Thursday, September 28, 2006

after more reflection...

In my last post I expressed some doubts about the efficacy of pacifism at all times, and wasn't sure what to do with that. I'm still not completely sure, but after thinking about it for a while, and after class this morning, I think I at least have more clarity, or better categories to think about it with.

In class today my professor talked about the difference between people who use nonviolence as a technique, as opposed to those who hold it as a principle. Those who see it as a technique use nonviolence when it's effective, although they might at other times be willing to use violence to achieve their ends. This might be the case for people who go on strike in order to get more fair wages: they can see that a nonviolent method of achieving their ends is more efficient and less costly in terms of lives and consequences. But they might not be against using violence in other areas, say, on an international level.

Then there are those of us who believe in nonviolence as an ethical and/or religious principle. Instead of just looking at what method would be most effective in bringing about our desired end, we see it as a matter of faithfulness. (This could be faithfulness to a Deity or to a sense of moral truth and rightness.) Whether or not it is going to be most effective to use nonviolent action, we refuse to use violence because we know it is wrong, that violence begets violence, and evil cannot overcome evil and magically become good.

So, in regards to my last post, where I was thinking about whether we ever get to a point where using violence might make it so that less violence would occur, I think for myself that I would still have to say, in order to be faithful to my belief that God calls us not to use violence, I would still not use violence.

The key, as I think Andre Trocme discovered, is just that we need to begin using nonviolent methods incredibly early so that we don't get to that point where violence is the only option. We can't force our nation to do this, but we can do everything in our power to bring things to our government's attention and hope they will deal with conflicts nonviolently from the outset so violence isn't necessary later on. We may not be able to make our nation do nonviolent struggle so well that it will never need to go to war again, but we can work in that direction.

My professor also talked about using nonviolent methods in ways that are still as effective as possible, even when we're principled nonviolent advocates. We need to actually ACT on our beliefs, and act early, in order to keep ourselves out of situations where we'll be implicated in violence that happens (as those of us who are Americans are right now by virtue of the fact that our country is at war). We can't just sit around believing in nonviolence, but we have to do the action, or else we're passivists instead of pacifists.

This is really hard. I'm not very good at it. Sure, I do what I can to live sustainably and to treat those around me in loving, nonviolent ways. But what about the bigger picture? What do I do to try to see reasons others might resort to violence coming on the horizon, and try to do something about it before it escalates too far? For example, what have I been doing to stop the torture our country has been inflicting on prisoners while it's still somewhat illegal, before Congress enacts a law where this kind of work will be much more difficult because everything will be legal? Or what am I doing about conflicts in African countries that were largely begun by my own ancestors, and are now causing situations of genocide? Or what am I doing about people in my own community who are not being given the same kind of opportunities I have because of the color of their skin or the socio-economic status of their parents?

There are so many ways we can try to prevent the need for violence, and I think that's truly as much a part of a principle of nonviolence as the decision whether or not to use violent force in a moment of crisis.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

andre trocme

For my Theology of Nonviolence class we're reading a book called "Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed," written by Philip Hallie about a French pastor named Andre Trocme. He was the pastor of a little Hugenot congregation in Le Chambon, France, during World War II, and he and his town helped save the lives of many Jews and other refugees during that time. He was committed to a theology of nonviolence, and had even started a school there based on principles of nonviolence before the war even started.

The story of Andre Trocme and the village of Le Chambon is captivating and encouraging. I would highly recommend it!

One thing that particularly stood out to me was Trocme’s story about a map-making excursion to Morocco that he volunteered for with the French Army sometime before the war. He got to Morocco and realized that they were expected to carry a gun, which he refused to do. His lieutenant “spoke to him about timing….By giving up his weapon and ammunition he had put the whole group in danger” (Hallie, 1994, p. 93). Now that he was there and the group was depending partially on him, it put his teammates in danger for him to not carry a weapon. He realized that “the ethical commandment against killing had to be obeyed as early as possible if it was to be obeyed effectively. It taught him that nonviolence could, in fact, increase violence if it was not chosen in the right way at the right time.”

This is an incredibly interesting observation, and one that has far-reaching implications for international conflict. Although I am a pacifist, it does seem that sometimes the only choice left for a nation is to use force and violence. In World War II, once Hitler had taken over and Jews and others were being exterminated, would it have been possible on a national level to choose to use nonviolent methods to combat this evil? Many point back to the end of WWI, saying that if Germany had not been treated so poorly in the aftermath of that war, perhaps WWII would not have happened as easily because the German people would not have felt they needed to prove their worth to the world. If this chance had been taken by nations around the world, if they had agreed that although they were angry with Germany for its position in the Great War, they wanted to treat it with respect and dignity, perhaps this would have spread rather than the retribution and revenge that ensued and led to WWII.

