Episode 29: Anarchist Jesus, Rebuilding Radical Christianity, and Hope with Hye Sung Francis – Full transcript

K: Hello! This is Katherine, welcome to Friendly Anarchism. Do you want to go ahead and introduce yourself?

H: Hi, I’m Hye Sung.

K: Alright, Hye Sung. I have you on because you have this fantastic blog. Do you want to talk about it a little bit? What do you write and why do you have the blog?

H: It’s hyesungfrancis.com, so it’s just my name. Honestly, I first started it because I was fundraising when I was doing the Quaker voluntary service.

K: Nice.

H: Yeah, I did a fellowship with them and I needed to make money so I just did updates on where I was at, what was happening, and then it became a blog about me reflecting on what Quakerism means to me and my experiences with Quakerism. Now it’s a lot of spiritual/political reflections and what I would see as prophetic words. Not to say I’m a prophet or anything, but things I feel like the Society of Friends and the church kind of needs to hear, and some things I feel like spirit is putting on my heart.

K: I love that, I love the radical honesty of your blog. It’s hard to put that out there, there’s a lot of pushback, you know?

H: Mmhmm.

K: I’ve definitely had a few problems. My meeting is pretty good and there some really loving and wonderful people, but there is definitely some pushback from the liberal sect against anything more radical, and I’ve heard it’s even worse on the east coast, right?

H: It is. I know that for a fact, yep.

K: Totally. Because you’re in Philadelphia?

H: I am in Philadelphia, yeah. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting territory.

K: Mmhmm. So i mean that’s one of the oldest, most well established Quaker meetings, yeah?

H: It is, it’s rich and full of Quaker history here. There’s Hick Street and stuff, you just see all these Quaker landmarks all over the place. I mean like William Penn, there’s a huge statue of him atop of our city hall, so..yeah, it’s Quaker country. But not really, because everyone’s like, oh wait, you’re a Quaker? Those exist still? So…

K: Yeah. [laughs]

H: Yeah. That’s still an issue here.

K: Even in Philadelphia.

H: Even in Philadelphia. [laughs]

K: But with that sort of embedded culture comes problematic stuff, right? Because it’s so old and it has so much tradition sometimes that tradition can become dogmatic, and there is a lot of problematic stuff in the Quaker church. I had another podcast episode with Jane who’s awesome, and she was talking about all this problematic capitalist stuff too, and there’s also some real racist undertones? Like all of those churches were basically built with slave money, weren’t they? Do you know about that?

H: Yes, yes. Also going to the capitalist thing there is this notion, I mean at Earlham even, there’s some kind of program about ethical capitalism or something?

K: Oh no.

H: And that’s definitely an idea that people have, is that they always cite the second generation of Quakers who are all business people and had good business practices, and say ‘look! We can do this and it can be ethical!” Even though, like not really, but.. that’s cool that you think that..

K: I feel maybe for a second they’re kind of like community credit unions but then… any kind of system like that inevitably became corrupt, you know what I mean?

H: I mean, it’s always tangled up with – I mean, it’s capitalism so..

K: Right. One of the things I like about your blog and one of the things you talk about a lot in your blog is your sort of difficult, or rich, complicated relationship with Quakerism.

H: There’s something in me that still for some reason identifies so much with the experiences of early Friends that I still feel like a convinced Friend, and for some reason I can’t let go of that. Not yet at least. Something in me feels like that’s what I am, but yes, institutional Quakerism is just something I don’t feel called to really deal with. [laughs]

K: Absolutely. I think there was a meme going around for a second, I think I got it from you actually, that said “make Quakerism militant again.”

H: Uh huh. Yeah.

K: I totes agree. I totes agree. When we look at the Bible, when we look at Jesus, when we actually read what he is saying just straight up without any of this institutionalized bullshit, he was militant as hell, man.

H: I mean yeah, he was saying that empire is false authority, like the whole idea that when he says ‘render unto Caesar what’s Caesar’s and render unto God what’s God’s’, nothing belongs to Caesar! That’s the point!

K: Yeah. [laughs]

H: It’s a call to revolution, bring it all back to God’s kingdom, our kindom, you know?

K: And I’ve noticed in liberal or progressive Christianity there’s this tendency to look at the New Testament and, even if we’re understanding Jesus as man, and understanding that means he has this character development as a human and has all those human characteristics of moving through life and learning, people just concentrate fully on the very beginning, and then the very end. It’s like ‘nice Jesus, nice Jesus, flip flip flip flip dead Jesus’, and it’s like let’s back the fuck up for a second, there’s this whole intermediary section in there that we can’t just ignore out of the New Testament about when he’s flipping tables and shit, you know what I mean?

H: Yeah. No, exactly. And yeah, that’s kind of the frustrating thing with progressive Christian circles in general. I always go back to this, and I think a lot of us Christian anarchists who are revolutionary kinds of Christians always go back to this because it’s a topic that always comes up, but just the black and white definition of what violence is and what that means, and how tightly they hold on to that at the expense of like, people.

