Decoration Day

Every Memorial Day in high school, I played Taps at the main local cemeteries as part of the VFW ceremony. I was a shy kid, so I liked to do the echo part. The other trumpeter would stand with the celebrants and observers, and I would repeat each line from behind a hill. Then I’d hunker down and try not to listen to the salutes, which never worked.

Hearing the gun salutes and seeing the widows made the Memorial Day parades afterwards less fun. How is anyone supposed to enjoy dressing up in a militaristic uniform and marching to silly songs after such a contemplation of carnage? No amount of star-spangled wrapping hides the blood leaking out around the hems. People died, violently, far before they should have. That’s nothing to have a parade over.

Today, I went up the road to the little cemetery where my ancestors are buried. There weren’t any little flags by the headstones, but there should have been: at least one for each of the American wars, maybe minus the War of 1812 and the Spanish-American War. I don’t think the local VFW makes it all the way up here, though. I wish I had brought my trumpet along- this little cemetery doesn’t get serenaded by anyone but the birds, but it should.

If I ruled the world, Memorial Day would be serious business for everyone. No parades, no floats, no banners, no pretending that violence is something to be celebrated. Just salutes and widows, and thinking about the cousins we could have had if their great-great-grandfathers had lived.

Don’t remember the dead as an exercise in patriotism. Patriotism has its own holiday: the Fourth of July. Today, remember the dead because the shortening of their lives was the cost of injustice. Remember the dead in order to commit yourself to take the preservation and celebration of life seriously.

This song is largely irrelevant, but I like it.

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Baptist Briders

I often get frustrated with a favorite song of Quakers, sung in multi-part harmony by the Very Special Quaker Choir: The Religious Society Of Friends Is The Most Special Thing Ever. This choral piece is in a theme and variations format, and can last longer than Der Ring des Nibelungen when opportunity arises. It must be preformed fortississimo with eyes closed, so that the choristers are in no danger of seeing or hearing other, nonQuaker believers doing what is sung as a shiny Quaker distinctive.

This overweening specialness- I have a tendency to let it get to me. I have claimed in the past that Quakers are mainly unique for their willingness to see their special snowflakeness everywhere they go.

On that point, however, I stand corrected. I made that claim without being aware of the Baptist Briders, a concept which does not seem to be limited to the only true Baptist paper in Canada.

You can read any of the papers at that link to get a sense of the theology, but here’s the short version: all Christians go to heaven.  Baptists are the Bride of Christ at the wedding feast, and all the other Christians are the guests at the wedding.  That is, Baptists get to live in New Jerusalem, while all the other Christians can just come visit once in a while.

Baptists, it turns out, are God’s favorite flavor of Christian ever.  (Independent) Baptists have a special intimacy with God that no other kind of Christian can fathom, due to their particular ecclesiology, focus on separation, and willingness to name Billy Graham as a heretic.  Baptists will be presented to God pure and undefiled, presumably with the rest of us arrayed by denomination as beauty pageant losers, softly crying our makeup off while bringing out the tiara and roses.

So, my sincere apologies to any Quaker who has heard me rant about how stinking special Quakers think they are.  The Baptist Briders have us beat by a mile.

Unrelatedly, is there any way not to love this piece about how Patrick of Ireland was really a Baptist?

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The Hundred and First Sheep

[…]A solidarity that doesn’t take into account the role of the oppressor in these events is the kind of one sided, privileged noise that continues to perpetuate the problem. There seems to be no acknowledgement from feminist organizations of the fact that there is a power imbalance, that an immigrant woman from a former French colony is significantly more vulnerable and more likely to be attacked, that she lacks the privileges that native French women get to enjoy and that, in France, women like her are constantly subjected to racial slurs and attacks (included from their very own government, who displays a shameful Islamophobic and patriarchal stance towards the bodies of Muslim women).

Instead, we are told by these protesting feminists that “We are all chambermaids”! This erasure diminishes the plight of colonized women and, in its naive effort to appear egalitarian, in fact, it excises the lived realities of chambermaids; of women who do not, actually, have the privilege of being part of the dominant culture. If we are all chambermaids, we are all identical. We all enjoy the same freedoms, our struggles are not intersected by varying degrees and types of oppressions. And in case this needs clarifying: there is nothing further from the truth[…]

Flavia Dzodan, at Tiger Beatdown, writing on the French supporters of woman who DSK may have raped.

Flavia goes on to say, emphatically, that a top down solidarity is no solidarity at all. Top down solidarities, see, are focused less on solidity than on homogeneity, less on listening than on silencing. Top down solidarities aren’t about peace; they’re about the absence of audible conflict.