Perhaps if our government had not encouraged the reign of Saddam Hussein, knowing it was corrupt, and helped Osama bin Laden for the last 20+ years we would not be in the war in which we find ourselves now. Perhaps if we had not “helped” Viet Nam only to serve our own interests after French colonization we would not have been in that war.

This is also an important thought for individual situations. Is there ever a point of no return, where we have made so many poor choices that we have no options left but to resort to violence? In cases only involving my own life, I can say no: there is never a time where I would use violence to save my own life. That is my choice. But what if the lives of others are involved? Do I have the right to choose not to use violence that might save their lives if I’ve made poor choices before which put them into that position? Are there times when the use of violence causes less violence to happen, as Trocme’s lieutenant suggested?

Can we take biblical imperatives at face value and trust that good will ensue? Can we love our enemies and call it good? Is it best to “not repay anyone evil for evil” and “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” at all times (Rom 12:17, 21)? Is there ever a time when we've backed ourselves into a corner so much that the "best" solution is violence?

Friday, September 22, 2006

not-very-systematic theologizing

Today I had my first systematic theology precept for the semester (precepts are small group classes where we discuss the readings). For this week we read the introductory stuff of several theologians from different backgrounds. The one we focused on was Schleiermacher, a 19th century German guy who Karl Barth later wrote most of his works in direct opposition to. I didn't much care for the parts of Barth that we read last year, so I figured I'd like Schleiermacher better, and I was right. He emphasizes the fact that all our religious "knowledge" comes from experience (as does everything else)--that knowledge in religion isn't possible because it's all based on "feeling." He doesn't mean "feeling" as in emotion, but...anyway, I don't totally understand his whole system yet, but what I know so far I like. He seems much more down-to-earth, whereas Barth seems to make his theology based on ideals of how God should be as opposed to anything we actually experience ourselves.

The first thing we did in our precept was to discuss the scores we got on a "worldview test" we were supposed to have taken online. It was an interesting test...I think I put the website down for the Beliefnet quiz several months ago. This is the same kind of thing, although I think they're assuming you're a self-avowed Christian. Our preceptor had us do this sort of as a joke, because the website for this test is (If you get 100% on "biblical worldview" they send you a certificate that you can mount on your wall!) My father will be proud that my worldview ended up being "Secular Humanist Worldview." I would recommend visiting the site and taking the quiz for curiousity's sake, but many of the questions are really frustrating and you wonder what their idea of a solid "biblical worldview" is, exactly. So that was entertaining...

Here's the website:

Other people we're reading this semester: of course we have the staple Reformed theologians Calvin and Barth, then we have "representatives" of various other theological standpoints, feminist, black, Asian, Latino/a. Authors include: James Cone, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Jung-young Lee, and Paul Tillich. It should be a great semester, much better than last semester's Barth, Calvin, and three weak feminist essays.

Another interesting tidbit: one of my professors on Wednesday said, "Jesus is apparently a pacifist, so we as 21st century American Christians need to think about what to do with that." Then later he said that he himself agrees with Augustine and is a Just War proponent, but thinks we need to be very careful about the wars we "justify." I have a hard time understanding how a Christian can think that Jesus is a pacifist and would not be a pacifist themselves, but...I'll try to ask him about it sometime.

Well, that's enough random comments about systematic theology for today. I hope you're enjoying your weekend! The highlight of mine may be reading Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza...(oh yeah, and hearing my husband and our friends play here in town and in New York City!).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

nonviolent struggle

Classes started yesterday, so I'm once again reading a lot and enjoying good lectures--at least I soon will be on the lecture part, because the first day of class isn't usually the best lecture ever, just an "explaining the class" day. But I'm looking forward to all my classes. I have only four this semester, just in case something weird happens with my pregnancy.

My classes:
Systematic Theology II
Exegesis of Acts
Hebrew Poetry
Toward a Theology of Nonviolence

I'm excited about the nonviolence one--it should be interesting hearing about the Reformed tradition moving "toward" a theology of nonviolence. We already have a theology of nonviolence as Quakers (generally), but I suppose my professor is right that no one has really put forth a really good systematic theology of nonviolence. Quakers aren't known for their systematic theological works...I don't know of any besides Barclay, do you?

