Wednesday, November 19, 2008
The gathering was very brief, taking place on Friday evening and Saturday morning and afternoon. We heard two speakers, Betsy Blake and Evelyn Jadin, who shared with us from their own experiences of growing up as Friends and finding that their ministry led them in exciting and scary directions that challenged their inherited assumptions and their community. We also had the chance to share in several workshops and worship-sharing groups where we were able to share our experiences - our hopes and dreams as well as our struggles and fears - across branch divisions.
I was struck by the diversity of this gathering. While I am uncertain about exact numbers, I feel confident in saying that a very sizable portion of those in attendence were from pastoral backgrounds, and that the group that was gathered at Deep River Friends meetinghouse was well-balanced in terms of background, perspective and life experience. For the first time at a cross-branch Young Adult Friends event, I did not feel out of place as one who names Jesus as Lord.
I was impressed by the spirit of Love that I experienced, particularly on Saturday evening, during our closing worship. While there were many who I believe felt impatient to see us change and grow as a Religious Society, to mature and be a sign of God's presence to the world, I did not feel impatient that evening. For those who know me, this is strange. I am an impatient person by nature and, in fact, see myself as being one of those who is calling for Friends as a body to move more quickly and deliberately in orienting our lives towards faithfulness to the Kingdom of Christ. But, Saturday night I felt inwardly at rest. I felt in my spirit that the power of the Lord is over all.
God reminded me of how Jesus called God "Abba" - "Papa." God is the Papa. An image that came to me was that of a mother who is so excited when her baby begins to use words and says "mama!" for the first time. I was shown that God is like that. God is like a mother to us, Her children. She is so delighted when we reach out to Her by putting names to Her. She is overjoyed when we seek to establish relationship in that way, by naming. She is not so concerned with what name She is called; She is pleased above all that Her children are expressing their desire for connection. She responds with unconditional love.
Of course, God wants us to grow up. We can't stay babies forever. God wants us to mature, and She will provide us with that spiritual milk, that inward sustanence that will lead us into all truth and full maturity in Christ. But God loves us. Though God asks us to change, God does love us as we are. Unconditionally.
Come, Lord. Come, Mama. Let your people know that they are held in love without condition. Let your people know that you long for relationship with them and that you delight in our human attempts to reach out. Let your people know that you love it when we put names to you in love. And let us know that you will stand with us in love and help us to grow, to mature in you. With your assistance, with your care, with your nuture, you will help us to grow into who we are meant to be.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Please pray for the Young Adult Friends gathering that will be taking place this weekend at Guilford College in North Carolina. Specifically, please pray that all who attend will be able to let go of everything that holds them back from radical self-emptying and love of God and neighbor.
Please pray that those who attend will drop all of the things that we allow to get in the way of our relationship with God and our brothers and sisters and that we may hear together the call that God has for us as a people. Please pray that this meeting be blessed by a covering of the Holy Spirit, and that we hear the word of God and let it transform our lives, no matter the cost.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Over the course of the past several years I have found myself increasingly coming under the weight of a concern to travel among Friends. This first came in the form of my yearly meeting graciously sending me to the World Gathering of Young Friends in Lancaster, England, in 2005. Later, I would travel to Baltimore Yearly Meeting under a minute from Great Plains Yearly Meeting. Eventually, I traveled among Friends in the Mid-Atlantic region, visiting meetings in New England, Baltimore and Philadelphia yearly meetings, as well as to two meetings in Mexico. I also traveled to Midwestern meetings in Indiana, Western, and Ohio Valley yearly meetings, and to other meetings in the Great Plains region.
As this travel proceeded, I found myself becoming increasingly involved in a growing and energetic network of younger Friends, mostly in our twenties, some in our thirties, some even younger, who longed for a deeper experience of Quakerism than many of us were experiencing in our everyday lives. I found that I was not the only young person who was excited about the witness of the Quaker expression of Christianity and the testimony of the early Friends. I found that I was not the only young Friend who was both excited by the depths of the primitive Christianity of Friends and not alone in my belief that we as a Religious Society are being called to radical faithfulness in Christ. In my travels, I kept coming into contact with other Friends who were chomping at the bit to put Quakerism into daily practice, to live into the radical faith that our spiritual ancestors testified to.
I saw that there was a movement growing among younger Friends, a hunger for connection and purpose in a culture hostile to genuine faith; a culture that seeks to commodify all things, including God; a culture that separates us through individualism, materialism and greed rather than uniting us in service to the marginalized and oppressed. I saw that God wanted to use the Religious Society of Friends as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, to draw Friends into fellowships of self-emptying and unconditional love. I sought to be open to how Christ wanted to use me to further this movement of His Holy Spirit in our midst.
This past year, I became clear that God was calling me to undertake more extensive travel among Friends. I felt a concern to personally bridge some of the divisions that have fractured the Religious Society of Friends, reaching out to Friends from across the theological, geographical and cultural spectrum. Thanks in large part to the Pickett Endowment Grant, I was released to undertake such travel this past summer. I visited a wide variety of Friends from across the United States and Mexico, spanning all of the principal branches of North American Quakerism: Liberal, Friends United Meeting, Conservative, and Evangelical Friends Church International.
Following the Young Adult Friends Conference in Richmond, Indiana, I visited Friends in Miami, Florida, where I got a small taste of what Quakerism looks like in Southeastern Yearly Meeting. After attending my yearly meeting, Great Plains, I continued on to visit Friends in Mexico City, rejoicing in the increasing strength of the Casa de los Amigos as Friends there sought who the Spirit of God is calling them to be in the heart of the largest metropolis in the Americas.
Returning to the United States, I attended the General Gathering of Conservative Friends, in Barnsville, Ohio. I was pleased to see the way in which Ohio Yearly Meeting is reaching out to seekers across the United States and the world, sharing their understanding of the Friends’ message of the present Risen Christ. Following that weekend, I attended Quaker Camp in the same location. This was a peaceful week of praying and contemplating with Friends from the US and Canada, seeking to sense each day what it was that Christ was calling us to do.
I had the privilege to attend Friends General Conference Gathering, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and to get a sense of what this event, so lauded and appreciated by many Liberal Friends, was all about. A week of dipping into the peculiar culture that is Friends General Conference’s Gathering was very educational for me, as well as at times being an experience of culture shock. After visiting Friends in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, I made my way to High Point, North Carolina, to attend the Friends United Meeting Triennial, where I was overwhelmed by the diversity of Friends from across the Americas and Africa who gathered together to worship God and celebrate the projects of Friends United Meeting in East Africa, Palestine, Jamaica and Belize. During and after the Triennial, I was able to briefly visit North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), which was meeting concurrently with the Triennial in nearby Greensboro.
I then made my way into the realm of Evangelical Friends, visiting Northwest Yearly Meeting as they gathered in Newberg, Oregon. I was delighted by my experience at Northwest Yearly Meeting and felt a profound spiritual kinship with Friends there. I was also able to visit two local meetings in Oregon: Reedwood Friends in Portland, and Freedom Friends in Salem. Finally, I made my way to Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), meeting on the campus of Scattergood Friends School. I was very impressed by these Friends’ practice of doing business in a worshipful spirit, and I felt great affinity for the heart of this yearly meeting. Gathered together in the presence of the Risen Christ, we were called to turn back from the selfish and destructive ways that we as humans have chosen to live in God’s creation.
I began my journey this summer unsure of what might be the result of my travels. I wondered whether God had a message for me to deliver as I traveled. I do not believe that I did, at least not a message beyond the simple message of giving and receiving hospitality, friendship and the peace of Christ. Nevertheless, by the time I had returned to Richmond, Indiana, to resume my studies at the Earlham School of Religion I felt certain that I had received a message. This message, slowly infused into me over the course of my travels, was a call to repentance.
Everywhere I traveled this summer, I felt God drawing my attention to the desperate need we Friends have to repent, to turn away from our selfishness, our false sense of security and self-sufficiency. So often, we Friends imagine that our belonging to our precious Religious Society is sufficient to save us, to make us righteous and justified before God. We so often imagine that we know the way, and that if only others would listen to us the world would be, if not perfect, a much better place. We want to believe that we can be faithful servants of the Living God while living lives of comfort, participating in empire. But again and again this summer, I felt God placing on my heart and on my lips the verdict of Christ when he spoke to the church in Laodicea: “…you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev. 4:17)
I am not the only one hearing this divine verdict our attitudes and behavior. I heard this judgment on the lips of another Friend during worship at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) when he quoted this same passage of scripture. I was convicted of God’s judgment of our decisions when a minister stood during worship at Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and described her shock when her child discovered a monstrously deformed frog with two extra legs, testimony of the creation to the effect our collective sin is having on the earth and its creatures. I heard us being called to repent, to turn back to our Lord in humble obedience, through the song of one Friend during the closing worship at Friends General Conference Gathering when she sang, calling us to “sink down to the Seed.” There were Friends that I met at each stage of my journey who were concerned that we as a church were not living up to our calling to be the Body of Christ, the children of God who walk in the light of day.
The call I have heard this summer is for all of us, young and old. We must make the decision, as individuals and as a body, to turn towards the Inward Witness of Christ and away from our own understanding, our own desiring, our own striving. Because God can and will raise up true spiritual children to George Fox if we do not live into the Truth, humbling ourselves in the presence of the Spirit, sinking down to the Seed. The call I have heard this summer is that we come together as one, turning away from our selfishness; that we make the choice to bear one another’s burdens and to make ourselves servants to our brothers and sisters. We are to be a blessing to the world, to bring good news to the poor and to proclaim release to the captives. But first we must be healed of our own blindness. Today is the day of the Lord’s favor, and the day of decision. Will we humble ourselves enough to hear the call?
I give thanks for the blessing of being financially released to travel this summer, to minister and be ministered to. I am grateful to the Pickett Endowment for helping to make these travels financially feasible for me, and I pray that the endowment will continue to support budding Friends ministers in this way. Please continue to use these funds to build up the Church and to encourage the ministry of Friends, both among Friends and to others.
Your friend in Truth,
Heartland Friends MeetingGreat Plains Yearly Meeting
Monday, October 20, 2008
For me, the week began with a long meeting of the North American Ministries Committee. This was a special meeting of the committee, as there were serious questions about whether it was serving a function at this point in FUM’s development. Given the serious limits in FUM’s financial and staff resources, most of our energy is currently going into sustaining our work in overseas missions sites, such as East Africa, Ramallah, Jamaica and Belize. The question was frankly put forward, “does this committee have any work left to do?” The answer that we heard was that the North American Ministries Committee does indeed still have work to do, and must be transformed from being merely an “idea committee,” where dreams are tossed around but little is done, to being an engine for action. Those of us there for this meeting identified four priorities that FUM would do well to concentrate upon in the next triennium: 1)Publications; 2) Curriculum; 3)Traveling Ministry and Intervisitation; 4)Nurturing Ministry and Leadership
Recognizing that FUM’s staff is already overworked, we did not propose any additional obligations for folks at the Richmond office. Instead, we suggested that the North American Ministries Committee could serve as an oversight body for four taskforces, one for each of the areas where we felt FUM was being called to labor in North America. Each of these taskforces would be open to individuals (both board members and others) who felt a concern to work in this area. If there were not energy to do the work, then the taskforce would remain inactive until there was. Speaking for myself, I feel a concern for traveling ministry and intervisitation, and I expect to volunteer for that taskforce. Each of these areas are important, and I pray that the Lord will raise up those who have gifts appropriate to the work that we are being called to as the Church in North America. (If you personally feel a leading to serve in one of these taskforces, please email me at micahbales AT gmail DOT com)
The North American Ministries Committee met a day before the rest of the General Board sessions, so once the bulk of the board had arrived, I was already done with my committee work. This was advantageous in that it gave me the opportunity to take part in some very passionate and tender discussions among the board members while others were in committee meetings. There were set topics for any given time period, including “The Richmond Declaration of Faith,” “The Christian Faith of Friends,” and “Friends views on the Bible.” I was very impressed with the vulnerability of those present in these discussions, and the tenderness, openness and love with which we were able to speak.
I felt that Friends were trying to hear and understand, not to judge or dismiss others. We did not always agree, but there was a genuine lovingness and openness to hearing truth from one another that pleased me very much. I, of course, was not the only one who caught on to this. There were Friends who expressed during our conversations, “there is a really wonderful spirit here,” and remarked at the way Friends were really listening to each other, having the courage to be non-defensive and stand together in the Truth.
This courageous openness towards each other and groundedness in who we are in Christ despite our differences extended beyond our discussion times; this same spirit of trust in each other, in ourselves and in Christ’s present guidance carried over into our meetings for business. There were some fairly tense moments, especially around the notorious personnel policy, but also around some other things that hadn’t occurred to me beforehand. Nevertheless, in that tension it was clear that we were all seeking way forward. As far as I could tell, no one was trying to make things difficult for the sake of making them difficult. The questions that we as a board are faced with are simply difficult and we are walking together in God’s Light as best we can, praying that we will be shown way forward as we wait on the Holy Spirit. It was clear to me that we were family, brothers and sisters in Christ, and that we were diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Far from being the tension-laced snipe-fest that I thought it might be, I am very impressed with the caliber of those who have been selected by Friends to serve in the governance of Friends United Meeting. This has been my first experience of being able to sit down with Friends from across the Orthodox spectrum, breaking bread and sharing spiritual communion together with Friends from Baltimore, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Canada, California, Iowa, and everywhere in between. What a blessing it has been to share fellowship with these Friends from such disparate geographical, cultural and theological backgrounds and to know that we are one body in Christ! At these meetings I have known it experientially and not just as a concept. We have felt it together. Some of us may not even like it, but we know that we are knitted together in the Spirit of Christ and that we are called to work for God’s Kingdom together.
**A note on language: I use the word “Orthodox” to refer to Friends bodies that are part of Friends United Meeting – for example, Indiana and Baltimore yearly meetings. I understand that some yearly meetings that have chosen not to be part of Friends United Meeting are characterized by highly Orthodox Friends; on the other hand, some yearly meetings that are part of Friends United Meeting contain a large number of individual Friends who would probably not think of themselves as Orthodox. Nevertheless, despite our sometimes vast differences, I consider all yearly meetings that form part of FUM to be a part of the venerable “middle way” of Quaker Orthodoxy. We have been brought together as a body, committing ourselves to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Iowa (Conservative) struck me as a very mellow, cozy group of Friends from across Iowa, and with meetings in Nebraska, Missouri and Wisconsin. As I commented to several Friends there, I imagine that IYMc is similar to what my yearly meeting, Great Plains, might be like in character if we were to become fully unprogrammed and incorporate a few large, liberal meetings. While there was definitely a strong element which I would identify, for lack of a better term, as "liberal-oriented," there was also a clear desire as a body to maintain some of the traditions of Conservative Friends, which I appreciated.
In particular, I noticed that the meetings for business were slower, beginning with between twenty and thirty minutes of open worship, and carrying significant periods of silence between items. The presiding clerk, Deborah Fisch, also served as recording clerk, taking the sense of the meeting, preparing each minute as Friends waited in prayer, and then proposing the minute to the body for its approval. Each item was approved and minuted at the time that unity was reached, not waiting until the end of the session to prepare and approve the minutes. I found this custom to be helpful for a number of reasons. Not the least of these was the way in which it bypassed the need to prepare the minutes all at once at the end of each business session, which has always seemed like it must be stressful for the recording clerk. It also provided a minute or two of silent worship between each item of business, which I felt helped keep the body more centered and attentive to the fact that this was in fact the Lord's work and not our own.
