Monday, December 08, 2008

olmert calls it like it is (this time)

Today the BBC reported that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, whose appointment ends soon, called the attacks by Jewish settlers in Hebron in the last several days a "pogrom," a word generally used to refer to the anti-Semitic treatment of Jews in Europe in and before World War II. Settlers are angry because the Israeli army forcibly evicted a few of them a couple days ago because they forged documents of ownership of the house, and the Israeli High Court ruled against them.

It is true that this act is a "pogrom," but it is incredibly hypocritical for Olmert to denounce it without taking measures against settlement growth. It is Olmert's policies which have broken the Oslo Accords and continued building settlements in the West Bank. If he gives them the prerogative to live there, stealing land from the Palestinians who previously lived in those houses and used that land, how is this different from the violent attacks occurring in Hebron in recent days?

The only difference is that the attacks are overtly violent, while the subtle stealing and take-over of the West Bank happen stealthily. What is really wrong with the attacks, as Olmert's thinking goes, is that they are bringing the world's attention to the problem and swaying public opinion toward innocent Palestinians, while the settlement growth is almost imperceptible and not worthy of much press.

This latest violence is nothing very unusual, unfortunately. Look at this UN report, which records almost as many settler attacks in the first half of 2008 as there were in all of 2007.

I hope that eventually--hopefully sometime soon--all people will be able to live in peace in the Middle East, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion or gender. May we all recognize the seeds of war in ourselves, and live in more just ways with one another day by day.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

catching the bus

Last semester my finals week metaphor was the bike ride to campus--but this time of year it is WAY too cold here to bike. So I ride the shuttle bus that takes us from the student apartments to campus and back. This is great, except one has to actually catch the bus in order to use it, and in the late afternoon and evening the bus only comes once and hour, so if you miss it you're out of luck (or one's husband has to come pick one up and isn't very happy about this because he has to wake up one's child from a nap...or wait an extra hour for one to come home! Not that this has ever happened to anyone WE know...).

Anyway, so my metaphor for this finals week is "catching the bus."

The last couple days I've found myself realizing just a little too late that it's almost time for the shuttle, and I'm 5-6 blocks away and still have to pack up my stuff. So I pack up and rush to the shuttle, wearing shoes that are fairly comfortable except when I'm walking fast and they rub against my heels, and about a block and a half away I say to myself, "Cherice, you're going to make it. Just keep on goin fast, it's worth the blisters on your heels!"

I'm not really sure if it IS worth the blisters on my heels, least in its metaphorical sense it probably is worth the blisters on the heels of life that this week causes.

As far as finals weeks go this one isn't completely bad, it's just that I have to write a paper that I hope to use for grad school applications so that makes it seem even more daunting. I just have to keep telling myself, "You're almost there!" I may lose some sleep, I may stress a bit, I may not have as much time with my family as I'd like--but it's worth those blisters, right? They'll go away soon.

Or maybe I should try paying a little more attention and not waiting until the last minute. Yeah, I said that last semester, too. I don't think it's possible. I've been working on this all semester! (And watching TV and movies and hanging out with friends and reading a few novels...but one can't work ALL the time, right?!)

Anyway, here's hoping I catch the bus. Only a week and two days to go!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"good" & "evil": cultural construction or existential reality?

Here's an excerpt from the paper I'm working on--it's still a rough draft but it's what I'm thinking about. The current title of a paper is "Self-Transcendent Societies: Ideal Societies & Non-traditional Sources of Power, a case study of Gandhi's movement and implications for the Christian church."

Emile Durkheim states: “there are no false religions....all respond, if in different ways, to the given conditions of human existence” (Durkheim 4). Human beings create religions to address felt needs, because, as Thomas Hobbes puts it, apart from society, “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes, Leviathan). Each individual's conception of “good” and “evil,” say Hobbes and Durkheim, really is generated out of our understanding of what is good for the self, rather than through objective truths (Hobbes; Durkheim 15-17). Apart from civil society individuals are in a state of perpetual war, each person against all others: each of us does what is best for ourselves in the moment and there is no authority who can state what is best for all (Hobbes). This is why, they posit, we form societies: to act as that overarching authority mediating between various individuals' conceptions of what is “good.”

Human cultures almost universally conceive of life on two levels of existence: present reality as opposed to the dreamed-of ideal, or a physical versus a spiritual world. Durkheim suggests that these correspond, in human thought, to the individual and collective ability to discern what is “good" (Durkheim 18). We ascribe to the spiritual level our ideals and also the authority to enforce our ideals, which are carried out in the world through our society (including governing authorities), and perhaps somewhat separately on a spiritual level by gods or spiritual forces. Durkheim says these two levels are actually “an individual being...and a social being that represents within us the higher reality of the intellectual and moral order that we know through observation—by which I mean society” (Durkheim 18). We need this duality because it keeps us from either acting in a perfectly utilitarian manner with no thought for ourselves, or a completely selfish manner, because we are conscious of the collective need of humanity to live together, requiring some form of moral responsibility to one another.

In short, “truth,” “good,” “evil,” and all moral terms are social constructs that really mean “what is good for me/us.” As we extend alliances out further and further the pool of individuals included in our qualification of what is “good” increases. And yet, we form these societies in order to first ensure that our own needs are met, because others then have a moral responsibility to do what is “good” for ourselves (Hobbes).

Durkheim's theory is difficult to refute because one can neither prove nor disprove the existence of a god or force that defines “goodness,” “truth,” and in contrast, “evil.” Perhaps all we can say for certain is that the best way to envision “truth” and “the good” is as ethical action that ensures life for all people and the natural world, where no individual must worry about meeting their basic physical, emotional and spiritual needs. “Evil,” then, is unnecessary or pointless death. All things must die—this is part of life. But fearing death to the point that one places one's own needs or the needs of one's society (be it a family, clan, nation, race, or what have you) above the life of others has the effect of creating “evil” for another individual or group, and therefore is evil. Although I disagree with Durkheim that society is the source of all understanding of good and evil, perhaps we can agree that it is within society (in which I include the natural world) that good and evil find meaning. Apart from expression in reality, all things are “morally indifferent.” It is only when an action occurs in a specific context, using specific methods, that it it can be discerned whether it is “good” or “evil” (Aquinas, Summa Theologica I-II.1.3).

Even though I can make this compromise with Durkheim, my intuition tells me that perhaps there is something toward which all our visionary ideals point (We will not here discuss from whence “intuition” comes, although this is a worthy (and related), but will assume readers have a knowledge of this internal, inexplicable certainty.) Perhaps Plato is right about his Forms, and Tillich is right about his Ground of All Being, and Levinas is right about our responsibility to God in the face of the Other, and people of faith in all times and places are right in their yearning for something looking like what Christians call the Kingdom of God. Could it be that all these idealistic desires point to an essential Reality, a spiritual plane of self-transcendence where truth, justice and love coexist in interdependence and joy? This may not be a place per se, whether present, past or future, in this or another world. Perhaps this is a state of being, a living-in-relation to one another and to the Ultimate. Perhaps it is this state of being in which the individuals mentioned in the introduction lived, an interior knowledge of the Ultimate that orients their exterior lives toward existence in the ideal society here and now.

In my own life I have a deep sense of the reality of this Ultimate. It is an impression of Truth in the pit of my stomach, at the very core of who I am and the way I view the world. As I understand my Christian tradition, God is a God who is overwhelmingly for creation—not in the sense that God's purpose is to serve creation, but that God is on the side of creation, wants what is best for those individuals and things God created. In this sense, ultimate truth and good, then, are synonymous with what is best for individuals and the world. God is a Being with whom we can relate, and our relationship with this Ultimate has everything to do with our relations with one another. This is why societies are so important: they provide us a framework in which to relate to one another, a space in which we can all live as whole persons, attending to the truth and reminding one another of our responsibilities to each other through being grounded in Essential reality.

I believe we need one another not only for our basic needs of food and shelter, but because we remind one another of what it means to be human. We confront one another with the spiritual truths of trust, humility and love, as well as our own selfishness and fears. In an ideal society we would continually be humbled and lifted up by our interactions with one another and the Ultimate: humbled as we realize how much work we have yet to do, and lifted up by the fact that we are given the opportunity daily and moment-to-moment to act in truthful ways, and we can choose to do so.

This is not a rejection of the physical world in favor of a spiritual existence, divorced from the body. Instead it is a life of intention where we seek through our lived relationships to enact truth and love. We connect with others and the Ultimate “face to face,” as Levinas suggested, or spirit to spirit—not only in theory but also in reality. This spirit connection reminds us of our responsibility for the Other, which can only be lived out in physical reality. This is not the Utilitarian ideal of the most good for the most people, but it is doing that which provides the most good for the individual standing before me, and the individuals around the world in the network of influence woven between us. It is this spiritual connection with the Other that provides our lives with meaning and encourages us to seek preservation of all life.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

read about joel's cpt experience

Well, finals are quickly approaching, as are the deadlines for PhD applications, so I probably won't be blogging much in the near future. I'll be writing a paper on Gandhi, studying for a German test, and working on the finishing touches of applications.

In the meantime, please take as an alternative blog (if you don't read it already) my husband Joel's blog. He'll be home in a couple days from Israel/Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams. He hasn't gotten to post much from there, but what he has posted so far has been his reflections on the situation. It's crazy how much one can learn in two weeks. And it's amazing how being in a place and actually seeing what it is like can deepen your perspective so much more. He's heard me talk about the situation there, he's heard other people, he's read stuff, he's been relatively informed (compared to most Americans)--and yet, to see it with his own eyes has opened up the suffering and injustice in whole new ways. Go read his blog.

Soon he'll post pictures--because that's what his blog is usually for--so I'm sure that will enhance the information and help the rest of us see the situation through his eyes a bit more clearly.

At least remembering the situation there makes my own adversities (finals and PhD apps) seem much less difficult...but still, please hold me in the Light in the coming weeks as I work on this stuff. May God's will be done regarding further schooling, and may the paper I write be one that connects me more deeply with the Truth Gandhi (and so many others) worked to embody.

Friday, November 28, 2008

thanksgiving & india

Yesterday was a great day for me and my family--my mom is here, we went to some friends' house for a fun meal, and we Skyped with some family back home.

At the same time, it's hard to imagine all of us Americans going about our happy, thankful lives while Mumbai, India was at a standstill yesterday due to terrorist attacks. I'm totally guilty of not paying attention to this much--I heard about what was going on but didn't check into it, and someone at our meal yesterday brought it up and told me a little more about the situation.

It's amazing how one can get so caught up in making food, caring for a child, doing the things that need to be done--and ignore the pain of others. We expected the whole world to stop and mourn with us on September 11, but we rarely do the same for others.

At the same time, how do we live if not in this way? How do we "mourn with those who mourn" unless we're professional mourners, doing nothing else?

I'm grateful for a world in which good things happen, sometimes seemingly against all odds. I'm grateful for a world in which it's it's a daily challenge to remember the "other" and not just "my own," and I hope and pray each day I live more fully this way.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"dressing for recession"

I was listening to NPR today and heard this radio essay entitled "Dressing for Recession." Click on this link (or copy and paste it--I can't get the link to work for some reason) to read the full text or listen to it. (It's only 3 minutes long.)

It's about a stay-at-home dad (which in itself is a story worth repeating! Yay for stay-at-home dads, like my dad and my husband and some of our wonderful friends!!!) who goes to thrift stores and finds adult clothes to make into clothes for his daughter. It's pretty cool that he's able/willing to go to all that trouble! The picture at the beginning of this post is of his daughter in an outfit he made her. I'm impressed!

At the same time, I'm kind of flabbergasted by his expressions of embarrassment at having to shop at thrift stores, and his description of the "disposable generation" in which he grew up. Does it really take something like this "economic downturn" to get Americans to think about not throwing everything away? Does it really have to embarrass us to shop at thrift stores or to reuse other things?

To me, I think it should embarrass us that we would be willing to spend "$40 for the latest Janie and Jack dress or $30 for something from the Gap or Gymboree" for a child who will outgrow it in a year or less. Why would one spend that kind of money in the first place??? We (my husband and I) almost always shop at thrift stores--perhaps it's just that our family has always been in an "economic downturn" ever since we both graduated from high school and had to buy all our own stuff...but still, it's a matter of pride to find the cheapest, coolest stuff at a thrift store and a matter of embarrassment to pay over $20 for any article of clothing, and that only once in a blue moon (how often is that, by the way?).

I'm glad we have this situation in some ways--so that middle class Americans have to start thinking outside of the "disposable generation." But of course for people who were struggling to make ends meet anyway, who didn't have the luxury of spending $30-40 on children's clothes, what of them? What if they've been spending $1.50 on their kids' outfits all the time, and now can't afford food? And what about the fact that our ever-disposable lifestyle has for decades caused those around the world to not have enough, when for us "there's always more?"

Is this "economic downturn" going to have the effect on this generation that the Great Depression had on my great-grandparents' generation? Are we willing, and do we have the stamina we need, to scrimp and save and do without? Or are we going to continue printing ourselves $800 billion more until it becomes as useless as Monopoly money?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

what is "rational"?

Have I written a post by this name before? I don't know, but it's something I've been thinking about for a long time now. What counts as rational and how do we know it?

Generally what counts as rational is something that is objective, meaning it can be studied from a distance, without the use of emotions, and it can be explained using the language of the natural world. In scientific studies, a study is rational and objective if it is studied by someone not involved in the situation, can be replicated, and does not make interpretive claims. It just studies the way things are. When it moves into interpretation this can bed one rationally but also involves a fair amount of guessing and putting pieces together, and may require further research in order to fill in these gaps.

This is good in that it helps us separate out one piece from another, to study each piece well, and to not be confused by our own part in the process (supposedly).

Unfortunately, this rules out a lot of experiences that are not able to be proven as "rational." One cannot tell another person their experience did not occur, but one can question the reasons for it, or the sanity of the person who experienced it, or whether that person is interpreting the situation to fit their own beliefs rather than through sound research.

But what if there are things that can't be studied in a laboratory? Things happen to us every day that don't happen in a lab. No one will tell us that just because it wasn't studied it didn't happen. The problem is that those things which happen in real life might not happen if one was in a laboratory at that moment. And things happen that may not happen again even if one was in a lab. Surprising although not impossible things happen all the time, like someone shooting a basketball backwards over their head from 3/4 court and it goes in, when they may try this again and again and it would never happen to them.

And then there are religious and emotional experiences. One can study in a lab where these experiences occur within the brain, but one cannot study from whence they come, if they are "valid," or when they come. One can't really study what kind of effect they have on the person. These experiences are not able to be replicated. One can't say, "OK, now I'm going to have a religious experience," and expect the Spirit to show up in exactly the same way as last time one tried the test.

So there's no way to prove whether emotional or spiritual experiences are "rational." They are not objective, in that they happen to each of us differently, at different times and for different reasons. We cannot will them to happen, or manipulate them. We can manipulate ourselves to have an emotional response, but not the same one we had before. One can become centered and that can be studied, but one can't know for sure that God's going to show up in a powerful way we can understand while one's brain is being scanned, any more than one can tell if God will show up on a Sunday morning or a Tuesday night or when one is sleeping or when one is driving or when one is picking one's nose.

In a sense, these experiences are not "rational" because of the definition of rational that has been agreed upon--but the problem is whether or not these are valid and important forms of knowledge. If we only accept "rational" knowledge as valid, experience of other forms doesn't count. It can't be studied, manipulated or replicated, and I think this is what scares us about it.

Also, we have to be careful when talking about "rational" knowledge that we don't forget that no matter how much people want their scientific observations to be "objective," for their own views and experiences to play no part in the study, this just can't be so. Viewing and recording scientific studies is another form of "experience," one that requires selection of data to notice and record, and one that requires interpretation as one sets up the experiment and "interprets" the data. So even objective scientific studies can't really be termed "rational." This is shown to be the case in studies where people look at light to see if it's a wave or a particle, and they see whichever one they expected it to be.

But if nothing is rational, how do we know anything? If everything is valid knowledge, why is it necessary to discern truth? Is there something there, something that we're seeking when we try to do rational, objective studies? Is there something there, something that we encounter through our emotions, dreams and spiritual experiences? How do we find that "something" if not through objective studies? How do we know it's real if we find it?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

society of biblical literature

I'm up in Boston for the weekend (the kiddo's at home with Nana!) for the Society of Biblical Literature's annual conference. It's a good place for networking, meeting with faculty and students from graduate schools I'm interested in. Even though it's not exactly the area I want to go into for further study, at least it's of interest and there are enough people here from programs I'm interested in to make it worth my while.

Tonight there was a meeting of the Quaker Theological Discussion Group, which was fun to be part of. Quaker Religious Thought publishes papers presented here (as well as other papers, etc.), so it was fun to be part of the presentation part, not just the reading part. Presentations were on two topics: book reviews and an authorial response of Brent Bill's book "The Sacred Compass" (which I haven't read but sounds excellent); and some presentations on various aspects of Quaker education. I enjoyed hearing what people had to say, seeing old F/friends and meeting new ones.

"The Sacred Compass" sounds great in terms of what I've been thinking a lot about lately on my blog and for my classes. On the way up here I was reading more about Gandhi and MLKJ, and was bowled over by the demand for truth: not a truth that criticizes or belittles, but a truth that includes, a truth that encourages, a truth that brings out the best in one's opponents and allows them to courageously and freely choose what is right. It sounds like this is some of what "The Sacred Compass" is about. I may have to get my hands on a copy and incorporate it into my paper.

