By Chuck Fager
This issue of Quaker Theology is one of the most exciting that it has been my privilege to work on. In it the work of serious religious thought is tackled from several strikingly different but revealing directions.
We begin with with an appeal by two distinguished scholars, Duke Divinity School’s Stanley Hauerwas (a disenchanted Methodist) and Enda McDonagh (a Roman Catholic) for religious leaders and thinkers of all Christian communities and others of goodwill to join together in campaigning to end war. This is not an attempt to found a new organization; rather it is a call for a wide-ranging intellectual work with a common goal. “We’re trying to make this a slow educational effort,” Hauerwas wrote to us. “I just wanted you to know we’re in the game, so to speak.”
This part of the peace “game,” undramatic as it can often appear to be, is nonetheless crucial. In this issue, John Oliver’s “From reason to Truth to Mystery,” and Gene Hillman’s “Quakers and the Lamb’s War” are two moments in this common effort..
We also agree with Hauerwas and McDonagh that for this work, “A hard road lies ahead and one strewn with intellectual, ecclesial and political obstacles.” We live in a time when massive engines of propaganda work overtime to “manufacture consent” by a blinkered public to plans and policies which are from most outside perspectives foolish and/or barbarous.
But as we labor, we also recall the words of George Fox to friends in 1663, penned in a time of intense persecution: “Sing and rejoice you children of the Day and of the Light. For the Lord is at work in this thick night of darkness. . . . Truth does flourish as the rose.”
It is a principle for your Editor that to build a faithful Friends peace witness, it is also necessary to build strong meeting communities. Hence it is fitting that our next piece, by Patrick Nugent, argues that to build such communities among us, one of the prerequisites is to recover and highlight the eucharistic and sacramental aspects of our life together.
At first blush, this may sound arcane or abstruse, but Nugent makes it as concrete and accessible as a Quaker potluck. Not that it is thereby simplistic; Nugent is a superior scholar and founding Director of the Center for Quaker Thought and Practice at Earlham College. He and his family have recently journeyed from Indiana to Africa, where they are learning Swahili in preparation for teaching and directing the Friends Theological College in Kenya. Kenyan Friends’ gain is American Quakerdom’s loss, at least for now.
A journey of a very different sort is recounted by John W. Oliver, formerly of Ohio’s Malone College. This experienced historian describes how he was led from Presbyterianism to evangelical Quakerism, and from there to Eastern Orthodoxy. As he discloses, this is a path taken in recent years by a number of onetime Friends. But as he also points out, these converts have brought to the Orthodox church a Quaker legacy of active pacifism, which shows promise of enriching their new tradition as it has enriched them.
From Byzantium (by way of Ohio), we turn next to Mexico, and a remarkable adventure in what could perhaps be called “ethnographic narrative theology,” or perhaps “spiritual filmmaking.” Pacho Lane, an anthropologist and filmmaker, describes how he was drawn to make a film, The Tree of Life, about an ancient religious ceremony of the Totonac people of Mexico, unknown outside their secluded valley.
The ceremony mixes Christian and indigenous religion, and involves a group of men who “fly” off an 80-foot pole. Lane describes how the process of making the film became a distinctly Quaker exercise in following leadings, and then how he undertook to unravel the mystery — or what we more pedestrian types would call the theology–of this ceremony, and its tangled relation to Christianity, which the performers could not explain, only follow faithfully as their ancestors had been doing for generations. What his research uncovered, and the hypotheses he draws from them, make for a fascinating, provocative exploration beyond the frontiers of conventional theologizing.
Lane has made films in many exotic settings, including Afghanistan during the war against the Russians. He now teaches visual anthropology (and keeps on making films) at a university in Mexico. His body of work is described at his website: www.docfilm.com, and includes a work-in-progress called, appropriately enough, “Teologia India.”
A review of the long-awaited updated republication of Howard Brinton’s Friends for 300 Years follows.
The issue concludes with the paper given by Gene Hillman, of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting staff, at the International Historic peace Churches consultation at Bienenberg, Switzerland, in June 2001.
At such events, participants have a task of explaining their own tradition in a way that is both true to their heritage and accessible to those with little or no previous familiarity with it. here Hillman explains the distinguishing characteristics of our Quaker peace witness in terms of assertiveness, positive assumptions and basis in community. Hillman shows, as well, how the theological roots of Quaker peace thought, now centuries old, are expressed in the contemporary Alternatives to Violence Project.
We hope you will find this collection of essays as stimulating and challenging as we did.