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March 30, 2007

The importance of apocalypse

Whenever someone brings up Revelation, and starts telling it as a story tied to the present, I tend to worry. I've seen too many TV preachers forecasting the end-times, read too many of Fred Clark's reviews of Left Behind, and marveled at things like the Millerites announcing that the world would end on October 22, 1844.

I've come to think, however, that I've been wrong in writing off millenarianism as strange and destructive, and especially wrong in thinking it inherently conservative. The more I've learned about Quakerism, and more broadly about Christianity, the more that final book of the Bible seems critical.

Theologian Paul Tillich, in his A History of Christian Thought, draws some connections between the Spiritual Franciscans of the 14th century, their fondness for Joachim of Floris [Fiore]'s Revelation-fueled visions of a new age, Quakers, and the rationalists who followed:

It is entirely wrong to place the rationalism of the Enlightenment in contradiction to pietistic mysticism.. It is popular nonsense that reason and mysticism are the two great opposites. Historically, Pietism and the Enlightenment both fought against Orthodoxy.

The subjectivity of Pietism, or the doctrine of the "inner light" in Quakerism and other ecstatic movements, has the character of immediacy or autonomy against the authority of the church. To put it more sharply, modern rational autonomy is a child of the mystical autonomy of the doctrine of the inner light.

The doctrine of the inner light is very old; we have it in the Franciscan theology of the Middle Ages, in some of the radical sects (especially the later Franciscans), in many sects of the Reformation period, in the transition from spiritualism to rationalism, from the belief in the Spirit as the autonomous guide of every individual to the rational guidance which everybody has by his autonomous reason.

From another historical perspective, the third stage of Joachim of Floris, the stage of the Holy Spirit, is behind the idea among the bourgeoisie of the Enlightenment that they have reached the third stage, the age of reason, in which every individual is taught directly. They go back to the prophecy of Joel, in which every maid or servant is taught directly by the Holy Spirit, and no one is dependent on anybody else for the Spirit.

Thus we can say that rationalism is not opposed to mysticism, if by mysticism we mean the presence of the Spirit in the depths of the human soul. Rationalism is the child of mysticism, and both of them are opposed to authoritarian Orthodoxy. (286-7, paragraph breaks added)

I'll connect this back to Quakerism in some posts to come on Douglas Gwyn's Apocalypse of the Word, but first I'd like to explore Joachim of Floris and the worlds Umberto Eco presented in The Name of the Rose.

So, to get started, what does Joachim of Floris sound like? Here's a sample from Apocalyptic Spirituality, in full detailing-the-end mode:

Then the commander of the army will be Gog, the final Antichrist. God will judge him and his army by fire and brimstone poured down from heaven. The devil who led men astray to do all these evil deeds will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the Beast and the False Prophet are (Apoc. 20:9-10). The Beast and the False Prophet (that is, the eleventh king mentioned in Daniel, along with his army) and the Seventh King written of above along with his group of false prophets are next thrown into the lake of fire. At the end Gog and his army will be judged; after them the devil and Gog himself will be cast into the lake of fire where the Beast and the False Prophet already are.

Among all the Antichrists who will appear in the world two are worse than the others: the one who is denoted by the seventh head and the one denoted by the tail. He who is denoted by the seventh head will come in hidden fashion like John the Baptist, who was not known to be Elias. He who is denoted by the tail will come in open fashion like Elias, who will come openly. The Lord promised one Elias and nonetheless two will come, one of who will be called Elias. God's saints have specifically spoken of one Antichrist and nonetheless there will be two, one of whom will be the Greatest Antichrist.

The devil strives for nothing more than to appear like the Most High in every way possible. Because Jesus Christ came in hidden fashion, Satan himself will do his works hiddenly, that is, signs and false wonders will be designed to seduce even the elect if possible. Because at the end of the world Jesus Christ will come to Judgment in open fashion, so too the devil himself will go forth at the end of the world and will appear openly in the days of Gog.... (140-1)

Though the details are very different, it does, actually, sound kind of like The Late Great Planet Earth, or Left Behind, hardly like the kind of writer 21st-century readers would expect to be a key path toward first revolution and then rationalism. His prediction of great change, indeed the end of the world, around 1260 also hasn't helped his reputation, and much of his work was condemned after his death.

