Saturday, July 22, 2006

Thinking of Zacharias Moussaoui

A few months ago Zacharias Moussaoui was convicted of having some part in the attacks of September 11, 2001, and was sentenced to life in prison. That he wasn't executed is a victory of sorts for opponents of capital punishment, but not really a victory for the principle of humane and just treatment for offenders
Consider the statement at this website. Note that the writer feels life imprisonment was a more appropriate sentence than death, but note also the reasons:.
Second, by sentencing Moussaoui to life in prison at the federal Supermax facility in Colorado, we have done far worse than put him to death. He will be in solitary confinement for the rest of his life. He will have no visitors. He will have no contact with other inmates. He will be locked in his cell 23 hours a day. The only persons he will see will be the guards who will deliver his meals three times a day or escort him to a room for his daily 60 minute exercise period. That is it. He may, on occasion, be visited by some law enforcement or governmental official, but that's all. No friends. No relatives. No imams. Nobody.

To reiterate, we have done far worse than kill him. We have made him a non-entity, a living ghost who will quickly fade out of the the public's memory. And then he will die, as the presiding judge said, quoting T.S.Eliot, “with a whimper.” I can think of no better fate for him.


I am not an expert on the facts of Moussaoui's case. I don't know whether he actually had a role in 9/11, or whether he actually knew when and where it would take place. The jury heard the evidence and concluded that he did, so I tentatively assume that they are correct. I also don't know whether Moussaoui was mentally ill - though some of his actions and statements suggest that to a non-medical person like me. I certainly acknowledge, based on things he said in court, that he was a person filled with rage and that he directed that rage at all Americans (among others) - presumably including (not to be personal about it) ... me. So I have no problem seeing that innocent people should be protected from him, even if this means confining him for life.

BUT


If the above description of conditions for his confinement are accurate, I find them absolutely horrifying and absolutely unjustified. What could motivate such treatment except society's rage at his crime? How does this cruelty in any way redeem the suffering of the victims of 9/11? How does it advance justice? Or peace?

Jesus urged his followers to 'love your enemies and do good to those who hate you' (Luke 6:27-28). I have not taken this to mean that we necessarily have to feel warm and tender emotions toward specific people, but that we should intend (and act for) their good rather than their harm. Jesus modelled this attitude himself, even on the cross. Millions of people who think of themselves as followers of Jesus do not seem to want to apply this teaching in cases like Moussaoui's, but it seems to me that if we really become His Friends we will become able to do so: not only in the case of big and public and 'political' cases like Moussaoui's but in our daily interactions with "enemies" whose actions are merely inconvenient or annoying rather than evil.

I claim no great acheivement on this score, but I at least feel clear about what the direction should be.

I also wonder whether in fact Moussaoui is permitted visitors and whether he gets any? Is there anyone anywhere still looking out for his welfare, able to communicate with him and listen to him? Are Friends or others concerned for his rights and willing to believe that he is capable of growth?

These are sobering questions. I have been pondering them from some time and feel no clearness at all about what can be done.

- - Rich

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Another Brooklyn Quaker

Click this link to see still another Brooklyn Quaker, who - like me - is a non-member of Brooklyn Meeting.

Also - if I understand correctly - he or she is not only a Quaker but also a monk.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Appreciating "Bible Wonderings"

Contemplative Scholar has attracted some well-deserved interest in her blog Embracing Complexity, and its posts are sometimes listed in www.quakerquaker.org. For some reason, though, I haven't seen much reaction to her other blog, Bible Wonderings. To be fair, I may have missed the comments if there were any. I see that her last post was in April and I fear that she may have abandoned the project.

As far as it goes, it is a wonderful, piece-by-piece journal of her observations and questions as she works her way through a reading of the Bible. There is no fundamentalism here, and no false academic sophistication either. She comes with an open mind and fresh perspective to each strange and often difficult passage of this old old collection of books. Having begun with Genesis back in January, she had just finished with the First five books, not always the easiest reading, as of her last post. "I'm having trouble getting through Numbers" she said frankly on April 7, when she discussed Numbers 1-20 (and who doesn't find Numbers a little numbing?); but on April 20 she had finished the book and had some interesting things to say about it.

I recommend reading this fascinating blog, and hope that Contemplative Scholar will consider resuming her work on it.

- - Rich Accetta-Evans

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Surprise Difficulty at Meeting for Business

Last Sunday (July 9) was our monthly meeting for business at 15th Street. There were many many decisions to be made and this was mostly done in a very careful but open-hearted way with much mutual listening and common listening to the Spirit. Given that we met for five to six hours on a very hot uncomfortable day, I would say that it went remarkably well.

