|Winter gains a|
Underneath it all, though, was the thought that almost everyone I know outside of Russia is celebrating Christmas today--a thought confirmed by lots of e-mails and Facebook statuses. Here, Christmas (January 7) is a quieter holiday, in the shadow of its boisterous secular calendarmate, New Year. Although Christmas's demotion in popular culture is related to the Bolshevik decision to disestablish Christianity, a decision enforced at times with ferocious cruelty, I find that I actually like the way it has now turned out--letting Christmas be a spiritual celebration rather than a binge of consumerism.
My favorite "Christmas text" from Quaker sources, once again:
We must not have Christ Jesus, the Lord of Life, put any more in the stable amongst the horses and asses, but he must now have the best chamber, the heart, and the rude, debauched spirit must be turned out. Therefore let him reign, whose right it is, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, by which Holy Ghost you call him Lord, in which Holy Ghost you pray, and by which Holy Ghost you have comfort and fellowship with the Son and with the Father. Therefore know the triumph in the Seed, which is first and last, the beginning and ending, the top and cornerstone. --George Fox, 1657
My favorite Christmas/New Year card for this year is the cover of the December 22 issue of The New Times. Cover title: "2009: Expecting a thaw." I've been fascinated by the warmth and goodwill I've seen here, both among the people we know and in the mass media, towards Barack Obama and the prospect of his presidency.
By the way, here's the original and a Google translation of this magazine's review of the U.S. presidential campaign of 2008.
For several weeks, a letter from several Orthodox yearly meeting superintendents addressed to the Friends United Meeting's presiding clerk has been circulating among Friends. This letter asks for FUM's urgent attention to the organization's dysfunctions. The core of the letter:
We believe that the current composition and structure of FUM is not working. We share a strong conviction that we can and must do better. Our dually-affiliated yearly meetings suffer from painful conflict connected to their relationship with FUM; conflict that eats up valuable time and energy. The five yearly meetings that we represent [Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Western, and Wilmington] likewise often face painful division among our own meetings concerning our relationship with FUM and share the frustration of being yoked together with Friends who do not share a common sense of identity or a common vision for ministry. We observe that the FUM staff struggles to lead an organization divided by competing theologies and priorities. The most tragic result of this is that the work of FUM around the world suffers.The letter goes on to ask that "the FUM General Board Executive Committee immediately assume the task of searching for options that would address these concerns and that specific strategies be presented at our next meeting of the FUM General Board in February 2009."
Ever since I first heard about this initiative from the superintendents, I've had conflicting thoughts. My first reaction to their alarm signal was "Well, duh." It's impossible for me to argue with their diagnosis. The good news is that the issue has once again been posed with urgency, as in the days of the realignment controversy of the early 1990's (proposing that FUM realign itself so that its essentially evangelical membership unite with Evangelical Friends and its essentially liberal membership unite with the more liberal branch of Friends in North America, Friends General Conference). In my opinion, the earlier realignment initiative failed more because of faulty process than merit; this time, a perhaps similar vision is being pursued with directness and transparency, and with openness to other alternatives that could overcome FUM's real problems.
However, on the negative side, I wonder how many of FUM's critics realize that FUM is not itself the fundamental problem among Friends. We still resist abandonment to divine providence; we still settle for secondary controversies, timid programs, reactionary dispute styles, rather than a bold, warmhearted. all-out search for a vision of Quaker vocation in a world that barely, BARELY knows we exist! Our resistance to revival takes many forms and excuses, depending on whether we're liberal or evangelical and any number of other historical and cultural factors. I hear the superintendents saying that their constituencies are tired of being slowed down by FUM-related irritations, and from my own experience I think their complaint is accurate. I just wonder what other excuses for avoiding radical discipleship would appear were FUM no longer a factor.
With all my heart, I wish FUM a fruitful 2009. Most of all, I hope that the decisions needed to respond faithfully to this latest challenge not be avoided (least of all by attempts to belittle the sources of the challenge) but be confronted head-on. How many more chances will FUM get to avoid de facto dissolution?
(My too-many posts on FUM.)
Here's where I'd be this Saturday if I weren't in Elektrostal--at a Christmas concert in Portland postponed by snow. The Sons of Day perform December 27th at New Beginnings Church, 3300 NE 172nd Pl, Portland, Oregon 97230, 7:00pm. Tickets: $10 at door. I loved hearing them at Reedwood a couple of years ago. (See this page, scroll down.)
I have no temptation to weigh in on the controversy over Rick Warren and the Obama inauguration, except this: Why not simply take Obama at his word? So much of the over-analysis from all directions of his invitation to Warren seems inspired by cynicism. I enjoyed this widely circulated comment from Melissa Etheridge.
Wonderful archival material from the remarkable joint television appearance, back in 1983, by Stevie Ray Vaughn and Albert King:
For more, see the poster's YouTube page.