“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:12–15)
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Before I talk a little about what it means to be participatory, I want to say something about what it is not.
One of my favorite stories is the story about the Fantastic Mr. Fox. In the story, Mr. Fox, who is the fantastic one, would steal either a “plump Chicken from Boggis, a goose from Bunce, or a nice turkey from Bean.” And every evening these three farmers could never catch him for Mr. Fox was a clever and fantastic fox.
If you know the story then you know that what transpires between the protagonist and these crooked farmers is an epic battle. Armed with machinery and weapons the three farmers matched by the wits of Mr. Fox and the other animals. First the farmers dig up Mr. Fox’s home in the ground with shovels, then they get great big tractors and dig deeper into the ground, pushing Mr. Fox and his family further underground. The more Fox and the other animals escape the more “wild with rage” the farmers become.
First the farmers dig up Mr. Fox’s home in the ground with shovels, then they get great big tractors and dig deeper into the ground, pushing Mr. Fox and his family further underground. The more Fox and the other animals escape the more “wild with rage” the farmers become.
[Slide] Boggis, Bunce, and Bean
One fat, one short, one lean!
These menacing crooks
So different in looks
Are nonetheless equally mean!
What interests me about the story for this morning’s message is the response of the farmers to Mr. Fox who continues to take food from them to feed his family and Friends.
The situation for them evokes more and more control. The more Fox does his own thing, the more control they try to exercise control over him by using force. If the farmers were looked at in terms of a leadership model, we would say that their model was to restrict more and more space until they had total control.
This is the contrast I want to draw for you over against what we’re calling a participatory community. The one is about maintaining control or the status quo, no one step out of line, no one challenge the system that has created hunger for these people, or whatever the underlying issue is versus, one that opens up space for all who want to contribute. One is a single-voice model, while the other is based on many-voices.
Does this play out at all in religious communities?
I know that many of you are not fans of what we might call “organized religion.”
But isn’t it true that since the beginning of human history we have had to organize in order to survive. Organization is neither positive or negative on its own, it is simply a tool we have used to survive as a species.
The Quaker challenge to organized religion is not so much with organizing, although we may be guilty of being slightly challenged in this department, nor do we have a problem with “religion” per se. What we have a problem with, and why I believe the entire Quaker movement began, was because we reject the kind of organized religion that operates under the premise of control or when the organization operates as a “single-voice.”
A Participatory Vision
Instead, Quakers set out to reclaim what they believed in a many-voiced vision of church. One not rooted in control or imperialism, but one rooted in equality, personal experience and participation.
Early Quakers gave themselves the name themselves the “Religious Society of Friends” which they borrowed from Jesus in John 15:
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:12–15)
We believe that as followers of Jesus and his teachings we are “Friends of Jesus,” people who are not locked into this hierarchy of master/servant but rather equals, trusted friends, and a part of a “beloved community” who participate with God in doing good work in the world. In fact, Jesus’ statement here subverts our notions of control and “organized religion” and instead, this community is based on friendship and love.
Jesus goes on:
“You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (John 15:16–17)
The opposite of control, hierarchy and imperial forms of religion is not simply pure individualism that rejects religion, organizing, and community.
No, the opposite, at least in terms of the Christian narrative, is being a part of an organizing community that is rooted in a love that is equal and co-creating.
A Participatory Church
Rather than falling into this dichotomy of master/servant or the control of the farmers in Fantastic Mr. Fox, I see Camas Friends as this kind of participatory, many-voiced, Quaker Church. I believe that this is one of the things that makes it both different in the religious landscape and resilient.
Let’s take a poll:
- How many of you have ever given a message or told your story from up front?
- How many of you have helped pray or host on Sunday?
- Brought food, been a greeter, or helped in other ways on Sunday morning?
- Worked with Children?
- How many of you have participated or led book studies, Sunday school, fresh bread, Ale and the Almighty or a God Pub?
- Who here has done something outreach oriented, the WHO, summer lunch program, Laundry Love, the bike blessing, the backpack blessing, peace and social justice fair, peace playhouse, or helped with the fireworks stand in the past?
How many of you have prayed for one another? * How many of you have helped in mentoring, clearness or care committees, etc?
How many of you have helped in mentoring, clearness or care committees, etc?