But I'd better go to sleep now and be fresh and ready to make a good impression tomorrow with graduate school faculty!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

joel's delegation

My husband, Joel, is currently flying out for his Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Israel/Palestine for two weeks! This is the same kind of trip I did in May and June. He's looking forward to seeing everything first-hand rather than through me, learning more about the situation there and CPT's work, and taking pictures. He's a professional photographer, so his will be MUCH better than mine.

He hopes to keep his photo blog updated, so check it out in the upcoming weeks to see what he's seeing. His blog is:, or you can click on the link in the sidebar. (While you're there, check out older posts with amazing pictures of our kiddo, and his great work as a wedding, portrait and event photographer. If you like what you see and have an upcoming need for a photographer, I might as well give you his website while I'm advertising:

We hope to eventually become reserve members of CPT, perhaps using Joel's photography skills, hopefully going as a family, but we still have to figure out all the logistics of how that could work. Be praying for discernment for him, for us as a family and for CPT as we go through that process.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


OK, here's something to chew on: I've thought of this before, but in class today we were talking about this so it reminded me and helped me put it into a framework that makes this dichotomy easier to see.

So Christians who believe God is in control of everything have a difficult paradox with which to deal. If God is completely sovereign, if God is in control of everything that goes on in the world--even if we ignore the question of why bad things happen to good people (theodicy)--we still have the question of whether anything we do matters at all, and whether we should criticize the world as it is.

If God is in control, if God puts those in power that God wants in power, who are we to complain about it? Isn't what happens God's divine plan, so we just go along with it and submit to whatever that authority says? If we say anything else aren't we questioning God's sovereignty?

But most of us feel like this world is not perfect, is not the way God wants it (if we believe in a God). Christians say we're not of this world--we're citizens in the Kingdom of God--so that seems to implicate that we shouldn't worry about what happens in this world and just wait for the "next" one. What we do here, then, makes no difference. If we do what is "good," fine. But if we do what is "bad," God can make "good" come of it, so what's the difference? This of course also runs into problems in terms of beliefs in heaven and hell, because if everything we do is according to God's plan then why should we be blamed for it?

Either we have to believe in a God who would want horrible things to happen to people under oppressive governments, or we have to believe that God is not truly sovereign (so this dichotomy would have us believe).

This is a tough one, because if we speak prophetically against the "world" we are really speaking against God, who we say is in control of the world.

But if we support the unjust systems and power structures of the world, putting God's rubber stamp on them, we are supporting a very different God from the one presented in the Bible.

Is this really such a dichotomy, though? Maybe it's just our view of what it means for God to be "sovereign" that is skewed. Or maybe we don't understand God's kind of "control." We can say all we want about God bringing good out of bad situations, but that doesn't explain away the fact that some people's existence was made horrible, or ended prematurely, because God allowed something bad to happen in order to bring good out of it.

I believe in the prophetic voice, that the Kingdom of God is the blueprint laid on our hearts for an ideal world, and that it is that world toward which we can strive. Our actions do make a difference, because we can choose to live in the Kingdom of God right now (not just after we die), or we can choose to live in the dichotomy of submission or God-rejection. Bad things happen because of our and other people's poor choices, of choosing not to live into the Kingdom of God. I don't know why God made us in such a way that we find it more expedient to not live in the Kingdom of God, but apparently that's how we are.

I don't claim to understand this situation. And in many ways I'm angry about the way it's set up--it doesn't seem fair. Why should my great grandchildren be "punished" through neuroses I accidentally pass down through my child because of my (and my great-grandparents') poor choices? Why should bad things happen at all? Why can't we all see and know truth fully rather than in a clouded way?

I think it's OK to be angry with God, in such a way that we present our "grievances" and are honest with ourselves and with God about what's going on. That's what the Psalms and many other parts of the Bible are all about. God wants to be in relationship with us--sometimes in the Hebrew Scriptures God even changes God's "mind" after a prophet or someone requests it (I think of Abraham asking on behalf of Sodom). If God can change God's mind, doesn't that mean God isn't omnipotent or sovereign? I don't know, but it's in our scriptures!

How do you all come to terms with this paradox?

Monday, November 17, 2008

it's only a donkey, but...

On Saturday in At-Tuwani, a little village in the South Hebron Hills in Occupied Palestine, a group of Israeli settlers from Havot Ma'on Settlement, south of Yatta, attacked a few Palestinian shepherds and their sheep, as well as their international accompaniers from Christian Peacemaker Teams. The Palestinians were able to herd their sheep out of the way while the CPTers lived up to their slogan of "Getting In the Way." CPT called the Israeli police, who are in charge in that area, but the police nor the military responded right away. The settlers walked off with two of the Palestinians' donkeys, and one was found dead later. When this was discovered, the police and Israeli Defense Force did eventually come to investigate the situation. One CPTer has an abrasion from being hit with a rock, which you can see in the photos here. CPT has a team in At-Tuwani full time, as requested by the people who live there. They help the grassroots nonviolent direct actions of the villagers in the area by giving support and spreading news to the world.

It's only a donkey, and yet donkeys are terribly important for the people in At-Tuwani. Since June their vehicular access to any major town has been cut off by a road block. Here's a picture of me there at the very beginning of June when there was just a temporary block which was in place at the time and then removed.

A couple weeks later a permanent roadblock was erected. So to get any goods (or selves) to and from market, donkeys are very useful--not to mention their uses around a farm community. Perhaps it was this cute donkey that lost its life:

Or this herd of sheep chased off their mountainside:

Or these wonderful children whose parents are being intimidated and who must therefore live in a constant state of fear and anxiety:

Obviously that kind of violence serves as a warning, instilling fear in the shepherds, attempting to scare the villagers off grazing their animals on this land, which has been their traditional grazing land for generations. The settlers want to expand their settlement even though there are not enough people living there to fill the homes currently built. It's hard to understand how and why people do this kind of thing to each other (and animals). How can it not be apparent that everyone is safer when all are allowed to live lives free of fear? Why is it that we as humans have such a hard time recognizing that my right to live a good life does not mean I must take that right from others?

Hopefully this event is proof that the NY Times article I posted the other day is true--hopefully it means the settlers are becoming increasingly desperate, seeing their chances for completely taking over this land as more and more unlikely, due to the world's recognition of the injustice going on in Palestine. But I'm not sure this is the case. If this WAS the case, the police and the IDF would have responded in a more timely manner, wanting to prove their non-complicity with the settlers' unjust actions. Maybe soon this will be the case. For now we can just hope and pray, become CPTers and "get in the way," and continue educating about the situation on the ground in Palestine.

Let's also hold the Gaza Strip in the Light: there aren't even any international peace teams who are able to be there currently because it is closed to all but Israeli military and diplomats most of the time. Here is an article about how CPT is attempting to address that situation, however. A woman from CPT, along with other internationals, got to the Gaza Strip by way of a small boat as a protest. Go read the article!

Sunday, November 16, 2008


So...ich habe morgens ein deutsche Prufung. (Ich weiss nicht, wie ich ein umlaut am Blogger machen.) Ich lerne Deutsch deises Jahr, so kann ich dem Religionartikel lesen. Deutsch ist ein bisschen Spass machen, aber es ist schwer. Es ist anlich auf English, aber ist der Satzbau verwirrend.

Doch, muss ich deutsche Studie jetzt gehen. So, bis spater! Haben Sie ein gute Wochenende.

Friday, November 14, 2008

some settlers want to leave the west bank

Today there's an article in the New York Times entitled "Settlers Who Long to Leave the West Bank." It's an excellent article, because while we generally hear about settlers who want to wipe out Palestinians, or settlers who are being threatened by Palestinians, or Palestinians who kill anything that moves, we rarely hear about any settlers who want to leave. Here's a quote from the article:

“I came here 25 years ago to live in the countryside and raise my family,” said David Avidan as he sat in a neighbor’s living room here one recent evening to discuss an exit strategy. “We wanted to resettle the whole land of Israel,” he added. “But now when I see how our soldiers treat Palestinians at the checkpoints, I am ashamed. I want us to get out of here. I want two states for two people. But I can’t get any money for my house and I can’t leave.”

This is an excellent point! And although in some ways I would say, "Why didn't you think about that 25 years ago," on the other hand, we all make mistakes. In our own country we're bailing out bankers, for goodness sake! Why not bail out some more people whose financial stability would make the world a better place? It would be wonderful if Western nations would chip in and help with a respectful and respectable exit strategy for Israelis who want to get out of the way so the peace process can go forward. I can see the point of this settler easily--who would want to buy their home? Not Palestinians, it's too close to the settlement. Not Israelis, everyone who wants to be there already is, and the Israeli government is trying to entice as many people to move to NEW settlements as possible by giving them money to do so, so who would buy the old homes?

