Expanding our concepts of pacifism

My blog­ging pal Wess Daniels wrote a provoca­tive piece this week called When Peace Pre­serves Vio­lence. It’s a great read and blows some much-needed holes in the self-satisfaction so many of us car­ry with us. But I’d argue that there’s a part two need­ed that does a side-step back to the source…

Eric Moon wrote some­thing that’s stuck with me in his June/July Friends Jour­nal piece, “Cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly Not the Tes­ti­monies.” His arti­cle focus­es on the way we’ve so cod­i­fied the “Quak­er Tes­ti­monies” that they’ve become ossi­fied and tak­en for grant­ed. One dan­ger he sees in this is that we’ll not rec­og­nize clear lead­ings of con­science that don’t fit the modern-day mold.

Moon tells the anec­dote of a Friend who “guilti­ly lament[ed] that he couldn’t attend protest march­es because he was busy all day at a cen­ter for teens at risk for drop­ping out of school, a pro­gram he had estab­lished and invest­ed his own sav­ings in.” Here was a Friend doing real one-on-one work chang­ing lives but feel­ing guilty because he couldn’t par­tic­i­pate in the largely-symbolic act of stand­ing on a street corner.

I don’t think that we need to give up the peace tes­ti­mo­ny to acknowl­edge the entan­gle­ment of our lives and the hypocrisy that lies all-too-shallowly below the sur­face of most of our lifestyles. What we need to do is rethink its boundaries.

A mod­el for this is our much-quoted but much-ignored “Quak­er saint” John Wool­man. While a sense of the equal­i­ty of humans is there in his jour­nal as a source of his com­pas­sion, much of his argu­men­ta­tion against slav­ery is based in Friends by-then well-established tes­ti­mo­ny against war (yes, against war, not for peace). Slav­ery is indeed a state of war and it is on so many lev­els – from the indi­vid­u­als treat­ing each oth­er hor­ri­bly, to soci­etal norms con­struct­ed to make this seem nor­mal, to the economies of nation states built on the trade.

Woolman’s con­cep­tu­al leap was to say that the peace tes­ti­mo­ny applied to slav­ery. If we as Friends don’t par­tic­i­pate in war, then we sim­i­lar­ly can’t par­tic­i­pate in the slave trade or enjoy the ill-gotten fruits of that trade – the war prof­it of cot­tons, dyes, rum, etc.

Today, what else is war? I think we have it hard­er than Wool­man. In the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry a high per­cent­age of one’s con­sum­ables came from a tight geo­graph­ic radius. You were like­ly to know the labor that pro­duced it. Now almost noth­ing comes local­ly. If it’s cheap­er to grow gar­lic in Chi­na and ship it halfway around the world than it is to pay local farm­ers, then our local gro­cer will sell Chi­nese gar­lic (mine does). Books and mag­a­zines are sup­plant­ed by elec­tron­ics built in locked-down Far East­ern sweatshops.

But I think we can find ways to dis­en­gage. It’s a never-ending process but we can take steps and sup­port oth­ers tak­ing steps. We’ve got­ten it stuck in our imag­i­na­tion that war is a protest sign out­side Dunkin Donuts. What about those tutor­ing pro­grams? What about reduc­ing our cloth­ing con­sump­tions and find­ing ways to reduce nat­ur­al resource con­sump­tion (best done by lim­it­ing our­selves to lifestyles that cause us to need less resources).

And Yoder? Wess is dis­heart­ened by the sex­u­al mis­con­duct of Men­non­ite paci­fist John Howard Yoder (short sto­ry: he reg­u­lar­ly groped and sex­u­al­ly pres­sured women). But what of him? Of course he’s a fail­ure. In a way, that’s the point, even the plan: human heroes will fail us. Cocks will crow and will we stay silent (why the denom­i­na­tion kept it hush-hush for 15 years after his death is anoth­er whole WTF, of course). But why do I call it the plan? Because we need to be taught to rely first and sec­ond and always on the Spir­it of Jesus. George Fox fig­ured that out:

And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had noth­ing out­ward­ly to help me, nor could I tell what to do; then, oh! then I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy con­di­tion’: and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. …and this I knew exper­i­men­tal­ly. My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowl­edge of God, and of Christ alone, with­out the help of any man, book, or writing.

