We cannot live outside of history," by Mary Klein, editor of Western Friend

Republished on Quaker Universalist Conversations
by permission of Mary Klein, editor of Western Friend


Western Friend: Plain Speech and Spirit in the West is the official publication of Pacific, North Pacific, and Intermountain Yearly Meetings of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). The magazine is published bimonthly and also hosts Western Friend Connect: live online worship and workshops.

Editor Mary Klein has graciously permitted us to republish her introductory essay from “On Mixture,” the November/December 2018 issue of the magazine.

Dear Friends: Our bodies cannot live outside of history, nor can we live outside of history’s cruelty, its “mixing memory and desire.” Rowing our boats with our backs toward the future, we despair at the carnage we watch flowing out from our wakes—oceans choked by our poisons, lives crushed by our bigotry, truth and kindness twisted by our greed. Some bits of beauty bob along, too. But it’s easy to view the whole scene as basically grim.

Hanlon’s razor, a variation of Occam’s razor, says “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” In other words, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”

“They,” of course, means “we.” Our bodies cannot see into the future, nor can they reach into the past. We cannot see if we’re really rowing toward our Beloved, and we cannot undo the wrong turns we’ve taken before. In the name of human kindness, early Friends directed their diligent energies towards the development of the industrial revolution, Indian boarding schools, and solitary confinement—to name a few of our most infamous accomplishments. But some bits of beauty bobbed along, too. Big bits. As industrialists, Friends promoted egalitarianism. As cultural imperialists, Friends resisted genocide. As jailers, Friends preached reconciliation.


What matters in this moment is how we face this moment. We can see it, or we can look away. We can admit ownership of the problems and the beauty we have created, or we can abdicate our responsibility. If we abdicate, though, we are no Friends of Truth.

“[We] saw perfectly that there was no safety, nor preservation out of sin and transgression, but as we obeyed the Light…[As] we waited in it, and dwelt in it, we came to witness a washing and cleansing,…And so we came to discern…between those that served God, and those that served Him not…[And] our hearts became tender, and we had a pity for all people’s souls that remained in darkness…[This] made us very importunate with all people, both Friends and others, to direct them to the Light, and obey it.” — Margaret Fell, circa 1675

“Importunate” means to be persistent to the point of annoyance or intrusion. The good news is hat we never need to take “no” for an answer. We know that we know, within limits, how to fix, love, learn, solve, and create.

Moment by moment, while we live, we can choose where to turn our attention, what to see—beauty and the potential for beauty, the things we can fix, the places we’ve gone off course, and where the pole star rises. No one can tell us that we don’t see what we do see.

Though the fig tree does not bud
     and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails,
     and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
     and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
     I will be joyful in God my Savior.
                    — Habakkuk 3:17-18

If we never fail, we aren’t risking enough. If we’ve never scorned, we aren’t truthful enough. If we never say anything stupid, we’re not imagining enough. If we’re never cut off from the crowd, we aren’t going anyplace new.

Let us haul up whomever can from the freezing water, into our little boats—warm them and feed them and hear their tales. Let us leap up and shout out in warning and joy, even though our actions will threaten to spill us back into the darkness from whence we came. Let us be importunate for humanity’s salvation.


Image Source
Fresh Snow,” by BossBob50 on flickr (1/4/2014) [Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic].

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