Convergent October, kind of: Ryan Bolger links Kos and Jesus

I haven't been maintaining my blog or reading other Quaker blogs much lately because I've been distracting myself with election news. Particularly by reading DailyKos, which critics have derided as "crack for liberals."

Well, imagine my surprise today during a little lunchtime reading to see a link from Kos himself to Ryan Bolger, Associate Professor of Church in Contemporary Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary—and thesis advisor to C. Wess Daniels, Quaker theologian, blogger, and QuakerQuaker contributor.

Here's what Kos wrote (look for the second bullet point in the "midday open thread"): "Theologian Ryan Bolger is mashing up Taking on the System [Kos's book] with the story of Jesus.... My book is obviously forward-thinking, but it's kind of cool seeing it applied to a completely unforseen field like this."

Here are the links to Bolger's posts:

Part 1: Jesus and Kos — A Mashup of Biblical Proportions

Part 2: Kos and Jesus Mashup #2 — Moving Past the Gatekeepers

Part 3: Jesus and Kos #3 — Mobilization

This is from part 2:
"Jesus-following bloggers must change the conventional wisdom of the church and the media through creating an alternative message to the status quo of church and culture. As they connect online, they facilitate conversations that threaten to bypass the gatekeepers of traditional church structures.... In addition, they push the culture to reconsider the practices that do not mesh with the dreams of God for humanity.... These bloggers do not have the power on their own to be the 'church'.... However, they can push both the church and the culture to listen to what they have to say and move the conversation and practices into more inclusive, just, participatory, and egalitarian directions. In turn, this will transform the conventional wisdom on what it means to follow Jesus."
To me, that could sum up what the "convergent Friends" aspire to be about, at least those who aspire to follow Jesus. How can we better see the conventional wisdom of whichever branch of Friends we're part of, and move the conversation?


juju said...

I'm so addicted to Kos...but haven't had a chance to follow those links. Thanks!

John Kindley said...

It's a little disconcerting to realize how important politics is to my fellow Quakers, and how they so uniformly gravitate to a place like Kos. Well, fortunately I feel free when occasion demands it (e.g. when somebody makes so clear while socializing after rise of meeting that of course they're voting for Obama) to speak my mind among my fellow meeting members and buck the assumptions that most of them share -- not without raised eyebrows and some tentative expressions of disapproval, but also with the sense that I won't be written off and automatically looked down upon, because after all I'm a recognized sincere contributing member of the meeting. Basically, what I'd like Quakers to examine more closely is the coercive nature of politics and government, and whether as I believe politics is the extension of war by other means, and whether our peace testimony suggests a more agovernmental attitude than the one we seem to have.

Chris M. said...

@Paula: You’re welcome.

@John: I think you’re right about the coercive nature of politics and governance. The simplest explanation I’ve read recently is from Derrick Jensen, from Endgame. Imagine someone who is getting evicted. After proper notice is given, the sherriff’s deputies knock at the door to carry out the eviction. The person invites the deputies in to dinner. Then at the end of the meal, he tells them to leave his home. Will they? No, of course not. They will not leave until the tenant is out, by force if necessary. So, at root, there is truth to the notion that property rights are based on a system that is “enforced” – sometimes, literally by force.

Still, I’m not sure that’s sufficient reason to remove myself completely from politics and property, especially if I haven’t sold everything I have, given the proceeds to the poor, and followed Jesus.

Here are some of the lines of thought I have in response:

1. As a citizen of the United States, I bear a tremendous moral responsibility. I have more influence, little though it may be, over the U.S. government than does a resident of Iraq or Guatemala, for example. I feel a moral responsibility to reduce the violence perpetrated by my country on other countries -- and in this country, too, for that matter. This is a line of thinking I picked up from Noam Chomsky especially.

2. A compelling point can be made that Jesus’s response to the Roman empire of his day was not overtly “political” in the sense of participating in the parties of his day. Yet his message -- the good news that people could bypass the power of the empire by tuning into the power of God -- was a direct challenge to the powers that were, to the point that they executed him. Even an “apolitical” or “agovernmental” position is in fact a political position relative to the existing system, whatever form that system may have.

3. Some people point out that Anabaptist communities are usually much less engaged in politics than Quakers. My response to that is I’m a Quaker, not an Anabaptist! Quakers have engaged with the powers that be since their formation. George Fox met with Oliver Cromwell. Friends invented "lobbying" by badgering members of Parliament in the lobby to end the persecution of Friends and to legislate toleration. And the history of Quaker involvement continues through the campaign to end the slave trade, prison reform, and the like.

4. I’m under no illusion that Sen. Obama is anything like a pacifist. He has stated and restated his support for militarism. In particular he has promised expansion of the ill-advised US war in Afghanistan. I see this as “realpolitik” and a bid to be electable. If the grassroots pressures the administration and Congress enough, and given the financial wreckage of the US economy and national debt right now, we may be able to make him break this campaign promise!

5. You have some fine company in people like Thy Friend John of 15th Street Meeting in NYC, who has a scruple against voting. He posted about it in a blog comment:

Finally, I realize you were making a bigger point about systems of government themselves, and not just voting. But it's a few days before Election Day, and the vote is where ordinary citizens plug in directly and legitimize the system by participating, so it's what I decided to focus on. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

John Kindley said...

Chris M.:

Thank you for your very thoughtful response to my comment. I wholeheartedly agree that Quakers have engaged with the powers that be since the beginning, and that an apolitical or agovernmental position can be characterized as itself political. I certainly don't think Quakers should be apathetic in the face of what the government does. Our lobbying for the abolition of slavery, and even better, our scofflaw participation in the "illegal" Underground Railroad, are parts of our history of which we can be justly "proud" and seek to emulate.

I've always found it significant that Jesus was executed and tortured by the State.

You noted that voting is where ordinary citizens plug in directly and legitimize the system by participating, and in that perceived legitimization is where my objection to voting primarily lies.

Chris M. said...

John: I thought as much, and I carefully phrased my last statement using the word "legitimize."

I have concluded that in this election, I need to legitimize the system by participating because it's a lever for real, positive change.

From where you live, you may or may not realize that the population of the United States is actually much more progressive on the issues than the subset of the population who vote regularly. I have the theory that if nearly all eligible United States citizens regularly voted, this country would present quite a different face to itself and the rest of the world. So while that's an argument for MORE participation, not less, I think it's still open to discussion.