When reports were received, there was generally appreciation expressed from the body for the report, either vaguely ("I appreciate the report") or more specifically ("This report gives me a sense of what organization X does and I am pleased with the work that they are doing"). The clerk minuted the reaction of the body, along with an acceptance of each report. The yearly meeting's queries were read, along with selected responses from the meetings. These responses, in addition to the state of the meeting reports from each monthly meeting, gave a sense of how the body was faring in its walk with Christ, giving a sense of the state of the yearly meeting as a whole, as well as that of individual local meetings.
The one event that took place at IYMc that I want to highlight in particular is the closing worship on Sunday morning, which I found to be particularly impactful. We were called, early on in the time of worship, to come to the living waters of God and to be filled with that life, and, as we sank down into that Life, we found that God had ministry for us, not only to comfort us but also to convict us and call us to action. A minister arose and told us of how, just before meeting for worship, she had been with her children, exploring the outdoors near the meetinghouse. The children were catching frogs, many of which were in the stage between tadpole and frog. Her daughter picked up a frog and brought it to her. The frog appeared to have a tail, still, but as she looked more closely, she realized that what at first had looked like a tail was in fact an extra set of hind legs. "The frog had two sets of back legs!" We heard more ministry that morning, but at the core of it all I felt a call for us as Friends to repent of our complicity with the destruction of the creation and to change our lives dramatically to come into alignment with God's will for us: that we be in unity with the creation in Christ.
Are we listening? Do we hear God's call to repetance? Do we hear God's call to turn our lives around, to turn towards the Light and away from our own destructive ways of living on the earth? Are we ready for radical reorientation? My prayer for Friends of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), and for all Friends, is that we might together hear the Word of God in our hearts and change our lives, laboring together to lead lives that reflect humility, love and firmness in Truth.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Arriving early, we were able to sit and chat with folks as they came in before the service began. The attenders of FFC that morning were an eclectic mix of people, about twenty or twenty five in all, spanning age, class, gender identity/sexuality and religious background. I was impressed to meet middle class folks, working class folks, queer folks, straight folks, those coming out of the wider Quaker tradition, and those who were raised in other traditions. There is a rich diversity at Freedom Friends, a diversity made possible by a radically inclusive faith rooted in an intimate encounter with the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
FFC describes itself on its website as, "passionately Christ-centered, passionately Quaker and passionately inclusive." From what I saw on Sunday, I would affirm this statement. Freedom Friends is a Quaker church, emerging out of the pastoral tradition of Friends. The pastor, Peggy Parsons, comes out of Northwest Yearly Meeting, but laid down her recording in that body to help found this new church. Unable to establish a church welcoming to queer folks within Northwest, because of the clarity with which Northwest's Faith and Practice denys membership, much less leadership, to "unrepentant" homosexuals (see page 64), yet too clearly Christian and pastoral to fit in with North Pacific Yearly Meeting, Freedom Friends exists as an independent monthly meeting and is currently preparing its own Faith and Practice. While Peggy Parsons indicated to me that she would gladly rejoin Northwest if that yearly meeting's position on homosexuality changed, it does not appear that this will be happening any time in the near future. And so, Friends at FFC forge ahead, alone.
Nevertheless, despite its independence from other Friends bodies, Freedom Friends is solidly rooted in the Quaker tradition. I was pleased to see the way in which Peggy guided the worship service, giving clear explanations of what was happening at each stage. For example, explaining the meaning of open worship in the Quaker tradition before leading us into silent waiting before God. She did use Quaker lingo (for example, "are all hearts clear?" at the end of open worship), but she also translated herself so that all would come to know what the expression referred to ("does anyone have anything on their hearts that still needs to be spoken?").
The service looked like this: We began singing a few hymns out of the FFC hymnal, which was composed of loose sheets bound together in plastic binders. The hymns chosen for the hymnal, Peggy explained, avoided "guilt and shame," as well as other types of "theologically destructive" language. After a hymn or two, Peggy introduced visitors, and we sang another hymn or two. Following singing, there was a period of what might be referred to in other contexts as "worship sharing," sharing about what we were grateful for. Once many had shared their gratitude, there was a similar time for prayer requests and sharing struggles with the community. Finally, there was about a half an hour of open worship, during which time folks were encouraged to feel free to sit at a table in the meetingroom where they could do art. Three Friends took advantage of that opportunity and drew with colored pencils during open worship.
I am very excited about FFC's potential for reaching out to unchurched people, and, in particular, to people who are excluded by most churches and meetings. Peggy's role as pastor during the service seemed to be that of guiding us through each step and explaining what was happening. This seemed to me to be extremely valuable for those who are coming into the Quaker stream of Christianity, orienting them as to why Friends practice and believe as we do, creating a safe and welcoming entry point into the world of Friends, solidly grounded in the tradition. We could use this kind of openness and clarity in other Friends meetings. I am encouraged by what I have seen at Freedom Friends Church, and look forward to hearing about their walk with the Lord and progress in serving the Kingdom in the future.
One word of caution: I was happy to hear Peggy say that she would like to rejoin Northwest Yearly Meeting if their stance on homosexuality in the Church were to change; and I appreciate that leaving NWYM was not a decision that Peggy and others took lightly. However, I hope that Friends at FFC and Friends elsewhere who find themselves similarly called by conscience to take a stand on these and other issues within the Religious Society of Friends will seek always for unity, keeping that hope and intention always in their minds and hearts as they move forward. I pray that this break can be a mendable one, like earlier splits between Indiana Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) and Indiana Yearly Meeting (Antislavery), and not like the Hicksite/Orthodox or Gurneyite/Wilburite splits, which have festered to global proportions.
Friday, July 25, 2008
On Sunday morning, we attended West Hills Friends Church with my aunt, Thea. It was an extremely friendly meeting, with a simple service, which began with a few people gathering early in the meeting room and holding silent worship for about fifteen minutes in anticipation of the arrival of the rest of the congregation. The programmed service consisted of several hymns, led by an electric-guitar-playing man at the front, rock and roll style, a brief message brought by a missionary couple who were back in the United States from the Middle East, a very humorous sermon by the pastor, and then a period of open worship, which was followed by a time of prayer requests and announcements. The sermon was full of humor, often seeming more like a stand-up routine than the usual message delivered in many churches, and the congregation was very responsive, clapping, cheering, and slapping the benches. Quite a different way to do church!
That afternoon, we rode down to Newberg, Oregon, where Northwest Yearly Meeting held its annual sessions on the campus of George Fox University, and that evening Tyler and I were able to attend a gathering of Northwest's Young Adult Friends at the home of Bruce Bishop, former youth/YAF leader for the yearly meeting, and present director of communications for the yearly meeting. It was a good time to meet with younger Friends, tell them about why I am traveling this summer, and invite Friends into conversation with me.
That evening, Colin Saxton, Northwest's superintendent, spoke to the body of the yearly meeting. He spoke on the subject of repentance, reminding us of Jesus' message that we are to "repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Colin reminded us of the very real presence of Christ with us and of our need to repent and accept Christ's call to complete obedience and discipleship, learning of him and taking on his easy yoke. He reminded us again and again of the real presence and leadership of Christ among us today in the Church, emphasizing that Christ's presence as Friend and Lord is, "no peripheral doctrine - this is at the core of a Friends understanding of the teachings of Christ."
I was very impressed by Colin's message, and I was blown away by the fact that he spoke on repentance, a concern that had been weighing so heavily on my heart for weeks, becoming rather a theme of my travels among Friends from the Conservative, FGC, FUM and EFCI traditions. The wind of the Spirit is blowing through the branches and it is shaking every leaf. The Lion of Judah has roared, who can but tremble? The Word of the Lord has issued from Zion, who can but prophesy? Repent, Friends! Repent and turn from your waywardness and return to the bosom of Christ, the safety of your God's care. Fall on your knees, hear and obey that which God has in store for us as a people.