Anyway, for that class, so far we've read about 150 pages of Gene Sharp's book "Waging Nonviolent Struggle." It's an excellent book! I've come across Sharp before, for his famous 198 methods of nonviolent struggle list, but I had never read and works by him. This book is great because it lays out reasons for using nonviolent methods, then explains examples of these methods being used (although we haven't read any of that yet), and then he explains how to begin putting these methods of nonviolent struggle into practice effectively. If anyone's looking for practical advice about how to begin a nonviolent revolution...look no further! (Although it's a huge volume, so it will take a little while to wade through it.)

One thing that's struck me as I've been reading is, how do we get ourselves into gear to actually use these great methods? There are so many things we could be working on--resisting paying taxes that go to the military, boycotting goods that cause injustice because of workers' wages and conditions, demanding alternative energy sources...the list could go on. But how do we get ourselves empassioned enough to actually start acting on what we say we believe? These things wouldn't even probably hurt us (physically) to stand up for, they would just take time and energy, and being willing to be inconvenienced a bit. Well, I guess we might be thrown in jail for the tax evasion thing, but jail's not so bad compared to what early Friends endured.

So we have all these methods at our fingertips. When are we going to use them? How many deaths in the Middle East will get my generation to act like my parents' generation did about Vietnam? How long will we allow ourselves to be lulled into submission by our exorbitant amount of comfort? How long will we keep doing peace marches and not taking any more risky action?

What should we tackle first?

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Is anyone else out there frustrated with the situation in Darfur and what to do about it? i'm somehow on several different lists of groups who are concerned about Darfur and trying to do something about it, although I don't remember signing up for any... Most of the time what they seem to suggest is, "Let's have a rally and wave signs!" Does this actually accomplish anything? Perhaps, but not for a long time, and people are dying now.

So what do we, as Quakers, do about this sort of thing? This has been on my mind a lot, especially since watching "Hotel Rwanda" a year and a half ago or so. The genocide that happened in Rwanda and Burundi was awful--it's especially awful that the international community knew about it and yanked the peacekeeping forces out of there.

But what would I have wanted them to have done? If the UN forces had stayed, wouldn't they have also used violence to contain the situation? It seems like once it reaches the point of genocide, there's not much to be done besides keep it at bay with violence. Sure, hopefully we could see the problem coming and do something earlier to keep it from getting to that point, but once we're already there, what's the best course of action?

Here we are again, this time in Darfur, with genocide going on and the international community hesitating to get involved. Yes, we have talks about it and there are those who are actually working in the region, trying to keep the peace, but what can WE do? What are Quakers called to do in such circumstances? Should we all drop everything and go stand in the way of the guns? Should we personally take food to starving people so we know it reaches those who need it? Should we protest from home and try to break down the arms trade so that such things can't happen as easily because it's harder to get guns? Should we "just" pray?

There are groups like Christian Peacemaker Teams, Friends Peace Teams, Nonviolent Peace Force, and probably others, who are attempting to do the work of teaching nonviolent solutions to conflict resolution. These are great groups, but how many of us will actually go and help them? They can't at this point do anything in Darfur, because they don't have nearly the personnel to try such a thing. But what if they did? What if they had an army-sized group of individuals trained in nonviolent conflict resolution, willing to pay the "ultimate price" for standing for peace?

I'm reminded of some studying I did on Romans 12:17-21, which the NRSV translates like this:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

As I studied this in Greek, I noticed that there's a lot going on here underneat the surface that we don't notice in English. What's important here is that Paul, as Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount, takes a normal way of living and asks followers of Christ to go further. Repaying evil for evil would seem to make sense, to be the just and equitable way of living, but he says take thought for what is noble. He tells us that as far as it depends on us, we are to live peaceably with everyone. We aren't to take revenge ourselves, but instead--and the Greek is very strong here--it is God and God alone who is to handle vengeance.

Then Paul switches from speaking to a group (you plural) to the individual: if your (singular) enemy is hungry, feed them. Supply their needs, and supply them even if you're not completely sure that they need it. Take action! Do something, and you can't just have others do it for you--it's your personal responsibility to do something about it.

Finally, overcome evil by staying fixed firmly, unwaveringly, in the good.

To me what's really important about this is that we're called to action. Peacemaking isn't passive, although it's because of our too-often passivity that pacifism has gotten a bad name. This is convicting to me--how about you? But it's still so hard to know what to do!

To get involved in an organization working on the Darfur situation, here are some links:

And there are many others...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

to worship is to work

This week I've been re-learning the Hebrew vocabulary and grammar I learned last year and promptly didn't work on very much over the summer...

