Friday, November 21, 2014

The Far and the Near of Quakerism

“The Far and the Near” is a powerful short story by Thomas Wolfe, the lyrical American writer.

In the brief story, the narrator tells of how he often passes by a pleasing-looking house and family in the distance. That place and that family seem to epitomize all that is good and hopeful in the world.

Then, finally, one day the narrator decides to visit the far place. He drives to the distant location, with high hope and deep intensity, expecting to find this warm family and beautiful place, this shining star of joy always, only seen from afar.

But when he arrives, the observer is faced, instead with brute, ugly facts so unlike his hopeful expectations.

“Why had...the very entrance to this place he loved turned unfamiliar as the landscape of some ugly dream? Why did he now feel this sense of confusion, doubt and hopelessness?...with a sense of bitter loss and grief, he was sorry he had come...

All the brave freedom, the warmth and the affection had...vanished...But he faltered on, fighting stubbornly against the horror of regret, confusion, disbelief that surged up in his spirit, drowning all his former joy…”

When I was viewing and longing for the Society of Friends from afar, it looked like the true deal in a world awash with destructive and delusionary religion. It seemed an Ideal, Christianity truly lived—weekly real encounter with the Divine, communal communion living within worship and then active peacemaking, etc.

I would often drive long distances in order to participate in Quaker worship. And I did experience a deep sense of God’s presence sometimes, despite the usual quieting of my busy-body mind within.

But when I finally came near—actually lived near a Friends meeting and became an active member, and taught a Quaker class on Friends history and witness, I discovered a significant number of Quakers in the U.S. and England don't even think the Divine exists!

They are nontheists who go to weekly worship to not worship!

And, strangely, it turned out there are many Quakers who actively support war. What?!

California Yearly Meeting (of which my wife and I were devoted members) strongly refused to oppose nuclear weapons at its yearly conference!

Instead, members and leaders got up and defended not only regular war, but the possession and threat of atomic bombs!

I went home very troubled and disillusioned. How Far Quakerism in Southern California was from the Near of the Ideal.

There was an intentional willingness for killing in some “liberal” meetings, too!

Once I so wanted to be “near” that my wife and I drove over 2 hours to a liberal Friends meeting only to have members there speak up in the meeting in support of killing! Later, the AFSC in some cases even supported war.

My wife, who wasn't diligently a Friend but more a ride-along:-), wondered why we had bothered.

Then later after we joined a Friends Meeting, finally really got regularly “Near,” our local meeting hired an active fighter pilot as its leader…
Then it got even worse.

“Something is happening here, and we don’t know what it is, do we Mr. Fox?” (to misquote Dylan, Bob not Thomas).

Where was the beautiful spiritual home and family I had pined for so long?

Not that I wasn't also most of the problem...

But I was seeking help and spiritual communion for my own suffering life, not another secular gathering, that denied the Transcendent, or one which would be as gung-ho for war as most religions.

However, I said to myself--and many others--despite all these tragic developments, true Quakerism isn't like this.

What we need to do is get back to the real and true early movement of the Friends. That true Quakerism of Far in the past, the 1640’s.

But then I came face to face with textural evidence that early Quakers weren't like the Ideal either.

Oh, the far and the near...

For instance,
Quaker historian, David Boulton, proved my view of early Friends wrong.

Contrary to popular understanding, and Quaker histories, the original Friends weren't active peacemakers, actively opposed to war.

Boulton shows in “Militant Seedbeds of Early Quakerism" that, originally, Quakers strongly supported war, and war of the worst kind ("unkind").

George Fox even called on the Puritan warlord Oliver Cromwell to extend the English Civil War into continental Europe!