One matter that might have been expected to be easy for us, however, ended up detaining us much longer than we'd have liked - - and it is possible that the position I took was part of the reason.

We were asked by our Peace Committee to approve a letter to Representatives and Senators calling on the United States to release the names of all persons it is holding in custody, publish the charges against them (if any), allow them access to lawyers, and basically treat them as human beings. What was exciting about this was that it was not just to be a letter, it was to be carried by small groups of Friends to the offices of these Senators and Representatives in order to make a direct and personal appeal.

As far as I know, every single Friend in the room warmly approved of all these goals. You'd think that such a proposal would sail right through and we could get on with other matters (like whether the meeting should accept a large anonymous gift of stock in an unknown company).

Two Friends, however, (yes - I was one of them) expressed uneasiness about one sentence in the letter: something to the effect that this concern arose for us because of our deep spiritual belief, as Friends, that there is That of God in every person. I have a feeling that our uneasiness was not well-understood (and probably not well-communicated at least by me). Various ways around the difficulty were proposed by a number of Friends: from omitting the sentence altogether to rewording it in various ways which would be more acceptable to the other objector and me. But none of these proposals meeting general acceptance, the Meeting finally adopted the original minute. I did not ask to be minuted as standing aside or in opposition, since I thought that the action taken itself was more important than its specific language, but I remain disappointed that the Meeting did not find some way to more fully harmonize the truth as I saw it with the truth as seen by some other Friends.

This use of the phrase "That of God in everyone" has become very common among modern Friends in liberal meetings like mine. It probably dates from Rufus Jones' attempts to restate Quaker beliefs in modern terms in the early 20th century. Almost every commitment and testimony that Quakers affirm is said to flow from our belief that there is That of God in every one. Why are we against capital punishment? Because there is That of God in every one? Why are we in favor of equal rights for women, for gays, for racial and ethnic minorities? Because there is that of God in everyone. Why do we not have ordained and paid ministers in unprogrammed meetings? Because there is That of God in everyone. Etc. etc. I don't know whether this is felt to be the reason that Faith and Practice urges "Care should be taken that all of our members avoid participation in lotteries, gambling, and betting, including such schemes of chance that appeal as benevolences..." but probably someone could make the connection.

My problem with this is pretty simple: My reason for opposing war, oppression, capital punsihment, prisoner abuse (and gambling) is indeed religiously or spiritually grounded; but it is not that there is That of God in everyone. Nor, as far as I can tell, was that ever the reason given by any of our Quaker forbears before Friend Rufus Jones. (There may be examples in the Hicksite branch during the 19th century, but I don't know of them; I'm fairly sure that Elias Hicks himslf never said any such thing). George Fox did not give this as a reason that he couldn't accept a commission in the New Model Army. The famous declaration of Friends to King Charles II in 1660 made no mention of That of God in every one. John Woolman didn't mention it in any of his pleas for the poor, the oppressed, and the enslaved. Margaret Fell didn't mention it in "Women's Speaking Justified". . Thomas Lurting, the "Fighting Sailor turned Peaceable Christian" didn't give it as a reason for not fighting pirates. Even Lucretia Mott, no conservative she, did not use it as an argument for women's suffrage.

That of God in every one, after all, is the Light. (I will not open another front of debate by insisting right here and now that it is the Light of Christ Jesus). To be sure, it is the Light in me that tells me, if I haven't got the message any other way, that I shouldn't kill or maim or destroy or degrade or oppress other people. But not because there is also Light in them; on the contrary, I am not to do these things to fellow human-beings because they are flesh and blood and can be hurt and damaged and God's love for their flesh-and-blood selves is a model for me of the love and respect that I, too, should have for all. As far as That of God in them goes, I know I can't harm it. It is eternal, comes from God, existed before any human being did, and will persist when all of us are gone from the physical world. The last thing I should worry about, should I harm some person's physical body, is what will happen to That of God.

Of course, lots of Friends like to use this language about that of God, because they think it is what Quaker tradition has always taught. As I pointed out above, this is not true. Lewis Benson's ought-to-be-famous article "That of God In Every Man: What Did George Fox Mean By It?", published in 1970, ought to have settled that question for good. As Lewis pointed out, Fox used the phrase very very rarely and always in the context of exhorting Friends to testify and (for want of a better word) to evangelize. Fox called on Friends to "speak to" or "preach to" or "answer" That of God in every one (or every man; he used both expressions) and said that that of God in people would witness to them inwardly, convict them of their sins, and show them how to overcome. He clearly believed that "that of God" really was in every one; that it was placed in each of us by God to bring us to Himself, but he never once made the simple declarative statement "There is that of God in Every One", and certainly didn't make it fundamental to the Quaker message.

