Trends within the Convergent Friends Conversation

Last week I went to a Friends conference (FWCC) in Rhode Island, and have already talked about it at some length. But the point of this short post was to point out a number of trends, or characteristics that I saw beginning to frame the overall conversation of convergent Friends.

gospel-order lloyd lee wilsonMission and the Kingdom of God | I think the one major piece of this past week that really got me excited was all the talk about mission and Kingdom of God.  Robin spoke a lot about our mission as Friends, and how we must be ready to serve the world.  It’s not good enough to just help ourselves, we need to help the world as kingdom people.  In fact, I don’t think we can help ourselves out unless we’re living out the mission of God.

The kingdom of God became a focus in at least three different ways.  The kingdom of God as a reality and purpose for Friends to live in, is no different than earlier notions of Gospel Order. We are to live as though the kingdom is here now, because it is in part already here.

Next we talked a lot about looking for the Kingdom of God in our culture.  There are parts of our culture, the media, the Internet, music, movies, etc, where we can see God; where the kingdom is already at work.  We as convergent Friends look to join God there. We wish to join God’s mission in the world as opposed to inviting God to join our mission.  We see ways in which the Internet reflects love, inclusion, peace, egalitarianism, etc.  We also look for those places where the Kingdom of God is not present, where oppression, domination and coercion are present and there we name the powers.  We are in this way a contrast society from our world.  We seek to participate in God’s transformation of the world as non-conformed agents within in our culture.

Finally we look for places where the Kingdom of God is reflected in our tradition, and were it isn’t.  What parts of our tradition still, in our contemporary world, reflect these values Jesus possessed? These are the things we need to hang on to.

Strength in Various Perspectives |  Within the various branches of the Friends Church our particular standpoints are really important and we can learn from the strengths of each other’s positions.  We get together to here stories and build relationships in hopes of learning from one another.

Ecumenicism | We are trying to encourage ecumenical relationships and gain ecumenical insights.  These kinds of insights don’t seem to be like older ecumenical movements where we try to convince everyone of some lowest common denominator spirituality. We already have plenty of that.  Rather, this kind of ecumenicism seems to be more based on a desire to engage one another as friends whether or not we all agree on the issues.  We don’t have to agree on everything to be friends, to work together, and to serve the kingdom of God.  We know that rival accounts can often challenge and help us to strengthen our own positions as well.  We like the hard questions and the difficult answers.

Friendship and Hospitality | Going off the last point there is a growing desire for hospitality and friendship with each other and using whatever means necessary to carry this out.  I think that the strength of convergent Friends, and conversations like this in other traditions, will not be in its brute force or persuasive speech but in its relationships and ability to love others.

The use of Technology and Media as Means and Ends |
We are using as many means as possible to help carry out God’s mission, build community and friendships and spread the conversation as we can.  Technology for us is both a means and end.  It is a means to building face-to-face community, a means to serving the kingdom and means to growing in faithfulness.  But it is also an end in that we seek to practice hospitality, peacefulness, and reconciliation in all we do.  We also realize that many of our relationships are limited to the web and that is okay.  Those are still relationships and friends who we desire to meet and work together with as best as we can.

Tradition and Progress | Tradition is the only grounds from which to innovate.  Last week I noticed a strong desire to grow and nourish our tradition all the while being willing to let go of cultural baggage, stuff that just doesn’t work in this culture anymore.  Questions about what is old baggage, how we get rid of it, can we let go of some while keeping other things, and a desire to learn new forms and ways of speaking in our culture were all wonderful questions that show we are at a point where people want to move beyond.

A friend pointed out that some of these ideas behind convergent Friends has been shifting some and I was excited not only that he noticed but that this is happening.  It means that we’re growing, and learning as a community of friends.  I realize also that I may have missed other aspects so this list isn’t meant to be comprehensive just a reflection of what I saw.

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

15 thoughts on “Trends within the Convergent Friends Conversation”

  1. This is a tangent, but it’s up for me:

    For awhile now, I have been reflecting on the phrase “kingdom of God.” It’s not a phrase I grew up with, and even before I dove into Friends, I didn’t care for the word “kingdom”–because of the implicit sexism of it: king=male ruler.

    I recognize there are times when I could use the phrase “kingdom of God” in my own blog writing, but I have that block. Some of the block, to be truthful, is because I don’t have an intuitive understanding of the term; I haven’t come across it enough in my own Quaker life among Liberal and Conservative Friends.

    Your connection of “kingdom of God” with “Gospel Order” helps, but I sense there is more to it than that. Am I right?

    I also see you have a Tecnorati tag for “Kingdom of God”–something to add to my reading list, I guess. smile

    Blessings,
    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  2. Hi Liz,
    thanks for the comment. I understand what you mean about hang-ups etc. I certainly don’t mean that when I use it, I am pulling the phrase from Jesus and his understandings of the KOG. Further, scholars like NT Wright, John Howard Yoder, and Walter Wink all go into informing how I think about this radical notion of God’s reign in our world.

    Early Quaker writings, theology and ultimately their practice is based on this idea that the Kingdom is here now! So how do we live in light of it? Therefore I am remaining within our tradition of thought by my own use, yet I see that with all that in mind there may still be problems associated with that word.

