Today was more of a laid-back day at the youth ministry forum. We just had a plenary lecture in the morning and then worship, then the afternoon off for exploring the area (for the visitors), or, in my case, studying German and working at the coffee shop where I work once a week. Since I have a German exam tomorrow morning I can't write much, but I'd like to at least talk about the speaker this morning, briefly.
The lecturer was Obery Hendricks, and he was great! He teaches at a seminary in New York, I think. He wrote a book with a title that sounds very familiar to many of us as Friends (or especially any who read this blog who are Mennonite...), "The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Character of Jesus' Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted." He presented a lot of the same types of things I've been writing about here lately, regarding privilege, Jesus' radical call to break down social/political/economic/religious systems of domination, and the American "church's" complete complicity in that domination system.
One thing I found particularly good from his talk was a comment he made that was something like this: "I'm not talking a prosperity gospel, where only my situation within the same system is changed, but I'm talking about good news to the poor, which can only happen through changing the whole system, including the way we live our lives." I think this is so important for us to hear. It's not just that, as middle class American Christians, we want to make it so that everyone can live like we do. Instead, we have to be willing to change the system in which we live. The way we live automatically oppresses other people, so a) it isn't possible for everyone to live like we do because there have to be two classes of people--the oppressed and the oppressors--in the system we live in; and b) we wouldn't want everyone to be forced to live this way.
The question, again, is, "How do we start to implement this?" Yes, this is great advice, a prophetic word. But how do we go about doing the work of breaking down the systems in which we live? How do we go about refusing to cooperate with these systems on a large scale, or even on a small scale that is actually faithful (not just a token giving up of a privilege here and there)? How much giving up of privilege is necessary? Can I, as a white, middle class American, begin this work, or do I need to follow the lead of someone who is "oppressed"? (Do I count, since I'm female?) I don't know the answers to these questions, and neither does Hendricks, as he stated himself. But it seems to me like we need to start doing something, something big, as a Society of Friends. Something that will address the divide between "us" and "them," us who give and are so generous to those needy people, who are only needy because the way I live and earn money and buy things cheaply is because they are not paid adequately or treated justly.
What's our form of Quaker gray today? How can we rally for "fixed prices," as Friends did in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? How can we stand up against the oppression that happens every day in our country and because of our country, because of the way we live? How much letting go of privilege is enough? Even the way I framed that question shows my unwillingness to start down this road...
Again, very challenging, Cherice. My acquaintance with "The Politics of Jesus" if from John Howard Yoder's great book, to which you refer without using Yoder's name. Obery Hendricks must be about as good. I am speaking at West Hills this Sunday and will also be talking about the difference between Jesus as the Prince of Peace and Jesus as a god of war. However, specifically what we should do is hard to discern. I have given up the more expressively radical actions and try to be a testimony of how we could change the world by loving our enemies.
Love you lots, Cherice!
These reports have been great, Cherice, really giving an idea of what it has been like for you to attend.
When you're thinking of how Friends can reach out, don't forget some of the people you want to reach out to may already be Friends. For example, I am disabled; I spend my life being reached out to. In fact, the only time I am not made to feel patronised or 'special' is in Meeting, where I am expected to give of myself as much as anyone else is. It's brilliant :)
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