05 January 2012

New Year shorts

Here's how procrastination works. I've been meaning to use these vacation days to (1) grade exams, and (2) write a paper on using songs in the classrooms for our conference on the dialogue of languages and cultures scheduled for our institute in March. So far I've used them to read Anne Lamott and Jo Nesbø, not to mention a horrifying book on the rise and fall of the gas chamber; watch movies and TV with Judy; go shopping; enjoy guests; help make "Olivia" salad and carrot cake; and sleep. Here it is Thursday; Saturday is Christmas (in Russia) and Monday I go back to work. Hmmm.

I have no comment on the Republican caucuses in Iowa, USA, two days ago. I do have a comment on the way the state of Iowa is often portrayed in the media, as a place where uneducated people walk around with their knuckles grazing the ground, with the exception of a few enlightened urbanites in four or five parts of the state. When I was on the Friends United Meeting staff, I visited Iowa a fair number of times--almost always in rural parts of the state. (Maybe metropolitan Oskaloosa doesn't qualify as rural.) I saw a lot of evidence that people in Iowa take education very seriously, seem unusually willing to receive new immigrants and refugees, and stay in touch with national and world events. Quakers, both pastoral and nonpastoral, are not numerous in the state--at last count there were about forty congregations--but they do have deep roots.

It was fun to see signs in Norwegian at the McDonalds restaurant in Decorah, Iowa. And I knew I was in Fairfield when I saw the golden domes of the Maharishi University of Management campus.

Another thing I've successfully put off: writing an article about a genre or theme in Christian writing that might be called ... well, I'm at a loss for a catchphrase. Donald Miller and Anne Lamott are two of the authors I have in mind. Maybe you can name some others. These authors lace their prose with evocative and imaginative Christian references, with far more conversion power, luminosity, grace, sass, and miraculous potential than I associate with liberal Christianity. At the same time, they stick their tongues out at straitjacket variations of evangelical culture. It seems to me that their writings throb with more joy and sorrow and desire than most other Christian nonfiction.

Some other writers I like who are not far off from Miller and Lamott are Robert Farrar Capon, Frederick Buechner, Lauren Winner, and Kathleen Norris. (I'm sure you can name many more; one source for ideas would be people who've participated in Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing.) I just feel, fairly or unfairly, that these other writers are more invested, publicly, in their orthodoxy than Miller and Lamott, who basically leave it to us to decide whether we're gratified or scandalized by their lack of reassuring formulas.

Not that orthodoxy itself is boring. (Capon's Hunting the Divine Fox remains one of my all-time favorite invitations to Christian faith--hard to beat for sheer engaging delight.) But I remember my pre-conversion life over 37 years ago, when violence and betrayal had shattered all trust I'd ever had in self-proclaimed authorities, whether in family, government, or the religion industry. It's that shattered heart (still not forgotten) that writers like Anne Lamott and Donald Miller speak to. I don't think I'm alone.

A heartfelt goodbye and thank-you to Gordon Hirabayashi, a Friend in Canadian Yearly Meeting whose persistent witness to idealism was important to me in my early years as a Friend. (I explained this a bit here.) Gordon died three days ago in Edmonton, Alberta. (New York Times; National Public Radio.)

How to Save the USA from its own imperial messiah complex!!--learn to spot and absolutely distrust that rhetorical red flag four-letter word "must." As in this op-ed, "How to Save Iraq From Civil War."

Today's news brought word of more horrible acts of terrorism in Iraq; MSNBC's headline says "Iraq blasts kill at least 72, raise specter of civil war." Against this sort of background, the op-ed authors plead:
The United States must make clear that a power-sharing government is the only viable option for Iraq and that American support for Mr. Maliki is conditional on his fulfilling the Erbil agreement and dissolving the unconstitutional entities through which he now rules. Likewise, American assistance to Iraq’s army, police and intelligence services must be conditioned on those institutions being representative of the nation rather than one sect or party.


Unless America acts rapidly to help create a successful unity government, Iraq is doomed.
Once again, we're told that only our influence can prevent disaster. Never mind that a chain of U.S. interventions, at the cost of countless billions of U.S. tax dollars and thousands of precious lives, is interwoven with the preceding disasters. I recognize that the op-ed is not asking for military intervention, but rather political and financial pressures. But those "musts" continue to bother me; they're part of a drumbeat that we march to all too often: the USA must determine the balance of power in the Persian Gulf, the Korean peninsula, the Palestinian conflict, Central Asia.... Let me reword the plea: unless America acts rapidly to re-establish democratic control over the U.S. military, the intelligence services, the financial sector, and the national budget, our own republic is doomed.

Rachel Held Evans, "Loving the Bible for what it is, not what I want it to be."

Books & Culture considers four important questions about the King James Version of the Bible.

Patricia Barber (and commenters): "Primitive Christianity Revived--but not by us."

Esther Choi sparks a vital discussion about the Occupy movement and its failures--particularly the accountability vacuum around class arrogance. (Thanks to Judy Goldberger @ Facebook/Quakers Talk About Racism.)

In honor of Christmas (in two days here in Russia), here's a Christmas blues guitar jam from Denmark: "Silent Night." I'd like to think that Franz Xaver Gruber would approve of this version.

1 comment:

Jeremy Mott said...

Thank you, Johan, for reporting the death of Gordon Hirabayashi, who was a hero not only to Japanese Americans, but also to many Friends in both the U.S.A. and Canada. I studied his life in some detail when helping the late William Hohri (a Methodist) write a book called Repairing America on the movement for reparations for Japanese Americans.
(William's widow reports that the book is being translated into Japanese. And I've never written a book in English!) I missed the
reports you linked in the Times and on NPR, so you did me (and no doubt other Friends) a valuable service. It was hard to get people to realize that Hirabayashi was imprisoned twice----first for refusal to co-operate with the "internment" (actually concentration camp) program, then for refusal of induction into the armed forces.
Your reminder that not everyone in Iowa is freakish is also quite valuable. My mothers' parents both grew up there; they met and married at Simpson College in Indianola; they were not Friends but Methodists, though there was a Friend in my grandfather's family, who had been disowned for marrying
out of meeting.
I must say that Iowa Friends could do a far better job at-----what is the Quaker word?---intervisitation. West Branch has three Friends meetings: a church (FUM), an unprogrammed meeting Conservative) and the meeting at Scattergood School. Nnt one of these groups ever intervisits with another, I'm told; nor does the school ever visit the Friends miission on the nearby Mesquakie Indian Reservation!
How about it, Friends? We can get to know each other, and then we may be able to help each other.
Jwewmy Morr