Read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine!

Naomi Klein explains it all for you in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. I highly recommend it.

The offenses committed at the highest levels of the United States during the past eight years were no accident, nor the result of bumbling idiots, nor a mere individual venality.

They were the logical, policy-based outcomes of the past 28 years of "free market" policy in the United States, and of the last 43 years (since Indonesia's 1965 coup) as practiced by the U.S. abroad.

The book helped tie together the last several decades of U.S. policy in a way that had simmered in my brain, but had never quite cohered so clearly. I learned a lot about what really happened in South America in the 1970s, for example, as well as in Russia in the 1990s.

Klein begins the book with an excruciating illustration of the effects of "brainwashing" experiments conducted at McGill University in the early 1960s. These were in fact regression techniques designed to break down personalities. The same tactics relabeled as "harsh interrogation techniques" and used throughout the world by the U.S. in the last seven years, in a way that previously only U.S. clients had carried out directly.

These techniques affirm the importance of narrative in our lives: "Without a story, we are, as many of us were after September 11, [2001,] intensely vulnerable to those people who are ready to take advantage of the chaos for their ow ends. As soon as we have a new narrative that offers a perspective on the shocking events, we become reoriented and the world begins to make sense once again. Prison interrogators intent on inducing shock and regression understand this process well.... The same is true for wider societies. Once the mechanics of the shock doctrine are deeply and collectively understood, whole communities become harder to take by surprise, more difficult to confuse -- shock resistant." (pp. 458-9)

It reminds me of the days on Quaker blogs, circa 2005 or 2006, when several of us were talking about "personal narrative theology" as a 21st century approach to theology.

This was a great line, too: "The only prospect that threatens the booming disaster economy on which so much wealth depends -- from weapons to oil to engineering to surveillance to patented drugs -- is the possibility of achieving some measure of climatic stability and geopolitical peace." (pp. 427-8)

Finally, there was a section in which she compares the concept of "The Rapture," when the saved are swept up into Heaven, with the understanding that wealthy people have that they will be swept up and away from their gated communities by helicopter in any big disaster, so they don't need to worry.

On earth as it is in heaven, indeed.


Challenging ourselves to discover life's greatest answers

The new book by John Dear, SJ, is called The Questions of Jesus, and the subtitle is, "Challenging ourselves to discover life's greatest answers."

The book is literally arranged around the questions that Jesus asks in the Gospels, grouped thematically. I have been reading a question or three a day from the book for the last month, and it has been helpful.

Richard Rohr says in the foreword of the book, "I am told that Jesus only directly answers 3 of the 183 questions that he himself is asked! This is totally surprising to people who have grown up assuming that the very job description of religion is to give people answers and to solve people's dilemmas. Apparently this is not Jesus' understanding of the function of religion because he operates very differently."

Dear is a long-time peace activist and teacher of the gospel of nonviolence. He spent time in prison with Philip Berrigan, SJ, after they participated in a Plowshares anti-nuclear-weapons action together. I read his autobiography recently, too, called A Persistent Peace: One Man's Struggle for a Nonviolent World. It was interesting, in a voyeuristic way because of all the well-known people he has worked with. The most interesting stories, though, had more to do with the ordinary individuals or communities he has worked with, as a teacher, and later as a parish priest in New Mexico.

Overall, I find The Questions of Jesus a much deeper book. It has such a gentle and loving tone to it, too. I just finished this passage about this question: "Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?" (Matthew 6:27; Luke 12:26).

Dear concludes the reflection on these questions:
"Every major religion suggests that they key to a peaceful life is the letting go of control and worry and living fully aware in the present moment. If we can live in the freedom of the present moment and center ourselves in the peace of God, we will find life turned upside down. We will no longer worry about the past or the future but will be fully alive to the present. And by being fully present to ourselves, others, and God, we will live our lives to the fullest. When we come to the moment of our death, as Thoreau said, we will not have wasted the gift of life but will have lived it to the full." (p. 102)
May you live your life to the full as well.


Environmental Sabbath

At the winter session of College park Quarterly Meeting on 1/17, in worship sharing a Friend came up with the idea of having an environmental sabbath. This would be a day without, or with greatly reduced use of, the modern conveniences that result in greenhouse gas emissions -- cars... electricity... email.

If several people in a Friends meeting agreed to do it on the same day of the week or month, it would be a spiritual discipline shared by a community. That would both enable participants to support one another, and it would give one the sense of greater impact because it's not just an individual or single household, but a collection of people making a change.

Kind of like The Compact, or Buy Nothing Day.

This is worth thinking about some more.


Geez Magazine cover story

The cover of the winter 2008 issue of Geez magazine features a story by Chris Moore-Backman called "Walking with Gandhi." Chris is a member of San Francisco Meeting, sojourning in Arizona.

Hat tip to Darryl Brown, who designed the cover and mentioned it on his blog, Darryl Designs.


