29 September 2016

Secondhand patriotism

Ambassador John Tefft and the "town hall" meeting for U.S. citizens.
Spaso House, Moscow, September 19.

Professional USA football player Colin Kaepernick has been sitting or kneeling during the national anthem ritual at preseason games, explaining that "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." The management of his football team has defended his free speech rights, but many other Americans have criticized him for his lack of patriotism. Among those who piled on was presidential candidate Trump, who suggested that "maybe he should find a country that works better for him."

Kaepernick responded to Trump a couple of days ago: "He always says make America great again. Well, America has never been great for people of color. And that's something that needs to be addressed. Let’s make America great for the first time."

At first I ignored this whole controversy, since the behavior of well-paid athletes at sporting events has less than zero interest for me. But finally this most recent exchange, including Kaepernick's apt rephrasing of the campaign slogan "Make America great again," drew my attention.

I'm surely not the only one whose memories went back to the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign -- specifically to the controversies around Obama's pastor Jeremiah Wright, and Michelle Obama's observation that, because of the political revival her husband's campaign had inspired, "... For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country...."

Each time a prominent black American has compared the country's actual performance with its ideals, based on the actual experience of real people, have their harshest white critics actually bothered to engage with that comparison? Are these critics suggesting that Kaepernick, Wright, and Michelle Obama did not actually remember American history correctly? Or did it just not matter?

Maybe some of those critics privately understand the incongruity and nevertheless pretend to be outraged because that outrage has a political payoff. The exception that maybe proves the rule: I remember that Mike Huckabee actually defended Wright ("and I’m gonna be probably the only conservative in America who’s gonna say something like this"), based on a recognition of the racism that Wright endured growing up.

I would hate the blatant cynicism behind such fake outrage, but it's equally galling to put up with militant ignorance. When angry white people sincerely require literally everyone to shut up and join the ritual praise of the country and its flag, what are they afraid of, and why are we bound to pander to that fear? That kind of idolatrous secondhand patriotism betrays the actual values which made the USA (as John Gunther put it) "... the only country deliberately founded on a good idea."

A Quaker perspective on Colin Kaepernick ... and Obama to Kaepernick: "Listen to the pain...."

Natalia Antonova's life advice for when the mind is full of scorpions.
I hadn't stabbed a sleeping guest to death in cold blood, nor executed a potential political rival's family and servants, but those were details.
One of Sean Guillory's most interesting interviews: The American mission to save Russia.

A branch library in Chicago becomes a neighborhood lifeline.

Josh Daffern on Albert Mohler, Andy Stanley, and the Bible ... "The heavyweights are at it again." ("Fights like this might only interest denominational geeks like me, but believe me this is a heavyweight fight.")

Gospel/blues from the Kobe-Osaka area where my mom grew up:


22 September 2016

Be realistic

Our entryway's notice board on election day.
Cynicism is cheap wisdom; unfortunately too many of us love a bargain! Here in Russia, we have a post-election season full of glib commentaries along the predictable lines of "what, you expected a genuine election?" Despite a recent report stating that our environment cannot endure even one more fossil-fuel source coming online, Exxon tells us that banning such fuel is "unrealistic." We are urged to be realistic about the number of refugees wealthy countries can afford to admit. Realism, as it turns out, is a handy wet blanket to smother goo-goos and their wacky ideas of social justice and environmental concern.

But is realism itself realistic? Ten years ago I wrote about Gordon Hirabayashi's experience when confronted with the U.S. government's decision to put Americans of Japanese descent into forcible internment. He testified that, for him, idealism was realism, giving him the strength to endure his own legal ordeals and imprisonments.

If by asking me to "be realistic," you're simply asking to survey the horizon and count the cost, I've got no objection. But too often, this advice has additional tacit assumptions:
  • Why do you think you're right when everyone else seems to have made peace with the way things are?
  • You might be right, but the system is rigged against you
  • You might be right, but the market has spoken and finds your position without measurable merit
  • You might be right in the long run, but decisions are made on a short-term basis.
In the face of all this so-called realism, what's a Quaker to do? Let's start by seeing if the Bible has anything to say....

