Sodium Free Friends

Yet anoth­er group of Friends (doesn’t mat­ter which, it could be any) is plan­ning a pro­gram on “com­mu­ni­ty.” They quote a snip­pet of a 1653 epis­tle on George Fox – you know the one about “Mind that which is eter­nal…” Fine enough, but there’s so much more to the epis­tle that we would fear to quote, like:

We are redeemed by the only redeemer Christ Jesus, not with cor­rupt­ible things, nei­ther is our redemp­tion of man, nor by man, nor accord­ing to the will of man, but con­trary to man’s will. And so, our uni­ty and fel­low­ship with vain man are lost, and all his evil ways are now turned into enmi­ty; and all his pro­fes­sion is now found to be deceit, and in all his fairest pre­tences lod­geth cru­el­ty; and the bot­tom and ground of all his knowl­edge of God and Christ is found sandy, and can­not endure the tempest.

Inter­est­ing ideas, but not ones most lib­er­al Friends would like to tack­le. It’s a shame. I wish we would more more active­ly engage with our tra­di­tion and not just selec­tive­ly edit out a few words which makes Fox sound like a sev­en­teen cen­tu­ry Thich Nhat Hanh. I think we can simul­ta­ne­ous­ly wres­tle with and chal­lenge our tra­di­tion with­out hav­ing to either capit­u­late to it or aban­don it.

After writ­ing the above, I went for a neigh­bor­hood walk with baby asleep in the back­pack. And I real­ized I hadn’t explained why it mat­ters to engage. I didn’t quote the sen­tences about human will­full­ness to show that I’m more sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry than thee, or to prove I can use the “C” word.
No, I quote it because it’s a rockin’ quote. George Fox is map­ping out for us twenty-first cen­tu­ry Friends just how we might get out of the predica­ment of super­fi­cial “com­mu­ni­ty” we’ve got­ten our­selves into. Every­one from Wal­mart to Walgreen’s, from Hillary Clin­ton to Oprah, is try­ing to sell us on some dream of com­mu­ni­ty com­plete with a price tag from cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca. Buy our prod­ucts, our polit­i­cal par­ty, our lifestyle and we’ll give you the nar­cot­ic of con­sumer tar­get­ing. Wear the right right sneak­er or dri­ve the right car and you’re part of the in-crowd. 

But these com­mu­ni­ties built on the sand just dis­solve in the tide and leave us more strand­ed than when we started.
We poor humans are look­ing for ways to tran­scend the crap­pi­ness of our war- and consumer-obsessed world. Quak­erism has some­thing to say about that (more than ways to recy­cle plas­tic or stage a protest faux-blockade). We’re toss­ing out the future when we throw away the past, just to live in our TVs. George’s epis­tle men­tions this too:

Let not hard words trou­ble you, nor fair speech­es win you; but dwell in the pow­er of truth, in the mighty God, and have salt in your­selves to savour all words, and to stand against all the wiles of the dev­il, in the mighty pow­er of God.

(Quotes from Epis­tle 24, reprint­ed here.)

  • So Mar­tin, what’s the offend­ing snip­pet? Won­der­ing minds want to know.
    Even com­plete sen­tences don’t always add up when read­ing Fox, that noto­ri­ous­ly incon­sis­tent genius. Take the first sen­tence of Epis­tle 24:
    TO all Friends every where, dwell in the truth, and walk in the love of the truth, in patience, and every one in your mea­sure keep your habi­ta­tions, and learn that good les­son of Jesus Christ, to be low and meek in heart, giv­ing no occa­sion to the adver­sary by evil doing.
    And the third:
    And walk­ing in upright­eous­ness, ye will be bold as lions, resist­ing the wicked with your spir­i­tu­al weapons, not by bloody hands, as the wicked are tear­ing and rend­ing the just that dwell in the truth.
    Quite a range there, in just three sen­tences, when tak­en out of context.
    I some­times use a Quak­er text (the length of four or five Bible pas­sages) and the Friend­ly Bible Study ques­tions with a work­shop or retreat. With that, or even with quot­ing Scrip­ture, I won­der what the appro­pri­ate amount is. I also won­der, when inter­pret­ing or think­ing about a text, how to weight sen­tences or phras­es in prox­im­i­ty against the gist of the whole.