- How many of you have given money, donations, or time to help this church sustain itself?
- How many of you have served on committees or task forces?
- How many of you have participated in the building of community: gone on the annual church retreat, hosted people for games or meals at your house, host a “living room story” event at your home, brought a meal to someone in need, helped someone move…
What are some other ways you have witnessed people participate or “co-create” in this church?
Who of you participate by being physically present?
Clearly you never got the memo that in church 20% of the people are supposed to do 80% of the work!
This is what it means to be a participatory church. You are all co-creators. There is not master/servant scenario, there is no one exercising control over you, you are invited as friends of Jesus to be faithful to the living out of your faith through love in this time and place.
What are other ways you see people participating in this community?
Each Perons’ Gift
I want you to know that you all have something to contribute to the work of God in the world. When I look You are all gifted and filled with an abundance of life experiences, stories, and faith that you don’t always get credit for. You are all deserving of being connected to community and being in a place that will help you grow in your love and practice of God and neighbor.
So continue, Camas Friends, to honor the gifts of those in your community. Continue to make space for all who want to contribute to the life of this meeting. This is something that you must continue to work at because the turn to control is always tempting. It is always easiest to react the way the farmers do in Fantastic Mr. Fox and get caught in that cycle of master/servant imperialism.
I want to offer a few brief things I see as strengthening this understanding of participation at Camas Friends:
This was not included in the sermon because these ideas came up in our open-sharing and discussion time. But I left it here for reflection for those who are reading.
- Answering that of God in everyone:
George Fox, the man, not to be confused with Mr. Fox, the fox,
[Slide] “Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing…”
This states the conviction that for “Friends of Jesus” not only are we to live in such a way that your lives preach, but that you come to see that all people have are beloved Children of God. All people have inherent worth regardless of where they come from, their age, their class or education, race, orientation, or gender.
- Heeding Christ in your midst:
The other conviction that helps to make this a participatory community is that you are committed to being a Christ-centered Quaker meeting. Many of you have different ideas about Jesus, what it all means, but you as a meeting have decided that Christ is central to your identity. This is important to the Quaker witness. Quakers believe that Christ is present among us to guide us and teach us. We don’t need a pastor, we don’t need sacraments, or other stand-ins for Jesus because Jesus is here now. And by turning inward, you are able to turn outward into the world.
This is why we practice listening in silence together, we can and will here Christ’s guidance. Committing to this expectant waiting in silence together for Jesus is by far the most important thing you can do together as a worshipping community. It opens yourself up to the mystery of God and it opens yourself up to being changed. This makes communal discernment possible.
- Practicing communal discernment (Investment in the long term):
Camas Friends has taught me how a Quaker meeting practices discernment together as a community. When there are big decisions to be made, you take the time to listen to everyone, to pray for God’s guidance, and you don’t move on things until it is clear that you can move as a group. This is a powerful witness in world of quick fixes and fast results.
Communal discernment in the way you practice it takes time, it takes practice and it takes long-term investment. You have to care about where things are going in the long run. And so I see in this church a kind of long-term investment strategy going on.
Invest in each other over the long-haul, connect out into the community by doing good not because it boosts numbers here instantly or because of some kick back you get, but because by doing good work now, this will over time prove to be a valuable investment in this community.
The end of the book ends with two contrasting images: a banquet of animals gathered around a table and the three farmers sitting around a hole in the ground waiting for something to happen.
One is an image of participation and co-creation and the other is of control.
The image of the Fantastic Mr. Fox and the animals are far below the earth’s surface eating a fine banquet of roast chicken, goose pie, and cider to me is a picture of a participatory community, one that is based on organizing that leads to sharing and participation. It says, “We are in this together” let’s invest in ways that make it better for everyone.
While the farmers who are stuck on exerting more and more control – or we might call it their “organized religion of imperialism” – eventually become stuck in their own madness. Here they are sitting outside in the rain, with their rifles in their laps expecting any moment for Fox to reappear so they can kill him. The book ends this way:
He won’t stay down there much longer now, Boggis said.
The brute must be famished, Bunce said.
That’s right, Bean said. He’ll be making a dash for it any moment. Keep your guns handy.
They sat there by the hole, waiting for the fox to come out.
And so far as I know, they are still waiting.