A New Lamb’s War

May 26, 2014 § 9 Comments

Uh-oh.  I’m not going to start a new series on “God”, after all. I think I’ll leave off that kind of theologizing for a while. Suddenly, that kind of thinking and writing just feels like so much farting in the windstorm, as a college friend of mine used to say. And a Quaker talking to Quakers about Quakerism—sometimes it feels like holding the mic up to the speakers.

Meanwhile, I’m going through some kind of transition. Not really a crisis, but I sense a change coming.

I’m moving in the next couple of weeks and moving makes you rethink things. First, you decide to leave the home you’ve made and the place you live in and you’ve decided on a new home and a new place (and a new meeting). And then you go through your stuff and decide what to keep and what to pass on and what to throw out. That sweater I inherited from Dad; it’s really too big for me—donate. Three cartons of bioregional literature—keep it; that’s the direction I’m going. You find things you had forgotten about and you end up unpacking parts of yourself that you had forgotten. You redefine yourself, in some ways.

And I am moving from the country to the city. Now: woods on two sides, meadow on the other two sides; peepers in the woods, rabbits in the yard, a new catbird in the yard this year—at least, his song has radically changed from last year. The neighborhood mockingbird was singing when I went to bed at midnight. (That’s one of the reasons the mockingbird is my totem: they sing at night in the spring; and some of them dance when they sing, jumping up a foot or two and fluttering their wings. I love that.) When we left the new house in Philadelphia a few days ago, I heard a mockingbird singing to the northeast not far away. Made me so happy. Yesterday, we were there and so was he, on top of a utility pole; and he was dancing! Leaping up into the air a couple of feet and fluttering his wings. I don’t think I had seen a mockingbird dance in ten years. It brought tears of thanksgiving to my eyes.

And two of my friends have died in the last month. I had already been thinking about death a lot; I’m 66.

And I read an article in The New York Times Magazine about a British environmental activist who has realigned himself. He’s decided to stop deluding himself that all this activism will work. He hasn’t given up; he’s decided that integrity demands that he acknowledge that we are losing, that many of the trends toward eco-collapse are now unstoppable and that the consequences are too dire to ignore. It’s time to start thinking about how to deal with the inevitable: massive disruption from global warming, a species die-off that will usher in a new geologic epoch, the utter destruction or distortion of all primeval habitats and ecosystems and of the indigenous peoples who live in spiritual relation to those places. The demonic hegemony of global corporate capitalism.

He has become an apocalyptic. 

I have been an intellectual apocalyptic since the early 1970s, since Watergate, since the fall of Saigon, since the murder of John Lennon, since the rise of Ronald Reagan. My salvation is that I’m upbeat by emotional temperament, so, though I can think myself into a funk in ten minutes, I can stop thinking and drift back up again. 

When I came back to the Bible, I made a special study of biblical apocalyptic. I understand the books of Daniel and Revelation. I understand Mark 13. I understand David Koresh.

And I fear them all. For the apocalyptics are always right about what’s going wrong and about what’s going to happen, and always wrong about why it’s going to happen and when. When, amidst the innumerable forest fires, the West loses its water, as it inevitably will, the Christian apocalyptics will be ready with their “I told you sos” and they will welcome the chaos as a sign. When the next category five hurricane drowns New York City, as it inevitably will, they will know that they star in the greatest drama in the six-thousand-year history of the world, and they will relish their role. When the United States government lurches more quickly toward authoritarianism than it is doing now, even under Barack Obama, we will see them prodding the Beast with the pointy end of their crosses, which after all is a sword planted point down in the Place of the Skull.

It’s time for me to realign, as well.

For in no essential way does traditional Quakerism directly speak to any of this—to dancing mockingbirds, to spiritual ecology, to a religious culture of place, to the defeat and despair of the apocalyptic. Unless we reignite the Lamb’s War . . .

I love Quakerism. But I am at heart a pagan. And an apocalyptic; by which I mean that it seems obvious to me that people only really change in radical ways when horrible things force them to.

When I say that I am a pagan, I mean that in some fundamental ways my spiritual identity is tied to the natural world. 

In reality, though, my spiritual identity is quite a mash-up. The current superstructure is Quaker through and through. But the formative experience that shaped my inner life came in a sweat lodge and I was given a relationship with a deva whose name is Fire in the Earth. And I had journeyed for long years much earlier through drug-catalyzed psychedelic landscapes, in which I learned that spiritual energy infuses everything and that the human nervous system can open the doors of perception to an a-stone-ishing world of life-force-in-motion. And after that, I journeyed for long years through eastern religions, and yoga in particular, where I learned some of the science of consciousness and some technologies for deepening and focusing this human consciousness.