Seeking Middle East Peace and Justice (vigil flyer)

This is the text of the leaflet that will be handed out this week at the San Francisco Friends Meeting's vigil for peace and justice, held every Thursday from noon to 1 pm at the federal office building, 450 Golden Gate Avenue, San Francisco. Text subject to last-minute edits depending on the situation.

As bombs financed by our own tax dollars rain down on Gaza and Israeli troops invade, we pray for the people of Israel and Palestine, and seek pardon for our role in the destructive conflict there. We grieve the suffering of all in the region, and the devastating consequences of the reliance on weapons and military strategy to address human conflict. We grieve the disproportionate and retaliatory approach of the Israeli government to the threats to its national security, just as we have grieved our own country's blind and wrongheaded response to the attacks suffered on U.S. soil in 2001. Both serve only to spread despair, to strengthen the cause of extremism and to sow the seeds of heightened future violence.

As some of us have done every week since 2001, we stand here in witness to another way forward: a way of listening, mutual respect and understanding, of reflection, repentance and reconciliation. As people of many organized faiths and none, and as people of the United States, we take this time to focus on our own responsibility and on what we can do to address our complicity in the violent and soul-denying policies our government pursues at home and throughout the world. For some of us it is an opportunity to pray, to examine our lives for the seeds of war and to begin the work of removing them.

The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem must be political. Rather than supporting Israel's assault on Gaza, our government must take prompt action to help bring about an end to the violence. It is not enough to urge Israel to “avoid civilian targets” and urge Hamas to stop the missile attacks. If this spiraling violence continues, both Palestinians and Israelis will suffer and the risk of a broader confrontation increases. The U.S. must demand a halt to the air and ground offensive, and discontinue military support to all parties.

Even absent the ongoing military incursion, the continued closure of Gaza and resulting shortages of vital food, fuel and medicine, has created a tragic humanitarian crisis that must also be addressed quickly. The U.S. together with international partners should seek restoration of the cease-fire, and reopening of the borders under United Nations supervision. Peace is the only lasting security.


We invite all in agreement to join us. We vigil every Thursday from noon until 1:00 pm here at the old San Francisco federal building on the corner of Larking Street and Golden Gate Avenue.

The vigil was started by two Quaker groups—American Friends Service Committee and San Francisco Friends Meeting, who have now been joined by Buddhist Peace Fellowship and Episcopal Peace Fellowship. Participants come from a range of backgrounds. Some of us are silent, praying or meditating. Others do not keep silence and are happy to speak with you.


American Friends Service Committee
65 Ninth St., San Francisco, CA 94103, 415 565-0201,

Buddhist Peace Fellowship
P.O. Box 3470, Berkeley, CA 94703, http://www.bpf.org/
Episcopal Peace Fellowship
415 824-0288, http://www.epfnational.org/

San Francisco Friends Meeting
65 Ninth St., San Francisco, CA 94103, 415 431-7440,

To contact the vigil, email: sfvigil -at- mac.com



Quick Quaker Talks: An Experiment at SF Friends Meeting

If you'd been to San Francisco Friends Meeting over the holidays, you'd have heard me announce that the meeting's Ministry and Oversight Committee is trying an experiment in January, tentatively entitled "Quick Quaker Talks." These will be brief discussions at the end of meeting for worship.

The plan is that for about 15 or 20 minutes following meeting for worship and announcements, a couple of experienced Quakers will give their take on some frequently asked Quaker questions—FAQQ! Then we'll have time for others to chime in with their experiences—and their questions. All are welcome.

My current plan is to kick off the series this Sunday (1/4) by asking, "How do Quakers know when to speak in meeting for worship?"

Though subject to change, here are the suggested future topics:
  • 1/11: Why do Quakers meet for silent worship rather than meditate alone?
  • 1/18: What do Quakers think of Jesus? Are Quakers Christian?
  • 1/25: What are the Quaker testimonies and what do they "testify" to, anyway?
It's our hope that this experiment will allow us to get to know one another, our spiritual lives, and our faith tradition a little better. Since it's an experiment, we can always change it "as Way opens."

Originally posted to San Francisco Meeting's email group. Essentially, we're doing "inreach" to our own meeting in a miniature version of the Quaker Quest series pioneered by London Friends, and now promoted in the U.S. by Friends General Conference.

Update, 1/6/09: We had seven people participate for the debut event. There was one person there for the first time, a Haverford student home on break in San Francisco who had been to our meeting a time or two, a person who had attended about a dozen meetings elsewhere, an attender from our meeting who's been coming for about two years or so, two members of Ministry and Oversight, and me. It was a good discussion, going far past the fifteen minutes alloted, probably more like 30 or 35. There was opportunity for sharing and discussion as well as questions. The one drawback: The potluck lunch was mostly gone by the time we were finished. Next time, we may plan to get food first, then have a discussion table. Either that or we talk quicker and end sooner.