Convergent Friends: A Handbook – An Introduction to Convergence (Pt. 1)

In this online handbook you will find a variety of articles written by convergent Friends. This is by no means an exhaustive collection of writings but rather it is meant to function as an introduction to the concept of convergent Friends and part two of the handbook is meant to help people think about what it might mean to start a convergent Friends worship gathering. 

Begin with reading the definitions and short history below and then if you want to go deeper you’ll find a list of resources at the end of this post.

A good place to start is with Robin Mohr’s definition of convergent Friends  and then if you can find a copy, the definition from the Historical Dictionary of Friends.

Continue reading Convergent Friends: A Handbook – An Introduction to Convergence (Pt. 1)

Being A "Released" Minister

I recently went through and changed most of my online profiles, email signatures, and even our bulletin for Sunday morning it from “pastor” to “released minister” as that language seems to fit where I am at better. So now, at least on paper, that’s the language I use to describe my work. But in day-to-day language I move between these two labels depending on who I am talking to and the context in which the discussion takes place. I have been getting a lot of questions about what it means so I thought I’d share it here. I am going to write more from a place of what it means to me, rather than here’s the history. If you are a person who knows some of the history or other details behind this I would love for you to leave a comment below. Continue reading Being A "Released" Minister

The Convergence of Quakerism – Ephesians 2:11ff

The text from my message given to Camas Friends Church June 6, 2010

Personal Histories

In the last couple weeks, I have been reflecting a lot on my own history, my own personal narratives that have shaped my life. With having recently gone home this probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. I confess that I have a tendency to want to break with my past, to want to start over. I like clean slates (in fact, my dad was in a band by the same title, and so I’m a bit partial!). Who doesn’t like, and sometimes need a clean slate? One of my favorite things in the whole wide world is a new, unopened notebook. To open it for the first time. To see the clear white pages, to think about the possibilities, to decide what will get written in that notebook all inspire me.

Through these reflections I started to realize that my own tendency, or temptation, to neglect my history, and to turn away from it. I suppose there are many reasons, some potentially good, to do something like this but I came to the conclusion that for myself to pretend like it has no power over me is dishonest. To do that is for me to not be true to who I am. No matter the things I am ashamed of in my past, the things I do not understand, or cannot change, these are all woven into the fabric of my being. So I recognize within me the temptation to want a clean break. Continue reading The Convergence of Quakerism – Ephesians 2:11ff

Denominations and Traditions: Thoughts on Differences

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“To stand within a tradition does not limit the freedom of knowledge, but makes it possible.”

Hans Georg Gadamer

Today I spent a few hours working on my Mid-Program defense for my PhD program, I will be presenting it to my committee on May 14th. This entails laying out the key questions and motivations behind my research. It also includes what I’ve studied so far, where I am headed and how I will finish up (God help me!). It’s a good exercise but it’s rather grueling and kind of works against the way I am wired. When I was editing today I came across the word “denominations” which I had written awhile back and I instantly replaced it with the phrase “faith traditions.” Shocked by my initial response, I realized that I still have an allergy to the word.

I grew up Catholic, went to mass regularly, was baptized Catholic (as far as I know) and was confirmed as an adolescent. I did my time, literally, in parochial schools up through 8th grade and was devastated when my parents decided to stop going to mass and start taking us to some small store-front Charismatic church. I was by then pretty committed to my Catholic faith. Then I was indoctrinated in the non-denominational framework, where all denominations are evil! Boo!! And will steal your soul, because everyone in them is mindless and not really passionate about their faith, they just go because that’s where their parents went, or whatever.

I stopped believing this anti-denominational doctrine once I realized the importance of being a part of something bigger than one local congregation, and the amount of support, accountability, and richness of history involved with, well, denominations. But still, I don’t like the word. I prefer instead to talk about (faith) traditions for a couple reasons.

For one, the word denomination just has a bad rap for a lot of Americans. It sounds overly paternalistic, top-down and dated. Whereas tradition, at least to me, rings of something more alive, something that is potentially more organic and flat. Anyone can participate in a tradition. For instance, think of all those interested in aspects of the monastic tradition, who adopt this or that practice, but are not themselves wholly monastic.

A friend made a great point to me on twitter saying that denominations help to name something that would otherwise remain unnamed and unnamed things are ultimately untenable as movements. I think he was right to suggest the importance of naming something, this is a process we see happening again and again in the Bible. But still, the problem lies not in the fact of naming something, but rather that often everything can be lost but the name. Consequently, the denominational name simply becomes a placeholder for something that has become largely obsolete. Rather, tradition in the way I understand it stresses the (dis)continuity between our stories, the practices we engage in as Christians, our beliefs, and points to what texts, biblical and otherwise, are important in the formation of our communities.

Finally, denomination still signals, at least to me, a preference to structure and hierarchical authority. Here “denomination” is the opposite of “movement” or “organic.” A denomination was once a movement that has become top-heavy, bogged down by its irreplaceable and non-translatable history and text. Instead, a tradition is more like a way of perceiving our contemporary world and relating to our shared history, a way of interaction with and communication about God. It can remain fluid and translatable even when people within that tradition get caught up in denominational-isms.

This is what I like so much about the Quaker Everett Cattell who worked within the denominational structures of the Friends church, he was both a college president and a superintendent, but suggested that the heart of the tradition was not found in those structures but in the community’s organic relationship to God’s mission and fellowship with one another in the Spirit, both of which he felt would actually undercut our structures and challenge them to be re-thought according to our contemporary needs. My reading of Cattell is that he believed the only way to truly be a Quaker was to betray the structures in favor of obedience to God’s call to be for the world, and in doing so, we might in fact be truly Friends.