Finding those connections means looking elsewhere in Joachim's works, particularly to his Book of Concordance. His three periods are described in Chapter 3 of the first part of Book 2:

This journey, however, on which we have begun to proceed with God's guidance has a more secure route than our traveler's, because our route is not left to chance as it was when the trip started, but it is guided by the wisdom and teaching of God, which has its inns spaced at regular intervals. These intervals ought to be considered according to diverse modes, broadly and narrowly, that is by distinguishing greater blocks of time, medium blocks, and short blocks, all of which are calculated on the basis of the number of generations and the particular property of a tempus.

For that tempus in which men lived according to the flesh was one block of time, the period that began with Adam and continued up to Christ. This is another tempus in which people live between two poles, that is between the flesh and the spirit. This tempus had its starting point with Elisha, the prophet, or with Josiah, kind of Judah, and has continued to the present time. There is still another tempus in which people live according to the spirit, a tempus that began in the days of Saint Benedict and will continue until the end of the wold. Thus the harvest or the particular property of the first tempus - or as we ought better say of the first status - lasted from Abraham to Zachary, the father of John the Baptist....

The harvest of the third status will last from that generation which was twenty-second from Saint Benedict until the consummation of the age. This status started with Saint Benedict. These status are proposed and shown to us by faith but I know that few will accept them unless manifest reason provides proof. (123-4)

Joachim of Fiore connects these period to the Trinity, using that description to fill in his expectations for these similarly overlapping periods. Chapter 7 lays this out, bringing his story to his present. The description of the third status in particular echoes Tillich's description.

Our statement that three generations ought to be taken as one beginning does not conflict with the sacred mystery of the holy and indivisible Trinity. For if the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not three beginnings but one beginning, this is by reason of a mystery...

Thus the concordia between the three status of the world ought to be assigned to these same orders so that the concordia may not be diverted either to the right or to the left. Even if events are numerous, God has revealed them one after another even up to the third status so that he might show himself to be triune in his persons. If God were one person, we ought not seek three distinct works nor assign the concordia to one of them alone.

Because, in fact, there are three persons, although the three are one God, the Son says about the Father and himself: "My Father is working still, and I am working." (John 5:17) When did the Father work without the Son, or the Son without the Father? But the Son, who made the statement is "working still," wanted the particular properties of the images to be understood. Therefore, just as the likeness of the Father ought to be venerated in those who are called Fathers up to Christ, so in those who have been redeemed by his blood and have been born by means of water and the Holy Spirit we should venerate the image of the Son himself who has wanted to have brothers on earth (although he is Lord of all and Creator of the universe) in order that he should be, as Paul says, "the first-born of many brothers." (Romans 8:29)

When in fact the apostles had performed baptisms already, the same Lord and Redeemer said: "You will be baptized by the Holy Spirit before many days." (Acts 1:25) Hence the work of the Holy Spirit will be revealed after these things in the spiritual men. This revelation, although it will have been foreshadowed in some persons, ought to be expected chiefly near the end of the age, when that promise of the Lord which has begun in a few will be consummated in many.

This is the promise of the prophet Joel who said "It will happen in the last days that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters will prophesy." (Joel 2:28) But enough has been said on these matters for now. (126-7, paragraph breaks added)

Jaroslav Pelikan expands on Joachim's perspective and its larger meaning a bit in his The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300):

The vision of a new spiritual church that was yet to be did not invalidate the institutional church that had preceded it. The older form of the church was like John the Baptist, worthy of respect even though it was being superseded. "For even if, with the substitution of the things that are new, the things that are old were to pass away, this was not as though these things had not in their own time been instituted by God for righteousness, but rather because lesser things are to be left behind so that more powerful mysteries might be given to the faithful for their salvation. A "new [form of] religion, which will be altogether free and spiritual," was to replace the obsolete "ecclesiastical order, which struggles over the letter of the Gospel."

As Christ rose from the dead on the third day, so in this third age of history the church would be raised. What would rise, as from the grave of the old church, was a new "spiritual church," into which the true "lovers of Christ" would pass over just as some Jews, those who had believed in Christ, had passed over from the synagogue to the church; in this restored spiritual church all the Jews would finally be converted to Christ.

