They came to me first as I was listening to a story about a church which was experiencing conflict between some church members and the pastor. Members were being drawn into pro-pastor and anti-pastor factions; I imagined some were feeling the temptation to resort to worldly tactics for the upcoming monthly meeting.
Although there were allegations about the pastor that needed to be taken seriously, I wasn't happy with the possibility of a struggle for or against an individual, a struggle that ignored the systemic "Lamb's war" dimension of the problem. I wanted to say to everyone, Don't get knocked off center; remember what you already know:
- Among Friends, leadership involves mutual accountability; we don't accept theologies of authoritarian leadership, even when it is dressed up in contemporary shepherding language. Jesus is the center of a Friends meeting, not an ideology or philosophy (however good or bad). With Jesus at the center, there cannot be a human dictator or "decider" claiming presumptuous power. Friends leadership can be based only on spiritual gifts, never social status or politics or personality.
- We avoid pointing at villains. Humans are made in the image of God, even when they have been taken prisoner by the principalities and powers.
- Friends sometimes forget that every leader sometimes need to give strong advice, occasionally approaching commands, but only to people who are empowered. To give commands from on high to oppressed or subservient or frightened people can lead to awful mischief. The first task of a pastor dealing with frightened people or people in crisis is to build them up, rebuild their identity as people infinitely loved by God, not to tinker with their relationships.
|Barack Obama speaks at|
Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta
I was impressed by an observation David Brooks made in the New York Times in his December 18 column: "Obama is an inner-directed man in a profession filled with insecure outer-directed ones. He was forged by the process of discovering his own identity from the scattered facts of his childhood, a process that is described in finely observed detail in Dreams From My Father. Once he completed that process, he has been astonishingly constant."
Now Obama will be tested as never before. He has not put specific policy slogans or grievances at the center of his campaign, but the vision of a more united country--united not by calls to fear, but by a renewed commitment to close the "empathy deficit" and regain the ability "to recognize ourselves in one another." Listen to his speeches and sermons: The themes of hope and unity are hardly empty piety; they're part of a far richer rhetoric than the few seconds of sampling they're given in the media. Obama has taken the risk of setting his value standards very high. Judy and I once heard a prominent Christian child psychologist say that only sociopaths can get to the top of our political ladder in these hardball times. He had hoped that Bush II would prove him wrong, but I think we need a more convincing demonstration, and I hope that Barack Obama can provide it.
On the one hand ... On the other hand ...
|from Russia Today, a story|
on the Institute for Democracy
What got me going was a comment by Natalia Narochnitskaya at the press conference announcing the institute's foundation. "On the one hand, it will help us get a lot of useful information from the West so we can analyze the problems Russia faces," says Narochnitskaya. "The Western experience in the field of human rights deserves respect. On the other hand, we can also point out, it's not perfect."
This is truly Russia today: on the one hand, on the other hand. On the one hand, many Russians admire the West; on the other hand, they enjoy growing national self-confidence, along with some irritation and resentment at the double standards, harsh assessments, and outright condescension of Western observers.
On the one hand, some of my Russian friends are sick and tired of comparing their own shabby infrastructure with the glass-and-steel perfection they see in Western media. On the other hand, many suspect the West of spiritual shabbiness compared with the depths of the Russian soul.
On the one hand, they're suspicious of the new chill, the new peremptory tendencies emanating from local government offices. On the other hand, I've personally heard, more than once, Russians bring out the old adage, "We Russians need someone strong at the top."
On the one hand, when they have such a leader, they're ready to support him. On the other, they repeat that other old adage, "We Russians always figure out how to get what we want."
This is not a situation of static balance, either. On the one hand, I'm ready to believe that Vladimir Putin is fully familiar with the basic principles of democracy--and to some important extent actually agrees with those principles. On the other hand, he believes it would be utterly foolish for him to relax his grip on any of the relatively few levers of power he controls, given the constant threat of total chaos on any number of fronts in his country, and perhaps even within his government. It's my intuition that this unresolved and dynamic tension is a reality in many Russian souls, perhaps even in Putin's. The political, social, and spiritual reality of Russia today: everything is in play.
A tragedy in the small community of Quaker missionaries: Updates on the Sward family's car accident; please read and pray. Also note that there were two other deaths in this accident. ~/~ Useful observations and distinctions from Sarah Imhoff on the continuing phenomenon of American anti-Semitism. ~/~ In the midst of the recent Quaker discussions on social class, perhaps we more than some other Christians need to grapple with the special role of the military in our society. Here's William Astore to help: "In the Military We Trust."
Long and short samples of the hypnotic music of the late John Lee Hooker: First, the short version: "I'll Never Get Out of these Blues Alive." (Embedding disabled.) "You know, I'm doomed with the blues."
Second (on the other hand ...), the longer version, from which the above clip was taken: