24 July 2014

Yearly Meeting 2014 shorts

Eve of yearly meeting sessions.
Northwest Yearly Meeting's 2014 sessions, our annual church conference for Evangelical Friends in the Pacific Northwest USA, concluded this evening with a salute to Hal and Nancy Thomas, who retired after four decades of international service. The evening program also included the commissioning of our three new recorded ministers. This celebration brought our sessions to a close on a high and joyful note.

Nancy's blog post from the beginning of yearly meeting summarizes the controversies and anxieties that burdened some of us at the opening of the sessions last Sunday. It didn't help that George Fox University, our affiliated Quaker college, was in the media spotlight over a controversy regarding a transgender student and the school's housing policy.

Our yearly meeting sessions were probably not as dramatic as reporters might have hoped, but in a spiritual sense they were very dramatic indeed. Controversies over sexual minorities have cut a swath through many Christian denominations. Maybe our little Quaker body has not yet felt the full force of this storm, but my interim report is that we are firmly resisting the polarizing forces, even as the underlying divisions quite clearly continue to exist.

The basic divisions remained more or less the same as last year, and once again we were considering a revision to our book of discipline. The mandate of the revision drafters was to preserve the substance of our yearly meeting's teaching on "Christian Witness to Human Sexuality" while seasoning it with grace. Rather than grouping homosexuality with other forms of "sexual perversion," the new text referred to "same-sex sexual acts" as one of several "distortions of sexual intimacy" that "contribute to brokenness of the individual and the community." Again there was no unity on adopting the new text. Many appreciated the effort to restate traditional teachings more gracefully, but some felt that the original text was clearer and more faithful to Scripture while others rejected the revision because they fundamentally did not agree that same-sex acts necessarily contributed to brokenness.

Everyone spoke tenderly and respectfully. Nobody charged that the differences in the yearly meeting rose to the level of being unequally yoked. I felt once again that the center held, and that its voice was very strong. We minuted, without sugarcoating, our inability to find unity on a new wording for Faith and Practice. I believe that, although we may not have succeeded in putting a more gracious formulation into the book, our minutes will bear evidence that there is widespread discontent with the present wording.

Our guest speaker for three evening sessions was Noah Baker Merrill, New England Yearly Meeting's secretary. He addressed the yearly meeting's theme "Hope and a Future" (Jeremiah 29:11; context) with a constant challenge to believe God's promise that "things can be different." On the first night, Noah gave a vivid image of hope he gained from an interview he made with an Iraqi refugee. The refugee was a Christian man who (in the upheavals resulting from the American invasion) was captured, tortured, and literally crucified--hung on a wall. In his agony he had an image of Jesus coming into the room. Before he lost consciousness, he realized that Jesus was not taking him off the wall; instead, Jesus climbed up and hung on the wall beside him. Having heard this account, Noah was distracted by rage and confusion over the cause of this ordeal, the refugee had to point out what was, for him, the amazing central point: "But did you hear that he came and that I am alive!" Noah went on: "And I saw the joy and the light in his eyes and I saw the hope in his heart. And that hope, which was the presence of Christ in him awakened the hope in me, and I knew that, yes, this was the hope that the world needs."

Our yearly meeting's epistle ("slightly rough draft") summarizes Noah's second and third evenings:
In his second talk, Noah spoke of the tension of living in the "and" in our theme by sharing how Jeremiah prepared the people of God for exile and all the tumult, chaos, and confusion that was about to destroy their way of being. Noah gave us much needed encouragement to endure our time of exile while we live the gospel without easy answers in our quick-fix world. On his final night of speaking, Noah created for us an image of our future. Reminding us the exile ends, we will find the quiet center again even while we now feel the heat of the potter's kiln. As the heat fades, the lovingly crafted, shaped, and fired vessel is brought out to display NWYM's beauty and we will be used for God's wonderful purpose. Even now, there are countless seeds of hope for our future Noah witnessed among us. Through it all, we were reminded of the Iraqi Christian's extraordinary words and the truth they hold for us as we live in the tension of our conflicted present and yearning towards our future.
Whether we feel trapped between Jerusalem and Babylon, or between internal uncertainty and external culture wars, we can believe that there is hope and a future. "When the people of God pray, things happen--marvelous things." Evidently, a lot of prayer was going on during our yearly meeting sessions.