With "the coming again of the Lord in the Holy Spirit," there would come a basic change of attitude, for in the spiritual church "men will cease being zealous for those institutions that have been established temporarily [pro tempore et ad tempus]." Thus there would have to arise "a new leader, a universal pontiff of the new Jerusalem" which would seem to mean quite explicitly "that the papacy it has had hitherto cannot continue and cannot even provide from within itself the spiritual leaders of the future." Even the sacraments of the church would be replaced, just as they in their turn had replaced the observances of the Old Testament. The institutional church would be transformed into the spiritual church, and the kingdoms of this world would yield to the kingdom of God. (302-3)

The idea of the Holy Spirit breaking through in a new spiritual church was a deeply disruptive notion. The beliefs that the Kingdom is at hand, and the Spirit accessible to all, often give people the motivation they need to take on what seem like classically lost causes. Peasants rise against their masters, or sects declare themselves separate from the world, or religious orders challenge their hierarchies.

Umberto Eco's narrator, Adso of Melk, tells one story of the challenges such viewpoints helped support in The Name of the Rose:

Saint Francis had appeared, spreading a love of poverty that did not contradict the precepts of the church...

many of those monks of Saint Francis were opposed to the Rule that the order had established, and they said the order had by now assumed the character of those eccelesiastical institutions it had come into the world to reform...

Many of them rediscovered then a book written at the beginning of the twelfth century of our era, by a Cistercian monk named Joachim, to whom the spirit of prophecy was attributed. He had in fact foreseen the advent of a new age, in which the spirit of Christ, long corrupted through the actions of his false apostles, would again be achieved on earth. And he had announced certain future events in a way that made it clear to all that, unawares, he was speaking of the Franciscan order. And therefore many Franciscans had greatly rejoiced, even excessively, it seems, because then, around the middle of the century, the doctors of the Sorbonne condemned the teaching of that abbot Joachim...

But I was speaking of the heresy (if such it was) of the Joachimites. And in Tuscany there was a Franciscan, Gerard of Borgo San Donnino, who repeated the predictions of Joachim and made a deep impression on the Minorites.... some monks in the Marches rebelled... Among these freed prisoners there was one, Angelenus Clarenus, who then met a monk from Provence, Pierre Olieu, who preached the prophecies of Joachim, and then he met Ubertino of Casale, and in this way the movement of the Spirituals originated. In those years, a most holy hermit rose to the papal throne, Peter of Murrone, who reigned as Celestine V; and he was welcomed by the Spirituals. "A saint will appear," it has been said, "and he will follow the teachings of Christ, he will live an angelic life: tremble, ye corrupt priests." Perhaps Celestine's life was too angelic, or the prelates around him were too corrupt... Celestine resigned his through and retired to a hermitage. But in the brief period of his reign, less than a year, the hopes of the Spirituals were all fulfilled. (49-51)

Celestine's retirement left the Spirituals in a difficult place, forming the background to Eco's book, and Ubertino shortly afterward gets to speak for himself:

"The abbot Joachim spoke the truth, you know. We have reached the sixth era of human history, when two Antichrists will appear, the mystic Antichrist and the Antichrist proper. This is happening now, in the sixth era, after Francis appeared to receive in his own flesh the five wounds of Jesus Crucified. Boniface was the mystic Antichrist, and the abdication of Celestine was not valid. Boniface was the beast that rises up from the sea whose seven heads represent the offenses to the deadly sins and whose ten horns the offenses to the commandments, and the cardinals who surrounded him were the locusts, whose body is Apollyon! But the number of beast, if you read the name in Greek letters, is Benedicti!"

He stared at me to see whether I had understood, and he raised a finger, cautioning me: "Benedict XI was the Antichrist proper, the beast that rises up from the earth! God allowed such a monster of vice and iniquity to govern his church so that his successor's virtues would blaze with glory!"

"But Sainted Father," I replied in a faint voice, summoning my courage, "his successor is John!"

