This is the opening excerpt from a longer post on my Medium Blog about convergent Friends and the Renewal of the Quaker tradition.
A Seed Falls
Jesus, in speaking about his looming death, talks to his disciples in a metaphor that I want to draw on as we explore the topic of change and renewal together this evening.
“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24 NRSV)
This is indeed a powerful image, not just because it is true, but because it lays the groundwork for Christian thinking around the idea of resurrection and how we might understanding the ongoing work of change and renewal within the Christian tradition.
It was later, in the 1970s, that this metaphor was applied as a model for thinking about change and renewal within the Quaker tradition by Everett Cattell, an Evangelical Quaker, missionary and president of my Alma Mater. He spoke these words to a gathering of Friends World Committee for Consultation Quakers concerned about the Future of Friends:
Perhaps the call is now before us for a new seeking: a seeking to find where God’s Spirit is actually at work in today’s world and then a giving of ourselves to work with Him — whether within or without the framework of Friends. The future of Friends may be like the grain of wheat, which must fall to the ground and die. Perhaps this would be the way to a new harvest (Cattell 1970:5).
These are tough words to take for Friends.
They are hard because it suggests that Friends may not be paying close enough attention to what God is doing out there, in our surrounding culture, an insight I think he brings as one who is missionary trained.
They are hard because they suggest that the “framework” of Friends is just that, a framework. Where it is helpful keep it, but where it becomes an obstacle to the real goal, which is joining in God’s work in the world, then we need to find new doors to enter and pathways to create.
“Sometimes we have to start over,” as Deborah Fisch shared during the 2016 North Carolina Yearly Meeting-Conservative sessions.
These words are also hard because they suggest that death is necessary for new life. The way we sustain what we love is by letting go of our control over that thing. It suggests, as Richard Rohr has said, our commitment to traditionalism can be our way of actually avoiding the tradition (Everything Belongs, 2003: 23).
I have seen this time and time again. Our commitment to protect and police the boundaries of Quakerism has led to a loss of the very center of our tradition. For example, consider the times when Quaker process has been used to avoid doing the real work of discernment. As our particular Quaker group becomes more and more concerned about survival, fearing and avoiding any kind of death or a falling of the seeds, we almost guarantee death. In the metaphor of the seed, avoidance of death is what ensures it.