Walking past the food service building, I noticed some familiar young Friends playing a board game--one that I hadn't ever seen before. I found out that Reedwood Friends Church's own Bennett Hutchinson, helped by Merrick and Karl Hutchinson and Mason Downs, had designed a peace game, Unified Front. From the instructions:
Unified Front is a game of cooperation in a world at war. The nations of the world have fractured--treaties are being broken, nations formerly united have become hostile, and the world is on the brink of the greatest war it has ever seen. You--a team of diplomats, activists, and peacekeepers--are one of its last hopes. Travel the world, unite its people, and spread peace.
With the help of a grant from the Yearly Meeting, the game has been published, and every cluster of local churches has its own copy to circulate.

Jim Wallis: "The horrible human costs and increasing danger the world is now facing in Gaza, Ukraine, and Iraq show the consequences of not telling the truth."

Christianity and politics in Russia and Ukraine: Martin E. Marty. A Ukrainian/Catholic view. Bill Yoder cautions against convenient correlations.

BBC: "Voices from the Tennessee Death Penalty Debate." From a conservative death penalty opponent: "I think you have to give any policy what I call the conservative litmus test: you have to ask whether it is constitutional, pro-life, whether it is fiscally responsible and whether it is limited government. And the death penalty is inconsistent with at least three of those."

Eric Bibb, "The Needed Time."

17 July 2014


Source: screenshot of rt.com  

Source: screenshot of rferl.org  
I think it was about fourteen minutes between the first instant I caught the horrifying news about Malaysian Airlines losing their plane with all its passengers and crew over eastern Ukraine and the first Internet-borne hints of the spin campaigns (pro-Kiev and pro-Moscow, both!) to exploit the tragedy for political advantage. May everyone involved in that despicable effort come to their senses and grieve over this catastrophe. Yes to genuine fact-finding and assessing of accountability. But that can't be what is going on fourteen minutes after the first bulletin.

In the meantime, the death toll in Gaza is approaching a similar level, and around 3/4 of those who've died are civilians. Morally bankrupt policies and politicians somehow find this acceptable. Israel continues to use lethal military force against a population held within their magical zone of Gaza where they acknowledge neither an obligation to feed and protect (as in an occupation) nor an obligation to engage in diplomacy (as in dealing with another state)? How can the world stand by and watch the Israeli government use absurdly disproportionate military force and extrajudicial killing to confront terrorists? And how can the Israeli public allow their politicians to sink their nation's reputation further and further in the eyes of the world?

At the same time, who will confront those Palestinian idiots*, the ones who consider bluster and crude terrorism an acceptable way to campaign for justice? The Israelis make at least some effort to avoid civilian casualties and are actually trying to target terrorists (with tragically varying degrees of success), but, admit it: the criminals on the Palestinian side seem to have no idea of where their pathetic missiles will fall.

So that's the way things seem to be on this Thursday, August 17: missiles just can't seem to avoid the innocent, and the guilty (on all sides) try to cover up with words.

Tears and prayer, frustration and disgust.

* That is, human beings made in God's image making idiotic decisions that endanger innocent people.

10 July 2014

Some cautious thoughts on enthusiasm

We're in the USA! Specifically, at the moment we're enjoying the air-conditioned hospitality of the Raymond Village Library in Raymond, Maine, with its helpful staff, high-speed Internet, and, in four days, its annual book sale. Timing is everything.

