Friday, November 20, 2015

New website and blog links!

Hey everyone, I am writing at a new site. If you are interested in reading more about my faith and thinking, please go to the following sites

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Everyone has an opinion, especially me...

I guess this will be a little briefer than usual, but I suppose everything now demands a response. Most of my own responses are intended to reveal some sort of perceived truth. However, my facebook experiences showed me that, if truth cannot be properly articulated in less than 100 words or so, I can indeed show everybody how witty I am. Of course, this invites others to show that, I may be witty, but I am seriously misinformed. This is properly referenced by a quick google check, and some well-placed sarcasm. As it turns out, my responses to each and every event – my need to have an opinion, is really not much more than wanting to feel vindicated in my world view, and feeling victorious. I like winning.
The reality is, however, that only elections seem to be won, and everyone else is suffering losses of dignity and respect. We want to win, and when we realize that the vast array of media outlets that give us more and more opportunity to share our voice serve just as well to show us how little meaning our voices have when presented within the context of opinion and self-validation instead of servanthood.
Of course, most opinions of late have to do with the death of bin Laden at the hands of special forces. Amazingly, or, perhaps not, is that now that the end has come for this individual, there is debate over whether people should cheer for his demise, or whether the killing was legal according to international law. There is also debate over the effectiveness of torture (enhanced interrogation) in gleaning information that may have potentially led to locating the “enemy of the state.” Obviously, every Quaker needs to have an informed opinion, not only about the reach of international law, but the legality of killing, and the poor taste indicated in torture.
Yet, certain questions remain. Do all the online arguments about the moral ambiguity of war and international conflict serve to provide clarity of our own beliefs, or do they exist to mock the intellectual shortcomings of our opponents. Quick wit and straw man attacks do not an argument make, a seminary ethics instructor assured me. I would drive him crazy by calling any theologian or ethicist I disagreed with a “hack.”
In fact, to speak about the morality of killing, whether it be an assassination, by bombing, in combat, or by flying airplanes into buildings, is somewhat moot if we are not changing our lives in a manner that reflects our willingness to step back from the nature of killing and reject the benefits we receive from it. It amazes me that pacifist would speak to the morality of lethal methodology and certain weaponry, when our own moral witness is that all violence is “bad” and that we should be “better” than that. It often seems to me that Friends are properly concerned with the plight of the oppressed, but rarely concerned with the plight of our opponents, and less concerned with the self-degradation that comes from our marginalization of those we see as a threat to our beliefs.
The notion that others might cheer for,an individual’s death may indeed offend our Quaker sensibilities. But arguing in a self-righteous manner that this is a poor exhibition of human nature are failing to accept folks where they are at, and how fear drives responses as much as a thirst for vengeance. More than one Friend has indicated verbally that they feel satisfaction when a politician is pointed out as having failings, though we rarely recognize our own. The other side cheers murder and accepts torture. We simply benefit from it, and I will personally be the first to admit I have the high ground. Pass me the car keys, please, and give me more stuff. I hate torture, and murder and drones make me uncomfortable. Let’s write a minute to indicate to other Friends that we are as indignant as they are.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Has the time come for a new Quaker apocalyptic response?

I thank God that I am working. I grew up in a working class family that struggled, as my dad was not able to get into the shop. The economy was changing after 1973, and when it took a dive in '77 or '78, my parents were part of that undereducated population that suffered. Lost a house, moved around, and there was a lot of family turmoil. After being a drunken activist for much of my young adult life, I nevertheless made many choices about asserting myself in saying no to what I perceived as injustice. Sometimes I acted unjustly myself, with respect to my opponents. Whatever my condition then, I was prepared to sacrifice on behalf of what I felt was right.

Of course, I was not much of an employee during those years. I drank myself out of jobs, refused to work at others, and basically had a skewed vision of justice as far as my own life was concerned. I had an American activist chip on my shoulder, and had a sense of entitlement. I tended to use the plight of the “other” to justify my own shortcomings. What I later found out was, everybody should work. I still firmly believed that those who can't work for whatever reason, should receive assistance. I am not, not have I generally been, supportive of existing safety nets in our nation. However, we work with what we have, and my family has taken advantage of Bridge Cards and health care.