  • Mar­tin Kelley

    Hi Ken­neth,
    Fox isn’t _that_ inscrutable, not real­ly. If only you had quot­ed sen­tence two between one and three you would have the bridge between the sheep and lion: “But walk all hon­est­ly and upright­ly; for the upright and meek in heart know God, and God delights in the upright and righteous.”
    I don’t wor­ry about any­one who is ask­ing the sort of ques­tions you’re pos­ing. Once we’re sit­ting around debat­ing just how many para­graphs are fair, we’re inside the wrestler’s ring and engaged with our past. (I’ve had to explain to first time atten­ders why Ken­neth stood up in Meet­ing to talk about a “Lamb’s War” (“but I thought you Quak­ers are pacifists?”)).
    What bugs me are the snip­pets which are extract­ed out to mean the com­plete oppo­site of their orig­i­nal mean­ing. There’s that one about “the only way to peace being to sit still in the Light” (para­phras­ing here) when the orig­i­nal goes to on to make clear this is the Light of con­dem­na­tion and judg­ment of Christ who will expose us and con­vict us of our sins. Main­stream lib­er­al Quak­erism is doing too much skip­ping over the hard stuff: sin, account­abil­i­ty, sac­ri­fice, dark­ness. Too much Hall­mark & Lawrence Welk. Or Life­time and Utne Read­er. And the quotes aren’t coin­ci­dence: they are selec­tive­ly cho­sen and only the easy ones get pub­lished wide­ly now.
    I wouldn’t care except I think Friends and the world both real­ly need to hear that mean­ing­ful com­mu­ni­ty and sim­plic­i­ty comes only from a deep sur­ren­der of our wills and a sub­mer­gence into a demand­ing com­mu­ni­ty that’s not afraid to stand up to the world’s van­i­ties or its member’s incon­sis­ten­cies. I’ll describe it in dif­fer­ent vocab­u­lary than Fox but I think he does give us some impor­tant clues for­ward as a peo­ple but a lot of the good stuff is there in the hard quotes that we’re most­ly ignoring.

  • Julie

    For many years now, it seems, I’ve been real­ly dis­grun­tled about the overuse, mis­use, and abuse of the word “com­mu­ni­ty.” The worst exam­ple of this mis­use and abuse is, of course, the term “gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty.” May God help us. Over the years, the term com­mu­ni­ty has been used increas­ing­ly in every­thing from church­es to tv com­mer­cials, as you note. Last Sun­day Father Pasley at Mater Eccle­si­ae men­tioned briefly in an announce­ment before the ser­mon, in rela­tion to the var­i­ous events going on at the church, (and no, I didn’t have a tape recorder in my pock­et so I’m para­phras­ing here, but I think I’m pret­ty close because this has been run­ning through my head all week), “Oth­er church­es do noth­ing but talk of build­ing ‘com­mu­ni­ty,’ espe­cial­ly when they don’t have it. We nev­er talk about ‘com­mu­ni­ty’ here and we have noth­ing but it.” (Some­thing like that. And by the way, when he men­tioned “church­es,” I think he meant both oth­er Catholic church­es and var­i­ous Protes­tant denom­i­na­tions.) Any­way, I think he is right. Father’s impli­ca­tion that I too have found to be true over the years is that the peo­ple who talk about “com­mu­ni­ty” the most real­ly have no idea what a real com­mu­ni­ty is. The best kind of com­mu­ni­ty, of course, is a group of peo­ple focused on a com­mon goal hold­ing impor­tant val­ues in com­mon, all look­ing to the good Lord first and fore­most as source and sum­mit of their lives. They are not feigned by the prospect of hard work, strug­gles, dif­fi­cul­ties, time spent, dis­tances trav­eled. Notably, peo­ple in the best kind of com­mu­ni­ty don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly find them­selves doing things for the sake of “com­mu­ni­ty,” but for the sake of the king­dom of God. Those joined togeth­er in faith­ful­ness wind up get­ting com­mu­ni­ty as a kind of indi­rect side effect of their love for God – He, in turn, binds them togeth­er. Those in true com­mu­ni­ty know things won’t turn up rosy all the time, of course, but when some­thing larg­er binds you, well, you try to deal with prob­lems in that light.

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