Apparently, according to a survey done by those within the Israeli government sympathetic with the Palestinian cause, about 40% of the settlers would move back to Israel if well-remunerated to do so. This is only counting the 80,000 who live on the opposite side of the security wall, that's 80,000 out of 480,000 who live inside of the 1967 UN-mandated borders of the West Bank, but at least that's progress.

It's interesting that the article mentions that Israelis see the withdrawal from Gaza as a failure. Right now they control Gaza more completely than they ever did in the past, because it is closed to all traffic including humanitarian aid almost all the time. So it is not a "failure" from the standpoint of a war strategy--they have made the Gaza Strip one big prison and they don't even have to pay normal prison-building expenses! They are slowly killing off those inside, so that THEN settlers can move back in and take it over. Hopefully this will not happen, but that is the strategy being employed.

Perhaps the statement of one settler woman at the end of the article is true:

“I think there should be a two-state solution. You cannot live with people who don’t have independence. They have to learn their own language, teach their children their own heritage. But that is their problem. My problem is that my government has left me behind.”

May the Israeli government realize that the best way to expand their power is to create a space in which all citizens--and even all people the world over--can thrive.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

quakers & pentecostals

Today I visited Drew University's Graduate Division of Religion to see if I want to do a PhD there. I'm still thinking about it--I liked the school and the people, but I'm not sure if the program is an exact fit for me. I might apply anyway, just to see what happens, but it's a lot of work to apply places I might not want to go.

Anyway, I sat in on a class called "Pentecostalism as Religious Resistance." It was really interesting! There were two guest speakers today, two pastors probably in their 30s, who shared about what their denominational theology, particularly their pneumatology (their perception of the Spirit) is all about. I've learned about Pentecostalism in my church history classes and such, but not quite as in-depth, or perhaps just not quite as theologically--we learned the history but not necessarily the beliefs as they're practiced now.

I found it interesting the connections between Quakerism and Pentecostalism, as well as the major differences.

First the similarities: obviously, Pentecostals emphasize the role of the Spirit, which is similar to Quakers. We both agree that baptism by the Holy Spirit is necessary, and that any other outward ritual isn't what confers this baptism. The Spirit blows where it wills, and baptizes whomever it wants, and a priest cannot control this or force it. I'm not clear whether Pentecostals still baptize with water, although I think they do--they would be more similar to Anabaptists in this regard, where baptism with water is an initiation into the community of faith (the Body of Christ), but the Spirit anoints one with the power to do ministry, etc.

Because of this emphasis on the role of the Spirit, Quakers and Pentecostals both allow anyone to be a minister. One doesn't have to receive any kind of formal education or training in order to speak in a worship service or provide more formal leadership (pastoring in a Pentecostal or programmed Friends church). Both have space in the service for spoken ministry of anyone gathered who feels led by the Spirit. Both emphasize individual empowerment by the Spirit, and so in both the individual's personal experience is central.

The differences, however, are also quite interesting. For Pentecostals, "baptism by the Holy Spirit" necessarily means the person speaks in tongues. This is not the first time they experience the Spirit--they have already converted and known the Spirit--but it's like sanctification in the Holiness tradition: it's a level deeper than the initial stage, where one receives empowerment by the Spirit in a new way. This means one can be a minister or do other leadership for the community. Tongues is something everyone is believed to be able to do, and shows the presence of the Spirit in a deeper way, or perhaps is an expression of emotions one feels that one doesn't have words for. There is also the gift of tongues, which is only available to some, and which needs an interpreter (according to Paul). This is a prophetic word or something of the sort, not something spoken when everyone is speaking together, but spoken when the congregation is listening, and should be interpreted right then and there (apparently it can be interpreted by the speaker if necessary).

Quakers, on the other hand, believe the Spirit is manifest in various ways, and tend to think we shouldn't limit the Spirit to only show up in the form of tongues. Most (American) Quakers would probably be very surprised indeed if someone spoke in tongues during worship, although I assume most Quakers would not be against it completely--but it's definitely not seen as normative. Quakers don't have a way of quantifying whether or not one has been baptized by the Spirit, and in some ways this is a weakness--we don't have any particular criteria, so it's hard to know if one has actually been baptized or not. But I think the "proof" is in the fruits: do our actions show the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control)? Pentecostals emphasize these as well, and were quick to point out that just because someone speaks in tongues doesn't mean that from day to day they speak or do only what the Spirit tells them to.

Another major difference is in demographics. I think it's really interesting that Pentecostalism is so popular among minority groups as well as those who are lower-middle or working class Americans, and it is also the fastest growing Christian form worldwide. One of the things the professor of this course pointed out was that people seem to be drawn to Pentecostalism when they are feeling like something is missing, or when they're feeling marginalized.

Quakers, on the other hand, are generally middle- or upper-middle class Westerners, and Quakers outside the USA and Europe generally look a lot more like Pentecostals than like unprogrammed Friends. In the States, Quakers do not draw people of lower socio-economic status. They might advocate for them, but for the most part "they" remain "them." We are comfortable in our social group of people like us, and although we have compassion on people who are being marginalized, we don't do much to make "them" feel welcome in our meetings.

An interesting thing that these two Pentecostal pastors said was that in minority communities who are Pentecostal, there is a "brain drain" of young people who are grow up here and are educated. Once they become assimilated into American culture they usually go to a different denomination--usually a mainline one (Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist, etc.). They are not attracted to Pentecostalism with its lay leaders, crazy-looking outpourings of who-knows-what-spirit, and marginalized people.

It is interesting that Quakers, with our similar emphases on personal experience and no requirements for education still attract middle class, educated people. This probably has not always been the case--the first generations of Friends were not all educated and many of them were from the lower classes--but Quakerism seems to have always appealed to educated people of higher classes as well. I think this is because it attempts to divorce the symbolism from that which is symbolized, and to focus on the truth behind the symbol rather than the symbol itself. I think this appeals more to people who enjoy more of an internal spirituality.

Perhaps Pentecostalism and Quakerism are the same religion, only practiced by people who are more extroverted or tactile on the one hand, or more introverted and introspective on the other.

One of the sad things is that now Pentecostals are beginning to require some education--at least Bible college--for their pastors. I think this could be good--obviously I'm getting a religious education so I don't think it's all bad! But at the same time, I wish there was a way to balance making sure that people have the training they need with the ability to attend to the Spirit from wherever it comes. Perhaps if people who showed gifts of leadership and ministry were sent to get religious training (all expenses paid) by their congregation, that would be more fair. But to say that one has to go get religious training on one's own, or in a system that doesn't pay any attention to one's gifting in spiritual matters and only tries to train one's brain to think a certain way--that is perhaps counter productive.

The topic of this class was interesting, but the class session itself I also found interesting. Drew is historically a Methodist school, but the Graduate Division of Religion is not a confessing school (it's not required to be a Christian, classes aren't necessarily taught from a Christian perspective although they are studying Christianity). And yet, in this class of 6 students, a professor, 2 Pentecostal pastors and me, several of the students shared their testimonies (or parts of them), shared about their personal experiences of the Spirit (some through speaking in tongues), and the professor made it clear that he has experienced the Spirit as well. Two students had their Bibles out, and at the end of class we all held hands and prayed.

At my school--a confessing seminary where almost everyone here is a Christian and where classes are taught with the assumption that people believe this stuff--I don't remember the last time someone had an English Bible out or read the Bible as edification rather than study. I have never been in a class where we held hands to pray, and we rarely pray together as a class (although we did in one of my classes a week or two ago). I have never heard people share in that kind of depth or with that kind of passion about their experiences of the Spirit. People share about their beliefs and their struggles, their sense of tension between academia and experiential knowledge, etc., but no one really shares passionately from their heart and their lived experience in the classroom. I thought that was really interesting.

I don't know that that's representative of many of the classes that happen there, but I was intrigued by it. Perhaps here we are trying too hard to fit in to "the academy," so much so that we aren't even as spiritually aware as non-confessional schools!

(Disclaimer: I DO like it here--don't worry. And the professors here are all Christians who view their academic work as a spiritual practice, and as far as I can tell this is how most of them connect with God.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

is it possible to be a christ-follower and a christian?

I was chatting with my Religion & Society professor yesterday and we were discussing how he got fired from his first (and second and third, I believe) job(s) out of seminary! He's an Episcopal priest and went to work in India first off, where he found himself in a Christian community with very specific expectations for the way a priest should dress, act, and interact. Christianity is sort of another caste in India, so they pretty much keep to themselves. But he was a young, headstrong, just-out-of-seminarian (not like anyone else we know...) and decided he should get a part time job as an apprentice for a Muslim welder. He learned the vernacular, dressed like Gandhi, and ate food with the people he worked with. This made his (Indian) parishioners angry. He was not acting as the kind of symbol of what Christianity was supposed to look like, in their eyes. So they fired him after a year, and he says it was for good reason--the church can't have people acting like that! I asked him how one could be a priest and NOT act like that, and he said, "Yes, well, can one be a Christ-follower and still be a Christian?"

