16 October 2014

Boots and books

In our life in Russia, walking isn't just optional recreation (although it's one of my favorite ways of relaxing), it's a major part of our daily life. I've always loved walking long distances, keeping a vigorous pace. The distance between the Institute on Radio Street and our home on Yalagin Street is ideal for working up a light sweat while keeping tabs on the life of our city.

Unknown to me, a bone spur on my left heel had been conspiring against me by irritating my Achilles tendon. Increasing pain and an involuntary limp finally drove me to report my symptoms to a doctor, leading to an X-ray, a consultation with a specialist, and a boot.

Only two days after starting to wear the boot, I was already starting to feel relief. At first I was pretty wobbly. The boot's rounded heel made me feel as if I was about to fall backwards, especially on stairs or uneven ground, or if I was getting up from a chair. To keep balance on stairs and uneven surfaces, I also use a cane.

It turns out that the boot and cane have an unexpected benefit: I've had to slow down. I've had to take notice of my restlessness, and tame it. I've had to ask for help sometimes, which is a spiritually instructive thing.

During the weeks of pain and the more recent weeks of wearing that boot, I began reading voraciously. My own pedestrian adventures are being partly replaced by other people's real or fictional adventures. Here are a few of my favorite books from the last few months, in no particular order:

Camilla Läckberg's detective stories, featuring policeman Patrik Hedström and a diverse cast of small-town characters in Fjällbacka, Sweden. A lot of them come across as stock characters, especially those in comic-relief roles. (The police chief is a perfect example.) There are arrogant rich playboys, abusive husbands, insensitive in-laws, and other recurring figures who are easy not to like. But there are also warm friendships and marriages, ministers who are genuine pastors, and detectives who get believable solutions through hard work and intuition. And Läckberg's plots usually revolve around intricate family secrets. Since I come from a Scandinavian background in which respectability is the highest priority, family secrets in fact and fiction are sources of endless fascination to me.

Francis Spufford, Red Plenty. This is the most unusual book I've ever read about the Soviet Union. It's as if Alistaire Cooke and the Coen brothers had somehow collaborated on a docudrama-in-print covering the years of Khrushchev's rise and fall. In little gemlike vignettes interspersed with wry explanatory asides and united by several recurring fictional and real-life characters, including Khrushchev himself, Spufford portrays the earnest inventors, the cynical fixers, the naive intellectuals, and the grim realists who led the country to the edge of the New Soviet Society, in which all the promised advantages of the Planned Economy seemed within reach. As unlikely as such a mashup might seem for either instruction or entertainment, Spufford totally pulls it off.

Lydia Millet, Ghost Lights. I've long been a fan of this writer, who observes human beings with a delightful combination of whimsy and sympathy that reveals every hidden thought and motive in her characters. In Ghost Lights, we reconnect with T., one of the main characters from How the Dead Dream (which I wrote about here). At the end of the earlier novel, T. disappears, and now we learn that his real estate development firm is in danger of collapsing in his absence. Millet introduces us to Hal, who works for the Internal Revenue Service. Hal's wife works at T.'s wobbly firm, and is apparently having an affair with another employee. In an alcohol-fueled burst of heroism, Hal decides to go to Central America to locate T. In the ensuing tragicomedy, Millet lets us eavesdrop on Hal's very believable conversations with himself as he tries to make sense of T., Central America, his family, his own fate. Millet's unusual plots sometimes lead people to label her as a surrealist, but in this respect at least--these inner conversations--I think she's utterly realistic.

David Downing, Sealing Their Fate: The Twenty-two Days That Decided World War II. It would have been an unusual reading season for me if it hadn't had any books about World War II. Recently I read two--this one and Richard Overy's The Battle of Britain, which argues that the British and German air forces were more evenly matched during that battle than legend leads us to believe. In Sealing Their Fate, we cycle several times through three war theatres--North Africa, the Moscow region, and the Pacific Ocean, during the period of November 17 to December 8. The military outcomes are uncertain in each case: In Russia, Moscow is not conquered but neither is Germany defeated; the fascist cause is far from lost in North Africa at the end of this period; and Japan scores a stunning short-term victory at Pearl Harbor. Downing doesn't show that these specific actions made defeat inevitable for the Axis, but in these weeks, the war's ultimate unsustainability becomes clear on a micro level (Rommel can't pursue tactical advantages when his tanks run out of fuel) as well as the global level (bringing U.S. resources fully into the Allied column).

