I just don't want to have to become the sort of person that you seem to have to be, to become king. I was reading a little last night about Louis XIV, the Sun King, and I think I would have not liked him much at all. Lots of sending former friends into dungeons or to be burnt at the stake. I like the character of Prince Hal/King Henry V, but I suspect he was deeply fictionalized. Went to war over an insult, and whole bunch of folks died to give him his victory at Agincourt. Nice.
And yet, I love high church, if it feels real. I buy into very little American high church stuff, because we're a democracy dammit. It just doesn't fly. Now, Westminster Abbey... One of my favorite things to do in England is to arrive an hour early for sung services at Westminster, and get to sit in the stalls right behind the choir. It's glorious.
In high school, I wrote a short play, and a central character of that play has stayed with me. He was the son of a king, who decided he didn't want to become what he saw his father was, and what he saw his brothers becoming. So he pretended to go mad, to go deaf-and-dumb, and everyone believed him and no-one expected anything further from him. A variant of the story got put into "Tales of the Tattoo Rumba Man," which I've discussed earler:
My father was king, and I was his son. I walked the dangerous cold halls of the palace and waited for something to happen. And while I waited, I watched them, especially my father. I watched him slip into the decay of deceiving words; I watched his hands sweep out capturing only empty space.And so, when it becomes time for the prince to take the crown, he refuses—he walks away. Kind of like The Lion King, without a pair of wiseacre pig and meerkat sidekicks.
Why does all of this come up?
I've been pushing around the concept of leadership in my head. I'm taking on co-clerking Ministry and Counsel at my home meeting for the next year, and it's weird. Clerking is not "leading" in any modern sense of the word. It's not supposed to be, anyway. And yet there is a certain deference paid to the clerk, usually, because it's the clerk's job to watch the movement of spirit in the meeting, to keep a watch on the sense of meeting, and then test an overt statement of that sense and see if Friends agree that is where in fact they are. The clerk is supposed to be separate from the committee much of the time, and this to me feels like part of what is expected of good leadership in general.
Over the last couple years, I've been going back repeatedly to a conversation I had with an older F/friend, where she reminisced over her early years in the meeting, in the 1970's. In particular, she was remembering Mumford Sibley, who was clerk of M&C when she first served on it. Mr Sibley was formidable, a person of great authority. Gravitas, maybe is a better word. But she and I observed that this gravitas is not one we see a lot of in the current crop of elders. I think this is true across the board among liberals of the last few decades, and I wonder why.
There has certainly been a dearth of authentic "gravitas" among our national political leadership, and in religious circles, it has come to be associated with pious hypocrisy, the kind of behavior that early Quakers and other anti-establishment groups railed against in the 17th century. I think it is something we suspect, as so often it seems like a mask for something sinful or just plain ignorant. Pedantry.
I think there's something deeper though, and it has to do with the disconnect between our mythic language and the real power structures in our lives. I'm talking here about the word "Lord."
The language of pretty much all religions with personified gods includes phrases like "Lord Jesus," or "Lord Krishna," or "Kingdom of Heaven." But for the last century or two, we have lived in a world where old-fashioned lord-liege relationships simply don't exist. You can see formalized remnants of them getting blown to bits in World War I, but even by then they were pretty stale.
Institutionalized slavery was gone by then too, replaced by wage-slavery. I'm reading David B Davis' Slavery and Human Progress now (thanks Marshall!), and I'll be curious what I find out about the cycle of slavery as in institution in the modern West.
In any case, we don't have kings except in church, if we go to the sort of church that still emphasizes "Lordship." Liberal Friends don't, and I'm beginning to wonder if we aren't missing something big here. Like the central point of most of the variants (Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Mormon, etc) of the Abrahamic tradition.
My question is, how to bring in this sense of submission—which historically could be described as an analogue to the liege-t0-king relationship—into a truly egalitarian world-view.
Maybe it's like clerking: submitting and allowing yourself to be submitted to, round and round.