07 November 2013

Mary Fisher

Contemplative companions.
On the Ping River.
It was wonderful to spend time with a group of international Quaker workers over this past week. Chiang Mai, Thailand, and the nearby Tweechol Botanical Garden turned out to be a perfect setting for our retreat.

During his presentations on the history of Friends outreach, Ron Stansell retold the epic story of Mary Fisher and her visit to the Sultan of Turkey. This story had once seemed like a sort of semi-legend to him until he looked into the historical details, which included horrifying experiences of imprisonment, torture, and public humiliation at the hands of the Christian establishment in both the Old World and the New World. Contrast that with the courtesy with which she was received in Turkey.

Her story gave us a lot to think about. I was impressed by her persistence in the face of harsh opposition. To continue her mission to Turkey after being tricked by the British government, she traveled hundreds of miles on foot! But I was even more impressed by her willingness to give the Sultan the benefit of the doubt at a time when, as Ron Stansell reminded us, European Christians considered Muslims beyond the pale, not worthy of any kind consideration. Yes, Fisher was certainly driven by her own spiritual imperatives and sense of calling, but she also assumed that her hosts were fully capable of receiving and considering her message; and, equally importantly, were already loved by God and were therefore worthy of all the pains it might take to reach them and engage them in a respectful exchange.

When do I disregard conventional wisdom in favor of listening and engaging those whom we're supposed to doubt or despise? And am I ready to stand up for this value in my own teaching and advocacy?

I was also intrigued by Mary Fisher's sense of confidence. Where did it come from? Of course we can give credit to the Holy Spirit, and to the merits and urgency of George Fox's preaching, but I find it fascinating that she plunged into her amazing career of evangelical activism without elaborate training or licensing--and certainly without models of apostolic women in the Protestant leadership of the time. All this reveals a lot about Fisher, but it also says something about the inspiration, resources, and persuasive authority of the community that formed around George Fox, Margaret Fell, and the Valiant Sixty.

Who are the men and women among us today standing in need of this kind of encouragement, endorsement, and authority?

Every morning session of our retreat included a substantial period of open worship. One morning, as we waited on God in silence, it struck me in a fresh way how Friends' practice of open worship can, in a sense, be an amazing balance of utter discipline and total freedom. In open worship, we deliberately choose to trust the Holy Spirit in practice as well as theory; we deliberately confront any temptation we might feel to intervene and shape the worship time correctly, or fill the awkward emptiness by reaching into our storehouse of Christian cliches, or gratify our own egos. We enter into a taste of the freedom we're promised as the daughters and sons of God.

Another morning I was struck by nonviolence as an aspect of Christian identity. In one of the presentations, we had touched on Christian conversion as a transformation, a complete regrounding of our identity. God doesn't obliterate our identity; after all, we were already created in God's image. In fact we are created in God's love; God loves us into existence! So there's no violence done to our essential selves, I reflected, but all the social anchors that served to define us in the past are no longer central, no longer adequate. As the self-aware friends and followers of the Prince of Peace, it is no longer lawful for us to take up carnal weapons. Here's the awkward part: it's not just that we no longer choose to kill, but we no longer obey the command to kill. We honor government as it fulfills its godly mandate of keeping order and allocating scarce resources, but we are removed from its coercive command structure.

In some of the places where the Friends movement is growing, to claim this freedom is very risky. I have been hearing stories of new Friends experiencing violent persecution--and meeting that persecution with love. These real-world experiences make me a bit hesitant about pushing this particular Quaker teaching and its implication of risky political nonconformity. But I'd like to ask, humbly, that we don't surrender any of the fruits of Christian transformation in favor of temporary safety.

"Most of my life, I've been waiting to live."

"How to handle a bully."

What is happening to the 33 orphans denied to their waiting US families?

Russia and Rosbalt: "The Writing on the Wall?" (But Rosbalt is still online today.)

"Lost in the Funhouse." On Nabokov's Lolita, 55 years after its American publication. (Thank to aldaily.com for the reference.)

"A Beautiful Insignificance: Some Social Concerns of New Russian Rap." (With sample tracks, as always.)

Mary Broadcast Band - "Show Me What Is Heaven Like" from Ron Michel on Vimeo.

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