Anna Quindlen, Blessings
. More family secrets! The story begins with an abandoned baby, discovered and protected and loved by the ex-con caretaker of Lydia Blessing's old estate. Quindlen is a master at leading her readers to invest their sympathies in a rich narrative that then takes sudden turns, and this novel is no exception. Along the way, the author leads us to think deeply about criminality, social class, and the power of kindness.

Marilynne Robinson's Lila has arrived on my Kindle. I've not yet plunged in--still one more Swedish crime novel holds me in its grip. But I've been intrigued by Martin E. Marty's survey of reviews.

OpenDemocracy Russia: "For the Russian elite, loyalty is all." ("...'Mission' is the buzzword of the moment.")

Once again, the Perpetual War Watch department features Tom Engelhardt: "Inside the American Terrordome."
This sort of soundtrack has been the background noise in our lives for the last 13 years. And like familiar music (or Muzak), it evokes a response that’s almost beyond our control. The terror about terror, sometimes quite professionally managed (as in the case of the Khorasan Group), has flooded through our world year after year after year. ISIS is just a recent example of the way the interests of a group of extremists in making themselves larger than life and the interests of groups in this country in building up or maintaining their institutional power have meshed. Terror as the preeminent danger to our American world now courses through the societal bloodstream, helped along by regular infusions of fear from the usual panic-meisters.
Lynn Gazis-Sax on Ebola, border controls, and containment. As usual, she's a welcome voice of sanity.

"Commanded," Julie Rudd's sermon on biblical law, from an Exodus series at Wilmington Friends, Ohio.
Here’s the problem, though: the Ten Commandments have nothing at all to do with draconian religious rules. In fact, they have nothing much to do with religious rules at all. Which is why a courthouse is just about the worst place imaginable to display them.

Kim Wilson with Kid Andersen and Bob Welsh (guitars), June Core (drums), Randy Bermudes (bass). Wish the lighting were better, but what a groove....

09 October 2014

Resisting the mystique of evil

Signe Wilkinson; source
I'm not sure what is more disheartening--the beheadings videotaped and published by Islamic State, or the utterly predictable responses from world leaders. Yes, there is palpable evil in the premeditated cruelty of those shocking videos, but here's my question: is the effect magnified by the demonstrative shaking of fists by public figures? What might be a more adequate response from believers?

I watched one of the videos from beginning to end, and haven't yet recovered. After a few moments of stunned silence, I flashed back to a piece of film footage from Viet Nam, a few seconds captured by an NBC cameraman when the national police chief of South Viet Nam summarily executed a Viet Cong prisoner during the Tet offensive. The clip was included in the documentary film Hearts and Minds, which I saw as a college student in Canada--and brand-new Christian--in 1975. Those images, too, still remain with me.

Unlike the Islamic State beheadings, the Saigon execution may not have been staged for video. Part of its raw horror was the way the shooting seemed so unexpected, so casual. On the other hand, its inclusion in Hearts and Minds was a deliberate choice. This moment of total ruthlessness drives home the clash of values implied by the film's ironic title. It shocks for a purpose.

Islamic State's video propagandists are also trying to shock us for a purpose. In fact, these crimes really should shock us if we are to hold on to our humanity, our capacity for empathy. In other words, we are absolutely right to recoil with horror--but not with fear. We ought to go on to pray for the victims, their families, and all those who are in IS's captivity. Our prayers also need to extend to the murderers and their commanders. Having unleashed the demons of cruelty so far and wide, they're all in grave danger of becoming spiritual zombies themselves.

But please deny them the pleasure of casting a spell of evil over us. Their victims die only once, the same as all the rest of us, including all innocent victims of all wars, and including the tragic "collateral damage" of political and military miscalculations. Above all, let's not permit the righteous rhetoric of our politicians keep us from seeing how their own actions, financed by our taxes and abetted by our passivity, can incubate such hatred. The cycles of grievance and revenge that feed terrorist groups such as Islamic State could never ever excuse such cruelty, but those cycles are nevertheless a powerful spiritual reality demanding to be confronted with prayer and discernment and bold truth-telling.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:11-18a; context.)

Additional reading: Owen Jones, "Isis is turning us all into its recruiting sergeants."

Also, "Why You Need More Muslim Friends." "Dear Christian, Please Sincerely Love All Muslims."

"Conversations that could change your life." Friends Summit 2014.

Food for thought for Friends in leadership positions: "Is discernment a bureaucratic or a brotherly-sisterly process for Mennonite Church USA?"

Show Me The Money Department: "Norway unveils amazing art designs for new banknotes." And while we're in Norway, "A look at the married couples who have won Nobels."

"Facebook Weighs In on the Ukraine-Russia Takedown Dispute."

And the final link for today: A Christianity Today reviewer leaves you in no doubt about his opinion of the film Left Behind. Teaser:
What’s a bad thing is that Hollywood producers now know that American Christians feel that way about their faith—that Christians so desperately want to participate in the mainstream, that they’re tired of having sanctioned music that’s like other music and movies like other movies and politicians like other politicians but always still being on the outside, that Christians just want to feel identified without having to carve out little alcoves or niche markets that exist alongside the Big Boys. And, now that they know it—that is, now that they know they can make back 5x their initial financial investment—they want to exploit that, by pumping out garbage (not moral garbage, just quality garbage), slapping the “Christian” label on it, and watching the dollars pour in.

Freddie King and his signature song:

02 October 2014

Functional ecumenism

Ulrich Materne (left), a German Baptist, addresses the Russian
Evangelical Alliance's 2014 annual meeting, accompanied by Bill
Yoder, press officer of the REA (center).

"Why hasn't the goal of Christian unity and the convincement
of the world not been achieved?
  • "Christians do not not believe that this goal (unity) is the
    principal precondition of the world's coming to belief
  • "In practice, unity is achieved on a human basis, not on the
    basis of divine revelation
"Summing up: Christians still don't feel the need for unity in the Body
of Christ." (slide in presentation at REA's 2014 annual meeting.)
Reading this interesting and hopeful article, "The rise and fall and rise of the NCC," brought back some interesting memories of my time at Friends United Meeting, where our participation in ecumenical bodies was one of the perennial hot-button issues. In fact, those relationships were among the causes of yearly meetings leaving FUM and forming the association that eventually became Evangelical Friends Church International.

I came to FUM with some positive experiences of ecumenism, such as the Ottawa Lay School of Theology, the Massachusetts Bible Society, and the US/USSR Church Relations Committee of the National Council of Churches. Still, I came to FUM with deep skepticism about the large "conciliar" ecumenical bodies such as the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches.

My doubts were based in part on my perceptions of the weaknesses of FUM itself. We seemed to be stuck in a "corporate" denominational model, to use Craig Dykstra's helpful typology, and this model seemed to me to be near the end of its useful life. FUM had been trying for decades to be a full-service corporate headquarters for orthodox Quakers. We mirrored on a small scale the big mainline denominations, with offices for missions, Christian education, denominational conferences, book publishing, a magazine, a retail and mail-order bookstore--everything a self-respecting denomination would want to have, including central headquarters, executives, program staff, secretaries, and receptionist. But, judging by falling income, stagnant programming, and restlessness within the constituency, this model was losing appeal.

(Background: Craig Dykstra of the Lilly Endowment described the evolution of Christian denominational structures in the American colonies and states along these lines: they began as "constitutional confederations" organized around doctrinal confessions inherited from Europe. Staffing beyond the parish and diocesan level was minimal. With the rise of corporations in the USA came the parallel rise of the "corporate" model of denomination, with similar ideas of management and hierarchy, and the professionalization of leadership. As the corporate model weakens within a given denomination, it might be succeeded by the "regulatory agency" model: the denomination would begin to rely on its power to appoint or license its clergy and other leaders, enforce doctrinal conformity, apportion dwindling resources, and certify its affiliates, to try to guarantee continued existence.)

The conciliar model of ecumenism fit the corporate denominational model well: it made sense for the corporate executives, or their emissaries, to gather and discuss common problems, including the very real and urgent issue of Christian unity. However, this formal ecumenical world was yet one step further removed from the grassroots, which were often already feeling pretty distant from their own denominational structures. Yet those same grassroots believers were supposed to pay for all this apparatus and their ceaseless rounds of meetings, a few of which I attended. Furthermore, the professionals sometimes seemed preoccupied by political concerns that were not shared (whether or not they should have been!) at the local level. Charges of elitism, left-wing bias and even Communist infiltration, whether fair or unfair, led to further alienation.

These suspicions were certainly part of the tension over ecumenical relationships within Friends United Meeting. For evangelicals and other skeptics, these organizations seemed to do nothing to build Christian faithfulness in the local church or the mission field. But liberals sometimes seemed equally unable to defend the councils on their own merits, instead seeing FUM's ecumenical ties as a sort of symbolic line in the sand; to lose these relationships would supposedly be to admit defeat in the face of fundamentalism. And as denominational executive, I wanted desperately to open a forum for these communities to communicate directly about the great issues of evangelism, social justice, and Quaker identity, especially across the cultural barriers of rural and urban Friends, but didn't see how those ecumenical councils and their irritation factor would help my cause.

Instead, I wanted Friends to support what I called functional ecumenism, represented by mission-driven alliances such as the American Bible Society, the U.S. Church Leaders gatherings (originally convened by evangelical Friend Everett Cattell), Christian Peacemaker Teams, and the World Peace Tax Fund. At the very time I was arguing against membership in the councils, I was lobbying for FUM to become formal members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, which we eventually did.

Friends United Meeting, to its great credit, did not cling to the corporate model--and Friends culture would have made the alternative "regulatory agency" model unpalatable to most of us. Starting with a series of crucial decisions in the early 1990's, FUM revisioned itself as an association of yearly meetings united by a common purpose statement and with a dramatically simplified governance structure. In other words, it became mission-driven, depending on the credibility of that mission among its constituents rather than the older ties and loyalties that were no longer as persuasive.

However, at the 1996 Triennial sessions in Indianapolis, FUM did decide to continue its relationship with the National and World Councils of Churches, and that hasn't changed since. This is why I am delighted by any evidence that those councils are becoming more vital and sustainable.

"Faith and Science, Heart and Brain: An Interview with Katharine Hayhoe."

"Being a Wailing Quaker"--with an invitation for your comments.

No Comment Dept.: "Russian Mathematician Aids Hong Kong's 'America-Orchestrated Color Revolution'."

Red Emma on "America's Unoriginal Sin."

An exchange on "Jihadi Islam": John Azumah. Mark Durie.

This clip of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee brings back wonderful memories. They performed this song with its evocative lyrics in one of the first live blues concerts I ever attended, at Carleton University in Ottawa, around the same time as this recording was made.

25 September 2014

From India to Mars

Photographer: Manjunath Kiran (AFP/Getty); source.  
My favorite "reality TV" is live coverage of spaceflight. And nothing in recent memory equaled the celebration that erupted in the Indian Space Research Organisation's control room when the long-awaited confirmation arrived: the Mars Orbiter Spacecraft was indeed in orbit!

BBC video of happy moment on this page.  
First photo of Mars; source.  
The celebration was very well deserved. These scientists and engineers had made an internationally unprecedented achievement: success on a Martian mission on the very first try. And the reported cost was, according to the Indian prime minister, less than the cost of making the film Gravity.

Several news stories (for example, BBC and Guardian) have reported criticism of Indian expenditures on space exploration that might supposedly have been spent on poverty alleviation. Such arguments, at least when originating outside India, make no sense to me. Actually, no country afflicted by poverty is spending enough on poverty alleviation; nearly every single so-called developed country is a scandalous failure in this area, especially when we consider the amounts siphoned off by tax breaks and subsidies to politically powerful sectors of the economy. I can't think of a single country with the moral standing to criticize India's spending less than 4c per person per day (annualized) for this project.

Among the sorts of expenditures that don't directly relate to poverty alleviation, it's hard to imagine a happier use of public funds than India's Mars Orbiter Mission. Scientists and engineers become national heroes, making their disciplines more attractive for today's children--both boys and girls. In the meantime, where do the critics think those billions of rupees are going--to Mars? Most of the money is being spent right in India, paying for raw materials, engineered products, and salaries, and will continue to circulate in the economy.

Of course, India cannot devote unlimited funds to space exploration. The Mars Orbiter Mission was accomplished with amazing frugality and ingenuity. Instead of asking why so much was spent on this project, India's critics should be admiring how little was spent. If similar ingenuity were applied to some of our U.S. government projects, maybe we would have a lot more money for poverty alleviation.

One of my favorite photos of the March for Peace held last Sunday in Moscow is the one on the right from the LiveJournal of "Drug Detei" ("Friend of Children"). The sign says, "Don't look for enemies! Look for friends!" That's a sign we Friends can get behind! And, incurable optimist that I am, I see the sign as a sort of kindred spirit to India's Mars Orbiter Mission: "Don't look for political or military advantage, look for economic advantage, scientific gain, educational advancement, environmental discoveries ... even signs of life on other planets!"

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the central place of intercessory prayer in my experience of silent worship. So I was glad to see this post from Hye Sung Francis: "Held in the Light." (Thanks to quakerquaker.org for the reference.)

Biblical inerrancy, the start of a conversation on Internet Monk.

Jim Forest: "O Heavenly King: reflections on purity of heart." "If you want an example of a very different way of relating to Muslims, consider Saint Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai Desert."

More photos from Moscow's March for Peace last Sunday. ... And Anna Arutunyan's mixed feelings about the march.

Deja vu all over again: "The Language of Force" and "Back to the Future in Iraq."

Nancy Thomas on "The benefits of being invisible."

Samantha Fish and Dani Wild ...

18 September 2014

New martyrs

"The Beheading of John the Baptist": "Michelangelo Caravaggio 021" by Caravaggio - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In my Russian context, the term "new martyrs" has a specific meaning: those who died for their faith under Soviet rule. But the world continues to generate martyrs--as I was powerfully reminded by an article by an Orthodox writer, John Parker: "An Orthodox Christian Response to Beheading By Muslims."

A completely different sort of "Christian" response to the ISIS beheadings has been the unauthorized circulation of private e-mails from Iraq with unsubstantiated claims of systematic slaughter of children. The truth is bad enough; why overdramatize if not to whip up anomosity? We already have plenty of experience telling us that, these days, Muslims are many Christians', and many Americans' favorite enemies.

In any case, the situation for Christians in Iraq is truly awful ... and not for Christians only. Those of us watching from a supposedly safe distance, whose responsibility includes helping to mobilize a world response to the crisis, may not feel that discussing the meaning of martyrdom might not be our highest priority. But we should also face the truth: some of us are going to be called upon to exercise this gift.

Martyrdom is a "gift"? I never thought about it this way until back around 1982, when our adult education class at First Friends Meeting in Richmond, Indiana, was studying Peter Wagner's book Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow. Wagner includes martyrdom in his list of biblical gifts and explains why. Even so, in the safety of a comfortable church classroom in a middle class American community, martyrdom seemed even less relevant than the gift of celibacy to a class of young (then!) married couples.

Now Judy and I live among people whose country lost millions of people during the Stalinist repressions, not to mention 27 million more untimely deaths in World War II. Among those people caught up in the mass cruelty of those years, many thousands died one way or another for their faith in Christ. In this context, ideas of safety and security take on a new and much more fragile perspective. The choice to prioritize faithfulness or our own lives (and that of our nearest and dearest) is not theoretical. This is more dramatically true in some parts of the world than others, but there's no place where we can justify blissful ignorance.

How does martyrdom relate specifically to Friends discipleship? R. W. Tucker, in his "Revolutionary Faithfulness," distinguishes "cult pacifism" from the cross-shaped testimony of early Friends:
Cultishness is the first and most conspicuous face of Quaker pacifism today. A prospective new Friend is likely to meet Quaker pacifism first in the shape of the dear old lady who rises in Meeting for Worship to speak to the children about why they ought to be pacifists. She tells homely little stories about pacifists who won through to victory in some worldly dilemma. Such cult pacifism is pretty easy to debunk. It is false doctrine in obvious ways. It discounts the Cross, and the whole bloody history of martyrdom.
In contrast, Tucker urges persistent and costly faithfulness, and by persistence he includes faithfulness in the face of clear evidence that many people are not nice, and will not become nice just because we are (at least in our own eyes). We remain peaceable, in other words, when we might have to pay for it with our lives. No wonder the late T. Canby Jones told us that a crucial step in understanding the peace testimony is coming to grips with our own mortality.

Friends do have a powerful heritage of martyrdom--and it goes right into the present day when we take into account the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and the death of Christian Peacemaker Teams' Tom Fox in Iraq. But as we see from John Parker's "Orthodox Christian Response," the history of faithfulness unto death goes back to apostolic times. In the larger family of faith, this too is our heritage. As Parker says, "We stand proudly with the martyrs, whose blood is the foundation of the Church. And we beg God to grant us equal strength when we have to face what they did."

This post is first and foremost addressed to myself.

A "Statement of Conviction" (PDF) originating with Christian Peacemaker Teams' participants in Hebron in 1996. "We reject the use of force to save our lives should we be caught in the middle of a conflict situation or taken hostage. In the event that we die as a result of some violent action, we reject the use of violence to punish the people who killed us."

Wess Daniels, "Learning the Art of Sketchnote Preaching." "... When I get stuck in a writing project it may be helpful to change tactics...." Delightful and useful!

Thanks to Mark D Russ, here's a fresh glimpse of Beacon Hill Friends House in Boston, the place where Judy and I met.

"Conversations that could change your life." Friends Summit 2014.

The subtitle says it all: "Churches without the broken are broken churches."

After a concert at Reedwood Friends Church back in 2006, Derek Lamson picked up his guitar and played his (then) new song about Tom Fox:

11 September 2014

Heroes, true and false

Poster by Sally Wern Comport; this copy
found at Friends Community Church in Fresno.
Read Micah Bales on "Who Are the Heroes?" Micah contrasts the world's expectations of a hero with the hallmarks of true heroism.

Micah's essay is positive and useful. Forgive me for presenting a slightly sour counterpoint: what are the hallmarks of false heroism? During my years as a denominational worker, I've seen perhaps more than my share of this phenomenon. True heroes motivate us to greater compassion and faithfulness, but the antics of false heroes can result in toxic church politics. Here are some of the signs:

False heroism points to danger and poses as our defender. The dangers are sometimes very real, but a false hero emphasizes fear. Radical Islam is taking over the world. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management agency knows something we don't!!! And there's the ever-popular whisper, "Our church's / denomination's / organization's leadership is taking us in the wrong direction."

False heroism demonstrates operational atheism. False heroes theoretically agree with established norms and processes in public, but behind the scenes they may be conspiring the same old way, talking with trusted allies, lining up all the ducks in a row to pre-empt the decision-making process, as if the Holy Spirit can't be trusted to work through the larger body. Among Friends, such heroes may support the classic disciplines of corporate prayer-based discernment for making decisions, but as one dear Friend told me, "Avoid calling meetings if you don't already know the outcome." (Another told me who is likely to get their way in his yearly meeting's committees: "It's the first one who quotes Scripture.")

False heroism builds community through shared enemy lists. You're considered "sound" if you say the right cliches and quotations, come from the right church or seminary, have the right friends, are the right sex / age / color. Others find that they may not be invited to those behind-the-scenes conferences.

In the short-term, false heroism may get results. The right people might be hired or removed, the scare-based fundraising campaign might succeed. But after a while, the false heroes may find themselves more and more alone as others leave that church or organization and choose a more trustworthy one, ... or none at all. This has been my bitter experience. Even if you can fool some of the people some of the time, you probably can't fool their children.

I once heard Os Guinness talk about the supposed "clash of civilizations" between Christians and Muslims. Instead of whipping his audience into a panic, Guinness presented a vision: let's strive to outdo one another in mercy. In a related, more recent comment, he said this:
The sad fact is, that while the Christian faith is the world’s first truly global faith today, Christians are the most numerous faith in the world, the church is the most diverse community on Planet Earth, and the Bible is the most translated and translatable book in history, Islam today is the strongest faith in the world in one crucial sense: What it requires and what it receives of its believers is beyond what most Christians are giving back to their faith. [source (pdf)]
We know that without a vision, the people perish. But a vision built on the Gospel rock has no shortcuts, no power cards to play, relying instead on honest, modest, courteous, full-time faithfulness. Are we willing to give what our faith requires? If not, don't blame the so-called enemy.

Friends of Jesus Fall Gathering, Barnesville, Ohio, October 10-12, 2014.

Christian student ministry leaders in the USA face a challenge: "Will InterVarsity Losing Cal State Standoff Be Tipping Point for Campus Ministries Nationwide?"

"How Corrupt Are Our Politics?" David Cole, reviewing Zephyr Teachout's new book, Corruption in America, comments,
In the end, there are no simple solutions. There is a genuine and inescapable tension between First Amendment values and representative democracy—between free speech, which guarantees everyone an equal opportunity to speak but not the right to equal influence in any particular debate, and the franchise, which guarantees each person one, and only one, vote.
Once again, a plea to teachers and students to help me with my research on cheating by completing the survey here (Russian version here).

Dessert from Anson Funderburgh, Charlie Baty, and Mark Hummel.