First of all, we might actually be right despite being in the minority. We are not required to compromise:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in God there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, God's Son, purifies us from all sin. [1John 1:5-7, NIV, adapted.]
It's not surprising that some people nevertheless urge us to compromise:
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [2 Timothy 3:12-15, NIV.]
Likewise, the Bible isn't shy about describing rigged systems:
If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. [Ecclesiastes 5:8, NIV.]
The Bible's imperatives in the face of these realities are very clear:
God has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God. [Micah 6:8, NIV, adapted.]

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke? [Isaiah 58:6, NIV.]
Biblically-centered resistance to conventional realism doesn't necessarily come naturally to us. Even those who are born into the church are reminded (through Paul's second letter to Timothy) to avoid those who "have a form of godliness, but deny its power." (2 Timothy 3:5.) Somehow, as we learn to trust God and to trust the cumulative wisdom of our church community, we learn a different definition of realism: the most real thing we can do is to be in God's will. There will still be risks -- in this world there are always risks -- but the risks we take in God's service are uniquely worthwhile.

If we envision the world of policies and options as a marketplace of ideas, then it may well seem that conventional wisdom too often has a near-monopoly. But look how many conventional ideals lost their previously unchallenged dominance as persuasive new ideas -- perhaps ruthlessly marginalized at first -- began displacing them. The divine right of kings, child labor, slavery, forced segregation, and other forms of once-respectable bondage, no longer have the power they once had. These demons are still roaming the world, but millions have been mobilized into the Lamb's War against them. Ethical values, persuasively presented and represented, do have weight in the marketplace.

One of the jobs of prophets and evangelists is to help in this marketing of ethical values by telling stories that connect the dots. For me, as I've mentioned before, it was the Christmas 1969 issue of Reader's Digest that connected dots for me, in a way probably unintended by the editors: the magazine's cover art celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace, while the contents urged us to continue killing and wounding Vietnamese communists faster than they could be replaced. I couldn't square Jesus and killing, and suddenly my own internal marketplace of values was turned upside down. Apparently I was just one of millions experiencing the collapse of conventional wisdom about Viet Nam -- popular support for the war was already evaporating.

Maybe the short-term vs long-term argument is just a specific case of this imperative to tell stories and make connections. Somehow we need to convey the unwelcome lesson of history -- that, ultimately, all empires succumb to some combination of internal degradation and external assault. In the cast of the environment, we ourselves may be triggering an assault of rising oceans and destabilized weather patterns. For some, it seems politically convenient right now (despite near-universal scientific consensus) to deny that climate change is an alarming reality, but does anyone seriously believe that today's nation-states are immortal? Can such a fantasy be labeled realism?

In the face of these challenges, I'd hate to see us becoming elitist proclaimers of environmental sensitivity at little personal cost to ourselves, utterly ignoring those whose livelihoods today apparently depend on old-fashioned extraction and burning of fuel. What would it be like for our churches and meetings to be come laboratories of an alternative future? Could we imagine a different division of labor -- some of us reaching out to workers in unsustainable industries, some helping the corporate world face reality (it's already starting), while others focus on the politics of environmental sanity, and still others form the evangelistic message that links the Gospel invitation with ecological stewardship? I'm especially eager to see activists and evangelists work together to create a more accessible, engaging language that goes beyond the in-group references beloved of both groups.

Of course I may be nuts, but this sounds realistic to me.

A Life Overseas: The truth is somewhere in the middle, in the space between victory and defeat...

Peace pipes, not oil pipes.

Two New Republic articles on surveillance of our communications: The CIA road show; the Feds can read your e-mail. (Here's my own take on this subject.)

Sign of the times? Anti-evangelism law used against foreigners who speak in church.

