"The Church stands between the old world order and a vision of the new," explains Gywn in his explanation of Fox's viewpoint. "The apocalyptic battle is joined at this interface between the new and the old" (115). It is important to recall that early Friends emerged in a tumultuous period in English history. As Justin Meggitt writes, "the origins of Quakerism lie in the turmoil of the English revolution, in the same feverish religious environment that gave birth to such radical groups as the Diggers, Levellers, Ranters, Fifth Monarchy Men and Muggletonians." This was a world in which unheard of things happened - a king had been executed, after all, and suddenly anything seemed possible.
Meggitt goes on to say that "In time, the Quakers’ apocalyptic fervour waned, and the movement began to settle down into a respectable, if eccentric, sect, somewhat embarrassed by the enthusiasm of its youth." And he is right. You'll find few Quakers today interested in going naked as a sign. But that need not be the end of the story.
Friends could reclaim some of this spirit of the apocalyptic today and speak powerfully and impactfully to the broader culture. This is a world in which unheard of things are happening and traditional narratives are breaking down. Ferguson confronts us with a host of unpleasant realities about the nature of police power and discrimination that cannot be ignored, and new injustices emerge one after another in its aftermath. As Jeffrey Tucker writes,
What’s at stake is the very foundation of public order as we know it. If government can’t do this right, if the police are accomplishing the very opposite of their claims, if they are undermining our security rather than providing for it, and this is widely understood, we have the making of not only an ideological revolution but an authentic turning point in the history of politics.
"The police power has pushed and pushed for decades: more power, more personnel, more weapons. Even as public opinion has turned against many other 'services' offered by government, there has been no push back regarding police. Politicians don’t win public office by promising to curb police power; the demand to escalate has traditionally led to cheers. Where’s the limit? No one has yet discovered it. If that changes, the results could be epic."
And the widespread erosion of trust in police protection is but one aspect of this turn. Particularly in the U.S., drone killings, torture, wiretapping, press censorship, and on and on all undermine our sense that we are a good people spreading good in the world. As Peter Rollins suggests, "Rather than the liberal claim that Wikileaks is important because of the way that it tells the public things it does not know [Zizek] has pointed out that its true power lies in telling us things we already know, but refuse to acknowledge... we are no longer able to pretend to ourselves that we do not know what we already know."
As these narratives collapse and fall away, way opens for new ways of being. "The Church stands between the old world order and a vision of the new. The apocalyptic battle is joined at this interface between the new and the old." Quakers can once again step into this liminal space and risk being embarrassed (or worse) in the process. We can embrace the apocalyptic once more and see in it the potential for positive change. This requires first acknowledging the reality of the present situation and a recognition of the urgency of the moment. Beyond that, it will require not necessarily the assurance of possessing the sole answer, but instead a confidence in the truth that we hold that there are other viable paths forward than simply rebuilding the existing narratives. How do we begin?