Thursday, November 30, 2006

community, or not

Everyone is clamoring to be part of a community, the problem being that no one wants to give up their individual desires in order to do it. Those who have had to listen to me over the past year and a half are probably sick of hearing me say it, but contemporary ideas of community are nothing more that one finding a nice club of like minded people to underwrite personal desires. Community in the postmodern sense is a collection of individuals seeking the support of friendly folks who will ooh and ahh over their dreams (which is nice, I like when people ooh and ahh over my dreams) but fail to contribute in any way to the edification of the community's growth.
Let's just say that, for instance, that there is a terribly unhealthy relationship in the midst of community, or simply one person engaging in unhealthy decision making. It is not very often that people are willing to accept personal direction for the betterment of community, at the expense of personal desires being met. Most of us would rather feel good about maintaining unhealthy relationships that meet specific needs, that might be best left unmet, instead of sacrificing for the benefit of those surrounding us.
An interesting thing is that most of our desires, most of our dreams, are dreams of self-fulfillment and aggrandizement, and not dreams that will further build our community in a manner that brings ourselves and others closer to being a community of God.
Really, it is a matter of self-definition. Am I willing to identify more closely with the needs of my neighbor than my own personal desires. That is a tough thing for an all-American boy or gal to do. It has proven difficult for me to grasp for my own behavior, yet easy to point out in others. Most of our dreams (my dreams) are based upon the idea that we have met our full potential, if not economically, than spiritually. It is amusing to me that the means that we employ to be successful financially seem to be closely related to the means we employ to move forward spiritually. We measure ourselves by personal fulfillment, (how many people have I helped today), instead of how we have served the living God by reflecting the sacrifice of Jesus, who invited people to be part of his community. Instead of serving individuals through a system of social services (which are important) we should build communities that invite and welcome the marginalized as possible contributors. Building communities that offer alternatives to those desire based clubs is one step the church needs to take in order to build faithfulness to a God that is not propped up as a mere proponent of the American experiment.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Oh, he's just a guy saying that

I find it interesting that in the pursuit of equality between sexes, which should never have had to been pursued in the first place (the church has been a little behind), women continue to get the crappy end of the stick. In a movement that suggests women have been viewed solely as objects of sexual desire/fulfilment for males, or objects of sexual desire that also birth male heirs and house help, I fail to see how equality has been reached for females in the past four decades, other than the ability to perform as wage slaves, or successfully exploit wage slaves while earning lesser wages than their male counterparts for the same work. The main thrust of what I see as the biggest injustice, is that women are still viewed primarily as fodder for the ever prowling male libido, or ego. (is the really a difference?)

What seems to have happened is that while women have continued to be mostly rejected as equals in a continuing male dominated world, Western, and especially American women, tend to view themselves as being liberated primarily through a variety of expressions concerning sexual freedom. While I can definitly relate to an all out battle for a womans demand for orgasmic opportunity to be fully met, I have a hard time understanding how the ability to freely participate in a culture dominated by unhealthy, (i.e. exploitative) and still male dominated, views of sexuality and womens health concerns, equalls true freedom. Sexual fulfilment within the confines of covenant relationships are healthy. Male and female counterparts parading their availability in a context of free market intimacy is simply giving in to the ever present male need for constant stimulation, leaving women as nothing more than the sex objects they have always been to the male point of view, only now they are also responsible for supporting the family as well as doing the chores.

What might really address the problem is an all out assault on male dominance and privilege, instead of acquiesence tothe female quest for sexual opportunity that allows everyone to let their hair down, but not their guard. And for all you women in committed relationships, demand those orgasms!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Rambling on about diversity

I am in the midst of an interesting conversation at work, and the question being discussed includes issues of privilege, as well as the responsibility of those who are suddenly "credentialed" to make a living in the United States. Also, there is the question of the purposes served by "diversity" projects that are common at most colleges in the US.

At the root of the question is the moral issues involved by fighting an oppressive entity, not necessarily in order to overturn the injustice that is inherent to the entity, but in order to more fully participate in it. For example, lets take the issue of gays in the military. From the Quaker perspective, homosexuals are equal to heterosexuals in the eyes of the Creator, and certain civil rights should be granted to gays and lesbians, and protected, by the state. Yet, one of the issues involved in the battle for equal rights under the law is the right to join the military.

In what way is justice served when the victim of oppression is granted the freedom to protect an oppressive system through the use of violence? On the same token, how is justice served when economically disadvantaged persons suddenly increase their earning potential. How just is it to grant someone who could not previously take advantage of economic exploitation new opportunities to further exploit. Questions like this should certainly be asked as we engage the wider culture about personal rights.

