07 February 2013

February shorts

Forty minutes.

I've posted many a love letter to unprogrammed Friends worship on this blog, passionately advocating that the Holy Spirit can totally be trusted to lead our meetings for worship. Over the years I've also resisted the ideas that open worship is for "our kind of people"--you know, deep, with long attention spans, perhaps introverted, probably from middle-class northern European cultures.... The apparent implication: "others" from more "rhythmic" or "emotional" cultures probably wouldn't find "our" worship suitable.

It has seemed to me that any form of worship of God the Holy One involves dedicating a particular time and place for our community's purpose of desiring and expecting a direct encounter with that One. How could this presuppose a particular cultural background or a specific temperament?

Not that we find a huge variety of cultures and temperaments in today's Quaker church, at least not in Europe and North America. I wonder whether this is partly because of inadequate Christian education, and partly because those who ache to quake are put off by our predominantly wooden affect. What do you think?

All of this has come up for me now because a Russian Quaker I deeply respect, one who has many years of experience (and a robust record of plain speaking!), came right out and said at our Christmas meeting for worship that forty minutes is about as much unprogrammed worship as she can take. Having experienced the variety of Friends worship at international gatherings under Friends World Committee's care, she'd like us to experiment with programming. I find this sobering and fascinating. This conversation comes to us, not from perennial tugs-of-war between unprogrammed and programmed (or liberal vs evangelical) Friends, but from an honest voice in a congregation that has always been unprogrammed.

Are there other Friends communities that have experienced similar conversations?

Gun accountability.

Many discussions of gun control in the USA center on the protection of "keeping and bearing arms" provided by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Whether we like it or not, that amendment has a huge constituency in the country, some parts of which are convinced that any drive to increase gun control would actually be part of a larger drive to curb all civil liberties and convert our former democracy into a socialist hell.

As I argued a few weeks ago, new gun controls should not be based on tricking our way around the Constitution, trying to find a way to weaken its plain meaning. To do that would be to invite similar treatment of the rest of the Bill of Rights.

Would it help to draw more explicit parallels with the First Amendment? Many of us who are not passionate gun owners are still very passionate about freedom of speech, the press, religion, and assembly. All of these freedoms are, of course, subject to misuse, and all serious cases can lead to prosecution. Slander and libel, plagiarism and copyright infringement, violations of official secrecy, all manner of religious abuse and cruelties, assorted public nuisances and rioting are all against the law--but in most cases, the consequences follow the abuse.

Somehow, we collectively seem to have formed a country saturated with guns and with a culture that too often romanticizes their use. Maybe we can't prohibit most people from having them, but can't we at least be absolutely sure that, from now on, every gun's serial number and description and purchaser and subsequent owner are carefully and securely recorded? With photos and fingerprints? Can we resist the implication that an ironclad registration regime is a form of infringement? Have as many guns as you want, but don't conceal your links with each and every one of them. (When I sold my father's Beretta after his death, it was a completely off the record transaction. I never even knew its serial number, and the police station where I originally offered to surrender it for free simply advised me on how much I should sell it for!) If ownership of guns is so sacred, let's make accountability for their use equally sacred.

Some will say that we already have registration. If we're serious about it, the last person in the chain of ownership should face serious consequences every time a gun is used in a crime, even if that person is a dealer, manufacturer, or the hapless victim of an unreported burglary. Gun owners should shoulder their fair share of our Second Amendment risk.

While we're at it, register those drones.

Those who worry about the erosion of democracy should not limit their concern to the mythical threat of gun control. (When it comes to lethal force, the government will always have an overwhelming advantage.) In the past few days, the nature of the government's deprecation of due process has become very clear as we read horrifying details of the "targeted killing" policies of the Obama administration. Here is a clear meeting point for the "Tea Party," the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and the American Civil Liberties Union: as the "White Paper" obtained by NBC contends (in the ACLU's summary),
...[T]he government has the authority to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen if "an informed, high-level official" deems him to present a "continuing" threat to the country. This sweeping authority is said to exist even if the threat presented isn't imminent in any ordinary sense of that word, even if the target has never been charged with a crime or informed of the allegations against him, and even if the target is not located anywhere near an actual battlefield. The white paper purports to recognize some limits on the authority it sets out, but the limits are so vague and elastic that they will be easily manipulated.
On the one hand, I don't want to overreact. On a strictly pragmatic level, we can credit the Obama administration with trying to find some kind of legal doctrine for a practice carried out without apology by most of the world's spy agencies and covert strike forces. But on the other hand, why bother even having a constitution, why bother boasting that we're a "city on a hill," distinguished by due process and the equal protection of the law, when government officials can advance a theory--and kill people based on that theory--that sets the constitution aside whenever they, and they alone, deem it expedient?

"And yet here's the strange thing:"--observes Tom Engelhardt in introducing Todd Miller's article "Living in a Constitution-Free Zone"--"even when such news hits the front page of the newspaper of record, it somehow doesn't make much of an impression on us. As various forms of perpetual war are made 'legal' by the White House, remarkably few find this worth the bother to discuss or debate, no less protest." Maybe it doesn't behoove us to criticize the civic passivity we sometimes see in other countries we're familiar with.

An "extroverted mystic" asks, "Is Quakerism 'Worship for Introverts'?" (I've often argued that, if we avoid linear comparisons, Friends can claim important overlaps with both Eastern Orthodoxy and Pentecostals.)

"The Resurrection is the greatest act of civil disobedience in all of human history."--John Dear in "Civil Disobedience and Discipleship to Jesus."

Simon Barrow asks, "What kind of a leader will Archbishop [of Canterbury] Justin Weber be?"

A useful context-setting article for last week's post on the Noah Shelter: "In Russia, volunteers step up." The shelter is mentioned on page two.

One commenter makes an overly glib comparison between Russia and the USA: "It appears their legal structure is designed to make everything forbidden, except what is explicitly allowed. By contrast, our American system is predicated on everything being allowed that is not explicitly forbidden. It is a huge difference, and perhaps illustrates why this apparently (to western eyes) ordinary behavior would be viewed with suspicion there, both by authorities and citizens alike." This is not a fair comparison at all; most Russians we know would laugh and say something like this: "No, we don't worry about what is 'allowed' or 'forbidden'; we all do more or less exactly what we want, and without a strong government there would be chaos. The problem isn't a strong government; we want that! The problem, if any, is a negligent and corrupt government."

Quaker scholar Sarah Ruden's unique voice once again: here's her engaging review of Roger Kimball's The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia.

Another unique voice... [Video removed, would very much like to have it restored!]

Grace Laxson :: Before the Throne from Antioch Church on Vimeo.


Mackenzie said...

I'm not sure the Second Amendment is as plainly written as you claim. If I recall correctly, there is a comma that sometimes is, and sometimes isn't (and this goes back to the earliest printings too) included, which gives a change to the relationship between the "well-regulated militia" bit and the "keep and bear arms" bit.

Johan Maurer said...

The independent clause is very plainly written, and there is no obvious way to make the dependent clause (concerning a well-regulated militia) control the "shall not be infringed" part. However, the idea of a militia being well-regulated is fascinating to me; it implies to me that sensible regulations are not the same as infringements.

One problem is that, speaking generally, those who advocate gun control and a more limited approach to the Second Amendment are almost in a separate cultural world from those who interpret any such limitation as a diabolical threat to their freedom. For example, those who want to limit gun freedom often don't want to limit other freedoms, such as those labeled "pro-choice."

In any case, I have no hope that grammarians will succeed in adjusting the traditional pro-gun interpretation of the Second Amendment, but I do hope that a shocked citizenry will finally succeed in imposing some regulatory sanity on the gun market so that gun manufacturers, sellers, and buyers cannot hide from their share of the risk that this interpretation imposes on all of us.

Jay T. said...

In four US states legislation has recently been proposed to require firearm owners to carry liability insurance. This is similar to requirements for auto drivers.

Johan Maurer said...

Liability insurance sounds good--but presumably the gun owner would have to pay. Courts might interpret that as an infringement. Anyway, I'm for anything that links the right to keep and bear arms with the responsibility to help bear the increased risk for all of us caused by people insisting on riding that right to its logical extremes.

Michael Snow said...

On Drones:
One of the 'heroes of faith' for many Evangelical Christians is Charles Spurgeon. But few have any idea that he spoke out clearly on the murderous wars of the Empire of his day. And as silence on this topic is in vogue, they are not apt to.

John Price said...

If the Supreme Court consistently interprets a requirement for liability insurance to be purchased by gun owners in the same way it interpreted a requirement that citizens purchase health insurance, they will interpret it as a tax. If it is a tax it will be rejected as unconstitutional, as have all taxes applied to civil rights in the past.

Further, should such legislation succeed, the NRA would become a much larger and more powerful lobby, since it sells discounted liability insurance to its members. Picture an NRA with 40 million members instead of tis current 4 million.