Top down solidarities, in other words, are inherently violent. Top down solidarities replicate hierarchy under the cover of justice.

This, for me, is reminiscent of conversations about identification. How many times have you heard the phrase “I identify with the poor?” This phrase signals the (not poor) speaker’s spiritual meekness, and is often ornamented with vivid, yet humble, descriptions of the speaker’s deliberate sacrifices in the pursuit of solidarity. The speaker, for instance, may have chosen to work at Walmart, leaving their college degree off their resume when applying to stock shelves. Perhaps the speaker moved to Camden, NJ, to start an intentional community in a violent neighborhood, or refuses to buy [insert consumer good of choice] as matter of stewardship.

None of these decisions are inherently bad. Where would we be without Barbara Ehrenreich writing books like Nickel and Dimed? Camden needs some missionaries, no doubt, and many consumer goods ought to be left dusty on the shelves.

Our speaker, however, for all their good intentions, can’t choose to live in poverty. Poverty isn’t not having money in your pocket; it’s not having options in your pocket. It’s being stuck in place. Our fair speaker’s voluntary choice to take a low wage job in order to ‘experience poverty’ speaks not to the speaker’s poverty, but to the speaker’s wealth, simply because it was a choice at all.

Now, obviously, my speaker is a bit of a strawperson. I’ve tried to describe my strawperson fairly, respecting its desire to do the right thing, but straw it remains. But, this is why Jesus didn’t say “blessed are the poor, and also the poor-pretenders.” The problem isn’t the lifestyle choices made by well-meaning liberals, but rather the pretension that motivates and justifies those choices.

It is good for relatively privileged feminists to use their privileged position to say that sexual violence against one woman is violence against women as a class, that no women are free until all women are free. It is unquestionably good to recognize that social privilege does not insulate women from the effects of living in a rape culture. It is not good, on the other hand, for relatively privileged feminists to pretend that all oppressions are the same. “All women are women” is a tautology that bears repeating in some circumstances. “All women are chambermaids” is just a lie, not a restatement of “all women are women.” Chambermaids gain nothing when more privileged women erase them by claiming to experience the same kind of oppression.

Victim blaming often takes the form of accusing women of being the wrong sort of woman: a woman with the attributes of another oppressed class. Perhaps the woman was of the wrong color, or spoke with the wrong accent. Perhaps she did not speak the correct language at all. Perhaps she did not dress like women of the dominant class, or did not worship the right deity in the right way. Perhaps she had the wrong immigration status; perhaps she only looked like someone whose immigration status ought to be questioned. Whatever the reason, she’s just not a good enough woman to worry about. Whatever happened to her was her own fault, scream the context and the subtext.

These layers of oppression need to be addressed, not hidden under a homogeneous banner. Run a Google search, if you want, on God’s identification with the poor. You’ll get all kinds of Bible-laced resources on how God wants Christians to treat the poor, most of them tonedeafly written as though “Christian” and “poor” are nonoverlapping categories. For all our class-privileged chatter about identifying with the poor, though, we forget that Jesus didn’t stand in solidarity with poor Galilean peasants. Jesus, rather, was a poor Galilean peasant.

Jesus didn’t identify with oppression. Jesus incarnated it.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean that relatively privileged French women need to convert to Islam and get jobs as chambermaids. Pulling an Ehrenreich might not be a bad thing, but no amount of playacting will give colonizers the experience of being colonized. Broadly speaking, we don’t get the option of incarnating other people’s oppression, which is good because we wouldn’t have the courage for it anyhow.

We do, however, have the option of gentleness. We have the option to grow in tenderness towards one another. We can consider our own privileges, and from that thoughtful spot, we can be more considerate of people who do not have those privileges.

Kathy is right: using your power on behalf of the one, rather than the ninety-nine, will result in the ninety-nine making you uncomfortable. The ninety-nine are accustomed to having the attention due to a hundred, and take it personally when they receive less than they feel is their due.

We aren’t Jesus, though; we’re also sheep. Which is to say: there are a hundred and one sheep in this story, and generally speaking, the hundred-and-first sheep is more naturally allied with the ninety-nine in the pen than with the one who is lost. It is good for the hundred-and-first sheep to search for the hundredth, but this does not place them in the same position.

The hundredth sheep doesn’t need the hundred-and-first sheep to identify with her predicament. The hundredth sheep doesn’t need the hundred-and-first sheep to turn back to the pen and claim to be lost as well.

Gentle reader, the hundredth sheep needs a friend. The ninety-nine are much harder on the hundredth sheep than you could ever imagine. Can you just sit with her awhile?

