About this blog

Welcome to Through the Flaming Sword, a venue for conversation about the history and future of the Religious Society of Friends, popularly known as Quakers—and thanks for joining me. I have started this blog to share some of my ideas with interested Friends and to join the lively online conversation about Quaker life more directly.

I’ve been a Friend since the mid-1980s and I’ve always had a passion for the study of Quakerism—its history, its ‘theology’, its approach to the life of the spirit, both personal and corporate, its community dynamics and governance, and its distinctive language and practices.

A writer by both vocation and avocation, I’ve written a lot about Quakerism, the vast majority of which is unpublished, though some essays have appeared in Friends Journal and Quaker Life. I currently am deep into a book on Quakers and Capitalism, which is both an economic history of Friends and a history and commentary on Quaker contributions to capitalist culture. This is not about Quakers and money, but about Quakers and the history and structure of capitalist economy. The history part of the book is more or less complete up to the turn of the 20th century, and roughly sketched out to the present. I have done a number of presentations on this material and I’ve found that Friends are universally amazed at the significance of Quaker economic contributions, a history that is almost completely unknown to most Friends. I am a trained and seasoned public speaker and I welcome opportunities to share this incredible story more widely. Please contact me if you are interested.

I also am a serious student of the Bible and I invite you to visit my other blog, BibleMonster.com, which explores contemporary issues under the light of a radical Bible.

If you would like to contact me directly, please email me at steven.davison@verizon.net

Again, thank you for joining me. I look forward to our conversation.

Steven Davison

§ 6 Responses to About this blog

  • Dean Olson says:

    I’m a new Quaker, as of ten years ago. I had been a Lutheran Minister for 12 years, but left that over 30 years ago. In between, I became very active at Green Gulch, a Zen community in the Bay Area. Also, in between, I gradually began letting go of Christianity as I’d come to understand it. Coincidently, it all began with bible study. Specifically, weeklong events with Walter Wink (who has written quite abit).

    What began to open for me was a distinction between the Jesus of the gospels I was meeting and what the church had made of him. Another way to say this briefly is, I became aware of a sharp distinction between the person, Jesus of Nazareth, and what became for the church, the Christ of faith. I say distinction, because as the more I came to honor and be aware of Jesus, the less this sense jived with what the church had made of him.

    And the irony now is that as a Quaker, this ongoing sense of something new emerging seems to fit right in with being a Quaker. That just as Quakers were perceived as radical in their day for throwing off much of what the church had come to mean (all the externals) and where the church sought to locate the sacred, I feel now that same kind of separating of the chaff from the wheat has come to the person of Jesus.

    The closest group I’ve accidentally come to know about that has worked to this same point is the Westar Insitute that hosts the Jesus Seminar.

    That early Quaker shift of experiencing the “Christ within” flowed with a real fresh sense of faith being lived, the spirit taking on one after another after another person and giving them new eyes and ears, was a personal, internal experience located right within the life of each person, where it belongs.

    That was the earliest Quakers, fed by the recently translated scriptures of their day, alive and on fire. Ironically, for me today, it too comes from recently translated scriptures, shorn of Christian interpretations, that Jesus message and life opens and shines through. A message that does not focus on him, but on the central message he came to experience, lived out of, gave him authority and to which he invited all with ears to listen, the reign of God. Not something off in the future, but right here, right now, a new way of being.

    So as a Quaker, the radical I experience is THIS MESSAGE, that has always been there but continually gets buried over and misunderstood. Jesus was very clear about what he was about: to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. And he minced no words about what this new way meant: life as now known would be turned upside down, inverted, turned inside out: for we would see with new eyes, hear with new ears, and act with new hearts.

    This was not just about him, but open and available and experienced as “the good news!”, as “amazing grace!” and people’s lives and actions radically changed. Reading early Quakers, I see this happening amongst them. Being actively part of a Quaker community today and aware of broader Quaker groups, I don’t experience that today.

    What seems to be missing for me is that modern Quakers threw the baby out with the bath water. To me, it seems modern Quakers taken seriously that Fox had this inner experience of what he called the Christ. His whole life, like most of the people around him, was saturated with scriptural stories and experiences. When he had that experience, he also had his bible under his arm, for it was what he was reading there and struggling with that continually was driving him into what he negatively referred to as “the steeple houses.”

    But I think Quakers wrongly assume along with all the church came to stand for, that they also threw out the bible. Just because someone (or some group) comes to a wrong understanding (a blindness) of what is going on doesn’t mean you throw away that last, tiny link (ember). I no longer say I’m Christian. For me, I threw the water out and kept the baby. I honor Jesus and what he came to experience and share. Just as I do now and have for the past ten years as a new Quaker, that of God alive and well in the lives of people I’ve come to admire and respect, many of whom are fellow Quakers.