Following Cattell, I have very little interest in Quakerism, in as much as it is an ism. These things that are the “way we’ve always done them” can actually becomes obstacles to our believing in the power of God’s Spirit. The denominational nitty gritty, when it is left to its own devices and not rooted within the life of the tradition, only sustains structures often reinforcing the church’s role as a placeholder for our belief rather than a bottom-up community of people following God’s mission in the world. I want to be a part of a community that not only tells but also lives into the stories of those we call Quaker.

What is a Quaker? Reflections on What We Might Become

A few weeks back I was invited to talk with some college-age Friends during a weekend retreat. It was my first visit to Plainfield, Indiana and I had a nice time meeting these students and their adult leaders from Western Yearly Meeting. I was invited to sit on a panel with three other people to answer “What is a Quaker?” And later in the day, I led a workshop on “How Quakers Might Worship.” My take on the first question was to look at what Quakerism might become in our hands rather than offer a historical or objective set of practices that determine whether we are Quakers or not. Here are some of the thoughts I shared:

  • This question, what is a Quaker, is an open-ended question and needs to be treated that way. There is no longer any “right” answer to this question, at least not in the sense that one can offer some clearly argued historical or theological point and persuade all his or her hearers of that truth. But there are some who offer better answers then others. Some versions of what it means to be a Quaker today are far more compelling and make better sense of what we know than other versions. What makes something compelling is not simply its logic, but how well it works on the ground. We are most convinced of the truth of something when we see it worked out in real life. This is no less true of the Christian faith.
  • Because we ask the question, “What is a Quaker?” we are alerted to the fact that the Quaker tradition is in crisis. Things aren’t what they used to be, times have changed and things we were certain about are no longer easily assumed within our culture. It’s not unlike the kind of crisis a lover has who finds out that his beloved is no longer in love with him and has found another. Quakerism awaits to be remade/reborn in our hands, this will happen through the work and guidance of the Holy Spirit and Inward Light of Christ.
  • Quakers are a part of the Christian Church. A Quaker is (usually) a Christian with a particular family resemblance. There is no such thing as just a Christian anymore, maybe that was true in St. Paul’s time, but now the Christian world is far to fragmented to miss the importance of particular traditions and theological schools that guide our theologies, practices and assumptions about the world. They are like other Christian traditions, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anabaptist etc. but like the Anabaptists they have tended to challenge the dominate political and cultural ideologies of their time in light of the Gospels and authority of Jesus Christ. Families are messy, there are always “black sheep,” there are always those whom we don’t get along with, or don’t see eye to eye with, yet we are still family and share a common history.
  • So a Quaker is a person who finds something deeply compelling about the stories that make us the Quaker family. Not only are they deeply compelling to them, but they find themselves within those stories.  I remember reading Robert Barclay’s Apology for the first time. I kept thinking to myself, this is the kind of stuff I’ve always believed, or I have believed this my whole life without even knowing it! I found myself in a theological story written hundreds of years ago.
  • It is someone who care for the practices of the Quaker tradition but also recognizes that God’s Spirit is never limited to “they way we’ve always done it.” To be a Quaker is to be renewal worker for the Body of Christ.
  • A Quaker is a person who has a life-changing encounter with the living Christ and gives his or her life over to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
  • They live in the reality of God’s kingdom come. The kingdom is not something off in the distant horizon, it is here now.
  • A Quaker is a missionary, an evangelist, a radical, nonviolent, plain, a monastic and a creative kingdom dreamer.
  • Quakers are young and old, quiet and loud, faithful and doubters, politically involved and nonconformist, peaceful and transformative, they believe reconciliation with God’s Spirit is what the spiritual as well as the material world really needs.
  • It is you and me an what we make it in our generation. It is ready to be remade in light of what God is doing a new in our generation.

These were some of my reflections. There is obviously a lot that I didn’t touch on, but then again I tried to say most of this in 5 min. I really enjoyed having the chance to share some of my ideas and convictions with the group and I think it connected with at least some there. Being there helped me to remember how much I love working with those in the church, teaching, encouraging and guiding the body of Christ.

How Quakers Voted in the 2008 Election

I’ve finally finished compiling the statistics from the poll we conducted here last week. When I initially posted the survey it hadn’t dawned on me that it would be me who had to compile all of the data as well! That took quite awhile, especially since Math and using Excel aren’t Wess Daniels specialities. But alas, the results are in and I think you will all enjoy seeing the statistics. These results are based on the 181 participants who took the survey from November 6-10th, 2008 (if you have time you should visit the comments and read the variety of remarks offered as well). One glaring omission is age range. When it hit me that I left out that category I was really disappointed. Continue reading How Quakers Voted in the 2008 Election

Everett Cattell's Principle of Authority (pt. 3)

Series contents | Intro | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Mustard Seeds and the Kingdom

Cattell’s understanding of authority is derived from Christ, who is the head of the church. He argues that there is a tendency in the church to choose some one authority over another. Christ as head relativizes arguments over authority of Scripture, tradition, Spirit, etc. Rather we “must see the organic whole and each part functioning within the total organism, and each organ receiving its relative authority from that which is Christ” (Cattell, 8). This statement sounds close to post-foundationalism (a philosophical-theological movement newly espoused the later half of the twentieth-century). Continue reading Everett Cattell's Principle of Authority (pt. 3)