13 September 2012

Founding followers

Most of us in the Quaker movement know at least a little about our founding heroes and leaders -- George Fox, Margaret Fell, Isaac Penington, Mary Fisher, Mary Dyer, Robert Barclay, William Penn, and their amazing contemporaries. At times we may wonder whether anyone in our living memory has been their equal in terms of their capacity to sacrifice, inspire, attract, and lead.

Lately, I've been thinking more about the people who were attracted into the movement by their leadership -- about that first generation of followers and about us as their successors. Francis Howgill's oft-quoted words help me sense what those early "followers" were experiencing:
The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us, and catch us all, as in a net, and His Heavenly power at one time drew many hundreds to land, that we came to know a place to stand in and what to wait in, and the Lord appeared daily to us, to our astonishment, amazement and general admiration, insomuch that we often said one to another, with great joy of heart, 'What? Is the Kingdom of God come to be with men? And will He take up His tabernacle among the sons of men, as He did of old? And what? Shall we, that were reckoned as the outcasts of Israel, have this honour and glory communicated amongst us, which were but men of small parts, and of little abilities in respect of many others, as amongst men?' [The word "men" in Howgill's usage means everyone.]
I can't say that I've ever known a George Fox or a Francis Howgill, but I have been among such "gathered" people and have been one of them. One of the first times this really hit me was at a talk that T. Canby Jones gave in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1976. Basing his talk on Psalm 126:5 ("Those who sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy") and an experience of visiting Hiroshima, Japan, he gave an intensely personal "state of the Society" of the whole Quaker movement at that point -- with love and humor and a wonderfully anti-parochial attitude. His love for this movement I had joined so recently was palpable and contagious. I felt he put us all in touch with the founding impulses of Friends -- not just with doctrines and texts, but also with that yearning for authenticity that gave us birth and (at our best) drives us still.

Tatiana Pavlova
Another experience was a conversation I had with the late Tatiana Pavlova back in 1999, which we printed as an interview in Quaker Life. She had originally become acquainted with Friends because of her academic interest in Britain's revolutionary and Commonwealth period. I asked her what stood out for her about Friends in revolutionary England. She said,
I was struck most of all by the purity, sincerity and strength of their faith. They, like myself, were not involved in searches for theological doctrines, but in striving to live in keeping with the spirit of Christ -- to live in truth and kindness, in continual oneness with Him, to live in light and love. I was also surprised by one petition which I discovered while researching historical documents. One hundred sixty-seven Quakers petitioned Parliament to be sent to prison in the place of 167 other Friends who had been suffering in prisons for a long time already, and who were tired and sick, and missed their families. That level of sacrifice simply amazed me. The history of our country is full of imprisonment and mass repression, but I had never heard of people voluntarily asking to be sent to prison in order to free their friends.
Sitting there in her apartment, aware of her role in the revival of the Friends movement in Russia, and of her personal knowledge of Russia's own recent history, again I had a sense of the foreshortening of history. Three and a half centuries didn't seem like such a long time.

I love meeting people who've only recently become acquainted with the Quaker movement. I want to say to them, Don't ever be overawed by the weight of our history, our excessive dignity, all our accumulated folkways and secret handshakes. Our job isn't to remake such new people into model Quakers, but to do that fresh and vital work that George Fox began: to lead people, without manipulation, without control, without pretensions, to the feet of Jesus and leave them there! If by their own free will, they want to live in a community that is being gathered around Jesus "as in a net," and that supports each other in that gathering, and in its ethical consequences, let's be ready with a tearful, joyful, uncluttered welcome.

I've thought a lot about what constitutes healthy patriotism. The biography of George F. Kennan, which I mentioned here, gave me a lot of food for thought. Today I'm reflecting on Micah Bales's blog post on the occasion of the murder of U.S. ambassador John Christopher Stevens.

Oh, and "What's the point of politics?" (Are Christian young people disillusioned--and why?)

Here's a headline you don't see too often in Russia: "Orthodox Priest defends Pentecostals."

Nate Macy on God and the presence of sin: "A Paradoxical Fallacy."

nbcnews.com asks "What's the funniest movie?" To celebrate our first full day back together after Judy's return home from the USA, and on the basis of this article, we decided to watch His Girl Friday. Wow, what a ride! I don't think I've ever heard such rapid-fire dialogue. Although a lot of the supposedly hard-bitten characters are pure caricature and stereotype, I confess there was a lot more political cynicism in this film than I would have expected for 72 years ago.

Now this is public service!

Here's a music clip that is just sheer nostalgia for me, reminding me again of one of the great partnerships of blues history: Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. These were the men who, along with Otis Spann and Albert King, formed my blues-shaped musical heart when I was a teenager. Now, only one is left--Buddy Guy--and he's doing his best to honor the memory of all of them.

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