Ubertino put a hand to his brow as if to dismiss a troublesome dream. He was breathing with difficulty; he was tired. "True, the calculations were wrong, we are still awaiting the Angelic Pope." (62)

Eco leads his readers back to the purely apocalyptic vision, interpreting Revelation to attempt to predict what will happen - and, as usually seems to be the result, failing. It's hard to imagine how Ubertino and William of Baskerville, the rationalist hero of the book, could be in the same order, much less friends. An earlier argument, though, suggests that they are both mystics, if mystics of different sorts:

"Wasn't it your Angela of Foligno who told of that day when her spirit was transported and she found herself in the sepulcher of Christ? Didn't she tell how first she kissed his breast and saw him lying with his eyes closed, then she kissed his mouth, and there rose from those lips an ineffable sweetness, and after a brief pause she lay her cheek against the cheek of Christ and Christ put his hand to her cheek and pressed her to him and - as she said - her happiness became sublime? ..."

What does this have to do with the urge of the senses?" Ubertino asked. "It was a mystical experience, and the body was our Lord's."

"Perhaps I am accustomed to Oxford," William said, "where even mystical experience was of another sort..."

"All in the head." Ubertino smiled.

"Or in the eyes. God perceived as light, in the rays of the sun, the images of mirrors, the diffusion of colors over the parts of ordered matter, in the reflections of daylight on wet leaves... Isn't this love closer to Francis's when he praises God in His creatures, flowers, grass, water, air? I don't believe this type of love can produce any snare. Whereas I'm suspicious of the love that transmutes into a colloquy with the Almighty the shudders felt in fleshly contacts. (58)

William of Baskerville is a mystic - but a mystic of a very different stripe from Ubertino. Eco has placed a character into his story with the perspective of what is to come centuries later. William does, of course, act as something of a tour guide for modern readers, providing an easier perspective to enjoy, and a buffer against the unvarnished medievalisms of the other characters. Adso, the narrator, appreciates both William's scientific approaches and the piety of Ubertino and the others, and isn't a Franciscan himself.

I wondered if Eco might have chosen the Franciscans for having both of these mystical approaches within a single order, and he seems to confirm that in his Postscript to the Name of the Rose, though he shows no sign of believing that Joachim is a key driver for both sides of the order:

One element of my world was history, and that is why I read and reread so many medieval chronicles; and as I read them, I realized that the novel had to include things that, in the beginning, had never crossed my mind, such as the debate over poverty and the Inquisition's hostility toward the Fraticelli.

For example: why are the fourteenth-century Fraticelli in my book? If I had to write a medieval story, I ought to have set it in the twelfth or thirteenth century, because I know them better than the fourteenth.

But I needed an investigator, English if possible (intertextual quotation), with a great gift of observation and a special sensitivity in interpreting evidence. These qualities could be found only among the Franciscans, and only after Roger Bacon; furthermore, we find a developed theory of signs only with the Occamites. Or, rather, it existed before, but either the interpretation of signs then was of a symbolic nature or else it tended to read ideas and notions in signs. It is only between Bacon and Occam that signs are used to acquire knowledge of individuals. So I had to set the story in the fourteenth century - much to my irritation, because I could not move easily in that period.

More reading ensued, with the discovery that a fourteenth-century Franciscan, even an Englishman, could not ignore the debate about poverty, especially if he was a friend, follower, or acquaintance of Occam. (I might add that initially the investigator was to have been Occam himself, but I gave up that idea. because I do not find the Venerable Inceptor very attractive as a human being.) (514).

Eco found himself drawn to a point in history where the Franciscans offered both his rational investigator and a broader religious framework that supported all kinds of support for that investigator.

What does this have to do with Quakerism, beyond Tillich's brief mention?

Could Eco have written a similar novel set in, say, England during the 1650s? I believe he could have, and Quakers would have provided him similarly fertile intellectual ground, though none of the rich church ornamentation he lingers on in The Name of the Rose.

After reading it and waiting a year or more to gather more background, I think I'm finally ready to start talking about about Gwyn's Apocalypse of the Word. Gwyn emphasizes the importance of Revelation in early Quaker thought, showing how Quaker spiritual breakthroughs - "Christ is come to teach his people himself" - found amidst the chaos of the English Civil War and Restoration draw on a deep belief in eschatology.

