Religion in the mainstream press

They default to the same bor­ing tropes, says Amy Lev­in at TheRe­veal­er:

Reli­gious wars, reli­gious dress, reli­gious mon­ey – the­se are the real and yet superbly com­plex ele­ments of our cul­tur­al exis­tence. Scout any crack or cran­ny of pop­u­lar cul­ture and you find reli­gion cre­at­ing a glo­ri­ous maze of top­ics for writ­ers to dis­cov­er and sift and sing to the mass­es.

But late­ly, I find that a repul­sive plague of rep­e­ti­tion and banal­i­ty has swept over the dis­en­chant­ed cyber­sphere. Each day I begin my reli­gion news search with hope­ful eager­ness, sift­ing close­ly through main­stream and fringe out­lets, hun­gry for signs of a new trend, move­ment, argu­ment, study – any­thing oth­er than what I con­sumed the day before. But I search in vain, and my dol­drums have led me to take action.

(H/T to David Watt on Face­book)

It’s witness time

Hi Quak­er­Ran­ter friends: I’ve been busy today cov­er­ing the Quak­er respon­se to the Chris­tian Peace­mak­ers Teams hostages. Two sites with a lot of over­lap­ping con­tent:

  • Quak­er Blog Watch page focused on the hostages
  • “Non​vi​o​lence​.org state­ment and list of respons­es

Both of the­se fea­ture a mix of main­stream news and Quak­er views on the sit­u­a­tion. I’ll keep them updat­ed. I’m not the only busy Friend: Chuck Fager and John Stephens have a site called Free the Cap­tives — check it out.

It’s always inter­est­ing to see the moments that I explict­ly iden­ti­fy as a Friend on Non​vi​o​lence​.org. As I saythere, it seems quite appro­pri­ate. We need to explain to the world why a Quak­er and three oth­er Chris­tians would need­less­ly put them­selves in such dan­ger. This is wit­ness time, Friends. The real deal. We’re all being test­ed. This is one of those times for which those end­less com­mit­tee meet­ings and boil­er­plate peace state­ments have pre­pared us.

It’s time to tell the world that we live in the pow­er that “takes away the occa­sion for war and over­comes our fear of death” (well, or at least mutes it enough that four brave souls would trav­el to dan­ger­ous lands to wit­ness our faith).

Quaker books and self-defeating bargain hunting

Got an email in the book­store today from a poten­tial cus­tomer who chose Ama­zon over my employ­er Quaker­books, a niche inde­pen­dent book­store, because of their cheap cheap prices. I got a bit inspired by my reply, includ­ed here.

Sub­ject: book prices

I real­ly want­ed to buy the below book [Why Grace is True], but I checked ama­zon. com. Their prices: new is $16.07, or used from $5.94. Your price is $22.95.

I know how hard it is to be com­pet­i­tive, but I want­ed to let you know that peo­ple do com­par­ison shop.

Bless­ings, C. 

Dear Friend,

Yes, Ama­zon, Wal­mart and the rest of the glob­al media/distribution jug­ger­naut will always be able to under­price us on the main­stream books.

What we offer is a much wider selec­tion of Quak­er books than any­one else. We don’t just have the more watered-down books aimed at the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion (most­ly with the unsaid premise “what you can learn from those folksy Quak­ers”), but a whole list of books about Quak­er reli­gious edu­ca­tion, Quak­er vision, Quak­er belief, Quak­er his­to­ry and what it means to be a Quak­er today. We don’t just have the Harper­Collins titles, but those from Quak­er pub­lish­ers that Amazon’s nev­er heard of. We eas­i­ly beat Ama­zon in selec­tion and we cer­tain­ly match them in speed and cus­tomer ser­vice.

We give a more ground­ed con­text to what the­se books mean to Friends – the reviews on our site’s If Grace is True are writ­ten by Friends for Friends. We try to know our books. When peo­ple call us up we’ll help with their selec­tion. When they’re try­ing to decide, we’ll read the table of con­tents to them. Quak­er pub­lish­ers and book­sellers talk about the “min­istry of the writ­ten word,” which means remem­ber­ing that there’s a pur­pose behind this book­selling. The­se books aren’t com­modi­ties, they aren’t units, they’re not ISBN num­bers to be packed and shipped. We’d rather not sell a book than sell a book some­one wouldn’t val­ue (which is why we’ll include neg­a­tive book descrip­tions & com­ments).

Pay­ing a few extra dol­lars to sup­port us means your also sup­port­ing the out­reach and Quak­er self-identity our cat­a­log pro­vides for many Friends. Plus you can be assured our employ­ees get liv­ing wages and health care (for which I’m per­son­al­ly thank­ful).