An article we're discussing in class: Women ask for raises as often as men .... (Russian version.)

The blues time machine goes to Poland, 40 years ago, when Muddy Waters and Pinetop Perkins took the audience to Kansas City:

15 September 2016

Pokémon GO to church!

A video blogger in Yekaterinburg, Ruslan Sokolovsky, is under house arrest, awaiting trial for catching Pokémons in a church and posting a video of his activity. Church representatives told the press that if he had just kept his exploits to himself, it would have been spiritually risky for him but no harm to anyone else. It was the fact that he posted the video online that required a severe response.

Church authorities charged Sokolovsky with, among other things, cynically insulting the memory of martyrs in the service of self-promotion. He now faces the possibility of up to five years in prison for insulting the feelings of believers and stirring up social hatred.

In Poltava, Ukraine, a local Orthodox priest responded to the news about Sokolovsky's arrest by announcing on his parish's Facebook page that Pokémon hunters were welcome to enter the church, as long as they don't go behind the altar. The archbishop commented that players can ask the priest to catch Pokémons hiding there.

Yes, I'm a stranger in these parts. It's a good idea to observe tact and good sense before presuming to comment on the legal issues involved, a tension and caution I also felt during the Pussy Riot controversy. After all, my American experience includes full-throated campaigns against Madonna and others perceived as insulting religion, controversies over public prayer, Nativity scenes, tablets of the Ten Commandments, and attempts to block the construction of mosques. So, as an American, I can't judge from some higher-than-thee platform.

As a member of the Body of Christ, however, I do have a voice. I do get to comment on the church demanding that this young atheist lose his freedom because he trespassed on the church's sacred territory with his game. The very fact that, thanks to his video, all this is so very public (a supposedly aggravating circumstance), gave the church's evangelists a free chance to demonstrate what grace is all about. Instead, the world sees church authorities adopting a very different priority. As one YouTube commenter wrote, "... they should hang him until he understands the essence of the forgiving and humble nature of christianity."

I can't help returning to the words of the Russian Orthodox priest, Anthony Bloom, who said (as I quoted in this earlier post), 
It seems to me -- and I'm deeply convinced of this -- that the Church must never speak from a position of strength. The Church must not be one of the powers operating in this or that government; she must be, if you like, just as powerless as God, Who does not coerce, Who only calls us and reveals the beauty and truth of things, but doesn't enforce them on us; Who, similarly to the way our consciences work, points out the truth, but leaves us free to listen to truth and beauty -- or to refuse them. It seems to me that this is how the Church should be. If the Church takes its place among those organizations that have power, that are able to force and direct events, then there will always be the risk that she would find power desirable; and as soon as the Church begins to dominate, she loses the most profound thing, the love of God, and an understanding of those who need salvation rather than the works of destruction and rebuilding.
As for the Poltava priest, one prominent Orthodox commentator here in Russia, with whom I usually agree, criticized the announcement concerning permission to hunt those creatures in the church. He said that there were actually no Pokémon hunters visiting the church, so the announcement was just "showmanship." (He might be right about the lack of activity; at the moment, I see only two creatures in Poltava, according to this map.) What I cherish about the announcement is its implicit kindness and humor and confidence.

I do not play this Pokémon GO game personally, nor do I exalt the freedom to be silly and trivial, or even insulting, in places that are precious in the minds of believers. What I want -- what I (with my puny voice) demand -- is that the church remember WHO it claims to represent in the world. In the short run, church authorities can win turf wars: they can call the police, they can unleash the rhetoric of pious outrage; they can show the young atheist who's boss. Many will cheer them on. And then, yet another beloved child of God walks away utterly confirmed in their cynicism, that much farther from the Good Shepherd's tender invitation to repent and believe the Good News.

I just rechecked the map. Now there apparently are no creatures at all in downtown Poltava. The church is safe.

(The same map site revealed ONE creature in Elektrostal.)

Christianity Today: The best way for churches to 'capitalize' on the game...play it!

Meanwhile, in the U.K., the government treats religion as just fairies, goblins, and imaginary friends.

And in the USA, Getreligion wonders why a reporter covering an outreach to Millennials in Washington, DC, didn't ask more questions.

Novels aren't necessarily political -- but they're not apolitical, either.
Is Shriver a refreshing voice of reason, calling out the anti-free-speech excesses of the literary left? Or is she just the latest novelist-provocateur whose attack on political correctness is a thinly veiled defense of her privilege?
Bringing Studs Terkel (one of my heroes in my high school years) into the 21st century, asking those "Terkelish" questions, "What do you do all day?" and "How do you feel about it?"

During my walks to the Institute and back, and on the fitness center's treadmill, I listen to a variety of podcasts, including Slate's Culture Gabfest. Just after the one-hour point on the most recent Gabfest, the program's regulars began their weekly round of "endorsements." Dana Stevens endorsed the recent addition of the Beauty Is Everywhere series by Bob Ross to the Netflix catalog. The group's comments on Bob Ross (and the brief clip they played of his familiar voice as he began a painting) brought back wonderful memories from our early years of parenting -- including a family trip to Muncie, Indiana, to meet Bob Ross in person.

More from James Harman -- not from Chicago this time but from Frederikshaven, Denmark.

07 September 2016


Found on vk.com (original scene from late-era Soviet film Heart of a Dog)
"How can I explain things to you if you don't even watch TV?"

When I was around eight years old, the subject of God came up one day in my grade school classroom. (There weren't the same restrictions on God-talk in public school then that there are now; that's another discussion.) Our teacher said, "Why should we be afraid to talk about God?" I was startled and panicky -- in fact I was afraid to talk about God, and couldn't even imagine making my mouth emit the word.

I made a mental note of this reaction, but didn't analyze it at the time. Later, I connected it with the fact that, in my family, any mention of religion was absolutely forbidden, along with any mention of disease or death. Whatever the roots of this barrier, it blocked me from communicating with anyone about a huge part of what it means to be human.

Obviously, something happened between grade school and my decades of working for the church! But I'm glad that I remember that block. These memories came back to me the other day when I was talking with some colleagues about expanding our students' access to informal English-speaking opportunities. "Some of my students do a great job with grammar and vocabulary," said one colleague. "But when it comes to speaking in a group, they just can't open their mouths. There's that old psychological barrier."

These young people aren't exactly facing the same barrier in speaking English as I encountered in talking about God. (Or, rather, not talking about God.) There's no actual danger in overcoming the language barrier, but there are several hazards in crossing into God-talk territory. For me as a child, there was a safety issue within the family. But, on another level entirely, do we want it to become too easy to talk about God? Is there a place for some reluctance to become glib about the Ultimate?

We Quakers have a number of indirect ways of referring to divine realities -- terms such as the Inward Light and the Seed, used generations ago to avoid an unseemly familiarity with holy realities, much as biblical Hebrew and its readers made substitutions for the Name. In my early years as a Friend, I remember hearing vocal ministry that referred to "the Author and Finisher of our faith" rather than naming Jesus explicitly. Nowadays Quaker terms such as Inward Light can mistakenly be used in the service of weakening our ties with Christianity, but that old impulse to curb our verbosity when referring to God still seems valid to me.

Even so, "faith comes from hearing the message," so there is something to be said for not letting psychological barriers get in the way of that communication. Part of our evangelistic task might be to confront the false barrier of cultural piety. Are we marked by a gooey sentimentality, a cloud of goofy cliches, or any other signals that you must, to gain entrance, turn off your critical faculties?

In John Updike's novel Rabbit Is Rich, there is a fascinating scene where the Episcopal priest, Archie Campbell, attends a family meeting to discuss Nelson's and Pru's intended marriage. The minister mildly defends "our brand of magic" while everyone else is trying to negotiate how much or little churchiness is necessary to accomplish the desired outcome -- a respectable wedding. Rabbit's own defense of faith is not exactly zero ("Hell, what I think about religion is ... is without a little of it, you'll sink") but the church-wedding discussion is mostly about appearances, not reality.