Last week I wrote about Friends and enthusiasm. My main concern was that our emphasis on hospitality for those wounded by bruising encounters with Christian legalism or authoritarianism might cause us to forget another equally important potential audience: those who are ready to make a wholehearted Christian commitment and are searching for a trustworthy spiritual home. By "trustworthy" I mean a congregation that will honor that commitment without exploiting it.

I identify with this second audience. Certainly I'd inherited a deep suspicion of the religion industry from my atheist parents, but I had no personal experience of oppression or thought control in the name of Christianity. The Bible was new and interesting unexplored territory, not something I'd ever been beaten over the head with. Most importantly, Jesus had told me that I could trust him, and I was eager to meet people who had experienced the same assurance. Quakers, with their lack of organizational overhead, seemed to be the most obvious place to look for that kind of simplicity and directness.

It wasn't long before I realized that not all the Friends in Ottawa Meeting--my first experience of Friends--had been drawn by the same need for New Testament simplicity and directness. Not all were as fascinated by the Bible as I was. Some were--for example, Anne Thomas, who brought a very high level of intelligence and scholarship to her fascination. However, other Ottawa Friends seemed far less fascinated, although they were certainly tolerant. And, not surprisingly, I got to know some Friends who were there precisely because fascination with the Bible didn't seem to be a requirement to be in that fellowship.

I now look back and feel very thankful that, given this variety in the meeting, I found enough mentors and attachment points there that my youthful search for a more "pure" and direct Christianity was met by a congregation that would probably not have agreed on this definition of itself!

Last week, Bill Samuel commented, "If folks in a faith community aren't enthusiastic by what they're finding, why should anyone join them?" That set off a train of thought in me: What about people who are enthusiastic about finding a spiritual home that doesn't require enthusiasm? What if comfort or safety are higher priorities? Or shared skepticism, or congenial temperaments and personalities?

It's not as if Friends of the calm persuasion don't do outreach and don't want to grow, it's just that this outreach sometimes seems designed to attract people who are equally averse to enthusiasm. It's like mating calls to others with the same socio-economic and intellectual anxieties as those already there. BUT to be fair, a lot of evangelical Christian outreach also strikes me as having unacknowledged cultural and intellectual filters, rather than emphasizing an unconditional invitation to become learners in the school of Christ.

Is enthusiasm dependent on certainty? A few years ago, I wrote a review of Chris Hedges' thoughtful book, I Don't Believe in Atheists. Hedges treats certainty with a great deal of caution, and by and large I agree with him. In my review, I argued that we can have relational certainty--the kind of certainty that supports joyful participation in a faith community as well as enthusiastic evangelism--without having operational certainty. Is this true in your experience?

Is enthusiasm dependent on emotion? I'm pretty sure it's not. In fact, it's obligatory emotionalism, compulsory cheerfulness, that probably give enthusiasm a bad name. In his book How to Be Pentecostal Without Speaking in Tongues, Tony Campolo argues that we can have the spiritual freedom often attributed to charismatics and Pentecostals without being trapped by requirements of prescribed behaviors. This is really important to me, because I almost never clap, raise my hands, or repeat cliches on command of a worship leader unless I have inward permission to do so. I will happily attend worship gatherings where those things are practiced, and where 99% of the rest are doing them, if I sense authenticity and integrity in the fellowship, but rightly or wrongly I won't conform simply because it's expected. I will try to resist making a judgment on others' behalf about precisely where the line is between healthy obedience and unhealthy conformity, but I was brought up in a family that was immersed in a cult of obedience, and I'm simply allergic to anything that smells of compulsion. Sorry about that.

"It takes more than a swank coffee shop to reach millennials." An interview with Naomi Schaefer Riley.

"Before we appeal to Hitler as the ultimate argument against Christian nonviolence, we first have to ask how Hitler was able to amass a following of Christians in the first place." Brian Zahnd, via Danny Coleman.

A delightful surprise: Chicago Reader links to Eduard Artemyev's score for Solyaris.

