Put the Hammer Down

On October 19, 2014, an advertisement ran in the Los Angeles Times (on pg. A4). It stated that an “apparition” of the Virgin Mary had revealed that Pope Paul VI was replaced with “an impostor pope” leading to the “destructive Vatican II reforms.” The ad then showed two pictures of Pope Paul, one labeled “Pope Paul VI,” the other “The impostor (1975-1978) created by highly skilled plastic surgeons.” Never mind the fact that Vatican II ended in 1965, and never mind the fact that the pictures are obviously of the same man, just at different ages. It’s a ludicrous story—but one that someone clearly believes, whole-heartedly, as it gives them a reason to avoid change.

I wouldn’t mention this at all, except that the ad struck me as remarkably parallel to something else going on right now: “GamerGate.”

If you’re unfamiliar with GamerGate, you’re a fortunate soul, but it’s a real problem that needs attention, because it shows how determined people are to Keep Things The Same, and how willing they are to threaten people to get their way. Continue reading

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The Revolution According to Mark

Joe Snyder tells Bible stories. This sometimes makes people uneasy, and two years ago I was one of those people. “I flinch every time you say, ‘Jesus,’” I confessed.

“Read the Bible,” Joe replied, not at all concerned. “That’ll take care of that flinch.” And then he told me about Mark.

This piece is intended to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The afflicted in this case—or, perhaps, the conflicted—are those Quakers, particularly young folks like me, who are troubled by references to Jesus, Christ, Christianity, or the Bible as a whole. The comfortable are either those who are sure that they already know what the Bible says, and thus dismiss the Bible as a reactionary old tome, or those who confidently use the Bible to shore up today’s structures of power and wealth because it is so reactionary. I mean to show, however, that the Bible has a lot to offer the most radical in our Quaker faith. Continue reading

The Sense of the Blog, or, Feedback

So, my friends,

How is my blog faring so far?

A little background first. A friend of mine has been practicing civil disobedience on her cause of causes. Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised various LGBTQ groups that she would push forward the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, passage of which would actually do more to further gay rights than a sudden federal legalization of gay marriage. Pelosi has been stalling, however. So my friend, along with her fellows in the energetic new rights activist group getEqual,* occupied her DC office, and were (as they expected) arrested for it.

I look at my friends who do such impressive things and stand up for their beliefs, and then I look at myself. Here’s my friend, getting charged in federal court for her principles. And then there’s me, blogging.

I can justify this to myself only if I’m the best possible blogger I can be. And for that I’d like to see what my readers think. Yes, all five of you. So here are a few queries:

1. What would you change about the blog, if anything?

2. Are the posts too long? Too short? Too hard to read? Too muddled? Just right?

3. What has caught your attention in the blog? Or, to put it another way, what do you like most about it so far?

4. Do you have any other suggestions, up to and including “Give up and become a fry cook in Pasco”?

I’ll accept feedback by word of mouth, email, or carrier pigeon, but posting it right here in the comments would be best to avoid doubling up.

Thanks!

*: The getEqual site is worth a visit just for Will Phillips. And if you feel moved, as I did, to sign their rather easily-agreed-with pledge, then so much the better.

The Truth This Night

I don’t know if there’s a heaven or a hell. I don’t know if there will ever be a second coming — or if there ever was a first. Heaven sounds lovely and makes a nice bribe. Hell sounds rather less appealing and makes a fantastic threat. The Second Coming can inspire hope but also slacking. The First Coming makes a wonderful tale worth retelling and living by, but I don’t know if it is true. I don’t know if any of it is true.

I wasn’t there; I hear the story but I’ve been taught about how stories can change in the telling, and even if I had been in the crowd at the foot of the Mount, I know too well how my memories of the sermon on it would be garbled. I’ve seen things and heard things, true. I have felt someone’s deep presence in my empty room, and heard human tongues speak holy words. But I still do not know, beyond doubt, that the One Who Is actually is, or that the Kingdom can be made real — especially when the still small voice whispering in my heart tells me to keep doubting, that it makes me very useful. So I know that I know next to nothing.

But I do know suffering, and I do know hope.

I know my suffering is dwarfed ten times over by millions, but suffering is very real. I know it in my bones and in my arms and in my soul. And hope — maddening hope, irrational hope, hope that makes us keep going when everything reasonable tells us to lie down and give up — I know that too.

So, driven by both suffering and hope, I have to do my part to help people in this terrific and terrible world. I have to hand out the dollars and serve up the soup, but I also have to speak the words I am given, including these. Sometimes the soup matters more than the words. But the words don’t get eaten. The right word can come alive, and do things I never dreamed of.

And what is that word?

