22 August 2019

Other people's anger

"I do what I do for the sake of my country." Avner Gvaryahu explains what he would have shown the U.S. congresswomen.

In 1996, at an early conference of the Call to Renewal movement (now part of Sojourners), someone asked prominent Baptist educator Tony Campolo why he sounded so angry. His response went something like this: "When someone tries to hurt the people I care about, I get angry."

Although I know that there's a sentimental myth out there that Christian leaders aren't supposed to get angry, I don't think anyone at the conference was particularly surprised at Campolo's answer. The Call to Renewal was a call to American Christians to overcome partisan politics in favor of a united struggle to confront economic injustice. Nobody would have told Campolo that he was mistaken -- that political forces against justice simply didn't exist, that we actually had no reason to meet.

Twelve years later, in February 2008, Michelle Obama faced criticism for saying, mildly, that, because of her husband's campaign for the U.S. presidency, "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback." She wasn't even expressing outright anger, although her words implied both anger and sadness in the past. Her critics made no such distinctions. How could she have had the nerve not to have spent her whole life being wholeheartedly, uncomplicatedly proud of the country that had built much of its identity and economy on white supremacy?

Now we have a whole new wave of willful incomprehension of actual, genuine grievance going on right before our eyes. Two of the only three Muslim members of Congress, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, have expressed sentiments that could fairly be interpreted as anger at the way Muslims (among others) are treated. In response, they have been characterized as anti-Semitic. They have been charged with hating both their own country (the USA, just for the record) and Israel. By extension, we have all been warned that voting for these politicians' party, the Democrats, equals disloyalty to Israel. (Or does this warning only apply to American citizens who are Jewish, and the rest of us can do what we want?!)

We human beings generally feel entitled to our own anger. It's other people's anger that bothers us. Of course, when people are upset about things that upset me, it's easy for me to sympathize. But I'm white and male, I'm not Muslim, my relatives and I have no history of being mistreated by the powers that be. I'm half-Norwegian and half-German; the Norwegian half glows in worldwide praise for our peaceful and generous ways. As for the German half, at the risk of stereotyping, we're maybe more accustomed to giving orders than taking them. In the American context, we Northern Europeans don't have much experience being on the receiving end of persistent and systemic cruelty. Maybe we ought to exercise some humility and very careful listening when we encounter anger and disillusionment from people whose histories are very different.

When actual victims and survivors of cruel and coercive objectification speak up, or their family members and descendants speak up, we see at least two popular reactions:

1) Immediate and enthusiastic false witness and emotional manipulation. "They hate all Israelis." "They (unlike us) have never been proud of being American." "SEND THEM BACK!"

2) Creation of false analogies and bad-faith claims of victimhood, such as Paul Lacey describes in his Pendle Hill Pamphlet, Quakers and the Use of Power. On this path, we find myths of "reverse racism" and "persecution of Christians." If there were any truth at all in these defensive counter-claims, they should in fact strengthen the capacity to understand the grievances of people whose histories are shot through with the struggle to keep their heads up, and to raise healthy children, in the face of unrelenting negativity.

None of this is to say that we (and here, by "we" I mean those of us who feel entitled to judge other people's anger) must automatically romanticize every critic of the USA, or of Israel, for example, and suspend our critical faculties in the face of their anger. They deserve our full adult engagement, which means finding common ground when possible, and subjecting all claims to thoughtful examination, even as we understand that we don't necessarily get the last word.

Let's practice with the case study of Omar, Tlaib, and the non-visit to Israel and Palestine: here is some recent coverage in the New Yorker. Does this article qualify as a fair and nuanced description of their goals and political vulnerabilities? How would you rebalance it? Do the congresswomen come off as total haters of Israel?...  or as progressive superheroes? ... Or are they (as I see it) competent and imperfect politicians on the right side of normalcy, with histories that entitle them to some skepticism about American exceptionalism?

A third way of responding: Race Imboden, Gwen Berry.

Also see secondhand patriotism.

Do you want to be offended?

Angry men gain influence and angry women lose influence.

Is this normal? White supremacist Web site link included in U.S. Justice Department briefing memo distributed to immigration judges.

Another is this normal item: VK subscribers report unusual discoloration of vegetation following explosion near Severodvinsk earlier this month.

Thirty years ago, activists organized a human chain linking the Baltic capitals. I remember how impressive this was at the time -- and it still is.

The year 1619 and Fleming Rutledge's home state of Virginia.

Via QuakerSpeak video, meet Sarah Ruden, whose amazing book about Paul I reviewed here.

Kim Wilson!

(Listen here to Junior Wells laying down the classic version of this song.)


kfsaylor said...

In this ariticle,you have participated in the process of judging or reflecting upon other people. Do you feel "entitled" to participate in such a process? If so, under which title is your authority?

Johan Maurer said...

