Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to refine and summarize some of my thinking as it pertains to the concept of convergent Friends, remix, and renewing faith traditions and share it with Friends in a public talk. In that talk, I worked to distill down some of the ideas I think are most important.
I have put this talk together in ebook form complete with lots of pictures and illustrations and formatting that adds to the reading experience. I wanted to share this with all of you and make it as accessible as possible, so it is free to download. It should work with most modern-day eBook readers and apps. If that doesn’t work for you, I have also turned the talk into a downloadable .PDF.
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.
Last night we finished up a six-week discussion at Camas Friends Church on my book. You can purchase “A Convergent Model of Renewal: Remixing the Quaker Tradition in a Participatory Culture” through my publisher Wipf and Stock or on Amazon (it’s more expensive there): “A Convergent Model of Renewal.”
I want to share the complete “Sketchnote Companion and Discussion Guide” for the book here. This is helpful for either small group or personal use.
Three years ago we started a monthly convergent Friends worship gathering in the Camas/Portland Metro area. The goal of the meeting was to bring those Friends who desire to worship together, build relationships and create an open and flexible worship liturgy that can be adapted according to those who host it. Each month we rotate to a different hosting meeting. We currently have 6 meetings that host convergent Friends worship and we try to space our visits evenly. This has been a very life-giving and Spirit-filled group for many of us. My hope with this post is to help others who are discerning whether, and how, to go about starting a similar group.
These are just ideas and guidelines, not meant to be taken as a cookie-cutter. Tailor your group according to your needs, gifts and context. Feel free to borrow, remix, or flat out steal anything here for your own use. The goal is to build up the beloved community and help bring renewal among Friends.
“Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.” (Habakkuk 2:2–3 NRSV)
Early Publishers of Truth
Early Quakers called themselves, among other things, “Publishers of Truth.” They published truth with a missionary fervor, writing in order that a new world would be given forth from their written, as well as spoken, words. As I read early Friends, I see their publishing being very much related to how they understood the mission of the church to be, at its heart, participatory. As we think about who and what are the publishers of truth today – and if there is even such a thing left – I can’t help but suggest that any form of publishing that is not at its core participatory, inclusive and prophetic in nature is not rooted in the identity of these “Publishers of Truth.”
Just by way of background, these Publishers of Truth were an almost unstoppable force. Consider what Quaker historian, Elbert Russell, says in his “The History of Quakerism” (1979),
In spite of some arrests for owning, circulating or selling Quaker publications, and in a few cases the seizure of destruction of offending presses, there was a large output of printed matter. In the seven decades after 1653 there were 440 Quaker writers, who published 2,678 separate publications, varying from a single page tract to folios of nearly a thousand pages (79).
Russell goes on to explain how censorship worked back then, first oversight was given by George Fox, then it moved to a designated meeting of elders. The nature of the writing was often publicly articulating their beliefs, writing epistles to other meetings, creating pamphlets and responding to attacks from their detractors (80). There are others who can track the history of publication far better than me, but for much of Quaker history Friends have kept a steady hand on the printing press and they left us something to learn from and build on today. It was an essential thread to who the early Friends were. Continue reading Write the Vision: Quakers, Zines and Participatory Culture