If young Fox had found a human hero that actu­al­ly walked the talk, he might have short-circuited the search for Jesus. He need­ed to expe­ri­ence the dis­heart­ened fail­ure of human knowl­edge to be low enough to be ready for his great spir­i­tu­al opening.

We all use iden­ti­ty to prop our­selves up and iso­late our­selves from cri­tique. I think that’s just part of the human con­di­tion. The path toward the divine is not one of retrench­ment or dis­avow­al, but rather focus on that one who might even now be prepar­ing us for new light on the con­di­tions of the human con­di­tion and church universal.

A traveling bus museum visits Quakerranter HQ

This week­end we’ve had a muse­um parked in our dri­ve­way. It’s the “BUS-eum” from the Traces Cen­ter for His­to­ry and Cul­ture in St. Paul, host­ing a trav­el­ing exhib­it on Ger­man POW’s in the US dur­ing World War II. We were hap­py to host the BUS-eum’s Irv­ing Kell­man over the week­end in-between stops in Cape May Cour­t­house and Vineland.  I asked him to give us the sto­ry of the Ger­man POWs on video.

As you might guess, there was a lot of Quak­er con­nec­tions in the 1940, with Amer­i­can Friends Ser­vice Com­mit­tee involve­ment. Traces’ direc­tor Michael Luick-Thrams is a Friend and did his PhD the­sis on the Scat­ter­good Hos­tel, a refugee camp set up at the then-abandoned Friends school in Iowa. Many of the BUS-eum’s stops are Friends Schools, with pub­lic libraries being anoth­er com­mon destination.

The vis­it was made with help from FGC’s Direc­to­ry of Trav­el­ing Friends. I think this is the first time we’ve actu­al­ly had a vis­i­tor after a decade of being list­ed there (most past inquiries have fall­en through when they looked at a map and real­ized our dis­tance from Pen­dle Hill, New York City or what­ev­er oth­er des­ti­na­tion brought them east).

