03 September 2015

Elektrostal shorts

Election rally: the view (above) from our corner of the courtyard. Below: the candidate notices my camera; a kids' activity.

"Give your children love. Leave the rest up to me."

That's a rough translation of the signs on either stage of Anton Kotov's mobile campaign stage. Kotov is a candidate for city council in Elektrostal's fourth precinct. For me, this rally in the courtyard of our housing complex was an unusual glimpse of retail-level election campaigning in Russia. I include it here because I suspect that most Americans (and others?) probably don't get many opportunities to see politics at the grassroots in Russia.

The crowd was a respectable size for a political event. Attenders listened good-naturedly to Kotov's speech, which was organized around the theme of education. (A natural choice -- Knowledge Day, the national holiday opening the new school year, was just two days away.)

Kotov is the Liberal Democrat candidate for this precinct. As he spoke, campaign workers for the United Russia party were working the crowd with brochures for their candidate, Vitalii Shaparnii. The elections, for municipal and regional legislatures in dozens of locations around Russia, will take place September 13.

Registering "my arrival as a foreign citizen in the Russian Federation" -- a chore utterly familiar to every expatriate living here (or their employers) -- took up nearly a full day, including assembling the forms and copies and signatures and then taking them to the Federal Immigration Service office in the familiar yellow building at the corner of Lenin and Polyarni prospects.

Usually, the process goes pretty smoothly, but not the last two times. In my previous visit, it emerged that not only did I have to register, but by a new rule that went into force last February, my contract, and Judy's also, had to be registered. In fact any contract for employment made with a foreign citizen by any employer must now be registered with the government within three days of the signing and dating of the contract. By the time we found out about this, two of the three days had already elapsed, and the immigration office was unable to supply a copy of the crucial blank or any relevant instructions.

After considerable searching, I found the blank online. Filling it out correctly was a matter of trial and error, and only my third attempt received approval. Any Russian would smile knowingly at this story, but I also need to say that one of the office employees showed me great kindness in going over my first draft in detail and explaining obscure points. The more normal practice is to refer clients to an immigration lawyer. The office also let me return multiple times outside the normal hours set for receiving such forms.

Today, I ran into a different problem -- a first in my many years of registering. I arrived 30 minutes before the start of the appointed hours, and was therefore high up on the list that established the order in which we supplicants would enter the office. (This list is normal practice for queuing up at government offices; it is organized by those who are waiting, not by the office itself.) But for some reason the process was unusually slow today, and the office closed just after the person ahead of me -- representing the British School -- made it in. The officer in charge told me "Go and register at the post office."

Mir street post office. Source.
The post office! Why not? I had done that once before, seven years ago, when the procedure was simpler, not requiring a power of attorney from the Institute or a copy of my contract. Also, the post office doesn't have all the prior records that the immigration office has, so errors wouldn't be caught right away. But it was worth a try; I have only one more day remaining in the mandatory registration period, so making another attempt in tomorrow's slot in the immigration office seemed too risky.

I walked over to the post office on Mir street near the Institute. There was one window open for requests like mine, and it was also the window for selling stamps, receiving packages, selling magazines, and giving out registered mail. I was second in line. The friendly but slightly worried clerk said, "I normally don't handle registrations for organizational employees; I'm not familiar with the regulations." I assured her that I'd been sent there directly from the immigration office, that I had registered successfully many times with the exact same documents I was giving her, and that the only reason I was not going directly to the immigration office was that they were simply too busy -- that's why they'd sent me to her.

She began the complicated task of preparing my papers for transmission (to the exact same office I'd just been in), but also served other customers while I waited to one side. This is where I got to see what her work life was like, and I was very impressed. One elderly customer wanted five stamps, but clearly her little pile of coins was not sufficient. The postal clerk patiently and kindly counted her coins, sold her two stamps, and gave her the change. A disabled customer came in for some magazines, and was confused about whether he had received the previous issues. Again she sorted out his anxious questions with patience and kindness. She found a plastic envelope for a customer shipping a huge box somewhere. Yet another customer needed to know how to send a money order to someone on vacation. Again, patience and reassurance along with clear instructions. In short, this postal clerk may have missed a calling as a pastor. At the end of the process, I left the post office with my stamped registration certificate ... and a feeling of admiration for that clerk.

