Saturday, July 31, 2010


There were always in me, two women at least, one woman desperate and bewildered, who felt she was drowning and another who would leap into a scene, as upon a stage, conceal her true emotions because they were weaknesses, helplessness, despair, and present to the world only a smile, an eagerness, curiosity, enthusiasm, interest.
Anaïs Nin

I feel a weariness with arguments, about universalism versus Christianity or being Christian versus Pagan. All we need to do or are asked to do is love one another. A truism. But true.

And yet--I get pulled into the arguments. And I want to say, that language matters. Language--in the great discovery of 20th century philosophy, building on Nietzsche--is not a clear window pane into reality. Language is tainted. The early Quakers knew this. Women and minorities know this. Anybody who has been damaged by the culture knows this. So when people say, oh the God stuff, it's just the different words for the same concepts ... the words themselves are the concepts, we're caught in the prisonhouse of language, and context changes concept, and there's always context, always baggage, and if the words really don't matter, why don't we all use the Christocentric language of our culture?

i feel like telling you everything
talking until my words aren't a part of me anymore
they are part of the air
and suddenly they are not my problem
and i am free

So maybe that's why I'm "just saying." (These quotes come from a blog called paperdollblewsaway.)

Last weekend, Roger and I went to Toronto. We stayed Jaya's apartment. We visited an art museum, ate Thai Food (thanks to Jaya's parents), shopped in bookstores, went to an island where it rained and sat under umbrellas at sidewalk cafes.

In the meantime, a stray dog and a stray kitten have shown up at our house: Larry and Junior. Larry was a kind old hound dog who followed us home one day. Then he followed us around the lake, to the campus proper, hung out for awhile, possibly understood people were talking about the "pound," and wandered off again. Or maybe he's simply a wandering hobo of dog and it was time to hit the road again.

Sophie brought home the stray tabby kitten, who, we were told, would be put to sleep by the shelter should we take it there. Too many cats in the world. Junior, who is a minature version of our gray tabby, Andre (hence the name junior) is so quivering with the very life force of the universe, so full of intensity and joy, that we can't imagine the death sentence. We also can't keep him. Right now, he's living outisde--and before long, we'll have to figure out what to do. It is coincidence that these animals keep all of a sudden wandering into our lives?

Tomorrow I leave for a writing class Earlham School of Religion.

I will try to stay in touch.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

God's Initiatives

"Now the Lord said to Abram: 'Get out of your country, From your family and from your father's house, to a land I will show you..'" Genesis 12:1

"The most dramatic changes in your life will come from God's initiative, not yours. The people God used mightily in Scripture were all ordinary people to whom he gave Divine assignments that they could never have initiated. The Lord often took them by surprise ..."

From Experiencing God Day-by-Day: Devotional, by Henry and Richard Blackaby

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"All religions are the same"

I find Max Carter to be an excellent writer who, in his "On Faith" essay ( paints an appealing vision in which we all, whatever our religious backgrounds, are equally members of God's family, with God as father and mother, sharing the same DNA. Yes, I agree that we are all children of God, vessels made in the image of God, eikons of God, and I understand Max's emphasis on our commonalities.

However, I think the question Prothero is raising is not "Do we have the same spiritual DNA as humans?" but ,"Do all religions share the same spiritual DNA?" So I believe Carter is answering a different question.

I also see Carter putting himself in the God position rather than human position: He writes:

"Are all religions the same? Of course not. Nor are my three biological children [note the slide from religious institutions to individual children], even though they came from the same parents. While sharing many common characteristics, our two daughters and one son are as different as can be in many respects - religiously, politically, vocationally, temperamentally.
But my wife and I focus on our deep love of each, irrespective of those differences. We love no one of them more than the other; favor no one of them more than the other. We recognize the biological similarities, their common interests in living meaningful lives, their desire to be loving partners, and their devotion and love for us as parents. They have the same hopes and fears that any human beings have: anxiety about job security, health, their children's lives, the future....
I think of the world's religions in much the same way. "

In this analogy, Max puts himself in the parent/God position, looking down from above on his children/the world's religions. But we humans are not in the God position--we are not standing above the table of religion, looking down. As humans, we are at the table, constrained by time and place, looking across. And maybe because of that, our vision isn't so clear.