What Convergence means to Ohio Conservative

Robin M's recent post on a "Convergent Friends definition":http://robinmsf.blogspot.com/2007/07/two-convergent-events-in-california.html has garnered a number of fascinating commenters. The latest comes from Scott Savage, a well-known Conservative Friend (author of "A Plain Live," publisher of the defunct "Plain Magazine" and lightening rod for a recent culture war skirmish over homosexuality at Ohio State University). Savage's comment on Robin's blog follows what we could call the "Cranky Conservative" template: gratuitous swipes at Conservatives in Iowa and North Carolina, wholesale dismissal of other Friends, multiple affirmations of Christ, digs at the issue of homosexuality, a recitation of past failures of cross-branch communication, then a shrug that seems to ask why he should stoop to our level for dialogue.
Snore.
What makes my sleepy response especially strange is that except for the homosexuality issue (yay for "FLGBTQC":http://www.quaker.org/flgbtqc/!) I'm pretty close to Scott's positions. I worry about the liberalization of Conservative Friends, I get cranky about Christian Friends who deny Christ in public, and I think a lot of Friends are missing the boat on some core essentials. When I open my copy of Ohio's 1968 discipline and read its statement of faith (oops, sorry, "Introduction") I nod my head. As far as I'm aware I'm in unity with all of Ohio Conservative's principles of faith and practice and if I signed up for their distance membership I certainly wouldn't be the most liberal member of the yearly meeting.
I'm actually not sure about Scott's yearly meeting membership, I'm simply answering his question of why he and the other Conservatives who hold a strong concern for "the hedge" (a separation of Conservative Friends from other branches) might want to think about Convergence. Of all the remaining Conservative bodies, the hedge is arguably strongest in Ohio Yearly Meeting and while parts of this apply to Conservatives elsewhere--Iowa, North Carolina and individuals embedded in non-Conservative yearly meetings--the snares and opportunies are different for them than they are for Ohioans.
Why Ohio Conservative should engage with Convergence:
bq.. If you have all the answers and don't mind keeping them hidden under the nearest bushel then Convergence means nothing.
But if you're interested in following Jesus and being a fisher of men and women by sharing the good news... Well, then it's useful to learn that there's a growing movement of Friends from outside Conservative circles (however defined) who are sensing there's something missing and looking to traditional Quakerism for answers.
Ohio Conservatives have answers and this Convergence movement is providing a fresh opportunity to share them with the apostate Friends and with Christians in other denominations seeking out a more authentic relationship with Christ. Engaging with Convergence doesn't mean Ohio Friends have to change anything of their faith or practice and it needn't be about "dialogue": simply sharing the truth as you understand it is ministry.
Yes, there are snares involved in any true gospel ministry; striking the right balance is always difficult. As the carpenter said, "narrow is the way which leadeth unto life":http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=47&chapter=7&version=9. We are beset on all sides by roadblocks that threaten to lead us away from Christ's leadership. Ohio Friends will need to be on guard that ministers don't succumb to the temptation to water down their theology for any fleeting popularity. This is a real danger and "it frequently occurs":http://www.quakerranter.org/for_other_uses_see_light_disambiguation.php but while I could tell eight years of great insider stories from the halls of Philadelphia, is that what we're here to do?
Let me put my cards on the table: I don't see much of Ohio effectively ministering now. There's too much of a kind of pride that borders on obnoxiousness, that loves endlessly reciting why Iowa and North Carolina aren't Conservative and why no other Friends are Friends, blah blah blah. It can get tiresome and legalistic. I could point to plenty of online forums where it crosses the line into detraction. Charity and love are Christian qualities too. Humility and a sense of humor are compatible with traditional Quakerism. How do we find a way to continue safeguarding Ohio's pearls while sharing them widely with the world. There are Ohio Friends doing this and while I differ with Scott Savage on some social issues I consider tangential (and he probably doesn't), I very much appreciate his hard work advancing the understanding of Quakerism and agree on more than I disagree.
But how do we find a way to be both Conservative and Evangelical? To marry Truth with Love? To not only understand the truth but to know how, when and where to share it? I think Convergence can help Ohio think about delivery of Truth and it can help bring seekers into the doors. When I rhetorically asked last month what Convergent Friends "might be converging toward":http://www.quakerranter.org/convergent_friends_a_long_definition.php, the first answer that popped in my head was Ohio Friends with a sense of humor. I'm not sure it's the most accurate definition but it reveals my own sympathies and I find it tempting to think about what that would look like (hint: "kraken might be involved":http://www.conservativefriend.org/newsandevents.htm).
p. A reminder to everyone that I'll be at "Ohio Yearly Meeting Conservative sessions":http://www.conservativefriend.org/2007yearlymeeting.htm in a few weeks to talk more about the opportunities for Ohio engagement with Convergence. Come round if you're in the area.
Also check out Robin's own response to Scott, up there on her own blog. It's a moving personal testimony to the power and joy of cross-Quaker fellowship and the spiritual growth that can result.

Reading John Woolman 2: The Last Safe Quaker

Read­ing John Wool­man: Parts 123, 4 (miss­ing)

Some­one who only knew Wool­man from arti­cles in pop­u­lar Quak­er peri­od­i­cals might be for­giv­en for a moment of shock when open­ing his book. John Wool­man is so much more reli­gious than we usu­al­ly acknowl­edge. We describe him as an activist even though he and his con­tem­po­raries clear­ly saw and named him a min­is­ter. There are many instances where he described the inhu­man­i­ty of the slave trade and he clear­ly iden­ti­fied with the oppressed but he almost always did so with from a Bib­li­cal per­spec­tive. He acknowl­edged that reli­gious faith­ful­ness could exist out­side his beloved Soci­ety of Friends but his life’s work was call­ing Friends to live a pro­found­ly Chris­t­ian life. Flip to a ran­dom page of the jour­nal and you’ll prob­a­bly count half a dozen metaphors for God. Yes, he was a social activist but he was also a deeply reli­gious min­is­ter of the gospel.

