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.