Thus, while I believe one can be a hyphenated universalist (and I am, in the traditional 17th century Quaker sense, a Christian-universalist), I think it is difficult to be a stand-alone Universalist, because, whether you mean to or not, that can easily slide into the false-for-a-human God position: "Yes, I am the parent and I love all religions equally. I am above the fray." But we are not. We are the fray.

At the end of his essay, Carter slides back into the "child" position. We can all be brothers and sisters, fighting and yes laughing, at the same picnic. It's a lovely picture, but I would argue we can't have it both ways: we can't be both parents and siblings.

I am passionate and perhaps a bit cranky about this subject, but I believe--along with people such as Marcus Borg--that we need to pick a faith and embrace it tightly, dig deeply into it, and acknowledge its humanity, including its deep flaws. We need to try to correct our faith's problems, but we can't do that if we don't have a faith. Further, we can't be "above" all faiths and then call our interfaith partners "brothers and sisters." We can't treat them with full respect as equals if we take the stance that we are the parents and they are the children. Or so I think.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Universalism: What do you think?

I'm interested in response to the piece below by Max Carter that ran in the WaPost at addresses Steve Prothero ... (Hat Tip to Tom Smith for emailing me this link)

and to the two other pieces below (HT to Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog at Beliefnet).

The third is a response to Max. The one sandwiched in between is a statement of Christian Universalism that seems to me close to the traditional Quaker position. This is more than I usually put in one blog, but not all that long.

Religions are siblings but not twins
by Max Carter
Q: Are all religions the same? The Dalai Lama, who just celebrated his 75th birthday, often refers to the 'oneness' of all religions, the idea that all religions preach the same message of love, tolerance and compassion. Historians Karen Armstrong and Huston Smith agree that major faiths are more alike than not. But in his new book "God is not One," religion scholar and On Faith panelist Steve Prothero says views by the Dalai Lama, Armstrong and Smith that all religions "are different paths to the same God" is untrue, disrespectful and dangerous. Who's right? Why?
Are all religions the same? Of course not. Nor are my three biological children, even though they came from the same parents. While sharing many common characteristics, our two daughters and one son are as different as can be in many respects - religiously, politically, vocationally, temperamentally.
But my wife and I focus on our deep love of each, irrespective of those differences. We love no one of them more than the other; favor no one of them more than the other. We recognize the biological similarities, their common interests in living meaningful lives, their desire to be loving partners, and their devotion and love for us as parents. They have the same hopes and fears that any human beings have: anxiety about job security, health, their children's lives, the future....
I think of the world's religions in much the same way. Products of human beings who are biologically descended from the same "parents" yet subjected to different cultural forces and even the whims of those "parents" at any given time, religions develop differently in response to those differences.
Yes, there are many similarities in the world's religions. As I developed a curriculum on world religion for a Quaker school in Palestine recently, I was struck by how many common elements each of the eight major traditions I included have. All religions have to deal with life and death, hope and desire, fear and the need for acceptance. And each has come up with a system to offer meaning to humanity in a world that ultimately kills us. The elements of that system are very different in many respects. Codes of ethics are often very different.
But as brothers and sisters, offspring of the same "parent," we can find common cause, celebrate the richness of each other's discoveries of meaning, share in each other's quest for more Light. Will there be family fights? Of course. Can there be reconciliation and a fun time at the family picnic? Yes.

Read more:

Piece number two
I Am A Universalist
12 Comments Published July 14th, 2010 in Uncategorized.
Reading Gutierrez’ “A Theology of Liberation” last week I realised that the best word to describe my view of the Christian Gospel is universalist. I believe in the universality of salvation.

Now, before you swipe my “Bible believing evangelical” credentials (or leper bells depending on your view) from me, let me assure that I still think that Jesus was telling the truth when he said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” I think salvation only happens through faith in Christ.

But the quantitative universal question (who is in, who is out and how many people are saved which is typically how the word universalist is used) is not nearly as interesting to me as the qualitative universal question. I do not know if all will be saved and I am not certain that when 1 Peter says that Jesus went to preach to the captives in hell that this indicates that all humans ever conceived will be redeemed.