The point is, we as a "Christian" community have made our religion so much about the right ways to act and dress, the right people to spend time with, not breaking any laws (religious or otherwise), etc., that it's actually almost impossible to follow Christ and be a "Christian" as the "church" defines it.

This is, of course, what Quakers tried to break down, and I think they did, but I don't know that we as "Friends" are much better on this issue than anyone else. We have our own form of ideology and tradition, of rules about leadership (basically the rule being no one can lead because we're all equally capable, which isn't the original meaning of equality--equality doesn't mean we're all the same with the same gifts, but that our uniquely personal gifts are of the same value). We have words that are taboo to say, or words that one MUST say to "invoke" the Spirit. All of this is all well and good, but when are we going to get around to following Jesus instead of just making sure our denomination lasts into the next generation?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

why does nonviolent direct action work?

In the twentieth century, in case anyone had previously been in doubt, many movements showed that nonviolent direct action, used by individuals and groups, does in fact work to bring about the goals of the movement--that is, it works at least as often as wars "work" in achieving their goals.

I'm working on a paper for Religion & Society that addresses the issue of power within social systems. In traditional systems, power is based on continuing the status quo, but to the advantage of the one wielding the power. So the person or group holding power may change, but the way they attain and continue using that power is basically the same across time. In most social systems, power comes from being part of the society's elite, whether that is based on hereditary privilege or education and ability. (Really there is some of each in each system, because even in our system of democracy, those in power have the ability to be in that position, for the most part, because of the opportunities given to them by their social position as they grew up. This is not true for everyone, but is true for a fairly substantial part of the population. Also, in hereditary systems, one may always have one's title, but if one has no ruling ability or is too frivolous with money, one might lose one's position of power.) People continue giving these individuals power because that's how it has "always" been. Also, in many social systems, the religious establishment supports the status quo of the social hierarchy and vice versa. Therefore, the people in power are said to be there because of divine right. Those in religious power are there because they have received proper instruction from ancestors who have connected with God or the spirit world, and without mediation from those with this instruction, say the religious leaders, one cannot receive the necessary elements which will include one in the religious community.

Nonviolent direct action refuses to cooperate with this system. Most of us cooperate with the status quo because we don't see any alternative. This is how things are, and we believe the lie that the world is dualistic, is a place where we must choose a side between opposing views. But if we really look at things we can usually see that the two sides are more similar than different: in our country, Democrats and Republicans are so similar it is hard to tell the difference between them in many ways. They are enmeshed in a system that requires corruption, moral compromise, hurtful rhetoric against the "other" whether that other is another American politician or a political enemy of the USA, and a kind of power that says "might equals right." This political system--and most others--requires competition and vanquishing of one's enemies in order to show that one has what it takes to rule, and that this rule is justifiable because the ruler has the ability to protect those under him/her with one's superior power.

In contrast, nonviolent direct action must be a grassroots movement. It must give power to a mass group of people, and they must believe they have power to change the system. This power works as people refuse to believe the dichotomous lies of the traditional system, refuse to believe that to win another must lose, and people are convinced in an internal way rather than through external force. This kind of power appeals to the truth that is in each person: it appeals to the conscience. It trusts the other to have a conscience in there somewhere, even when all indications are to the contrary. It trusts in the humanity and value of the other, knowing that eventually through practice of the truth others can only make the choice to join in with the truth, or to act against their conscience in blatant ways.

Nonviolent direct action attacks symbols of hierarchical power, not people. The people are desired as friends, but the system is seen as the enemy. The people participating in the system are invited to join with the nonviolent actors in a search for truth, where they share the common enemy of an oppressive system and a common goal of searching for justice through the truth. This kind of power diffuses defensiveness and creates an opening for dialogue and reflection.

When Quakers refused to tip their hats to people of a higher station in seventeenth century England they were participating in what we now call nonviolent direct action. They were refusing to capitulate with a system of hierarchy so visible it was almost imperceptible. Rather than honoring some above others, they honored all. Although not tipping their hats might not seem like a huge overthrow of the system, it got at the root of the problem: it was a daily symbol of the social system's inequity. It also forced those in power positions to recognize their own inconsistencies. Those to whom hats were tipped thought of themselves as "gentlemen" or "ladies," people of refinement and civility. When hat honor was not given to them, however, they were faced with that inside themselves which they had been hiding: they found they were really prideful and did not think highly of themselves--they needed others to show them honor in order to feel good about themselves. This was not information they wanted to know about themselves--and I can empathize with them. I am the same way in many respects. They were forced to either recognize their shortcomings with humility, or fight for hat honor to reinstate their sense of self as substantiated by the status quo of seventeenth century English society.

I wonder what we could do today that would be similar to refusing hat honor? What symbols of the American hierarchy can we attack in ways that would appeal to the consciences and sense of justice inherent in people? Perhaps we should begin with ourselves. As an American, how am I cooperating with the status quo in order to continue receiving the comforts and status I have come to see as my due? How am I allowing myself to be deluded by the dualistic lies of the traditional status system, forgetting that our common enemy is injustice? How am I sacrificing my own comfort and status in order to work for the destruction of the symbolic system that holds people in a state of oppression?

Nonviolent direct action works because of each individual's willingness to listen in humility to the Truth found within. Quakers call this the Inner Light or the Light of Christ. Are we listening? Are we acting?


Monday, November 10, 2008

grateful for family

Usually when we're on the East Coast we pretty much rely on Skype, phones and email for contact with our family, but this semester we're really lucky: our cousins came through with their three kids, and now my mom is here.

Our cousins, Andy and Serenity, are traveling around in an RV with their three kids (age 5 and under), learning about different homeless ministries and joining in where they can. A little over a year ago they felt called to start selling their stuff, sell their house, buy an RV, and travel around the country this way. It sounds like it's been a great experience for them and their family, although of course with its challenges along the way. Check out the website for their non-profit, Mustard Seed Ministries. Also, check out pictures of them while they were here on my husband Joel's photo blog (and while you're there browse his other AMAZING photos!). In addition to having fun hanging out together, their kids entertaining our son, and playing Settlers, we were able to give each other some much-needed date nights.

Now my mom is here, and will be until we all go home for Christmas. It's so great to have her here! She'll be here while Joel goes to Israel/Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams in just over a week, and then with us while we experience the longest, most excruciating whirlwind, aka Finals Week.

It's so easy to take family for granted when we're at home, but when we're here, having the gift of family is magnified way more. (Hopefully it makes us appreciate family all the more while we're at home, too!)

But isn't it amazing that we have technology that can keep us in touch, too? In the last week I talked to my dad for a long time on his birthday, talked to my grandparents over Skype, Joel and I helped his parents fix a computer problem (mostly Joel, but he was driving so I acted as the intermediary), and communicated with my other grandparents through email and blog comments. Imagine living on the other side of the country a century ago, when it would take a week just to get a letter back and forth, or before that when it could have taken months or longer! We are definitely blessed, or at least our options are greater while still staying connected. (I'm reading a book called Angle of Repose about a woman who moved to California at the end of the 19th century and had hardly any contact with her friends and community, so I guess that's why that's on my mind!)

Friday, November 07, 2008

"be subject to" your government

As I shared at the beginning of the semester, I am working on a thesis right now about Romans 12-13, especially Romans 12:17-13:7. Here it is in the NRSV:

12:17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;g for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20No, "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." 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4for it is God's servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, busy with this very thing. 7Pay to all what is due them--taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

These chapters are interesting because the overall theme of Romans 12 and 13 is love, and how to treat other Christians as well as how to treat those not in your community. The point is we are supposed to act in loving ways toward everyone. So although Romans 13:1-7 fits in terms of the theme of how to act towards others, it doesn't talk about love or about really how to relate to governing authorities, but gives a mini-treatise on what the government is for.

Christians since Constantine have used Rom 13 as proof that one should obey their government at all times--but the passage doesn't say that!!! It says "be subject to" your governing authorities. This is apparent in the NRSV (quoted above), but as I've been reading commentaries and articles, that point is emphasized in several. "Be subject to" is a completely different word from "obey." (I would tell you the Greek words but I'm not at home, so if you're interested enough you probably have your own Greek references and can find the words yourself. I think "be subject to" is from hupertasso.) Anyway, so I think what Paul is saying--although it would have been nice for him to come out and say it more clearly--is that the point of government is to help keep things in order, so those who are doing what is helpful for a community should have nothing to fear from the government, therefore, be subject to it. But if it's not doing its job--if it's "a terror" to good people, though, then although you should continue to "submit to" it, you shouldn't obey it. This is the point of civil disobedience: you submit to the unjust rules in such a way that you show up how unjust they are, so that you convince people to change the laws.

