Thought Experiment: Gasoline Tax

A group called Northern California War Tax Resistance is starting up. A flyer outlines easy, low-risk ways to symbolically resist paying war taxes. Symbolic speech is important, and if enough of us would just take up the practices, it just might make a difference. However, I admit to wondering whether this counts as resistance, or merely marketing. I can't knock the intentions of my F/friends who are part of the group, but I just have to ask.

So, here's a thought experiment along somewhat similar lines, that also echoes Robin M.'s post, Does Sugar Equal Oil?

Scenario: The federal government has instituted a 50-cent-per gallon gasoline tax to cover expenses related to the war in Iraq.

For embellishment, imagine it's 2009 and an entirely new Presidential administration that you voted for in November 2008 has just assumed office (I don't care which party as long as you think it was a good choice). We could imagine the new administration is being fiscally responsible and making up for past as well as ongoing deficits, and is exhibiting integrity by tying the tax directly to its use.

Question: What would Quakers do?

Would they continue to behave the same as usual?

Would they always pay in cash and withhold the extra charge for the war tax? If so, would they submit to being arrested for nonpayment of taxes -- or maybe even theft -- if the station owner called the police? How long would they stay in jail before paying the tax and any accumulated fines?

Would they pay by credit card but modify the receipt to withhold payment of the tax before signing?

Would they carpool? Or join carsharing groups?

Would they sell their cars?

Would they refuse rides in privately owned vehicles?

Would they move to the country and buy a horse?

Would they just buy a Prius?

Before doing any of the above, would they consent to wait expectantly together in meeting for business, to ask the Inward Teacher what on earth they should do?

Extra Credit: How would your answers change if the 50-cent tax was to fund conservation measures and alternative energy research and not war? (Would Quakers drive more? ;)


Journey Toward Convincement: Part II

Is it too narcissistic to relate one’s own faith journey? Well, yes, but I suppose that’s what a blog is for. And it’s certainly part of many classics in the faith tradition, starting at least with Augustine—not that I wish to compare my paltry efforts to his!

Anyway, I previously wrote about going to the Presbyterian Church until I was about 12, when my mother finally asked, “Do you want to go to church?” And my answer was no. I did get a Bible from the pastor, perhaps when I graduated from 8th grade. I still have it as well as the card I got with it. (The pastor later moved away, back to his native Ohio, in part because his oldest son, who was associated with a radical group, was convicted of a crime and served many years in prison. I think the pastor felt there was some kind of stigma in our reactionary town, where rumor had it the Birchers had a steady income stream in the form of an amusement park they owned.)

When I was 16 or 17, I was totally blown away by a Harlan Ellison story in his collection The Deathbird Stories. This particular story re-imagined the creation story in such a way that the Creator of our universe was like a spoiled child who had created a plaything, and the real Creator of Everything was displeased and disappointed. As I look back on it, it’s obvious that Ellison was simply retelling an old gnostic creation story. It was somehow incredibly freeing to think that the God of popular myth and imagination, an old white-bearded and rather angry man in the sky, didn’t necessarily represent the truth and foundation of being for the universe.

In high school I also spent a considerable amount of time running. I was on both the cross-country and track teams. The experience of long-distance running very much gave me a practice that brought me closer to God, though I wouldn’t have named it that way at the time. There was the day that I was able to run 15 miles with my teammates, at an easy, conversational pace, and we stuck together as a group. There was something about being able to accomplish that physical task and to do it as part of a community that was just rich and delicious and wonderful.

Another time, the team took a route that led right past my suburban street. I grew up in a community that practically defines the word exurb. There were still three working farms within two miles of my house, and I took a bus to school every day at every level. My high school was probably three miles away, over a mountain (okay, it was the Second Watchung Mountain, and Robin M. says it doesn’t count because it’s only 500 feet tall, but still, it was big hill to run over!). So one day in my freshman year the team ran past my street. To actually be physically connected by own human power between the high school and home was an incredible, powerful experience. I had only ever gone that far in a car or bus before. Here's a photo of another great spot to go.