So yes, cus­tomers can save a few bucks at Ama­zon. Always will be able to. But your pur­chas­ing deci­sions are also deci­sions about who you sup­port and what you val­ue. There’s a price to dis­tinc­tive­ness, whether it’s cul­tur­al, reli­gious, region­al, or culi­nary. By buy­ing from Ama­zon you’re financ­ing a Wall Street-run com­mod­i­ty sell­er that doesn’t give a jot about Quak­erism or even whether grace might be true. If enough Friends choose price over con­tent, then Quak­er book­stores and pub­lish­ers will dis­ap­pear, our only rep­re­sen­ta­tion being main­stream books sold at gener­ic shops. That will cost us a lot more than sev­en bucks.

Well, I hope you enjoy the book. I’m sure Ama­zon appre­ci­ates your patron­age.

In friend­ship,
Mar­t­in Kel­ley

Where’s the grassroots contemporary nonviolence movement?

I’ve long noticed there are few active, online peace sites or com­mu­ni­ties that have the grass­roots depth I see occur­ring else­where on the net. It’s a prob­lem for Non​vi​o​lence​.org [update: a project since laid down], as it makes it hard­er to find a diver­si­ty of sto­ries.

I have two types of sources for Non​vi​o​lence​.org. The first is main­stream news. I search through Google News, Tech­no­rati cur­rent events, then may­be the New York Times, The Guardian, and the Wash­ing­ton Post.

There are lots of inter­est­ing arti­cles on the war in iraq, but there’s always a polit­i­cal spin some­where, espe­cial­ly in tim­ing. Most big news sto­ries have bro­ken in one mon­th, died down, and then become huge news three months lat­er (e.g., Wilson’s CIA wife being exposed, which was first report­ed on Non​vi​o​lence​.org on July 22 but became head­li­nes in ear­ly Octo­ber). The­se news cycles are dri­ven by domes­tic par­ty pol­i­tics, and at times I feel all my links make Non​vi​o​lence​.org sound like an appa­ratchik of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty USA.

But it’s not just the tone that makes main­stream news arti­cles a prob­lem – it’s also the gen­er­al sub­ject mat­ter. There’s a lot more to non­vi­o­lence than anti­war expos­es, yet the news rarely cov­ers any­thing about the cul­ture of peace. “If it bleeds it leads” is an old news­pa­per slo­gan and you will nev­er learn about the wider scope of non­vi­o­lence by read­ing the papers.

My sec­ond source is peace move­ment web­sites

And the­se are, by-and-large, unin­ter­est­ing. Often they’re not updat­ed fre­quent­ly. But even when they are, the pieces on them can be shal­low. You’ll see the self-serving press release (“as a peace orga­ni­za­tion we protest war actions”) and you’ll see the exclam­a­to­ry all-caps screed (“eND THe OCCUPATION NOW!!!”). The­se are fine as long as you’re already a mem­ber of said orga­ni­za­tion or already have decid­ed you’re again­st the war, but there’s lit­tle per­sua­sion or dia­logue pos­si­ble in this style of writ­ing and orga­niz­ing.

There are few peo­ple in the larg­er peace move­ment who reg­u­lar­ly write pieces that are inter­est­ing to those out­side our nar­row cir­cles. David McReynolds and Geov Par­rish are two of those excep­tions. It takes an abil­i­ty to some­times ques­tion your own group’s con­sen­sus and to acknowl­edge when non­vi­o­lence ortho­doxy some­times just doesn’t have an answer.

And what of peace blog­gers? I real­ly admire Joshua Mic­ah Mar­shall, but he’s not a paci­fist. There’s the excel­lent Gut­less Paci­fist (who’s led me to some very inter­est­ing web­sites over the last year), Bill Connelly/Thoughts on the eve, Stand Down/No War Blog, and a new one for me, The Pick­et Line. But most of us are all point­ing to the same main­stream news arti­cles, with the same Iraq War focus.

If the web had start­ed in the ear­ly 1970s, there would have been lots of inter­est­ing pub­lish­ing projects and blogs grow­ing out the activist com­mu­ni­ties. Younger peo­ple today are using the inter­net to spon­sor inter­est­ing gath­er­ings and using sites like Mee­tup to build con­nec­tions, but I don’t see com­mu­ni­ties built around peace the way they did in the ear­ly 1970s. There are few peo­ple build­ing a life – hope, friends, work – around paci­fism.

Has “paci­fism” become ossi­fied as its own in-group dog­ma of a cer­tain gen­er­a­tion of activists? What links can we build with cur­rent move­ments? How can we deep­en and expand what we mean by non­vi­o­lence so that it relates to the world out­side our tiny orga­ni­za­tions?