K: Right.

H: Like at the expense of people’s well being. It’s really disturbing. It just doesn’t, it seems to lack empathy and it genuinely kind of scares me, I don’t like it.

K: There is violence inherent in this idea of nonviolence within a state structure. If you’re still talking about working within a state structure, states are inherently based on violence. All a lot of these liberals and progressives are doing is outsourcing their violence. I get to keep my hands clean and be nonviolent, but I’m going to call the cops on you and the cops are going to beat and/or kill you. That’s so violent!

H: And that’s the thing, I don’t even think that every person is called to destructive or violent actions whatever that even really means, but I do think Christians, out of empathy and out of love, should support a diversity of tactics. It doesn’t mean that they have to engage in these actions but support others knowing that they’re doing what they can to build a better world, you know? I mean at least.

K: In my opinion, all of Jesus’ actions still fall within a nonviolent revolutionary framework because he’s not calling for a violent uprising against the state, it’s not how he did it. Which I think is really, really smart and that’s what we need to be doing. But he also didn’t call for passivity, you know?

H: Yes.

K: Like he also wasn’t going around shaking hands with the centurions and stuff, you know what I mean?

H: No, exactly. No I agree. So yeah. Jesus was Murray Bookchin.

[Both laugh]

K: No, I don’t think Jesus was Murray Bookchin, I would say Jesus is antifa, you know? I see it as this really brilliant book that’s showing you how to slowly escalate in the dangerous nature of your tactics. It starts super super tame. Just service. Just straight up service. And then he starts taking direct actions by being more confrontational, with the gleaning of the grain, and then being more confrontational about healing the guy in the church when he’s not supposed to. That was incredibly confrontational and pissed people off. He continues to escalate until people get the message. We’re no longer in the very beginning of the new testament at this point. Society has escalated past the point of where this sort of early early Jesus right of the mountain is the appropriate response. And I think he would agree. There’s a reason that he escalated.

H: I think so too. If your ministry is actually doing what it’s supposed to do and your church is doing what it’s supposed to do, it’s more and more of a threat to the status quo, to the state and the powers that be, so yeah, the tactics will get more extreme.

K: Exactly.

H: And as they should.

K: People are sort of like, well he ended up in court but he ended up in court by being nonviolent. He ended up in court for assaulting bankers.So the idea of just hold hands and sing and then you get arrested, that’s just showing how oppressive our state is, it’s not showing that means you got to court the same way Jesus did.

H: I mean honestly there is this notion or this idea that I haven’t really teased out or wrestled through so much, but I have talked about it a little, this idea that Jesus’s life was one of a failed revolutionary, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s actually supposed to speak to us and say for the revolution, for building a new world, are you willing to die this terrible death where everyone abandons you? But I think more than that we can have hope as a community, as the church that we’re not doing this alone. Jesus died a lone insurrectionist, but we are the body of Christ, we’re a people that could do that together.

K: I find the New Testament so comforting because he’s saying look, if you’re going to be a basically moral person living under an oppressive state it’s going to  suck. You’re going to lose friends, you’re going to end up in court, you’re going to get jailed, you’re going to get beaten, you’re possibly going to get killed, but your reward is in heaven. What do you get? What do you get for being a basically moral person? You don’t get shit. You get to possibly die and suffer. You know what I mean? But like congratu-fuckin-lations, you managed to live with some sort of basic core values, and living under an oppressive state that means potentially giving up everything to hold on to those moral values.

H: Exactly, and I think the fact that Jesus, when he was on the cross was like, ‘okay God, you’re gone, you’re not here, you’ve forsaken me’. There’s this amount of doubt that he experiences even in the garden of Gethsemane, and there’s an element of nihilism that’s necessary in following Jesus. Like, you know what? Even if everything falls to shit, even if everything fails, I’m going to go kicking, I’m gonna die you know, screaming. Because it’s worth it. Because people are worth it. Just in case that might be the seed of the kingdom to build a church. That’s worth it.

K: Yeah absolutely, I mean, he seemed like a failed revolutionary, right? But he was one of the most effective organizers in history in completely changing the way that humanity considers its relationship to wealth and power. It was really revolutionary, and he forever changed the world even if eventually, as is sort of typical of humanity, we are always having to fight against authoritarianism, we’re always having to fight against wanting to conglomerate power, and so yes, the church ended up falling prey to those same human..

H: And he warned us that would happen!

K: Exactly! Like he said, be super careful with wealth and power, it’s going to fuck us over. It’s like, yeah man, I wish we’d been listening to Jesus a little bit because he would have been like fuck capitalism, fuck the state! That’s going to be what takes you, that’s what’s going to ruin humanity, and he’s absolutely right.