(Please note that I'm not arguing that Quakerism descends from Joachim's thought - just that it follows a somewhat parallel path, much as Tillich suggests, and that we find a lot worth learning by examining the earlier path. I suspect that Joachim's ideas were well-known in England at various times, and might have contributed to the centuries' worth of religious ferment that preceded the Quakers, but any connections are likely indirect at best.)

March 18, 2007

Religious blogging panel, SXSW

I was at the SXSW conference for work, and there was a session, "Ghost in the Machine: Spirituality Online," that some readers of this blog might have enjoyed.

The panelists were:

I don't think I can summarize this at all well, so I'm publishing my lightly cleaned-up notes of the conversation. (They may not be perfect, and I didn't record it, so can't go back to check.)

VR: Most friends not interested in discussing liturgy, interpretation of Scripture, wanted conversations with people who care about Judaism. Also enjoying conversations with non-Jews. XPatriated Texan asked - There's GodBlogCon - Could we do something like this for progressive faith blogosphere? Did it. Friday evening Jewish prayers, Saturday AM Buddhist, Saturday evening Muslim prayers, Sunday AM Christian service - "everyone could look in the window and see what it looked like to worship in a different way"

HR - presenting Islam to an interfaith audience - didn't start out that way. A few Muslim bloggers erupted at the same time. Islamicate seems to have drawn in a lot of non-Muslim readers. Try to write in a way that talks to Muslims but brings a new perspective to people who aren't as familiar with the faith. Intro Islam reading list linked widely through non-Muslim blogs, but previous piece on Shia picked up almost entirely by Muslim blogs.

Questioner - don't have an atheist up there. Seems like there's no place for someone who's an atheist yet has spiritual.... end up reading Real Live Preacher. JM apologizes for not having many traditions on panel - would be happy to talk about next year possibly.

RLP - "very surprised to find blogging about opening up and saying 'this is who I am' - atheists, pagans, would send email, ended up talking." Hard to have a barrier when you're talking to someone, find common ground. Blogging "may be shattering division between religious and non-religious."

Questioner - how do we reconcile difficulty of discussion of faith as slow contemplative thing, with technology, which is speeding up?

JM - How long do you take writing these entries. RLP sometimes 10 hours. "Theme that comes up a lot - always this 'well you can't have it online the way you have it in meatspace, so don't do it.'"

HR - distinction between blogging about religion (soundbites), blogging about faith (depth)

VR - playing to one's strengths - I've always been wordy.

KL - can spend 10 hours on 30 blog posts. Struggling with what it means to be Mormon and progressive, and balancing the two - but feel at home when I can Google for that. I don't have to read the whole thing, all of them, but know that they're there.

RLP - Professional - pressure from congregation, or self, to self-censor. "When I started I was anonymous, it was like having a secret identity. I was outed, people at my church found it... professional means I'm a pastor of a church. It's a very small church... people in churches don't want their minister to be real - they'd rather he be an icon. I want to think that there's someone in the world who has no human issues. You're going to get fired. Only path to authenticity is to work at a church which pays so little they can't replace, or built a community and they love you. The thing that keeps us apart is the lack of humanity. In my case, everything was okay - maybe we need to do that more.

RLP - All writing has its filters. Mother-in-law, daughters. Couldn't write about daughter. I still feel pretty gutsy - use the F-word once in a while - price I'm going to pay from someone I know.

JM - Comments, creating a miniature community.

KL - It's a world-shattering experience when your mom comments for the first time on your blog.

HR - I'm really bad on comments - keeping up with them is hard, but always leave them on. Except - one post turned off comments, called "Kill all Muslims", about Osama bin Laden. Most comments ever, I guess people think I'm offering myself up. People who think I shouldn't live because I'm Muslim, other people who think I shouldn't live because I'm the wrong type of Muslim.

VR - Try to respond to every comment, keep conversation such that we feel like we're having coffee. Buber, I-Thou relationship. Leave nastygrams in place.

HR - never deleted a non-spam comment.

Question - Liza, culturekitchen.com, feminist progressive, question about Catholic League, Edwards bloggers. Unbelievable how quickly some groups went on to attack us as well. Got into a tiff with another blog because she disliked how they were using burka image. I'm an atheist with a Pentecostal preacher brother and Muslim brother and Catholic parents.

