18 November 2021

Digesting 2005—and reader survey

The year 2005 was the first full year of this blog. As I catch up with my self-imposed task of choosing twelve posts from every year I've been writing here, this is probably my last digest of old material.

Yes, old in some ways. I'm struck by how angry George Bush's presidency made me at times. Little did I know what was awaiting us a little more than a decade later. I think I was more bitter and argumentative in these older posts. Is increasing mildness a virtue? You're a better judge than I am.

On the other hand, sometimes when I read these older posts of mine, I notice how often I revisit the same themes, and basically repeat myself. I comfort myself by reasoning that hardly anyone remembers these old posts!

As I said when I assembled my 2006 digest, most comments on my blog came on the blog itself in the olden days. Nowadays, most comments are made on Facebook. I always appreciate comments, wherever I get them.

Thank you for reading.

January 2005: Jolting Islam Forward

Herbert E. Meyer has just issued "an open letter to opponents of the war in Iraq," arguing that, given the stakes involved (winning a war for the future of Western civilization), the least we opponents can do is be responsible and get with the program, stop whining, and actually do something to shore up the areas where we think the program is weak. To do anything else is aiding the enemy.

A Northwest Yearly Meeting Friend posted this open letter on several Yearly Meeting e-mail lists, saying that "I found this interesting, and thought it worth sharing. While I am against war, Herb has many interesting points to think about."

He was right on several counts. The letter is interesting on its own merits, and gives insights on the ways people in and near power justify the Iraqi war intellectually. Judging by those who link to Herb Meyer's writings, however, he appears to be a hero to many who utterly dismiss us opponents of the war, who celebrate the apparent ascendancy of the neoconservative vision in Washington, and whose rhetoric ranges from sober and intellectual thinking to complete and idiotic nonsense. Some of the latter is sprayed with a repulsive christian deodorant.

(read full post)

February 2005:
Quiet ecstasy

On his Web site, musician Derek Trucks quotes a question he received about his onstage style:

How can you play such soulful music without expressing it physically in your body language. In other words how can you channel all that energy JUST through your playing without cracking more than a grin. Does this help your expressiveness with the instrument or is it just natural?

Derek replies:

I think early on all the musicians that I respected the most just stood or sat there and played (John Coltrane, Ali Akbar Kahn, Duane Allman). It just depends on the musician but for me it feels more natural. As long as I have been on the road people have told me that they thought I wasn't enjoying playing because I looked so bored, but it's actually when I am most aware and engaged.

... It was one of the best concerts I have ever attended. The word "concert" was made for evenings like this: the musicians were completely in concert with themselves and each other. Sure enough, Derek barely moved; often his eyes were closed; he smiled just three times that I could see. But the coordination among the musicians was palpable.

(read full post)

March 2005: The Return and the cult of the patient woman

On the film The Return:

Referring to the mother as played by Natalia Vdovina, the director Andrei Zvyagintsev says, "My ideal woman? I don't know. I don't know. Maybe it's close to what was shown in the film. Because for me this woman embodied [femininity] ... for me, this is Woman with a capital W. A woman who knows how to be patient, to wait, and is wise. It is like in Russian fairy tales, where there is Vasilisa the Beautiful and Vasilisa the Wise."

Mikhail Krichman, the cinematographer, adds, "I really like the scene in the house. I like very much how Natalia looks there. I like this shot, where she pours wine and dilutes it with water for the kids. How she obediently carries this out and doesn't say anything."

I don't disagree at all with the extraordinary beauty of this scene and of the bedtime scene that follows. Her bearing reflects dignity and endurance ... and extraordinary acting. But I have no context from the story to evaluate whether her response to her husband's absence is from nobility, or strength, or fear, or pathological dependence, or perhaps it represents the calm before the storm. Perhaps the storm (or whatever form the accountability of husband to wife might have taken) happened while the boys were still away from the house.

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April 2005: Leaving Quakers

Here's a great example of a perennial theme, especially in the earlier years of my blog:

About eight years ago, a weighty Friend in Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM) came to me with a question. He had found a congregation in Iowa that was actually more in accord with what he thought Friends stood for than his Friends meeting. However, he was torn by loyalties to that meeting and to the Yearly Meeting he had served for so long, and to Friends United Meeting. What did I think he should do?

... When I first joined Friends, shortly after my Christian conversion, the joy of finding a church home where a New Testament faith found prophetic social expression carried me blissfully along past the point where a more discerning person might have noticed some gaps along the way. We still find these major gaps among Friends--meetings that specialize in quakerishness and marginalize the living Gospel from which our peculiar discipleship sprang OR meetings that, on the contrary, talk Christian language with enthusiasm but have allowed that precious and still-needed discipleship to atrophy--and eventually these incongruities became the central ingredients in FUM's civil war.