Primarily addressing liberals agonizing over the recent U.S. Supreme Court "Hobby Lobby" decision, Winnifred Fallers Sullivan expresses some of my own concerns in addressing "The impossibility of religious freedom." How can we expand the conversation beyond culture-war constraints to include, for example, Friends United Meeting's longstanding refusal to collect war taxes from conscientiously dissenting employees, or make them prove they are U.S. citizens in ways that contradict their conscience?

Blues dessert, from the nostalgia menu: the Kinks cover Slim Harpo....

03 July 2014


Sometimes it's just hard to concentrate! (Weil der Stadt, Germany.)
Our extraordinary circular tour of friends and Friends has ended. We're back in Elektrostal, but by the time I publish this, it will be very early Thursday morning and we'll be about to get into the taxi for Sheremetyevo Airport. By the time Thursday ends, we hope to be in Maine.

Over the years, I've written several times about the themes of passion, conversion, certainty, and temperament among Friends. Tonight I've got a specific question: How do we Quakers feel about enthusiasm?

If you ever got a chance to hear Gordon Browne speak, you may have heard him mischievously tell this story: (quoting from my memorial post) ... A recent convert went into a Friends meeting in Philadelphia and burst into enthusiastic testimony: "Friends, I have to tell you--I've met Jesus! I've found religion!" Not content with one outburst, he got up again and said, "I can't hold it in! I'm reading the Bible--I've found religion!" After a third such exclamation, an elder stood up and addressed him directly: "Friend, you may have 'found religion' but you didn't find it here."

Friends in all our traditions (not just the liberal groups) have had a wonderful ministry to refugees from more authoritarian brands of religiosity. I can't begin to count the times when I've spoken with someone who says, "I came to faith through the Quaker door because they didn't beat me over the head with doctrine" (or shame, or the Bible, or hellfire). One British Friend who is now comfortable with owning the label "Christian" told me that it was precisely the vagueness of his British Friends meeting that enabled him even to approach Jesus, simply because of the allergies he carried from previous encounters with organized religion.

On the evangelical side of the Quaker world, there are similar stories. A close friend and former colleague of mine said that she came out of a Christian tradition that was heavy on judgment. As soon as she walked into her first Friends meeting, she was overwhelmed by an sensation of grace and forgiveness.

I came to Friends from an atheist family, so I had practically no encounters with old-rugged-cross religion in my formation. I was endlessly fascinated with the doctrines and biblical content of Friends faith and practice--in fact, so fascinated that I applied for membership with what must have seemed to others like blinding speed--after less than a year at any rate. Now, forty years later, I'm so grateful that my enthusiasm wasn't held against me!

I bring this up now because once again I'm on a committee considering what Friends material to publish for a wider audience. And once again, rightly or wrongly, I worry about a tendency to prefer material aimed at hypersensitive refugees rather than people actually ready to make an enthusiastic Christian commitment.

It's not that we should do anything to close the door to people who have been wounded by religious authoritarianism or who have been conditioned by secular society's reactionary skepticism to discount any spiritual truth claim. Our insistence on evangelism with integrity--based on honest testimony rather than pious happy talk--gives us an opening to these audiences.

But these are not the only audiences we ought to seek. This very same commitment to integrity also gives us a responsibility to make our case to those who are ready to embrace with enthusiasm a Christian path that rejects manipulation, theatricality, hierarchy, and bombast in favor of the immediate leadership of the Holy Spirit.

So my challenge is this: how do we Friends extend our welcome not only to the wounded and skeptical, but to those who are searching for a spiritual home in which their passion and enthusiasm will be welcomed, affirmed, and not exploited?

Just a few comments on the 27 responses I got to my survey concerning the future of this blog.

How many blogs do you follow?  Seven said 1-4 blogs, seven said 5-9, ten said 10 or more, and 3 don't follow blogs.

