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7.31.2007

Call Me Irresponsible

today's UPI column

So There I was...

In a rural town in Southern Oregon doing domestic violence prevention work. Traveling preacher. Traveling feminist. Public Quaker. And the guy in the back was yelling at me.

We were having a series of educational meetings: warning signs of abusive personality, universal rights of women, how to get a restraining order. That sort of thing. At the time, the county we were in had the highest rate of domestic violence in the state.

The first evening a man came in and stood in the back. He was pretty scary looking. Not a big fan of the bath. Not a big fan of clean clothing. Apparently not a big fan of me and my material, because every time I said anything, he shouted at me. If I said “X” he yelled “NOT X.” If I said “Y” he shouted, “Y is a lie” and added a few cuss words. I could have had him removed. One of the local leaders asked me if I wanted them to shut him up or throw him out, and I said “No, leave him be, for once I am not preaching to the choir – this guy needs to be here.”

So I just kept going. The next morning the guy came back, this time he took a seat and confined his comments to loud grumbling. He came back every session, until Sunday morning he came and sat in the front row. He had clearly washed his face – just his face, and maybe put on a clean shirt. I preached on the high opinion that God has of humanity, how we are loved, and that this love is extended to all, even the perpetrators of bad acts. Part way through my message, at the reading of some scripture passages about how God feels about you, this fellow suddenly caught my attention. He was shaking, silently; it looked like he was having an epileptic fit. Then there was noise, sobbing, and it was clear that the man was having some unaccustomed emotions. This time the elders did take him out, and I am told that he confessed to a long bad life and especially to a lot of spousal abuse. The elders paid a visit to his home, and provided assistance to the woman who lived there. The last time I saw the man he was sitting on the floor of the meetinghouse, playing with the babies, clean, sober and transformed.

This week they called Barack Obama irresponsible. They called him naive. This for saying that he would be willing to talk to our nation’s enemies. Not compromise with our enemies, not make concessions to our enemies, just to communicate with them, in his words to “to look them in the eyes and say what needs to be said.”

“How foolish, how unexperienced! They will use you as a tool for propaganda!” Say the more experienced.

Well, as for me, if this is inexperience, then we need more people with less experience. Because the inside the belt position is a position of fear, not courage: fear of being used, fear of looking bad, and fear of failure. In their thinking you do not go in and talk to the enemy until your agents and minions have already wired the deal. Then the leaders go in, pretend to hold talks, and look like heroes. They give the example of Nixon and the Chinese, where Kissenger brokered the deal in advance.

I say we need more heroes, not more people who want to look like heroes.

Moral courage takes risks. It does the thing that is unexpected.

So many of the people who criticize Obama’s position claim, quite publicly, to be followers of Jesus. This confuses me. Jesus said,

“You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44

I am certain that “love your enemies” includes talking to them. It certainly precludes trying to kill them. It does not necessarily mean letting them have their way, but I think it does mean letting them have their say, and trust that the truth will be apparent.

I do not want to live in a theocracy. I do not expect politicians to run the country according to my religious opinions. I do not wish to legally impose my moral standards on others. But I wish people would stop proclaiming loyalty to the teachings of Jesus when they are really living out the philosophies that He specifically denounced. It would be more honest. It would be more clear.

But if they wanted a faith-based position for foreign policy, I have one to suggest. It is the words of George Fox one of the founders of Quakerism. He had this advice for his followers traveling about the globe.

“Let all nations hear the sound by word or writing. Spare no place, spare no tongue or pen, but be obedient to the Lord God; go through the work, be valiant for the truth upon the earth; and tread and trample down what is contrary. Ye have the power, do not abuse it...Keep down and low; and take heed of false joys that will change…This is the word of the Lord God to you all, and a charge to you all in the presence of the living God; be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.”
(G. Fox 1656)


To summarize:
Proclaim the truth you know.
Use every method of communication possible.
Trample deceit. (Not trample deceived persons!)
Do not abuse your power.
Stay humble
Live what you believe.
Presume that ‘the other’ has as much of God as you have.

Heresy, you say? That of God in everyone? That of God in Hugo Chavez? That of God is Osama Bin Laden?

I give you the Gospel of John, the first chapter the ninth verse.
“That was the true Light, (speaking clearly of Christ) which lighteth every person that comes into the world.”
John was not naïve about evil. He lived with the Romans; they killed all his fellow apostles before they got him. He lived through some of most appalling persecution, genocides and atrocities that human kind has ever committed. And he believed that every human had innate goodness somewhere in them.


It is possible to speak truth, even to evil. But you have to speak.


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