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.)