How often do you read my blog? Eighteen of you said "weekly"! This one made me humble, because I read a lot of blogs and love several of them, but I can't think of a single blog that I follow that faithfully! (I do know that statistically it's far more likely that regular readers saw the survey to begin with!) Anyway, thank you! The "sporadical" answer was marked by seven. One made an interesting comment: a reader who looks at the blog after seeing a link on social media.

In the future, I should  ... Continuing to publish "weekly" ties with "when I feel like it," both receiving eleven votes. One person agrees with "ten years is enough." One of you says that I should do what I think best but likes to read the blog.

Concerning the link lists (which I'm cutting short in today's post because the taxi is coming soon!):  Nineteen of the 27 respondents find them useful, five ignore them, two said they were already reading the same sources. One uses them occasionally.

Other comments: Two agree with "lose the blues" ... nobody seems worried about heresy ...  One encourages me to be more personal. I've thought a lot about writing more personal content, because that's what I love to read in others' blogs. I find myself often blocked by concerns about privacy--not my own privacy, but that of family, friends, students, and easy-to-guess personalities in the tiny Quaker world. But for someone who believes in telling the stories of God's power in our lives, I seem to do rather little of that myself!

I got several affectionate personal comments that I'm not going to quote here; I just want to assure the writers that I glowed when I read them. Thank you for the affirmation!

"Bad Quakers" ... "Arguably, the majority of Quakers in the past and present have reliably followed their personal and class interests rather than the leadings of God, just like virtually every other religious group." Ouch.

"Can we pray for the dead?"

Tim Parks on "Reading: The Struggle." "What I’m talking about is the state of constant distraction we live in and how that affects the very special energies required for tackling a substantial work of fiction...."

OK, it's time to sit on the suitcases, as Russians do before any big trip. It's a chance for prayer and for remembering that last thing or two that I might be about to forget to bring with us.

Superb musician and total showoff: Hans Theessink, "Maybelline"--reminding me not to forget my driver's license as I did last year!

26 June 2014

Stuttgart shorts

My mother's school.
A steep shortcut.
The new building.
My grandparents' home, probably 1963.
The familiar street.
I spent two of my preschool years in Stuttgart, Germany, and then revisited my grandparents' home there three times--the last time in 1966 at age 13. I've not been back, until now.

My feelings about returning yesterday were complicated. My grandparents, Emma and Paul Schmitz, are long gone (both died during my college years) but they left a very warm place in my heart. A few years ago, Judy found a series of photographs of me with my father (then a soldier in the U.S. Army) and my German grandparents. I'm dressed up for some special occasion. By piecing together the people and backgrounds of the photos, she figured out what was going on--I was at the railroad station, about to leave my grandparents for my future life in Chicago. But the four-year-old in the pictures seemed to have no idea that he was about to leave his Oma and Opa. Certainly I didn't know that I was soon to meet a two-year-old sister I didn't even know I had.

Getting to Robert-Bosch-Strasse was an interesting experience. With a pedestrian Google map in our hands, we took the streetcar to the Russian Church stop, and began our trek up the winding roads leading uphill to our destination. Shortly after beginning our walk, I was startled to see my mother's high school, Hölderlin Gymnasium, named after the famous German poet. I hadn't intentionally included that site on our route.

We continued on. Twice we went trustingly down roads marked as dead ends, and found that the path on our map included steep stairways that were, in effect, shortcuts that saved us from having to follow the hairpin turns of the streets. Finally we emerged onto Robert-Bosch-Str. and walked the last hundred yards or so to "my" old home.

On Google Maps, there was no clear photo of the address--instead the street-view photo showed stacks of construction material. When we got to the destination, I got the full picture: my grandparents' old home was gone. No trace was left. At the same address was a gleaming new apartment building fitted neatly into the same space. There was even a car elevator to take cars down to an underground garage. Two apartment owners were kind enough to talk to us and fill us in on the history of the place since the original house was torn down ... and I was able to tell them something about the house as it was from the late 1940's to the mid-60's.