Why does this phrase continue to be so abused? I think it's because it lends itself so easily to a "translation" that goes down more easily in our secular age. When we say to the average person "there is that of God in every one" we are understood to be simply saying that every person is precious. Most non-Quakers will agree with this, though they might not go so far as to say that no person should be killed. Let me say that I, too, think every person is precious. I, too, will agree with most Friends that I would never be justified in killing anyone. But the clearest way for me to say that every person is precious is to say "Every preson is precious". The phrase that there is that of God in everyone I will reserve (if I choose to use it at all) as a way of talking about the wonder and challenge that await anyone and every one who will turn within and wait on it.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Conference Envy

There were lots of exciting Quaker blogposts emanating from the recent gathering of Friends General Conference and especially the Convergent Friends' Interest Group. It seems that an awful lot of Quaker bloggers were there and got to meet each other in the flesh, some for the first time.

Alas, I wasn't there. My life-direction of recent years hasn't lent itself to much travelling or conference-attendance. It's been quite awhile since I even made it to my own Yearly Meeting. So when I read about it on, for example, Robin's blog I get a strong "wish-I-was-there" feeling, and a yearning to meet and speak with all those Friends.

Connected to this is a yearning I also feel to communicate the spiritual/intellectual ferment of the Quaker blogosphere to Friends I know from my own Meeting, but who are not active bloggers.

It reminds me in some ways of the Young Friends of North America Conferences I attended in the late 60's/early 70's and the need some YF's felt then to meet with each other in other places and also to spread themselves out through the S of F in North America. One result was a number of "caravans" of YF's who travelled together in groups visiting local meetings and yearly meetings and holding threshing sesions on issues like draft resistance, war tax resistance, women's and men's liberation, and simplicity. In this way, those who participated got to know each other better, know Quakerism better, and communicate some of their ideas and passionate commitment to the wider (older) body of Friends.

Now, for the same reasons that I don't get to conferences I would not personally join any such "caravan" if one were formed by a group of bloggers today (and maybe most of the bloggers are too settled and geographically stable to do such a thing). But if it were formed and it wanted to visit NYC I would be very excited for them to come to my meeting, and I would work to help coordinate local hospitality.

I wonder if that could happen?

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Diabetes

Generally speaking, I don't put a lot of personal news in this blog. As I say in the title box, its purpose is to share "thoughts on Quaker Faith and Practice as they appear to me." My day-to-day life raises all sorts of issues about Quaker practice, but writing about it would normally mean writing about other people I interact with and I don't want my friends and family to think I will be discussing their personal lives on the world wide web.

There's also the point that my own personal life is probably not so vitally interesting to others as it is to me.

This week I am breaking the pattern to say something about my recent discovery that I have type 2 diabetes and that as a result of it I have already suffered some mild neuropathy (nerve damage).
For a couple of years I have known that my doctor was somewhat concerned with my blood sugar levels, but it somehow hadn't sunk in just how serious this was. I took metformin (Glucophage) for awhile, improved my diet and exercise, was able to stop the metformin, gradually went back to my old carelessness on diet and exercise, and now find that I really really have diabetes, and it isn't going to go away. I'm back on metformin, now measure my blood glucose levels several times a day, and carefully watch my diet to keep those levels somewhere close to where they should be. I'm even exercising again - a practice that in my case goes very much against the grain. I'm conscious that this diagnosis is potentially a great blessing to me, since it gives me a chance of preventing further nerve damage (not to mention all the other gruesome complications that can come with diabetes).

I find that some writers about type 2 diabetes want to reassure me that it isn't "my fault" and is probably genetic (though I could have prevented its symptoms by eating better). This seems like a double message. The important point for me is not to fix blame for the disease but to find the best way to cope with it and to be or become as healthy as possible while living with it. Somewhere in there I sense a parallel to the spiritual life in general, to all the weaknesses we fall prey to, and to the steps we can take, with God's help, to be strengthened.

I also want to take note of how encouraged I am, as I look around my Meeting, to note the example of other Friends who have been living, often for many years, with various chronic conditions. These Friends' ability to live well and continue giving to others gives me great comfort and some courage.
- - Rich Accetta-Evans

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