From “Militant Seedbeds of Early Quakerism:
“Consider this message to Cromwell, signed “George Fox” and dated January 1658, where the Protector is lambasted for not carrying his military conquests into Europe and on to Rome itself—even to the Turkish empire:

“Oliver, hadst thou been faithful and thundered down the deceit, the Hollander had been thy subject and tributary, Germany had given up to have done thy will, and the Spaniard had quivered like a dry leaf wanting the virtue of God, the King of France should have bowed his neck under thee,
the Pope should have withered as in winter,
the Turk in all his fatness should have smoked,
thou shouldst not have stood trifling about small things, but minded the work of the Lord
as He began with thee at first...Let thy soldiers go forth...
that thou may rock nations as a cradle.”
George Fox

For, not, heaven’s sakes, even Quakerism’s Margaret Fell said
that the English Puritan army was “the Battle-axe in the hand of the Lord.”

Does anyone want to say, “Amen”?

The Far is no way Near, or rather is so like the Near.

I wonder why all religions at some point are given to violating others,
to carnage, even those who claim they are for peace.

Maybe, it’s not just religion, but that war and violence are inherent in the natural order
as scientists from Charles Darwin to Richard Dawkins have emphasized.

Natural selection, not Divine encounter.

Strangely, peacemaking and nonviolence are contrary to how most religious people actually behave,
including that Far country of the Society of Friends.
Peacemaking and nonviolence aren't easy to follow.

So that’s the Far and the Near.

And it’s an experience of disillusionment which leads if not overcome, to living with despair or illusion.

However having said all that, I see, despite my severe disillusionment with the Near and the Far of Quakerism that I still come out as a Quaker on's Survey, 100% Liberal Quaker in fact.

This surely is the time to take a little encouragement from Howard Zinn, an American historian, who points out that despite the horrors of actual history and the way most people live,
“ TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness."

"What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives...If we remember those times and places...where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction."

"And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
― Howard Zinn

So, for us, so what if the “near” of Quakerism isn't what it appears at the “far,” and even the “far” wasn't nearly as wonderful or divine as we like to historically remember?

Let’s live for the Good, the True, and the Just and the Merciful and the Kind in the present.

Become what Quakerism should have been, should be now.

To misquote George Fox, “I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but that light and love could flow over the ocean of darkness...”

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Take Time to Weep, Take Time to Grieve for the Loss of the Innocent…/

What They Don't Tell You About Dahlia

By Sherri Mandell

"....the reporter tells you about the terrorist [Maher al-Hashlamun of Islamic Jihad] who is from Hebron, how he was in an Israeli jail for five years for a firebombing. The reporter quotes his Facebook page: 'I’ll be a thorn in the gullet of the Zionist project to Judaize Jerusalem.'

We learn nothing about 26 year old Dahlia, who was just getting started in life after finishing college, studying occupational therapy so that she could have a job where she could help people who were sick or infirm or disabled to live in a fuller way.

...And they don’t tell you how she had to hitchhike to get to her job working with children in Kiryat Gat or that she was the main volunteer at Yad Sarah in Tekoa which lends medical equipment like wheelchairs to those who are sick or injured. They don’t tell you how she liked to help brides look beautiful by doing their makeup for them before their weddings.

They don’t care that Dahlia’s father Nachum drives the ambulance in Tekoa. Day and night he is called on to make the drive to Jerusalem, and that Dahlia’s mother cares tenderly for the elderly."

Instead, Palestinian drivers who intentionally crash into civilians to kill them,
are acclaimed heroes by Palestinian leaders.

The driver ran over Dahlia, then got out of his car and stabbed her to death!

Where is the outrage among Palestinians for such despicable murders?!

Take time to weep, take time to grieve for the loss of the innocent.

Weep for the family of the little infant intentionally murdered by a Palestinian militant.

Weep and grieve for Dahlia, an innocent civilian standing at a bus stop.

Weep for nearly 1,000 civilians killed by Israel's bombing of Gaza.

Weep for the 100 year old conflict in Palestine-Israel where evil rules the day.

Weep and demand a stop to this evil.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Sunday, November 9, 2014

On a Lighter Note, as in 'of the Light'...