I admit it was a shock to see that my grandparents' home was no more, but the street in general felt so familiar. I could still recall the feeling of walking down the street hand in hand with my grandfather, on his way to buy me a piece of candy in the store at the end of the street. I could still remember going to that same store to buy Agfa film for my box camera (at age 10) and rigging an aerial tram with ropes and basket to ferry plums from the trees in the garden to the second-story porch in the back of the house. Surely the love I felt there helped me get through many of the difficult times to come.

There's an important connection between my grandparents and Russia: the money that came to me when my grandmother died was enough to finance the remainder of my college education in Soviet area studies, leaving me debt-free, and also funded my first trip to Russia, in 1975. It also financed my participation in Voice of Calvary's summer program in Mississippi that same year.

In a couple of days we'll recognize a major anniversary--one hundred years from the event that precipitated World War I. I recognized the anniversary by reading a book that I recommend highly: Adam Hochschild's To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.

This isn't the first book to lay bare the folly and futility of this awful war, and for those already familiar with the historical details, there may not be much new in the book. No major new thesis is proposed. The strength of the book is its rich human texture, the interplay of personalities and relationships, faithfulness and obstinacy, idealism and opportunism.

Hochschild's gallery of characters is endlessly fascinating. Take the Pankhursts. Until the outbreak of war, Emmeline Pankhurst is even willing to advocate violence on behalf of feminist goals, but war changes things. The most craven superpatriotism, it turns out, and a complete disruption of relationships with her internationalist/socialist daughter Sylvia, were not too high a price to pay for the larger goal of obtaining the vote for women. The relationship between the militantly traditionalist military leader John French and his sister, the social reformer Charlotte Despard--a happy relationship for most of their lives despite their dramatic differences--is a thread running through the book.

War has a way of bringing out the worst in us, on both the macro level (as when high losses are cited as evidence of impending victory!) and micro level (affairs, mistresses, and betrayals seem routine among those presuming to defend civilization). Courage and self-sacrifice are also part of the picture, and in this connection the author includes the courage of conscientious objectors as well as soldiers under fire. Quaker CO Corder Catchpool comes in for brief mention toward the end of the book.

To End All War reads like a novel. It's so well written that it is truly hard to put down: although we already know the ending in terms of the ensuing global reconfiguration, we also want to know the fates of the individuals we meet in this thoughtful and generous book.

Here's a preview--an excerpt from the book published in The American Scholar.

Thanks again to those who answered the survey about my blog. Maybe next week I'll finally get around to summing up what I've learned. Then again, maybe not; next Thursday we'll be on our way from Moscow to Boston.

But to person who finds the format gloopy, it might be worth stripping off the extras by looking at the blog through the mobile template, which you can do by adding "/?m=1" to the blog address. For example, johanpdx.blogspot.com/?m=1

Andy Freeman, "The Introvert at Prayer."

An update from Friends United Meeting on the handover of Friends Kaimosi Hospital (now called Jumuia Friends Hospital Kaimosi) to the National Council of Churches of Kenya. And here's a related article on NCCK's Web site.

An update on Iraqi Kurdistan from Christian Peacemaker Teams, along with links for further reading. And "Iraq's Dwindling Christians Wonder If It's Time to Leave Iraq."

"Giving Up, Giving Down"--Martin Marty on trends in religious philanthropy, including the difficulty in distinguishing exactly what belongs in that category.

In recognition of Anthony Bloom's 100th birthday: "Becoming the Gospel."

Filmmaker Robert Mugge is putting together a documentary on the closing night of Doc's Music Hall in Muncie, Indiana. The film will be called Giving Up the Ghosts: Closing Time at Doc's Music Hall. It features the band led by John Peterson, a gifted and versatile medical doctor and musician in Muncie with many Quakerly contacts. He's also the author of The True Life Adventures of Captain Wa Wah: Fifty Years of Music, Meditation and Politics.

Here's a clip from the forthcoming film. Don't miss "My Girl" starting at about 7:50.