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Focus on the Family Concedes Defeat

Which, in this case, only means that someone at FotF took a stats course in college:

We’re losing on [same-sex marriage], especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don’t know if that’s going to change with a little more age—demographers would say probably not. We’ve probably lost that. I don’t want to be extremist here, but I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture.

Jim Daly, the new James Dobson, doesn’t want to give up on sex-specific marriage.  He’s got this brilliant idea, though, that maybe if conservative Christian marriages were demonstrably better than those of the wretched world of the unredeemed, the unredeemed would take conservative pronouncements on the true nature of marriage more seriously.  Here he is again:

What if the Christian divorce rate goes from 40 percent to 10 percent or 5 percent, and the world’s goes from 50 percent to 80 percent? Now we’re back to the early centuries. They’re looking at us and thinking, ‘We want more of what they’ve got.'” As he puts it, “we should start with how to get dads reconnected to the family and committed to their marriages.

Of course, there’s no reason whatsoever to think that a big push on patriarchal principles will somehow help conservative Christians stand out from the larger culture.  Not only is there nothing redemptive about singing that aspect of the world’s song, but there’s also no way that conservative Christians acting worldly will lead to some sort of statistically measurable difference between conservative Christians and the world.

I’m terribly excited about this, though.  Every time someone suggests that Godly ethical principles ought to lead to empirically verifiable results, my heart floats high and happy like a hot air balloon.  Yes indeedy, Mr. Daly, being right about marriage ought to lead to better marriages.  Yes indeedy, you ought to have something that people want before trying to sell it; the first step in selling snake oil is getting people to want oil of snake.  Yes, if you’re selling a system guaranteed to be the only one that works, you ought to get it to work first.

Glad someone at FotF finally noticed.

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You know what’s easier than writing a blog post?

Not writing a blog post, that’s what.  I mean, I had some stuff to say… but then Partner got me a melodica, and then I started playing with Inktense pencils, and then I got a book on Chaucer.  My days have been full and happy, but not blogoriffic.

If rule #1 for becoming a rich and successful blogger is ‘have a theme,’ and rule #2 ‘post regularly,’ then I suppose I should go back to funding my retirement account.

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The Park Up The Road

There’s a park up the road from where Partner and I live.  It has hiking trails.  Partner loves to hike, and I like it too.

There’s a park up the road from where Partner and I live.  It’s absolutely gorgeous.  I love stopping on trails to coo over vistas and chipmunks, and Partner seems enjoyably resigned to stopping along with me.

There’s a park up the road from where Partner and I live.  Really, just up the road.  Like, we could walk there, if we planned extra time.  It’s that close.

There’s a park up the road from where Partner and I live.  We like each other pretty well, and generally enjoy a good conversation.  Bonus to talking in a park: if you have nothing left to say, you can always just look at stuff instead.

On a scale of 1-10, how difficult do you think it is to get into a habit of going to the park after work?  1 being that we would drive straight there, naturally, and 10 being that we would so oppose going to the park that we would spit at the sign every time we drove past.

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I Was Right

Yesterday, after meeting for worship, my church held its monthly meeting for business. Technically, this is referred to as meeting for worship with attention to business, or some similar phrase, the grammatical intent being to place worship at the center, as the main purpose for gathering. Ideally, all business then happens in a spirit of worship, such that the comments offered on the budget and other business items are held before God with the same gravity as messages given at morning worship.

Yesterday, meeting for business was awful.

A report was brought to business meeting. The report contained a minute, the substance of which was important but not particularly controversial. Meeting was asked to consider adpoting the minute. This is all standard practice.

The report contained some serious errors, though. It was nothing that couldn’t have been adjusted, but everything slid clean off the rails. Friends rather spectacularly failed to listen worshipfully to the concerns of other friends. They even interrupted other friends, arguing points rather than praying for direction. The clerk’s attempts to guide the conversation were ignored. It was a horrid mess, as if they didn’t even know what meeting for business was supposed to be like. The whole thing made me so mad!

Dammit, I’m right about all that. But I’m also one of those friends who failed to listen worshipfully. I sat back, silently criticizing friends rather than participating in the process. When I did add my voice, it wasn’t because I had been adding my prayers; consequently, I spoke wrathfully rather than following my Guide.

Worse yet, I went home and continued to rehash exactly why everyone else in the meeting had failed. I rehashed it to Partner, and even more so to myself. It is amazing, you know, how smart and holy I sound when arguing with strawpeople.

So, I guess that means that I don’t know what meeting for business is like, either. You wouldn’t know that Christ is my Teacher from the scholarship I displayed.

The most important business of meeting for business is to love God with everything that the meeting has, and the second most important agenda item is to love our neighbors as ourselves. How is that so hard to remember?

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