KL - hard to ignore it - if it'll sell papers, Bill Donohue becomes voice of all Catholics, Mitt Romney voice of all Mormons... can't reach that level, but enough people blogging on it, sharing perspective, open up.

Liza - feminist Mormon housewives out there

Questioner - 'Jewnitarian' - not in ministry because I saw that father didn't get private life, neither did family. Second Life - "church of the larger fellowship" - UU group meets on Second Life. More inclusive opportunity, more people at lower income levels. Opportunities in a dispersed congregation. "We exist in some critical mass, never knew that there were others."

Questioner - I'm an evangelical, really tired of stereotypes everyone immediately jumped to. Reaction he got from saying that another minister made him want to hurl was vitriolic - will web divide or unite?

RLP - If you talk about yourself, you can say anything. When you talk about others, it almost always explodes.

JM - Also would like to have more conservative voices on panel. Not world peace any minute, but still idealistic in a sense, though saw dark side. Democratic. Kevin and JM don't identify as religious bloggers on site.

Questioner on Second Life, not a blogger. More entertainer and sharer - had an experience toward beginning of Second Life where somebody close passed away in real life. Spent every night dancing in Second Life, complete loss. Needed something for himself for closure. Nice judeo-pagan boy with a smattering of religion, probably Unitarian. That particular funeral led me to being able to work with other people in second life, and became virtual minister, Tuna Oddfellow. Watched and experienced people of different faiths getting together. Can have an emotionally intense experience online.

KL - talked about this at lunch - connections we have to online friends may be the only spiritual relationship they have. A million weak connections sometimes do make up for a few strong ones. May not be able to find anyone local, but...

Questioner - A Christian. As film blogger, Christianity doesn't come up much, but sometimes reviewing Christian films - brief pang when I write it isn't very good - hesitation.

RLP - I feel joy when I'm critical. Parables supposed to explode your world view.

KL - Discussion more important than dogma

RLP - Reaching levels of spiritual sucktitude never imagined - Fox Faith.

JM - Christian culture - never felt it growing up - but very much of Islam, Judaism have, looking at own faith.

Questioner - How much time do you spend online, out with community?

JM - think I've always made online relationships with purpose of meeting in real life - nothing the same as real life. Have struggles finding local community with experience like this. Online a safety valve, not where I always want to be.

KL - blog has become icebreaker for starting conversations, firestarter. People read blog about his struggles, now door is open. Don't have to worry about making someone uncomfortable. Can keep reading it a secret or can take opening to approach me.

HR - use blogging to get away from people - chance to think, spend week teaching, weekends traveling. Blogging a chance to be away from people, and reflect.

VR - A teacher noted - The people he can pray with are not necessarily the people he can talk with. Those may not be the people who want to have long involved conversations about text.

RLP - Don't know how to be healthy with blogging - have been unhealthy. Emails come in, not the kind you can avoid answering or you'd be a total jerk. RLP takes half my life - don't even get to read other blogs, don't know how to handle.

Questioner - Plenty of people in circle of readers able to argue and dispute with me forever. How do you deal with that?

RLP - people get into endless discussions, get entrenched, angry - say final things, let others have last word.

March 10, 2007

"minds.... turned toward God"

I wrote about humility a while ago, and the theme continues to reverberate. Early Quakers often talked about humility using a variety of descriptions, many of which are contained in this letter from George Fox:

Dear friends in the eternal truth of God, whose minds by the light of Jesus Christ are turned towards God, meet often together in the fear of the Lord, and to the light take heed, that with it all your minds may be kept up to God, from whence it comes.

And in all your meetings wait low in his fear, that ye may come to know the life and power of truth one in another. And all ye whom the Lord hath made overseers over his church in your several places, be faithful to the Lord, and watch over the flock of Christ with all diligence; ye which are strong watch over the weak, and stir up that which is pure on in another; see that all your meetings be kept in order.

Be faithful unto the Lord where he hath set you, and ye shall not lose your reward. Servants, be faithful unto your masters, not with eye service, serving them as men pleasers, but in singleness of heart, as unto the Lord; that ye may come to undo the heavy burdens; being faithful in your places, where the Lord hath set you, there is your right service.