So, the question of credentialing and diversity comes up. How am I living according to the example of Jesus by participating in an academic system that primarily serves persons of privilege? How would inviting oppressed persons into academia serve to overturn that oppression?

I see possibilities for change, even through those dastardly religious institutions known as seminaries, but only if we pay more attention to hands on theology than we do to trinitarian or Eucharistic issues. And only if we listen closely to those diverse voices that we invite, perhaps hoping they might come 'round to agree with our own way of thinking, so that we can continue to facilitate change according to our own privileged terms.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Our family had a discussion about Christmas today at dinner. Of course, the kids are all for fully decorating the house, lots of presents, and anything else that we might fit into our small living room. Jenn likes Christmas, and would like to have decorations up as well. As for me, I can stand what Christmas has become; a commercial bonanza of glitz and debt that not only promotes the sin of materialism, it promotes the type of idolatry that Constantine hoped it would replace when Christmas was placed in competition with the foremost pagan holiday of the time. The fact that Jesus was probably born around late August or early September seems to be lost on everyone, perhaps because the very idea of Christmas has evolved to be a larger event the the humble beginnings of the Messiah.

Our daughter Emma suggests that the gift giving commemorates the story of the magi giving gifts after the birth of Jesus and his identification as a king. That is pretty clear thinking, but it seems to me that we might better celebrate the birth of Jesus by regarding his humble beginnings with a type of reverence that certainly seems missing from the debt circus that Christmas has become.

As for giving gifts, Emma is exactly right that we ought to give of ourselves, both spiritually and materially, in remembrance of Jesus, but this should certainly be done on a daily basis by both individuals and meetings as a standard liturgy of giving in the name of Christ. Once a year events magnify the boasting aspect of gift giving. Daily humility recognizes the importance of rightly sharing resources with those who need them the most.

If I hear one more commercial on the radio suggesting that a diamond proves that my wife is "the most important chapter of my life story," I'll puke. And then I'll try to express my love by dedicating every day to her emotional, spiritual, and physical needs, that we might write a life story together that doesn't need a diamond to sponsor it.

By the way, I fudged and said their could be decorations as long as they were home made, and that Emma could have Christmas lights in her room - though it might end up looking more like a Cass Corridor bar than a Quaker girl's bedroom.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Truth, Constantine, and Free Speech - but not necessarily intelligible

Interesting thing about truth these days, is that everyone seems to cling to some concept of it, but generally rejects competing truth claims out of hand. Still, they continuously seek validation for their own reality. The claims of the mainstream church are that A) God has worked in history through Jesus Christ, and generally couches this statement in salvific terms; B) Jesus inaugurates a new way of life that reflects the presence of God's kingdom (at least partially); and C) this is the truth that preempts any other claim and should inform every legitimate world view.

However, reality and truth are indeed only real and true to the point of the explicit outcomes generated by faithfulness to a claim. In other words, the truth of the church is that A) much of its claim is propagated by coercion, and the portrait of a suffering servant as Salvific is vandalized by the violence and oppression used by the Church as a method of "evangelization" of the rest of the world. B) The new way of life that has been lived out by much of the Church, especially in the Western world, is that of economic exploitation and social injustice that betrays the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recalled by the authors of the Gospels. C) This lived- out truth has indeed trumped the claims that the church has somehow carried on the salvific work that God has fashioned through the life of Jesus. Apparently, the ingredients of a faithful servants community have not been followed faithfully (though, perhaps, religiously) by those invested in the truth claims made by the church for centuries.

It is easy to blame Constantine for all this, though not enough Christians do, and more than enough view him as a divinely inspired hero who conquered justly in the sign of the cross. The fact may be that once Christianity became a duly recognized legal religion within the empire, it lost its radical vision of a Jesus who saves us from the machinations of empire, to the Jesus who would rather be protected and propagated through the militarily defended gospel of Caesar.

So what does the first amendment mean to the Church of God. First of all, it means that it is very easy for me to sit here and write about it because I am in fact protected by it. But we should all beware that we are still worshipping the God who liberates humanity with or without constitutional guarantees, according to God's own sense of justice, and not according to the will of a benevolent government who may or may not like what the church has to say. It seems to me, that the more we hurrah the state as the protector of justice, the less critical we are as the Body of Christ of the injustices the state carries out against those who are not protected by our Constitution. How long will the church support a system that props up dictators who suppress the same rights it reserves for its own subjects/constituents.

