Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Yucatán, idleness and Quaker Monasticism

Since my last post, Andrew and I have gone from Mexico City to Xalapa, Ver., to Veracruz, Ver., and are now in Mérida, Yucatán. Ever since leaving Xalapa, the weather has been steamy, and these boys from Kansas are scrambling to adapt to the heat and humidity of the region. We've seen some concerts - Spanish-language hip-hop, Veracruz folk music, Cuban bands, serenades on classic guitar - walked on some beaches, visited some cafés. Muy tranquilo. Today, we are headed out to Chichen Itzá, to see some of the more impressive Mayan ruins that are to be seen here in Mexico. My main concern is to avoid getting too sunburned. I am unsure as to how successful I will be, after this afternoon.

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.


Anonymous said...

Hi Micah: I suspect that if you dig hard enough into most of the "New Monastic" communities you'll find quite a bit of Quaker DNA in there. Whether they're aware of it or not a lot of the model comes from Movement for a New Society, a Quaker-bred intentional community network. And the 1970s Jesus Movement had it's own Quaker input via John Wimber, who was never anything of a traditional Quaker but certainly had some opinions I'd identify as Quaker.

I've always thought that Quakers have the opportunity to keep the Emergent Church from getting overly lame. I scratch my head at some of the silly thing I see--random borrowing from other traditions without understanding or context, and the too-common idea that experimenting is somehow radical for its own sake. I think the Friends tradition has a lot to teach other Christians about how to be both old and new at the same time.

Unfortunately there are few established meetings or Friends bodies that could make this case. Most Friends aren't even aware of the great opportunities for outreach and connection that exist. I'm probably going to go the independent grassroots worship group path myself: explicitly Quaker, explicitly Christ-centered, welcoming but also expecting more work than a typical hour-a-week Quaker meeting. I'm afraid I'll end up sitting alone in my living room once a week but even that would be an exercise in faith, right? Hey, if you wanted to move to the middle of nowhere-in-particular South Jersey, I'd be happy to sit in my living room with you!

Keep out of trouble there in Mexico. Yep, there's lots of temptations in the anonymity of unstructured travel. Let me know if your travels bring you around Philly, it'd be nice to actually see you again and share stories and visions. God bless, your Friend, Martin.

C said...

I'm not sure about the monastic part, but I sure wish that I could find a group of Friends with whom to form a semi-intentional community. Not living on the same plot of land, but commited to certain projects with revolving duties and sharing Meeting and some meals together.

In my fantasy, there is an outreach to the homeless and people who live in low-income, possibly blighted areas.

Oh, wait, I'm coming just short of describing the start of the Sojourners Community. :)

Why aren't more Friends doing this kind of work? It seems a lot of outreach is being done by Evangelical groups, and not just to win souls. I get the imporession that they consider this to be part of radical dicipleship.


C said...

Sorry for the double post, but just in case I wasn't clear, I am not saying that no Friends are engaged in this sort of work--just not enough, at least for me.


Rob said...

I'm a young Friend from IN and I'm living in a Christian intentional community which is forming along the lines of a "Catholic Worker" community. I agree that the principles of Quakerism lend themselves very generously to those of "new-monasticism" and I'm excited to continue watching these two spheres of Christian thought and lifestyle "converge" in the future.

Nice post!!

My Blog

Anonymous said...

Our meeting hosts a (non-Quaker) intentional community, one that shares many of our values and of course helps keep the building and groups in good shape.

And a member of our meeting recently moved away to start a Catholic Worker community.

So there are people around us actively seeking the communal life. I'm not sure how to borrow (or learn from) that energy in our Meeting as a whole.


Anonymous said...

I became a believer because the Inner Light of Christ spoke to ME. I was a buddhist. I am currently searching for an intentional community of fellow believers that believe God speaks directly to us to Guide us personally/individually. If you can't find such a place, why don't we START one?
Langford servantlangaford@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

mispelled my email: It's servantlangford@gmail.com
Robert Langford

Kristna Evans said...

I feel called to live in intentional, living-from-the-spirit and under-divine-guidance Quaker community. I have been working to find others in New England with similar interests. Unfortunately, while many say that have thought about this or think they'd like to someday, I have found only a couple of people who might be ready to make such a commitment any time soon. It's too bad there isn't a community ready to form, as The Meeting School is closing and between now and May 1st there is the opportunity for a Quaker community to make an offer on the land. It will be sold at a very low price, but the buildings all need a LOT of work (and money).

I am currently listening for guidance, but I may try to spend some time visiting (and perhaps staying for a few months) some intentional communities, particularly Quaker ones. If anyone wants to have this conversation seriously, please include or contact me!

Kristna Evans