H: Yeah. I mean he said there’s going to come a day where there’s gonna be a separation of the sheeps and the goats, and there’s a false church that’s going to basically be the world. And that’s real, and I think in late capitalism we’re seeing it so fully and so embodied.

K: Yeah, right? Absolutely. I know! It’s like, it’s like he knew what was going on. It’s like he was prophetic. [laughs]

H: Well look at that.

K: Yeah, look at that. And as far as when you called yourself a prophet, as mystics we believe in prophecy, we believe that everybody can be prophetic, if not “prophets”, right? Which I think is sort of a very anarchist thing. Anarchists have been screaming and yelling since the 1800’s ‘hey! This is a bad plan! This is a bad plan, this is going to end super badly. Can we not?’ So it’s like if people had been listening to Jesus, and if people has also been listening to anarchists, we would not be so fucked right now, you know what I mean?

H: You have a point.

K: It’s really pretty frustrating. I believe that anarchists are also mystics. My view is that there are people in society that are more sensitive and, so basically, don’t listen to your mystics at your own peril. You have mystics and they’re important and don’t ignore them, you know what I mean? They know what’s up. So.

H: Yep. It’s true. I mean I I.. yeah. I agree.

[Both laugh]

H: When it comes to the whole prophetic thing, before I became a Quaker I became a Christian in more of an evangelical way when I was sixteen years old. Though I wasn’t in a church, I just started reading the Bible and having God feelings and stuff and it was weird, it was scary, and I did not want it but it was such a classic coming to Christ story. I had this overwhelming sense of love, and that has stuck with me. I’m queer and an anarchist and in so many ways don’t, didn’t fit into this idea of what a Christian would be, but still it stuck on me and I can’t get rid of it because it has given me such new vision of this world, and honestly mysticism is so vital to my revolutionary praxis personally. That’s where I gain my vision and hope to keep going because without it it’s really scary. Without being immersed in a greater vision and in the actual experience of the spirit.. for me at least it’s a sustaining thing, you know?

K: Yeah, absolutely. I think I would have a really hard time doing this work without a strong spiritual practice, and for me it’s Christian, but I feel like it’s important for everybody, even if it’ll embody in a bunch of different ways. Centering, keeping perspective about the larger universe, keeping humble, and learning to control our fear is something that we all need to do, especially as mystics. When I look at anarchists I see all of these mystics that don’t have that and are just freaking out and having a really really hard time, because we specifically really really need to do that practice because we’re so sensitive and empathetic and that’s hard. That’s really hard, you know?

H: Yep.

K: Anybody that’s paying this much attention and willing to give up so much for the oppressed… that takes a huge amount of empathy, but empathy also takes a huge amount of spiritual strength.

H: I mean honestly that’s why like the church… is a thing. When I started having those God feelings and stuff it was very pentecostal charismatic, and it was scary to me, and I had the experience of being laid out on the floor, shaking, and speaking in tongues and things. That was a part of my experience, but while that was physically happening, that weird stuff, it was an experience of having my empathy stretched. But I didn’t have a church or anything, and I still don’t, and it’s actually kind of hard when if I’m sustaining that and feeding that because we’re supposed to be doing that corporately.

K: That’s true, yeah.

H: That’s supposed to be not just something we do alone, we’re supposed to be heartbroken as a people, and therefore do actions as a people.

K: Aww.. I love that. It’s easy as mystics and as anarchists to fall into the idea of exceptionalism that we’re special, and I kind of just fell into that a little bit, but the idea is it’s learnable, everybody, every human has the capacity for empathy but it has to be actively practiced and learned.

H: Exactly

K: I think it’s harder for some people than others, you know?

H: Yeah. The spirit is poured out on all flesh, so.

K: Yeah, totally.

H: That’s that.

[Both laugh]

K: That’s that! We have a light within us all, right? We all have a light within. But that light can be real real dim. It seems like there’s a lot of people with just so little empathy of any kind, you know?

H: Yeah.

K: In going back to Jesus’s prophetic vision and Jesus’s understanding of where empathy comes from, it is destroyed by wealth and power, so it’s not really humanity’s basic instinct, basic core is not unempathetic, it’s just the fact that we’re just continuously soaked in wealth and power in a way that is absolutely corrupting to our souls.

H: Even nice religious people. A lot of my struggle with Quakerism is just liberal religion as a thing. Like I’m glad you have a Black Lives Matter banner in front of your church and every so often you do something nice, but there’s nothing really radically generous, radically hospitable, really living out the whole apostolic thing, you know?

K: Yeah, I hear Christians say give ‘til it hurts, right?  But then they mean that’s like 10% of their income. Jesus said give ‘til it hurts, like literally you’re being beaten by the state.

H: Take up your cross. yeah, exactly.

K: You’re going to give until it hurts as in you might get killed, you’re going to get humiliated in court give until it hurts.

