Life 103

Sunday, March 18, 2007

george fox journal reflection

The following is a small portion of a reflection paper I wrote for class recently. To say that Fox was a radical is an understatement. I’m certain that I would not have liked George Fox had we ever met. At the same time, I have a deep appreciation for him. He set the pendulum swinging back in the right direction and I realize that only a cataclysmic personality could do something so drastic given the times he lived in.

George Fox begins his journal with these words, “That all may know the dealings of the Lord with me.” I am impressed with Fox’s radical obedience to God while at the same time wonder if I would have listened to him myself. Madman or saint? At times it’s difficult to say which Fox was, especially in his early years, except for the trusted testimony of those close to him. I admire Fox’s vision, tenacity, reliance on Christ our present teacher, his single-mindedness, intellect and willingness to provide strong and discerning leadership to the early movement. The infrequency of sensing ‘the Lord’s power over all’ in our time is what disturbs me most when reading the journal now.

Some qualities that enabled Fox to become a formidable leader were his relentless pursuit of Christ himself. Fox’s spirituality is marked with an extraordinary ability to listen to the Light within. Fox’s every word and deed appear bathed in the same powerful Spirit he preached of.

By definition, Fox was a prophet, mystic, reformer, and Pentecostal/revivalist. He was gifted with spiritual and moral insight, he believed it possible to have direct knowledge of spiritual Truth, his endeavor lent itself to both church and social reforms, he called for a return to the early church and embraced expressive worship and the spiritual gifts of everyone. I don’t think he aspired to be those things. I think he became those things because he aspired to be obedient to God.

The Journal reminds us of more than just our Quaker roots. Today it serves to point us toward the power of Christ, our Teacher within that can be accessed by anyone. It kicks our religion out of the church building into the community where it belongs. It calls us all to listen to and respond to the Spirit. It reminds us to care for each other and for creation. And, maybe most importantly, it demands we not let our leaders do our seeking for us lest we forget what we’re looking for or, worse, come to feel we need not seek Him any more.
Do we really want to go back to our roots or let our roots inform our future? What do you think?


  • Do we really want to go back to our roots or let our roots inform our future? What do you think?

    I think that's an excellent way to frame our choices, and a question that can turn up lots of interesting things if you allow it to delve deeply.

    The facile answer is that we can't really go back to our roots. Time moves forward, and we must move with it. We can't really have a direct experience of our roots, so the most we can do is to let a portion of our roots inform or dictate the present.

    For me, this leads to the question "Which roots should inform our futures? Which aspects of our past should we carry forward?" Carrying too much of the past can limit our movement now, but the past also holds precious clues for us.

    Right now, the parts of the past that are alive for me are our pre-Christian past and the experience of women. I'd be more inclined to let the words of Margaret Fell and Mary Penington inform my future than the words of George Fox.

    Watching my women Friends in their lives makes me wonder what sort of gospels we would have received if they'd been written by women. How would Mary Magdalene have recorded events? What aspects of Christ's teachings would Martha have emphasized?

    By Blogger Heather Madrone, at 8:18 AM, March 19, 2007  

  • Heather, many Quaker women have left journals. Would you consider those a form of Gospel? I've read a few and haven't found them significantly at variance with either what Quaker men were writing or with Quaker Christianity, in general.

    One book was "Wilt Thou Go On My Errand?", published (I think) by Pendle Hill, which includes the journals of three different 18th Century women who left their families in the care of their husbands, got on their horses and went to spread the Word. The comment from the book that has stuck with me most strongly was one woman's response to a critic who interpreted the doctrine of the Inner Light as a sort of ego trip. (It's a common reaction when non-Quakers think Friends are claiming that they, individually, are the source of revelation, rather than the mere vehicle.) The woman Friend said, "We are mere worms. We are nothing. Christ is all."

    The other book was the journal of Susanna Mason who lived in Baltimore in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Her book worry as a mother, a Quaker and a Quaker mother was that her children would pick up bad ideas and habits in the busy port town where many non-Quakers came and went.

    And that's what happened. Her son, a young teen, started complaining about having to go to meeting and wear the plain dress. Susanna feared worse was to come and prayed that, rather than have her son go bad, God would take him. That's significant in the course of the journal because, a few weeks (maybe days) after this, her son came down with some disease and died. I don't believe there was a cause-effect there because, well, I just don't believe God works that way. My point is simply that Susanna Mason's Christianity led her to a conclusion that was radically at variance with what we would expect from most parents (mothers or fathers).

    By Blogger markedixon, at 6:04 PM, March 19, 2007  

  • Heather, you ask some great questions and I agree with you, it would be great to know more of what early Quaker women had to say.

    Have either of you heard of a book I just found called "Hidden in Plain Sight: Quaker Women's Writings 1650-1700"? I haven't had time to look through it yet but hope to soon.

    By Blogger kathy, at 8:11 PM, March 19, 2007  

  • Heather,

    I agree with you that somehow the role of women in the Christian faith has been downplayed, inadvertently or maliciously, by the Church Fathers and later historians.

    That said, the Gospels do bear witness to the fact that the apostles to the apostles were women, who first found out about the resurrection.

    I found Karl Barth's notion of the Pauline writing on obedience to reactionary "magistrates" who "bear the sword" of injustice rather interesting. Instead of getting worked up and rail against them (or starting revolutions against them), are we not supposed to realize that we too are not different in kind from them?? So, when a feminist rightly point out the misogynism of his/her times, is it not his/her duty to also realize that s/he too is nothing but dust just like the oppressor of women?

    P.S. You seem to be guilty of essentialism here, too. If we are all bound together by a shared humanity, men and women; and if there is but one Holy Spirit, one God, surely it is free to appoint its apostles from amongst men AND women, without having to appeal to political correctness?

    By Blogger James Chang, at 7:43 PM, April 07, 2007  

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