You may wonder at this story, because you have likely seen the same sort of service at your own post office. But the Russian postal system is held in low esteem by its customers, who complain frequently about rude customer service and slow delivery times. I've personally never seen rude service at the branch we usually use (right on our own street), but this experience at another branch, where I requested a complicated task on a busy day, also seems to point to another side of the story.

Black Lives Matter. Finally, being in Russia doesn't shield me from USA politics and its peculiar zoology. I'm dumbfounded to learn that the slogan "Black Lives Matter" has evoked such negative feelings, to the point of suggesting that the movement that has gathered around this declaration is racist and even terrorist. I don't know which explanation would be worst -- lack of empathy, ignorance of history, or cynical media manipulation of white fear.

I don't understand the rejoinder that "All Lives Matter." In the abstract, all lives do matter, including every group whose members' lives are marginal to those in power. Palestinians come to mind. People on death row. People imprisoned without recourse at Guantanamo. Unborn babies. Families seeking to enter the USA or the EU so that their kids can eat and are safe from bombs. Why oh why isn't it obvious that the statement "Black Lives Matter" aims itself, by its very nature, at a specific target, a specific phenomenon: in the USA, for many generations, Black Lives have Mattered Less, and sometimes apparently Not At All!

When that situation is remedied, and not a moment earlier, the slogan can perhaps be treated as self-evident and consequently retired. In any case, those who have not honestly engaged with the situation that evoked it are not qualified to demean it.

P.S. One of the values that makes me truly proud to be an American is due process (as in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution: "No person shall ... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...."). It is extraordinarily urgent to keep flagging any situation where this wonderful value is subverted. The whole world is watching, including those leaders who love to see us fail, and thereby divert attention from their own lack of the same. In this crucial task for any nation claiming the rule of law and the equal protection of the law, citizens and police officers are actually on the same side. There is no contradiction between saying "Black Lives Matter" and "Police Lives Matter"; both sentiments are worth stating distinctly and clearly; neither trumps the other.

More from the political zoo. The media appetite for Donald Trump is being documented statistically, for example here and here. And it doesn't end at USA's borders. In my first cab ride in Elektrostal, late last week, the radio was carrying an analysis of Trump. I kept my mouth shut, mostly.

26 years ago, Oliver Sacks wanted to be remembered like this. (US Public Broadcasting's Newshour.)

From one of my favorite Russian cultural commentators: If American students are Hermione, Russians are Harry Potter.

Part two of James Tower's Quakers and Jesus series: Toward a Quaker Christology.

Several years ago we were in Oslo and had a chance to hear the Russian-Norwegian pianist Natalia Strelchenko rule the keyboard in a delightful concert at the National Library. (In this post, I had the nerve to compare her to the Funk Brothers' Earl Van Dyke; even so, she wrote to thank me for my comments.) Since then I've continued to collect her recordings and follow her career.

Natalia was attacked in her home in Manchester, UK, last Sunday, and died from her injuries. I sat here in front of my monitor in disbelief, reading the BBC News item, and tried to get the article to read some other way, but it stubbornly continued to report her murder. My heart goes out to her family, her son (apparently injured -- in the same attack?), and her many friends, colleagues, students, and fans.

In place of my normal blues dessert, here's a video from a concert Natalia Strelchenko played in Norway in 2011, part of the Henie Onstad Art Center's Liquid Piano series. First, early Liszt, then late Liszt. I've never seen a serious pianist play serious music with such fun....