I sobered up, and now I take part in what I deem to be productive and satisfying labor. I engage in therapeutic relationship with other addicts, I attempt to work with young learners so they may discover how to be effective social workers, and I attempt to minister in the name of Jesus Christ. I get paid a pretty good salary for this work, earning about 32 grand a year, which is more than I have ever dreamed of making. It's pretty good scratch for an old crackhead.

It is Jesus, as experienced through a Spirit Baptism and a Quaker lens, that I have been able to properly contextualize work, ministry, and voluntary sacrifice. I believe that the life of Jesus is salvific, and that after receiving such a gift of grace, I am obligated, if I have integrity, to respond to grace. That means that I am called to reflect my experience of salvation and the meaning of Jesus' work onto those the messiah send before me. I often fail to do this, though I am committed to the attempt.

My experience of Jesus, and my commitment to understanding the gospels and allowing my life to receive meaning from this understanding of Jesus has provided a new context to my concern for justice, and how I perceive justice occurs when Jesus is properly reflected. As the gospels indicate, the early church believed that Jesus taught loving one's enemy and praying for those who persecute us is the proper response to aggression and marginalization. This reflects God's will.

The Hebrew midwives first reflected God's will, as did the prophets, Jesus, and the early church. What we learn from these characters in the narrative of YHWH and God's elect, is that when we are faced with injustice, we speak out, and do so despite the mandates of government, and despite the consequences of our ministry. Jesus' reflected the desire of God, not by relying upon twelve legions of angles or the Son's of Thunder, but by relying on saying no with dignity, and in the context of community. By being baptized in the Jordan and preparing for ministry in the wilderness, Jesus said no through prophetic symbolism instead of violence. When faced with crowds of potential militants, Jesus used the resources of community to resolve the issues of hunger. When Jesus admitted that coins wit Caesar's image in fact belonged to Caesar, he did not present a coin that he considered idolatrous, as did the temple elites. He suggested that the economy of God was one that eschewed the benefits of empire, and found ways to live on the margins of economic oppression by creating community. Acts 2 represents this understanding.

After stating many times that I believe voting is an act of coercion, I maintain that now is the time to say no to the realities of a failing empire. It is now time, not only to refuse participation in the politics of regimes, but to refuse to participate in the economy of the empire until some basic understandings of justice are met. We should not claim that nation states defend or guarantee our rights, we demand to be heard and will do so regardless of the rights that are “gifted” or, as we are seeing now, taken away. It seems as though we have finally reached that point in American politics where the hands of many are being forced, and leftist political parties and anti-war shrillness are not enough.

If Quakers are to be a witness to equality and integrity, it is time that we find a means of saying no in a corporate manner – in an identifiable manner. It is time for us to be leaders in asserting the love that God has for creation, for humanity, and begin to assert that God's love is not being reflected. This love is clearly known in the person, the life, of Jesus, and in the Acts of the Disciples. We must begin to live the gospel, which is good new for the poor and marginalized. James tells us that we must confront greed. Paul dictates our ethic in Romans 12. It is time to say no, with dignity, and welcome those who are marginalized into our communities and share our resources. Government cannot provide the love and acceptance that a community of Christ is intended to provide.

This does not alleviate government from obligations to citizens. It does mean, however, that government and taxation does not alleviate Quakers from sacrificing privilege, time, and money to serve those in need by ourselves, according to our own ethic. We should openly invite the oppressed into our midst, and not think so highly of ourselves.

Paul writes that we should obey our government. This unmistakable teaching does not mean that we participate in ungodly institutions. It means very simply, that there are consequences for saying no. It might be job loss or reducing house size. It might be sacrificing leisure to grow food and sew clothes and create community economies of scale. It may mean sacrificing our freedom in order to maintain with dignity that our social structures are failing us, and we will shut them down if necessary until the will of marginalized persons are included in the economic decision-making process of our communities and regional economies. WE may demand markets that are truly free, which includes the potential for laborers to collectively demand a living wage and security after work. Quakers can provide for this by taking care of one another as a community, and inviting others in.

In the mean time, we must still say no to oppression and economic aggression against the majority of our neighbors. It is hard for the oppressor to make a buck, if no one is spending a buck. It is time we take care of one another, and live a life of faithfulness that indicates to the oppressed what salvation looks like. The time has come for another apocalyptic Quakerism, and I hope we can identify the appropriate means of meeting that divine command.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Are Friends a People of Peace?

Some observations that Friends will disagree with. Another Friend asked if we have a center, or a sense of a center, at Meeting. After thinking, I believe that, as a Religious Society we do not. I also believe that a great many, if not a potentially large majority, of Friends, want it that way. If I am perhaps mistaken that a majority of Friends do not wish for a greater sense of centeredness in the wider FGC community, it is my observation that Friends are not willing to do the things that will facilitate a “sense of meeting” amongst our diverse community.
Friends no longer have a corporate peace testimony, but seem to live as though non-violence is a preferred response to injustice, militarism, or the presence of evil, if Friends will accept the concept of evil as a legitimate concern. I say we no longer have a corporate witness to peace for a variety of reasons, but I wish to make one thing perfectly clear. Many, many, individual Friends are wholly committed to non-violence, and live a life that reflects as much. There are some Friend’s communities that reflect the peace testimony in a corporate manner. These are positive representations of faith, but I am not quite sure how they are identifiably Religious, or that they are representative of the Quaking experiences of our apocalyptic forbearers.
Yet I have digressed. Friends no longer have a corporate peace testimony because our identity is that of American citizen (perhaps FUM), or liberal democrats or Green Party activists (perhaps FGC), or insignificant in number and outreach (RSOF Conservative). We have become, “like all the other nations.” Indeed, Friends reflect the same attitude of our fundamentalists counterparts (enemies?) in that we have come to view the nation state as the primary means of reflecting the nature of our beliefs, instead of our own committed corporate actions. Friends are a people of politics, who generally come together for silence with others who would not think of challenging another Friends politics, ministry, or reflections of witness. So, our allegiances are not with meeting, and, we refuse accountability to meeting.
We have become a people who recognize that the nation state and militarism are the reality of the current age, that the zeitgeist that never changes. However, since the American Civil War, and Friends commitment to secular political action, military service, and maintenance of political power that necessitated the discarding of peculiarities by most, Friends have stopped challenging the zeitgeist. We have acquiesced to the maintenance of, or obtaining of power, in order to carry out specific concepts of Equality, Peace, or Integrity. Simplicity, perhaps most of all, has lost its corporate sense entirely. In our struggle to legislate a specific ethic, whether it be equal social status for Blacks, immigration reform or hospitality for neighbors, or the right of Gays and Lesbians to join the military without the complications of identity, we have come to believe, in my observation, that the burdens of socio-cultural reality are such that we all must compromise a sense of the meeting in order to facilitate justice through the ballot box.
Ballot boxes, however, or legislation, are not the primary vehicle for justice or peace. They are legitimate means, but are they representative of the overall aims of a Religious Society who, at least among some, indicate that reconciliation is as important to our faith as western justice. In other words, we feel like our primary aim as a religious society should be to reconcile after justice is authorized through the political process. Friends, I am not naive enough to believe that reconciliation is part of this process. While we patiently wait for our worshipful business to be reconciled before making a decision that will effect the whole of the meeting, we will not be patient servants and advocates for those who lack the experience, education, or loving-kindness to accept justice. And, we fail to love our enemies when we act as a society to pick and choose which aspect of legislation our worth our time and support, while discarding the importance of apparently lost causes. We will not end war, but we can reduce nuclear armaments by a few. They will not be destroyed, only placed in storage.
We will support someone’s right to fight, as the military is a reality of our age, and this is an equality issue. But to fight for another person’s right to fight when you yourself refuse the obligation to defend your accepted lifestyle is terribly inconsistent. It lacks integrity. Some say that it was an important event when African Americans could be seen as equals in the armed forces. I agree, and I also agree that it was a major indicator that the time to fight the civil rights battles had come. But the result of this battle for equality. The victimization of communities by the poverty draft, the fact of black soldiers often being given the shit end of the stick in combat situations, the fact that civil rights has had little or no effect in correction the socio-economic standing of most Black communities. In essence, we have asked the Black population to serve disproportionately to defend “our” way of life, all the time saying it is an equality issue.
All the this time, we work to marginalize those persons who, because of their own socio-economic circumstances, and the erosion of their own admittedly unhealthy identities, are left feeling that they either did not have a voice, or were simply disregarded. This does not defend racism, it reflects the reality of legislating morality. It also does not suggest that such legislation has been entirely ineffective or immoral. I suggest that it simply does not represent a coherent or cohesive sense of Friends. We have lost a sense of corporate testimony. We say peace and security, but really feel that equality is more important than non-violence. The funny thing is, that while we talk about equality, very few of us sacrifice to make it a reality in our lives. We have things that are worth defending, perhaps hiding behind the peace testimony as an excuse to continue on, believing that world peace will someday vindicate our view of the world, and that it may occur before Jesus returns. God forbid that Friends legitimize Jesus, who preached that we love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us. That we sacrifice to point out the injustices of domination, instead of engaging in power struggles to emerge victorious.
Friends, victory is never won. Not in war, not after the civil war, not after the world wars, not in Iraq or Afghanistan. It will not be won by gays or lesbians. It will not be won by the vast numbers of women who won the right to go into combat only to suffer incredible rates of rape and assault at the hands of their comrades. Victory is never won. We only have hope that our ethic is someday vindicated by a God who reflects our greatest potential for grace and mercy on the just and unjust. If we no longer accept this, then it is not just that we have lost our witness to Peace. We are no longer religious. We are a political club that engages in time-outs and potlucks. We are justified by our own arrogance, believing that we are a superior intellectual reflection of peace and justice than the living God, a God which we no longer know, and exclude the potential that we someday might.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent Conspiracy