Colin spoke for the Sunday night evening session, but the primary speaker for the week was Tony Campolo. Campolo was quite an impressive speaker, speaking three evenings in a row, and getting better each night. The first evening, I felt that he was laying the groundwork for the subsequent nights, pulling some of his punches, making us laugh, and preparing us for the lashing that he intended to give us in the two sermons to follow. The first evening, he focused on God not merely as a notion or idea, but as a transforming power that enters into us and changes us. He said that joy and love are signs that Christ has entered into us and saturated our being. He challenged our ideas of success, reminding us, in the words of Francis of Assisi, that "the poor and oppressed are sacramental," and he told us that "the way to build the Church today is the same way that they built it in the first century: by people loving people and accompanying them into the household of faith."
The second evening, Campolo took us deeper and laid greater challenges before us. The primary message of that night's sermon was the distinction between power and authority. Power, he said, is the ability to coerce. Authority, on the other hand, he defined as, "commanding obedience through loving sacrifice. Jesus, he reminded us, had great authority (see Matthew 7:28-29), but he rejected power (see Matthew 4:1-11). The "Constantinian Heresy," Campolo explained, was when the Church began to exercise power, rather than the authority that comes from sacrificial love. He drew our attention to Philippians 2:5-11, as an exposition of Jesus' sacrificial love. The love of Jesus on the cross is the heart of the Gospel, the message: it is through sacrificial love that we gain authority. The Church does not speak with authority, explained Campolo, because it has not paid the price. It is not living sacrificially. The phenomenon of politicized religion is a case in point: we resort to power when we have no authority. Campolo went on to call us to a commitment to social justice, saying that "Jesus never allowed the second commandment to be separated from the first." Campolo ended the evening with a direct call for concrete action on the part of those in attendance. He issued a call for everyone there that evening to begin to support a child in the Third World through Compassion International, and he called on young people to give him their name and address, to commit to a year of service among the poor.
For the last evening session, Campolo began with an explanation of Jesus' saving work on the cross, explaining that Jesus reaches out through all time and both forgives us of our sin, and cleanses us of our sin, liberating us from it. He then went on to talk about how the term "fundamentalism" was once a respectable term, but soon became tied up in a lot of things that it was never meant to be about. He went on to say that the term "Evangelical," a word that was to replace the word "fundamentalist," has now taken on many implications that are more political in nature than religious. He suggested another term, "Red Letter Christians," to denote Christians who take the teachings of Jesus as their guide and baseline.
During the previous evening's session, Campolo had briefly touched on homosexuality, condemning "the oppression of gays," but on this final evening he engaged us extensively on this very sensitive issue. Campolo explained that he is a "conservative" on the issue of homosexuality, believing that it is contrary to the intention of God for the human creation. But, he pointed out that his wife held an opposing view on the subject, and that they occasionally debated the issue publically, "to show that it is possible to differ on this issue and not get a divorce." He said, "it's crazy to split over this issue," insisting that it is important that Christians not break unity, but instead hold together and keep wrestling. Furthermore, Campolo decried "the horrible oppression of gays" as "unacceptable," even though he "disagrees with the lifestyle."
To conclude, Campolo reminded us of the story of the rich young man and challenged us to accept the full implications of the Gospel, not just the parts that we think we can fit into our lives without completely giving ourselves over to Christ. "We're all willing to be Christians up to a point," he said, "but tonight Christ is going to call you to go beyond that point... to the cross." Campolo urged us to give over everything to service to God, saying that scripture condemns retirement (citing the parable of the rich fool). He called retired people to account for being, "an enormous waste of the Church's resources," and called upon those who no longer worked for money to give everything they had, treasure and time, to the work of the Church of Jesus Christ. Addressing the other end of the age spectrum, Campolo encouraged parents to instruct their children, not being afraid to "tell their kids what to do." As he explained that "everyone else is telling your children what to do with their lives - school guidance counselors, teachers, MTV," and called on parents to give firm guidance to their children, I heard several high school aged Friends behind me say, "amen!" Every youth, he concluded, should feel that he or she is on a mission from God. All of us must be obedient to the teachings of Jesus and live out the call of the Church in the world.
The remarkable thing about all of Campolo's sermons was the sense that, by and large, he was preaching Quakerism to Quakers. It occurs to me that it is probably a very good thing for us to hear true, inward Christianity preached to us by outsiders from time to time. But Friends in Northwest Yearly Meeting are most certainly Quakers. Indeed, it has been refreshing to find such an intensely Quaker body: both Christ-centered and distinctively Quaker. Friends here seek to live and preach the "whole gospel," which I heard described as, "not only the verbal witness of Jesus Christ, but also peacemaking and social justice." Friends of all stripes, pastoral and unprogrammed, could learn a great deal from the way in which Friends in Northwest hold together the tensions of the Quaker understanding of the Gospel of Christ Jesus. They recognize "that of God in everyone," but at the same time are strongly missional, seeking to liberate the oppressed Seed of God in their own hearts and in the hearts of seekers outside of their fellowship. They are firmly biblical in their worldview, but avoid to a great extent the pitfalls of placing the written word, interpreted legalistically, as a higher authority than the Spirit of Christ, which inspires us to rightly interpret the Scriptures and be changed by them. They are committed to social justice and peacemaking, but do not separate that from a clear witness to the saving power of Messiah Jesus, whose Spirit takes away all occasion for war.
I was pleased to see that the character of Northwest's business sessions were mature, grounded, and centered in the Spirit of Christ. While I was in attendance, I saw the approval of a minute condemning torture, as well as the approval of a series of amendments to their Faith and Practice, which is under revision currently. There was approval of a section of the Faith and Practice which allows local churches, with permission from the yearly meeting, to forgo using the name "Friends" in their "common name," that is, what the church is referred to as in everyday conversation and on the meetinghouse's sign. There was also discussion of a minute calling on the governing authorities of the United States to correct the present situation in which illegal immigrants are being separated from their spouses and children, breaking up families through deportation. There was discussion on this minute, but as there was not enough time to come to unity on it, it was laid over for a later meeting. The sense that I felt rising in the body was that Friends should be addressing, first and foremost, the question of how we ourselves are feeling called to act to ameliorate the present situation. How are Friends called to reach out to our Latino brothers and sisters in Christ?
The worship style at Northwest's annual sessions was interesting. Each evening session was begun with several songs, led by a group up on the platform, with lyrics projected onto a large screen hanging above. Following these songs, we would hold about five minutes of silence, before that night's speaker rose and presented. There were other times, too, where there was music and brief open worship, including during the business sessions. I found it quite nice to have time for musical worship in the midst of business meeting.
Apparently there was a yearly meeting reorganization that was completed last year, the most remarkable result of which is that Northwest's missions and peacemaking are now organized into one function. Evangelism and peacemaking/social justice are not separated. For example, both Christian Peacemaker Teams and a new meeting-planting mission in Russia are under the care of NWYM's Board of Global Outreach (Friends in Northwest use the term "board" to refer to what many Friends would call a "committee").
To sum up, I have had a wonderful time at Northwest Yearly Meeting's annual sessions. I am very impressed with the vibrancy, rootedness, friendliness and strong character of this body of Friends, and I look forward to continued contact with them in the future. I am particularly excited to think about ways in which my own yearly meeting, Great Plains, might move into closer relationship with Friends in Northwest. With all that we have in common, I hope that way will open for us to deepen our ties and come into greater partnership in living out and sharing the Good News of Christ Jesus.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Some other folks raised questions, not really understanding what this affirmation would mean. At this point, Brent McKinny stood up and said that this would be an approval of "the principle" of FUM's ongoing work in Belize, not necessarily of any new project. Brent then proceeded to push for an approval from the body, despite a call from one Friend for us to spend time in prayer and hear what the Spirit was saying to the Church. This whole process took place in a matter of minutes and felt very rushed, even forced. I felt very uncomfortable with this maneuver, feeling that the executive leadership of FUM simply wanted a rubber stamp, rather than really desiring to listen together with the body to the voice of Christ.