But I am certain that the whole testimony of the Bible proclaims that the restored union with God that is the “hope of the Gospel” goes far beyond simply gaining entry to heaven. I think it has universal consequences for the individual, for the community and well, for the universe. If it is true that through the forgiveness of sins the Christian has the primary relationship of their life restored to them, that is, union with God, then that must utterly transform how they approach every other relationship and interaction.

The way that I have understood this in the past is that the Gospel exerts a four-fold reconciliation. At the heart of my being I have been reconciled through Christ, in-dwelt by the Spirit and adopted by God.

This security is the basis for my second reconciliation, the internal one to myself. If the Creator of the Universe sees me as wholly holy and blameless then I must be willing to share grace with myself and accept and forgive myself.

Off the basis of this peace within myself over who I am, I am charged up for the third wave of reconciliation with the Other, the neighbour, any other human being I encounter. As someone at peace with myself and secure in God’s identity for me I ought to be able to embrace even the most tiring and draining of people, say rugby fans, with a new found ability to repent (healing old relationships) and embrace (building new relationships).

Then the fourth-fold reconciliation comes to bear as a community of people who have enjoyed the benefits of reconciliation with God, peace with themselves, renewed relationship with each other, take this new Creation energy and let it loose on the Cosmos. Whether in the ecclesial, political, economic, cultural or ecological environment, the reconciliation of God expresses itself here in regenerative action. As Tom Wright might say, we live in the now shaped by the sure and certain knowledge of God’s certain future. We join in with what God is about.

But the extent of that transformation was always limited for me. In each of those four quadrants I think that the Gospel extends universally, which may even mean infinitely. There is always more internal healing and peace-making to be done and the Gospel is always relevant. There is always more repenting with your neighbours to be done and the Gospel is the only way we can do that. There is always more re-creation to be enjoyed in the wider world and the Gospel sets us up for that in a way that transcends and perfects both hedonism and conservationism. Underwriting all this activity is of course our primary conversion – being captured more fully by the beauty of God.

So I may be warping Gutierrez entirely in this interpretation, warping or perhaps correcting (!) but there is much to dwell on in what he has to say:

Salvation – the communion of men with God and the communion of men among themselves – is something which embraces all human reality, transforms it, and leads it to its fullness in Christ: “Thus the centre of God’s salvific design is Jesus Christ, who by his death and resurrection transforms the universe and makes it possible for man to reach fulfillment as a human being. This fulfillment embraces every aspect of humanity: body and spirit, individual and society, person and cosmos, time and eternity. Christ, the image of the Father and the perfect God-Man, takes on all the dimensions of human existence.”

(The text he quotes is from the 1968 declaration of the Latin American bishops at Medellín)

Piece number three

Nobody has religion totally right, but some errors are more serious than others.

People are all similar. Reality does not change from person to person, but the interpretation of reality can be different. Nobody should be so "nice" they end up insulting other faiths by refusing to admit they make truth claims that cannot be sustained.

If one religion says that it is good for people to be poor and another that it is evil, then both cannot be right. The law of non-contradiction does not stop at the church door.

Just because a religion, or religious person, gets something wrong does not mean it gets everything wrong. Old and tested ideas, like all the great world religions, must get more right than wrong in order to have survived the hardest test of all: time.

Most great religions are mostly right, but "mostly" is not good enough. Making an error in physics, even a small one, can be fatal to the body. Making a metaphysical error, even a tiny one, can be fatal to the soul.

Christianity proves to be the best explanation for the world as it is: both the metaphysical and the physical. Some religions downplay the importance of nature and others downplay the importance of the spiritual reality. Both are too simple to explain a cosmos full of matter, energy, and personality. Mind does not come from matter and matter does not come from mind.

Christianity, with Judaism and Islam, gets this balance right, but Christianity also has an explanation for the life of Jesus. Jesus, so great nobody can ignore Him, stands at the center of history. His empty tomb demands explanation and His wisdom compels respect. Who is Jesus? Only Christianity adequately explains His marvelous life.

Christianity also built marvelous cultures. It can inspire Bach to his great Mass in B Minor and Newton to his science. It has built great churches in Ethiopia, hospitals in India, and colleges in Idaho. Every inquisitor inspired a Dostoevsky, bad bishop a Saint Francis, fundamentalist a Thomas Aquinas.

Christianity, though not always Christians, has been good, true, and beautiful. To the extent that any religion does not acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus it has gotten something dramatically wrong. It is not explaining all the data.