Hello! Welcome back. Yes, I feel entitled to reflect upon other people's behavior (and mine as well). I do not claim any greater authority than any other disciple, or, for that matter, anyone else at all. I expect that, if others disagree with me, they will feel entitled to say so. I will read their arguments respectfully, whatever authority they claim.

In the present instance, I'm defending specific people who have expressed a passionate point of view and have been vilified for it with such charges as "hates all Israelis." I have criticized two forms of vilification: 1) False witness; 2) False analogies and pretended victimhood. I have not named any specific people as guilty.

kfsaylor said...

Just to be clear. Are you claiming the title "disciple" and that under that title you participate in the process of reflecting upon other people? If so, what does the word disciple mean to you?

Johan Maurer said...

My definition of "church" is "people who are gathered around Jesus, learning what it means to live with him at the center of our individual and community lives, and helping each other learn, including the ethical dimensions of such a life." Those who are learning are called "disciples." "Helping each other learn" includes attempting to discern what is helpful and harmful.

This is a process of mutual accountability -- which means that I, too, need help. I don't think many of us are capable of solitary discipleship.

I sense you're uneasy with the idea of reflecting on other people. Can you say more?

kfsaylor said...

Yes, I can and will address your question concerning the process of reflective thought in relation to people and your reflecting upon me as uneasy with it. However, for the sake of my own clarity concerning your article I'd like to push forward with some questions for you before answering your questions of me.

Considering your most recent answer, I'd like to back up and reconsider your previous answer in light of the most recent.

I have attempted to rewrite your previous statement concerning your entitlement to reflect upon other people. Would this rewrite be consistent with your meaning and intent?

Original: "Yes, I feel entitled to reflect upon other people's behavior (and mine as well). I do not claim any greater authority than any other disciple, or, for that matter, anyone else at all."

Rewrite: As a person gathered together with others "around Jesus" and engaged in the process of gaining knowledge by study and instruction (learning), I am entitled to reflect upon others and myself. My relationships and interactions are guided and informed through the process of reflective thought and my identification with the results (ideas, opinions, etc.) of this process.

What do you mean by being "gathered around Jesus." What is the nature of being gathered around Jesus in your experience? I mean specifically, how are you gathered around Jesus? How do you relate to Jesus?

I also wish to consider with you your statement that you do not "think many of us are capable of solitary discipleship." I agree with you that engagement in the process of reflective thought (discipleship or learning) to guide and inform relationships and interactions in a solitary manner is problematic when you consider that it is the process of reflection that guides and informs relationships. It is curious to me that you offer "solitary discipleship" as the only alternative. There is another way to relate to people that is not of the nature of communal or solitary reflective.

Johan Maurer said...

OK, let me consider first what I mean by "reflecting upon others" and see if it's the same as what you mean.

By "reflect on" I simply mean making observations on their public expressions and behavior. For example, I might compare people's behavior to the standards that they claim to uphold, or by the standards I would argue to be consistent with their self-descriptions (such as Quaker or Christian). I cannot and do not claim that my reflections or judgments are infallible; part of the way we learn from each other is in comparing our various understandings and helping each other with our respective blind spots.

I can't really comment on your rewrite, since it is so far from my own voice. My relationships and interactions are guided by many factors, some of which I probably don't even understand myself. I hope that I don't treat anyone unfairly, and that if I misunderstand someone's values or motives, that I will be corrected. If someone misunderstands me or my values, I would look for an opportunity to suggest corrections.

I don't understand what you mean by my "identification with the results (ideas, opinions, etc.) of this process." All ideas are provisional, as Paul implies in 1 Corinthians 13:12.

Concerning solitary discipleship, I was not seeking to create an exhaustive list of ways to be a disciple, but I think that for most humans, it is important to check our insights and impressions (even those directly ascribed to Divine guidance) with others. Even hermits have confessors.

kfsaylor said...

Okay that's fair enough. I think we agree on the meaning of "reflect upon." However, just in case, I'll try and address your consideration by way of examples from your article.

In the fourth paragraph of your piece you reflect upon some unnamed critics of Omar and Tlaib as engaged in "willful incomprehension" of what you reflect upon as "actual, genuine, grievance." You have set up before the reader mirrors of opinion through which you relate to the people involved in the circumstance. You are relating to them through the reflective process. That is, "Willful incomprehension" and "actual, genuine, grievance" are reflections you mirror over against the people and which guide and inform how you relate to them. The same is true of your reflections "false witness," "victimhood", "bad-faith" claims etc. These opinions or characterizations are mirrors (reflections) through which you relate to the people you are considering.

I am not judging your reflections upon people in any way. The relative correctness or otherwise of your reflections are of no matter to me. I am seeking to establish whether you are in agreement that, in your article, your are relating to the people under consideration through the reflective process.

kfsaylor said...