27 August 2015

Yearly meetings, myth and reality

Northwest Yearly Meeting's logo
Maybe we are lucky in Northwest Yearly Meeting. If you include children, somewhere between ten and twenty percent of the yearly meeting's population show up for the annual sessions at George Fox University. In addition the numbers of Friends involved in yearly meeting-owned camps, pastors' retreats, "Seminars by the Sea," Bible quizzing, and other events seems to show that, among Quaker institutions beyond the local congregation, ours has a lot of vitality.

The questions that Micah Bales asks in his blog post, "Is it Time to Get Rid of Yearly Meetings?", are still valid, even for our yearly meeting. To my mind, this is the heart of his post:
Is there something fundamentally unhelpful about the Yearly Meeting system as it presently exists? What if the best thing that could happen would be for us to release our institutional structures altogether, opening ourselves to a more organic, responsive way of being Christ’s body?
Disclosure: I'm a member of Micah's advisory group, so I'm not exactly a disinterested participant in this discussion. Based on experience, I'm inclined to give his thoughts a lot of weight.

Micah briefly describes some features of the missional Quaker network he's helped create, the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, and lists these important characteristics:
1. We empower individual leaders to operate in their gifts and unlock their potential as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. By emphasizing the giftedness and unique calling of each person, we come together as a body with all parts working together in harmony.

2. The Friends of Jesus Fellowship is rooted in spiritual affinity and shared calling by Christ. The Fellowship is most strongly based in the eastern half of the United States, but we are not necessarily limited by geography. We have friends and co-workers scattered from Berkeley to Baltimore, from Madrid to Moscow.

3. Our membership is based on shared commitment and mutual accountability. We are members of one another because we have come together as disciples, followers of Jesus who are engaged together in learning from Jesus himself. Becoming a Friend of Jesus isn’t a matter of clearness committees and paperwork. We’re not a club to be joined primarily for a sense of identity and belonging. It’s about doing the work, showing ourselves to be friends of Jesus by our love for one another.

4. Rather than preserving an institution, we are focused on igniting a movement. In place of nostalgia for the past – even the admittedly glorious past of the early Quaker movement – we are inspired by a vision for the new things that God wants to do right here, right now.
It's a bit too glib for me just to say, "Don't yearly meetings ideally have these exact same characteristics?" The Friends of Jesus Fellowship has formed around a particular set of people and their gifts and concerns, and a specific historical moment, and that's not the same as an organizational structure that has a cohesiveness that endures for generations and involves hugely varying levels of maturity and senses of calling.

Maybe the better question is, "Can yearly meetings be incubators and mutually supportive partners for such networks as the Friends of Jesus Fellowship? How? Can it be done without enmeshing each other in expectations that primarily reflect the conceits of one side of the relationship?"

Here, in no particular order, are some of my related reflections:

Does the theory of the concentric Friends structure, with its simplicity and lack of hierarchy, still have power for Friends? In this structure, the local Friends meeting or church is the inner circle. It is where we know each other best, exercise hospitality to newcomers, and learn to ask, "What does God want to do or say through us?" It's where people are born, marry, die; it's where we witness new believers crossing the threshold into the household of faith.

By appointment or interest or both (depending in part on the local culture), some of those local Friends report to and from the next concentric circle, traditionally the monthly or quarterly meeting, then the yearly meeting, then the larger associations to which this yearly meeting is affiliated. Most local Friends probably won't be interested or called to serve in these wider circles, and that's no problem as long as the connections are rotated and renewed often enough to keep the relationships real.

Do we need to choose between structure and mission, or can we divide this labor according to our spiritual gifts? I'm reminded of the classic conflict within Friends United Meeting between those who defended our relationships with the National and World Councils of Churches, and those who favored "functional" ecumenism. Some Friends loved the ecumenical councils, which reminded them of Jesus's prayer for unity among his disciples, and which promised creative cross-fertilization among the different families of believers with their different cultures and emphases. Others were irritated at the councils' apparent claims on being the definitive ecumenical structures, or their tendency to take political positions at variance with our grassroots members. These dissidents often preferred "functional" or "missional" ecumenism, such as Christian Peacemaker Teams, the American Bible Society, Habitat for Humanity, or similar cross-confessional movements focused on particular visions of Christian service.