So why do we wrap our­selves up in Wool­man like he’s the flag of proto-liberal Quak­erism? In an cul­ture where Quak­er author­i­ty is deeply dis­trust­ed and appeals to the Bible or to Quak­er his­to­ry are rou­tine­ly dis­missed, he has become the last safe Friend to claim. His name is invoked as a sort of tal­is­man against cri­tique, as a rhetor­i­cal show-stopper. “If you don’t agree with my take on the environment/tax resistance/universalism, you’re the moral equiv­a­lent of Woolman’s slave hold­ers.” (Before the emails start flood­ing in, remem­ber I’m writ­ing this as a dues-paying activist Quak­er myself.) We don’t need to agree with him to engage with him and learn from him. But we do need to be hon­est about what he believed and open to admit­ting when we dis­agree. We shouldn’t use him sim­ply as a stooge for our own agenda.

I like Wool­man but I have my dis­agree­ments. His scrupu­lous­ness was over the top. My own per­son­al­i­ty tends toward a cer­tain puri­ty, exem­pli­fied by fif­teen years of veg­an­ism, my plain dress, my being car-less into my late thir­ties. I’ve learned that I need to mod­er­ate this ten­den­cy. My puri­ty can some­times be a sign of an elit­ism that wants to sep­a­rate myself from the world (I’ve learned to laugh at myself more). Asceti­cism can be a pow­er­ful spir­i­tu­al lens but it can also burn a self- and world-hatred into us. I’ve had friends on the brink of sui­cide (lit­er­al­ly) over this kind of scrupu­lous­ness. I wor­ry when a new Friend finds my plain pages and is in broad­falls and bon­nets a few weeks lat­er, know­ing from my own expe­ri­ence that the speed of their gus­to some­times rush­es a dis­cern­ment prac­tice that needs to rest and set­tle before it is ful­ly owned (the most per­son­al­ly chal­leng­ing of the tra­di­tion­al tests of Quak­er dis­cern­ment is “patience”).

John Wool­man presents an awful­ly high bar for future gen­er­a­tions. He reports refus­ing med­i­cine when ill­ness brought him to the brink of death, pre­fer­ring to see fevers as signs of God’s will. While that might have been the smarter course in an pre-hygienic era when doc­tors often did more harm than good, this Chris­t­ian Scientist-like atti­tude is not one I can endorse. He sailed to Eng­land deep in the hold along with the cat­tle because he thought the wood­work unnec­es­sar­i­ly pret­ty in the pas­sen­ger cab­ins. While his famous wear­ing of un-dyed gar­ments was root­ed part­ly in the out­rages of the man­u­fac­tur­ing process, he talked much more elo­quent­ly about the inher­ent evil of wear­ing clothes that might hide stains, argu­ing that any­one who would try to hide stains on their clothes would be that much more like­ly to hide their inter­nal spir­i­tu­al stains (all I could think about when read­ing this was that he must have left child-rearing duties to the well-inclined Sarah).

Wool­man proud­ly relates (in his famous­ly hum­ble style) how he once tried to shut down a trav­el­ing mag­ic act that was sched­uled to play at the local inn. I sus­pect that if any of us some­how found our­selves on his clear­ness com­mit­tee we might find a way to tell him to… well, light­en up. I sym­pa­thize with his con­cerns against mind­less enter­tain­ment but telling the good peo­ple of Mount Hol­ly that they can’t see a dis­ap­pear­ing rab­bit act because of his reli­gious sen­si­bil­i­ties is more Tal­iban than most of us would feel com­fort­able with.

He was a man of his times and that’s okay. We can take him for what he is. We shouldn’t dis­miss any of his opin­ions too light­ly for he real­ly was a great reli­gious and eth­i­cal fig­ure. But we might think twice before enlist­ing the par­ty poop­er of Mount Hol­ly for our cause.

Danny: Looking for a Real Religion

Here’s an email from Dan­ny, a new friend who I met at last week’s FGC-sponsored “Youth Min­istries Con­sul­ta­tion.” I liked his obser­va­tions and asked if I could share this on the blog. I’m glad he said yes, since it’s a good per­spec­tive on where one con­vinced 19 year old Friend is at.
Update: “Here’s Danny’s new blog, Rid­ing the Whale”:http://Quakernow.blogspot.com/

