Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Evangelicals Anonymous

Hello? Is this Evangelicals Anonymous? …

Good, okay. Here goes. [deep breath] My name is Susie FGC Quaker, and I am an evangelical…

What kind of evangelical? You mean there are different kinds?…

Well, then, I guess a peace evangelical, a compassion evangelical, a Jesus-is-not-copyright evangelical, a truth-is-a-seed-not-a-pearl evangelical, and a church-is-not-the-only-way-to-do-christianity evangelical. Oh, and an integrity-of-creation evangelical and a political evangelical. Pretty badly infected, as you can tell…

Well, I feel a kind of zeal, a spark of something, a vision of the future, of what could be. I want to reach out, draw people into it. Not to meeting, but to wherever they need to be, wherever they are. I've even starting to believe that Quakerism can take many shapes…

That's right, I'm a Quaker. So I'm sure you understand how difficult this can be. I really have to keep a very, very low profile…

Yes, yes, But even if their ideas and values are the same as mine, they know the evils of evangelism – that illicit spark, that bloodsucking energy. They know it turns perfectly comfortable philosophies and values into missions. They also have a healthy fear of doing anything loud or anything that might offend someone. So the similarities are just superficial…

Yes, the support is excellent. I have Quaker process to slow everything down and my fellow Quakers to question every suggestion to death. Quakers are very skilled at removing the "Demon E" from anything they do. They edit every message down till it says nothing. They take no risks, do nothing new. I'm so lucky, you know. I don't think I could get this kind of support anywhere else…

Well, I always thought it would give me immunity. Quaker practice means listening to the Spirit and sometimes listening to each other. We don't do much outreach because we don't really focus on people outside of our circle. It's like a little intellectual cocoon. Or so I thought. Then suddenly, here I am, thinking more about other people than about the meeting itself -- all those people whose lives are untouched by the Spirit and who hunger for something more. Suddenly, I don't care about Quaker process and traditions. I want what we do to have real life and purpose. You see? It's creepy. So now I know that Quakers aren't immune. We can get infected too, if we're not careful…

Yes, they do some outreach, but I wouldn't call it evangelism. They're always pleased when a new person shows up and wants to stay. It's a major event in some meetings, it happens so infrequently! But if numbers rise too much, there's always some helpful person to point out that if you wait long enough, those numbers will fall back down again, so there's no need to do anything about it or make any changes. That keeps it a tightly knit club, with just enough new people trickling in that it doesn't die completely...

Exactly! I mean, if we all became evangelicals, there would be so much to do in our meetings, there would be more and more people, there would be kids all over the place, and there'd be way too much vision. I can see their point. I have to change my misguided ways before I infect too many others. I've already noticed some other Quakers getting interested in outreach and getting excited about touching other people's lives…

Well, gosh, no, I don't know how seriously they are infected. I mean, they're just out there, talking about it, making suggestions for changes…

How many? Well, a few. Maybe lots, I don't know. But there are these others that kind of dumb them down with words and language. You know, they take the idea and turn it into a minute and then quibble over the wording for a half hour, which makes the ordinary people present afraid to open their mouths, incase they use one of the Wrong Words. Then we start running out of time to do anything about the minute. And pretty soon, the energy gets laid over to the next meeting…

Well, no, you see, it's not entirely safe—because these kinds of ideas are still very contagious…

No, I'm not arguing with you. I'm just saying they can end up spreading--…

Of course, I'm not defending them!…

Wait a minute, I'm very sincere about changing my ways!…

Take business meetings more seriously? How can that be possible? They're nearly moribund as it is!…

Can't I just take an aspirin and call a doctor? Or go to a 12-step meeting?…

Wait! There's got to be hope for me! Hello? Hello?…

[long pause]

Hello. Indecisiveness Anonymous? My name is Susie FGC Quaker, and I am indecisive. Or at least, I used to be. Now I'm not so sure...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Boycott Bottled Water

The United Church of Canada (the largest Protestant denomination in Canada) held their annual General Council this week. Earlier this week, the CBC had reported that the Council would be voting on a boycott of bottled water.

Well, hurray!

Water as a right and resource has been a theme in all churches belonging to KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives this year, and has been taught in churches across the country. The timing was good. I think a large portion of the population would have been very receptive.

However, reading the reports from the General Council, I see that enough voters hedged on the idea of a boycott that the whole idea got "watered down" in the final decision.

Sigh. I was so looking forward to the United Church leading the way on this one. What were people afraid of? Or was it that so many of the people voting at the Council were bottled-water drinkers?

As long as "nice" people think it's okay to buy bottled water, then it's only a matter of time before the only water available comes with a pricetag.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Quaker Intellectuals

When I taught a stewardship theme in FDS last week, I used the example of the Cadbury family for stewardship of wealth and power. Uncomfortable with 19th-century Birmingham living standards for their chocolate factory workers, the Cadburys moved an entire factory and all its workers to a new "village" they created, complete with schools, green parks, and excellent housing, far away from city pollution. They paid high wages and treated employees well. People expected Cadbury to fail because they were wasting money. But Cadbury proved them wrong -- their chocolate became the most popular in England.