Quakerism does not speak directly to any of this. When I found Friends, I thought at first I could not transplant myself into this religion. A dear F/friend, who was a Wiccan witch, convinced me that I could take all my previous spiritual gifts with me, so I joined. And here I am.

But I’ve never been sure that Carolyn was right. For one thing, as I have said many times in this blog, I have since become settled that Quakerism is a Christian religion and that I am a guest in the house that Christ built. And just what kind of relationship do Jesus Christ and Fire in the Earth have with each other? Do they look at each other with distrust, or something more hostile than that, while I sit there in meeting for worship trying to commune with them both?

And traditional Christianity is worse than a total loss when it comes to the fate of the planet. It is not one of the demonic drivers of eco-destruction, like our carcinomic capitalist economy. It is in many ways an enabler, though. But mostly, it simply isn’t interested. Fifty-plus years since Rachel Carson published Silent Spring and Christian theologians began responding with their earth stewardship theology, and still more than half the country (if you believe the polls, which, I admit, are almost impossible to believe)—more than half the country believes that Genesis tells the true story of creation. 

And how can you blame Christianity for this failure to invest the natural world with spiritual commitment? Jesus has almost nothing to say about how to live on this earth in a sane and sustainable way ecologically. If he doesn’t talk about it, why should we?

Although: the church is utterly blind to his example—how he could have been a wilderness guide to the deserted places of Galilee and Judea. How he included the sacred landscape of his homeland in his own spiritual life. Is there even one single seminary in the country—or the world, for that matter—that sends its seminarians into the wilderness for 40 days as part of its spiritual formation program, as Jesus himself did, and John the Baptizer before him? (Are you listening, Earlham School of Religion?) Do they not all send their graduates to small, rural parishes to learn their chops, only to move them on to big suburban parishes with lots of money as the ideal trajectory, leaving the country and country people bereft of spiritual succor in the face of the destruction of their way of life?

We are going down, and not one established religious community is seriously engaged. Except the apocalyptics, of course. Only small indigenous communities scattered here and there, trying to fend off corporations after their land, and the dominant culture after their children, and the loss of their traditional ways after their minds and hearts and bodies—and losing.

What would an apocalyptic Quakerism look like? What would we be doing if we acknowledged that the shit is already flying off the blades of the fan? How would we be preparing to live in a totally human-made, machine-crafted world disinhabited by whole phyla of our fellow-creatures, under the eye of Pharaoh, whose heart is ever hardened, force-fed commodities mass-produced by a mass-extraction, mass-production pipeline bolted to our gullets, under a firmament heated to extinctive temperatures, and in the path of one gigantic tornado after another? 

Do our meetings have the wisdom and the courage of this British environmentalist, to face the wave of oncoming suffering, both human and nonhuman, and begin to prepare a ministry of palliative care, while we continue to fight tooth and nail with the ferocity of a bear in a trap, not because we have faith in our success, but because we have no choice? Because we have heard the word of the Lord, as it were, and we have the fire in the belly. Only the Lord—she’s a Lady.

Is Yahweh concerned for the fate of the earth? He’s destroyed it once and promises to do it again, this time by fire. Is Jesus Christ concerned for the fate of the earth? He was an apocalyptic, too. 

We don’t know. So far, the signs are not good. 

But Gaia is concerned. Her very life is on the line. And She still sings and dances as the mockingbird, while she screams the death of her seas. 

What about us Quakers? Can we hear her song? Can we hear her screams? Can we reignite the Lamb’s War, inflamed by the apocalypse of the Word? 

§ 9 Responses to A New Lamb’s War

  • Sarah says:

    I’ve been reading and rereading this for two weeks now. I came to Quakerism through Paganism and I am also still pagan at heart, struggling to understand the relationship between the Quakers’ Jesus, the Divine Fire that awes me in visions, and the many gods I’ve honored and prayed to.

    I feel like I was born into a golden age – the moment just before we realize we can’t have it all forever. The tipping point for massive environmental change is behind us. The tide is coming in. Lots of people are prepping for their own survival, but that’s not good enough for me. I know human nature, but I also know human nature isn’t all there is. I’ve always cynically expected apocalypse to mean every man for himself in violent competition for scarce resources, but today something whispers in me, “What if it doesn’t have to be that way?”

