Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Revisting Elias Hicks

Elias Hicks

Thanks to the kindness of the librarians at Swarthmore, I had occasion to visit the image of Elias Hicks, his death mask,and make this photograph. It made me think of who we are after the healing.

There is a movement to place Jesus at the center of what it is to be a Friend. Well, perhaps I am in agreement with Hicks, that it is God at the center of what it is to be a Friend. I was asked if I was a Christian, by a Friend and very dear friend, who associates plain dress with a more Christ centered group of us. Frankly, I find it harder and harder to say I am a Christian in light of what that means, and find much of what that has come to mean is in direct conflict, for me, with all that it is to be a Friend, or even one inspired by Yeshua's words, as we can know them. This is not to say one can't believe any manner of myth and be a Quaker, I am just not led in that way and I am certainly mainstream Quaker. There are Friends who tell fortunes by making charts of the stars, I can't see the truth in that, but I accept they are Friends, and I also say, I cannot believe that astrology is at the core of what it is to be a Friend. Rather, I am open to them, listening, not pushing them away, I just don't by that particular myth.

Bart D. Ehrman, in his wonderful book, "Misquoting Jesus", points out that when texts do not agree, the more simple text is seldom the original, the more difficult to explain, the contradictory is often the older text. Scribes and editors, simplify, bending the tale to their point or their understanding. Now, those who argue that Jesus was more than man, and rely on the bible for proof, are on rather thin ice. In fact, it is one of the only such examples where, if say one were to go into court on their evidence, rational people would dismiss their point wholesale as silly. It is like basing life decisions on a Zombie Movie. And yet, it is only the pervasiveness of the belief that such a contention is not laughed out of court. Otherwise rational people would overlook the myriad textual flaws in the bible, and the silly contention that on the day he rose from the dead, numerous things happened, unrecorded in any secondary accounts. It might have good theological value, but truth?

So, we find that where early text disagree, the interpretation which makes Yeshua into Jesus the Greco Roman God, are chosen, not remarkably because it is a Greco Roman institution that spreads the philosophy and the history, working hard to remove all Jewish rationalism from the story.

So, we see for example given in Ehrman's book, Yeshua, in Luke dies a very human death on the cross, saying nothing but, "My lord why have you forsaken me?" In Hebrews it is said, "He died separated from God" in the earliest Greek texts, but then latter scribes mistake XARIYI for XWRIS, so apart from God, becomes, in God's grace. Other changes, Jesus proclaims the universe, becomes Jesus manifests the universe, the one describing becomes the one creating. Mary is an unmarried woman, becomes Mary is a virgin. Truth is a very import part of being a Quaker, because in the search for truth we build unity beyond tribe. In promoting hurtful and damaging myths, we divide our tribe from all others, and as members of our tribe begin to see through the myth, and that myth is defended as being core, being fundamental, we become the institutions that Fox rebelled against.

Then why was Fox not part of this questioning? Well, the first comparative studies of early Greek texts of the bible did not happen until 1720. And then, the process of learning how to understand the historical generation of text was a science in its infancy.

So, what did we get from Fox's start? We received a dedication to truth and an openness to process. I don't find it odd, that the same Friends who proclaim a convergence on older notions in Quakerism which deny modern theological studies and history, also often do not allow free comment on their blogs, they rebel against the very openness that defined us in Fox's day. They do not take part in clearness when in conflict, but entrench themselves in the past as a shield against their fear of the world of change around us. They would have us set aside centuries of progress in meetings, where we weighed and remained open to new light, to enshrine beliefs of the past, as being a foundation to a wall against the outside, and yet, with these walls against the outside, how can we grow towards peace.

Hicks was not anti Christian. I am not anti Christian. But Hicks and I are pro inclusion. Because, without being in process with others of differing belief we cannot move towards truth or peace. When Friends speak of placing any notion, any individual, including Fox, at the foundation of our society, in seeking definition, they loose the definition of what it is to be Quaker, to stand before God, and God in others, not to follow popes or kings or idols.

The division intended in making belief in Christ a Quaker fundamental ideal is both retrograde and harmful to the peace intended by our societies beliefs. It is also a recipe for further falling out among fundamentalists, because it is in the nature of fundamentalism to disagree.


At 8:31 PM, Anonymous Simon St.Laurent said...

I agree with you that:

"We received a dedication to truth and an openness to process."

In reading your discussion of Misquoting Jesus, I was reminded of a section of The Great Mystery near the end, page 581: Several scriptures corrupted by the translators.

Even before the 1720 investigation of the original Greek text, Fox and company had an active interest in the kinds of issues you raise, though more in the context of translation to English (or Latin) than in the context of the original Greek. In a sense, Fox was part of the questioning you describe, just in a slightly different part that was available to him at the time.

I've told a few people that in my reading of the Hicksite-Orthodox split, I found myself sympathizing with the Hicksites by temperament, and some of the Orthodox by doctrine. Both sides had pieces worth preserving, and I hope we can continue to preserve them without the breakdowns of earlier splits, and the splits which followed them.

The part of the early Quaker story I find most interesting is how they managed to develop a group which could stay together because of and in spite of the many interpretations humans give the Light. Though I don't think Fox or the others saw it as an experiment, I think it has been successful, even today.

At 11:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ummm... Lorcan, excuse me, but this is a really big deal.

You just photographed the death mask of Elias Hicks.

That isn't even supposed to EXIST -- although Christopher Densore once hinted to me that Swarthmore has it.

It isn't supposed to exist for two reasons: (a) Walt Whitman's boss, Samuel E. Clement, made a death mask (this one, perhaps?) by illegally disinterring the body against the wishes of the late minister and his family. Walt said that all copies of the resulting bust were destroyed in an argument. But Walt never said that any death mask survived.

(b) Hicks probably refused to have a life mask made in the first place because Friends (in theory) had a testimony against graven images. His own cousin, Edward Hicks, was forever haunted by earning his livelihood as the "Peaceable Kingdom" painter in violation of Friends' testimony on simplicity (simplicity of one's walls, etc).

So, in conclusion, what did Swarthmore tell you about this amazing artifact?

-- Mitch

At 4:19 AM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Hi Mitch!
Right! I need to get the Swarthmore story. All this came up in this way. In our meeting library, there is a book with an account that the Italian chief plasterer of our meeting dug him up to do a death mask, because he felt there should be a statue of Hicks in our meeting house, and the architect took it away from him and sent it to Swarthmore. This is about 30 years too late to be likely. Telling this story to the librarian, she told me that several promenent Friends dug him up, within days of his death and did this mask, and were caught by the light of their lanterns, and the resulting issues ... one of them, well documented as being involved in all this, sent the mask to Swarthmore, and here it is!
He was a very important voice in his time, and as such, there might have been a lot of mythology as this story was told again and again, within and without the Quaker community.
But, this death mask is very like the only image made of him in life, a silouette, his nose is very promenent.
So, there we are, I will write to Swarthmore and ask for more detail, as it is a really great story!
Thine in the light

At 8:33 PM, Blogger Thee, Hannah! said...

Thanks for the comment.

Your posts mean a lot to me. I don't usually comment because I don't want to tack on empty "me, too!" kinds of things that don't further the discussion, but I do check every day and I find the compassion in them and their consideration of many perspectives both comforting and encouraging.


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