H: Exactly, yes! I said this to a Quaker like a year ago, I don’t want to go to church where I don’t know that people around me are willing to die for me. And they were taken back by that. I’m like wait, this is basic stuff! We have to lay our lives down for one another, that’s essential to being a comrade in Christ.

K: That’s the thing, I hear all of these people, all these Christians talk about how hard it is to be Christian, and it’s like, you’re damn right! It’s fucking terrifying. It’s so hard to be moral but then not being completely comfortable, not being willing to give up anything and just staying completely comfortable in themselves and in their privileged lives and it’s like you are not uncomfortable, you are not hitting the streets, living in poverty, beaten by Romans uncomfortable, you know what I mean?

H: I work at a church actually, and it’s a pretty big liberal church. I don’t work as a communications director, like a family pastor or something, I’m just a custodian. But so I’m there late at night cleaning and stuff and since we’re in downtown or center city in Philadelphia, at least once a week I talk to somebody who lives on the street or comes to the church because they have a need. A week ago someone came in asking for a holy person to deal with this demon that they think is in their apartment, but last night someone came in and was like, ‘hi, I’m really cold and I need help, and can you please just let me in’ and this and that. I didn’t do probably the best thing, I let him in for a few minutes and I gave him some crackers and an extra blanket but at first I did say like ‘ah, I don’t know what I can do for you’ and he said to me, ‘then what’s the point of this church?’ And I was like aaa! You’re right! What is the point?? What is the point?? I don’t know if there is one. It’s a club! It’s just a social thing, and maybe they think it kind of strengthens their moral impulse, but if it’s not stretching their moral impulse to be completely yielded to those in need to the suffering then there is no point.

K: Here’s the problem that I’ve noticed to though, is that really empathetic people tend in this sort of system, in this sort of super shitty, corruptive system that we’re in is the idea of ‘give everything’, then you end up with really extractive behaviors taking advantage of those people, So it’s like how do we give everything without end up being taken advantage of and being abused?

H: Honestly I think that goes back to why we have each other. As a spirit filled community we’re not just doing these things alone, we’re not just deciding to give up our own resources but our resources as a people and listening to spirit and discerning what that means and what that looks like, because when you’re by yourself it’s kind of reckless a lot of times.

K: Yeah, totally. And individualistic. One person being drained is not the way.

H: And it’s not helpful a lot of time.

K: It’s not. And it’s when resources are unequal, it’s just hard. Especially when anarchists are so often so poor and we’re working with the poor. Some of the most empathetic people are the poorest and have the least resources, and so then it’s just a difficult situation trying to live these values under such an oppressive capitalist system where there are in fact limits. There are rules that we’re having to live under and having to try and contend with at the same time as living a moral life. I’ve seen more and more talk about the super importance of radical solidarity. The only way that we’re going to get through this is through radical, radical solidarity and creating those bonds and creating that community, and it is so hard. I feel like in the anarchist movement right now our basic tenet of how to deal with difficult people is to exile them.

H: Yeah. Excommunicate them, yeah, that sort of thing. It’s true.

K: As Christians how do we contend with that? I was thinking about [Peter] recently.

H: Oh?

K: I was just contemplating on [Peter] and what is [Peter]’s story? Because he’s so annoying, right? He’s just continuously doubting Jesus. He’s continuously talking back, he’s continuously just arrogant. And everyone’s just like ‘please listen’, Jesus keeps saying ‘please just listen, [Peter]. Just trust. Trust a little bit. But he keeps him close. Jesus keeps [Peter] even closer to him. The difficult obnoxious guy is kept even closer to Jesus and it’s like how do we do that with our nutsacks? Our people who are terrible and difficult. There’s a lesson in there too, and in the end [Peter] is humbled and he becomes a super important part of the development of the early church. He was one of the most difficult people, most difficult disciples and when he was humbled he ended up one of the most important, and I think we have to remember that when we’re dealing with difficult people.

H: Exactly, and I think that’s a role Christians can play in a revolutionary movement. Being a pastoral element to all of it. I think my friend once said that the job of the church in the end times – and when we say end times like in a like eschatological like revolutionary sense, like birthing a new world, a new world being built and the old being destroyed –  the job of the church is to be a doula in the end times, to live with the people of the world and guide her and support her as they’re birthing a new society. And so I think that there’s a certain sense of a grounding, a pastoral calling or vocation that the church should be taking up.

K: You know I’ve definitely felt that. I think part of this podcast, I didn’t really realize it when I started but thinking about more of it lately, especially after I slowed down just a little bit and was able to catch my breath, is that it is a little bit of a ministry, you know? But the ministry isn’t just to try and get people to come to Christ, that’s not what I’m doing at all, but it’s sort of trying to bring that calm of God and that joy that I get from God into the world and try and be a place of peace and spiritual rest for the people around me and that’s a lot of hard work. This is a Quaker-y thing I hear a lot, the most revolutionary thing you can do is be at peace in a difficult world and those vibes emanate out to the people around you.

