Writing Opp: Race and Anti-Racism

We're less than two weeks from the deadline for writing about "Race and Anti-Racism" for Friends Journal and I'd love to see more submissions. It was two years ago that we put out the much-talked-about issue on Experiences of Friends of Color. That felt like a really-needed issue: no triumphalism about how white Friends sometimes did the right thing as Abolitionists or posturing about how great we are, forgetting the ways we sometimes aren't: just a collection of modern Friends talking about what they've experienced first-hand.

I think it's a good time to talk now about how Friends are organizing to unlearn and subvert institutional racism. It was an important issue before November--ongoing mass incarceration, Standing Rock, and the disenfranchisement of millions of African Americans was all taking place before the election. But with racial backlashes, talk of a religious or nationality-based registries, and the coziness of "alt-right" white nationalists with members of the Trump campaign it all seems time to go into overdrive.

Have Friends lost their cultural memory?

In Amer­i­ca today our sense of spir­i­tu­al fel­low­ship in Lib­er­al meet­ings, the feel­ing of belong­ing to the same tribe, is dimin­ish­ing. We no longer live in the same com­mu­ni­ties, and we come from diverse faith tra­di­tions. Our cul­tur­al val­ues are no longer entwined at the roots, as were those of our founders. As a body we share less genet­ic and cul­tur­al mem­o­ry of what it means to be Quak­ers. Dif­fer­ent view­points often pre­vent us from look­ing in the same direc­tion to find a point of con­ver­gence. We hold beliefs rang­ing from Bud­dhism to non-theism to Chris­tian­i­ty, or we may sim­ply be eth­i­cal human­ists. Just imag­ine a mix­ture of wild seeds cast into a sin­gle plot of land, pro­duc­ing a pro­fu­sion of col­or. A wide vari­ety of plants all bloom­ing togeth­er sym­bol­ize our present con­di­tion in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends. Dis­cern­ing which is a wild­flower and which is a weed is not easy. We are liv­ing a great exper­i­ment of reli­gious diver­si­ty.

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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)

Are We More Than Our Demographics?

One of the things that is intrigu­ing me late­ly is the nature of Quak­er debate.  There are half a dozen seemingly-perennial polit­i­cal issues around which Friends in my cir­cles have very strong opin­ions (these include abor­tion, nuclear pow­er, and the role of Friends in the trou­bles of Israel/Palestine) . We often jus­ti­fy our posi­tions with appeals to our Quak­er faith, but I won­der how often our opin­ions could be more accu­rate­ly pre­dict­ed by our demo­graph­ic pro­file?


How many of your polit­i­cal posi­tions and social atti­tudes could be accu­rate­ly guessed by a savvy demog­ra­ph­er who knew your date of birth,  postal code,  edu­ca­tion and fam­i­ly income? I’d guess each of us are far more pre­dictable than we’d like to think.If true,  then what role does our reli­gious life actu­al­ly play?

Reli­gious beliefs are also a demo­graph­ic cat­e­go­ry,  grant­ed, but if they only con­firm posi­tions that could be just as actu­al­ly pre­dict­ed by non-spiritual data, then doesn’t that imply that we’ve sim­ply found (or remained in) a reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty that con­firms our pre-existing bias­es? Have we cre­at­ed a faith in our own image? And if true, is it real­ly fair to jus­ti­fy our­selves based on appeals to Quak­er val­ues?

The “polit­i­cal” Quak­er writ­ings I’m find­ing most inter­est­ing (because they’re least pre­dictable) are the ones that stop to ask how Quak­er dis­cern­ment fits into the debate. Dis­cern­ment: one could eas­i­ly argue that Quak­er open­ings and tools around it are one of our great­est gifts to human spir­i­tu­al­i­ty.  When we build a wor­ship com­mu­ni­ty based on strict adher­ence to the imme­di­ate prompt­ing of the Holy Spir­it, the first ques­tion becomes fig­ur­ing out what is of-God and what is not.  Is James Nayler, rid­ing Jesus-like into Bris­tol, a prophet or a nut?