Every December, the birth of Jesus is remembered throughout Christendom. However, I have observed Advent as encompassing the liturgical overtones of dual truth claims. For Americans, Christmas is, not only a celebration of a savior born, but a celebration of a triumph of another kind. I believe Christmas is as much a celebration of American entitlement, and acts more as Christian propaganda, as it has been a time to reflect upon what the birth stories mean in our lives. We are meant to be a people who confess that Jesus is our sole authority over all matters of faith and practice. Yet, we have become a culture that celebrates our faith in a saving act of God by participating in the sacraments of consumerism - desire, decadence, and debt.
With feasts apparently bent on celebrating majority status more than reflecting the context of Jesus’ humble birth, we commit mostly to loving those who love us. We gain worth by giving, not so much in memory of Jesus, but in a manner that asserts our ability to maintain appearances. While we consume in the name of Jesus, we triumphantly thrust our majority status upon all, not only confident in own religious faith, but in the belief that our faith is properly vindicated by the complete absorption of all into the spirit that fuels, not faithfulness, but a faith in the economic and political superiority, maintained through the use of Christian language. This attempt to publicly legitimize faith, and the use of faith to underwrite socio-economic privilege, has consequences. Biblical values are commandeered to dress up utilitarian ethics as Christian in origin, then manipulated to support political supremacy. “Jesus gave us freedom - we must defend our freedom through torture.” This is not a question of policy, it is one of Christian ethic.
When I reveal that my family does not put a tree in the living room, or give gifts, to our children, others ask, “what about the kids, don’t they miss out?” I’m not sure. However, mountains of gifts and Santa’s lap, or debt designer jeans, do not indicate that Jesus has any meaning in our lives. Children should be gifted, along with our spouses and families, every day of the year. As a Quaker, I believe that every day is holy. Every day is to be lived as a celebration of Jesus, and it should be made evident, not by crèches in public places, but in how we love our neighbors and the poor.
We have reached a point where matters of faith have been co-opted as support structures for entitlement. Our economy is built upon a sense of financial and consumer entitlement that has reached a point in our market system where corporations are dependent upon meeting Christmas sales goals to stay solvent. Michigan will suffer if we do not buy enough to benefit the state through the six percent sales tax that is levied upon our purchases. What does this indicate? That Jesus come to save privileged economies by lending his name to consumerism? Or has Jesus come to save our community from the fiercely independent stream of individualism that we use to excuse our mass consumption as a provision of individual and family worth, or, therapy.
In their hearts, some are let down, so removed are we from relationship with that aspect of Jesus which is truly saving. Arguing about Merry Christmas or Season’s Greeting, and then telling them they are only valued when they acquiesce to immersion, is not indicative of Grace. We reflect God’s gifts by reflecting appropriately upon the birth of God’s anointed. We give to the poor, and clothe and shelter those in need; visit the prisoners, and serve one God, for God and mammon cannot both be served.
The birth stories, and the God revealed through Jesus, are done no justice by our purchasing video games and designer jeans as expressive of God’s love. Such faith firmly commits us to economic idolatry in which we serve the gods of entitlement and sing the hymns of our deserving, and not the amazing aspects of grace. Christmas illumines us, not by our love, but by our collection of stuff. Is this where we get worth from, and is this our sense of Christmas purpose?
God does not abhor free markets. I do not believe that God is done a disservice by wealth. I do believe that God will not be marginalized by consumption, especially to a point where consumer choice is identified as a standard of blessing. Indeed, God’s standards are established by manger and cross.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Comfortable waiting interupted by Spirit