Or so it seems to me.

Metaphysical reality is, however, not different from person to person, so mature faiths tend to agree on many "big ideas." Love just is greater than hate. Libertine sexual values have never built a culture, but have destroyed many. Judaism and Islam particularly deserve our respect. Christianity owes its existence to Judaism and has learned much from Muslims. Both can sustain both science and high culture.

I have gained great insight into my life from other religions and from people who disagree with me. Even if Christianity is true, it does not contain all truths and many Christians have misunderstood the truths it contains. Any reasonable believer would also admit that he might be totally wrong and open-minded to other possibilities.

Studying the works of other Christian traditions or other faiths is never a waste of time. I have always learned something or enriched my own faith in the process. For example, I spent a profitable year studying the Book of Mormon. At the end, I did not think the Book of Mormon was the Word of God, but I did think it a work of literary genius. It was often compatible with my beliefs, it got much right, but the differences were important and real. The claims of traditional Christianity and Mormonism could not both be true. Reading it stretched me mentally and, even though I came to reject the truth of its unique religious claims, the sheer act of carefully reading Mormon apologists was good for me.

Faith is wonderful, because it allows you to wonder! You commit yourself to your faith and then you see.

There is only one group that does not deserve our respect: the extremist wrapped in certainty. From the jihadist to the Dawkensian atheist, a certain personality type is sure about the big questions. Their opposites are all fools or cads and they can dismiss every different religious point of view as wrong, obviously wrong.

These people lack faith, because all they have is certainty. Certainty leads to a loss of wonder, because there comes to be nothing to wonder about. Those atheists, theists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, or any other philosophical tradition that commit themselves, but are still wondering about things, deserve our respect and attention.

The journey to see the Good is long, but even if it lasted a thousand years I am convinced that if we are motivated by love and pursue it, then we will see Him at last clearly. Lord how I want to be in that number!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Least of These

Having just read C. Wess Daniel's blog on John Woolman (there's a link through Quakerquaker below and to the right on this blog), I wonder if we can tie our Quaker witness to the following, which appeared in today's New York Times. Bob Herbert writes:

"Listen to the soft-spoken new president of the U.A.W., Bob King.

“My view of the labor movement today,” he said in an interview, “is that we got too focused on our contracts and our own membership and forgot that the only way, ultimately, that we protect our members and workers in general is by fighting for justice for everybody.”

The fundamental issue is that “every human being deserves dignity and a decent standard of living,” he said, “and the whole point of the labor movement is to help make that happen.”

In Mr. King’s view, the fight to organize workers and improve their wages and benefits is important, but it’s part of a much broader effort to improve the lives of individuals and families throughout the country and beyond. He is a believer in cooperative efforts and shared sacrifice, and is unabashedly idealistic as he outlines what can only be described as a new activism on labor’s part.

He promised his members last month that the U.A.W. would be marching and campaigning and organizing — for jobs, for a moratorium on home foreclosures, for civil and human rights and against the mistreatment of immigrants, and for peace."

I find myself responding to this unabashed idealism and a vision that is not narrowly "unionistic" but wants to make life better for everyone. What do you think?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Is it scary?

How do we get into dialogue with people like the following, named "Sky Blue," who made the following comment on a Jesus Creed thread about the topic of closing down public libraries:

Unfortunately, public education, as much as we love it and as much as it benefits our society, is socialism and so should have no place in our structure.

(Read more:

I would love to understand where he/she is coming from.

My feeling is, if public libraries and publicly funded education represent "socialism," sign me up for (Christian) socialism. I have trouble envisioning living in a society with no public sector and wonder what people are thinking. I really do. Can anyone help me understand this? Should I be as frightened of this mindset as I am?

I'm thinking much lately about how to structure a discourse in a way such that institutions can be publicly funded and yet not labeled "socialist." Is it possible to frame a positive conversation about public sector?

Strawberry Parable

"A man was wandering in the wilderness when a tiger appeared and began to chase him. Panicked, he fled to the edge of a cliff with the ferocious beast on his heels. Spotting a thorny vine rooted on the rock, he swung himself down over the chasm.