    • I said in my post that it seems to me that biblical apocalyptics, anyway, usually do understand the negative forces and trends in their society that are driving destruction, but they usually are wrong about when it is going to happen. They also are usually wrong about its scale. They envision that the world itself is going to be destroyed and remade. Of course, their world was a lot smaller than ours, so maybe it was easier to imagine its total destruction. But what eventually happens is that the world as they know it is destroyed.

      This was certainly the case for Jesus the apocalyptic. The apocalypse came as he predicted before all of his followers had died. The first Jewish War, which started in 65 CE, though not what he had envisioned, did bring an end the the Judaism his people had practiced for centuries and to the state of Judah itself (though the temple was not totally destroyed, with no block on top of another, until the second Jewish War in 140). The revelations that came out of the ashes were Pauline Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism.

      I imagine it will be the same for us. The world as we know it will cease to exist. Though this time, for the first time, the whole planet will be involved. But I expect collapses to be regional, serial, and the degradation of the planetary condition to be incremental. New deserts here, a city destroyed there. massive migrations rippling out, as they are right now from Syria and parts of central Africa.

      My question is, where do Quakers fit in? First, as a prophetic voice that is so loud and insistent that it cannot be ignored. Second, as models of a new way to live. Third, as ministers to those who are suffering. Fourth, as peacemakers in the waves of unrest that will occur. And fifth, as a counterargument to the apocalypticists and nihilists who will welcome this destruction.

  • Though deeply disturbed by the ecological doomsday scenario Steven portrays in “A New Lamb’s War,” I also found myself, on one level, refreshed by it, for at last, someone’s presenting a “Plan C,” because it looks like no one is going to implement Lester R. Brown’s admirable Plan B, or anything like it, in time to save the planet from being cooked. Plan C, as Steven lays it out, accepts the horrible fact that the planet may already be doomed to be cooked, because we’re acting too late: so how should we, as a people of God, respond to this dismal endgame? What will our Lamb’s War be like? An answer seemed to come to me as I said the Lord’s Prayer this morning.

    First of all, it’s not we Quakers who must reignite the Lamb’s War, but the Lamb, our Shepherd. We are His flock; our part is merely to follow. This may seem obvious, but it’s easily overlooked. It may be that the Lamb Christ is using Steven to kindle the fire He intends to build, and perhaps me, John, also. But it’s important that Christ, not Steven or John, be recognized as the initiator and guide of any Lamb’s War that might be mobilized in these difficult days. We need to follow the One who knows what He’s doing.

    Second, when we pray as Jesus advised us, we ask God to see to it that God’s will be done on earth, that we get our daily bread, and that our trespasses be forgiven. “If we ask him for bread, will he give us a stone?” (Matt. 7:9, Luke 11:11.) True, it may require a miracle, even many miracles, to keep the daily bread coming and to make God’s will (for a healthy and bountiful creation) prevail rather than the enemy’s will, which seems to be for human selfishness, stupidity and self-will to destroy God’s gift of life on earth. But if we could only see it, we live from moment to moment by an infinity of divine miracles. We who are old enough to remember the U.S.S.R. survived the Cold War without having the whole world nuked into oblivion: how many miracles might that have taken?

    Third, we’re advised that we can only expect forgiveness of our own trespasses if we forgive others theirs (Matt. 6:15). Now I must say here that those corporate destroyers of the earth, and their hirelings in government, and their toadies the mindless consumers, and those liars the climate-change deniers, and those smug religious jerks that gloat over their hopes of being raptured while the rest of us writhe in torment, really try my will to forgive! And in this I find myself in good company, because even the four-and-twenty elders before God’s throne shout that it’s time for God to destroy the destroyers of the earth! (Rev. 11:16-18.) But what did Jesus ask me to do? Forgive them their trespasses. Think about that with me a moment: a darkening world full of destroyers, hirelings, toadies, liars, and jerks, and we’re asked to forgive them? How dare God ask that of us? Or what is God up to?