As long as it seems that the religion industry is just selling one or another form of respectability, people will find their "magic" elsewhere. And rightly so. Maybe it's not a psychological barrier that blocks the audience from yielding -- maybe it's a healthy boundary!

What exactly is the alternative that evangelists with integrity are offering? I think that there is no formula, no doctrine, no scare tactic, no magic that equals meeting someone who looks at you with God's love in their eyes, who offers access to a community that is shaped by trust in God. Some people in that community will know how to communicate this invitation quietly, with an assurance that doesn't depend on using loaded words. Others will know how to communicate with contagious enthusiasm, with generous love that covers a multitude of incautious cliches. There are infinite variations on this spectrum, and somewhere in God's economy, they probably all meet some blocked person's condition.

Along my own route, several people and incidents helped me overcome the barrier. Studying Asian civilizations in high school introduced me to whole cultures not shaped by the assumptions of Western materialism. The anti-war movement brought me physically into churches for the first time in my life. (It wasn't as weird in a church as I thought it would be. Specifically, it was the Ebenezer A.M.E. Church in Evanston, Illinois.) My high-school fascination with writers such as Dostoevsky and Alan Paton played their part. But I remember a much earlier crack in the barrier: a tract I happened to pick up off the floor of our apartment building's lobby, not so long after the incident with the teacher. This tract described someone's conversion. In the process of getting to know God, this writer would walk way outside of their normal routes to pass a church that had Christ's name on it. That Name had such an attractive power for the writer. Hmmm, that's interesting, I thought. Even though I didn't understand or respond to that tract's invitation at the time, I somehow understood even then what the writer was feeling.

If I have any ability at all to represent the Gospel effectively, I believe that in part it's because I still vividly remember being a non-believer who couldn't even say the word "God." But I am not permitted to define my path or emphasis as the only one. I'm glad to share the responsibility of communicating God's welcome with many others, some of whom have very different approaches to removing barriers.

"What does it mean to enjoy the freedom bought for us on Calvary while still dwelling in the lair of the Beast?" Welcome to Babylon.

Two dramatically different views of Islam in Denmark. "So which story is the more accurate in a gestalt sort of way? The more narrowly focused Telegram piece or the massive Times story that paints with a broader brush, but still serves up a distinct point of view?"

"Everything happens for a reason" sucks as theology.

Russia's Norwegian colony.

"The war is changing even the 'women's page'...." Which war? Why, World War I!

Eve Monsees and Gary Clarke Jr., a case study in why blues will never die.

01 September 2016

Happy Knowledge Day!

Alla Bagrova, dean of our linguistics faculty, speaks ahead of the ceremonial ringing of the "First Bell."

Elektrostal's schoolchildren 
celebrate Knowledge Day
For Russia's schoolchildren and students, the summer ended today -- Knowledge Day. As I left home this morning on my half-hour walk to the New Humanities Institute, the streets were filled with children in suits and long dresses, all carrying flowers. The younger children all had proud parents with them, often equipped with cameras of all kinds. The occasion? First day of school. This annual outpouring of respect for education never fails to impress me.

At our institute, we have our own traditions. The dean of the linguistics faculty, Alla Bagrova, welcomed the students, touched on the joy of learning as well as the hard work awaiting each student, and said how glad she was to see them. Her warm welcome was echoed by our coordinator of student life, Irina Rozhdestvenskaya, who went on to introduce each of the faculty members by name.

Several of us made our own brief comments to the students. Founder Sergei Kazantsev said, "You've heard several of us say how glad we are to see you. I wonder how glad you are to see us!" Students laughed, acknowledging that they have mixed feelings about the summer ending.