A few years later, when I was running one summer afternoon while home from college, I experienced an intense feeling of presence and being present while running past a field (owned by the Waage family, but I throw that in there only because of their interesting name). At least a borderline mystical experience if not full-on.

Another summer evening after I graduated from college, I took a 10-mile run along some back roads that still gives me chills to think of. I remember passing a horse in a field. There was just something primal in the encounter, as it quietly snuffed and I ran past in silence. Not sure why that detail mattered, but it was a great run altogether.

Meanwhile, in my day-to-day life, I found much spiritual nourishment from punk and postpunk music. Joy Division, New Order, The Fall. Beginning some time in 1981, I became an avid—nay, fanatical—listener of WPRB-FM, the radio station of Princeton University. For at least three summers in high school I listened to WPRB from six to eight hours a day. (One of the DJs I listened to several years later got a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation for his work in astrophysics.)

Jump forward to college… I had the chance to be a DJ at the self-same WPRB. In fact, by my senior year I was also the station manager and the chief janitor.

A breakthrough moment in college came when I read a trilogy by the Canadian novelist by Robertson Davies. I don’t even remember which trilogy (he wrote a few). I was struck in one of the novels by the remarks of a researcher, making reference to the gnostics, Sophia/wisdom, as feminine side of God.

Spurred perhaps in part by that, and my existing interest in spirituality-through-music, I began a seach of the library* stacks for books on spirituality. On the idea that I should start with where I came from, I read one book on Presbyterianism, and that was plenty! It was not the path for me. (*Yikes, as of today they have a link to Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's senior thesis on that page.)

Then I found the section on the gnostics. There were books in abundance, primarily scholarly translations of the texts found at Nag Hammadi. It was like gnostic overload! Some were in Dutch, German, or French. A way had opened.

Then I discovered Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels, and found out I could take her class on early Christianity! To be continued.

Praying for the Peacemakers

Like so many Friends, I've been praying for the safe return of Tom Fox, Norm Kember, Harmeet Sooden, and James Loney, of Christian Peacemaker Teams. I found it hard to concentrate at work today, as I kept checking CPT's website, Google news, and Common Dreams. (See Martin Kelley's "It's Witness Time for updates.)

As a small offering, I quote from Dan Seeger below. I finally got around to reading his essay, Inhabiting Both the Earthly City and the City of God, a message offered at the 1997 Peace Roundtable, sponsored by Pendle Hill at the Arch Street Meetinghouse, Philadelphia.

Dan spent a year as interim regional director of AFSC's Pacific Mountain Region, and I had the privilege of spending some time with him in worship at San Francisco Friends Meeting, in co-presenting a workshop on the peace testimony at SF Friends School a year ago, and in watching one of the Bush-Kerry debates at the house of a Friend. His is an extraordinary witness, and I found his words comforting:

"To be peacemakers in the modern era, as in any time, requires patience, love and endurance. To be peacemakers is to be willing to think broadly and comprehensively, yet to avoid oversimplification and ideology. It is to be willing to undertake political action which is wise and compassionate. It means standing apart from the disorder of the world, but at the same time engaging actively with all those seeking a community which includes all nations and all peoples. It is to recognize that we cannot be absolute masters of our historical circumstances, yet it is to be willing to contemplate the life and suffering of distant peoples, as well as those in our own back yards, and to respond in the circumstances in which we find ourselves to the needs of a universal humanity.

"It is to rely in our own weakness on the strength of God. It is to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit which allows us to see anew the situation we inhabit, the Holy Spirit which shows us what, in existing circumstances, must unfailingly be done. It is to realize that justice and peace are legitimately the goals both of the city of God and of the earthly political order, and that our life in religion and our life as citizens compliment rather than contradict each other. It is to do work which is neither desperate nor shrill, nor is it a dull and relentless drive toward some narrow ideologic end. Rather, we will become instruments of the Divine Creative Plan, constantly upbuilding that which folly threatens to dissolve, helping the world's people grow together as a community through the reconciling love of the One in whom all things are One."

PS Also, check out the Finding My Religion column on SFGate today, about Ward Powers' documentary film, 'ONE: The Movie,' on oneness and the meaning of life.