28 May 2009

Things to wait for while waiting

On top of my list of all-time favorite recursive radio show names is the CBC's "Music to Listen to Jazz By," which I used to hear late at night during my university years in Canada. Today's theme is an echo of that name. Since I have no choice but to wait, why not learn more about the virtues of waiting?

What are we waiting for? Generally, peace on earth. Specifically, our teachers' visas for Russia. We are waiting to see if we'll be included in this year's quota of foreign workers in the Moscow Region, or will have to settle for visitor (volunteer) status again and try for the more long-term visas in January. We hope to hear from the relevant authorities in mid-June, but by then the 2008-09 fifth year students will have graduated. I've seen them at least briefly every year they've been studying at the Institute, so I am peeved that they'll graduate without me right there to cheer them on--but of course I WILL be cheering them on, wherever I am.

In the meantime, ...

1. Never stop hoping and dreaming! For example, I could be an Israeli-Palestinian peacemaker, at least in my Walter Mitty fantasy world. As preparation, I've just read an excellent book by Aaron David Miller, long-time U.S. State Department analyst and policy advisor, The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace. I don't think I've read any book that better describes the complex combinations of leadership, willpower, timing, sheer happenstance, trust, and obstinacy in the creation of impasses and breakthroughs. Although at the end, Miller gives us a list of general principles and factors for progress, his primary vehicle is an amazing series of anecdotes and interviews with the surviving principals of all the major rounds of negotiation over the last quarter-century.

His book, paradoxically, left me very sober (there are few description of the Israeli-Palestinian standoff that don't include the word "intractable") and optimistic (we're not talking about violating the laws of time and space; we're talking about creating sufficient trust and motivation among key decisionmakers--it's happened before and it can certainly happen again).

For more on the book, including audio clips from the author's interviews with many central figures, go here.

2. Keep preparing for our return. For example, we continue to work on material for our students. Among other things, we continue to collect DVDs, including two more seasons of House, M.D. My favorite episode from last year's classes was "TB or not TB" (from season two), after which we discussed the nature and reality of true selflessness. Do such heroes such as the episode's passionate anti-TB crusader really exist? We're continuing to collect films, books, and other resources that will help us contribute to the Institute's goal of forming "the crucial communication skills that will equip young people for life in society, in a wholly interdependent world."

3. I could read more theology. That can certainly be an exercise in patience. As an example, there's a book I've previously mentioned, Evangelism after Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness, by Bryan Stone.

Here's an example of what makes this important book an exercise in patience:
As we construe evangelism as a Christian practice, then, MacIntyre's more formal definition of a practice as the action of humans ordered virtuously toward a telos narrated by and embodied in a tradition will need to be qualified theologically as the action of the Spirit ordered toward the Spirit's own telos, peace, and as embodied in a community that does not exist prior to the Spirit but which is instead "constantly re-enacted and re-received in the Spirit" (Zizioulas 1997:207). This means that MacIntyre's category of narrative will also need to undergo a pneumatological qualification, for history can no longer be simply about "the past," nor can historical causality be understood as moving from past to present to future. Instead, "the sequence of 'yesterday-today-tomorrow' is transcended" in a Christian eschatology, for "the Spirit is 'the Lord' who transcends linear history and turns historical continuity into a presence" (ibid. 180).
Don't give up; an important point is coming (my emphasis):
To evangelize, therefore, is not only to transmit a story but to invite persons into that story by inviting them into a future that has been made present in the Spirit. In this respect, Christians never cease to be "seekers." Rather, they continue "looking for the city which is to come" (Heb. 13:14).
It is temptingly easy to poke fun at this dense language, and I really do think a good editor would have helped (first: ban the phrase "constitutive of"!), but I want to come to the author's defense in a couple of respects. First, the author is participating in a very specific conversation with other authors whose work is crucial for his purposes--McIntyre, McClendon, Yoder, Hauerwas, Zizioulas, and others, some of whom are concerned to build a vision and vocabulary for something like a unified field theory of christology, ecclesiology, and ethics. In the course of this intense conversation, words such as "narrative" and "practice" have taken on huge significance. If Stone had to explain these words' full cargo every time, the book would be much longer. Instead, he's trying to make his own specific contribution to a larger conversation across time, space, and Christian traditions, and expects us to do our part in understanding the context of that conversation.

Second, it's an incredibly important conversation, arguably worth hard work. Maybe, in the respectful division of labor that should constitute our gift-driven Christian community life, it's the job of some of the rest of us to translate for wider discussion and inspiration.

4. We can stay in virtual touch with our Elektrostal community. Two mornings ago, I was on Facebook, and one of our younger friends "caught" me using Facebook's "chat" function. An hour later, I was checking e-mail, and replied to something from another Elektrostal friend, who immediately replied back. The resulting exchange lasted the rest of the morning, until we absolutely had to leave for an obligation in Portland. It made my day.

5. We could listen to the onions grow, as Mitch Hepburn (perhaps apocryphally) was said to have described his involuntary retirement from the Liberal leadership of Ontario.

6. We can "pray without ceasing." I truly cherish this tradition, which I find wholly compatible with our Quaker understanding of "waiting."

This week's news from Russia included the intriguing business-news item concerning Digital Sky Technologies' investment in Facebook. As the Reuters article points out, "Curiously, DST is also the sole investor in vKontakte, Russia's most popular social network." vkontakte does a lot of what Facebook does, but has a much larger following in the Russian Internet. (A few of our Elektrostal friends are on both.)

The Reuters article charges vkontakte with being a "ripoff": "Its format looks almost exactly the same, right down to the color scheme and fonts used. The features are similar, too, with options to add friends, videos, and events, as well as post on another member's 'wall.'"

Actually, the appearance is similar, but the feel is quite different. To me, Facebook is far more "pushy" with lots of application-driven messaging, while my experience of vkontakte.ru is that the interactions are more driven by direct person-to-person (or person-to-group) posts--wall posts, a nice spray-gun "graffiti" feature, tagged photos and videos, and so on. Another useful resource is vkontakte.ru's huge library of audio and video files--including some blues clips I've not seen elsewhere! To sum up: my experience of Facebook is that messages come from a bewildering variety of directions and channels, driven by lists and surveys and quizzes of all kinds, while vkontakte interactions are generally more personal.

While we're on Russian-American business relationships, I was interested in this (video) news item about the first American commercial contracts to import nuclear fuel from Russia. (Here's a text version of the story in Russian.) Elektrostal's own nuclear fuel factory is part of the Russian combine that signed the deal, so I'd like to imagine that this story is good news for us. ~~ Friends Committee on National Legislation asks for our help in banning cluster bombs. They particularly want those of us living in U.S. states whose senators have not become co-sponsors to lobby those senators. In terms of states with "big" Quaker populations, this means North Carolina (both), Pennsylvania (Specter), Ohio (Voinovich), Indiana (both). ~~ "Christ and whose culture?"--"A new wave of Native American evangelical theologians rejects the false choice between following Jesus or embracing their traditions." ~~ Thanks to opensourcetheology.net for this referral: The Times on "God is back: How Ned Flanders won the evangelical crusade." Having experienced years of arched-eyebrow commentary on American religiosity from British friends, I find the tone of the article as interesting as the content. ~~ And now to tease those arched eyebrows yet again: Donald Rumsfeld's crusade memos, courtesy of Gentleman's Quarterly. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Maybe the most offensive slide to me was the one quoting Isaiah 26:2, "Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, The nation that keeps faith." ~~ Thanks to Wendy Clarissa for leading me to this moving story of a genuine hero and martyr, Fr. Larry Rosebaugh--perhaps the most authentic possible answer to today's fashionable macho evangelicalism.

Few things satisfy my waiting heart like the blues! In Moscow, Kenny Neal performs his version of "It Hurts Me Too." (Thank you Axledog!)


Alice Y. said...

Like the Bryan Stone stuff - sounds to me like he has caught the Quaker realized eschatology thing that Doug Gwyn & others write about, awesome.

Johan Maurer said...

Absolutely right! Humming underneath the verbiage is definitely a kindred inspiration. You feel it all through the book.

Bill said...

Waiting is part of our DNA as friends. William Shewen, a contemporary of George Fox, keeps coming back to waiting in Counsel to the Christian-Traveller:
"It is a very precious thing, to witness a true waiting upon the Lord. Many great and glorious promises are made to those that truly wait upon him....Hereby may all Christendom, so called, be tried and judged, specifically by this one word; they pretend a worshipping and waiting upon the Lord, but they lack the good things....This waiting does not begin when our solemn meetings begin, neither does it end with them, but remains always."