Monday, April 24, 2006

Me and My Big Mouth

At MM yesterday, a subject that has been kicking around on the Agenda for a couple of months finally reached discussion. I had brought it up -- the need for a regular Sunday morning discussion after Meeting, based on someone's spiritual reading. Those present at MM really liked the idea and saw it as having potential for drawing us all to deeper communion and richer spiritual growth. They decided we should "try" the idea for two weeks in May (Meeting members are great believers in trials of new things). They asked for a volunteer to cover those two weeks.

In a moment or weakness or enthusiasm, I volunteered.

(Mental note in the future to bring duct tape to MM to fasten my hands to the chair)

So now I have to find something to read so that I can be prepared to lead something.

I've given it a bit of thought (emphasis on bit). Our Meeting has never really discussed much of anything, except through worship-sharing type dialogue. I sense a fear of talking among us, partly because we have a few strong personalities who might just blurt out something, partly because we don't know what language to use that won't put out someone, and partly because our library is locked upstairs in an attic closet so we never do any spiritual reading. So I thought I should devote the two weeks (20 minutes each week) to a discussion about language and communication about spiritual topics.

Great -- except that I don't have any books or booklets on that topic. I grazed our little library in the pitch-black attic for a few minutes after MM closed, but the handful of pamphlets I took away don't look too promising.

I do have Deborah Haight's "Meeting" pamphlet, which I hope to go through more closely tomorrow. It tends to have far-reaching applications. I also have my old copy of "Jacob the Baker." Of course, there's the bible, but... eee... not a great choice for a first discussion with this group.

But can anyone of you of the great Quaker Literati suggest anything else? The book doesn't have to be specifically Quaker, as long as it talks about the problem of words, the Babel of spiritual discussion in a world of pluralism and politeness, or something else interesting and vital and inspiring -- even just one chapter.

It has to be a book I can get my hands on relatively quickly.

Yeah, me and my big mouth...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Another Letter

Today's letter was from P Borgdorff, Ex. Dir. of the Christian Reformed Church based in Kalamazoo, MI, USA. It was a personal letter, one that seemed to wrestle with my questions (see previous posts).

Although he stated firmly that his church was "officially committed to the 'just war' position," I was fascinated that he preceded this statement with another that stated that "we live in a sinful and broken world, and it is unrealistic to make generalized statements [i.e., that war is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus] that do not take into account the complexities of our world."

There is a leap of logic (or faith?), a chasm of difference, between these two ideas. The two statements together seem to suggest that the 'just war' idea is part of human sinfulness. Because we are sinful, we end up creating wars, and so as a result, we are obliged to participate in them. Sort of we make our bed, so we must lie in it. But I wonder if this juxtaposition reveals a subconscious awareness that the 'just war' is not so just after all. It suggests to me that perhaps there is within conservative churches a discomforting awareness that the 'just war' idea belongs in the box marked SIN.

He goes on to state that "we believe that the state has been given the power of the sword, and as such, must wage war against tyranny and is obligated to protect its citizenry." Here is the not-so-subtle jihadi sentiment that runs like an eerie thread through much of conservative Christianity. We in the West believe that our wars are just, that we are fighting tyranny. Every war we have entered, God has been on our side. And like us, the Muslim insurgents believe their war is just too and that they are fighting tyranny. Allah is on their side.

Everyone believes that their war is just. Everyone believes that their enemies are tyrants. Nobody ever stands up and says, "All right, all right! We give up. You're right -- we're the tyrants. Your war against us is quite fair." I mean, nobody does this.

That's why there is war. War is about two sides each thinking they are right and the other is wrong. It's about miscommunication, misunderstanding, suspicion, fear. The truth is that neither side is right, especially at the instant they pick up weapons. And I suspect most people realize that too, but they hate to admit it. Who wants to admit that we in the West are tyrants? That we treat the rest of the world unjustly? That our wars are about exploitation of others for our own purposes? That maybe the jihadis have a point? -- or had one, that is, till they picked up weapons too.

Why do so few people see that?

My husband and I argue about this from time to time. He says war stopped the Nazis.

I respond, "But did it stop Naziism?"


He counters: "It stopped Hitler."

"Did it?" I ask. "Why then, whenever we see another dictator do we say he's another Hitler? We say Saddam Hussein was a Hitler. We say Somoza was a Hitler. Idi Amin was a Hitler. Pol Pot is a Hitler. If war stopped Hitler, then why does he keep coming back?"