As I mentioned in the first installment of my reflections on this event, I was astonished at how little corporate, inward listening was allowed us during our time together at sessions. It seemed clear that the primary purpose of our being at the Triennial was to be receive reports on the work of FUM as a missions organization and to be reminded (and reminded, and reminded) of our failure to adequately fund FUM and its projects abroad. At times it seemed that there were more appeals for funds than there was vocal prayer. And open worship was almost completely absent. We were there to hear FUM's executive leadership's opinions about what we should be doing, not to wait on Christ and hear the mission that our Lord has for us as Church.
FUM Triennial finished up Saturday evening with an "intergenerational/youth worship service." The whole thing felt a little off to me, with "the Africans" being asked to rise and sing us a song. (In fact, this happened several times during the Triennial. At a certain point I wondered about whether someone should have asked the white folks to stand up and sing a few hymns for the Africans, to reciprocate.) The whole service seemed more like entertainment than worship, with applause after every performance, beginning with the Africans singing hymns. The body applauded after every time the youth sang, and even when the youth presented an episode from Jesus' ministry. Frankly, the service felt demeaning, with the Africans and the youth being paraded out to be the evening's entertainment.
What is it that we are hiding from, distracting ourselves with entertainment rather than opening ourselves to the purifying power of Christ's Inward Light? I see a connection between our apparent failure to wait on Christ's guidance and our own conceit as the North American Church. I myself have been particularly struggling with the single-minded focus of FUM and these triennial sessions on foreign missions. As one who feels called to serve Friends in North America at the present time, and seeing the need of North American Quakerism and the Christian Church more widely, I cannot grasp the failure of our yearly meetings and other bodies as evangelical Friends to commit funds, time, and human energy to Christ's Kingdom in North America. Are the people of the Two Thirds World the only ones in need of redemption? Are we unaware of our own desperate need? A theme that has been persistent with me for at least a couple of weeks now is that of our need for repentence as the Church in North America.
We are like the church in Laodicea, which Christ addresses in Revelation 3. We believe that we are rich, prosperous, wanting for nothing, but cannot see that we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked! I do not know what the future holds for Friends as a body, but I pray that God will humble us, break us, remold us and forge us into an instrument that can serve God's purposes. God, have mercy on us. Expose our sin, our pride, our utter nakedness before you, and bring us back into your paths.
Friday, July 11, 2008
There is a clear sense of concern among Friends at these sessions, a feeling that we are at a turning point in FUM's history. On the one hand, it seems that relations among Friends have grown more civil. On the other hand, despite our increased civility, it is not entirely clear who we are or what we are doing as a body. Perhaps the primary question that Friends gathered here are wrestling with is the question of FUM's call and identity. What is FUM? A missions board? A denominational head? A non-profit foreign aid organization? An "umbrella group" for one branch of Friends to come together and share fellowship? At times it seems that FUM attempts to be all of these things, and more, but often fails to carry out any of these roles satisfactorily.
At these triennial sessions, there has been an enormous emphasis on overseas missions. Sylvia Graves, General Secretary of Friends United Meeting, made it clear in responding to questions on Thursday morning that at this point in history she sees FUM's role as being in carrying out overseas mission work. The reasoning that she presented was that foreign missions is something that FUM can do far better than yearly meetings could do on their own. Encouraging and supporting Friends in North America is, in her view, the responsibility of each yearly meeting. This viewpoint, while having its merits, is very frustrating for me, as one who feels called to serve Friends in North America at the present time. The reality is, our yearly meetings are not adequately supporting home missions. What FUM's role in all of this is, I am unsure, but I am uncomfortable with all attention being given to sending support to overseas projects when our Religious Society is in such dire condition here in North America.
The schedule at these sessions is packed full of business, though I haven't seen any decisions made yet. The business sessions on Thursday and Friday have been largely filled by reports from field staff in East Africa, Belize, and the Ramallah Friends School. There has been very little time for worship beyond singing a few hymns and holding a moment of silence before field staff reports. There was a remarkable tension this morning, as open worship was cut off after only one minute by an FUM staff member introducing the next presenter. As she attempted to close the extremely brief worship, another woman rose from the body and read in a strong voice from an epistle of George Fox to Friends in New Jersey. The staff member stood aside, gave about fifteen seconds of space after the minister had sat down, and then proceeded to introduce the next speaker. I wonder at this lack of open worship at the feet of our Lord who we claim as our leader. Why is there not more expectant waiting on Christ? Do we imagine that there is not enough time to spare in our sessions to receive communion together? Are we afraid to wait on the Lord as a body?
When we are not hearing reports, we are listening to speakers. Wednesday evening was Sylvia Graves, who gave us an extensive report on FUM's activities over the past three years. Landrum Bolling spoke on Thursday evening about the need to re-examine our Peace Testimony in light of current events. He insisted that, "there are consequences," to our testimony of Christ's call to peacemaking. Among these consequences, he stressed the imperative that we resist the current push for expanding the present war into Iran.
Thursday night, after Bolling's presentation, the few Young Adult Friends present at this event gathered together, along with a few other YAFs who had come over from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), which is holding its annual sessions in nearby Greensboro. There were about a dozen of us, and we shared together about our experiences in the past few years, as well as about our frustrations as young adults in a religious community that alternately pampers us and patronizes us. There was a great sense that we are hungry for a more intergenerational life in community. We are, first and foremost, adult Friends. We just happen to be part of a religious community that tends towards the upper age range. Christ is teaching his people himself, and it's not limited to any age group.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
I can't imagine a much more different Friends conference in comparision with FGC Gathering. While FGC was like summer camp, FUM Triennial is more like a United Nations committee meeting.
More to come.
Monday, July 7, 2008
I think that I was expecting FGC Gathering to be more like a yearly meeting session than anything else; but, in fact, it was far closer to being a festival, concert, or summer camp for adults and families. Coming to this gathering, I felt that my role was to be an observer, to rest in God and seek to understand a different culture. I found soon that simply being at FGC Gathering as an observer took a great deal of energy, and that, though I felt that I did very little, I was very drained by dinnertime each evening. At many times the gathering felt centerless, with many different individuals and groups involved in their own activities. At times it seemed that the overall energy of the gathering was one of "anything goes," a release from all inhibitions that had to be borne during the rest of the year.
I had hoped to be quite involved in the Young Adult Friends community at FGC Gathering, but to my chagrin almost all YAF events were scheduled for 9:15pm or later, with their business meetings regularly going well past midnight. Since I go to bed closer to "Quaker midnight," I felt unable to take much part in that community. Instead, I spent most of my time mingling with older folks, which was just fine - but I had wanted to make more of a connection with younger Friends there, as well. I was able to make a connection with a few wonderful individual YAFs, but being a part of the group as a whole seemed out of reach.
During FGC Gathering I spent a lot of time observing and ruminating on the work that the Holy Spirit is doing among Friends in preparing us to be the Body of Christ in the world. I noticed several hopeful movements of the Spirit at work in the liberal-unprogrammed branch that are emerging or becoming strengthened at this time. In terms of Friends General Conference as an organization, the two most inspiring initiatives now underway are the Traveling Ministries Program and the nascent Quaker Quest program. I see these two initiatives as representing the future of Quakerism - at least in its unprogrammed variety - two sides of what is happening as God seeks to enliven, renew, reignite this generation of the Religious Society of Friends.
FGC's fundraising campaign that is underway is called "Stoking the Spiritual Fires of Quakerism," and I am pleased to see the idea of "being on fire" become in-vogue. Imagine that: Taking our faith seriously! The Quaker Quest program seems incredibly promising as a tool for evangelism/outreach, but also for inreach. As meetings undertake this program, I believe that we will become clearer about who we are as Friends, what we believe, how we should be living in the world. At the same time that Quaker Quest begins to take root and quite possibly transform our meetings both in terms of spiritual depth and numerically, it seems clear to me that it is imperative that we prepare ourselves as a religious community for a potential influx of newly convinced Friends, on a scale that we have not seen since the mid nineteenth century.