Let’s forget heaven tonight. Let’s forget hell today. Let’s set aside all thought of salvation or eternity. Let us forget demons and angels and the whole troop; abandon the Torah, leave off the Gospel, lay down the Koran. For a day or an hour, we’ll forget every holy word we have ever heard in our lives. And in that hour we’ll feel the suffering around us. We’ll think of the pain of our sister, the grief of our brother. Then in hope, let’s do any thing to ease that suffering.

Tomorrow we can go back to holy writ and hierarchy. But right now, join me in forgetting everything except the pain you feel, the pain I feel, the same pain in everyone around us — that, and the hope that pushes through pain.

I say these things because I know how the story goes. The great speaker arises, the words flow forth, a new faith springs up, the fire rekindles. But the story always ends the same way. The speaker dies, the words are forgotten, or misquoted, or sabotaged, or written down (worst of all for a living word) and everything returns to normal. The people who have seen a great light go back to walking in darkness. We focus on the strata of the world — who’s on top, who’s not. We start judging. The grit and dust of daily life chokes our inner fire. We forget compassion, in the old sense of that word: we forget that everyone around us suffers as we do, and rather than suffer with we suffer alone, and leave others to suffer alone as well.

I know the story. I know the cycle. I know how it goes.

I don’t like it.

So I’m not here to talk about Heaven or Hell. I’m not going to say who’s saved or who’s damned. I do have a little to say about the One Who Made Me Write This, but all of that is guesswork and notions wrapped around a handful of truth. Mostly, I think, the One is not so interested in how we worship; the One sees all belief. This time around, I think the One wants to know how we are compassionate, and how we are hopeful. Whose suffering have we seen today? And whose hopes have we built up?

So let us forget all religion, for a little while, and be good to someone. It may not save us or redeem us or purify us. It might change the world if enough of us do it, but I’m not holding my breath nor expecting it of any of you. All I know is that for one day, there will be a little less suffering and a little more hope.

And that’s what I have to say.

Four Stories: Shawn

This is a work of fiction, based on actual events, but the characterizations and dialogue are my own invention. See the note on “Four Stories: Jon” for more details.

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“Even if I did,” Shawn said, “why would I tell you?”

“I’ve got four good reasons why,” the cop said. “Mark Renninger. Tina Griswold. Ron Owens. Greg Richards. They were good officers, and they got killed for being good officers, and we’re trying to find who killed them.”

Shawn stared the undercover right in the eye. I got a lot more reasons why I shouldn’t tell you, motherf***er. Oscar Grant. Sean Bell. The brother in New York, funny name… Amadou Diallo, right. I could go on.

“Asshole, we could haul you down for obstructing justice,” said the cop with the rifle.

“Justice? That what you call it?” Shawn said. He regretted it instantly. They’d beat his ass for sure for that. But man, was it worth it.

There was a lot of yelling, but in the end the cops turned him loose. They didn’t have anything on him, anyway, except sassing them. Which wasn’t an arrestable offense, not with the reporters right there.

But when they catch up to Maurice, there’s nothing that’s going to stop them. Mad as they are right now, he could scratch his crazy ass and they’d shoot him dead. “Reaching for a weapon,” they’d say. Like Lovelle Mixon. Or King. F***, both Kings. FBI definitely shot Martin, after all.

They’ll shoot Maurice for sure.

Shawn was not exactly tight with his cousin — more like an uncle, really — but Maurice was good people. Sure, he played a little fast and loose with the law, but you had to, to get by. And he was always, always there to help out his family. He’d helped Shawn move, loaned him his car once or twice, stuff like that.

Yeah, FBI killed Martin, like they killed those other two… the Black Panthers. Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, right.

Maurice was also completely nuts, talking about how he could fly, that he was Jesus. If he was Jesus Christ, Shawn was the Angel Gabriel. And killing cops? S***, there was nothing more stupid than killing cops, even if cops did drop brothers every day of the week without even thinking or getting busted for it. But crazy or not, Maurice was family. Good people, or was when he wasn’t out of his mind. And you didn’t turn over family to the law because he was nuts, or turn him over for anything, especially when the cops would just be itching for an excuse to waste him.

Shawn wasn’t going to make it easy for them to do that. Keep the cops off his trail for a while, let things cool off, then have him go in, nice and peaceful, no guns. They’d take one look at him, call him crazy, ship him off to Western Hospital for a while, and then when he was back on his feet, he’d be back on the street, good as new.

Shawn glanced up at Beacon Hill ahead of him. Now, there was an idea…. he reached for his phone to call in a fake tip. Let the cops wander around in the woods for a while.

Not going to make it easy. You take care of your own.