When I was serving Friends United Meeting, I advocated reducing our ties with the big ecumenical councils at the same time that I was encouraging FUM to join the Christian Peacemaker Teams. It seemed that the councils were causing us more grief than they were worth. In the end, we did join CPT but we didn't leave the councils. I hope that FUM is continuing to learn how to discern the value of each ecumenical relationship, not in terms of who irritates whom, but which relationships give scope to the gifts and missions and faithfulness of its members. The same can be true of the relationships and responsibilities we choose within our own Quaker structures, or with the alternate configurations that spring up when we respond to new visions.

Should our yearly meetings simplify their agendas? Northwest Yearly Meeting's annual sessions have at least two major aspects: the well-attended evening sessions feature speakers and worship leaders carefully selected by the yearly meeting elders and others, to address the vision and challenges that we face. During the day, a much smaller number of us listen to reports, ask questions, attend workshops, and participate in board meetings ... all with a view toward the stewardship of the yearly meeting's resources and monitoring our faithfulness to the decisions we've made in the past. But do enough of us see a direct connection between all these interactions and that basic community task that all Friends have? -- learning what God wants to do and say through us? Are we remembering to ask and answer honestly, in the full hearing of everyone, including our young people, "How does Truth prosper among you?" Do we have a chance to hear about our victories and failures among local churches and the broad sweep of yearly meeting programming, or are we too fragmented by the very nature of our agendas and compartments? How much our our stewardship responsibilities could be simplified or conducted by correspondence during the year? Would our yearly meetings benefit from a practice I've heard about occasionally ... abandoning business as usual in a given year, in favor of holding annual sessions that are unscripted, and wholly devoted to listening to God?

What about accountability? One of the justifications for old structures such as yearly meetings is that local groups and movements can easily go completely off the rails if there is no reporting relationship to a wider body and its enduring, shared expressions of Christian values. Having witnessed several times the unfortunate results that happen when a local group falls under the spell of a persuasive but misguided individual, I don't need to be convinced about the value of wider relationships as safeguards. But I've also seen organizations that become so pro-forma and agenda-bound that they seem to forget to pray. Maybe you have better experiences, but I've never seen any kind of formula, doctrinal or structural, that takes the place of live discernment. Sometimes that discernment is exercised by a formally-convened group of elders, sometimes by evolving networks of believers who modestly covenant to stay in touch with each other, flagging up both victories and violations. This isn't as stable or well-organized as I'd like, but reality is messy.

Maybe that's enough for now. My flight from Boston to JFK is about to board. By tomorrow I hope to be in Elektrostal ....

Here's a discernment issue: Overcoming the culture of nice. My question: When we fully deploy righteous anger, will we always know who the bully is?

Another conflict between institution and individual: Russian Orthodox activists vandalize a "blasphemous" exhibition. Report one, report two.

Quakerism as a charismatic tradition.

James Cotton!

Mississippi Blues Project: James Cotton - "He Was There" live at the TLA in Philadelphia from WXPN FM on Vimeo.
The legendary James Cotton Blues Band played the TLA in Philadelphia on September 6th for WXPN's Mississippi Blues Project. The Mississippi Blues Project has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.http://www.pcah.us/

James Cotton http://jamescottonsuperharp.com/
Mississippi Blues Project http://mississippibluesproject.org/
WXPN http://xpn.org/

20 August 2015

Travel day

Sitting at our gate at Portland Airport (Oregon) awaiting our flight to New York City, from where we plan to fly to Boston tomorrow morning. By noon we expect to be in Portland, Maine, and by evening on Panther Pond.

A week later, my sabbatical year comes to an end with my departure to Russia. And a few days after that, the new academic year begins with warm reunions with familiar colleagues and students, and my first chance to meet new students.

During the days in Maine, I hope to think more about the theme Micah Bales raised recently: "Is it time to get rid of yearly meetings?" (My insightful preliminary answer: "Well, yes and no.") Micah himself directed me to one of the responses to his post: Michael Jay's "rebuttal," which I'll also try to take into worthy account. But in the meantime, I will try to get some desperately needed sleep.

Even a short post needs some blues dessert.

Late, Great Sredni Blows a Slow Blues with Eric Mingus and the Chris Zaloom Band. from Chris Zaloom on Vimeo.
Another tune from the live show at Bearsville with Eric Mingus on vocals and featuring our recently departed friend Sredni Vollmer on harp.

13 August 2015

War noises

Separated at birth?    

"I do consider Russia to be the biggest threat," says the head of the USA's air force -- and she's only one of several top American military leaders to make this claim.

At the same time, Russia's Levada Center polling organization documents the increasingly negative views of the USA among Russians. Their most recent poll on the subject shows that 70% of respondents have a "generally bad" or "very bad" view of the USA. As we prepare to return to our beloved community of Elektrostal, these figures naturally draw our attention.

In the current political climate of both countries, with domestic audiences seeming to favor something called "strong leadership" over actual wisdom, maybe these results shouldn't surprise us. But is such posturing risk-free? The European Leadership Network says "no" in its new report, "Preparing for the Worst: Are Russian and NATO Military Exercises Making War in Europe more Likely?"

To me it seems that this mutual enemy-mongering is absurd. Both countries have much to gain from friendship, and in the long run, less than nothing to gain from conflict with each other -- and acknowledging this reality doesn't require us to like either the imperialism of one country or increasing repression in the other. (My vagueness is deliberate and intended to be instructive.)

The enemy talk between the USA and Russia is not symmetrical; the differences are interesting. The USA seems most concerned about the potential restoration of the Russian empire on the western periphery of today's Russian Federation. American officials don't spend as much time defending human rights as they seem to blame Russia for not cooperating with American-led arrangements for global security. On the other hand, Russians don't see the American threat as one of outright expansion outside the USA's borders. The concern, as summarized in this article by Serghei Golunov, is that the USA and other Western countries are sources of conspiracy and subversion, bent on undermining Russia.

Building up "enemies" in the popular mind often involves exaggerating threats and minimizing commonalities. For Christians in both countries, the way seems clear: analyzing and exposing threats and the forces that benefit from them; emphasizing our commonalities; and investing in each other's well-being through trade, education, exchange, and every other channel, convenient or inconvenient -- because nothing is less convenient than war. And, if the European Leadership Network's report is to be believed, those war noises from the politicians aren't without risk.

What it means when you kill people on the other side of the planet and nobody notices. Tom Engelhardt worries that "War is no longer a part of our collective lives. It’s been professionalized and outsourced." Are we Quakers (for example, in the USA) as indifferent as the larger nation Engelhardt describes?

Micah Bales asks whether it's time to get rid of yearly meetings. I hope to respond in the next week or two. (Update: response is here.)

Who are "cord cutters" and why should politicians care?

This Saturday in Chicago, park your car, tune into B.B. King, turn South Sacramento into a public art project.

James Clem was at this year's Waterfront Blues Festival. Enjoy!

06 August 2015

How the Grinch stole Hiroshima (repost)

Source: Twitter  
These are my reflections from ten years ago on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. For comments at the time, see the original post.

It is the season for Hiroshima and Nagasaki observances, and once again I will not take part.

Not that I approve of the bombings or of atomic weapons. In the case of Hiroshima, August 6, 1945, my mother told me when I was a child that she had been on a train at the time. She was close enough to see the flash. I have childhood memories of her leukemia check-ups (at least that's my grown-up interpretation of her need to have her "atomic blood" checked). She was always sure that the whole Pacific war was at least half the USA's fault, since (in her mind) Roosevelt had deliberately ignored warnings of the Pearl Harbor attack in the hopes that it would justify his already-planned entry into World War II. I do not personally agree with her interpretation, but I've always been fascinated by how different those events looked from her family's viewpoint in Japan.

In 1976, I was a participant in the Friends World Committee for Consultation triennial sessions in Hamilton, Ontario. One of the high points of that event was T. Canby Jones speaking on Psalm 126, "Those who sow in tears shall reap with sounds of joy." In the course of his talk he meditated on the Japan of his childhood and on his recent visit to Hiroshima. His presentation was modest and uplifting.

In 1985, I was again at an FWCC triennial, this time in Oaxtepec, Mexico. August 6 rolled around during those sessions. I think we all went to the Hiroshima-Nagasaki memorial meeting. For some reason that is surely nobody's fault at those sessions, I was overwhelmed to the point of nausea by the public self-flagellation, the undifferentiated denunciations, the lack of any spiritual diagnosis comparable to that provided nine years earlier by Canby. I walked out.

That was my last Hiroshima memorial meeting. I now prefer to keep my mourning private (excepting, maybe, this weblog entry).

Years ago, Dale Aukerman wrote an amazing book, Darkening Valley: A Biblical Perspective on Nuclear War. If I remember correctly, he described nuclear weapons as, very simply, extension of the human fist and the impulse to say "thou fool."

I don't want to get in the way of anyone who feels that their fist and their mouth are likely to be more humane and Godly if they attend a Hiroshima/Nagasaki observance. (Or do some of us actually feel that only others need to change?) My priority is the Lamb's War. If we do not fight this noncarnal war against evil in high places, we will continue to respond too late to the buildups of earthly evil that put our Churchills and Trumans into such unbearably ambiguous dilemmas—apparently having to choose between one massacre or another.

It is legitimate to ask Christian pacifists what we would have done in the face of the fascist threat. (Substitute your favorite representative of mass evil.) I welcome the challenge of countering the implication that our nonviolence is useless, but it IS to some degree useless at the hypothetical point of this challenge (although obedience to the Prince of Peace can never be ultimately useless).

Instead of being required to answer why pacifists would withhold the scalpel of righteous violence, I want to know why the question is always framed at the point where the patient is dying of advanced cancer. I want the Church's response to the cancer of militarism and fascism to begin long before the forces are arrayed and the bullets begin spraying. With the worldwide network of believers engaged in the Lamb's War against evil in all forms, couldn't we do better preventive medicine? Couldn't we do more to infiltrate the world's camps and divisions, subvert all official definitions of enemy, raise the alarm when flows of weapons, illicit funding, wicked and inhumane ideologies begin creeping here and there across our far-more-alert radar screens?

Unless we put more of an effort into prayerful "peacetime" vigilance, persistent and winsome evangelism, and divine subversion, we will always be caught with too little, too late when the superpatriots and the power politicians finally reveal their hand. In fact, they too are legitimate subjects of prayer and evangelism, because they are not the enemy, they are prisoners of the Enemy.

Advice to prudent preachers.
There may be any number of ways in which the individual human life can flourish if it is disinterested in how it inhibits a flourishing community life. Contributing to a flourishing community life may limit some ways of maximizing a flourishing individual life. You can see how complicated this can get. Who can count the number of career gallows or opportunities for congregational disintegration? The prudent preacher is well advised to steer clear.
Northwest Yearly Meeting and human sexuality: to remember or to forget?

Melinda Gates says she is living out her faith in action.

Benjamin L. Corey claims to know what people mean when they say "But I believe the WHOLE Bible." Is he right?

Israeli and Palestinian women meet despite the checkpoints.

I thought I knew what "blues harp" meant!

Elena Manja » Catch this blues! from Elena Manja on Vimeo.
Composed and performed by Elena Manja … with an electric harp in an old bodega in southern Spain. Check it out!
Komponiert und gespielt von Elena Manja … mit E-Harfe in einer alten Bodega in Südspanien. Check it out!

