Make Quakerism Militant Again

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Martin Luther King, Jr. argued that nonviolence “is an imperative to action.” That’s why King’s Poor People’s Campaign was envisioned as a “new and unsettling force.” It was to be disruptive. It was intended to make the issue of poverty impossible to avoid. King was assassinated before seeing that campaign unfold, but his words proved true again and again and again. Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, disruptive action created results. Protests – riots even – made people pay attention.

But the work remains unfinished. And being a liberal, progressive Christian just isn’t enough. Especially if you’re comfortable in the tension between Empire and Kingdom. You cannot serve two masters. If you’ve chosen the Kingdom, you must refuse and resist Empire. If you’ve chosen Christ, you must refuse and resist Caesar.

Early Friends knew this. They broke laws. Caused public disruption. They ran toward trouble and defied the “justice” of the unjust. Refused to pay taxes and tithes, criticized Empire, and made enemies. They were fined, beaten, and jailed. And they grew.

I don’t want to romanticize the past, what Friends used to be, but there is a militant strain in the thinking, speaking, and acting of early Friends. Somehow, this bent toward a do-something faith faded.

Quakerism is designed for disruption. Actively stirring up trouble, causing a scene, shedding Light on oppression. Following Christ calls us to be outlaws, to defy the powers of this world. To simultaneously break into and out of the state and extend the Kingdom. We are called to create and live into a new society.

I know many who are hungry for a prophetic movement that undoes the powers of this world, and they aren’t finding this movement in the Church. Some have found prophetic action more possible in non-Christian anarchist and anti-fascist (Antifa) organizing than in their faith communities. Even in more progressive Christians circles, direct action often doesn’t go much farther than picket signs and petitions. This is a shame.

Because it’s not enough. It’s time for prophetic action. It’s time to create the world we want to live in. The Kingdom of God calls not for reform, but for insurrection. If we intend to be a transformative Religious Society, we must take seriously the call to the Kingdom. We must face into the ways in which we are complicit with empire and the powers of this world. We must be willing to lose what little we have in order that the oppressed might be ushered into God’s Kingdom.

Love wins, but love does not always look friendly. As Che Guevara put it, “The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” And your love for others will lead you to act. We are fighting actual systems, not just ideas.

It’s time to turn over tables.

I believe in the Resurrection

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Somewhere near Bergamo

I never got to know my brother Kento. He was already dying and in a hospital when we first met in person. Just a few days later, he died. He was unable to speak or move, but he was there. I got to touch him. To see him. Finally.

Before that, there had been too much distance. I remember when I first learned of his existence. Then I found him on Facebook, and when he accepted my friend request, it felt like a miracle. I could see pictures of him, read his statuses, see all the people who loved him. I wanted to be able to love him, too.

I only ever knew Kento’s hesitance behind a keyboard. I only ever knew his inability to deal with me.

I hoped he might make peace with us, his birth family, that he might decide to meet us. I told myself to not be anxious, that life would inevitably bring us together. And it did. In a hospital in Italy. In a bed in that hospital. Surrounded by machines.

Then he was gone.

His childhood pastor eulogized Kento’s desire to meet us and know us. Said that he was finally ready. That he wanted to know his brothers and sisters, his nephews. It’s a mythology I want to believe. Even while I know it could be little more than a cleverly revised report of what was actually the case, which breaks my heart. And just for a moment I’m entertaining the idea that this pastor made the whole thing up. To console us. And I know that’s a fucked up idea of consolation. But also, even if it’s true, I could never be mad at Kento. He could have lived a full life, and in that life he might still not have chosen to know us, and I would get that.

But I need to believe.

Or maybe I have to believe. Because I can’t live with the possibility that Kento didn’t want to know me, and I feel pathetic and stupid for how much I’ve longed to know him, and maybe I simply can’t face the fact that I never got to. I’m mourning Kento, the brother I never had.

But I feel him. I hate to spiritualize these sorts of things where complete devastation feels like the only way to honor the tragedy of a person dying. But I feel Kento in my mind, his essence – a burst of warmth, a glimpse of hope.

Here’s what I know: Kento was an anarchist.

We both grew up in the Unification Church, a fringe cult that created our complex family dynamic, but we were different. We were both second generation Moonies. Workshops were the rhythm of our lives.

That was where our lives made sense. Except Kento was considered a bad kid.

Flirting was deemed a serious offense. Our whole theology was built upon properly performing while simultaneously resisting sex. Avoidance of the opposite sex was not just seen as noble, it was required.

Kento didn’t care. He talked to girls, he kissed girls, and worst of all, according to workshop leaders, was how Kento could be such a good friend, even to girls, while being so obviously a bad kid.

He was designated a bad kid even before they had some religious reason to call him a bad kid. Because he saw through our religious leaders, and he knew they had no real authority.

I like to think his anti-authoritarianism was rooted in him being a good friend. The best kind of friend.

The present, goofy, do whatever it takes to make you feel good, alive kind of friend.

I met his friends. They talked about how different he was, both separate and warm, tender. They talked a lot about his tenderness, about his heart for people and for life. He was fearless. He was so alive.

That’s how I want to live. In this world, but not of it. Refusing and resisting illegitimate, oppressive authority. Defined by love. Full of joy in the midst of chaos.

I say all this, but I never really knew Kento. He was barely alive when we got there. There were moments where he seemed to be getting better, and we hoped for a miracle. Toward the end, especially, he was fighting so hard, trying to hold onto life. His heartbeat was fast, his body was swollen. He was sweating and unable to keep his eyes still. Then, just hours later, he was gone.

I was with him at his weakest. But I felt his power bursting through in those last moments. I felt him fighting.

I’m not going to act like Kento was perfect. I know his life wasn’t easy. I also know, so thoroughly, that there was something profoundly and exceptionally good about Kento. I want that. I think of him often, I sense his closeness, maybe even his aid, as I try to live a holy life.

I don’t know exactly how the afterlife works. But my brother lived into a peculiar pattern shaped by an open heart, and I believe he continues. As a result, I find myself believing in the resurrection in a way I never have before. And I think this is why. In resurrection, Kento finally gets his way. Full emancipation.

Freedom. Even from death.