The problematic piece is still the part about governments bearing the sword.

If God gives governments license to "bear the sword," does that mean a) Christians shouldn't be part of government, b) Christians who are part of the government are God's instruments and therefore can "bear the sword" even though other Christians aren't supposed to, or c) bearing the sword is not wrong for Christians at all?

A) is problematic because then it sounds like Christians are elitists, making others do the "dirty work" (or is it the sacred work, since they're doing God's will?) while Christians sit by and reap the benefits?

B) is probably what Paul assumed, since at the time Christians couldn't really be part of the government, since it was required to swear an oath to the emperor and the Roman gods. But this doesn't give us an answer for the present-day situation, because now that is not the case (at least not literally).

C) doesn't seem plausible, based on the preceding few verses at the end of Rom 12, as well as other verses that talk about Christians not retaliating violently for wrongs done to them, etc.

I guess the easiest way to explain this is that Paul is assuming that there are always going to be governments, and they are always going to "bear the sword," but we shouldn't be afraid of that because we know that God is in control. God's plan is behind the actions of those who come to power, even if they seem to be doing something that is not right. This is not a comfortable answer, because obviously there have been many people in power who have wielded the sword in extremely unjust manners.

Calvin suggests that the kind of "authority" mentioned here isn't just anyone in a position of power, but refers to "legitimate authority," someone who has come by their authority in a just way. This gives us a bit of a loophole, where we can assume that, for example, those who skew election results by buying off voting booth-makers do not come to their authority legitimately. Of course, this would probably eliminate most people in power in most governments, because everyone has to be pretty cut-throat in order to get into power, but I guess the point is that God has a plan and is incorporating even those actions that seem abhorrent into it, even though the plan would work better if those people wouldn't do those actions.

I don't have answers yet--nor do I really expect to, since Christians have been wondering about this for millenniums, but at least I have a little more clarity--even if that clarity leads to more questions.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


I'm feeling challenged by Gandhi these days. I posted a couple days ago about watching the 1982 movie "Gandhi" last weekend, and he's still much on my mind. I actually decided to incorporate him into my Religion & Society paper, so I've been doing some research on him and his methods, his philosophy, etc. I think he wasn't a Christian in a similar way to me--I try to follow Jesus but I'm not willing to ally myself with the ideology of the Christian church as it has been built up since then, an ideology that legitimates injustice through gender and social hierarchy, not to mention the church hierarchy's supposed monopoly on access to God (in denominations other than Quaker). I'm more of a Christian than Gandhi was, because he didn't necessarily believe Jesus was a child of God any more than any of the rest of us, but I think Gandhi did a lot better job of following Jesus than I do, so I guess we're even! I think being a true Christ-follower has a lot more to do with living like him than professing him with our mouths.

What's challenging me most about Gandhi is his refusal to compromise. I think I've fallen into an uneasy acceptance of what our culture tells us that compromise is inevitable. Gandhi said no, I'm not going to compromise just because it seems to be easier or more comfortable, or because the ideal seems impossible. He spoke out against the injustice that occurred against his own people because of the Indian people's habit of buying cloth from British manufacturers. He could have just continued wearing the fabric and tried to just fight the injustice of the landowners forcing Indians to produce indigo which was no longer bringing them a high enough profit to cover the costs of their food and rent, but that would have been only half the battle.

I avoid the problem altogether by not knowing where my clothes come from. But of course, this doesn't completely avoid the problem when I actually listen to my conscience. If someone told me, "Clothes from this company are produced unjustly," I wouldn't buy clothes from them. But what if all clothes are produced unjustly? Am I willing to make the sacrifice of having to figure out how to make my own clothes? Or am I too stuck in my own routines and goals, my own thoughts about what I'm too good to spend time doing (if I'm completely honest with myself)?

And of course that's just the tip of the iceberg, because then there are issues of food production and transport, transportation in general, and even the fact that I'm legitimating the hierarchy of an educated elite by participating in higher education.

At the same time, I think it's important for people to do what they're good at and what they enjoy--for the sake of others. That's why we live in societies. We can share the labor so that each of us has to do less, or at least has to do less of what they're not gifted at. But does anyone really want to take away my garbage or clean the public spaces I use? Do they do that because they're gifted at it, or because the structure of our society leaves them no choice?

How can one decide to not compromise? It seems so overwhelming. I think probably Gandhi came to his conclusions gradually--but if one implements living truthfully when one recognizes a truth, and then add something else when it's recognized, it's probably a lot easier than when one lets them all pile up and not be dealt with (like cleaning house...). And Gandhi recognized that it cost his friends a lot for him to live in poverty, so is that really a good model? Perhaps he was creating his own hierarchy, that of those who were able to live without compromising the truth in their life, and those who supported them.

But if everyone lived like he did, no one would have to be rich enough to support them, because everyone would be doing their part for the good of all, and there would be enough to go around. It only cost his friends something because they thought of those things as belonging to them.

So, does living a consistent life require a whole-life change, cold turkey? Or is it OK to compromise for a while and gradually add acts of faithfulness to the truth we already know?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

today is a better day

I stayed up late enough last night to assume Obama would win the presidency, and my husband woke me up to tell me when it was official!

During the campaign I haven't been sure that politically it makes a difference which of these guys won. They both support Israel to the detriment of Palestine (nothing wrong with supporting Israel, but let's support Palestine too! But not with weapons on either side); they both think sometimes we have to go to war to protect American interests; they both want to escalate the military action in Afghanistan; and they're both politicians who have made it to where they are by compromising with lobbyists and other politicians so neither can really be said to have stuck to his principles completely.

But then last night I was watching the reactions of people on CNN as they received news of Obama's success in various states. There were people of all ages and races, but what stood out to me most was the hope this gives to the African American community. Now, I wouldn't want to elect someone president just because they're black (anymore than I would want to elect someone just because they're female)--they need to be a good presidential candidate! At the same time, I'm really glad I voted the way I did if for no other reason than the symbolic effect it makes on people to see someone like them in the highest position of power in America. This is not only true in the United States, but around the world. But especially in the United States, this is a huge step forward. I've been brought to tears several times in the last 10 hours or so, one of the first being when Congressman Lewis from Georgia talked about his part in the Civil Rights movement, and seeing this day as a nonviolent revolution.

In class yesterday we got into a discussion about ideologies and I said I think most ideologies form around the desire for preservation of life, and meaning, and that although things are added to these basic goals, things that leaders say are necessary in order to achieve these goals, I think these are the basic things most people want. I asked if anyone could think of examples to the contrary. One black student said he sees the black community--especially young black males--in self-destruct mode. They are still seeking self-preservation for themselves, but this doesn't necessarily reach out to their community, so he thought maybe this was an example of an ideology that doesn't have these goals. I suggested that's maybe because we've all bought into the racist, sexist American "dream" too much so that we believe if we're not a white man we can't find meaning in our society. I compared the experience in the black community to that of women, who see two options: either I become "masculine," taking on all the characteristics of a successful person in our society and degrading anything that is "feminine" or "other," or I choose to live in the role assigned to women in this culture's ideology, which is a role but isn't really a meaningful role. Anyway, all that to say that if there's a way out of this, if there's a way of providing meaning for people who have previously been kept from "making it" in this system, if there's any hope for us who have been labeled "other" by our culture--maybe it can be found in someone who looks different from your average president actually taking office. Maybe that symbol will give hope not only to African Americans, but to women and Latino/as and whoever else feels like they've been forced into this false dichotomy of choices: conform or be meaningless.

I watched Obama's acceptance speech this morning, trying to eat my breakfast with tears running down my face. I guess I'm more patriotic than I thought--I just need someone who can actually live out the kind of hope I have for my country. Obama's not perfect, and as he said in his speech, "the government can't fix everything." He's gotten where he is partially by conforming with the dominant American ideal, so he has to continue playing that game now that he's in office--whether he likes it or not. And yet, he's not the same as all the rest. I sense in him a genuineness, a true desire to make a change, a strong resistance to doing what American presidents have always done just for the sake of tradition. I think he's going to be a good president--perhaps even a great one. Hopefully our foreign policy will rebound based on the fact that every other country polled thought an Obama presidency would be infinitely better than a McCain one. Hopefully he can truly live up to his promises, made in his speech last night, that he'll always be truthful and honest with us.

But I think he's managed--or "we the people" have managed--to renew a bit of hope in my cynical self.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

election day

It's an exciting day (kind of)! I hope that whoever wins can be someone who is truly a "maverick" in terms of not going along with his party's or his lobbyists' policies out of peer (or monetary) pressure, but will do what is right. I hope he will do what is right for all people, not just for Americans. I hope he will listen tot he deep, inner voice of truth, and let nothing drown that out. I hope he will live with integrity, and focus on the needs of our country and our world, rather than on winning re-election in four years. I hope he will act in ways that can make us proud to be Americans again--which means ways that make us proud to be humans and members of this planet.

May the best man win, and may he, beating all odds, become an even better man once he's in office!

(You may say I'm a dreamer / but I'm not the only one. / I hope someday you'll join us / and the world will live as one!)

Monday, November 03, 2008


We just watched the movie "Gandhi" last night. I was not of a movie-viewing age when it came out in 1982, and although I think I saw portions of it in high school I never watched the whole thing. It's LONG, though! We watched about an hour of it on Saturday night (then hung out with some friends), then watched about a full-length movie's worth of it last night. It is excellent, though, and I learned stuff about Gandhi I didn't know before (although, of course, it's the Hollywood version, so although I assume they didn't add too much that wasn't there, I don't trust it completely).

A couple things struck me (well, more than that, but I'll comment on a couple or three here). One: he said that he and his followers were in control of the situation, because they were on the side of truth and justice, and eventually people would recognize that and have to give in to their demands for human rights. It might take a while, but he was certain it would happen eventually. He also wanted to do things in a way that once Great Britain turned over rule to India, they would still remain on friendly terms. I think this is so great. I mean, do we expect Iraq to be on friendly terms with us after we finally leave their country? Well, yes--we do expect this. But it's not a realistic expectation. They know we are only there for selfish gain at this point: we are only there to try to set up a government that will be friendly to us, and to save face so it looks like we didn't lose a war. These are two good reasons for Iraqis to continue not cooperating with the US army. But to fight for freedom nonviolently reminds us all of our humanity--and our inhumanity. Hopefully when we fight nonviolently we make people aware of injustice, and hopefully most people then choose to change their ways and act justly. In this way, we create bonds of truth and justice between us rather than creating more violence and hatred.

Another thing: what can we do like this today? I know it works much better when someone who is part of the situation can rise up and be a leader. How do we find and encourage leaders like that in groups that are having similar struggles? Can one make oneself into such a leader, or is it just a special kind of person who has this kind of presence that makes people love him (or her)? I love the work of CPT, and they intentionally try to work with grassroots movements and to encourage nonviolent action that is already happening. They teach people nonviolent strategies. But they cannot fix the problems because they're outsiders. Outsiders played a significant role in Gandhi's work, witnessing and reporting what was going on as well as taking part in actions. But they couldn't have led the movement, and I think Gandhi was right in sending his British priest friend away so they could prove Indians could do the work themselves. But where does that leave us? If we're not part of a group that is being systematically persecuted, how can we help?

One more thing: there were major setbacks and "battles" (if you can call one-sided violence a battle) where people got hurt and died. Once there was a peaceful gathering for people to hear Gandhi speak. People had been warned against assembling together and the British army opened fire on a crowd of thousands of men, women and children. There was no escape because they were in an enclosed area. Over 1,000 people were killed.

The thing that got Great Britain to finally concede defeat was when Gandhi organized his people to nonviolently enter the British salt factory. Soldiers were there to prohibit their entry (these were indigenous soldiers, if the movie can be trusted). The soldiers blocked the gate, 6 men wide. When Gandhi's followers approached the gate they were beaten, six at a time, and their bodies dragged out of the way by the women. This went on and on. Hundreds or thousands of weaponless men were brutally beaten for trying to enter a factory. This kind of inhumane treatment forced Great Britain to recognize their unjust dealings with the Indian people, because it got press all over the world and because it was just so starkly obvious. Perhaps a less "civilized" nation than Great Britain would have continued persecuting Gandhi's followers for longer, but eventually I think they would have had to give up.

Then there were Gandhi's hunger strikes. He had to do these because of the refusal of many of his followers to use nonviolent means at all times. He refused to eat for weeks until he was so close to death that all his followers of different factions came together and pledged to use nonviolence so that he would not die. First of all, this takes an extraordinary person: if I decided to go on a hunger strike until my country took all American weapons out of Iraq or something, I would die because no one would care. But he had such power in just his person--power not based on hierarchy or control or tradition, but on the truth for which all knew he stood--that people were willing to lay down their weapons to save his life. How do we encourage and embody that kind of power? He not only practiced nonviolent action on the British, but on his own followers, to help them see justice and truth and live by it. But the fact that he had to do these hunger strikes shows us something important about such movements: they're going to run into internal problems as well as external, and just because one gets rid of the external enemy doesn't mean all enemies are gone.

It seems like right now, it's easy for us American peace church members to talk about peace and to do a few active things for peace, but we're not willing to really give our all for it. (I include myself here!) We're practical: what good does it get for us to be beat up or killed? Can't we do much more good if we're alive and well?

In some ways this is true, but in other ways, how else do we expect to get our point across? Here is where a criticism of nonviolence comes in: some say nonviolent actions depend on violence just as much as violent action. They depend on their antagonists resisting them violently, so in some ways they provoke violence. This is not completely true, because obviously if people would recognize their unjust ways and react by changing laws and practices to reflect true justice, there would be no need for violence. Unfortunately, this doesn't usually happen so easily. In order for people to be unable to delude themselves any longer into believing in their own moral high ground, they have to be given indisputable proof of the injustice of their policies. This happens generally through violence happening against those who most obviously do not deserve it, e.g. unarmed civilians who intentionally get in the way of injustice.

In order for this to happen we have to really be willing to commit ourselves and our loved ones to fighting nonviolently in ways that are effective. Some people will be hurt. Some people will be killed. But in the end, we're creating a better world for our children and our enemies' children to live in. So how do we get ourselves to be willing to take this step?

In the army, one has a weapon in one's hands at all times so the risk of death seems much less great. This is how armies convince people to join up. We have the same standpoint as armies in terms of being part of something greater, holding to our values and fighting for those, but we have no "guarantee" of safety. Of course, neither do soldiers. And in fact, who is one more willing to kill generally--the enemy soldier or the civilian doing what they think is right? So one could argue that it is less likely that one would die as a nonviolent activist. But it's still scary, and in some ways counterintuitive, and takes a lot of personal responsibility. It's easy for people to think, "Yeah, that's a good idea," about an army of violent or nonviolent conflict resolvers when it's an abstract concept--when one's own person and own children aren't involved. But when it requires commitment of one's own life or the life of one's children, it is much harder to get on board. And yet, as peace churches, this is what we say we believe.

Do we only believe it in the abstract sense, or are we willing to, en mass, take on the responsibility personally and work for justice through love in truly effective ways?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

organizing my thoughts

I'm trying to get a handle on what I'll be writing about for my Religion & Society paper, and realized some theological assumptions I hold that are making a difference in the way I'm reading texts and interpreting sociology, ethics, theology and life in general. So in order to help myself focus I decided to write them out.

I think my paper will be mainly about "Individualism vs. Individuality," with the point being that in American society we say we champion the individual, but what that really means is we champion the self--or perhaps the Id. We have a fear that there is a scarcity of individuality to go around, so I need to make sure that all my needs are met (and those of my family and friends and country that I think of as an extension of myself). If this has to happen at the expense of other individuals, so be it. This is individualism.

But individuality realizes that for my own needs to be met most fully, the needs of all other people and of the entire system of the world need to be met. There is enough to go around and we can live ethically with one another, but in order to do so we have to recognize the uniqueness and value of other people. If we do this, putting the other before the self, at the same time we create a world in which our own needs are met--both physical and metaphysical.

So: assumptions in my basic premise, as outlined above...

- The world is basically good.
- Humanity is basically good, but broken.
- Our human desires point to good things God has created, but we often express these desires out of a space of brokenness (e.g. it's good to want our needs to be met, and to work for that end, but we twist this into "my needs are more important than your needs.")
- We all have an inner knowledge of what's true and good, and we can cultivate this or ignore it (i.e. Inner Light, Light of Christ, Light Within, etc.).
- Human institutions tend to take one or more of our basic desires--or perhaps our only basic desire, that for meaning--and twist it to support the institution rather than humanity (e.g. desire for meaning and therefore quest for immortality twisted into supporting the continuation of our nation, of which we are a part and with which we identify, so that even if we die, we are immortal because the ideology with which we identify continues).
- Brokenness mainly revolves around lack of trust, and therefore fear, which are intimately connected. We fear there is not enough. We fear God isn't actually good, because bad things happen. We fear that if there is nothing good controlling the world, there is no meaning, and our lives are meaningless. Therefore we don't trust anything or anyone.
- Life is sacred, the life cycle is sacred not because of something inherent in people or animals, etc., but because of the Creator, who has chosen to be known through the created world (but is not the same as the created world).
- God is relational: we know God through relationship with God and with other people, as well as with nature.
- Freedom requires that we can't just have loving choices made for us. There probably wasn't a literal Eden, but Eden and the Fall are metaphors of freedom.
- Fear comes from freedom: we like and need boundaries, but chafe against them. We think we want freedom but we also like the security of the law.
- We need government and institutions because we need to have communities--we are social creatures who can't survive alone. Communities need rules of some sort that help us live a shared life. It would be great if we'd all live altruistically, in which case it wouldn't much matter what system we lived in, because whether communist, democratic, monarchical, theocratic or anarchic we would all look out for one another's needs. But since we don't do this on our own, we need laws and governments to enforce them. (But this, of course, gets into shady territory regarding HOW governments should enforce laws, and over whom those laws have jurisdiction.)

