Bring people to Christ / Leave them there

It’s one of those quotes we fre­quent­ly hear: that George Fox said a minister’s job was “to bring peo­ple to Christ, and to leave them there.” But when I go to Google, I only find sec­ond­hand ref­er­ences, sand­wiched in quote marks but nev­er sourced. It turns up most fre­quent­ly in the works of British Friend William Pol­lard, who used it as kind of a catch phrase in his talks on “An Old Fash­ioned Quak­erism” from 1889. Sus­pi­cious­ly miss­ing is any search result from the jour­nal or epistles of Fox him­self. It’s pos­si­ble Pol­lard has para­phrased some­thing from Fox into a speech-friendly short­hand that Google miss­es, but it’s also pos­si­ble it’s one of those passed-down Fox myths like Penn’s sword.

London Yearly Meeting, 1865.
Lon­don Year­ly Meet­ing, 1865.

So in mod­ern fash­ion, I posed the ques­tion to the Face­book hive mind. After great dis­cus­sions, I’m going to call this a half-truth. On the Face­book thread, Allis­tair Lomax shared a Fox epistle that con­vinces me the founder of Friends would have agreed with the basic con­cept:

I’m guess­ing it is para­phrase of a por­tion of Fox’s from epistle 308, 1674. Fox wrote “You know the man­ner of my life, the best part of thir­ty years since I went forth and for­sook all things. I sought not myself. I sought you and his glo­ry that sent me. When I turned you to him that is able to save you, I left you to him.”

Mark Wutka shared quo­ta­tions from Stephen Grel­let and William Williams which have con­vince me that it describes the “two step dance” of con­vince­ment for ear­ly Friends:

From Stephen Grel­let: “I have endeav­oured to lead this peo­ple to the Lord and to his Spir­it, and there is is safe to leave them.” And this from William Williams: “To per­suade peo­ple to seek the Lord, and to be faith­ful to his word, the inspo­ken words of the heart, is what we ought to do; and then leave them to be direct­ed by the inward feel­ings of the mind;”

The two-step image comes from Ange­la York Crane’s com­ment:

So it’s a two step dance. First, that who we are and how we live and speak turns oth­ers to the Lord, and sec­ond, that we trust enough to leave them there.

But: as a pithy catch phrase direct­ly attrib­ut­ed to Fox it’s anoth­er myth. It per­haps bor­rowed some images from a mid-19th cen­tu­ry talk by Charles Spur­geon on George Fox, but came togeth­er in the 1870s as a cen­tral catch phrase of British reformer Friend William Pol­lard. Pol­lard is a fas­ci­nat­ing fig­ure in his own right, an ear­ly pro­po­nent of mod­ern lib­er­al­ism in a Lon­don Year­ly Meet­ing that was then large­ly evan­gel­i­cal and mis­sion­ary. Even his pam­phlet and book titles were telling, includ­ing Prim­i­tive Chris­tian­i­ty Revived and A Rea­son­able Faith. He had an agen­da and this phrase was a key for­mu­la­tion of his argu­ment and vision.

He is hard­ly the first or last Friend to have lift­ed an inci­den­tal phrase or con­cept of George Fox’s and given it the weight of a mod­ern tenet (“That of God” springs to mind). More inter­est­ing to me is that Pollard’s work was fre­quent­ly reprint­ed and ref­er­enced in Friends Intel­li­gencer, the Amer­i­can Hick­site pub­li­ca­tion (and pre­de­ces­sor of Friends Jour­nal), at a time when Lon­don Friends didn’t rec­og­nize Hick­sites as legit­i­mate Quak­ers. His vision of an “Old Fash­ioned Quak­erism” rein­cor­po­rat­ed qui­etism and sought to bring British Friends back to a two-step con­vince­ment prac­tice. It paved the way for the trans­for­ma­tion of British Quak­erism fol­low­ing the trans­for­ma­tion­al 1895 Man­ches­ter Con­fer­ence and gave Amer­i­can Friends inter­est­ed in mod­ern lib­er­al philo­soph­i­cal ide­als a blue­print for incor­po­rat­ing them into a Quak­er frame­work.