H: I think that’s something that we can have and discern from a materialist perspective and it can be hard to see a way forward, and the faith and hope that we have and vision of God’s kindom and how that is an emerging thing and we believe that. We think that’s necessary, that stuff is contagious. I really believe that vision is contagious.

K: I think so too, and I also think the prophetic element is helpful for me because then if you look at the Bible it says that basically like, this is exactly what’s going to happen, wealth and power is going to be destructive and take down humans, but then we come out the other side. So I have to believe in that prophetic vision that it gets real shitty, which we see coming, I mean if we’re going to be honest with ourselves this is going to be rough right now, you know what I mean? But then we do come out the other side. There’s a specific psalm that I wish I had looked up and I can’t remember which one it is, but it basically describes in pretty intensively specific language what I see as climate change. You know everyone says you can pull whatever you want out of the Bible and that’s true, and I’m deciding for my own mental spiritual health that this is what’s helpful for me.

H: Why not.

K: It talks about literally the earth melting and the mountains being enveloped by the sea. But then it also talks about God being there to help her, the river Jordan, and in this case I’m interpreting that as nature, you know, the most important nature in the water? And then it says kingdoms fall and then there is war and then we come out the other side. I find that very comforting.

H: I think that’s basically also the Book of Revelation. It’s like, yeah, things are going to get real, real shitty, but you have to hold on and you have to believe and be hopeful and fight for this new world and you’ll get it. Maybe you won’t, but somebody will and that’s worth it, that’s worth empire crumbling.

K: Yeah, that’s kind of the fun thing about anarchists. Everyone’s freaking out about the end of the empire and we’re like woo! Let’s do it. Into it.

[Both laugh]

H: Yeah, exactly.

K: So that’s kind of comforting too. Other people are really upset about it, it’s like no man, it’s going to suck really bad but it does actually need to happen for the good of humanity. For me personally I need multiple different things to keep me going sometimes, so sometimes it’s like the hope and faith that there will be a new world but then also, even if there’s not, it’s just the basic fact that to be a basically moral human being this is what you need to do. Just like on a daily basis if you’re living under oppression and people are suffering so badly, that whatever cost it is you need to help them. So with those two things combined it really is grounding, it’s really necessary for me to stay in this because it gets so fucking scary.

H: Mmhmm.

K: It gets so scary.

H: No, it does. And you know what? It’s going to get worse.

K: Yeah, I know, I know.

H: Thank God.

K: Everyone’s just sort of bracing like ‘aaaa.. oh god..’ Pick your apocalypse right now. It’s pretty bad. But then what do you do about it?

H: I think that the frustrating thing too is as people who have revolutionary impulses and see capitalism for what it is, it’s like why don’t other people see that the world is ending? I walk through center city on the way to work and I just.. I hate it! I hate this is constantly a thing, I’m like why don’t you.. why are you laughing? Things are bad, why are you so happy? Why are you shopping right now? I mean I’m always going back to this, and I say this as a person who is not currently in a local spiritual community, is like that’s why I need church. That’s why I need the people of God, to encourage me and give me hope and vision and remind me that there is a way forward.

K: I’m hoping we can rebuild a more radical Christian movement because I feel like I need it, and it sounds like you need it, and I think the world needs it. It makes me think of when people break windows and things. When you talk about how badly capitalism needs to be dismantled, the breaking of one window is such a mild.. It’s mild. When you’re talking about this entire fucking system that is destroying… and rules the entire world, one symbolic act..but it’s one of those things too though, where it’s like, we’re fighting fear. Everybody. Y’know it’s not just us. Everybody kind of knows somewhere in the back of their head that everything is going very badly. But people will just not let go. Will just not let go of our world as it is right now until it’s going to be forcibly taken. Under what circumstances? And how do we as spiritual people and how do we as humans continue to fight anyway? Because it’s important. If you’re hopeless then definitely nothing good is going to .. then we’re definitely not going to survive, so you might as well work for the like one millionth … even if it’s as bad as bad can possibly be it only makes sense to fight our asses off even if it’s a sliver of a chance, than to just give up hope on everything. That’s hard though.

H: I mean yeah, that’s taking up a cross. That’s difficult. I’ve been seeing some things kind of recently about a Christian left and I’m like, where is it then? I keep hearing about it but where is it? I see Christian liberals I guess. And I dunno, more polite versions of white supremacy, which is what I kind of consider Quakerism a lot of ways. At least in America. Or the states. I have been gaining a little more hope with your podcast, and actually, do you know the podcast the Magnificast?

K: No..

