics debates who sometimes seemed to feel no regret about nearly destroying the community in whose arenas they fought.

At the 1991 World Conference of Friends in Honduras, some Latin American Friends were deeply distressed by the spectacle of English-speaking Friends dancing one evening after a Garifuna cultural presentation; I wish many more Friends could have been present the next day as small groups processed the clash in understandings of holiness and culture. Some Friends seem predisposed to see corrupting carnality everywhere they look, to be warded off by strict behavioral guidelines; others seem amazingly casual, even clueless, about the psychic realities underlying the ways we dress, dance, consume, and—too often—abdicate our responsibilities as parents and elders in community, to the point where it begins to look as if those cautious Holiness types sometimes have a slightly better grip on reality. Maybe some of the recent discussions of plain dress and varying interpretations of modesty have contributed to the more tender climate that we seem to be enjoying. Plain Friends may be contributing to a healthy dialogue among those who formerly would too quickly dismiss each other as "holiness" or "liberal."

Timing is everything. I apparently missed my chance to go back to the city of my birth without going bankrupt. Reuters (via Yahoo) tells me that my beloved Oslo has become the world's most expensive city. I've been wondering when to use my frequent flyer miles to visit my relatives again, but it seems that the air fare would be the least of my expenses.

FRIDAY PS: ChristianityToday.com on Black History Month. Christianity Today's holiday portal for Black History Month includes links to articles by two of the Voice of Calvary leaders under whom I was privileged to work 31 years ago in Jackson and Mendenhall, Mississippi—Dolphus Weary and John Perkins. (Thanks to Northwest Yearly Meeting's peace education coordinator, Kayla Walker Edin, for this reference.)


Anonymous said...

Joe Havens must be turning over in his grave: his GRANDSON working for an

Or did John McCandless just get the last laugh?


Johan Maurer said...

Hi, Vail! Your mention of John McCandless brings back memories of, among other things, the Faith and Life Movement. I had some of his pamphlets, but I think they've long since disappeared. If you know of a supply somewhere, please tell me. I didn't see any sources online when I looked up <"John McCandless" Hemlock"> or <"John McCandless" Quaker> on Google, although I did find some other nice links, including his archives at Swarthmore College. My favorite was Risa Bear's "Renascence Editions and the Art of Online Publishing."