The phrase “bring peo­ple to Christ/leave them there” is a com­pelling image that has lived on in the 130 or so odd years since its coinage. I sus­pect it is still used much as Pol­lard intend­ed: as a qui­etist brak­ing sys­tem for top-down mis­sion­ary pro­grams. It’s a great con­cept. Only our tes­ti­mony in truth now requires that we intro­duce it, “As William Pol­lard said, a Quak­er minister’s job is to…”

And for those won­der­ing, yes, I have just ordered Pollard’s Old Fash­ioned Quak­erism via Vin­tage Quak­er Books. He seems like some­thing of a kin­dred spir­it and I want to learn more.

From concern to action in a few short months

rooftop3A grow­ing list of sto­ries is sug­gest­ing that black church­es in the South are being tar­get­ed for arson once again (although one of the more pub­li­cized cas­es seems to be lightning-related). This was a big con­cern in the mid-1990s, a time when a Quak­er pro­gram stepped up to give Friends the chance to trav­el to the South to help rebuild. From a 1996 Friends Jour­nal edi­to­ri­al:

Some­times a news arti­cle touch­es the heart and moves peo­ple to reach out to one anoth­er in unex­pect­ed ways. So it was this win­ter when the Wash­ing­ton Post pub­lished a piece on the rash of fires that have destroyed black church­es in the South in recent months… When Friend Harold B. Con­fer, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Wash­ing­ton Quak­er Work­camps, saw the arti­cle, he decid­ed to do some­thing about it. After a series of phone calls, he and two col­leagues accept­ed an invi­ta­tion to trav­el to west­ern Alaba­ma and see the fire dam­age for them­selves. They were warm­ly received by the pas­tors and con­gre­ga­tions of the three Greene Coun­ty church­es. Upon their return, they set to work on a plan.

I’m not sure whether Confer’s plan is the right tem­plate to fol­low this time, but it’s a great sto­ry because it shows the impor­tance of hav­ing a strong grass­roots Quak­er ecosys­tem. I don’t believe the Wash­ing­ton Quak­er Work­camps were ever a par­tic­u­lar­ly well-funded project. But by 1996 they had been run­ning for ten years and had built up cred­i­bil­i­ty, a fol­low­ing, and the abil­i­ty to cross cul­tur­al lines in the name of ser­vice. The small­er orga­ni­za­tion­al size meant that a news­pa­per arti­cle could prompt a flur­ry of phone calls and vis­its and a fully-realized pro­gram oppor­tu­ni­ty in a remark­ably short amount of time.

A first-hand account of the work­camps by Kim Roberts was pub­lished lat­er than year, Rebuild­ing Church­es in Rural Alaba­ma: One Volunteer’s Expe­ri­ence. The D.C.-based work­camp pro­gram con­tin­ues in mod­i­fied form to this day as the William Penn Quak­er Work­camps.

Update: anoth­er pic­ture from 1996 Alaba­ma, this time from one of my wife Julie’s old pho­to books. She’s sec­ond from the left at the bot­tom, part of the longer-stay con­tin­gent that Roberts men­tions.

WQW

Self-promotion and ministry temptations

Jon Watts looks at the ironies of fame-seeking and avoid­ance:

But this striv­ing for per­fect hum­ble­ness can eas­i­ly become dog­mat­ic. We can come to reject any­thing that looks remote­ly like attention-seeking, and we miss God’s mes­sage in it.

Jon weighs in with some good, juicy ques­tions. Where is self-promotion a way to pro­mote some­thing big­ger? And when is it ego-driven? t’s not just a inter­net ques­tion, of course. This is also at the heart of our Quak­er vocal min­istry: some­one just stands up in wor­ship with an implic­it claim they’re speak­ing for God.

Samuel Bow­nas is a good go-to per­son for the­se sort of dilem­mas. He was a second-generation Friend who shared a lot of the inside dirt about Quak­ers in min­istry. He wrote down the tri­als and temp­ta­tions he faced and that he saw in oth­ers in their “infant minstry” as a con­scious men­tor­ship of future Friends.

