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2007

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From Twelfth Month, 2007:

The devastation of the biosphere is also a result of there being too many human beings for the planet to support over the long haul. If the human population continues to increase as it has risen in the past, all progress we might make will be overwhelmed.

But what is very striking to observe is that everywhere on this Earth where good standards of justice prevail, the rate of reproduction is about the replacement rate. While wherever justice, and the full array of rights as described in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, is somehow denied to some portion of the population, especially to women and children, the rate of reproduction either balloons to unsustainably rapid growth rates, or crashes outright.

Now you can argue all you want about why this correlation exists, but the correlation itself is striking and undeniable. So this is one of those situations in which what we do for good in one area, helps us again in another. It is a positive feedback loop with the most profound implications.

Consider: for the sake of climate stabilization, there must be population stabilization; and for there to be population stabilization, justice must prevail.

Every person on the planet must live with the full array of human rights that all nations have already ascribed to when signing the UN Charter. When we achieve that, at that point, and at that point only, we will begin to reproduce at a sustainable rate.

—Kim Stanley Robinson,
from Pres. Phil Chase's Inaugural Address
in Sixty Days and Counting
(New York: Bantam Paperback, 2007, pp.91-92),
third volume of Robinson's "Science in the Capital" series

See also the excerpts of the April 2007 Locus Magazine interview with Kim Stanley Robinson


From Eleventh Month, 2007:

Shine
by Joni Mitchell

Oh let your little light shine
Let your little light shine
Shine on Wall Street and Vegas
Place your bets
Shine on the fishermen
With nothing in their nets
Shine on rising oceans and evaporating seas
Shine on our Frankenstein technologies
Shine on science
With its tunnel vision
Shine on fertile farmland
Buried under subdivisions

Let your little light shine
Let your little light shine
Shine on the dazzling darkness
That restores us in deep sleep
Shine on what we throw away
And what we keep

Shine on Reverend Pearson
Who threw away
The vain old God
kept Dickens and Rembrandt and Beethoven
And fresh plowed sod
Shine on good earth, good air, good water
And a safe place
For kids to play
Shine on bombs exploding
Half a mile away

Let your little light shine
Let your little light shine
Shine on world-wide traffic jams
Honking day and night
Shine on another asshole
Passing on the right!
Shine on the red light runners
Busy talking on their cell phones
Shine on the Catholic Church
And the prisons that it owns
Shine on all the Churches
They all love less and less
Shine on a hopeful girl
In a dreamy dress

Let your little light shine
Let your little light shine
Shine on good humor
Shine on good will
Shine on lousy leadership
Licensed to kill
Shine on dying soldiers
In patriotic pain
Shine on mass destruction
In some God's name!
Shine on the pioneers
Those seekers of mental health
Craving simplicity
They traveled inward
Past themselves...
May all their little lights shine

Copyright © 2007; Crazy Crow Music

—Joni Mitchell,
title cut from her new album, Shine
(Hear Music, September 2007)


From Tenth Month, 2007:

Fox wanted to enforce an outward equality as a way to move toward an authentic equality that grew from spiritual equality.

A rich man...wore his hat when he went among other wealthy people but wanted a poor man to remove his as a mark of deference; this discrimination should cease, so as to "let everyone do justly to his neighbor without respect."

He wanted the nation to provide for poor people, the blind, the lame, and the crippled, "that there might not be a beggar in England nor in England's dominions...."

Running through Fox's catalogue of his society's evils was the theme that "justice and righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a shame both to rulers and people."

His two most radical proposals were that the nation had an obligation to provide for "all the poor people, blind and lame, and cripples" and that abbey and glebe lands, the "great houses," churches, and abbeys, even Whitehall itself, should be given to these needy people....

[He recognized] that social and economic dislocations associated with England's recent entry into the world of capitalism required new approaches. Once the government had begun confiscating the church's extensive holdings in the last century and awarding them to private individuals, a world of different values slowly began to emerge.

These two propositions, the highwater mark of his radicalism, aimed at dealing with the problems that inevitably grew out of these evolving values and showed him at his most perceptive.

Even more important, they initiated a Quaker tendency to seek fundamental solutions for social problems, a tendency that would continually challenge the basic institutions and assumptions of the society in which they lived. While Fox himself never returned to the essential radicalism of this approach, he never repudiated it, and it survived as a method that continued to inspire future followers as they grappled with similar problems in their own different worlds. (178, 179)

—H. Larry Ingle,
First Among Friends:
George Fox & the Creation of Quakerism

(New York: Oxford University Press, 1994)


From Ninth Month, 2007:

I catch myself in self-importance ten times a day—check that, five—well, maybe once. It's appalling anyway. A little flashbulb goes off and I'm exposed...like Jimmy Olsen caught Superman changing clothes in a phone booth.

Of course, whoever I'm with has probably been seeing all this self-importance in me for hours before I ever notice. And my colleagues...they've been shrugging or giving up for years. So there's no sanctuary. And I've stopped trying to hide it. No, that's a lie! Don't trust this man! Don't print this interview!

What I've done really is I've begun. I've just started to watch myself as I go through these little prances. I actually have this exercise I sometimes perform. What I do when I catch myself being Mr. Administrator of Social Services is I get up out of my chair, walk away a few steps, stand for a moment, and then turn around and walk back and sit down again. The one who is now seated is usually not the same one who was there before. I'm no longer that guy, Mr. Administrator. For a while, anyway.

I should add that this exercise frequently appears quite mad to other people in the room, particularly if they're people who have come to me for some kind of assistance. ("This is the guy I've come to for help?") Funny. So I perform these exercises at considerable cost to my aura of authority, you understand. But it's definitely worth it. Freedom is priceless...worth whatever the cost. (33-34)

—quoted by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman in
How Can I Help: Stories and Reflections on Service
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985)


From Eighth Month, 2007:

Remember that you are human: this is the central message of ancient Greek reverence. "How could I forget?" you ask. Very easily, especially if you are so rich, so powerful, or so successful that you push every thought of failure away from your mind—every thought of human error, madness, or death....

In all the Greek stories of reverence lost and regained, humanity is at issue. You can forget your humanity in either of two ways: by taking on the airs of a god, or by acting like a beast of prey. Either way, you come back to reverence when you recover a sense of your humanity in common with others. And the others in these stories are usually people you were tempted to regard as inferior....

A reverent soul listens to other people even when they are inferior; that is a large part of remembering that you are human together with them....

Reverence does not stop at any of the boundaries that human beings make among themselves; reverence overlooks differences of culture, social class, age, and even gender... Reverence calls us to be conscious of bare humanity, the humanity of our species. The ancient Greeks were very clear about this: reverence is about just being human, and not about a distinctly Greek or Persian way of being human....

The great cases of irreverence—the famous cautionary tales of ancient Greece—are about feelings and thoughts gone wrong. They are, in other words, about failures of virtue—and failures of knowledge. Great heroes and leaders have a way of forgetting their human limitations, with disastrous results.

— Paul Woodruff,
Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 81, 83, 84, 85)


From Seventh Month, 2007:

A landowner...went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing...for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o'clock [and again at noon and three and five], he saw others standing idle...and he said to them, "You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right...."

When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.

And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner.... But he replied to one of them,"Friend, I am doing you no wrong.... Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?"

— Matt. 20:1-15 (selected verses)

Listeners familiar with these stories' Gospel contexts may have difficulty trusting the full range of their feelings. Because they have learned to assume that the beneficiaries of the superiors' generosity... represent late-coming Christians, such listeners may not readily allow into awareness their sympathies for the hard-working early laborers....

In [my] reading, using the perspective of a Hebrew listener, the landowner's generosity obscures the larger obstacles to his ambiguous desire.... Central here may be the conflicted effort of the landowner, possessed both with unchecked power and with the desire to appear just, to pursue self-interest under the guise of apparent rectitude.

Only the owner's definition of what constitutes the customary wage— without any input from the laborers—becomes the basis for any later decision about what might be perceived as generosity. This benchmark turns out to be, of course, whatever the owner's social class long ago determined it would be....

The landowner's assertion that he collaborated [with the laborers] in setting the wage...represents either self-deception or else a deliberate insult. Given a market flooded with impoverished, unemployed workers, the owner knows full well that none of these laborers can bargain with him....

In a world of unequally distributed resources and subsistence daily wages, the landowner in fact cannot realize his ambition to "pay what is just" out of what "belongs" to him until much more of what belongs to his landowning class belongs to the day-laborer class.... [At] issue that evening may not be a decision about the worth of twelve hours of labor but rather a judgment about hundreds of years of land-grabbing....

If one does not notice his prior position of total control over the essential definitions, the landowner indeed appears to be generous. (Traditional readings rely on this generosity to render him a figure for God.) Yet oppressed peoples the world over are endlessly familiar with the differences between what is held out to them as lawful and what they themselves perceive to be just.

Footnote: Latin American liberation theology understands that in elitist societies there are charitable persons, but since the entire system is unjust, there can in fact be no charity. Thus the slogan, "No justice, no charity!"

