Nothing new under the sun
Okay, here are some of the main points that Jones makes:
The Religious Society of Friends is not important because of our political leadership or our intellectual contributions to theology. It is our demonstration of a religion that reveals the life of God in the lives of human beings.
“The Gospel we proclaim and incarnate claims that God is forever humanly revealing Himself, loving, yearning, suffering, sacrificing, redeeming, working now, as of old in Galilee and Judea. … We stand for a religion of first hand conviction, a religion grounded in experience, a religion whose authority is as little endangered by science and higher criticism as is the authority of the multiplication table, or the truth that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles."
"This religion of life and of suffering love, this religion which makes a [human] a being of infinite worth, would be bound, if it is genuine, to flower out into human service, and to share the burden of human suffering, and to be concerned about the culture of the mind and soul of children and youth, and to take up the task of the peacemaker, as has been the case with the Quakers, but its central inner significance as a religious movement can come to light and does come to light at its best and highest in the practice of mutual and reciprocal correspondence of [human beings] with God.”
Importantly to me, he says that the laboratory for our faith is not large public gatherings or the kinds of things that attract reporters but our local meetings.
“It is in these vital cells that our life really centers, as life always does; it is here that the life-stream of our faith is fed, or fails to find its true supplies. These little islands of ours, surrounded by a secular world of drive and grind, are the real experiment stations of the spiritual life where it is being settled whether we are to be the purveyors of light and life and love and truth, or whether we are to end in sterility, like Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, which end in desert sand.”
He illustrates two problems of their times (and ours).
a: Great worship and ministry require preparation and expectancy.“… I have felt the sacramental power fuse the group into the communion of a united whole. But this does not happen unless at least some of the members go to meeting prepared for this supreme business of the soul and unless there is in the meeting a widespread attitude of expectancy.”
b: Too many seekers go away hungry.
“All great ministry is ministry of interpretation of life. We are at the present moment weak in this ministry of interpretation, and weak in the lifting power of messages of illumination and inspiration. … But how is it in the range of possibility in most of our meetings to expect such ministry of interpretation and illumination? Well, one of the main difficulties is that it has not been expected, and very little has been done to encourage and foster this type of ministry, and to nurture and develop it in persons who revealed a potential gift. … Some of the students [at Haverford, where Jones taught] have become effective Quaker interpreters of life, but many more should have been and, I am convinced, would have been if they had received the right encouragement from their home meetings.”
This the part that gets me, from 1941:
“This is a new age of “seekers,” the world has turned to us with extraordinary expectation. Why is it so few join us? Why is it that some of our oldest meetings are slowly dying before our eyes? The answer is clear and plain. “Seekers” are often disillusioned when they visit our meetings. They look up too often and are not fed. In many cases, they do not find the answer; they do not have their condition spoken to. They go away sadly, and they wonder.”
He suggests some solutions: intervisitation, pastoral care, local community service, examination of routines and elimination of empty forms.
“… much could be accomplished by carefully planned intervisitation. There are highly gifted persons in a few meetings who ought to circulate much more than is now the case. Their absence occasionally from their own meeting would throw the sense of responsibility on other members of it, which would have a wholesome effect, and they would bring fresh life and inspiration where they visited.”
“The local cells would be vitalized if they took up in a corresponding manner and degree the work of ministering to the needs, or some aspects of the needs, of their local communities. … We have too easily assumed that a Quaker Meeting lives unto itself, is responsible only for its own worship and ministry, can then shake hands and go home to a good dinner. That is not enough. It is an eternal principle of life itself that it can be saved only through self-giving. … These little Quaker islands of ours, which dot the length and breadth of our country, would stir with new life if they found themselves awake to the tasks of life which lie ready to hand just there where they live.”
He exhorts Friends to focus on the spiritual nurture of children and youth: the importance of early training in “the significance of silent worship and communion.” He emphasizes that this training must begin in families’ homes, but that it is the direct duty of Meetings to teach the Quaker story in interesting and engaging ways, not necessarily the way the previous generation was taught. (Or today, umm, the way the previous generation was not taught.)
He says Friends especially must help young people to see the Peace Testimony as a heroic choice in time of war, a lifetime commitment, not just in times of war, and to express it in creative action.
“It must be a holy experiment with forces of the Spirit, an unceasing effort to put love and truth into circulation in the currents of human life. It involves an uncompromising faith in Christ’s way of overcoming the world, not by miracle, not by a legion of angels, but by self-giving, adventurous, sacrificial love, that never lets go, never fails, but bears and endures all things to the end. It is a lasting experiment year in and year out to do away with the causes and occasions for war, by removing, or aiming to remove, the fundamental grounds and evils from which war springs."
"Nobody much cares for what we do not think or believe or stand for, or refuse to do… In this building of kingdoms of truth or peace or love in the world, thou must act. The action must be as brave, as fearless, as sacrificial, as self-forgetful, as is the soldier’s. …When we say, “Here I stand. I cannot fight with weapons of destruction,” we are bound by our inward convictions to fling ourselves at some creative human task that will help to build or rebuild the kingdom of love in the world. … Our method of nurture must build this spirit, this way, into the inner fiber of our youth. We must aim to organize and sublimate natural instincts and make them the driving forces of deep-lying faiths and ideals of life.”
He closes with an reminder to take ourselves seriously, to be responsive to the Spirit of God and that early Quakerism was a youth movement – a bunch of 20-30 something’s – from Fox to Naylor to Barclay.
“If we are to have a revival of spiritual power, our youth must be at the front of it. And we must as Friends live in a world of reality, and adjust our lives to the vital issues of the present and the future. Never has this Society of ours been more needed in the world than in this critical period of human history, but we cannot be “matched with this hour” without fresh awakening and a deep renewal of heart and mind and vision. We need to feel the experience of which Isaac Penington wrote from his jail to Thomas Ellwood, who was also at the time in jail: “May the eye and heart in thee be kept open, and mayest thou be kept close to the feelings of life, and thy spirit be kept fresh n the midst of thy sufferings. Mayest thou find everything pared off which hindereth the bubblings of the everlasting spring, the breaking forth of the Pure Power.”
Golly gee. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Go read it for yourself and tell me how many of these things you have said yourself.
Why are we still working on these same things? Is this required every generation or so? Did Friends not handle it the last time this came up? What is different now?
Everything I read by Rufus Jones makes me wish that I had known him. For example, here is the foreword:
“I shall assume that those to whom I am speaking today are young, at least as young as I am. The age which the calendar reveals for each one of us is not very important, nor is the size of our bald spot; nor the grayness of our hair. The really important thing is the quality of freshness and elasticity in our spirits. There is no use talking to minds that have congealed and set, and whose windows are not open for new light to dawn, and expectant of it. This Lectureship is sponsored by young Friends. This is their hour and I am their spokesman. There is no use saying anything about the local Meeting as a vital cell unless the youth are to be in it and are to feel their share of responsibility for its life and its development. Much that I am saying today will call for courage and faith and adventure and newness of vision, which characteristically belong to youth.”
He gave this lecture when he was 78. What do you think? Do you know anyone who did know him? Was he a fun guy to hang out with?
P.S. The title of this post is another example of a semi-biblical allusion that I couldn’t give a proper citation for. Is that line really from the bible? This is an ongoing theme for me – the shallowness of my biblical literacy.
P.P.S Another post on the Quaker Pamphlets blog features Quaker Hubble Posters – amazingly beautiful photographs from the Hubble Space telescope matched with wonderful religious quotations. They gave me a new way to think about the phrase: “nothing new under the sun.”
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