I see the Traveling Ministries Program as a key part of this preparation, helping to energize, connect, encourage and organize our ministers and elders, both young and old in Christ. I believe that our traveling Friends will become an increasingly important force in the Religious Society as God seeks to bring us into greater levels of faithfulness as a body. As Quaker Quest serves as a tool for God to enrich and expand our local meetings, God willing, the Traveling Ministries Program may serve to connect these meetings to the wider Religious Society of Friends, both grounding the local meeting in the wider body and tradition, as well as encouraging the flow of vitality and groundedness to other, less healthy areas of our community, and to the wider Church.
In this vein, another program that seems very promising which is emerging out of the East Coast stream of unprogrammed Quakerism is the School of the Spirit. This ministry has been at work since 1990, "helping all who wish to be more faithful listeners and responders to the inward work of Christ." Until recently, the sole program of the School of the Spirit had been, "On Being a Spiritual Nurturer," which serves to guide and nurture the emerging gifts of eldership within our Religious Society. This coming year will be the first in a (hopefully) ongoing program entitled, "The Way of Ministry," which will serve a similar purpose for those called to Gospel, prophetic, traveling, teaching, or other kinds of ministry grounded within the meeting community, but often reaching out to the wider world.
The School of the Spirit seems very promising to me for a number of reasons: First, it appears to offer the kind of oversight and nurture that many monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings seem unable or unwilling to provide at the present time. Second, it seeks to encourage a grounded, caring fellowship of ministers and elders who support one another in their labors, providing nurture and guidance. Finally, and what is potentially most exciting about this program, the School of the Spirit is committed to the active participation of local meetings in the ministry of its students.
The School of the Spirit sees ministry of all kinds in the context of a corporate body - the local, quarterly and yearly meeting - and strives to involve these bodies to as great an extent as possible. They hold that it is essential that our meetings recognize the spiritual gifts and callings of their membership as not only being a call for that individual, but also for the body as a whole. Spiritual gifts are a gift from God to the body, held in trust by an individual; and calls from God, if true leadings, are not merely for the individual, but are in fact to some degree a call for the entire body, to be supported materially, encouraged, and overseen by the church community.
I am excited to see how these programs, along with many other smaller-scale initiatives that are blooming at present all over the Quaker landscape, will serve to enliven, enrich, and make more useful for God's service the Religious Society of Friends in this new century. At FGC Gathering, I was surprised and pleased to notice that many Friends are becoming enthusiastic about outreach. During one night's plenary session, when Peterson Toscano remarked during his presentation that he thought outreach was crucial, many in the audience began to cheer and clap spontaneously. This is an exciting day, when Friends in the unprogrammed branches are getting fired up about sharing their faith, inviting others into our meetings.
This has been a very difficult week for me, but I am glad that I was able to be at FGC Gathering. I feel that I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of FGC at this gathering, and I am encouraged that the Ocean of Light is overcoming the Ocean of Darkness. The grass is growing up from underneath the blanket of snow that has kept us "safe," hidden, for so long. Praise God. I pray that I was well used this past week, that the Seed of God was encouraged.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
I have spent most of my time at FGC Gathering attending extended worship (around 2 hours) after breakfast, learning about the Quaker Quest program in the afternoon, usually catching a nap, and then attending a plenary session in the evening. I have not had the opportunity to spend much time with Young Adult Friends here, as their schedule mostly takes place after nine 'o clock at night. As I go to bed around ten, this has been unworkable for me. I have been doing my best to rest, take time for myself, and save energy for the rest of my summer ahead. My success has been limited.
My time thus far at FGC Gathering has been intense and, honestly, rather difficult for me. I've been experiencing a level of culture shock that I hadn't really anticipated, given that I had enjoyed my time in FGC-affiliated monthly and yearly meetings, previously. I have been reflecting a great deal on the cultural differences between my region of the Religious Society of Friends and the parts of the Religious Society represented here at FGC Gathering. I realize that some of this must have to do with my own personality, as well.
More to come.
Friday, June 27, 2008
So, having a probable leading to attend FGC Gathering, two questions remained: "Do I really have the energy to attend this event?" and "Is it still possible for me to register?" After some introspection and investigation, I have concluded that the answer to both is, "yes."
See you at FGC, God willing.
Beginning Sunday evening, immediately following the Gathering of Conservative Friends, and running until Saturday morning, Quaker Camp has been a place for Friends of a variety of backgrounds to come together, share fellowship, wait on God, and create a space for intergenerational community. We have met together in a large swath of "unprogrammed time," where we have felt free to experiment with different forms of study, prayer, business, worship, and song. Folks have come for a variety of reasons: Some came to recapture the life and energy that they once experienced as part of the Young Friends of North America. Others came to explore the modern-day witness of Conservative Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting. Still others came to participate in the ongoing movement of Young Adult Friends and to share fellowship with older Friends. What we have found together is a sense of mutual sharing, deep listening, and freedom for experimentation and risk-taking as an cross-branch, intergenerational community.
The week has certainly had its ups and downs, sometimes feeling overburdened with introspection and personal struggles being elevated to the level of collective agenda. Nevertheless, as the week has gone on, things seem to have gelled to a great extent. Instead of being a rattling of separate individuals, we have come to share a greater sense of unity and corporateness.
It has been a blessing to spend some quality time with Friends from Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and get a sense of who they are, and simply appreciating that. I feel that I have a great deal to learn from Friends in the Conservative tradition and hope that I might be able to offer something of myself and my tradition to them, as well. I was delighted and surprised, for example, at the response I received this morning when I suggested that we could have some programmed worship and praise for tonight's evening program: A Friend from Stillwater Meeting expressed that she thought that having programmed worship would be in good order, just what Friends needed at this moment! I am excited and humbled by the open-mindedness and adaptability of some Conservative Friends, even as they are firm in their own tradition. I believe that this is exactly what we need from all Friends.
This week has also been a good opportunity for me to talk with past YFNA participants, interviewing some of them as a part of an historical investigation I am planning to undertake this fall. I am continually educated by my conversations with older Friends who were involved in the Young Friends of North America in their youth. I find great inspiration and great lessons (both positive and negative) in their life experience and experiments with Truth. I have also appreciated the perspective which many Friends bring to their youthful adventures, often able to make distinctions between experiences that might be worth emulating today, and others which should be studied with an eye toward avoiding pitfalls that have the potential to do deep harm to individuals and communities. I hope that Young Adult Friends today can be in conversation with older Friends and be open to hearing and taking seriously their experience, so that we might benefit from the hard-won lessons of their generation.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Many of those in attendance this weekend were not full members of Ohio Yearly Meeting, but instead were what are referred to as "affiliate" members. As I understood it, this particular gathering was representative of only a certain stream of one Conservative yearly meeting, primarily seeming to be made up of affiliate members of OYM and those full members who support this growing way in which OYM is reaching out to the wider world, encouraging those who would like to take part in their unique brand of Christian Quakerism. Many of these Friends wore "plain dress" and employed "plain speech" (thee knows what that means, doesn't thee?). I felt myself to be in a very different cultural zone from any other Quaker event I had ever attended.
An overarching theme of the weekend gathering was a sense of isolation on the part of many of those attending the event. Many affiliate members came to this gathering as one of their few face-to-face opportunities for corporate worship and fellowship with other like-minded Friends for the whole year. Some of these Friends are geographically isolated from Friends altogether, while others have found themselves to be so out of unity with the local meetings in their area that they have withdrawn, in some cases forming new Christian Friends worship groups. There was a gnawing hunger for connection and community, and also sadness that Conservative Quakerism is such a small community, both geographically and numerically.
It seemed apparent that Friends at this gathering were not representative of Ohio Yearly Meeting as a whole. While attended by many affiliate members, there were relatively few full members present. I am interested in coming to know OYM Friends more deeply, and I hope that some day soon I might be able to visit OYM's regular annual sessions. I am looking forward to meeting with other kinds of Conservative Friends, in general. It will be enlightening, I am sure, to visit Friends at Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) next month, and I am hopeful that I might be able to visit at least a half-day of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)'s annual sessions while I am nearby for FUM Triennial.
This trip helped me see how Conservative Quakerism is one branch among the others, and that it has its own glories and failings, just like the other branches do. I think that, previously, I had held Conservative Quakerism with a special, somewhat unrealistic regard, imagining it to be the "purest" form of Quakerism that we had left. I believe, now, that all of our branches of Friends, even the Conservative one, preserve particular elements of the Friends tradition and fail to encompass others. Conservative Friends seem to preserve to a greater degree the tradition developed during the Quietist period. I am no longer convinced, though, that Conservative Quakerism should be considered more "pure" or traditional than evangelical or liberal Quakerism. Now, I see that all Quakers, even Conservative Friends, are just human beings, and that we all have blindspots. This initial brush with Conservative Friends has confirmed my own identity as a Gurneyite-rooted, convergent Friend.
Friday, June 20, 2008
The whole scene in Cancun was bizarre: Huge highrise hotels, massive chain restaurants from the US and elsewhere, enormous shopping centers, and nightclubs on every side. Teenagers, barely out of high school, if that old, roamed the streets, and the public bus system, with beer in their hands, wearing what looked like prom dresses (for the girls) and polo gear (for the boys). It seems that many parents give their children a trip to Cancun as a high school graduation gift. There were adults there, too - many of them bringing their children. Cancun is certainly a place where reality takes a vacation.
We went to the aiport as soon as we got up the next morning, not really wanting to hang around any more than necessary in the city, but we found that the airport was even stranger - and more expensive! We were greeted by six-dollar bottles of water in a facility where there were no drinking fountains, not to mention what we paid for breakfast. Andrew and I had the distinct sense of being fish in a barrel. I think we'll need a pretty good reason if we decide to fly via Cancun again; and we certainly won't plan on hanging out at the airport before our flight.
We flew back to the United States - me to Pittsburg and Andrew to Wichita - parting ways in Dallas. The whole Dallas airport was backed up, so both of our flights were delayed, and I got in to Pittsburg at about 12.30am. I was supposed to meet up with folks at the airport, but I didn't know what they looked like, and we were not able to link up (I did find out this morning that they were there, and I feel awful that they drove up to give me a ride only for us to fail to connect). I eventually gave up and took a cab to a hotel near the airport. I'll be hitching a ride with a carload of folks coming from Eastern Pennsylvania this afternoon, with whom I will make the hour and a half ride from Pittsburg to Barnsville, Ohio, where I will be attending the Ohio Yearly Meeting Gathering of Conservative Friends this weekend, followed by Quaker Camp the following week. I am excited to meet with Conservative Friends at Barnsville, and am looking foward to the second year of Quaker Camp.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
This trip has been very relaxed, mostly just Andrew and me hanging out with Mexico as a background, and it has given me opporunity to do some thinking. I have been reflecting a lot on my own spiritual life and how connected it is to community and place. I am seeing in very concrete ways how much community and place impact my spirituality in the way that I feel spiritually off-balance traveling here in Mexico. Being here, largely disconnected from Friends and all of my familiar patterns of life, it is far more difficult to keep myself oriented towards God. I am more easily distracted, most easily confused. This trip has convinced me that, at least for the time being, travel for pleasure is not an activity that I should be engaged in. To be here in a foreign land without a sense of mission, without work to do, is dangerous idleness. In the future, I hope to be more conscientious about bringing all of my plans before God and listening very carefully before I commit, rather than assuming that I know the answer already. Just because a plan seems good and logical to me does not mean that that is how God wants to use me.
With all of this travel, I have also had the chance to think a bit about the Quaker tradition and how it relates to forming or joining more intentional community. I identify with the convergent tendency, wanting to move forward in radical, unexpected ways, but not at the expense of the important "check" of our tradition as the Quaker branch of Christianity. The place that this seems to become most difficult is in forming or joining intentional or new monastic communities that are composed of various types of Christians. Straight "emergent" makes sense when dealing with a bunch of people from different Christian backgrounds. It seems like in that case, you're just looking for the lowest common denominator, so that everyone can be included. Unfortunately, it seems that in many if not most neo-monastic communities, the lowest common denominator is not, in fact, very congenial to Friends who want to remain in the Friends tradition. "Basic Christianity" almost always seems to include bread and wine communion and water baptism, as well as extensive spoken liturgy. Where waiting worship might come in here, I'm not sure; but there doesn't seem to be much reference to it.
This is only a problem because we Quakers are such a small group, and, on top of that, a group that teeters between a significant minority that does not strongly identify with Christianity and another that does not strongly identify with the Quaker stream, often prefering to "just be Christian" (that is, Protestant). What I am personally hoping for, as a Friend of convergent orientation, is to see explicitly Quaker intentional and neo-monastic communities grow and show what a new Quaker monasticism could look like. The question for me is: will Quakers come to the banquet, or will we need to call in anyone and everyone, accepting the change (dilution?) of our corporate witness as Friends as our makeup becomes much more Protestant in flavor?
Do you feel led to more radical, intentional Quaker community? Let's talk.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I explained that, this coming year, beginning in February, 2009, it is my intention to return to the Great Plains and intensify the ministry of intervisitation that I began during the past year. I plan to spend time with each monthly meeting in the yearly meeting, coming to deepen my relationship with each congregation and seeking to be of service in building up the Body of Christ in our local meetings and communities. Additionally, I will aim to be of service to our neighbors in Manhattan, Lawrence and Topeka, encouraging them in their journey and seeking increased fellowship and cooperation between these meetings and Great Plains Yearly Meeting. Finally, I plan to look for ways to lend encouragement and support to isolated Friends in Kearney, Nebraska, Great Bend, Kansas, and elsewhere, helping them to find the material, human and spiritual resources they need to thrive. The needs of Friends will vary from place to place, but I hope that some of the fruits of my ministry might be: the strengthening of the existing meetings of GPYM; a greater focus on intervisitation in GPYM; encouragement for the pastoral leadership in our pastoral meetings; increased outreach in local communities; a focus on encouraging youth and a new generation of leadership; encouraging the growth of new meetings where there have not been any before; and outreach to other meetings in the region.
I was grateful that Great Plains Yearly Meeting did unite with me in this concern, providing me with a travel minute, an oversight committee, and some material support. My plan is to return in February of this coming year, to purchase a touring bicycle and a tent, and, once the weather permits, to begin to travel around the region, seeking to be of service to Friends across the Great Plains (Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, principally). I am praying that God will provide me with a traveling companion for this work, who would be willing to consider a long-term commitment (I plan to carry on this work for at least six months). In addition to a long-term traveling companion, I am also hopeful that Friends from Great Plains Yearly Meeting might join with me in traveling to different monthly meetings and worship groups to provide support in whatever way is most helpful to that group of Friends. Even if a Friend were able to drive up for a day or two to join me where I was at, that would be wonderful, and it is precisely in this way that I hope that my ongoing intervisitation might serve to encourage others in the yearly meeting and region to undertake intervisitation themselves, if only for a day or two.
Following Great Plains Yearly Meeting, I made my way yesterday to Mexico City, to link up with my brother who had been studying nearby in a Spanish language school for the past month. For the past few days, he has been staying at the Casa de los Amigos, the Friends house in Mexico City where I was once a volunteer. It was great to see my brother, and David Johns from the Earlham School of Religion, who came to meet me at the airport and accompany me back to the Casa. David is spending several months this summer as the Friend in Residence at the Casa, as well as taking some time to visit Friends in other parts of Latin America (Honduras and Guatemala, as I recall). I am glad that he is here, deepening his relationship with Friends in the Spanish speaking world. It seems clear to me that God has a special call for him as an ambassador, a bridge person between Friends in different parts of the Americas.
It was a blessing to have a called meeting for worship with a few Friends this morning. We came together in the beautiful space where the Friends of Mexico City Monthly Meeting meet, on the third floor of the Casa, in what used to be the art studio of the famous Mexican muralist, José Clemente Orozco. It was lovely to share communion with Friends here in that tall-ceilinged, beautifully-lit meeting room. We had a very peaceful time of worship.
I felt particularly blessed to have the chance to catch up a little bit with Nico and Jill, who are serving as house managers here at the Casa. We were able to talk for a while, while Nico and Jill played with their beautiful infant daughter. It seemed to me from our conversation that there is energy here for involvement in the Young Adult Friends movement. I wondered aloud with them whether that might be true in other meetings here in Mexico, for example in Ciudad Victoria, Monterrey, and perhaps in Evangelical churches here in the Valley of Mexico and in other parts of the country. I hope that Young Adult Friends in Mexico are able to come together, and I look forward to being supportive of that movement in any way that I can, knowing that it is ultimately up to Mexican Friends to decide whether they want to make this movement their own.
I am worried about my brother, who is quite sick at the moment. It seems it was something he ate or drank. We were planning on heading out to Cuernavaca tomorrow, but it looks like we'll stay another night at the Casa. Andrew's in no condition to travel. I would appreciate prayers for his health and for safe travels for us as we explore Central Mexico and the Yucatan together.
Monday, June 9, 2008
8th, Sixth Month, 2008
Epistle from Great Plains Yearly Meeting (formerly Nebraska Yearly Meeting)
To all Friends everywhere,
We send greetings to Friends in all parts of the world from Central City, Nebraska, which to some of us feels like holy ground. In the shadow of the stately Old Main, which was the center of Nebraska Central College, a small Quaker educational institution of a century ago, we gathered together as a yearly meeting. This beautiful campus is now the site of Nebraska Christian School, which has grown out of the heritage of Quakerism into a thriving institution where young people still learn and grow.
The theme of our time together was, "Looking to the future while sharing in the joy." We were privileged to have Paul Lacey of Earlham College and the American Friends Service Committee among us, who shared with the gathered body his own reflections on the meaning of joy. We as a yearly meeting considered what joy means to us as a small, sometimes weary fellowship of Friends on the prairie. We were asked to consider the passage from 2 John:12, "...but I hope to see you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete." We reflected together on ways that we can be more connected as a community, striving to be with one another and see each other face to face on a more regular basis. We were blessed to have among us Mary Ellen McNish and Sonia Tumna of AFSC, Joe Volk of FCNL, Margaret Fraser of FWCC, Sylvia Graves of FUM, Michael Wajda of FGC, Margaret Stoltzfus of Iowa Yearly Meeting, Richard Sours of William Penn University, Rod Zwerner of Quaker Earthcare Witness and Maria Bradley and Linda Coates of Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
As we explored the history of our yearly meeting in this our one hundredth year, there was a mixture of nostalgia and gratitude for those Friends who worked so diligently and faithfully in the past to keep our hopes and dreams and searchings alive and well. We have been grateful for the labor of Ron Mattson of Central City Monthly Meeting in reminding us of our unique history and hertiage as a yearly meeting, as well as our deep roots in the Quaker and Christian tradition. How awesome to consider this glorious past! And how important to consider our own place in this present day, in the midst of a still beautiful world, but a world beset by challenges the likes of which it has never seen before. We considered our unique historical circumstance in a spirit of joy and grateful fellowship.
During our time together, we had ever in front of us the challenge of the present moment, and what God is calling us to in this new century for Friends on the Great Plains. We feel a sense of urgency, a sense of God's call to reach out to a world in pain. At the same time, we are aware of our own inability to do anything under our own power, dependent as we are on the power of the Holy Spirit not only to show us way forward, but to prepare and empower us as individuals and as fellowships to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. This year, Friends at Great Plains Yearly Meeting have felt moved to deepen our commitment to participation in the wider Religious Society of Friends. At the same time, we seek to be more intentional in tending our own fragile fellowship, reaching out to one another and building each other up. We desire to be with one another, to see each other face to face as we seek to live the Kingdom here on the Great Plains.
We pray that Friends will experience the loving presence of the One who is above all names.
Friends assembled at Great Plains Yearly Meeting's centennial celebration
Friday, May 30, 2008
As a result of my contacts with Friends in the wider Religious Society over the past few years, since attending the World Gathering of Young Friends in Lancaster, England, in 2005, I have found myself increasingly drawn into a movement of Young Adult Friends (YAFs). In February of 2007, we met together at Burlington, where the Spirit of God was powerfully felt among us, showing us that we were the People of God, the Children of the Light, and that God had a mission for us, together. Since that time, I have been working with a number of other YAF leaders to cooperate in the work of the Holy Spirit to draw together the disparate shards of our Religious Society, attempting to heed the voice of Christ within. It has become clear to me that God is raising up a new valiant generation of ministers qualified to preach the Gospel of Christ across North America, and the world.
Since late spring of 2007, I have been in regular meetings with other Young Adult Friends leaders from across the continent, attempting to discern with them the way in which God is leading us to move. At a meeting in Boston, in April, 2007, a small group of us met and came to unity that a North American organization for Young Adult Friends should be formed, to bring together Friends from across the theological and geographical spectrum of the North American continent. This sense was confirmed by a subsequent meeting of a larger number of young adults at Barnsville, Ohio, in June, 2007. Despite our sense of divine direction towards the ultimate goal of inaugurating a North American YAF organization, by late fall of 2007, it became clear that the energy of many young adult leaders was focused on organizing a YAF Conference. Bowing to where Friends’ energy seemed to be headed, I and other leaders have taken part in a process of planning a gathering for Young Adult Friends.
The conference for Young Adult Friends, entitled Living as Friends, Listening Within, took place from May 23rd to 26th, 2008 on the campus of the Earlham School of Religion and Earlham College. Young Adult Friends from across the US and Canada, and with representation from all of the branches of North American Quakerism, gathered together for a time of intense fellowship, worship, workshops, and interest groups. During these days in Richmond, we were stretched, challenged to deepen our faith in the Spirit of Christ and our willingness to live out our faith in the world. We wrestled with the meaning of Paul’s words to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good, and acceptable, and perfect” (Romans 12:2). We were encouraged by many young adult ministers to listen within to the Inward Guide and to be faithful to that Voice, submitting ourselves to our God-given leadings under the care of our monthly meetings and spiritual elders. We were convicted of our own unwillingness to live into the radical message of Jesus and exhorted to let our lives be conformed to that Life. We were ministered to as one, and shown that we are the Body of Christ. At the same time, we were reminded that we as Young Adult Friends are only one small part of the Religious Society of Friends, and an even tinier part of the whole of the Body of Christ. Further, we were reminded of the brokenness of Christ’s Body and how far we as Friends have to go in being healed, both as individuals and as a religious community.
As one of the organizers of this conference, it was a very different experience for me than if I had been solely a participant. I felt a strong sense of needing to ground the gathering, particularly the worship sessions, and worked with the pastoral care team to help spiritually anchor the gathered body, which at times had an energy that seemed to spiral out of control. The reality that I ultimately had no control was humbling, as I was once again brought to acknowledge that only Christ has lordship, and that all I can do is submit to being an instrument in the divine plan. The conference was a victory in the Lamb’s war, but the battle was won by the spiritual sword that proceeds from the mouth of Christ, and not from any outward force that we as organizers could have wielded.
As we move forward from this conference, I would ask for the continuing prayers of all Friends. I pray for the continuing guidance of the Spirit of Christ to be with all of us in the Religious Society of Friends, and in particular with those who are feeling a call to nurture the Young Adult Friends movement in North America. I pray for God’s guidance in revealing to us what next steps we are to take in this movement, that our spiritual offering to God might be good, and acceptable, and perfect.