21 December 2006

Christmas shorts

Why I still call myself a pacifist. One of my friends at Reedwood Friends Church often says that she prefers the word "peacemaker" to "pacifist"; the latter word connotes passivity to too many people.

I prefer to defend a word whose popular understanding still bears some resemblance to the meaning that its bearers, and the dictionary, would own. (Wikipedia: "Pacifism covers a spectrum of views ranging from the belief that international disputes can and should be peacefully resolved, to absolute opposition to the use of violence, or even force, under any circumstances." Wordnet: "The doctrine that all violence is unjustifiable.") The word "peacemaker" has its own set of valuable references, but also for me carries an echo of the old U.S. military tagline, "Peace is our profession."

As we prepare to celebrate the symbolic birthday of the Prince of Peace, the topic of pacifism came back to me because of Richard M.'s thoughtful post on the subject, "Witness," and the comments that followed. I continue to cling to the conviction that the human species will probably fight as long as we are (honestly) still animals with overdeveloped nervous systems. But I also believe that the believing animal can be freed from fear, and his or her herd instinct can be accessed and engaged toward commitment to a community whose ethics and behavior remove violence as the default option for an ever-increasing variety of threats.

Jesus is the way I, a human animal, have a relationship with the Creator of all us animals, a Creator who gave us our bodies and capacities--including a capacity for spiritual awareness. Being able to trust that Jesus means what he says (as in "love your enemies"; "I will be with you always, to the end of time"; and "I go to prepare a place for you") is just what I need to loosen my grip on violent solutions. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less.

Thank you for keeping the reality in pacifism for me, Jesus, and Happy Birthday!!

Looking over the past year's blog entries, I realize that I repeat myself a lot, but that's okay because a month after I've written one, nobody is looking at it anymore anyway. Usually, that's no big loss, but sometimes those entries have hugely important comments written by others. For the category of "blog entry most improved by the comments," I nominate "Are Quakers marginal?--part two." [Late Christmas Eve PS: Bill Samuel has just added another interesting comment there. Thanks, Bill!] Second place: "Risk and resurrection."

Interesting conversations are taking place on both sides of the Atlantic concerning the public space Christianity (including the supposedly Christian holiday of Christmas) is entitled to take up. Simon Barrow's always-interesting "Faith in Society" blog has tracked this topic, particularly for the U.K.; for example, "Loosening Christianity from Christendom." (Ironic tangent: Simon also points us to this sad Ekklesia post, "Americans not sure where Bethlehem is, survey shows.")

It's popularly assumed that the U.K. has gone further than the USA in evicting Christianity, or at least Christendom, from its cultural catbird seat, but a perfectly parallel analysis isn't possible. For one thing, Christianity has cultural entrenchments in the United Kingdom that Americans do not have. Despite our incumbent's pretensions, the U.S. President is explicitly prohibited from defending The Faith. Yes, the Congress has chaplains and prayers, but no entity of government has any role in naming any church officer, and no church officer has any automatic entre into any chamber of government. While American culture and tradition is probably every bit as marinated in Christian symbols as Britain's, our sauce might arguably be spiced with less establishment-oriented, more rebellious forms of religiosity. In any event, however the Christian stuff is attached to the social fabric in either country, the staples and glue are applied differently here. (Some might say that our glue is tackier.)

On the subject of the public space taken up by Christmas, I am, as usual, a bundle of contradictions. On the one hand, I'm naive enough to wish that non-Christians could enjoy the cultural festival, with all its colorful decorations, not to mention commercial add-ons and plug-ins, that Christianity has somehow bequeathed to the larger culture, without feeling oppressed by the Christian origins of the festival. Just because an element of our nation's culture has roots in a religion doesn't make them poisonous (I want to hope)--otherwise, who would want to live in Philadelphia, the "City of Brotherly Love"? Or in any city or state or community founded on explicit spiritual values and hopes, as thousands were?

On the other hand, why must Christians be so hypersensitive and pugnacious in defending the most superficial and almost incidental artifacts of our belief system?? Don't we want our public presence to be accompanied by the fragrant incense of faith, hope, and love, instead of threats of lawsuits and a rhetorical fist in the old kisser? To me, the most important reason for any manifestation of Christianity to be public is to provide evangelistic access points to "taste and see that the LORD is good," not to reinforce our sociopolitical status for internal gratification.