H: Oh, it’s a Christian leftist podcast where they talk about theory and Christianity, like Marxism. And it’s awesome, it’s really great. They talk about Fidel and his views on religion, and the kind of dialogue he’s had with theologians before and some stuff is kind of obscure and can get a bit heady, but they’re both good God loving people and I dunno, it’s great. Knowing that there are other people who are listening to these sort of things, there is something brewing. I’m a pretty directionless person, like I don’t know what to do with my life, but something I’ve always had since I became a Christian is I know that this church I read about in the book of Acts- I want that to be a thing. The world needs that to be a thing. So I want to give my life to that and to building that and I think there are other people who are starting to have those feelings, and that’s hopeful to me. I think I’ve told you before in a message or something, there actually is a Quaker-ish gathering for Quaker-ish radicals and just more broadly mystical radicals and anti-state anti-capitalist gathering in May in Philly.

K: Yeah totally, that’s badass.

H: I hope that we can get some like minds together and brew this together, brew what is a way forward for people who are Christian and also just experience that. It’d be nice to have that good holy spirit stuff but with people who you actually know have good politics.

K: Yeah, totally, totally. I never want to get that feeling where I feel like I’m getting a vocal ministry and it’s like wait, am I gonna like piss people off? That’s a horrible feeling.

H: Yeah, I hate that that’s something we have to do sometimes but..

K: That’s an awful feeling. Like I said my meeting was – at least the early one was – was really pretty radical and they’re wonderful, so I think there’s hope there and I’m seeing a lot of people, even sort of progressive podcasters saying there’s sort of a revival of a need for God and a need for spirit, and I think that’s totally true. When you talk about really hard times it makes sense. Like you said, there’s a reason that humans have religion. Because being a human has been pretty shitty pretty much the whole time in one way or another, so we’ve always needed religion, religioun as in community and in spiritual grounding.

H: I think mysticism is such a human thing. It’s like tapping into your humanity. It brings you into the experience of divinity, so for me speaking in tongues is such an incarnational thing because it’s so human. You’re just kind of doing these goofy things and you’re yielding to it and yielding to this sense of love. And it looks so absurd, and it can even feel kind of human, but it can at least bring you into the sense of presence. And I think it does strengthen your moral impulse or your empathetic impulse. I think that mysticism actually is, I don’t know, I don’t think it’s as wacky or kind of magical as it’s often made to be. I think it’s just a very human thing. We need to tap into who we are, into our emotions, and deal with stirring within us, and also tap into this.. I think like unitarians call it this interconnected web of being.

K: I never really thought of speaking in tongues in that way, as an act of liberation, as an act of just like letting go of social convention for that moment.

H: Exactly.

K: That’s really interesting, that’s a really interesting take on it because we definitely need more liberation, and I think movement and sound are really important parts of that. I think of Emma Goldman, ‘if you can’t dance your revolution isn’t one I want to be a part of’? I butchered that quote, but you know what I’m talking about. I feel very strongly that we need more dancing and we need more singing, and I’m not seeing enough of that in the movement right now. We lost the labor songs kind of thing, like we have these sort of chants but we don’t have music, you know what I mean? We need liberatory sound and movement, so in the one sense is like the same sort of expression as speaking in tongues only on a larger more liberatory revolutionary scale.

H: I agree. And I mean for me a spiritual community I would like to be a part of would be charismatic or pentecostal in that sense. Or I would like it to be, just because it’s that kind of space where anything can happen.. It’s like an unprogrammed meeting except you’re not bound by white supremacy and those conventions of the white liberal people, you know? Where people are weeping and tapping into their actual humanity and being free from, like you said, social conventions and stuff. I think that is so necessary, that worship that uses your body.

K: What you’re describing right now – have you ever been to a Black church?

H: Yeah, I used to be a part of a more diverse charismatic church where somebody next to you could be laughing, the person beside you could be shaking, and then somebody else at the altar is weeping, but everybody is just free to experience what they need to experience. And not only that, but somehow it all kind of comes together. It’s weird, there’s even a practice in some charismatic churches called ‘singing in tongues’, or ‘singing in the spirit’ and people are all kind of doing these different things and yet it all still harmonizes together. it’s like we’re all doing what we need to do, but ultimately we’re a corporate body. We’re building something bigger we’re connecting to something bigger.

K: We can all have separate expressions of that but it when it’s all still rooted in this spirit.

H: Yes, exactly. First Corinthians 12.

K: One of the Pendle Hill pamphlets that I have, one of the very early ones by Howard Brinton is ‘The Religious Solution to the Societal Problem’. If you haven’t read that pamphlet it’s great. And basically, he describes in that pamphlet how there are a few different ways forward, and how humans act, and the best solution basically is to have a society that’s really rooted in spirit. That’s how you do it, because people will fall into authoritarianism because people need something to follow, people will follow a strongman if they don’t have spiritual guidance to follow. Again, it’s hard to translate this into contemporary anarchist praxis because there is a very strong anti-religious sentiment, but I don’t think it’s necessarily an anti-spiritual sentiment. But then the difficulty though, is there’s also a reason for religion because you’re talking about that corporate body and those community structures and religion is a way to tie together and have certain ways of experiencing spirituality in a corporal sense. We talk about individual spirituality and everything, but there is a place for an organized religion, an organizational structure of community coming together for spiritual practice.