A Quaker who fancies himself a prophet lay in bed next to his wife, waiting on a word from God. YHWH El Shaddai comes to him and quietly asks, “what would you pray for, scot?” I am afraid to answer, for even I am afraid to lie to YHWH. “But, I am not concerned that you may lie to me,” says the Holy One. “I am more concerned that you might lie to yourself. What will you pray for?”

Must I be honest? God knows what I would pray for, which is generally why I don’t pray. I just wait, hoping that the Spirit will never move me to confront myself. “If I were to pray honestly, I could ask for no more than to do God’s work, and enjoy stability for myself and my family.”

“What is it you want to pray for,” I am asked. I answer: “I want to be able to pray that the desire of YHWH is carried out by those who confess.” The next question is obvious. “Why don’t you pray for that desire to be met ?” I do not hesitate to respond. “It may mean that I might have to sacrifice in ways that I am not wanting to sacrifice. You have brought me a long way, YHWH. It seems as though now, I have something to lose.”

“What is it that you have faith in, then, if not the potential for my desire to meet your every need?”

What does faith mean, I ask, to one who has a house, and livestock, a wife and children who love me. I have a lofty job with an opportunity to reveal some sort of truth, to impactthe faith of others. Why should I have faith in digging ditches while drunk. I am tired of growth. I want to pray for myself, that I might finally be stable. That I might be able to settle.

“You need to read the Book more,” is the response that I feel. Centuries of revelation can not be dismissed by the untested experience of one junkie or religious refugee. The act of rejecting the revelation of the ancients does not make one exponentially more suited for the Truths of the future. It simply means that you might be spit out a spaceship instead of a big fish.

Either way, it will be a hot day in the desert when it’s all said and done, and nothing that begins in the desert seems to end well. Only the pure, it seems, enjoy the happy endings. As a particularly attentive person once said, “Hey… It’s not all about you, Job.”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gays in the military: Don't get me started

I am at a loss as to what Friends have come to represent. Currently, I have a concern that we are no longer a Religious Society, and perhaps, not even a particularly Spirit-led society. Perhaps Quakers are no longer the Religious Society of Friends (certainly no longer Friends of Jesus as represented in John 15), but a more or less social group of liberal Greens or Democrats. Perhaps even a few Socialists who can’t yet let go of the possibility of a God. In my current state of disdain, however, I no longer know if we are a people of peace.

There appears to be a concern among Quakers that Gays and Lesbians should have the right to serve in the Armed Forces. Of course they should. There should never be discrimination of any kind in regard to an individual’s ability to participate in public, social, political, or service-related institutions. Discrimination against any group, especially a marginalized group like the LGBT community, should never be condoned. However, is this a concern that Friends should take a public stance on under the guise of our testimony to equality?

For years, I believe Quaker participation in liberal democracy has taken a toll on our sense of justice. I believe our Quaker community might seek to provide an alternative community that seeks a higher sense of justice, a justice with a alternative view of what constitutes integrity. We instead appear to be concerned with a utilitarian justice that simply welcomes individuals from marginalized groups to find their way into a socio-economic position in which they can exploit others, whose self-determination remains unrealized. It seems that all it takes for the American sense of justice to be realized is that we open our collective arms and welcome new communities of “others” into privileged status as equal opportunity exploiters.