Above, the tiger howled and pawed at the rock; below, he saw the gaping jaws of a second tiger. Suddenly, a white mouse and a black mouse appeared and began to gnaw at the vine, but the man did not notice. He had found a plump, red strawberry growing on the face of the cliff. Holding onto the vine with one hand, he plucked the fruit with the other and popped it into his dry mouth. How sweet it was!

Is this story, which appears in the book Fishing for the moon and other Zen stories, by Lulu Hansen, which my friend Alice gave me as a birthday present, another version of "sufficient for today are the evils of today?"

Is it about "mindfulness" or about how life is so terrible that all we can do is eat a strawberry before we ourselves are consumed? What IS it about?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Quakers and Univeralism

I have been saying this for years but Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed said it succinctly and well in reviewing a new book by Stephen Prothero.

A pastor once said to me that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam believe in the same God but just worship him differently. I said two things back: (1) Not true, for no Jew or Muslim believes in or worships God as Trinity, and (2) just try getting an ordinary Christian, Jew or Muslim to say they think that we all have the same God.

I have believed for a long time that touchstones are to be used but the only honest way to dialogue about our faiths is to tell the truth about our faith and tell the truth of what we think of the other faith, and then to listen to the other person say the same to us and of our faith. With love from first to last, but with the truth of love and love for the truth. The worst thing we can do is to pretend we are all really saying the same thing.

But the pastor's comment is common and widespread. For instance, Swami Sivananda said, "The fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same. There is difference only in the non-essentials." To which Stephen Prothero, author of God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter , says both bitingly and truthfully: "This is a lovely sentiment but it is dangerous, disrespectul, and untrue."

I see this sentiment to which Prothero addresses himself in his new book to be a religious colonialism. It is a way of incorporating the beliefs of another into what one person believes and clarifying, for the truly enlightened, that after all these religions are all variations on a theme. Once you get the theme, and one must be exceedingly broad-minded to grasp it, you can see that we differ only on particularities. Prothero's book is designed to rebut the whole approach of religious colonialism. Here are a few of his opening statements:
He calls this religious colonialism "naive theological groupthink -- call it Godthink" (3).

"God is not one. Faith in the unity of religions is just that -- faith." It's "an act of the hyperactive imagination."

Karl Rahner once spoke of others in other religions as being anonymous Christians. Hans Kung answered back: "It would be impossible to find anywhere in the world a sincere Jew, Muslim or atheist who not regard the assertion that he is an 'anonymous Christian' as presumptuous."

Yes, Prothero says, the world's religions share one thing: they all believe there is a problem or something's wrong. But from that point on they differ, and often dramatically. The solutions show how much they differ. They are not all climbing the same mountain but they are on different mountains.

Read more:

I'd don't know how many times I've heard Universalist Friends say "All religions are the same." To my mind, this is modernist thought that arises from the same Enlightenment impulse that led botanists to classify plants into categories. There's nothing wrong with the Enlightenment, but we have seen its limitations and are in a period of paradigm shift. Also, as more than one postmodern thinker has pointed out, our understanding of "comparative religions" is heavily influenced by the worldview of those mid-twentieth century scholars who wrote the textbooks: primarily white Protestant males from elite East Coast college and OxCam backgrounds: not precisely a broad spectrum. What they give us, some have argued, is a distorted understanding of world religions to begin with.

I'm glad more and more people are challenging the truism that "all religions are the same." As both a Quaker and a religion reporter I chose to bite my tongue more than once when an older white male leaned over to me and said, as if revealing the secret of the ages: "Buddha and Jesus believed the same things" or "all religions are the same." After hearing the "revelation" about 50 times, I found myself having to suppress sarcasm: "Wow! Is that so? I never thought of THAT!" I've often wondered how otherwise intelligent people have gotten stuck on that groove or morphed the idea that some religions share some common tenets into a history-denying and specificity-erasing truth claim all faiths are the same.

It troubles me that so many liberal Quakers hold unreflectively to the "all the religions are the same" falsehood. The same people who deride the Christians who say with conviction "Jesus Christ is my personal savior" will in the next breath say with the same conviction that all religions are different paths up the same mountain--and if you disagree, will judge you with all the scorn of the fundalmentalist Christian towards the unsaved.