(Here in Germany the embedded film is blocked. If it's blocked where you are, you can see it on Vimeo.)

Dr. John Peterson and his band perform at the late, lamented Doc's Music Hall in Muncie, Indiana from Robert Mugge on Vimeo.
A performance excerpt from the forthcoming Robert Mugge film GIVING UP THE GHOSTS: CLOSING TIME AT DOC'S MUSIC HALL featuring Dr. John Peterson on keyboards and vocals; Phillip Dunn on Sax, trumpet and vocals; Douglas Hunt on Guitar; and Kyle Ivy on drums and vocals. Audio recorded and mixed by Nick Melander's Walnut Creek Productions. Shot in October 2012 by Ball State students under director of photography Turner Fair. Produced by Robert Mugge and Diana Zelman. Post-production technical assistance from Joe Sailer.

19 June 2014

Valentina Vasilyevskaya

The last time Judy and I attended Moscow Friends Meeting was twelve days ago. As usual, one of the first worshippers to show up that day was Valentina Vasilyevskaya. We knew we would not be at meeting for a long time, so we were glad to see Valya. Everything about her seemed completely normal--which made the news we received earlier this week completely shocking: she died last Friday.

We know very little about her biography; she gave us precious few clues in response to Judy's and my gentle probing. We did know that she was a poet and a translator, and that she had actively supported Moscow Friends' peace activities in the conflicts of the 1990's. But we mostly knew her from her vivid, unforgettable personality.

Week after week, she would stump into meeting looking (to my eyes) almost like a stereotypical bag lady, sitting in her usual seat across from us and placing her plastic shopping bags around her. She was usually silent all through worship, but occasionally she would recite just one or two lines of poetry that fit the ministry of the day.

After the meeting, during tea, she was not silent at all. Sometimes she brought a poem or short story to read to us. Usually, it was something she had written, such as a remarkable story about dreams that she read to us about a year ago. Another attender, Liliya, also often brings poetry, and our tea would suddenly become an amazing poetry forum.

She could quote long passages from other poets, both classical and modern. Her command of the Bible and of the scriptures of other religions was simply incredible. Her commentaries were often delivered with delicious humor. I remember her delightful lecture on the meaning of smiles in different cultures and countries.

She was also not silent about political matters, although she was adamant that the meeting itself should not get involved in partisan politics. When she thought her own government was making missteps, she didn't hesitate to say so, but she also challenged me very directly concerning the grants she said the USA government was making in Russia to support Orange Revolution plotters. I have vivid memories of Valya getting up from her chair and literally getting in my face with her penetrating questions. I can't say those challenges were fun, but I'd give anything to be able to come back to Moscow Meeting and have her challenge me again!

Eternal memory, Valya. I have this feeling that you're bringing some of your questions right into God's presence.

Russian-speaking readers can see a small sample of her writing, "Quaker verses," here.

On the TV tower overlooking Pécs, Hungary.
Photo by Tony Frei.
Many thanks to the 27 readers who've responded to last week's tenth anniversary survey. I'm particularly grateful to those who've written comments along with their multiple-choice responses. Probably next week I'll respond to some of those comments here, but for now I'll just say that "lines are still open"; feel free to add your thoughts.

After eight exhilarating and exhausting days in Hungary, we're in Vienna, Austria. Leaving Hungary marked the beginning of our sabbatical year. Next week I hope to write from Stuttgart, where I lived with my German grandparents as a young child while my parents were in graduate school in the USA. I've not seen Stuttgart since I returned there as a teenager, so I'm sure there are some surprises awaiting me.

A not-so-silly Silly Daddy.

"A military band on a Quaker university" provokes a lingering restlessness.

What is happening to our "American protectorate"? A blunt commentary from the reality-based Tom Engelhardt.

"A journalist's moment of truth in a Nairobi slum."

"No Illusions Left, I'm Leaving Russia."