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

If Only the Czar Knew!

In Czarist Russia, centuries ago, conditions for the serfs could get truly appalling. Living in an agricultural society in a cold, dry land, famine was a frequent visitor; living in an autocratic society, taxation was basically armed theft by the lords, the boyars. The serfs were therefore caught between the climate and the hierarchy. But they held out hope for rescue: their perpetual refrain was, “If only the czar knew!”

The czar was the agent of Jesus, you see — the sainted ruler, Christ’s agent on earth. Since he was so holy, he would rein in the boyars and protect the people (and who knows, he might ask Christ for a mild winter, too). Since he obviously wasn’t doing this, however, it must be because he had no idea how his people were suffering. So the serfs reasoned, or so goes the story. In 1905, therefore, a group of serfs and low-ranking priests took a petition for a relief of sufferings to the czar at the Winter Palace, relying on his goodness, and were massacred for their trouble. There were probably quite a few serfs who had guessed the truth before that, but afterward it was blindingly obvious.

For the czars were mortal — some good, some bad, some totally ineffectual, not a few insane — and they were bound up in the system the serfs bemoaned. Rather than being above and apart from the outright robbery of the boyars, rather being a potential intercessor, the czars benefited enormously from the system as it was. To intercede would have been to cut off the branch they were sitting on. So for nearly a thousand years, it was “If only the czar knew!” while the czar knew all along. Continue reading