One of Bownas’s themes is the dan­ger of ape­ing oth­ers. It’s tempt­ing to get so enam­ored of someone’s beau­ti­ful words that we start con­scious­ly try­ing to mim­ic them. We stop say­ing what we’ve been given to say so as to sound like the (seem­ing­ly) more-articulate per­son whose style we envy. Most cre­ative artists walk this ten­sion between copy­ing and cre­at­ing and as Wess will tell you, the idea of remix has become of more impor­tance in the era of dig­i­tal arts. But with min­istry there’s anoth­er ele­ment: God. Many Quak­ers have been pret­ty insis­tent that the mes­sage has to be given “in the Spir­it” and come from direct prompts. Unpro­grammed Friends (those of us with­out pas­tors or pre-written ser­mons) are excep­tion­al­ly aller­gic to vocal min­istry that sounds too prac­ticed. It’s not enough that the teach­ing is cor­rect or well-crafted: we insist that it be given it at the right time.

When think­ing the pit­falls about min­istry I find it use­ful to think about “The Tempter.” I don’t per­son­i­fy this; I don’t insist that it’s cen­tral to Quak­er the­ol­o­gy. But it is a thread of our the­ol­o­gy, one that has explained my sit­u­a­tion, so I share it. For me, it’s the idea that there’s a force that knows our weak­ness­es and will use them to con­fuse us. If we’re not care­ful, impuls­es that are seem­ing­ly pos­i­tive will pro­voke actions that are seem­ing­ly good but out of right order – given at the wrong time.

So, if like Jon, I start wor­ry­ing I’m too self-promotional, the Tempter might tell me “that’s true, it’s all in your head, you should shut up already.” If I work myself through that temp­ta­tion and start pro­mot­ing myself, the Tempter can switch gears: “yes you’re bril­liant, and while you’re at it while don’t you set­tle some scores with your next post and take some of those fak­ers down a notch.” There’s nev­er an objec­tive “cor­rect” course of action, because right action is about strip­ping your­self of self-delusion and nav­i­gat­ing the shoals of con­tra­dic­to­ry impuls­es. The right action now may be the wrong action lat­er. We all need to grow and stay vig­i­lant and hon­est with our­selves.

“Nostromo” by Joseph Conrad

After Heart of Dark­ness I thought I’d try anoth­er book by Con­rad. The choice was made easy by the Wikipedia entry for Nos­tro­mo, which quotes F. Scott Fitzger­ald as say­ing “I’d rather have writ­ten Nos­tro­mo than any oth­er nov­el.”

Six weeks lat­er, and I’m only a quar­ter of the way through. I’m drop­ping this book. I won’t say that the book’s first quar­ter is com­plete­ly unin­ter­est­ing. Its pic­ture of a trou­bled South Amer­i­ca coun­try and the way its internationally-focused upper class tries to act as a reform move­ment drew me in, but only so far. At this point the nov­el is still just a thinly-cloaked his­to­ry lesson with broadly-drawn car­i­ca­tures that have failed to become char­ac­ters.

Let me be hon­est: I want some dra­ma. I want some­one to betray the emo­tion­al expec­ta­tions of their assigned role. Can’t some­body (any­body?!) kiss the wrong lips, betray the wrong fight­er, or at least have a cri­sis of faith in their God, life’s work, or pol­i­tics?

I do believe the action gets saucier lat­er on. But I’m too con­fused by the polit­i­cal actors of Costagua­na (“who’s Avel­li­nos again?”) to care. I can check the Wikipedia pages on Venezue­la and Colom­bia to see how the polit­cal dra­ma plays out. What­ev­er per­son­al dra­ma there is will have to be Fitzgerald’s.

“Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, 1902

I began Conrad’s clas­sic tale as a follow-up to last month’s State of Won­der by Ann Patch­ett. Her hero­ine trav­eled to the most remote reach­es of the Ama­zon; all sto­ries that make the trip from the bland­ness of civ­i­liza­tion (Min­neso­ta in Patchett’s case) owe a debt to Conrad’s clas­sic tale of a steam­boat trip far up the Con­go River.