On a lighter note, here's a Maine lighthouse and my lighthouse keeper:-)

And the lighthouse keeper's Israeli-Palestinian boy friend;-)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

How the Bible Is Like ISIS and HAMAS or Vice Versa

In the Middle East, the tragic news keeps getting worse and more of the same (Is that insane?!).

Consider how so many of the current horrific stories are very similar to stories in the Hebrew Bible of thousands of years ago!

This morning's reading was Genesis 34. Check especially verses 25 to 31, the story of Simon's and Levi's slaughter of a whole town of male civilians, then their theft of all the town 'loot'--including flocks, cattle, donkeys,children, women, etc.

Sound familiar?

And the central reason for the slaughter by the 2 sons of Jacob has to do with honor versus dishonor and sexuality (a rape by one individual).

Sound familiar?

Oh, there are a few differences between then and now:
while the Genesis narrative was an oral tradition which finally got written down after hundreds of years about 700-500 BCE, all the gory daily news at present is posted immediately on Twitter, the Internet, YouTube, and so forth.

Of course, I suppose all of this really is old hat if we remember as kids hearing many sermons about the suicide-bomber, Samson, who slaughtered a whole temple of civilians--men and women.

Still that was at least 1100 BCE. A long time ago. Why is HAMAS still killing civilians--such as driving cars into innocent Jewish civilians, murdering Jewish hitchhikers and then celebrating their killers as martyrs?!

The Israelis, also, are doing their part with lying, stealing, and slaughter. But at least they didn't glorify the Jewish individual who murdered the Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem several months ago.

Etymology from Latin: "in-turned position"

Vice in Latin means "a change..."

No change from thousands of years ago that I can see.

Or in the modern word: vice
"moral fault, wickedness," c.1300, from Old French vice "fault, failing, defect, irregularity, misdemeanor" (12c.), from Latin vitium "defect, offense, blemish, imperfection," in both physical and moral senses (in Medieval Latin also vicium; source also of Italian vezzo "usage, entertainment"), from PIE *wi-tio-, from root *wei- (3) "vice, fault, guilt."
Online Etymology Dictionary

What happened to the new millennium?

Why are we drowning in an Ocean of Darkness?

Daniel Wilcox

Thursday, November 6, 2014

They Glory in Their Shame

We very seldom watch TV, because we’re so busy, and are given to more in depth creative endeavors. Besides television shows in the past used to almost always leave me unsatisfied; too superficial. Even the news stations (with the exception of PBS) are given to quick sound bites, sensationalism, and not reflective understanding or historical perspective.

But I realize some people unwind after their own busy days by relaxing in front of the tube. No thinking required. Sort of like my reading a relaxing novel.

However, last night my wife and I decided we would catch the Country Music Awards, looking forward to hearing some of the ballads and rockers we had heard on our Maine vacation last month.

So I turned on the TV, but was turned off immediately. A show was finishing up talking with enthusiasm about strippers. Then Country Music Awards came on. Instead of starting with a stirring ballad or country rockabilly, the opening comedy routine of Brad Paisley narrowly focused on sex—not that that topic would be wrong if it were romantic or, I guess even steamy, in a good passionate sort of way. When has music ever been prudish?!

But what was disconcerting is that the MC dialog focused mostly—and blatantly--on the raunchy, the lurid, and the vulgar (including the term "full frontal").

Well, I thought, this is TV. It will pass.

NOT! (to rendition the old joke zinger of 20 years back)

In over 3 hours of viewing, the central focus of the awards seemed to be on the profane, the vulgar, the titillating/lewd/salacious…Millions of dollars to paint the sty, the hovel.

Well wait a minute, one award winner actually did sincerely “Thank God” for his win, Luke Bryant.

Yes, I know that country music has always had a vulgar underbelly—crass and coarse references, booze and partying…

But usually, there was also the upside.

When we turned off the TV, a verse came to me from out of the past, from back when I was a Christian and read my Bible regularly:
“Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame…”
Philippians 3:19

Rather tragic.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox