28 July 2017


Judy and I were talking with some Friends at the start of Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions at George Fox University. I expressed shock at the meanness of today's politics. "Yes," answered one experienced Friend. "All over the world, the bullies have been empowered."

We've had bullies ever since Cain and Abel. Bullying is micro-scale terrorism. Sometimes the bully is simply a sociopath; other bullies are serving an agenda of some kind -- such as Cain's resentment of his brother.

Sadly, sometimes bullying reflects society's perceived license to make someone's life miserable. The victim might be distinguished by race, religion, or any other feature that makes it obvious (to whom?) that he or she is an outsider. The outsider, whether a political or economic rival or some other kind of apparent threat, might at first be seen as redeemable, but eventually becomes (or is declared) permanently estranged from those on the inside. Eventually the pattern of bullying becomes embedded in the culture, even to the point of genocide.

Donald Trump and his gang are examples of contemporary bullies. Their crude organized-crime-style ruthlessness is something new on the American national stage, and we don't know what to do with them. I think their vulgar and aggressive behavior represents a spiritual problem, the pervasive residue of damnable us/them patterns going generations back, and requires (in part) a spiritual response. As believers, we have the authority to confront this confusion, this residue, this alienation, and to raise our voices and bodies in a strong rejection of bullying. (The uprising against the artificial crisis of health care financing is an example of this rejection.) We have the right to bind the bullying spirit and require that it give way to the Holy Spirit.

I believe that we should pray for our eyes to be opened to the places where hatred and the spirit of bullying are embedded -- outside us and inside us. Let's prayerfully confess whenever that spirit rises up in us. Let's also do the prayerful work of understanding and exposing the rationales given for dividing and punishing people and let's repent wherever we can trace our own complicity. Let's pray for opportunities to intervene when bullies are attacking us or anyone. And let's figure out how to spread the news that every church and meeting has the gifts needed for this analysis and this confrontation.

Friday PS: Already this morning I am reading reports that the American president is encouraging police to rough people up. Just what I wanted to hear at a time when our students here in Russia witness routine roughing-up of people being arrested at protests against corruption.

My conclusion: the U.S. president's public rhetoric is nothing less than a near-constant stream of verbal abuse. Is this an overstatement? He threatens and bullies his political enemies, his political allies, his own co-workers, his audiences (including children and immigrants), his country. His newest communications director seems ready to serve as a compliant amplifier.

We need coping strategies. Some advocate simply taking a sabbatical from mass media. Fair enough, please do what you need to take care of yourself ... but that won't work for many of us. We also need tough strategies to identify, muzzle, and marginalize this behavior, and to remove its author from the White House. Fortunately we don't all have to do everything. What part can you play? What part can I play?

Today's reality is so outrageous that I am fairly hopeful that it will eventually constitute a historical zone of illegitimacy that will not outlast Trump himself. I can imagine a future in which transgressing politicians will be politely but firmly told, "We're not going back to that era!" Is that too optimistic?

Even if I'm right, it will require a persistent and passionate effort to reweave the diverse relationships he has slashed, and to address the underlying elitism, racism, xenophobia -- all of which predated Trump but made his abusive behavior easier. This is a task that can unite liberals, conservatives, progressives; it's a mission we advance every time we refuse to look at someone else as "other."

Bob Henry; source.
Yesterday a new Quaker yearly meeting was born, the Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends. The short version of the story is in their epistle.

The church split, and suddenly I was an outcast.

Russia orders the USA to reduce its diplomatic staff. And Friday PS: How do you collude in Russian? Michele Berdy answers.

The country where no salaries are secret.

This Sunday, Judy and I will be visiting Reedwood Friends Church in Portland, Oregon. Come if you can! (Meeting for worship at 10 a.m., followed by Forum class.)

On a different note, Terry Evans and Hans Theessink:


kfsaylor said...

Hello Johan ...

You write: "We also need tough strategies to identify, muzzle, and marginalize this behavior ..." Do you affirm this testimony is spoken in the power of the inshining Light in your conscience? Can you share any strategies you support to marginalize and muzzle people's behavior you idenifity as bullying? I spend time among political activists on the streets sharing with them a different way than participating in the process of idenifitication with outward political constructs to guide and inform human relationshiips. In sharing this message of the sufficiency of the inshining Light itself in itself to rule and govern human relationships it is discovered to me their are those caught in the politick of contrivance who embrace the inshining Spirit's drawing them out of identification with outward political, religious, and social constructs and the institutions and leaders who profess them.

Johan Maurer said...

The word "muzzle" came more from emotion than intelligence. I had the image of a muzzle on an attack dog in mind.

The propriety of urging churches to act politically is also worthy of challenge. I don't know whether we are at the point of convening a "confessing church."

kfsaylor said...

The Barmen Decalration has a relevancy even to human relationships today.