As we can tell by uprisings that happen throughout the world, free speech is an ideal that forces itself into political reality sooner or later in every society. Sometimes, very painfully, with tremendous loss and tremendous sacrifice on the part of those who seek it. Free Speech is a matter of justice that the people of a Living and Liberating God should insist upon. But lets not be grateful for a state that allows it on specific terms. Let's be thankful for a God who inspires us to speak out about justice and liberation and obedience to the command of equality for every person.

Let's be thankful for a Messiah who spoke out against the empire who claimed to be Representative of divine will, and more critical of a nation state that feigns to be the benevolent protector of divine interests.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ecumenism and liberal politics

At the risk of seriously offending some of the folks at my meeting back in Grand Rapids, I have been thinking about ecumenism this afternoon while talking with a theology prof. While discussing things such as liberal democracies and other things that are generally only discussed openly within the realm of liberal democracies, the subject of truth or narratives as being inherently oppressive came up. Reinhold Neibuhr suggests that their are two types of utopias, those that are dangerous such as communism or fascism, and those that are not, such as Quakerism or other non-violent communities. Obviously, Neibuhr didn't think that Quakers were particularly competitive in the marketplace of ideas, or if he did, you would only find Friends on the clearance rack of the religious apparel aisle. Circling back, does a narrative have to be competitive with others in order to be legitimate, and if so, can it survive without doing a certain kind of violence (not necessarily physical, but perhaps cultural) to those who do not subscribe to it. Can a story-formed community experience growth and retain intellectual integrity if it does not compete, in some sense, with other narratives or truth claims.

This brings us to ecumenism. What is possibly gained by Quaker communities who engage in a dialogue but refuse to insist upon non-violence, social and economic justice, and equality as understood truths upon which God is properly reflected. Friends who have been anxious to participate in ecumenical organizations, especially with churches or faiths that do not adhere to the non-violent example of Jesus as understood in Scripture and by the early church, are selling our peculiarity short. Already, many FGC Friends are dedicated to the support of liberal political institutions that (mainly the Democratic party)
have historically and contemporarily done nothing but underwrite the national narrative of wealth obtained and defended through physical and economic violence. A liberal corporate machine is still a machine, and human beings that exist outside of the operators chair get caught up in the grind. Ecumenism, especially alongside of mainstream institutions of faith, dilute the Quaker testimonies to non-violent peace-making, equality, and justice, by yoking Friends with institutions that thrive only on coercive power, whether it be through military means abroad or the ballot box at home.

While ecumenism might win Quakers friends and respect from those who subscribe to the mainstream narrative of political power struggles and victory at all costs, it does very little to enhance the once distinctive elements of our faith that made Quakers a peculiar people.
How much more will people be lovingly served by a community that insists upon serving from a place of humility, than by a community insistent upon the acquisition and maintenance of a political machine ordered to do the job that Quaker communities should be doing on their own.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

trinitarian thinking in brief

In preparing for my Theology of Jesus class I have been reading a Kathryn Tanner book concerning the Trinity. Of course, being the heretic that I am, I have a plethora of questions about the Trinity and what it means for believers in a modern way. I am certainly uncomfortable with the traditional renderings of trinitarian thought because of the perilous discomfort it causes in my wonderfully monotheistic mind. I suggest that the Trinity is better explained in terms of modalism than by the classic Athenasian statement. Perhaps the Creator God takes human form for the purposes of Salvation, and that is exhibited in the life of Jesus. Of course, Jesus maintains a place in the Godhead, but is not still materially or spiritually active apart from the Creator or the Holy Spirit. God is one, and God's work through Jesus and the Holy Spirit are simply aspects of the One Creator God.
A classmate has raised the question, what does this mean for the traditional Quaker understanding of the work or "teaching" of "Christ within?" I do believe that early Quakers certainly beleived in the traditional Trinitarian formulation of three distinctions within one Godhead. I don't necessarily believe we have to stay true to the traditional language any more than we are bound by traditional Trinitarian thought. As a side not to Universalist Friends, sorry, but the work of Jesus is necessary to redemption and the reconciliation of creation with the Creator.
I'll have more thoughts on this after the discussion tonight. Blessings, Scot

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


I've tried this blogging stuff once, and after about five posts I stopped updating it. I'm not exactly sure what I might pursue with this electronic opportunity, but it will be a major accomplishment if I can simply keep it going. Expect more tomorrow.