    But I’m also aware we do not hold the franchise, for recently I’ve been deeply touched by what the new pope is saying and doing. That of God that IS in all of us, that brings water and sunshine to the just and unjust, that continues to distract our attention away from all that is “so important to us” to that which of least importance to us, is alive and well. You not only can read about it in stories of early Quakers, it is still there, where it all first began, in the life and teachings of Jesus.

  • I have found the whole discussion on ‘that of God’ very interesting and it’s a phrase that has become almost credal where I have worshipped with liberal friends in Australia and tends towards a syncretistic post theology. I do note that in earlier posts you placed Neo Platonism alongside gnosticism. Plotinus who I believe is one of the most influential philosophers of the earlier Christian era takes great pains to distance his theology from that of the gnostic sects with their dualistic theologies and elitism. I believe he overcomes the implicit dualism that can be read into a straight reading of Plato into a wholistic theology where every person is called ‘home’ to the One. Plotinus embraced an ascetic lifestyle but is not anti material world nor anti embodiment although I think some later pagan writers took his course. I would be interested to know the thread between western mysticism influenced by Platonic thought in works such as the Cloud of Unknowing and the synoptic vision of the world within this tradition flowed into the seekers and Quakers facing Calvinism in all the main English churches with its fall/redemption theology. In a sense perhaps the Calvinist/Quaker dispute also centred around different ways of approaching Augustine of Hippo.

  • sharon hoover says:

    Hi, Steve: This comment bothered me. I have been thinking about “what Fox said,” and “what X (a Quaker) has said. You say, “I had argued further that the current mystical, divine-spark meaning of ‘that of God’ had entered modern Quakerism from Rufus Jones and was therefore a relatively new meaning, and that it was an innovation of his own or brought in from outside our tradition.” If we believe in continual revelation, and I do, and I believe that Fox did wonderfully well but that the world and our understanding of it and the world continues to move on, then to imply that Rufus Jones did something undesirable in bringing in “something from outside our tradition” is questionable. I realize that this comment begs the question of your overall point but I wanted to tell it to you. I also want to say that my understanding of history is that the idea of God within was in the air at the time, somewhat like “an idea whose time has come.” Sharon Hoover

    • Hi, Sharon

      I agree with you about continuing revelation. (Have you seen my latest post, in which I talk about this more directly?) My complaint has been, not that this new understanding isn’t true, or that we should return to what George Fox meant by it, but that we have forgotten what he meant by it and that we claim he meant what we mean; that we have radically redefined our tradition without knowing it and therefore, without submitting the new light to the kind of discernment that it deserves and that we apply to other big changes, like marrying people of the same sex, for instance.

      Now it appears that George Fox may have had a view of “that of God in every person” much closer to the modern one, after all. As I said when I started this thread, when trying to find where in Rufus Jones’s work he first introduced the Neo-Platonic idea of a divine spark, I’ve stumbled upon a number of writers who claim that Fox’s clearest expressions of this ‘celestial inhabitation,’ as one of them calls it (Richard Bailey, in New Light on George Fox and Early Quakerism, were deliberately removed from early editions of his journal and other writings. This left us with only a partial picture of Fox’s thinking.

      I think Lewis Benson is still right when he says that Fox used the phrase itself in really different ways than we do today. Benson claims it wasn’t important to Fox as an expression of doctrine, but rather it played a key role in his approach to ministry and matters pastoral. So I think it still might be true that “that of God” was not for Fox some divine spark or substance in the human, in the classic Neo-Platonic sense. And meanwhile, in our hands, the phrase has shifted completely from the pastoral role it played for Fox into one of doctrine. In fact, it is virtually the only expression of ‘doctrine’ that we liberal Friends seem comfortable with nowadays.

      So my point is that we should own all this and start thinking about it more rigorously, start talking about it more, and start exploring what it means, both on its own as a statement of ‘doctrine,’ and what it means that we have so radically redefined and even dumbed down our traditions with such obliviousness. One thing it means, I suspect, is that this new meaning is, in fact, “an idea whose time has come.” That it seems so intuitively satisfactory to so many Friends that we don’t feel a need to question it. Maybe the reason I feel like questioning it is that it isn’t satisfactory for me.

      Then again, I cannot embrace Fox’s meaning, either. If I am a Christian at all, I am not a Christian like him. For it seems clear to me that, like everything else in Fox’s life and thinking, it all comes back to Christ. There is no understanding of “that of God in every person” without talking about Christ. In fact, I suspect another reason the modern meaning has been so successful among liberal Friends is that it is a way to talk about God without talking about Christ, if only left-handedly (since “that of God” doesn’t say very much about God). In fact, as Benson complains, the phrase relocates the discussion from God to ourselves—it’s about us, not God.

      Well, I’m off to meeting. More later.

      • fafafooey says:

        What is the problem that you have with everything coming back to Christ? Doesn’t it? Isn’t he the author and the finisher of our faith?

  • Thank you for writing; and for being who you are; and thanks be to God.

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