And take heed of forward minds, and of running out before your guide, for that leads out into looseness; and such plead for liberty, and run out in their wills, and bring dishonour to the Lord; and the unbridled will gets at liberty, and an exalted spirit gets up, and pride, and haughtiness, and high words. And such are they who add to the burden, and do not take it off.

Therefore all wait low in the fear of the Lord, and be not hasty nor rash, but see the way be made clear; and as the Lord doth move you, so do, and return with speed, (when ye have done,) to the place where ye were abiding, and be faithful there; that the truth of God be not evil spoken of through you, as they speak of vagabonds and wanderers, that it may not be so among you. For such are vagabonds and wanderers, who run before their guide.

And masters rules over your servants in love, with all diligence and meekness, knowing that ye have one master in heaven.

And friends, in all places, where any go abroad, as they pass by examine them, whither they are going, and what about? And if they cannot give a good account, exhort them to return back and abide faithful in their places until they see their way made clear.

So farewell in the Lord. The eternal God of power and wisdom direct and guide you to his eternal praise, that his name may be honored and glorified in you and through you all! Be diligent every one in your places, where the Lord hath set you, for the work of the Lord is great; and God Almighty keep you to be faithful laborers in his work.

From one who is a lover of your souls, and whose care is over the church of God, that it may be kept in order, and that all, that are guided by his spirit, may be led into all good order. G. F. London, the 15th of the 3d month, 1655. (Works VII, page 94-5, Epistle LXXXIII, paragraph breaks added for readability.)

There's a lot going on in this early epistle of Fox's, one which warns of the dangers of pride and the disorder it brings. The opening discussion of fearing God may seem a little unusual to modern Quakers more familiar with the light as comforter and leader, but Fox's emphasis on the right relationship between worshipper and worshipped still leaves plenty of room for a life rightly led - "as the Lord doth move you."

It's also interesting to think about the "servants" and "masters" lines, as the divisions between those groups is less clear today than it was then. As consumers, we are encouraged to think "the customer is always right", placing us in the master role in many interactions, while we also act as servants much of the time. Be diligent in your work, faithful, with "singleness of heart", and masters must "rule... in love, with all diligence and meekness.

All of this is possible when we "to the light take heed."

March 1, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

I saw Pan's Labyrinth on Monday night, and I'm still feeling inspired by the story, nausated by some of the action, and generally down on the state of humanity.

The movie tells two interwoven stories: that of a battle between Spanish fascists and a guerilla band, and that of a girl caught up in a fairy tale. The girl's mother is married to the fascist Captain, extremely pregnant with his son and heir.

The fascist Captain is clearly the villain of the story, combining a distinct lack of interest in his wife as anything other than the bearer of his son with a professional interest in torture. His politics are cheerless, his interrogation style brutal, his depth of perception limited. His direct opponent, the resistance fighting in the hills and in his base, is a bit smarter, suffers more, and likely has a better cause - but is quite capable of inflicting death and pain itself.

Ofelia escapes this bleak world to a fairy tale with its own darkness, one in which she's the heroine but not always perfect. Her ally is a faun (hence the title) who isn't necessarily to be trusted either, and the rules of this world seem as rigid as the Captain's fascism.

On its multiple levels of possible interpretation, the New York Times asks:

"Pan's Labyrinth" is a political fable in the guise of a fairy tale. Or maybe it's the other way around. Does the moral structure of the children's story illuminate the nature of authoritarian rule? Or does the movie reveal fascism as a terrible fairy tale brought to life? The brilliance of "Pan's Labyrinth" is that its current of imaginative energy runs both ways.

I see the story illuminating many things, not least of which are the dark side of humans seeking power, of the panic that sets in when we are powerless, and the peace that comes only after self-sacrifice. (There's a lot of sacrifice.)

I started this post with a fairly clear vision of parallels between Ofelia's experience and Quakerism, but I'm finding them hard to articulate, so maybe the right answer is just to suggest that despite the violence, this is a movie that (adult) Quakers would do well to see. It's a story I'm sure none of us want to live, but it's important viewing on multiple levels.