(read full post)

May 2005: Creative discontent

[Referring to Martin Kelley's blog] -- In Martin's May 16 posting, ... he asks, "If we could get a message out to larger Quakerdom, what we want it to be?" I read with great appreciation the responses that have been accumulating as comments to that May 16 item. I am happy that important issues are being raised by Martin and the readers of his blog. I am happy that I don't know most of these people (beyond their familiarity to me as a reader of Martin's blog/forum for over a year) -- this means that a whole new generation of prophetic and creative voices is in the Friends movement, no thanks to previous generations, whose lack of vision and encouragement is frightening. And I am shocked at how many of the diagnoses articulated by these Friends and ex-Friends have arisen in my generation and earlier, remaining unaddressed.

(read full post)

June 2005: Mississippi mellowing?

I have been following the coverage of the trial of former KKK-man Edgar Ray Killen for his involvement in the deaths of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, the three Freedom Summer civil rights campaigners murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964.

I spent most of the summer of 1975 in Mendenhall, Mississippi, working with Voice of Calvary, founded by John Perkins to promote "Black Christian leadership development" and alternative economic structures. Back then it seemed as if the era of civil rights violence was in the distant past; from my current time horizon, of course, things look different. Eleven years between the Freedom Summer campaign and my first visit to Mississippi doesn't seem long now.

Mendenhall looked like many of the stereotypes I'd received of small-town Mississippi—right down to the railroad tracks dividing the races. We summer volunteers (all but one were white) were not popular downtown, with the exception of the Post Office, where we were treated with almost startling courtesy.

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July 2005: Chaos and community, 2005

Recently, London's mayor Ken Livingstone and an Israeli spokesperson had an exchange typical for modern public discourse: Livingstone suggested that the way the West treats the Arab world was a cause of terrorism, and that our past miscalculations were coming home to roost; and the spokesperson, along with many others, charged that Livingstone was apologizing for terrorism. We are apparently not allowed to reflect on root causes (no matter how obvious) without being counted among the enemy. "Don't think, just use our message." (See New Statesman, "The Politics of Delusion.")

My first response was to remember a book about dealing with difficult personalities. Sometimes you just have to calmly repeat your truth over and over in the face of such blasts.

I also remembered these words by Yakov Krotov, which I also quoted somewhere in my Evangelism and the Friends Testimonies forum. His advice concerns bearing a courteous Christian witness across lines of faith, but I think his disciplines are useful for general discourse as well. In my mind, I combine these principles with the one from the book on difficult people: keep calmly repeating what you believe, over and over.

... I have formulated five principles which aid me in my efforts not to proselytize, and still bear Christian witness. They are: ...

(read full post)

August 2005: The Quaker voice

In several parts of the world, not just the USA, the dignified Quakers and the restless Quakers are once again struggling over the issue of "freedom in the Spirit" vs long-standing cautions against emotionalism and manipulation. It's an issue that split second-generation African Friends and continues to cause stress in both Africa and Latin America. The issue is understood differently in different places: articulate, liberal, urban Friends may not recognize that they are under any sort of bondage whatsoever, but let someone speak in tongues or speak twice in the same meeting for worship (setting aside theological allergies for a moment) and the limits of freedom may appear.

One doesn't even have to open one's mouth: the late Fred Boots, a very experienced and well-traveled Evangelical Friend (who used to sell copies of Elias Hicks's journal at Evangelical Friends Church Eastern Region book tables, but that's another story), told of the cold shoulder he and his wife received at one unprogrammed meeting simply for being dressed too well.

One of my own relatives, most of whose experiences had been in unprogrammed Friends but who was a member of a pastoral meeting, visited a meeting in the Philadelphia area. After she introduced herself as a Friend from Richmond, Indiana, a local Friend hastened to explain to the others that "That's a very different kind of Friend."

(read full post)

September 2005: Books and crosscultural hunger

Judy and I have been attending a Hispanic Mennonite congregation that has been a huge blessing to me. This has been my most sustained exposure to the Spanish-speaking dimension of today's United States. To help me reflect on what I'm learning through that experience, I was eager to read Hector Tobar's Translation Nation: Defining a New American Identity in the Spanish-Speaking United States (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005). As recently as a decade or two ago, the "Spanish-speaking United States" could have been principally defined as a few specific regions within the USA. Now all that has changed. If the Bloomington-Muscatine Friends Church in Iowa can have a significant Hispanic outreach, our reliance on regional assumptions is shaky. It is this reality that Tobar's book presents clearly and engagingly. This excerpt is a great example:

I am in a two-stoplight town in the Alabama hill country, in the heart of the Bible Belt and Crimson Tide football mania, listening to an old-fashioned, heated argument between Cubans like the ones I've heard in Little Havana in Miami, but the moment very quickly loses its sense of strangeness and cultural dissonance. This is what America is like now—North America, I mean, the United States. The craziness of cubanos and mexicanos and guatemaltecos can find you just about anywhere. Juan's smile turns a little mischievous as he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet, searching for something stuck between his driver's license and his Alabama gun license. It is picture slightly larger than a postage stamp of a line of marching rebels on horseback, the portrait of Che Guevara looming behind them.

(read full post)

October 2005: Evil and Islamo-fascism

Evil is back in the news, thanks to President Bush's latest rationale for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

At the National Endowment for Democracy, Bush outlined an analysis of Islamo-fascism (one of the names for the "evil, but not insane" phenomenon he's describing). This is an important speech. It is as close as I've seen him come to a detailed description of the assumptions behind his lethal adventure in Iraq. It is important for the administration's critics to read and respond to such material, because at the very least, the President is absolutely right concerning the global importance of the issues and trends he's addressing. Just to work the Christian angle for a second: we can neither love nor confront our enemies if we are not willing to look at them straight in the eyes and take in the full measure of their actions, motives, and capabilities.

Unfortunately, the speech does not measure up to what I'd hoped and yearned for—an intelligent, respectful engagement with the claims and grievances (justified and unjustified) and assertions of the presumed enemy. It is a rhetorical hatchet job—frankly, low-grade demagoguery—that does not respect the intelligence of observers either in America or in the rest of the world. Why can't our leaders manage better? Surely Bush and his speechwriters are more intelligent than this—do they think that a more dispassionate, thoughtful, self-reflective analysis would signal weakness? In my mind, this sort of sloganeering presented as leadership is far more damaging.

Some examples: ...

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November 2005: Nancy's questions

We live in an age of consumer spirituality, where people love to display their sophistication by saying that they're spiritual, not religious. People seem to want just enough spiritualness to be cozy, but not enough to overcome the twin idols of affluence and autonomy. These poisons are by no means unique to Quakers, but we have a peculiarly attractive version of them: a sort of delicious antiquarian progressiveness that can deceive us into think we're going deeper than we really are. This cultish quakerishness adulterates the spiritual power of both evangelicals and liberals, and has led to the near-extinction of the precious conservative witness among Friends.

By making our choices a matter of enhancing our own spirituality, and by becoming ultra-squeamish about our corporate biblical roots and our Puritan-era apostolic revival history, we have left GOD out. God desires joy and liberation for us and, through us (as in the early days of Israel), for our neighbors throughout the world.

The way that this joy is shared and liberation accomplished is not by our subtle cleverness, our middle-class politics, by carefully-calibrated "outreach" and transfers of wealth from us to those others lucky enough to know us. It is by relationship: first of all, our relationship with God, then our relationship with each other, and the way we provide access to that relational community by our physical and attitudinal open doors ... for example, adequate meeting space in your [Nancy's] case.

But to get there, we have to give up our cool, our autonomy, our intellectual pride, and confront the twin experiences of conversion and convincement.

(read full post

(read R.W. Tucker's "Revolutionary Faithfulness," which inspired much of this post.)

December 2005: All of me

A couple of Sundays ago, back in Portland, at Reedwood Friends Church, we sang a chorus that went more or less like this:

I want to be a servant, Lord
Please take all of me
I want to be a servant, Lord
Please take all of me....

When programmed meetings and Protestant congregations in general get into the full swing of Advent and Christmas programming, it feels very hard for a prophetic word to wedge its way in. For one thing, a lot of the church culture is riding on the glow of Christmas, the cuteness of kids, the familiar warmth of all the Advent paraphernalia, all of which has undoubted community-building power. But on this particular Sunday, this particular chorus, and this particular sermon, gave my spirit a nudge to stand up during open worship and speak.

The opening was there, but that didn't make speaking easy. What struck me about the chorus (I said) was how little it matched my life. I should rather sing

I'd like to have the reputation of being a servant, Lord,
Please take 10% of me.

Musically, the chorus (as originally written!) swings very nicely. I could usually sing it, with at least an aspirational spin, quite enthusiastically. But as I told Friends that Sunday, the Christian Peacemaker Team members in Baghdad were not 10% servants or witnesses, and now they were certainly not 10% hostages. Their commitment as servants was 100%. We do not yet know what level of sacrifice will be required, and I would rather pray than speculate.

(read full post)

Russia's Jehovah's Witnesses are not extremists.

Neither are the Memorial organizations. In defense of Memory. And: An attempt to erase my memory...

Seven Russian bloggers who will introduce you to their vast country.

How to make comics: a four-part series from the Museum of Modern Art, via openculture.com.

Christopher Stern finds a way to peace. (With thanks to quakerranter.org for the link.)

Saint Paul Meets a Quaker Lady.

Ronnie Baker Brooks and Stacy Brooks -- thanks to 1AnitrasDance.

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