When we go deep into the ques­tions,  we may find that the answers are less impor­tant than the care we take to reach them.  Wait­ing for one anoth­er,  hold­ing one another’s hand in love despite dif­fer­ences of opin­ion, can be more impor­tant than being the right-answer ear­ly adopter. How do you step back from easy answers to the thorny ques­tions? How do you poll your­self and that-of-God in your­self to open your eyes and ears for the poten­tial of sur­prise?

Spiritual Biodiversity and Religious Inevitability

Emi­grants from the Irish pota­to famine, via Wikipedia

Peo­ple some­times get pret­ty worked up about con­vinc­ing each oth­er of an mat­ter of press­ing impor­tance. We think we have The Answer about The Issue and that if we just repeat our­selves loud enough and often enough the obvi­ous­ness of our posi­tion will win out. It becomes our duty, in fact, to repeat it loud and often. If we hap­pen to wear down the oppo­si­tion so much that they with­draw from our com­pan­ion­ship or fel­low­ship, all the bet­ter, as we’ve achieved a pati­na of uni­ty. Reli­gious lib­er­als are just as prone to this as the con­ser­v­a­tives.

These are not the val­ues we hold when talk­ing about the nat­ur­al world. There we talk about bio­di­ver­si­ty. We don’t cheer when a species mal­adapt­ed to the human-driven Anthro­pocene dis­ap­pears into extinc­tion. Just because a plant or ani­mal from the oth­er side of the world has no nat­ur­al preda­tors doesn’t mean our local species should be super­seded.

Sci­en­tists tell us that bio­di­ver­si­ty is not just a kind of do-unto-others val­ue that sat­is­fies our sense of nos­tal­gia; hav­ing wide gene pools comes in handy when near-instant adap­ta­tion is need­ed in response to mas­sive habi­tat stress. Monocrops are good for the annu­al har­vest but leave us espe­cial­ly vul­ner­a­ble when phy­toph­tho­ra infes­tans comes ashore.

It’s a good thing for dif­fer­ent reli­gious groups to have dif­fer­ent val­ues, both from us us and from one anoth­er. There are pres­sures in today’s cul­ture to lev­el all of our dis­tinc­tives down so that we have no unique iden­ti­ty. Some cheer this monocrop­ping of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, but I’m not sure it’s healthy for human race. If our reli­gious val­ues are some­how truer or more valu­able than those of oth­er peo­ple, then they will even­tu­al­ly spread them­selves – not by push­ing oth­er bod­ies to be like us, but by attract­ing the mem­bers of the oth­er bod­ies to join with us.

God may have pur­pose in fel­low­ships that act dif­fer­ent­ly that ours. Let us not get too smug about our own inevitabil­i­ty that we for­get to share our­selves with those with whom we dif­fer.

Shifting permanence

Trying to catch up on the reading on the One Year Bible plan: I'm
two days behind. That's a point where it's easy enough to catch up but
another day or so becomes hard to catch up. The whole point of this for
me is not to read the Bible in bursts or even to get through the whole
thing in a year, but to develop the lifestyle habit of daily scripture
reading.

I'm in Exodus 30 now and the Lord is giving Moses a list
of very specific laws. In 30:17, he specifies how Aaron and the
priestly caste must wash their feet everytime they come into the
Tabernacle and gives the what else: "or they will die!" Then God makes
the law firm: "This is a permanent law for Aaron and his descendants,
to be observed from generation to generation."

I'm reading a special One Year Bible,
where all of the daily readings are grouped together. There's not too
much commentary and I tend to skip it but the editors did feel the need
to address the laws of the Old Testament head on and asked in one
sidebar "Do we need to follow these laws today?" The answer was yes and
no: "The moral law is still to be followed... The ceremonial laws no
longer need to be followed because of the final sacrifice for since has
been made by Jesus."

God very clearly says in Exodus that the
laws he's giving are permanent. I don't really read much wiggle room in
there. Priests need to wash their feet... and kill a certain number of
lamb every year... and splatter the sacrificial blood around the alter a certain
way and... I know Jesus is the new law, etc., but still it's kind of
funny how literal-interpretation Christians will shrug off a direct and
permanent order from God. It seems obvious that the religious
traditions in the Bible differ greatly, as do the modern lens we bring
to them and the two centuries of shifting Christian practices we've
brought to them.

Does anyone happen to know if there's any religious group still trying to follow the details of the Mosaic Law? I wonder close do certain Orthodox Jewish groups get?