Because you can't kill the devil with a gun or a sword. It comes back, again and again, in different forms and by different names. But it always comes back -- because it is not defeated. To defeat the devil, you must disarm it, subdue it. Then there will be no more Hitler.

Hitler is not a person, and Naziism is not a historical political movement. They are both paths. Both Hitler and the Nazis believed they were right and just in what they were doing. They chose violence as a means of ending the oppression of their people after the cruelty of the previous war; and once they did, they placed themselves firmly in the hands of the one who delights in evil. Whoever chooses violence does the same, regardless of their goals.

I mused for a while: if I were to respond to Peter Borgdorff's letter, what kind of letter would I write? I think it would be a story of some kind, a fable about Hitlers and Nazis and just wars and jihadis. It would show that justice looks different depending where you stand. It would show how all sides all read from the same script when they justify harming each other.

But responding to the responses to my original letters was not my original intention. The task I had set out to do was simply to sow seeds. And perhaps I did with P Borgdorff. For he ended his letter: "But I will further reflect on your point in the days ahead."

That's good enough for me.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sowing Seeds

Today I received the first three responses to my letters to church leaders about the need for all churches to become peace churches compatable with the teachings of Jesus. (See my March 23 post) Two of these letters were one-pagers; one was a bundle of papers. All were written directly by person in question and signed in pen.

Quite honestly, I didn't expect to receive any replies, except maybe a proselytizing pamphlet. So I feel quite honoured.

As to the content of the letters, here are brief summaries.

President JE Kaiser of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada gave firm but noncommittal response. He avoided referencing Jesus' teachings and instead focused what his church members believed was right or wrong :

There may well be some of our members who would agree with you that all military action is wrong. I suspect that the majority would believe that the use of deadly force is morally right under some conditions and not under other conditions. As to particular instances of military force exercised by Canada, the United States, or other nations around the world, I suspect our members would hold an even wider variety of personal views. We would encourage them to form these views prayerful [sic] based on the teachings of Jesus, which include the entire Bible. [emphasis mine]
JE Kaiser, Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada
As emphasized, JE Kaiser ends the letter by stating that the teachings of Jesus refers to the entire bible (perhaps in oblique response to my statement that war was incompatable with the teachings of Jesus). This extraordinarily broad interpretation of what Jesus taught t may explain why conservative-theology churches, who strive to be very biblical, cannot distinguish between Jesus' actual teachings and those of people who came before or after him-- or even those who contradict him. I suspect what John Kaiser meant was that the whole bible is the Word of God; and since Jesus is God, then the whole bible is Jesus' teachings. As a result, his church can assign more weight to statements in the Old Testament or in the pseudo-Pauline letters than to Jesus' teachings about turning the other cheek, forgiving seventy times seven, and loving your enemies. Or could it mean something else?

WD Morrow, general superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, also gave a one-page response to my letter. His was a somewhat nuanced look at the idea of "righteous war," which I found very thoughtful. But the letter ended with a suprisingly emphatic "civic religion" defence of non-action on Jesus' teachings: you know, there are people who in the name of religion advocate the so-called "righteous war." They define certain values and sitautions which they believe must be defended--by the sword if necessary. The problem of course is that sinful human beings have no proven ability to discern the just occasion for taking up arms.

...Respectfully, I must say that while I do not disagree with many of the comments you have made in your letter, I do not believe it is appropriate for us to make a public declaration on the wars which are presently being waged, including fronts where Canadian men and women are following the military instructions of our government.
WD Morrow, Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada
To me, this response suggests that Pentecostals may not be interested in real-life applications of Jesus' teachings, except as they pertain to soul salvation. But this interpretation may not be fair to the wider theology of this church.

The final letter came from the United Church of Canada, through moderator P Short. This letter had attachments which included copies of letters and press releases calling for the end of the occupation of Iraq, the disregard for human rights in Iraqi prisons, and support for the Christian Peacemakers being held hostage. The letter itself was very brief. However, toward the end, P Short expressed what I sensed was a disquiet and a spiritual ache about the issue of pacifism:

I am aware that all of the above does not address the spirit of your compelling letter. Please know that I respect your point of view and long for the day when we will not be reading the kind of headline that I read in the paper this morning.
P Short, United Church of Canada

Maybe the pope will write tomorrow.