Concerning you question on my "unease" with reflecting on other people. I am not uneasy with the process of reflecting upon other people. I accept it as a process many people identify with and participate in to relate to other people. However, through the direct experience of immanent Being inshining upon my consciousness and conscience, I am come out of (and I am coming out of) that way of relating to people to guide and inform my relationships and interactions. That is, through the experience of immanent being guiding and informing my relationships I am coming out of the process overlaying reflected content (opinion or narrative forms) over against other people to guide and inform my relationship and interaction with them or teach other people how to relate to the others. The is an different way of relating to people and interacting that is not of the nature of reflective thought.

There is a way of being, consciousness, or self-awareness that is immanent in human beings and which is intuitively experienced rather than learned though intellectual effort or reflective consciousness. Reflective consciousness lights up in relation to reflections through the functioning of the body. That is, through the senses and intellectual or mental ideological constructs. A person may directly experience the nature of being that is mirrored through the reflections of the body by taking a moment to consider the loss of sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, abstract thought, will, or emotion. That is, the loss of the functions of the body. While considering being without the mirroring or reflective process of the body ... ask what or whether awareness remains. The fear of the death of the body is essentially fear of the loss of the process of reflection consciousness to sustain awareness.
There is a Being that is independent of reflective or mirrored consciousness and which is sustained in itself and this Being shines upon the conscience and consciousness of people so that they experience or intuit awareness that is self-sustained without regard for the mirroring process of the body.
Through this inshining awareness, people are drawn out of the process of mirrored thought to guide and inform their relationships, interactions, and worship. Outward political, religious, and social institutional, ideological, and theological constructs of mirrored consciousness or reflective thought are come out of and no longer influence a person's relationships and interactions. Habitation in this inshining impulse is the foundation of peace and is the coming into eternal life or self-sustained being through the appearance of or inshining upon the conscience and consciousness which is the throne of God.

Written in another time and place:
There is a way of being in relationship to people that exists in itself (immanent). Many people who are drawn into immanent being or consciousness and take up habitation in it, come into immanent relationships with people through shared experience of being itself in itself and are drawn out of the process of relating to people through outwardly reflected opinions, notions, ideologies, institutions, etc. Immanent consciousness, awareness, and conscience guides and informs relationships through indwelling immanence itself in itself; so that people "perceive" and relate to others in and through shared inshining immanent Light itself, without the process of reflection.

Johan Maurer said...

Thanks. Is it possible that you are making assumptions about how my mind works?

You wrote, "There is a Being that is independent of reflective or mirrored consciousness and which is sustained in itself and this Being shines upon the conscience and consciousness of people so that they experience or intuit awareness that is self-sustained without regard for the mirroring process of the body."

When I'm at my most attentive (which admittedly is not always), I hope that this is an accurate summary of what I'm experiencing:

1 Corinthians 2:10b-16 (NIV)

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

(I've left out the first part of verse 10, and the footnotes. The whole thing is here.)

kfsaylor said...

My previous response to you was written to follow through on my promise to respond to your question "I sense you're uneasy with the idea of reflecting on other people. Can you say more?" It was written to share my experience of inshining immanent Being in my consciousness and conscience. It was not about you.

In this particular case and circumstance, no, it is not possible I have made assumptions about how your mind works. I have demonstrated the opposite, in that I have made particular effort to ask you questions (over and over again) to lead toward confidence that I understand your comments correctly even to the point of rewriting them in other words on one occasion. I am yet to feel confident to share with others your mind. It usually takes great and extended effort for me to feel such confidence; especially in contexts such as this one. Although you have written responses to questions that are very helpful such as when you affirm "Yes, I feel entitled to reflect upon other people's behavior." I suspect your responses to the questions below will go even further toward a sense of your mind.
I appreciate your using the quote from 1 Cor. Earlier in our discussion I asked you these series of questions:
"What do you mean by being 'gathered around Jesus. What is the nature of being gathered around Jesus in your experience? I mean specifically, how are you gathered around Jesus? How do you relate to Jesus?" As far as I can tell these are the only questions I've asked that you did not consider.

This quote goes some way in addressing those questions. In order to help further avoid making assumptions about how your mind works:
1. In quoting from 1 Cor. are your affirming you "have the mind of Christ?"
2. What is the nature of your experience of having the mind of Christ?
3. Is the article above written in the mind of Christ?
4. When you reflected on Omar and Tlaib grievances as "actual and genuine", do you affirm these words were "taught by the Spirit."
5. In this article, when you reflected on others as engaged in "willful incomprehension" and "emotional manipulation" among other reflections, do you affirm these words were "come from the Spirit of God?"
6. Do you affirm you are a person "with the Spirit" and are so entitled to make judgments about other people in and through the authority of the Spirit?

I appreciate your consideration and engagement as it helps me better understand the nature of your words in the article.