03 December 2020

Advent connections

At Camas Friends Church last Sunday, it was my turn to say a few words at the opening of our meeting for worship. On that first Sunday of Advent, I referred to a quotation I've used three or four times before on this blog -- perhaps the closest you'll get to a George Fox quotation on Christmas:

We must not have Christ Jesus, the Lord of Life, put any more in the stable amongst the horses and asses, but he must now have the best chamber, the heart, and the rude, debauched spirit must be turned out.

Turning out the rude, debauched spirit is not the work of a moment. Maybe that is the reason we need a whole period of fasting and contemplation -- in other words, Advent -- to consider how we will make room to receive the Baby.

Is it fair to ask, after nearly two millennia of preparation, why we still need to turn out that rude spirit? Part of the reason might be that spiritual bondage is embedded and wily (think of addiction as an example), and combines with our individual appetites and blind spots in unique combination. There is no social evil that doesn't confront me with a personal challenge: do I challenge or acquiesce, and at what cost?

To take the spotlight safely off myself for a moment, I've been thinking about William Penn recently. This evening I was reading a biography of Penn published in 1851. It included a detailed, dramatic account of the Penn-Mead trial, widely credited with establishing the independence of trial juries. Author William Dixon observes,

Here we again observe William Penn enlarging the contracted sphere of his sect. The ordinary Quaker, in the simplicity of his heart, would have defied the unjust law, and suffered like a martyr -- satisfied with an appeal to conscience. Penn joined a larger amount of that worldly wisdom, which, like the rest, he fancied he despised, to his more ardent zeal. He knew his country, and his country's history. His legal studies at Lincoln's Inn had not been thrown into a barren soil. The circle of his mind was large, and he never sunk the Englishman in the sectarian. He was anxious about civil as well as religious liberty. Wisely therefore he took his stand on the old charters, and made his appeal to the public in their own cause. [Source, page 99.]

Just as he did in his earlier imprisonment, where he challenged the absurdity of imprisoning people for their theology, he made a direct connection between Quakers' freedom to preach in Grace-church Street and the rights of British citizens to a fair trial. He was not satisfied simply to be a good Quaker, but required of himself to be a full-fledged citizen as well, and he required the Court to respect his stand. No doubt, for him it was not a matter of "as well," because he made the connection.

With the advantage of three centuries, we wish he had made another connection. During the Penn-Mead trial, as the jury was led away to yet another night in jail for having rendered an unsatisfactory verdict, Penn looked at them and said, "You are Englishmen, mind your privileges. Give not away your rights." His courageous witness to those rights went well beyond that era's common understanding; a short time later he was back in trouble for defending the rights of Roman Catholics, despite his opposition to many of their doctrines. But when it came to his colonial estate in Pennsylvania, and in the laws of that new colony, those rights extended only to Englishmen. William McNeill writes, 

Penn’s Quaker professions of equality and fair play counted for little or nothing once confronted with a rapidly growing province with an acute shortage of labour to work the lands and carry out the multitude of tasks demanded by rural and urban Quaker society. Wage labour at this time was difficult to obtain in a Pennsylvania where land was cheap and fertile and where credit was readily available. Quaker pragmatism therefore, demanded the labour of slaves.

McNeill describes the roles of slaves in Penn's own estate. Penn's 1701 last will and testament would have freed them at his death, but no such clause appeared in the next two versions.

I don't consider myself wiser or more courageous than William Penn. What connections do I still need to make in order to welcome the infant Jesus into a prepared heart? Is there a clue in the reference to simplicity that follows? Happy Advent!

A good question:

Dialogue with John Robinson, Lieutenant of the Tower, as the authorities were trying to trick William Penn into a situation where he could be required to take the oath of allegiance, against his principles. (Source, pp. 114-116.)

Do we need Advent?

Turning out the rude, debauched spirits.

It has been forty years since we heard about these four Roman Catholic churchwomen from the USA who were killed in El Salvador: Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan. Margaret Swedish retells their story and makes the connection with today.

I learned from these women about the courage of stepping into reality and allowing it to touch you, to change you or, as Maura put it, to “strip you and show you God.” I told their stories over and over again for 23 years as coordinator and director of the Religious Task Force on Central America and Mexico in Washington, D.C. Over those years, I came to know many of their friends and family members. The four women became so much a part of my life that to this day I cannot believe I never met them in person.

I fervently wish that a younger generation will come to know their story because it expresses a historical thread that runs through our history to this day. It runs to our southern border where hundreds of Central Americans are languishing in misery because we refuse to open our border to them and in the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in recent years.

Clive Thompson on monetizing space -- the economics, ethics, and risks.

The unexpected costs of Bezos-style space exploitation are, as yet, a little distant—decades, at least. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from observing the human and environmental wreckage of the industrial era, it’s that history is like space travel: The path you set at the beginning is critical. Changing course later on is much harder. So it behooves us to plan now. Are there ways to avoid the worst possible outcomes in space? How is commercial life in space going to unfold?

An open letter to the Christians of Belarus: English. Russian.

At the Royal Society in London, a Quaker's portrait is unveiled: Jocelyn Bell-Burnell.

A "Rethinking Thanksgiving" toolkit. Thanks to David Finke for the link.

Giving Tuesday has passed, but there's still time to contribute to Christian Peacemaker Teams through my online Giving Tuesday campaign.

The Internet Archive makes room for classic flash animations, whose files must be played with software that is no longer supported. (However, the Archive doesn't seem to have my own favorite series, Masyanya.)

Vanya B. Goode! Denis Mazhukov and Ksenia Fedulova.

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