25 May 2023

T. Canby Jones on George Fox and "the Light"

My favorite photo of T. Canby Jones is
the one used on the cover of this book of
essays in his honor, available from 
Friends United Press.

Our weekly online book discussion group at Camas Friends Church took place yesterday evening. We're in between books, so topics vary from week to week. Our topic yesterday was an essay by T. Canby Jones, published nearly fifty years ago in Quaker Religious Thought: "The Nature and Functions of the Light in the Thought of George Fox."

It's not a long article, and it's well-organized, so if you have a few minutes, please take a look at it. You may enjoy it so much that you forget to come back to this blog post, which would be a very satisfactory outcome!

There's no need for me to summarize or analyze the article, which speaks for itself. But here are some thoughts that came to me as we read and discussed this article last night.

Canby exemplifies a typical Quaker approach to theology: it's often functional. He doesn't spend time defining "light," he finds the distinction between "natural light" and the Light of Christ unhelpful; he doesn't cling to or generate doctrines. Instead, he describes how the Light of Christ actually seems to work in our lives.

In linking Light with spiritual diagnosis, exposure of sin and evil, repentance, and so on, Canby doesn't associate Fox's teachings with any sense of primordial depravity. There's no shaming us, there's simply the bald fact that without the Light we wander into disobedience, but we are not trapped there. We always have the choice of turning to the Light, which has the power to graft us into unity with God and each other.

The Light extends a constant and direct invitation to us. As Canby says, no dramatic "volcanic upheaval" is required...the kind of drama that might, for example, be evoked by an emotional appeal from a Christian revivalist backed by big amplifiers and a booming bass. (I had to think about this for a moment; my own conversion was dramatic and emotional enough, but on the other hand, I was completely alone at the time in terms of outward company; it was just me and the Sermon on the Mount, and, eventually, the inward confirmation of Jesus: "You can trust me." I also have no license to question those whose very real conversions took place in revivalist events.)

Judy and I got to know Canby personally, especially during the years we lived in Wilmington, Ohio, and saw him frequently. If you knew him, too, you'll hear his voice, and his humor, in between the lines of this article. If you didn't know him, you might very well still catch the sparkle in his eye as you picture him selecting the quotations for this article. Canby was a radiant man, just the kind of person you'd like to have writing about the Light.

It's hard to miss the constant use of "men" and "mankind" in Canby's article, referring to people in general, in contrast to Fox himself who often referred to "men and women" in his writings. The article was published in 1974, and Canby died nine years ago; his more recent writings (example from 2005) didn't use this universal "men." I don't bring this up to signal my virtue, since my own writing in those years didn't do any better in this regard. I simply want my blog to be a place of hospitality (explained in this post) for those who bear a testimony for inclusive language or who've been wounded by its absence.

Ron Rembert remembers Canby Jones.

In this post about our Quaker retreat in Ukraine back in 2011, I traced this chain of encouragement: Rufus Jones ... Thomas Kelly ... T. Canby Jones.

Thanks to Veterans for Peace, the Golden Rule sails on

Alexei Yurchak (author of the fascinating book Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation, mentioned here) talks with Vladimir Abarinov about Russia's current moral collapse and the contrast with Soviet times. (Russian text here.)

This way of living outside, inside and out at the same time, has political potential. Because it is precisely for this reason that if people do not fully understand the political agenda of the state then they don’t have to support it, and this is not required of them. They are required not to participate. They have the potential for political mobilization.

Micah Bales on Christians as today's heathens....

"Hard-Earned Hope": Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends gathers in a month for our annual sessions. Please join us!

More of the late Magic Slim's collaboration with the Brazilian band The Blue Jeans: "I'm a Bluesman."

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