Yet, why on earth would I commit myself to fighting for a marginalized individual’s right to participate as an equal in war making - an endeavor that not only commits murder against exploited populations, but does so in a manner that suggests to both the exploited and formerly exploited populations that violence is always considered an appropriate response to injustice. Are we as Freinds suggesting that we recognize that communitites have the right, not only to defend newly realized self-determination, but in ensuring that the formerly exploited populations enjoy the ability to enjoy to a heaping portion of the benefits derived from the entitled status as member in good standing of the empire.

If we as Quakers, or Friends, or whatever we have become, are going to be a people of peace, we need to offer an example of justice that not only refrains from using violence as a means of achieving equality, but refusing to defend such a community with violence. We must deny ourselves the benefits reaped as fruits of militarism. Refusing to fight in wars of the empire, or wars of liberation, or wars of self-defense, is a cupcake baking example of peace making if we are fighting for the rights of others to defend our status as peacemakers. This is the very claim of the empire, the assertation of liberal democracy. That we can only “practice peace” because we do not face the violent threats to property, material comfort, and privilege that those citizens of hated socialist or tyranical dictatorships do.

Quakers rightfully insist that gay and lesbian intimate relationships, sexual practice, parental competency, and community values are fully representative of the relational, spiritual, and social values of our denomination. This is the kind of community that I desire to be a part of and voluntarily commit myself to in service of the Creator God. That is why we should create communities where the rest of the world can see what peace looks like when it values an integrity that lives out an example of equality without suggesting that equality is represented by new opportunities for once marginalized individuals to participate in an economically and socially unjust political system. How odd must it be for Muslims to look at Quakers and see us proclaiming peace in the Middle East, peace in Iraq, and peace in Afghanistan, and at the same time speaking out publicly on behalf of those individuals who are seeking the right to kill them.

How can proclaimed pacifists tell people that they should not use force to resolve conflict, then participate in a political process that seeks to ensure the rights of all persons to use force equally, especially when it fills their apparently vocational dream to identify as a warrior. As we counsel some soldiers that seek to cease their participation in war by serving as CO counselors and mediators, are we to run to the court room next door in order to ensure that some one is ready to take the other’s place?

I took up a similar issue at a meeting for worship with attention to business. Our meeting has been seeking contributions to support FCNL’s stance against cluster bombs and some other such wonders of modern engineering. As the kids write these days - WTF? Our stance against all outward wars and strife is now a stance that suggests there are kinder and gentler ways of mass murder that will better express our values as an empire, until someday the killing will stop. It is one thing to have the self-awareness and integrity to refrain from pushing the values of non-violence upon an exploited population that must decide upon its own collective response to economic, social, or military aggression. It is another thing to suggest that we will be more morally acceptable as particpants in empire if we can at least stop the governments and insurgents of the world from using those nasty land-mines.

I myself insist upon a government that uses only laser guided missiles and remote controlled drones that kill fewer innocent civilians, and never intenionally target any. In fact, we hardly lose any soldiers anymore, though it seems as though as many or more are wounded, and they only kill a few women and children once in a while. While I contribute money to this cause in the name of Friends, I’ll make sure to tell the newly enlisted soldiers who won the right to fight not to make us look to bad when they might happen to make deadly mistakes due to bad military intelligence, mistakenly identified insurgents, or simply the combat trauma they've experienced because we worked so hard politically so that they might experience that sinking feeling that they have just debilitated an innocent person. The nature of combat is, you cannot trust anyone, and most often have a difficult time identifying your enemiy. Why do we need cluster bombs when we send our youth into situations that force a response to evil that does more damage to everyone involved, including the American warrior, than any modern weaponry can inflict.

Indeed, why on earth would Quakers be in favor of gun control (as some folks protested the sale of firearms to civilians in Philadelphia). If we fight for the right for individuals to kill Muslims, why can’t our neighbors defend their television sets from theft by using lethal force. Perhaps, instead of fighting against capital punishment, we should insist upon a public viewing of executions so that people can get the real feel of it. You know, make them feel a little guilty that another black guy was killed so that we could all feel a little safer about our kids ability to walk teh streets of Texas suburbs. Funny about American history. We don’t feel guilty to much about our past, and when we do, we make up for it by welcoming new groups into the system of exploitation that we are always saying we abhor. Who needs any god as a moral or spiritual authority when we have reason.

We are Quakers. We are educated, we are for peace, and you will know this by our Birkenstocks.