— Richard Q. Ford,
The Parables of Jesus: Recovering the Art of Listening
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997, pp.107-09, 117, 118, 164)

Editor's note: See Thought for Fourth Month, 2007 for Ford's reintepretation of the Parable of the Talents.


From Sixth Month, 2007:

That all consumption takes time is in fact the bane of consumer society—and a major worry for the merchandisers of consumer goods. There is a natural resonance between the spectacular career of the "now," brought about by time-compressing technology, and the logic of consumer-oriented economy.

As far as the latter goes, the consumer's satisfaction ought to be instant: and this in a double sense. Obviously, consumed goods should satisfy immediately, requiring no learning skills and no lengthy groundwork; but the satisfaction should also end—"in no time," that is in the moment the time needed for their consumption is up. And that time ought to be reduced to the bare minimum.

The needed time-reduction is best achieved if consumers cannot hold their attention or focus their desire on any object for long; if they are impatient, impetuous and restive; and above all easily excitable and equally easily losing interest.

The culture of consumer society is mostly about forgetting, not learning. Indeed, when the waiting is taken out of wanting and the wanting out of waiting, the consumption capacity of consumers may be stretched far beyond the limits set by any natural or acquired needs; also, the physical endurability of the objects of desire is no longer required.

The traditional relationship between needs and their satisfaction is reversed: the promise and hope of satisfaction precedes the need promised to be satisfied and will be always more intense and alluring than the extant needs.

As a matter of fact, the promise is all the more attractive the less familiar is the need in question; there is a lot of fun in living through an experience one did not know existed, and a good consumer is a fun-loving adventurer.

For good consumers it is not the satisfaction of the needs one is tormented by, but the torments of desires never yet sensed or suspected that makes the promise so tempting. (81-82)

—Zygmunt Bauman,
Globalization: The Human Consequences
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, paper 2000)


From Fifth Month, 2007:

Ed Kennedy is the nineteen-year-old "slacker" narrator of Marcus Zusak's remarkable 2002 young adult novel, I Am the Messenger.

Ed starts getting playing card aces with local names or addresses on them. For all his seeming incompetence, he knows intuitively that he's supposed to help these people—somehow or other—whatever it may cost him in physical or emotional pain.

Here is a fragment of one episode (220-21):

Jessie's about six, and while I'm sitting there he whispers something in my ear.

It's the answer.

He says, "My dad's putting up our Christmas lights soonyou have to come and have a look one day. I love those lights...."

"I promise," I say. "I'll come."

On the weekend, I go past during the day. The Christmas lights are up and they're very old and faded. Some of the lights are missing. They're the old-style lights. They're not the type to flash. They're just big bulbs in different colors, strung along the eaves above the front porch.

I'll come back later, I think, to have a look.

Sure enough, in the evening, when the lights are on, I see that only half the ones that are still there actually work. That translates to four globes in operation. Four globes to brighten up the Tatupu house this year.

It's not a big thing, but I guess it's truebig things are often just small things that are noticed.


From Fourth Month, 2007:

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, "Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours."

Matt. 25:24-25

I have been greatly influenced in my understanding of this parable by the Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o. In his 1987 novel, The Devil on the Cross, Ngugi engages the conceit of a white colonialist entrepreneur, forced by African nationalism to flee, who entrusts both his capital and his tactics to retainer Africans, who in turn become subordinate but no less sophisicated exploiters.

Ngugi (84-85) then has the "last slave" challenge this entire system as follows:

"You, lord and master, member of the white race, I have discovered your tricks! I have also discovered your real name, Imperialist, that's you real name, and you are a cruel master.

"Why? Because you reap where you have never sown. You grab things over which you have never shed any sweat. You have appointed yourself the distributor of things which you have never helped to produce. Why? Just because you are the owner of capital.

"And so I went and buried your money in the ground to see if your money would yield anything without being fertilized by my sweat or that of any other man. Behold, here is your 100,000 shillings, exactly as you left it."

This brief summary and the quote to which I am limited cannot but hint at Ngugi's extraordinary insights. His entire novel, for which this parable forms a centerpiece, can be read as a commentary on it. In part because of his masterful use of irony, I find Ngugi's to be the most effective response to a parable of Jesus I have ever encountered.

He painfully explores the constraints and consequent corruption pressing in on any Third World nationalism attempting to transform the overwhelming intrusion of Western imperialism. In so doing, I believe he rightly senses the limits with which the parable surrounds the options open to this last slave.

The ironic brilliance of Ngugi's approach adds to my conviction that one of the best places to discover powerful understandings of Jesus' parables is in the Third World. (150 Notes)

— Richard Q. Ford,
The Parables of Jesus: Recovering the Art of Listening
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997)

Editor's note: In focusing on the seven longer parables, Ford challenges our traditional tendency to accept the assumption of the original Gospel editors that for Jesus "the economically superior figure represents some aspect of divine intent" (4).

