14 July 2021

Digesting 2006 (and change in e-mail subscriptions)

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Today's post -- digesting 2006. In my program of looking back and digesting previous years of this blog, I've now reached all the way back to fifteen years ago. Of course most of those old posts are very forgettable, but some seemed worth recalling. Many of the links within those posts have gone dead, of course -- although in a few cases I looked for archive versions at archive.org's Wayback Machine

In some cases, the Blogger service apparently can't cope with the original coding, so I had to rescue a lot of the formatting and photo placements. Sometimes paragraph breaks had disappeared altogether, for example, and sometimes photos had ballooned to original size. If you run across a blog post that seems worth rehabilitating but is suffering from corrupted code, let me know and I will fix it.

In the early years of this blog, almost all comments came to me via the blog's own comment form. I still get a few comments that way, but now the majority of the comments are posted on Facebook or Twitter. Whatever works!

Thank you for reading. Your suggestions are always welcome.

January: Worship Seeking Understanding

Is "going through the motions" underrated? Maybe one way of looking at the work of John Witvliet and his Worship Institute colleagues and their counterparts throughout history is that they are "going through the motions" in the very best sense. Each motion (gathering, receiving, expressing) evokes an essential component of worship, and without a public, reliable, communicable, multisensual recounting of those motions, would our community eventually flake away down to a few ancient intuitive introverts with long memories? During the most oppressive periods of official atheism in the Soviet Union, all the church was allowed to do was to celebrate the liturgy (in other words, go through the motions); the liturgy had to carry the message ... and it did.

(read full post)

February: Patriotism and grief


"Patriotism" has been a difficult concept for me. Maybe it's because I've not lived in the country of my birth and original citizenship for most of my life; or because I've lived in six countries at one time or another; or because I've read too much pop psychology and pop anthropology, not to mention Kant and Kierkegaard, so that all the mysticism has drained out of concepts such as "nations" and "borders." Maybe it is because as a Christian I have an allegiance that trumps all others.

But I can't live on some smug, abstract plane of superiority....

(read full post)

March: "Idealism is realism"

The complicated relationship between idealism and realism is at the heart of community life and politics. The Bible is, among many other things, an amazing compilation of the highest, most inspiring ideals ("Love your enemies"—or, as in the present example, "It's the same as receiving me") and utter realism ("The poor you will always have among you" and "Hard times are inevitable").

Some years ago, I heard Gordon Hirabayashi speak at Canadian Yearly Meeting—a lecture later published by Argenta Friends Press as Good Times, Bad Times: Idealism Is Realism. In his lecture, he described how his ideals—in fact, even his patriotism—sustained him when, as a university student in Washington state, he refused to cooperate with the forced internal exile and internment of Japanese-Americans. His theme, "Sometimes idealism is realism," has stayed with me ever since.

(read full post)

April: Evangelical machismo

One of the writers exemplifying the new evangelical machismo is Irwin Raphael McManus. In The Barbarian Way: Unleash the Untamed Faith Within, he writes: "Somewhere along the way the movement of Jesus Christ became civilized as Christianity. We created a religion using the name of Jesus Christ and convinced ourselves that God's optimal desire for our lives was to insulate us in a spiritual bubble where we risk nothing, sacrifice nothing, lose nothing, worry about nothing. I wonder how many of us have lost our barbarian way and have become embittered with God, confused in our faith because God doesn't come through the way we think He should."

An unkind little demon whispers into my left ear: "Did any of these new-wave celebrities go to live in Baghdad? Did any of them refuse war taxes? Why are most of them men?"

(read full post)

May: Why?

I drew a circle based on someone's diagram I'd seen once of the life cycle of a church. At the top of my diagram was the ignition of a new movement by a messiah or a messianic group. After a while, the cycle gets to the stage where the movement begins to gain structure. Eventually, if it survives, it can rest on its laurels or hands and maybe even become complacent, but as it heads up the other half of the cycle it can decay to the point of generating discontent, fragmentation, and, in the best case, new reforming impulses and a rebirth.

At every point of the cycle, people can go off on tangents. To oversimplify absurdly, the technocrats can keep asking "what" and the legalists can keep asking "how," forgetting that the way to keep on the life cycle is to remember the central "why" of the organization.

(read full post)

June: Are Quakers marginal?

I first entitled this entry "Quakers are marginal." As in "Quakers ARE marginal." In at least three ways—

First, our numbers are microscopic. The number of Roman Catholics in Philadelphia (somewhere over half a million) far exceeds even the most inflated number of Friends in the whole world. If there is anything to "the wisdom of crowds," the wisdom of the crowd representing the world's population seems to be that "Quakers are marginal."

Second, even among those who've heard of us, some criticize and some admire our characteristic ideals, but few seem to understand our core passions and conceits.

(read full post -- and part two)

July: The use and abuse of doctrine

Doctrines are nothing more than seasoned and corporately ratified insights into the ultimate nature of things, expressed in a coherent, communicable form. Doctrines deserve respect, even though the granting of that respect may require community members to lower their walls of autonomy enough to acknowledge that wIn the Night Kitchenisdom doesn't start and end with them personally. To dump doctrines altogether may be a sign of intellectual laziness, but it may also be a declaration of independence from the community that holds those doctrines dear. Well, 'tis the season (at least in the USA) for declaring independence; Independence Day was just two days ago. However, sometimes I get the feeling that people don't really want to leave the community, they want the benefits of affiliation with no costs. They want identity and autonomy, too.

I don't intend to caricaturize anyone; identity and autonomy are not entirely contradictory. We cannot honestly take on a doctrine if we don't understand it, if it appears to be in a language or from a social context with which we are completely unfamiliar....

(read full post, including significant quotations from Anthony Bloom and Randall Balmer)

August: Safety and "the nature of the world in which we live"

Many years ago...James Prothro and Charles Grigg found a distinct difference between people's support of political tolerance in the abstract and their considerably lower tolerance in concrete situations. Every once in a while, political scientists tweak the rest of us by showing that Americans claim to cherish the Declaration of Independence, but when shown actual unlabeled text from that declaration, they declare it dangerous, communist, and the like. So it's not surprising that today's politicians try out yet again that old argument that, during a "war," we cannot afford the luxury of our values. Or, rather, they propose another value, safety, that supposedly trumps civil liberties and due process.

However, to remain politically useful, "safety" as a value must remain abstract as well! When we begin studying safety in concrete terms, problems arise....

(read full post)

September: In the Night Kitchen (Elektrostal at 2 a.m.)

...The two remaining members of my late-night delegation and I have exactly the kind of kitchen conversation that I’ve always said I love about Russia--but this time my fellow conversationalists are well under half my age. Over the next two hours, we touch on the following fascinating subjects among others: corruption, democracy in Russia (“If Alexander II had not been murdered on the eve of his planned reforms, we would be in better shape; we would be a constitutional democracy today”), and how to translate the words “envy” and “jealousy” in Russian.

We talked about video games, role playing, and theology. (“Some people think I’m an atheist, but I believe in the one true God. I just don’t trust churches. Their leaders want us to feel guilty, but God wants us to love Him and each other. He is ready to forgive us, but the church people aren’t.”) We even spend nearly half an hour trying to decide on the best ways to translate the concepts of “redemption” and “exculpation.” One of my young companions tells the Biblical story of the winegrower and his hired hands to illustrate his point.

(read full post)

October: The golden age of evangelism

A flood of mixed news from American evangelicalism continues to tempt me into making my trademark overgeneralizations. Here's today's: we are entering a golden age of evangelism.

What, I don't miss the good old days? No, not at all. For example, I don't get overly misty-eyed over the founding of the United States. It is true, as John Gunther says, that our country was "deliberately founded on a good idea." And that good--brilliant--idea of democracy is undermined whenever we substitute sentimental patriotism for the clear-eyed and persistent labor of insisting that those founding ideals be honored far better than they have been so far.

We began this country, remember, thinking that some of us were only worth 3/5 of others and that most of us were not entitled to vote. Church attendance was far lower proportionally than it is now, and the nation's elite may well have been more unitarian than Christian. Domestic violence and addictions were to be concealed, not healed. Executions (not to mention lynchings) were once public events.

As for the church, too often it traded on privilege instead of the urgent merit of its message....

(read full post and part two)

November: Where our hearts are, and who cares?

Otis Spann
One of the worst consequences of not being deliberate, thoughtful, and explicit in providing for human hearts in distress, is that when distressed people come to our meetings, they exercise (without any malevolent intent) a disproportionate influence on us nice people. When someone comes to my meeting and says, "There's too much Christ language, too much salvation language" (yes, it does happen even in a member church of Evangelical Friends International!), our options should not be limited to those polarized twins, abject codependence or defensiveness.

Of course, we should check to see whether our faith language has become formulaic; we owe that to ourselves as well as to newcomers. But we can also ask whether the allergic reaction to Christian language is the symptom of a wound that deserves tender attention. We're not just moderately Christian, subject to political negotiations about how much language to use and to balance out with other constructions; we're Friends of Christ, and those with the least commitment to the future of this precious friendship don't get veto power over how we express it and embody it. But they are entitled to our genuine, active, painstaking love, a love that at times dares to ask, "How's it going with your heart?"

(read full post)

December: "Please don't go"

Am I becoming a Quaker curmudgeon? Here comes another newsletter from an international Friends organization I care about. Let's see ... four pages of tiny print, with God mentioned once (in the mission statement) and absolutely no reference to Christ or Christianity. And how are we asked to support the organization? By sending money and getting our meetings to send money; evidently no prayer is needed. In contrast to the lack of divinity, the words "Quaker" and "Quakerism" are used at least a dozen times. But the overwhelming tone is that of a secular nongovernmental organization.

Years ago, when my job required me to read lots of these sorts of Quaker newsletters, I had a similar experience. A newsletter from the Quaker Council for European Affairs sent me over the edge when I realized that there was not a word in it about the spiritual motivation behind the excellent work it described. Being an experienced Quaker bureaucrat myself, after cooling off I had to admit that I knew the temptation to publicize what was on my desk rather than visualize and speak to a human audience about what was in my heart. Furthermore, as Right Sharing of World Resources staff (which I was at the time), I was aware that most of my daily reading and much of my advocacy work was in a context and culture set by large and competent secular organizations, and I began to recognize that I probably had a subconscious desire to be credible in that community.

(read full post)

Nancy Thomas: Confessions of an ex-elder.

Carl Sagan and Johnny Carson exhibiting the malignant influence of critical race theory.

Meanwhile, Daniel K. Williams asks whether there's a theological reason for white evangelical racism.

... And the Mercy Culture Church (if this reportage is to be believed) provides a master class in mass emotional manipulation.

2006 was the first year I put blues clips at the end of my blog posts. One of the treasures I found was this video (although this is not the original link; that one was deleted by YouTube, as the person who contributed it explained). There are very few video recordings of Little Walter Jacobs, and few of Hound Dog Taylor as well. 

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