The book cer­tain­ly has its odd­i­ties, start­ing with the nar­ra­tive voice: we are lis­ten­ing to a sto­ry told aboard a ship on the Thames that is wait­ing for a change of tide to send it on its way out to sea. The narrator-within-the-story, Mar­lowe, tells the entire tale in flash­back, with Con­rad only occa­sion­al­ly com­ing up for air to the deck of the Thames boat (Heart of Dark­ness was writ­ten as a three-part seri­al; I assume the­se nar­ra­tive breaks are the stitch­ing between install­ments).

I had heard much about this book over the years so I was curi­ous to see the exact nature of the deprav­i­ties upon which the infa­mous Kurtz had indulged him­self. But two-thirds of the way through the book I real­ized we were nev­er to real­ly learn them. We know there’s a remote camp by a lake and an African tribe that regards him as some kind of demi-god, and we hear tell that he’s law­less toward oth­er Euro­peans and single-minded in his quest for ivory. But the­se are all bare­ly more than hint­ed glimpses.

The sto­ry turns out to be not so much about Kurtz as it is about Mar­lows’ imag­in­ings as he gets deep­er into the con­ti­nent and gath­ers clues about the mys­tery man at the top of the river. I found this to be a relief, as Con­rad seems almost as unin­ter­est­ed in flesh­ing out the Africans along the way. Kurtz is a bril­liant civ­i­lized man; in the jun­gle his sav­agery is unleashed and he becomes a force unto him­self.

I had to deal with a being to whom I could not appeal in the name of any­thing high or low. I had, even like the n******, to invoke him – him­self his own exalt­ed and incred­i­ble degra­da­tion. There was noth­ing either above or below him, and I knew it. He had kicked him­self loose of the earth. Con­found the man! he had kicked the very earth to pieces. He was alone, and I before him did not know whether I stood on the ground or float­ed in the air.

Yes, this is a work­ing def­i­n­i­tion of a psy­chopath. If this were a mod­ern Show­time or AMC tele­vi­sion show, this would be the start of the action: the pro­duc­ers, writ­ers, and actors would leave lit­tle gore or deprav­i­ty to the imag­i­na­tion. But for Con­rad this is the moral­i­ty tale at the heart of the book. Short­ly after being found, Kurtz con­ve­nient­ly dies and our nar­ra­tor sails back down­stream, going (we are help­ful­ly told) twice the speed as before, back out to the ocean and civ­i­liza­tion.

More: 

Iran-Contra alum behind Terror Psychic Network

The Idiot who came up with the “Ter­ror Psy­chic Net­work” is leav­ing the Pen­tagon over the flap. What’s even more strik­ing is his iden­ti­ty: it’s John Poindex­ter, one of the peo­ple at the heart of the Iran-Contra scan­dal that rocked the Rea­gan Admin­is­tra­tion.

For those too young to remem­ber, in the Iran-Contra affair Reagan’s kook­i­est spooks secret­ly sold arms to U.S. arch­en­e­my num­ber 1 (Iran) in order to cir­cum­vent Con­gres­sion­al demands that they not fund an oppo­si­tion army again­st U.S. arch­en­e­my num­ber 2 (Nicaragua), with the mon­ey being fun­neled through the coun­try that then and now still inex­plic­a­bly isn’t pub­lic ene­my num­ber 3 (Saudi Ara­bia). It was the cir­cuitous­ness of it all more than any­thing that kept Rea­gan out of jail for all of this.

Why Poindex­ter was ever allowed back any­where near Wash­ing­ton, much less the Pen­tagon, is a mys­tery. Here are some arti­cles on Poindexter’s return to Wash­ing­ton and return of the Iran-Contra crew to the (Bush II) White House. Here’s anoth­er arti­cle on the res­ig­na­tion of the Rea­gan crook turned Bush-II fool.