Something that hit me as I was reviewing flashcards is the fact that the verb meaning "to worship" (pronounced avad) also means "to serve, work, till." It comes from the root pronounced eved, meaning "servant, slave."

I find this fascinating--I think in our culture we think of worship as a passive thing, something we sit around and do, telling God how great God is (as if God needs a reminder, or flattery), and call this worship. Especially in programmed Friends circles, and other Christian groups, worship has come to mean "singing praise songs." I think the ancient Hebrews had an amazing understanding of praise, and of music, too, but this wasn't all that worship constituted. Instead, worship apparently had a lot to do with serving God, with tilling and working the soil of the heart and community.

This reminder came to me in meeting for worship this morning, and I wondered what work we're doing there. I think early Friends understood that worship was work. For one thing, it was work just to set a meeting time and place and get there in very early Friends times, since they weren't legally supposed to meet together. But the work didn't end with an hour of meeting together. The work of worship called them out into the world, to be active in spreading the Good News of the relationship with God that they had discovered. It called them to make a more just and equitable world through the work of their everyday lives.

What is meeting for worship for now? What work are we doing there? In unprogrammed meetings, are we allowing ourselves to do the work of what Thomas Kelley calls "holy expectancy," of waiting for God to give us words to speak and faithfulness to do so? Are we listening for how we're called to live and work in the world the rest of the week, as our acts of continued worship?

In programmed meetings, do we too easily let the released ministers do the "work" of worship for us, listening and preparing for the meeting in advance, while the rest of us get to sit back and enjoy the "show"? Are we allowing ourselves to be spoken to through those we've released as ministers, and to hear beyond them to the voice of God speaking through them in ways they couldn't have planned? Are we aware of the ways God is calling us to act and work in the world throughout the week, to continue our worship as service, not just as song?

How are we as Friends living worship as work, service, and tilling?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

reflections on yearly meeting

It's been a little while since our Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions now, which were the last week of July. But better late than never, eh?

I got to go to YM pretty much all week because I was released by the meeting I was interning at. It was great to be there, be part of the business meetings, worship with Friends, and see so many people I've grown to love. Our YM sessions go from Saturday through the next Friday. The weekend is mainly just "hang out and see everyone" time, although the representatives have a meeting on Saturday (I've never been a rep yet). I didn't get to be there on Saturday because my cousin got married, but it's OK because it was insanely hot so I think everyone just kind of laid around wherever they were and tried not to move.

In the evenings starting Sunday and going through Thursday there's evening worship, where mainly we sing and listen to a speaker. This year we had 4 speakers (plus the keynote by our YM superintendent) from our own YM. I was a little skeptical about the theme "Celebrate Jesus" because it sounds incredibly cheesy. But the speakers did an excellent job for the most part of bringing that theme down to earth, making it accessible, not just generic-evangelical-praise-Jesus-because-we-have-life-so-easy kind of "celebration." My favorite was Mary Kate Morse, who shared about challenging people, as Jesus did, to see things in a new way. She also talked a lot about our own fears to be different and to really live the radical call of Christ.

The major business for the week focused on two topics: a decision about changing the structure of our YM, and then deciding whether to stay affiliated with FWCC (Friends World Committee for Consultation). Both of these were interesting discussions and processes.

We've been working on a change in our organizational structure for a couple years, and Colin Saxton, our superintendent, was authorized to form a group to work on this and make a proposal to the Yearly Meeting. So they met together, got input from anyone in the YM who would share, and had meetings in various areas to get ideas and then later to share their idea for the new structure. I think this group did an excellent job of communicating what they were working on, accepting input and critique, and working to keep the vision of NWYM firmly in mind as they sought to make the structure more effective. They worked to balance some of the financial stuff that has become somewhat unfairly skewed toward various groups, leaving other ministries with very small financial resources. And they worked to bring people together to work on common goals rather than getting stuck in the more limited perspective of their own board.

This proposal was accepted with very little resistance, which I think means the group did amazing work ahead of time, listening to God and NWYM people, tweaking their plan, and thinking well about the needs of the YM. The only problem I see is that the Board of Peace & Social Concerns--which is dear to my heart because I was on it for a couple years then was employed by it as Peace Education Coordinator--is being spread out amongst the new boards with the goal that all boards will think about how they can live out peace and social concerns at home and abroad, instead of having one little board with meager financial resources try to keep this vision alive in our YM and world. This is a great idea, but it's also a little risky to have no one whose specific job it is to think about and work on peace and social justice issues. Also, it was decided that boards shouldn't be able to hire people by themselves, but only after the consensus of the whole YM. This is also a great idea, except that it means the Peace Education Coordinator position (and no other YM staff position, I might add) is being cut in January, with the idea that if there's a general sense in the YM that we need that position, it will be decided upon as a group rather than by a specific board. That's fine, but other positions in the YM were created by boards as well, and this feels a little frustrating. But it's the newest and most contested position so that's probably the right thing to do.