H: I think so, and I think you can have a non-hierarchical idea of God, and I think if our theology at all keeps our loyalty to God from serving those who are suffering I think that our theology is wrong. I think ultimately our love for God and our worship of God is shown in how we serve the suffering and how we love people. I don’t think it has to be this weird hierarchical thing. I think actually the church is called to embody the person of Christ, but also to live into this kindom that we already believe in and to manifest it presently. So a church isn’t so much of an organization as it is just a gathering of people trying to live into this world that they believe in, and it’s a prefigurative politics in that way they are citizens not of this world, so they’re going to act like it, and they’re going to live that way, and those people who are going to live that way are going to find each other. And I think we are! [laughs]

K: I think we are too! And that’s exactly what drew me to Quakerism specifically, is this non-hierarchical spiritual community. I think that is really, really important and really powerful because as long as we stay rooted not just in spirit, but in the idea that everybody is basically equal and have no right to determine somebody else’s experience and relationship to God.

H: That isn’t to say people don’t have certain gifts and callings, but yes, if the church is to be anything it should be non-hierarchical. If we really believe in this kingdom of God then that’s essential.

K: The idea of Jesus as king and lord – if you look at how Jesus did it, is he had a crown of thorns..

H: Exactly.

K: He wasn’t immersing himself in the actual sort of societal structures of what it means to be a king or leader, he was making fun of it. He was tearing that idea down. People taking literally him being king, that’s what the crown of thorns was. He was sort of an anti-king, you know what I mean?

H: Exactly. He’s going to dethrone all kings and he he started with himself, ultimately. And I think that says a lot.

K: Giving up your power.. that’s one of the questions of our movement though, is when you have powerful charismatic personalities that can so easily become authoritarian in these movements.. it’s really hard to empower people, and you still end up with a lot of responsibilities and power being in just a few hands of the really dedicated competent organizers. I would consider myself one of them. I find people coming to me for that kind of thing it’s like, how do I continue to always practice trying to be humble and trying to give up that power and sort of dethrone myself? I know lots of really dedicated amazing organizers who have the same thing. As anarchists I love it, it’s so beautiful, people not saying ‘oh, it’s awesome that I have all this power and people are coming to me’, everyone’s saying ‘I need other people to claim their own power and to help and be equals in this organizing space’. Power to the people, and in anarchist organizing trying to continuously break down unspoken hierarchies. It’s that practice of Jesus’s humility and staying humble. It is constantly part of Jesus’s practice, because he was a super important, charismatic guy and he took extra steps all the time to stay humble and try and empower others and to, like you said, dethrone himself. That’s a really important example. That’s one of the reasons I’m a follower of his.

H: I think that for anarchists that’s a thing that should be essential to their organizing and to their view of leadership. And I mean and for all the white boys out there..

K: Yes.

H: You better hear this. You better listen. [laughs]

K: Yes. Yes. Oh god, I was just thinking the same thing. Anybody with any privilege but specifically white men need to be constantly giving up their power. Constantly, just as an active practice, giving up their power.

H: Anyone who has any sort of like privilege is kind of blinded by it in some sense, and needs to really be aware of constantly practicing being aware of it and being aware of what that looks like and how that is manifesting. Definitely.

K: Have you had a hard time with that? With white guys?

H: I mean, doesn’t everyone who’s organizing right now? It’s just like, I’m glad you are such a good anarchist and you’ve read all these books and know all these theorists and stuff, and I’m glad you’re constantly telling me how I’m wrong or ideologically inconsistent but can you stop screaming and taking up all this space?

K: And I was just thinking about how it seems like all of our really well known intellectuals are all middle class white cishet men. You know? They’re doing important work but Mark Bray, Shon Meckfessel, Spencer Sunshine, David Graeber, all of the best known anarchist intellectuals are people of privilege. [EDIT: This is unverified conjecture, I should not have assumed anything about these folks. It was said in general frustration at perceived disenfranchisement] And that’s a shame, but the other hand I think that’s sort of what happens because with privilege comes safety and it’s really, it’s really scary and unsafe to be somebody that doesn’t have that privilege to try and speak out.

H: They can say dangerous things because not much will happen. The idea of church is so cool because yes, we’re all in this together and we’re all actually struggling, because I think if you’re doing the Christian thing right you’re going to be struggling, you’re going to be suffering, and so it’s also forfeiting your privileges too at the cross, surrendering those things. Everyone’s taking up a cross together and also mindfully. I think Jesus does have the preferentially, the option for the poor or whatever liberation theology people say. The church’s job is to lift up the oppressed, to give them a voice, to be holding them up and blessing them and doing what it takes because they most fully embody the image of God. For me, my Christianity is essential to my organizing because of that revelation I’ve had through my experience of Christ.