30 July 2015


I keep seeing these charmingly ancient photos in ads on Facebook for Ancestry dot com, and yesterday it occurred to me that I have equally evocative pictures in my own collection. For example, the photo above really intrigues me. It looks so dawn-of-photography (except for that nice camera hanging around the neck of that man about a third of the way from the left edge). But it can't be all that old. My mother's parents are in it, second and fourth from the right, and they look about the same age as my earliest memories of them. It's their similarity to my own memories of them that make it likely to me that this was a post-war photo, taken sometime after they left Japan for Germany in 1948. (A few years later, their photos included me!)

Maybe the photo was antiqued on purpose. In any case, this image of a group of tourists set off a chain of thoughts about "home." I guess I was already primed to meditate in that direction by several recent gatherings where we participants were asked what or where we called home. I always have a hard time with that question. I was born in my father's parents' home in Oslo, but my first memories are of my mother's parents' home in Stuttgart. The memories are all wonderful: my grandmother is giving me a wooden sailboat to sail in the park. My grandfather's hand is around mine as we take a daily walk together. (Years into retirement, he was always dressed as shown in the photos.)

Last year, I returned to Stuttgart for the first time in 48 years. After that long, my ties to the city as a whole didn't feel strong. And as I recounted last year, the house we lived in had been torn down and replaced by high-end condominiums. But one of the owners was willing to let me look over her back veranda. There was the garden where my sister Ellen and I gathered plums. That place tugged at my heart.

Sometimes, when I'm asked for my home town, I say "Chicago." I love that city, even though I haven't lived in Cook County since I was 18. I love it even though my sister was murdered there. That's where I grew up. Bob Elson and Red Rush, broadcasting the White Sox baseball games, were the voices of summer. Rev. Clarence H. Cobbs was the voice of Sunday night, although I had to conceal my faithful attendance-by-radio from my parents.

There have been times when I wish I could name a real home town for myself like normal people. But in this world, I'm hardly alone in my nomad status: countless others have been violently dispossessed; others are forced on the road to look for jobs and food. My own grandparents had their home in Osaka taken from them by the occupation forces, but I don't believe they suffered as much as others in that great war-era redistribution of populations that resulted in my parents meeting in Chicago. If they did, they never talked about it.

Anyway, most of the time this lack of roots doesn't give me any genuine distress. I'm glad to be on the same planet as you.

If I had any pretensions to journalism, I would be embarrassed by my post last week, in which I mentioned how refreshingly routine this year's Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions had been. But I don't, so I don't feel obligated to comment on the bombshell that dropped the very next day -- the Elders' discontinuance of West Hills Friends Church's membership in the yearly meeting, a decision that was announced two months earlier than many of us had expected. Behind the outpourings on listservs and social media, there are tender conversations going on, and the space for them is important to guard. And there is an appeals process underway. Transparency is important as well, but right now I don't personally see how I would serve that goal directly. Trustworthiness in friendship and persistence in prayer will have to do for now.

On Quaker community: a dose of humility? "... I have never been able to get over the pride people often have in being Quaker. It's good to be proud of your tribe, but often this goes over the top...."

On marching Israelis to the door of the oven: Isn't there a better way to refute Mike Huckabee than predictable denunciations for using a Holocaust reference? Yes, the comparison is completely nonsense: even if Iranian politicians talk in such terms about Israel, Obama works for us, not Iran, and he's trying to deal with things as they really are. But what use is it to attack Huckabee's rhetoric as "offensive" and "disgusting" instead of dealing with the underlying argument? That sort of storm just builds him up in the eyes of others who feel the same way, or those who despise what they sneeringly call "political correctness." We have freedom of speech. If Huckabee honestly believes what he is saying, let him speak -- let him marginalize himself. Don't turn him into a hero.

Micael Grenholm on four prooftexts that rich Christians use to keep their wealth. Hmm, which one do I rely on?

The Rolling Stones, fifty years ago: "Walking the Dog."