This is just one example of the legacy of 18th- and 19th-century Quakers, who were pioneers in changing the way business was done. What we don't seem to remember is that before the 1900s, Quakers were not intellectuals. Universities were closed to anyone who was not a member of that university's church denomination. Thus, Quakers, as non-church people, were not allowed to go to university. They had to become businesspeople, shopkeepers, farmers, bankers, or manufacturers.

Of course, in the process, they brought Quaker values into those industries. Quakers "invented" trust in business, overcoming the belief that only through cheating could a business make money. They created banks that didn't swindle, price tags that prevented the lying that goes on in haggling, and workers' rights. Quaker banks became the most prosperous in all of England, and so did most Quaker businesses. The word "Quaker" soon came to be synonymous with honesty, which is why many nonquaker businesses started using the word in their business names (e.g., Quaker Oats). As Quakers became wealthy, they started using their wealth to promote social change, to change industry, to infect commerce with Quaker ideas.

How many Quakers today go into business or banking? How many into industry? How many work in prisons (not as chaplains) or the military, for that matter?

Once Quakers were permitted to go to university, that's what we did. We are now clustered in intellectual and social-work jobs. Sure, there's still Quaker work to do in these areas. But we've abandoned all the other work sectors.

What would a Meeting think of a banker who joins the meeting? Or a factory owner? Or a businessperson? Would we not subconsciously think poorly of them for their career choice? Would we think very quietly that they really aren't suitable for Quakerism? Where do we get these ideas?

Imagine if Quakers were running the banking system in North America. What changes might we expect to see? Or if we were running all the energy businesses -- would we still be pretending that peak oil and global warming weren't happening? Would we not have more influence than we have where we are?

I wonder if the bald truth is that being a Quaker is business, commerce, and industry (and prisons or military) means some hard work. It requires thinking, working, trying new things, taking risks, speaking out. Intellectual jobs are much safer. We get to be Quaker without putting ourselves at any risk. But in so doing, we've lost our influence. When we want to bring up social, environmental, and commercial change, we have to yell from the sidelines.

I wonder if this is why Quakers have lost so much of their influence in the world.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Wars Again

Back to wars again. Too much watching late-night TV news--it's on my mind. I'll bet I'm not the only one watching the news, shaking my head, trying to grasp what goes on in some people's heads.

My husband and I ended up philosophizing about war till after midnight. Whether Israel's invasion of Lebanon really qualifies as a war (more of a rampage, really, the point being destruction more than anything else), whether the "war on terror" is really a war or just an insane publicity stunt or maybe modernism's last gasp, unable to even comprehend its own death. Whether al Quaeda suiciders really believe in dying for a cause or whether they have their own reasons for not wanting to live anymore when they sign up to blow up planes.

We decided that war is a dumb word for it. We should just call it violence. War seems to legitimize these exercises. People should stop using that word -- it's so... twentieth century.

We also talked about the root causes of war. There may have been a time when war was war, armies marching under orders of a king, quarrels over territories and flags, one team against another team. But postmodern wars are not like those. Postmodern wars have causes very specific to our times. Here they are IOHO:

  1. Overpopulation: This planet cannot hold more than 1 billion people. We have six times that amount. This has to lead to violence.
  2. Environmental degradation: An inevitable by-product of overpopulation -- like bacteria in a test tube, we pollute ourselves.
  3. Corporations: Organizations with rights but no responsibilities, artificial humans whose "human" status cannot currently be revoked, and who therefore act with complete disregard for anything but themselves. Corporations are making a sorry mess of the planet.
  4. Unemployment: As a byproduct of all three of the above. Idle hands are hands of the devil.
  5. Oil: And the lack thereof.
But since you can't kill any of these with a gun or a bomb, we instead turn to the nearest people to blame and kill them. Someone has to be blamed (i.e., the global poor equate oil demands and corporate greed with the United States, hence their hatred of Americans).

But this is not war -- not one team versus another team. It's a global howling.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Paid Worship

Now that our meeting has a new meeting space with a great children's area, we parents have upped our demands.

We have asked for a paid-- gasp, yes, PAID -- facilitator for the children's program (3 out of 4 weeks per month - we'll cover the last week). We found one early this summer who'll do the job for what we can afford and got it onto the July MM agenda.

Here's the punchline -- he's not even Quaker.

Oh, let's just say this was a bit of an issue at MM -- that, and the fact that we're going to be doing the P word. The elders were goggle-eyed, sputtering. Process, you know, they choked, not the way it's done. Testimony against paid worship, you realize. Fans out, legs crossing and uncrossing.

The parents were passionate. Losing kids, losing families. Being too embarrassed to invite out our friends. Never being able to sit in meeting while others sit in it every week. Arms folded or gesturing or sweeping the room.

The clerk and recording clerk struggled to keep up.

I know George Fox had a thing against paid worship and "hireling minister" and so do I. I mean, how can you pay someone to pray or be holy? But what about a children's program director? Is that worship?

We had to decide that this was a wrong direction.

So much can still go wrong between now and the next MM at the end of August. But our fingers are crossed that it will pass and we parents and children will be able to be full Quakers.

The letter killeth, as they say.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Dinosaur Wars

So, Israel and Lebanon, eh? Now, where have we heard that before? Oh, yeah, back in the 1980s.

And what are they saying now? That they're going to "win" this time?

Yeah, I see. And what did they say last time? That they were going to "win"?

And so then why is there a Round 2?

We desperately over-educated Westerners can't help thinking about war when every newscast is regaling us with the surreal details about the conflict between Israel and Lebanon.

Oh, and Palestine. And Iraq. And for Canadians, mustn''t forgets the daily tally of our soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Even the newscasters are having a hard time finding the required justifications for these conflicts and strategies. But even though they come across as uncomfortable about finding support for the party line, I sense that they aren't entirely aware why they aren't comfortable with the stories they are covering.

There's a certain disconnect going on here, a big one. This disconnect has to do with words and their meanings, past meanings and present meanings, cultural change, and our ability to think two simultaneous but perfectly contradictory thoughts at the same time. War is a very weird concept in postmodern times.

But in case you don't have a foggy notion what I'm talking about, then start by deconstructing some of the "lines" used in the present conflict.

For example, Bush says the Israeli attack on Lebanon is okay because "Every nation has the right to defend itself." Never mind that "defend" usually means protecting oneself from attack, whereas this conflict looks more like "attack" than like "defend." The whole notion of self- defence is really: "But Mooommmm! He started it!" It's a childish irresponsibility to take ownership of one's own side of a conflict. After all, it takes two people to fight.

Also imbedded in the idea of self-defence is the underlying notion that we (whoever the "we" is in that case) have a greater right to life than this other group, either because of a religious doctrine or because of a sense of civil superiority. Think about it: by the logic of self-defence, the other side has the right to defend themselves too. How can both sides in a conflict have the "right" to kill the other?

Once deconstructed, the notion of self-defence reveals itself to be empty of everything except self-righteousness.

Deconstructing the concept of war is a little harder than deconstructing a claim about a war, since war is actions and concepts, rather than words. But since the Vietnam War, war itself has changed. People learned in Vietnam that to win against a large power, you have to play a different game. So they played a different game. Did they win? Not really, because the concept of winning isn't part of the new concept of war. But the Americans certainly didn't win either. Nobody won. Lots of people died. Lots of weapons were fired. Huge environmental damage ensued. People lost their minds. But nobody "won".

And it's this notion of "winning" that is central to the disconnect about the postmodern response to war. Up until this last century, there was perhaps a connection between the killing/bombing and the "winning". But there isn't anymore.

In other centuries, the most powerful armies with the most technologically advanced weapons would normally "win" a war. But is this the case now? Do the super armaments of the United States give it an advantage or a disadvantage in Iraq? Has military "superiority" allowed them to "win"? Or has it worked against them in a thousand subtle ways? Are they, in fact, playing the wrong game?

In the same way, is Israel's aggression into Lebanon going to allow them to "win"? What are they hoping to "win" -- peace? demilitarization of Hezbollah? destruction of Lebanon?

What are they likely to "win" -- the world's fury? the long-term hatred of the Lebanese people and their allies? a regional environmental disaster?

Should we call this a war, or should we call it a Hezbollah Recruitment Fair, since for each Hezbollah soldier who dies, more are inspired to join to ensure that Israel does not "win"?

The United States and Israel have the most technologically advanced weaponry in the world. They are also the most highly militarized countries in the world. Yet because of the sheer weight of their military might, they have proved themselves inflexible, heavy, mired down. When military "superiority" won't "win" a war, big armies don't know what else to do. They can't change tactics. Big is not powerful anymore: nimble is powerful; networked is powerful. These superpower rail against their enemies for hiding in residential areas and lobbing rockets from far away. They believe this gives them the right to flatten villages and destroy countless lives to take out one rocket launcher. They don't realize that the game has changed.

Wars are not winnable anymore, if they ever were. The invention of the atomic bomb ushered in the age of the unwinnable war. Nobody can push that button and expect to win. Guerrilla warfare and suicide bombers have ensured that war would remain unwinnable. War exists now for the sake of war. There is no winning.

War is a dinosaur.

Newscasters are feeling uncomfortable reporting on the Isreali aggression because it seems so, well, dumb after reporting on the four years of failure of the US invasion of Iraq. If the US can't "win" a war against an at-that-time non-existent resistence movement in a despot's country, then how is Israel hoping to "win" against a clever and resilient army like Hezbollah? Don't they know it's futile? Don't they know there's no point?

Weary--that's how the reporters look.

And that's how so many of us feel.