Tuesday, April 29, 2008

writing papers

So you probably don't believe me, since I write essays on here all the time, but writing papers is kinda' hard. I would much rather just blog. Because on a blog I don't have to be responsible. I don't have to cite things! I can say, "Walk cheerfully over the earth and answer that of God in everyone," and I don't even have to tell you it's George Fox who said it, or look up which random letter to someone in the West Indies or something he wrote it in. =)

Today I turned in two papers, one 21 pages and one 28 pages (plus title pages and bibliographies). I seriously spent 3 hours last night formatting my citations, even though I had already put the footnotes in with the proper author and page number. I'm not even sure how that's possible! The good news is, I handed two papers in today, and they're not even due until Saturday. The names of these two papers: "Thekla: Equal to the Apostles," and "The Role of Women in Early Anabaptism: Equal Opportunity Martyrdom." They were both fun to research, and once I got into them, fun enough to write. I'll post stuff about what I learned after I'm done with finals.

Now there are just two more to go.

One of the other ones shouldn't be too bad--it's 12-15 pages and if I turn it in by Friday (it's due Monday) I get an extra credit half grade. Hopefully I won't need it, but you never know. So we'll see if that happens. I have all the research done, but...I think I have 25-30 pages of single spaced notes for 12-15 pages, so I have a lot of sorting to do. This one is about the Gospel of Mary and how it relates to the biblical canon. It doesn't have a title yet but it's going to be about the issue of who has authority to speak, interpret and decide on the word of God in the world, and continuing revelation, and the role of women in all of this.

The last one is due on Saturday morning. It's 15 pages for my War & Christian Conscience class. It's the one I'm struggling with the most because I have too much to say and I'm having a really hard time knowing how to focus it. I was going to use the movie "The Mission" to talk about different Christian responses to war and conflict, showing how people see the pacifist and just war people as noble but not practical enough, so American Christians end up looking more like America than Christ. But to do that I'd have to go into the whole thing about Christendom, Manifest Destiny, then do all the stuff about how violence in the media affects Christians' way of thinking, not to mention to show how pacifists are more like Christ than realists (which is no small task no matter how much Quakers like to think it's easy to prove). So I decided that was way too much for a 15 page paper that has to have sources (so I can't just say what I think I have to actually do research!).

So now my title is "American Christendom: On Christianity in a Position of Power." So I have 25 pages written for my 15 page paper so far...And I haven't even really said what I want to say yet. It's like that quote, "I would have written you a shorter letter but I didn't have time." (See, I don't have to cite that!) I'm having a hard time saying my own stuff and figuring out how to fit other people's theologies in there (except Barclay--that's pretty easy to do, and Yoder, and dissing on Barth & Augustine & Niebuhr...)

But I think I'm having a hard time on this because I don't know for sure what I think. Here's the problem: we need government, right? We need something to keep us all in order because we're all messed up and don't really relate well to each other without some form of structure. But this structure is problematic because we end up institutionalizing the structure so we have to follow the structure even if it no longer works (or never did) for what it was designed to do. So the structure ends up being oppressive.

But Christian thinkers since Augustine have said we should obey our governments in everything because God is a God of order, and governments are put there by God (according to Romans 13) to keep order, so obeying our governments is the same thing as obeying God. This is really scary, of course, in the obvious example of Nazi Germany, but even in the United States. Here there's the whole issue of Manifest Destiny, believing God has called us to spread Christianity over all the earth, but we don't know how to separate Christianity from our culture. So we end up spreading Americanism over all the earth, destroying cultures as we go. We do this in the name of "freedom" and "order," because (don't you know?) democracy is God's form of government, so everyone else should follow it to, if we have to force them!

So we have this civil religion of shining the light of democracy into the world, redeeming the world, when as Christians we're supposed to believe that the world has already been redeemed. But apparently we have the mandate to get everyone out of all the injustice they're facing...so we say. This might be fine (or at least better) if we actually did stand up against injustice, instead of only doing so (nominally) when we have a vested interest in ridding the country of that injustice. (For example, Iraq, where we said we were ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein in order to free the people from an evil dictator, and they just happen to have a lot of oil that we'd like to get our hands on; whereas in Darfur where people are actually being slaughtered we won't intervene because there's nothing in it for us.)

So what does all this say about Christians in a position of power? It basically says that when Christians are in power they become like everyone else--greedy, feeling it necessary to protect ourselves and our wealth, using rhetoric of justice to get people on board but actually furthering injustice.

Should Christians give up on governments altogether? This sounds tempting, but it doesn't work. Should we vote but not actually get involved in politics so we don't get our hands dirty? This sounds duplicitous.

Jesus lived in his system and managed to be "without sin," right? He was very political, as Yoder showed us. But he also worked to break down injustices in the system simply by not allowing them to control his actions. This sounds great...but how do we do this today?

I don't know. That's the problem.

And what do we do when people are being attacked? Would we really send a bunch of unarmed people in to a conflict situation? Wouldn't that be unfair to them? How can it be loving to send someone in with no power to control the situation???

That's what it really comes down to: control. People are afraid, so they try to control. But God's power is made perfect in weakness: when we put down our weapons and see one another as humans, when we're vulnerable, when we're willing to open ourselves up to love and suffer the consequences.

What kind of foreign policy is this?

I heard on the NPR podcast I told you about in my last post that Shane Claiborne's book "Jesus for President" includes a chapter called "Amish for Homeland Security." After that incident a couple years ago when a guy went in and shot some Amish kids, the Amish forgave him. They acknowledged their pain and said his action was not right, but they still loved him. Solidarity with that Amish community flowed in. Imagine if the USA had done something similar after 9/11! We had all these people in solidarity with us, but then we started talking about revenge, about a war on terror that would not end until the last terrorist was dead, and who's with us???

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very hard issue, Cherice, and you seem to be approaching it well. Sometimes there are no perfect answers. For me it always goes back to the basics: "Who is my commander-in-chief--George Bush or Jesus Christ?" This means that, like the Quakers in 1755, I must not use gov't if it disobeys Jesus. True, Romans 13 is tough--but Paul, who wrote that we must obey our gov't, was executed for disobeying his. And, as you suggest, it is hard to imagine that Jesus would really want us to obey Hitler unconditionally.

For me, then, personal obedience to Jesus is paramount. If everyone loved their enemies, we would treat them in such a way that we would soon be fresh out of enemies. We won't, of course--in a fallen world none of us is perfect, but we could do a lot nevertheless. But the unfortunate fact is that no nation will follow Jesus. We as Christians should do our best, but we can't force our sacrificial will on those who don't allow Him first place. True, "Christ in disarming Peter ungirt every soldier" (Tertullian, quoted in Alvin J. Schmidt, Veiled and Silenced, How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology Mercer University Press, 1989, p. 22) but when the post-Christlike era began about 312, and Augustine saw the city of God as separate from the city of man, we evolved into a two-kingdom religion--essentially that of the pacifist and that of the crusader, etc.

So what I am thinking is that the deep problem you are pursuing is really to whom do we owe allegiance? Being a pacifist is correct, and I may suffer for it, but I don't have the right to impose that suffering on those who are non-Christians or Christians who are non-pacifist.

Have a great second half of this busy week. Love you!

Gr. Ralph