K: Yeah. I mean, I wasn’t really able to jump back into activism fully until I found Christ again. Oh, I say again, that’s so interesting that I just said ‘again’ as if it was there before. [laughs]

H: Were you raised a Christian?

K: No, no I wasn’t, so I don’t know where that came from. I’ll contemplate that on Sunday.

H: Oh, I thought you were going to say in therapy.

[Both laugh]

K: Or therapy. All sort of same deal, actually, you know what I mean, like therapy, mental health, spiritual health is therapy. Before we had therapists we had church, you know?

H: I’ll take both.

[Both laugh]

K: I’ll take whatever you got.

H: I need both, absolutely.

[Both laugh]

K: Christ and cat memes, that’s what keeps me going.

H: Oh yeah. For me, something like that. I would add some dairy in there too to be honest, but yeah. All those things sustain me.

K: I definitely didn’t eat a pint of ice cream last night, that didn’t happen…

[Both laugh]

H: Same… I didn’t eat pistachio gelato before bed…

K: Shut the fuck up, I had pistachio honey ice cream.

H: Oh, that’s lovely!

K: Were we both eating pistachio before this interview? That’s amazing.

H: I think that’s called… the holy spirit.

K: I think that is. Embodied through the body of pistachio ice cream.

H: Yes, exactly.  Before I end up going, is it okay if I mention that retreat again?

K: Totally, go for it.

H: It’s called the Friendly Fire retreat, and it’s this group of Quaker-ish, mostly anarchist but just kind of broadly leftist folks. We have this little mini organization, it’s really barely an organization, we just talk to each other and have connected at several points and are putting together this retreat. There’s ten of us or so, and it’s in May. It will be outside Philadelphia and we don’t have basically anything on the internet because we’re those kinds of organizers, but we do have an email. That’s friendlyfireinfo@protonmail.com. We will be doing direct action as well, we will be marching on May Day and we’ll be praying and worshipping and kind of doing the whole mystical thing, but also just connecting and building and hoping to build a larger movement together. Not just with Quakers, but with anyone who is mystically inclined or has a radical revolutionary Christian idea.

K: That’s wonderful, I’m really excited for that. I think there’s a lot of us lonely and separated finding Christ or finding God or needing a spiritual practice and radical organizing space and just being lonely.

H: We’re wandering but we’ll find each other. And I’m really hopeful, I hope we’re not the only thing doing something like this, or at least I hope it sparks more things like that to happen.

K: I think we need to connect more deeply with prisoners, with the black community, and unfortunately there’s overlap there, obviously because of our structures of oppression, but I think Black organizers and spiritual spaces is really important for us to morally be helping support them better. I’ve noticed in anarchist circles it is kind of fun, you know, I was doing prison letter writing and there’s a guy to write to who’s Christian and all the other anarchists were like, ‘I don’t know how to talk Jesus..’ and I was like hand that one over to the Quaker, I’m happy to talk Jesus with this prisoner, you know what I mean? So I’m hoping that we can open our doors more to communities of color and how important Christianity and spiritual practice in general has been to those communities.

H: Because if it’s not for all of us, especially those who are oppressed the most, then it’s not a real revolution.

K: Right. Exactly.

H: And I think prison abolition is also essential to the gospel of Christ. In Luke 4, in Jesus’s little mission statement when he’s reciting Isaiah in the temple he says, ‘the spirit of the Lord is on me and to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners’. I do think it’s always been an essential part of the gospel. In Acts the prison doors fling wide open. God did that.

K: There’s a reason that early Quakers, when we were the most radical, were so fixated and spent so much time on prison abolition and abolishing slavery. That’s sort of my focus now, I’m starting to focus more and more on prison abolition, and it’s very fulfilling so far. I’m looking into the Alternatives to Violence Project, which looks really cool.

H: You’re such a Quaker.

K: I know, right?? I’m just becoming more Quaker-y every damn day, it’s crazy.

[Both laugh]

H: Oh god, you’re going to make lentil casseroles soon..

K: Oh no, hang on, hold the phone. I’ve never heard of it, it sounds super gross, that is not going to happen.

[Both laugh]

H: Okay good. You’re going to be knitting during meetings soon, I’ll say that.

K: Oh.. well.. [laughs]

H: You’re already there, oh god. Lord have mercy.

K: Lord have mercy.

H: That’s awesome though. Good for you. I’m proud.

K: Aw, thanks. I’m really excited about your projects and what you’re doing! Stay on the line, but I’m just going to say I wish you all the best in your spiritual journey and hope that you can find a spiritual home. Maybe we can help create one.

H: Yeah! I would really like that. And I’m glad that we’ve been connecting, and again it gives me hope that something bigger and better is happening. Thank God.

K: Right? Literally. Thank Jesus. Okay, well, you’ve been listening to Friendly Anarchism, I have a facebook page and a twitter. Thank you so much for being on the show!

H: Thank you, have a good day.

K: Have a good day!


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