    I partially hope that we can work to move toward God’s understanding of this term, and let that heal our own issues with the way men have messed a lot of things up. In fact, it’s in the kingdom where there are no fathers, God alone is father — that’s why the Lord’s prayer is phrased the way it is.

    Anyhow – I just finished Brian McLaren’s book “The Secret Message of Jesus” which I recommend to you as a quick and fun read, in it he covers a lot of this and talks about 5 or 6 other phrases we could use instead of the KOG terminology.

    For me I will stick with it because I like that it’s directly tied to Jesus’ radical message of inclusivity, reconciliation, equality and peacemaking — but for other’s I think McLaren offers some great possibilities.

  3. Wess, thanks for the reference to The Secret Message of Jesus. If I get through Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time alright, I’ll consider your recommendation! So far, so good with Borg, fyi.

    While I was reading your reply to my comment, I started to wonder about Fox’s reference to being restored to how things were “before the fall,” and if that particular concept is related to the Kingdom of God… where all is in its state of perfection and harmony…

    Blessings,
    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  4. Wess and Liz,
    I am reminded of an opening I had in meeting for worship, probably ten years ago…

    I was thinking about what it means to live in the kingdom of God… which is to say, what it means to live in a place of restoration, of love, of truth, of dignity and purpose. I was thinking about how one might “live in the kingdom” now… how it could be possible to live right now with a direct relationship with God, where one could walk with God in the garden in the cool of the evening. And where we treated each other as though we all were able to walk with God. Because we are.

    And I was feeling warm and expansive and loving my meeting Friends, and reaching out in love into the world, and this idea just suddenly came to me: “Why, it’s the KINdom of God!” Ever since, I have used the phrase “kindom of God” interchangeably with the phrase “kingdom of God”. Although I don’t tend to be a big fan of wordplays, the word “kindom” seemed so right at describing the sense of the interconnectedness of all things that I feel when I contemplate the “kingdom” of God. (Maybe, Liz, living in the kindom will resonate better with you?)

    Oh, probably Brian McLaren has already mentioned this as an alternate term to kingdom… I have GOT to get around to reading him…

    Your sister in the kindom,
    Shawna

  5. Friends – When I was substitute teaching in a sixth grade class, I had to teach them about the feudal system, which, actually, had some kind of neat features.

    Oh, but first, the thing about the king being a man, well, Jesus is a man, so we can’t all be bad. The real problem with kings isn’t that they’re men, it’s that they tend to become tyrants. But if Jesus were my king, well, that might be pretty cool.

    In fact, Jesus is my king. He became my king when I accepted his offer to, “…seek God’s kingdom, and all the other things you need will be given to you.” (Luke 12:31 NCV) Which brings me back to the feudal system.

    Basically, it’s a contract between the land owning lord and the landless serfs which provides for the mutual provision and security of both. The lord lets the serf farm the land in exchange for a cut of the crops, and protects the serfs from invaders in exchange for military service as required.

    Now, as good students of American history, we get our view of monarchy from good old King George III, a very “bad” king. Our whole national culture is based on the rejection of the king’s authority. So, when we read about the kingdom of God, well, we quite naturally dislike the idea. But, look again.

    If we accept the premise that this is God’s world, and that we live here by his grace, or permission, or whatever, it follows that God can choose the terms of our contract. He could be a tyrant, or he could be more like a loving father, offering protection, guidance and provision in exchange for, let’s see, perhaps he might ask for loyalty, devotion and praise in return. Maybe he would ask us to, I don’t know, love each other or something like that.

    Now, what kind of Lord might this God choose to be? I’ll give you a hint: The kind of Lord who would sacrifice his only son so that we, his landless serfs, might have life, and have it abundantly.

    Sounds like my kind of king. Sounds like my kind of kingdom. Life, abundantly. Hmm…

  6. @ Liz, great connection you’ve made to Fox’s statement, I think you’re right on. I think that Jesus shows us how the pre-fallen lifestyle looks in a post-fall world. In other words, I don’t think we can pretend to be in a pre-fall world because we’re far from it but I do think that living in the kingdom (as Shawna also pointed out) is possible via the Spirit of God, practices that result from this kind of understanding and faith. I think all this is directly related to Fox’s perspective.

    @Shawna thanks for the comment. I don’t mind the word play at all. It makes the point well. And yes you should read some McLaren as soon as you get a chance. Maybe start with “A new Kind of Christian” or “Generous Orthodoxy” then try his “Secret Message of Jesus.”

  7. Shawna, thanks for sharing the opening you had… It seems to still have a lot of Life for you, and you are right: KINdom has more resonance for me.

    I’ll sit with that, along with the related word “Kinship”… the Kinship of God…. the Fellowship of God… the Kindom of God…

    Some meaning is lost–the part about God at the head; God over all–but at the same time, something in me feels opened.

    Blessings,
    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  8. Hi David – thanks for bringing in the history lesson, it conveys the point well. The kingdom of God is radically different than any kind of kingdom here on earth as it should be.

  9. Thanks Jarrod, It’s exciting for me to hear your stories in Australia (keep them coming) as it gives us a bigger picture of what God is doing in the world.

    Thanks for all your encouragement as well.

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