A Jewish colleague just IM'ed me "Merry Christmas" as she left work. What gives me some comfort is that we ordinary people will muddle through just fine, wishing each other "merry Christmas" and "happy holidays" with more than adequate intuition for both intent and audience, even as the intellectual athletes go round after round in either documenting or vainly resisting the collapse of arrogant Christendom.

Righteous links: Well, Lauren Sheehan isn't using the "Christmas" label for her "Soulstice" concerts at various McMenamin's locations in NW Oregon, including tomorrow's at Hotel Oregon in McMinnville, but I plan to try to get there anyway. She is a wonderful presenter of blues and folk music's spiritual dimension as well as its more overtly playful elements.

Here is great material for my thesis that our discipleship testimonies (including pacifism/peacemaking) are deeply evangelistic: Jerry Levin writes a Hebron Reflection, "We are the Message," on the Christian Peacemaker Teams' message board.

This might be a logical place for my biennial plug for my own forum on the subject of evangelism and the Friends testimonies. If you've already visited, nothing much has changed in the last few months, but if you've never looked, please visit and leave your comments. I keep intending to move it to another hosting service, but for the time being Network 54 seems to be doing a decent job preserving the material. (Pop-ups used to be a huge problem, but not so much anymore.)

Brian Ross probes the very limits of irony in his "Confessions of Emerging Guy" at TheOOZE dot com. It's worth gritting your teeth and reading to the end.

A harvest of inspiring links, all gathered in one place by Aj Schwanz in her reflection on Northwest Yearly Meeting's Board Retreat, "A Time to Gather and a Place to Share."

Adding to Robin M's list of "coming attractions": Reedwood Friends is hosting a Friends World Committee regional conference in March. Theme: Poverty, Compassion and Economic Justice. See FWCC Americas regional events page.

My YouTube-powered Christmas gift to blues lovers, Howlin' Wolf performing "How Many More Years?" (from 1965). As one commenter points out, it's a bit of period surrealism to see how all the women in the audience are dressed the same. [PS: The clip is from Shindig, which explains the women's attire. YouTube pulled the clip, so I've substituted one of the several copies on dailymotion.com.]


Anonymous said...

As someone who recently discovered your blog and then read through the entirety of your archives in a few days, I would like to say that I have not found it to be noticeably repetitive even on that scale. In cases where you do repeat the examination of some thought or idea, it's usually because it's significant to you or honestly requires a cud-chewing.

I regretted blazing through all the stuff you've written, actually, because it means there's no more left to read. But it does mean I am always greedily interested to see your new posts.

I don't always agree with your conclusions but I think you're a thoughtful observer, and more importantly, you seem to work diligently to observe with integrity of character. So I hope to enjoy a similar review post near the end of 2007.

Lest this sound too worshipful, I find your personal hygiene lacking and your ancestors dim-witted, and your favorite foods repulse me. And your toes are too long.

Johan Maurer said...

My true worshippers take my insightful posts and frame them in needlepoint.

You mean my carnation soap hasn't been as effective as I'd hoped? *sigh* My ancestors put all their intellectual efforts into growing long toes, and look where that has gotten me. My favorite food is enchiladas verdes at El Rodeo in Richmond, Indiana, but I experience it only once a year.

Christmas greetings to you, too!

I recently inhaled a huge, rich section of Simon Barrow's weblog. He's much more prolific than I am, and usually more profound (sorry Simon, I can't do needlepoint), so I've not read everything yet. But I did just notice that he tagged me recently with the question, Five Things You Probably Didn't Know About Me. Here are mine:

1. My favorite food is enchiladas verdes from El Rodeo in Richmond, Indiana.

2. I have never abandoned my allegiance to the Chicago White Sox. That ought to settle discussions about my profundity.

3. I'm a member of the Communication Workers of America.

4. My maternal grandmother called me "Freddilein." (I lived with my Oma and Opa in Stuttgart for a couple of years when I was very young.)

5. My longest toe is about 5.2 cm long.

I hereby tag any reader with the same five questions.