Much discussion has arisen due to the interest groups that Robin, Martin, Liz, AJ and others have been a part of. This along with the “Convergent Friends Gathering” taking place at our house on August 5th has created a lot of excited and an equal amount of criticism.
On Behalf of the Critics
With everything that is thought up and done, there will always be people who are critical of the ideas you set forth. This is nothing new and should be expected whenever you challenge the status quo. Convergent Friends are challenging the status quo of an old tradition; we are challenging it and calling it forth, because we love it enough to not leave it where it is at.
But I think we should always start out with these “new things” as critics until we see these ideas line up the Spirit, Community, tradition and the Scriptures. Many of us will wait to see much longer than others and that is okay. We always need each other to keep us honest and help us articulate clearly what we mean when we declare that we have an idea/calling from the Spirit. But to remain as critic of the church is to move against the fruits that the Bible has called us too. We are called to embody “love, joy, peace, generosity, etc…” At some point we move from criticism to support or we move on and bid peace and farewell.
We have not talked long enough, and struggled great enough to hope that the criticism will go away just yet and there is no bidding fair thee well.
Against Similarities and Differences: Toward Story and Vision
Something that will prove to be vastly different among convergent Friends is the way we have gone about creating an identity. In the same way that early Quakers and the George Fox first followed the Spirit, and then grabbed hold of what it meant to be a body identified as “Quakers,” we too have first noticed experiences and language pointing in a “new” direction and now we are naming it. It did not work the other way around, this would go against the Quaker epistemology. The Spirit of God is the source of truth, as Barclay said (we still believe that right?).
Convergent Friends is not an ecumenical group, not at least in the typical sense of the word. I think ecumenicism is great and this is one reason why I am not a fundamentalist (be it conservative or liberal) Friend; I cherish attending a Mennonite church and I am deeply enriched every time I go to Catholic Mass. [And yes I think a lot of liberals are fundies.]
But Convergence isn’t the same as the modern idea of ecumenicisms, here are some of its current characteristics:
Stories become a starting point for discussion and help shape identity. I remember reading Martin Kelley’s blog more than a year ago and seeing what he was saying from the other side of the Quaker-spectrum struck me. What stood out to me about him was that he was talking about very similar feelings and experiences as me. His stories of these experiences, the stories of other Friends, and the historical stories of Friends have begun to be heard and read in a way that is reshaping our Quaker identity. The Bible, Friends tradition, practices, and current experiences of the Inner Light are the driving force behind convergent Friends thinking.
Identity is being shaped and reshaped by fresh vision. Convergent Friends are not afraid to talk about hopes and desires for the Friends church, they are also not afraid to get rid of the stuff that isn’t working. Under the guidance of Peggy Parsons and Marge Abbot some of us had an opportunity to draw out storyboards and dream about the future of the Friends. This dreaming and dare I say, “innovating” is characterizing some of the group’s identity. We are rallying around the vision we have for the church.
Orientation to postmdernity has become an important aspect. The “emergent” aspect of convergent points to trends, philosophy and practice that are geared for the postmodern world. Joe talked about an aspect of this in a recent entry when he discussed Nancey Murphy’s idea of postfoundationalism. Many new ideas will aid in the construction of the convergent friends identity, many old ones will as well. Some ideas will have to be rejected, some old dross will be left as well. This is what happens in every tradition, as it seeks to survive “identity crisis.” Our conversation will include carefully discerning what these things are.
Old modern categories of left and right, liberal and conservative no longer fit. Jesus himself transcended such categories, so did the early church and the Quaker church that was birthed from it. Enlightenment thinking has created the dualisms, that broke the tradition in half, convergent friends are moving beyond these categories into a more holistic view of life and faith.
Some have already accused these ideas as being from “the servant of darkness” and this still remains to be seen – we have not gone far enough to know one way or the other. But we bid patience and good will.
I have laid out some lite “boundaries” to the identity as it is shaping. These “boundaries” come from what has already happened, practices, language and ideas that are already on the table. There are no hard fast rules yet, it’s odd to think we’ve so quickly become darkness, if we haven’t even nailed the thing down. Every tradition goes through identity crisis sooner or later (c.f. Alasdair MacIntrye’s “Epistemological Crisis” in Why Narrative Theology?”) convergent friends could be considered the explorers and innovators of this age looking into how we can pass our tradition on (and have it still look like George Fox inspired Quakerism) to coming generations.
edited by the author 7.18.2006
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