Instructors representing all three of our institute's core languages -- English, French, German -- spoke to the students. I spoke on behalf of the English department. At the end of our presentations, Sergei picked up the ceremonial bell, and rang the "First Bell" signal that the fall was officially beginning.

Our students then split up into their four groups according to which of the four years of the bachelor's degree program they were in. I met with the seniors, with whom Judy and I will be working this year on a course we've never taught before: "Principles of Rendering Mass Media Texts," popularly known as "Newspapers." Drawing on print and Internet sources in both Russian and English, students will learn how to produce digests and analyses of the texts they read, and to discuss the issues involved, and the effectiveness of the texts in conveying those issues. All of the classroom work is in English. In addition, students will be keeping diaries of the additional English-language reading they do at home.

We will be teaching this course to the evening division as well. In addition, we will continue our weekly conversation sessions with students from all four levels of the Institute, and I will also continue to be a resource person for the high-school classes.

After today's meetings and consultations, the day wasn't over. Another Elektrostal fall tradition was scheduled for the afternoon: the opening of the annual joint exhibition of Elektrostal's artists, "Elektrostal Palette." I knew several of the forty artists represented in this year's collection of over a hundred works, but I also was glad to see things from names I'd never heard before. Our Institute's dean of the design faculty, Tatiana Vilde, and her colleagues Dmitri Dyomin and Alexander Makhotkin (and maybe others) were also present. I felt very glad to be a part of a school that has had a good influence on art and education in our city. But for some of the time, I just sat on a chair in the midst of one of the main halls, soaking in the colors and lines and impressions and creative freedom in evidence on the walls around me.

All in all, it was a weighty day, the first working day of a busy new academic year -- plus lots of happy children and flowers, and happy artists as well -- but as I sat down to write these thoughts, I admit it was also a relief today to be almost totally distracted from the world of election-year politics....

A sampling of Elektrostal's palette:

More details on the last year of life of a genuine martyr, Kayla Mueller. It's not a pretty story, but at least it's being told.

Hope chases us, says Lisa McKay.
A life overseas forces you to confront many ironies, injustices, deprivations, and desperations. It can clarify your hopes, and the source of those hopes. It can also cloud and confuse.
(Does hope find you? McKay still wants to know.)

Open Culture pays tribute to Gene Wilder.

Dorothy Day on writing fundraising letters for the Catholic Worker hospitality house: "I like writing an appeal when we literally have nothing."

Happy 20th anniversary to Crane MetaMarketing. Special thanks to Patti Crane, who taught so many of us over the years about transformative marketing, with all its fertile implications for good governance, ethical outreach, mission, evangelism, ... in short, effectively communicating no more and no less than what we and our organizations genuinely know.

If you're feeling homesick for Chicago, this clip might just make things worse. It's worth the risk.

25 August 2016

Yes and no

Last week I came across this post by Yakov Krotov, priest/essayist and host of the talk show From a Christian Viewpoint: (translation and links are mine; original is on this page)
In defense of words: the yoga of no.

Let's take the case of that unfortunate woman, 56 years old. who refused to participate in the United Russia primary elections. Her boss yelled at her, put pressure on her, demanded that she resign. She resigned, returned home, but on the next day was hospitalized with a minor heart attack. Two weeks later, she died in the critical care unit.

Right now there are lots of stories like this. Saint Euphrosinia Kersnovskaya comes to mind -- she could herself go right up to the secret police and demand to be arrested, but she would not sign any paper if she did not agree with its contents.

To an American or a Nigerian, the story of the 56-year-old woman would not be comprehensible. What does it mean to be "pressured"? If she's already of retirement age, what's the worst they could threaten -- to fire her? So, fire her -- what's the point of demanding her resignation?

But then, as the above-mentioned Kersnovskaya would say, the Bolsheviks don't let you live and they don't let you die. Psychological torture is still torture, and all the more if the subject has a living soul.