    But the Lamb’s War, James Nayler told us, was a war against the Man of Sin. Who is this Man of Sin, or, as many early manuscripts have it, the anthrōpos tēs anomias, the lawless person? He (or she, for “anthrōpos” was Greek’s unisex term) is the one who usurps God’s throne and presumes to be the highest authority. The lawless person is the one who must be “unveiled” (apokalyphthē, 2 Thess, 2:3-4) before the parousia or reappearance of Christ can occur (or, if you prefer Buddhist language, before the Buddha-mind can take control. Or, if you prefer twelve-step language, before our Higher Power can stop the drunken binge. But I call it my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.)

    The lawless person is *us*. If we read Scripture like a timetable and wait for the media to announce the discovery of someone ten times wickeder than Hitler and Stalin, we miss the point. If our anger mounts to the point that we call some fossil-fuel CEO or do-nothing U.S. President the Man of Sin, we’ve failed to look into the mirror long enough to see our own shadow. The *unveiling* of the lawless person can only be the revelation that *our* self-will, *our* insistence that “my” will be done and that “my” self-interest determine what happens, is what is keeping Christ our Shepherd from appearing to guide us. This unveiling is necessary before the lawless person can be dethroned. And dethroning the lawless person in our own heart is the only thing that will ever empower us to speak with authority to that fossil-fuel CEO and that do-nothing President, and say, “Stop, Friend, and change your ways.”

  • Thank you–for a fierce look at what’s coming, and for seeing the mockingbird dance.

  • treegestalt says:

    These are apocalyptic times — not in the sense of them being horrifying and life-threatening, but in the sense of them being revelatory.

    ‘Apocalyptic’ doesn’t mean that a book shows ‘God engaging in abusive father behaviour’ — but that it reveals God’s ultimate intention being fulfilled by the very features of life that seem, on the surface, contrary to God’s will. As you say, it really looks like “people only really change in radical ways when horrible things force them to.” So, lately, God has been raising our bets…

    What to do about the fact that the shit is already hitting people in the face? — Wipe it off, if we can. “Palliative care’ seems appropriate, given that we don’t know anything else to do. And hope, no matter how hopelessly.

    Jesus and your fire spirit look to be different expressions of the underlying Spirit that there is. You or I might not see their common identity — but they must, yes?

  • Olivia says:

    Hello friend!

    “Because we have heard the word of the Lord, as it were, and we have the fire in the belly. Only the Lord—she’s a Lady.”

    This speaks to my condition…. I think there’s a lot within what you are saying that fits within the scope of Liberal Quakerism and we are honored to have your voice still among us…

    Yes, knowing that we do ourselves in as a society is fine. I guess like you I’ve known this for a looong time and I find ways to live in joy anyway. I seem to generally find that the deep peace and joy is found in a practice of personal, prayerful surrender of my will (for all these circumstances) to the Divine, in going into the center of what pains me and allowing the Divine to speak to me from within the center of that raw place in my being…. I also find joy and peace in (in this way and others) just being a part of the good news, no matter how bad the bad news gets. Being light in the midst of darkness doesn’t feel like a bad place…it feels like there’s “God awash”…. Divine light pouring through the scene.

    The darker things get… we still have plenty of moments to radiate this Light. In fact maybe more?? When it’s hard to feel that Light, that’s a good moment to take your pain to God(Gaia, Holy Spirit, or whatever your In to the Divine is) and release enough of that that you can shine again. So hard really… But I’m on your side. You are a very cool person holding all that wisdom and wide perception within you.

  • naomi paz greenberg says:

    It may seem like I am changing the subject in what I write below. But day by day further aspects of our lives are commandeered from civil life and militarized so that education, psychiatry, research, telecommunications, travel, data storage, public libraries to name just a few, are resources prioritized for military purposes. So when I use the word military, it is in that inclusive sense.

    An apocalyptic approach can make rational sense in our circumstances today. But by taking that approach we say we are so overwhelmed by the enormity of what is wrong, what can go wrong, what has gone wrong in the past, that we believe we cannot save ourselves: only a messiah, or extraordinary measures – warfare of apocalyptic proportions, can at once improve our circumstances and our selves to lift us off this deadly trajectory. It is cursing the darkness at the same time that it is surrender to darkness.

    We can engage the Lamb’s War as faithfully as the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Korea do. Among Korean Jehovah’s Witnesses, generations of men refuse military service and go to prison because they are conscientious objectors. This is supported by family and church.

    If all the Quakers in the United States understood that it is our obligation to bear the witness of conscientious objection to military service and taxation, just as John Woolman did, and as Muhammad Ali did in expressing how he understood Jihad, we could all go to prison together.

    And the whole world would be watching.

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