Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Before Earlham College’s Stout Meeting House a copy of a statue of Mary Dyer stands, or literally sits, as a silent example of Quaker faith and practice. On a chilly Spring day in 2009 I found myself seeking the original Mary Dyer on Boston Common. Under the cold blue sky and shining sun I was led into Quaker Fellowship unbound by centuries of separation.
The original Mary Dyer statue stands at the corner of the State House of Massachusetts. The statue at Stout Meeting House is low to the ground, inevitably inviting students to climb into her lap. She has a weathered patina of pale green oxidation softening her into a calm, welcoming matron. In Massachusetts she looks down at you from the top of a stone pediment. Her bronze is polished and glows darkly, projecting a spiritual force that stirred my heart. I had recently re-learned, at Pendle Hill from Marcelle Martin, the story of Mary Dyer and the other Quaker martyrs hung on Boston Common. Mary was a follower of Anne Hutchinson (see the Antinomian Controversy) who preached that every Christian believer could read, interpret, and preach the word of God and that the Grace of God is freely given. Mary was later convinced by George Fox in England of the Truth and power of Friends. Because of her conviction that God’s law is love and tolerance and despite the fact that the Massachusetts government, essentially the Puritan church, had passed a law banning Quakers from their colony, she returned to Massachusetts again and again in defiance of the worldly law and was martyred for her beliefs.
After gazing at the statue for a few minutes I turned and strode to the center of Boston common where Mary was hung and buried in an unmarked grave. I stomped my foot and jumped up into the cool air and sunny sky. I felt myself slam down onto the land forbidden to Quakers in the 17th century and I thought, “Goddamn it! I am a Quaker on Boston Common!” Taking in the scene my vision was filled with the Boston skyline. My eyes were opened to the skyscrapers stretching heavenward and the deep, dark (v)alleys between them. They were black against the blue and shining sky. My inner eye was opened as well and words were suddenly in me. I awakened to the message that the American Dream that capitalism and our system of government that supports it, can bring us all satisfaction, prosperity, freedom and security is actually a nightmare. Only God can sustain us by leading us in the way of Love.
In the 17th century the American colonies were believed to be a beautiful new Eden or New Jerusalem where God's Kingdom could be established on Earth. Similar rhetoric persists today in the idea of American exceptionalism, etc.. But the Theonomics or Theocratic governments of colonial America were corrupted by greed, willfulness, fear and hate. Just as then, America is corrupted today. Mary Dyer was persecuted and martyred for her belief that the so-called Christian leaders of her time should rule with compassion and love and that followers of Christ should be free to follow their conscience. Although Friends are no longer directly oppressed by laws banning our worship and practice, I believe we are all called to stand against the systems that directly oppress everyone by cultivating fear rather than Love in our hearts. How are Friends called in the 21st century to confront the systems that oppress us all; living more fully, and inviting others into, a direct experience of Divinity? Can we forsake the idols of worldly leaders and systems of fear and follow God's Love into abundance and Paradise on Earth?