Con­tin­ue read­ing

Plain Quaker Dressing at FGC

As we got onto the cam­pus of UMass Amherst to help set up for this year’s FGC Gath­er­ing, Julie & I real­ized that this is the first time we’ve been to this venue since we start­ed plain dress­ing (last year we stayed home since Julie was very preg­nant). FGC Friends tend to turn to the Lands End cat­a­log for sar­to­r­i­al inspi­ra­tion. Hip­pie cul­ture is anoth­er font, both direct­ly as tie-die shirts and in mut­ed form as the taste­ful fair-trade clothes that many old­er Friends pre­fer. Because the Gath­er­ing takes place in July and in spo­rad­i­cal­ly air-conditioned build­ings, peo­ple also dress for sum­mer camp – kha­ki shorts & once col­or­ful fad­ed t-shirts are the de fac­to Gath­er­ing uni­form. In this set­ting, just wear­ing long pants is cause for com­ment (“aren’t you hot like that?!”) Try broad­falls and a long-sleeve col­lar­less shirt, or a long dress!

So I’ve decid­ed to write down all the con­ver­sa­tions or ques­tions I get about my dress this week. I should men­tion that I actu­al­ly pre­fer curi­ous ques­tions to the strange star­ing I some­times get. So here we go:

  • While ring­ing up a Gath­er­ing store order: some­one I’ve known for years asked me whether my cloth­ing was “a the­o­log­i­cal state­ment or if it was just comfortable.”
  • While trou­bleshoot­ing the store com­put­ers and answer­ing a cell­phone call from the office: com­pared to a lit­er­ary char­ac­ter named “Cos­mic Pos­sum,” who was described to me as some­one able to seem­less­ly live in both the past and mod­ern world (at the time the ref­er­ence was made I was work­ing two com­put­ers and tak­ing a cell phone call.
  • Walk­ing by the din­ing hall, an old­er Friend called out “Looks good!” I said “Huh?”, he replied “that’s a good outfit!”

Mon­day:

  • “Nice out­fit” again, this time from Nils P. As soon as he said it I warned him that I was keep­ing this log and that he should expect to see him­self in it.
  • I talked a lit­tle bit about dress with a friend from Bal­ti­more Year­ly Meet­ing, a gay Friend involved with FLGCQBC who is iden­ti­fy­ing more and more as con­ser­v­a­tive and think­ing about going plain. One con­cern he raised was avoid­ing sweat­shop labor. (I point­ed out that plain dress is a cot­tage indus­try and that the seam­stress­es are usu­al­ly local and believ­ers.) He also doesn’t want to look “like a farmer” as he walks around the city of Bal­ti­more. (I talked about how I have lim­its as to how plain I go and don’t want this to be a his­tor­i­cal out­fit but one which peo­ple might actu­al­ly be able to see them­selves adopt­ing. I also talked about how I still want to iden­ti­fy on some lev­el with urban anar­chist cul­ture, which has a sort of plain aesthetic.)

Tues­day:

  • An extend­ed con­ver­sa­tion with a book­store cus­tomer from Cal­i­for­nia. She began by ask­ing if I’m doing plain dress for the same rea­sons as anoth­er plain dress­er here, who I’ve seen but not met yet. We began talk­ing about moti­va­tions and what it’s like and how it is for women, espe­cial­ly who lead active lives. I talked about my wife’s Julie’s prac­tice, which includes leo­tards when she’s work­ing at a gym­nas­tics coach. We also talked about dif­fer­ent kinds of Quak­er­sIt was a great conversation.
  • While sit­ting on a book­store couch blog­ging: “You’re look­ing very dis­tin­guished here, with facial hair and susspenders. Is this what mar­ried life does? You’re look­ing very Quak­er­ly. Does thee also have a hat?”

Wednes­day

  • I spent sick most­ly in bed…
  • I did have a brief, fever-fed con­ver­sa­tion with some of the oth­er plain dress­ing youths and soon-to-be plain dress­ing youth. It’s not about dress, but about being Quak­er and about how we live as Friends.

Thurs­day:

  • I had an extend­ed con­ver­sa­tion with a cou­ple who run the Equal Exchange table about plain dress, Gohn Broth­ers cat­a­log and avoid­ing sweatshop-made cloth­ing for union-made cloth­ing. There’s a lot of peo­ple inter­est­ed in this and the issues real­ly con­nect with sim­plic­i­ty and jus­tice issues.