However, if the soul has only managed to preserve the ability to tremble, it's not exactly dead, but it's not completely alive, either. It's in an infantile state. Adulthood begins with the ability to say "no." Firmly and irrevocably. As with baptism, sin has been put away, Christ has come.
Adulthood begins with those first small refusals. There is a yoga of freedom, and its first asana is a negative side-to-side movement of the head. If you can intimidate a 56-year-old, it means that person has never said "no" to anyone. Sadly, there are such people. That's why it's important to train ourselves in this ability -- saying "no" to oneself and to loved ones and to bosses. We continue saying no on various minor occasions for the very reason that they're minor -- there won't be unpleasant consequences, and the soul comes to realize that peace isn't found in servility but in dialogue.

So: here's to the yoga of freedom!
A few years ago I wrote about the power of the word "no", and how it relates to my life theme, which is the word "yes," from 2 Corinthians 1:20. My main emphasis was the analytical power of the word "no" -- how it can expose contradictions and conceits as practiced by the powers that be. But as I read Yakov Krotov's brief essay, and the human dramas he mentioned, I thought about a dimension I had underemphasized: the relationship context. The woman who died, Tatiana Kuznetsova, didn't say "no" in the abstract; she didn't say "no" to her computer screen or in the near-anonymous safety of a mass petition. She said no to her own director and, as a result, lost her job. A short time later, her life came to an end.

Could I risk a "no" when it really counts? There was a time when I said "no" to paying war taxes, but the risk was relatively low and I never actually faced a specific person in making that decision. Instead I had the support of my dear mentor, Gordon Browne. One "no" that I vividly remember saying at age 18 resulted in losing my home. A short time later, another "no" got me disinherited. A few years after that, another "no" probably resulted in not getting a particular job.  But I honestly can't scrape together very many examples. This also means I don't have much practice in maintaining relationships after the "no."

What about being on the receiving end of refusals? When people say "no" to me and my obviously very reasonable requests, how do I respond? In one case I can think of, my initiative was actually poorly thought out, and that person's "No!" probably saved the relationship. But in another case, we never spoke again.

Finally, what about learning to say "no" to myself? As the Valparaiso Project on "practicing our faith" says, "We must learn the practice of saying no to that which crowds God out and yes to a way of life that makes space for God." (At the same time, "Christian asceticism is not spiritual boot camp....") One of the biggest gifts of the church for me is the reality that I don't have to discern alone, and that mistakes are not fatal.

Friends,—Whatever ye are addicted to, the tempter will come in that thing; and when he can trouble you, then he gets advantage over you [2 Cor 2:11], and then ye are gone. Stand still in that which is pure, after ye see yourselves; and then mercy comes in. After thou seest thy thoughts, and the temptations, do not think, but submit; and then power comes. Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and there doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone; and then content comes. And when temptations and troubles appear, sink down in that which is pure, and all will be hushed, and fly away. Your strength is to stand still, after ye see yourselves; whatsoever ye see yourselves addicted to, temptations, corruption, uncleanness, etc., then ye think ye shall never overcome. And earthly reason will tell you, what ye shall lose; hearken not to that, but stand still in the light that shows them to you, and then strength comes from the Lord, and help contrary to your expectation.

G. F., from Epistle 10.
I also appreciated this sermon on saying yes and saying no, from the Open Door Community's Web site.

Among this week's quarter-century anniversaries: The world-changing failure of the USSR's August 1991 coup.

Also: Happy 25th birthday, Linux! (How Linux changed the world. Where to next?)

The church militant: "... Violence is the norm." (Sadly, we know that this tendency isn't unique to one country or confession.)

This link, embedded in Yakov Krotov's essay above, bears repeating: E. A. Kersnovskaya, "How much is a person worth?"

As violence rises again in eastern Ukraine (right! Ukraine -- another 25th anniversary!) ...  a glimpse of daily life and death.

Are white evangelicals in the USA losing an entire generation?

Colombia's peace agreement is signed, awaits October referendum. I needed something positive to end this list!!

Sweet dessert from Hamilton, Ontario via the YouTube time machine....