Is it "colonialism" to say that all religions are the same? Are Jews--fewer than .02% of the world's religious population--wrong to be worried about being subsumed or erased under thinking that throws us all into a common melting pot? Is a universalist worldview "dangerous?" Why or why not? Why are some Quakers so bent on this universalist worldview? Is there a way forward?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


It's so hot I can't think straight, and yet here in Ohio we're "merely" in the 90s, 10 degrees cooler than the record-breaking East coast. The East has gotten hit hard this year, between the heavy snow in the winter and the current heat wave.

As I mentioned on Facebook, we live in a campus house at Olney Friends School, which, like all the other campus houses (unless somebody is holding out on me!) has no central air. Even the Main Building, home to the administrative offices, lacks air, unless you count those rotating fans like flowers on stems. It's truly "green" living here.

It's also a touch of how people lived 50 years ago, and of how I grew up as a child in hot, humid suburban Baltimore. I do remember feeding a big square "air conditioner" ice cubes that would melt and blow out as cold air. We could hardly feed the ice fast enough, and it always ran out too soon, even when we bought bags of it at the local store.

So, although I still want to --and hope to--comment on the comments on the Russian mathematician who turned down the million dollars, my brain, hooked to a body soggy with heat, isn't functioning at that "deeper" level.

The heat is roosting in our house, despite ceiling fans, lots of windows (cross ventilation) and our "prospect" atop a hill (usually, that means breezes). Pre-air-conditioning architecture can only do so much. At Ohio University, where I'm teaching, the school shut off the air all through the long weekend and the classrooms are still warm. I comfort myself that the school is saving taxpayer dollars, as well as the environment, but it's difficult, in mid-afternoon, to teach in a sauna-like environment. Yesterday, we went outside to a picnic table under a tree, where we benefited from a breeze. Today, at the end of class, we moved to the basement vending machine room, which was cool, but lacked a blackboard.

I'm accepting all of this as participating in God's planned rhythm of nature, even if climate change is entering the mix. Yes, I am moving at a slow crawl and trying not to be anxious about all the things I need to get done, and yes, I wish I dared to shave my head to get rid of what currently seems a very thick head of hair bearing down like a wool hat and muffler on my head and neck, but I am taking all of this as meant to be a natural slowing in the cycle of life. Maybe it's good just to turn down the human engines for a few days.

On the other hand, from what I've read in the Baltimore Sun, when this weather hit in the pre-central air days, offices and houses would close as people headed en masse for the beach or the mountains--or at least an outdoor "bed" by a local lake. Perhaps, as we wean from fossil fuels, that's the model we should be looking to.

Or perhaps we should all be heading to another old-fashioned institution: the public library.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ban Libraries?

FOX news floated the idea of getting rid of libraries: here is a
beautiful post--a piece of poetry, imho--on the value of libraries:

Friday, July 2, 2010

Wise or Foolish?

I read this in the New York Times:

Three months ago, a famously impoverished Russian mathematician named Grigori Perelman was awarded the prestigious $1 million Clay Mathematics Institute Millennium Prize for his groundbreaking work -- having solved a problem of three-dimensional geometry that had resisted scores of brilliant mathematicians since 1904.

Thursday, the institute announced that Perelman, known equally for his brilliance and his eccentricities, formally and finally turned down the award and the money. He didn't deserve it, he told a Russian news service, because he was following a mathematical path set by another.

The president of the Clay Institute, James Carlson, said that Perelman was a mathematician of "extraordinary power and creativity" and that it was he alone who solved the intractable Poincaré's conjecture. "All mathematicians follow the work of others, but only a handful make breakthroughs of this magnitude," Carlson said.

I'm awed by this man's integrity, in part because I would be hard put to refuse $1 million.

What do you think? Foolish or wise?

And yet, if more people behaved this way in disdaining money ... what a wonderful world it would be. Or would it? Does it expose as a lie that the only incentive for people to achieve is material? Or is this guy to be dismissed as an eccentric?

cell phone idea?

We are getting frustrated trying to renew our AT&T cell phone service. We'd like to keep the basic plans we have had. AT&T makes it very difficult to renew without buying extra services. All of our phones broke at the same time right at the end of the contract (I'd think conspiracy but I don't think AT&T has the technical know-how to so well fine-tune it's strategy.) Right now we have no phones. To make a long story short, it has entered my mind that we could sign up with a socially responsible cell phone service company.

Any suggestions?