If one lays aside this assumption, one can instead listen to the parables as stories of "two main characters [who] are misunderstanding each other.... [Each] is trying to make the other fit preconceived expectations, that is, each is attempting to avoid anxiety by distorting who the other person is" (3-4).

Perhaps Jesus intended to challenge his Galilean peasant listeners, who would have recognized the socio-economic realities described in the parables, to wonder at what was not said in the story, to seek to fill in the gaps, and to imagine how the characters might heal their misunderstanding.


From Third Month, 2007:

You can look to the stars in search of the answers
Look for God and life on distant planets
Have your faith in the ever after
While each of us holds inside the map to the labyrinth
And heaven's here on earth

We are the spirit the collective conscience
We create the pain and the suffering and the beauty in this world

Heaven's here on earth
In our faith in humankind
In our respect for what is earthly
In our unfaltering belief in peace and love and understanding
've seen and met angels wearing the disguise
Of ordinary people leading ordinary lives
Filled with love, compassion, forgiveness and sacrifice

Heaven's in our hearts
In our faith in humankind
In our respect for what is earthly
In our unfaltering belief in peace and love and understanding

Look around
Believe in what you see
The kingdom is at hand
The promised land is at your feet
We can and will become what we aspire to be

If Heaven's here on earth
If we have faith in humankind
And respect for what is earthly
And an unfaltering belief that truth is divinity
And heaven's here on earth

I've seen spirits
I've met angels
I've touched creations beautiful and wondrous
I've been places where I question all I think I know
But I believe, I believe, I believe this could be heaven
We are born inside the gates with the power to create life
And to take it away
The world is our temple
The world is our church
Heaven's here on earth

If we have faith in human kind
And respect for what is earthly
And an unfaltering belief
In peace and love and understanding
This could be heaven here on earth
Heaven's in our heart

— Tracy Chapman, "Heaven's Here on Earth,"
from New Beginning (Elektra, 1995)
© Tracy Chapman 1994

Editor's Note: Chapman is one of the most powerful bards I know. Her work always touches something very deep. Whether it is a love song or an anthem like this one, songs I've heard for over a decade can still conjure tears of joy or grief—or both.

I listened again to "Heaven's Here on Earth" while driving from Jacksonville to Columbia last weekend. Having just shared in a discussion of The Lord's Prayer with Jacksonville Monthly Meeting, I realized that this song is a potent expression of how I understand that prayer's petition: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven."

Three other songs on the album are sisters to this one:

  • "New Beginning"
    • The whole world's broke and it ain't worth fixing
      It's time to start all over, make a new beginning
      There's too much pain, too much suffering
      Let's resolve to start all over make a new beginning

  • "The Rape of the World"
    • Mother of us all
      Place of our birth
      How can we stand aside
      And watch the rape of the wold
  • "I'm Ready"
    • I want to wake up
      I want to know where I'm going
      I want to go where the rivers are over-flowing

      I'm ready to let the rivers wash over me
      I'm ready
      I'm ready ...

From Second Month, 2007:

As I have traveled much more broadly among Friends on the Internet than I ever have in real life, I have been struck over and over again that some of what my Conservative-leaning Meeting in an uber-liberal city is yearning for is to be found in spades among Conservative and some Evangelical Friends Meetings/Churches. And what some evangelical and pastoral Friends are yearning for, we do without even thinking about it....

I hear some "Liberal" Friends turning to Quaker history in search of more depth of our spiritual life, going right into our Christian roots and the concept of Gospel Order. We will have to come to terms with more Quaker peculiarities, like maybe a scruple against alcohol.

I hear some "Evangelical" Friends turning to Quaker history in search of stronger connections to the Gospel message of Jesus and the poor, outcasts and sinners. They will have to come to terms with more Quaker peculiarities, maybe like calling their worship gatherings “meetings for worship....”

Along the way, I think Liberals will have to name the Giver of spiritual gifts, as Lloyd Lee Wilson has said. I think Evangelicals will have to accept that heterosexuals will not have exclusive rights to marriage and ministry in the Kingdom of Love. We will ALL have to face our struggles with racism....

But we will have to learn to respect each other. No more tarring of whole groups of people with the same brush. No more assuming that a whole group of people is characterized by the most extreme factions among them, either the ones we detest or the ones we most agree with. No more secretly believing that we are the only true heirs of Quakerism, just because we practice more silence than they do or because we proclaim Christ as king more loudly than they do....

Perhaps we just have to start by learning how to be friends with each other. And then maybe we can learn together how to discern the Will of God amongst us as our foremothers and forefathers did....

Earlier this year, I was tremendously inspired by the biography of Rufus Jones by Elizabeth Gray Vining [Friend of life: the biography of Rufus M. Jones], and the story of how he and J.W. Rowntree plotted to bring separate branches of Friends together by focusing Friends' attention on the urgent social justice issues (and then a World War) rather than the peculiarities of Quaker culture that had become stultifying for Friends.

Maybe Rufus Jones had to throw off a lot of Quaker history and direct Friends towards social justice work in order to forge a common ground for separate branches of Quakerism to walk on. Maybe we need to use our Quaker history to forge the common ground we need to walk on now, in order to all reach a point of greater spiritual depth on the way to a deeper commitment to social justice.

I believe the winds of the Spirit are blowing across the various branches of Friends, blowing at least some of us in the same convergent direction. Maybe God is pushing us toward each other for some greater purpose that I don't yet know or understand.

— Robin Mohr, "Quaker history as a uniting force?"
in her blog What Canst Thou Say? (10/30/05)

Editor's Note: Robin Mohr's recent article, "A Convergence of Friends," was published in the October 2006 issue of Friend's Journal.

Those who wish to read further in the online discussions about Convergent Friends may want to begin with the following blog posts:

Also, though not directly addressing the notion of "convergence," there is an interesting, challenging dialog going on between several theist and nontheist Quakers:


From First Month, 2007:

"Sanity: What we get when we quit hoping for a better past."

That, I think, pinpoints the insanity driving the current enthusiasm for a "surge" of additional U.S. troops in Iraq. Proponents of this surge are not hoping for a better future, but for a better past. They're not trying to win the war in Iraq but rather, somehow, to win the war in Vietnam.

The idea of a troop surge -- it's never clear what these new troops would be doing -- arises from the enduring myths about Why We Lost Vietnam. We coulda/shoulda won, the myth says, if we hadn't lost our nerve, or if we'd committed more troops, or more bombs, or moremoremore of, you know, that stuff we coulda won with if we'd only used more of it.

Dago Part of the reason this myth endures is that there were things that America could have done in Vietnam, and chose not to do. And many of those things have proven effective in the past. Look back a few decades earlier in American history to the enormously effective counter-insurgency our forces employed in the Philippines. Trouble with insurgents in a village? Kill all the adult males. Create gulags and ghettos for the pacified civilian population. Kill 50 civilians for every one of your own soldiers slain. It's not pretty, but it is effective. (See also Caesar's successful conquest of Gaul; the successful restoration of order in Tianenmen Square; or the very successful counter-insurgency carried out in Dujail, Iraq, in 1982 by the recently deceased former leader of that country.)

That is what "more" means when someone repeats the myth that we could have won in Vietnam if only we'd done more. More crimes against humanity. It's considered impolitic to state as much explicitly, however, so usually this is said through euphemisms such as "fighting with one arm tied behind our back." (The arm, apparently, which would otherwise be committing unforgivable, but admittedly effective, atrocities.) State what "more" means explicitly and the newspapers will make it look bad and then the public will turn against you -- hence the kernel of truth at the heart of the other enduring myth about Vietnam, the public and the press "wouldn't allow" us to "do what needed to be done to win." (What needed to be done, exactly? "More.")

Apart from those on the rabid fringes -- the warbloggers or Ann Coulter and other professional TV-shouters like him -- the euphemistic masking of what "more" really means is necessary not only to hide its true meaning from the press and the public, but also to hide it, as much as possible, from the advocates of "more" themselves. Whether it's because St. Thomas and your mother were right about Natural Law, or simply because thinking the unthinkable is unpleasant, most advocates of "more" are unable to say what it is they really want out loud, even when they're alone. And so, as much as possible, they cling to the vaguest possible formulation, "We need to do more."

"More troops" has the word "more" in it, so they're for that. (Nevermind where these troops might come from, or how they might be effectively deployed.)

The main reason the myth of more endures, however, has little to do with the warbloggerish enthusiasm for atrocities and repraisals. This myth remains popular mainly because winning is better than losing, and we didn't win in Vietnam.

The call for a "troop surge" in Iraq is also the first step in the creation of our next myth -- the one that explains why we lost this war. No matter how many additional troops are included in this "surge" it will be judged, by the mythmakers, as not more enough. And Congress, or the press, or the public, can later be blamed for not doing "more" -- for not allowing us to do what needed to be done to win. (for more on the photo above)

— Fred Clark, A surge of 'more'
slacktivist - Dec 31, 2006


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