True ethics is always intimately personal, contextual, relational. This goes against most "rational" ethical theory, which assumes that if we make law impersonal it will be more just, but the problem is that when we create a system that is impersonal it automatically DE-personalizes people. Here's what Weber says:

"Today, however, the homo politicus, as well as the homo economicus, performs his[/her] duty best when [s/]he acts without regard to the person in question,...without hate and without love, without personal predilection and therefore without grace, but sheerly in accordance with the factual, material responsibility imposed by his[/her] calling, and not as a result of any concrete personal relationship. In short, [a] modern [hu]man discharges [one's] responsibility best when [one] acts as closely as possible in accordance with the rational regulations of the modern power system." (The Sociology of Religion, 1993, p 235)

Weber says this is more like karma than like Yahweh, who metes out vengeance on particular individuals/communities based on relationship with them. Karma, however, works within a set system where punishment and reward are carried out in perfect relation to one's actions, if not in this life then in another life, but always reflecting what one deserves.

The problem is, that isn't the way the Christian God works. God doesn't impersonally decide that based on one's actions, one receives a particular reward or punishment. God is a God of relationship and grace, who out of love does crazy, radical, over-the-top-merciful acts like die for people who aren't even paying attention, or worse--who are actively rejecting God's offer of relationship and wholeness.

Now, in my moments of vengeance (of which I hope I have relatively few), when I really wish someone was going to get "what they deserve" for some wrong they've done, I generally don't want a God like that to take vengeance on my "enemy"--I want to do it myself, or better yet have someone do it for me--because I don't trust a God like that to actually punish someone. If God is a God of crazy, radical, relational love, God's probably going to show mercy to that person, and then I won't get to see them suffer for the suffering they've caused. There are consequences, yes--but not God-caused suffering. Maybe someone will choose to suffer because of their own actions, and God will allow that because of our radical freedom, but God won't cause that.

Anyway, it seems like any legal system we set up inevitably impersonalizes laws to ensure everyone is treated equally. In theory this is a good idea: supposedly everyone who commits X crime receives Y punishment. Two problems, however, are born of this theory: 1) people do not always receive the same sentence, even in our own legal system with a jury of one's "peers," where people can hire more or less influential lawyers, and where some people have relational connections with those in the legal system such that they can literally "get away with murder"; and 2) there are always going to be exceptions to the rule--a law is never good 100% of the time. As Jesus put it, "The Sabbath was created for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath." Laws are put in place for people, but when they get in the way of loving and helping people, they should be disregarded. Like when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath: he broke the law of the Sabbath, but he broke it in order to do something good--to restore wholeness to creation--and that is what the Sabbath is for. (Of course, I may have just disproved my own point, because that means that although human laws are never good 100% of the time, my comment makes it clear that I think that there are ultimate laws behind the human laws, and those ultimate laws ARE true 100% of the time--it's just that our laws can't quite encompass those ultimate laws.)

I think there are tons of examples of this in modern literature and media, which deal with questions of morality and law quite frequently. One I think I've used before is from Les Miserables, when Jean val Jean was thrown in jail for stealing a loaf of bread because he had no other way of getting food for his starving family. What is the ethical thing to do? Feed one's family. What if it breaks the law? Who cares? Les Mis shows that the ethical thing is more correct, and that Javier, who lived for the law, eventually sees this, and finds himself swimming in a pool of relativity he can't handle, so he commits suicide.

The problem is when law and order is set higher than human individuals, and I think this is the heart of the matter, and the heart of the Christian problem of how to interact with governments. In the Weber quote above, he basically puts the law above the individual. Upholding the law creates a society that hopefully allows the individual to live free from fear, and so the law should always be upheld. But the problem is that then an ordered society becomes more important than anything else, so that we are willing to kill to keep that order. Karl Barth (theologian in Switzerland during and after WWII) faced this problem, recognizing that the New Testament requires an ethic of nonviolence--but he ultimately decided that since God is a God of order, we have to keep that order (that God has instituted) at all costs. When that order is threatened, that supersedes the injunction against violence. He knew this was not biblical, and even though he based his whole theology on "the Word alone," he fell into the trap of making the rule of law more important than individual lives, and more important than the Word (living or written).

But we need laws in order to live together!

So that's the main problem.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

civic duty

I exercised my right to vote the other day (we have mail-in ballots in Oregon). I decided to vote for one of the two main party candidates for president. (Betcha can't guess which one, based on my blogs! And the fact that I've been tempted to buy one of those "1.20.09" bumper stickers for oh, nearly 4 years now...). Although it's frustrating to have only two choices and neither of them perfect, I am much more in favor of a slight change over no change.'s hoping!

For state offices I voted for some Pacific Green Party candidates if they looked good. The Pacific Green Party advertises its candidates as a "Peace Slate." So that's encouraging! But I buckled to the pressure of the "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush" mentality that perhaps cost the election in 2000, if we don't count the possibility of malfunctioning (read: tampered-with) voting machines.

At any rate, I hope whoever is the next president deals with foreign policy in a way that is cooperative with other nations in areas of ecology, economy and (I couldn't think of another e-word) "terrorism," and avoid being a terrorist nation ourselves.

Friday, October 17, 2008


The other day I was listening to music on Pandora (you should try it--it's really cool. You type in names of artists/groups you like and then it plays them and similar ones for you like a radio station, only you can say if you don't like a certain song and it goes to the next one, and you learn about all sorts of new artists...anyway...), while I was reading Durkheim, and John Lennon's "Imagine" came on.

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man [er, humanity, if he was born 20 years later...]
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

This seems like it's kind of Durkheim's vision, too: imagine if there was a world where we realized that the only "god" was society, and where we did what was right for each other and gave up on all the religion junk, because all that does is get us mad at each other and make it easy for someone to come and manipulate us using religious language so we're willing to kill each other.

These are good points, not easy to refute, because a lot of horrible stuff has happened in the name of religion. We can go back to the Crusades or further, back to God telling Israel to wipe out every living being in certain cities they took over, but we don't even have to go back in time. The same thing is happening as you read this. Our troops are in Iraq defending the cause of "freedom" for those like us, at the expense of the freedom of those not like us (the Iraqis).

And I'm all for a world with no religions, meaning no one has to perform specific ritual acts to get into heaven (or whatever it is they believe), there's no legalism, there's no hierarchy that people have to have their salvation mediated through. That would be a great improvement over what is currently practiced.

But I don't agree that if we just got rid of this silly God concept, then everyone would get a long because there'd be "nothing to kill or die for." Here are two reasons (and I'm sure there are more):

1. People are always going to form some sort of groups, because we are inherently social beings. We can't survive without other people--literally at least when we're babies--and when we make groups there are unfortunately alliances and bonds that encourage people to think about "our" people as more important than "their" people, our needs trumping their needs, and since there's not enough to go around we'll fight for what there is. (Note: I don't think there's not enough to go around, but that's the mentality of most groups, for some reason.)

2. If there's nothing worth dying for, is there anything worth living for? It seems like as humans, we have an innate need to be part of something larger than ourselves. This "something else" is worth so much that our own lives are worth little to us in comparison. This is what gives life meaning. Unfortunately, this is twisted and manipulated by so many cultures and religions that people think, "What's worth dying for is worth killing for," which is a perversion of this first feeling.

I think this sense of "something greater" that we all want to be part of points to the existence of God. Durkheim thinks although we call it God it's actually just society, but I'm unconvinced. If so, how could we all (from various times and cultures) have the same vision Lennon describes in "Imagine"? How could we all yearn for that ideal world of morality and wholeness? Where would we get the idea that this world wasn't whole, and where would our morals come from? Durkheim gives answers, but they are snatching at straws, in my opinion, that don't really explain the depth of the fact that all cultures yearn for this other world, this ideal life, and their myth structures form around that basic desire.

I know, maybe all our morals and such arise out of what's good for our species in order for it to perpetuate itself, so they're just evolutionary constructs. But that is unconvincing to me, because it seems like they're so much deeper than just utilitarian acts.

Although I could keep talking about this, that's all I have time for! So feel free to post your own thoughts in your comments!