Then there was the FWCC discussion. Four years ago we decided to affiliate with FWCC for the first time, although people from our YM have always been involved in it. We said we'd look at that decision in 3 years to reevaluate. We had some reps, although they had to come up with their own money to get to FWCC events. Last year the decision came up for discussion, and people were split over whether we should stay affiliated or not. It was decided that we didn't have enough information, because some people said one thing and others said another. So a study group was put together, with people from each "side" of the issue. They came back this year saying that we should not be affiliated but should stay connected, sending representatives and supporting (with prayer, not necessarily money...) those who felt called to be part of FWCC.

So we had some meetings which would probably be described as threshing meetings at YM, then had two days of business meetings where FWCC was the main topic. People didn't want to be affiliated because they felt like FWCC isn't what it says, which is a group that doesn't further any specific theology but just brings Friends together for discussion. Some Friends felt that FWCC actually releases statements about what Friends believe that aren't consistent with what we believe, so we shouldn't be affiliated. I think that's a bit silly because if we're not affiliated, we can't have any say in what FWCC says about Friends. Others thought that it's great that we're involved in FWCC, sharing what we believe, but we shouldn't be affiliated because it's "yoking ourselves with unbelievers." Something that never got brought up in business meeting but was thrown around outside quite a bit, was that we're affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals (through Evangelical Friends International), who talk about their support of the death penalty on their website. So part of the discussion was, what does it mean to be affiliated? What are we saying when we attach our name to something?

The long and short of it is, the sense of the meeting ended up being that we should stay affiliated. I was really glad about the decision, but at the same time, there were a lot of people who weren't ready for it. They could see it was the sense of the meeting, but I don't know that they believed in was God's will. It was sad to know that some people were going home feeling like they'd "lost." I kept trying to say throughout the week, and others did too, that we shouldn't be looking at it from sides, we shouldn't be seeing who's going to "win," but we should be listening for the voice of God, and do what God says regardless of what our own opinion is. It seems to me like we did that, but that's easy for me to say, since God was apparently of the same opinion as me....Did I just think it was God's will because it was my will? Who knows. It felt like God, but not to everyone. There was consensus, but I think quite a few people stood aside from the decision. That was hard, because I love the consensus process and believe in it, but what do we do when we run out of time? How do we as Westerners wait and hear the Spirit together, over our fears of missed flights, people needing to clean buildings, keys getting returned before everyone gets fined, and the cafeteria not getting angry that we're late for lunch? How do we listen to the Spirit when we're tired and angry and hurt?

And especially, how do we listen to the Spirit through people we've already decided we don't trust?

So YM was bittersweet. I think we did good work, and worshiping together was great. Youth Yearly Meeting sounds like it was awesome, and the youth learned a lot and got excited about Quaker process. But it was hard to leaveon that note of sadness, knowing some were hurt by decisions made that week. Therew as a lot of healing throughout the week, but a lot of pain for some as well.

It's hard being Quaker! It's hard to know what to do when we've reached an impasse, and it seems clear what God wants but some aren't getting it and we can't put it off for ANOTHER year. But it's also exciting, because as we came to the sense of the meeting it was so cool to hear how God had changed some people's hearts, and opened people to one another and to other Friends around the world. Those are the times at Yearly Meeting that I live for!

Sunday, September 03, 2006


It's my last day in Oregon for a while! It's been quite a while since I've written a blog entry, and I have been doing some of the things I said I would while I wasn't blogging--went hiking several times, went up to the North Cascades for our fifth anniversary, went to the beach, hung out with F/friends and family, and hopefully did a good job at my internship. It's been a great summer.

I guess the biggest thing is that we found out we're going to be having a baby in February! We're pretty excited, although it will definitely be a huge life change. We've gotten used to being married and being able to focus a lot on each other, so being in charge of a new little life will be something to get used to. It will be an adventure!

I'm going back to school this fall, so you can expect more blogs on Quaker theological topics, I'm sure. I think I may be bored and have extra time to write because I'm taking a light class load and not working or doing an internship to take it easy since I don't know exactly what to expect being pregnant. But I'm sure I'll enjoy some more cathartic blogging and getting back into the community of Quaker bloggers. We fly back to New Jersey tomorrow (after I preach one last time over here)!