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This weekend Emily and I went up to San Jose to kick if with my Cousin Rick and Julia, and their really cool little daughter Enya. We went to Berkeley on Saturday for part of the afternoon, which was really awesome. This was my first time in No.Cal and it felt like the place to be, compared with So.Cal. I got to visit the first ever – Peet’s coffee and tea (the graphic is actually a picture from that store) – this for those of you who know my routine out here, know that that alone was worth the price of the day. But then we found Berkeley’s Monthly Meeting House which just so happens by the providence of God to be on the opposite side of the street as Peet’s – I could throw my coffee cup at either building, but of course i won’t do that because that would liter such a fabulous corner. Then we went to the Cheese Board upon Rick’s suggestion that we would love it, and dang it he was right. we spent at least 25 min. in there trying fancy pants teas and getting great baked goods. The moral of the story is, now I have looked at UC Berkeley to inquire about their history PhD. Who knows, it may be a whim but a cool one at that.

Anyways – Up until a few days ago I couldn’t see myself (or my family) living in california for very long, but the cool breeze of the north country has redeemed that image for me. I am not saying that this is what we will do, but it sure is nice to have a change of heart once in a while.

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Moving Towards a Marginal Theology

I appreciate the article Charles has offered, because I have come to the similiar conclusions about the status of life within the Friends Church. I agree that we have sold our important marginalized/prophetic voice for the easy sales marketing approach to ecclesiology as proposed by Willow Creek and Saddleback, etc. These new forms don’t work for Friends, because our theology and christology will always be marginal (unless we re-write it – but then we would no longer be Quakers). Fox’s goal was not to build multi-million dollar steeple-houses, in fact he was against the idea of the church as a location above all. We tend to buy into cultural ideas without any critique of advertising and its affects and uses from other sources – that is, we wrongly percieve the medium as a neutral voice. But this is a fallacy, the medium is itself a message. TV is not netural, because of the motivation for which it is used, sometimes those motivations are somewhat more optimistic than at other times but the bottom line is TV has always sought to grab the attention of the people watching; this is best done by creating a need (the basic principle of every commercial) and exploting that need (or fear). This is true for any buisness model, or medium. I am not saying we never use any medium to tell others, but we ought to consider how that medium has been used in the larger society and what are its ill effects before the church goes endorsing every new model of advertising.

Further, I alluded to a “marginal” theology. This is where we must as Quakers move. To say we need the power of the Lord, Scriptures and the Spirit, is completely true but partially misleading. I appraoch Scripture on a regular basis to find power in it, I pray that the Holy Spirit “illumine the Scriptures to me,” and I expect him to answer…but he doesn’t always. The power of the Lord, comes from taking the Scripture, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit and living it out in a missional community, which is formed by a particular narrative. That is to say, I as a Quaker Christian, will find the power of the Lord (and have) when I join with other Christians who enter into the on-going story of what it means to be a Quaker, live out our “peculiar” theology, and do it together as a community formed by the Spirit. We shouldn’t think that when we as individuals approach the Bible that it will give us what we need and want, this is another fallacy based on the marketing culture of Western Society. Rather, I can hope to find the power of the Lord, when I approach the Scriptures as that same book that empowered the last 355 years of our tradition, and I can read it as an individual within a body of people who still seek to live out that particular story today – even at the cost of always being prophetic as opposed to profitable.

Simply put, I think we need to learn the stories of the Quaker church once again, and begin to tell them, live them, and move forward in this tradition that has been past down to us as one that has been formed by the Spirit of Christ through such wonderful leaders as Fox, Fell, Barclay, Woolman, etc.

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Forming the People of God

As I have finally finished my seventh quarter at Fuller, I begin a time of reflections about what I have learned and unlearned and all that in between. As I entered this qtr I was exhuasted, looking forward to a hopefully not-to-difficult 10 weeks of class work so that i could recover from the exhausting work I did the previous qtr. Well it wasn’t what I hoped for, it was very tiring and very involved, but it was also restorative in many ways.

First: My class “forming the people of God” was a healing experience for me. I entered the class in a state of mind I have been in for the past two years – trying to figure out how to not be a pastor and avoid something I know has been placed on me, now as I have ended the quarter I feel a renewed sense of hope and urgency in ministry, I see the possibilities in how to be church. This class has given me tools I did not have before I took it, and has helped me to reframe ideas about being church into doable dreams.

I have to be careful that my ideas and dreams don’t become prideful musings and a superiority complex, which is always a battle for me. I don’t think I have figured it out, or that my way is the best, but I do think that I have discovered a great way for me, which has also been done by others in healthy ways. I think in this way I willingly do something different from others, I submit myself to a tradition, a group of people, a story, and a specific movement. I do this knowing that which I align myself is a human structure with failures as well as successes. But for some reason, I no longer want to start something new within the church; I want to help heal, restore and join in on what is already happening. This is different from others today and that is okay, because I realize for many the established traditions are frightening and often represent what we don’t like about Christians. I agree that these are my feelings as well, because I see Jesus as the homeless carpenter, who led a rag-tag group of zealots, prostitutes and tax collectors to start a revolution – there is no establishment in that. The establishment that is there, is the on-going story of God’s salvation from the beginning of time, up to and accomplished in Christ’s life, and carries on today. There are different groups of people who have experienced this story in various ways, and so for me it is the stories that are most important within my own chosen tradition. it is important that we are apart of these on-going stories, somehow, somewhere, it is not important what establishment you are apart of, but that that group of people find their story located in the story of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. This is one fear of the organized church – that those within the traditions have forgotten their own stories, no longer care, or no longer give those stories authority. it is those communal experiences that are most important in the body of Christ – and so whether we are in a formal denomination or not we must dig for those experiences of not only those within our congregations today but of those who were there 200 years ago. it is important that all stories are welcome at the table, because they are all valid experiences of the Holy Spirit and God’s work, even the not-so-pretty ones (actually we sometimes need those more). Every story must be welcome at the table, and it is within these that I find hope for the church to come.

when we gather together to tell and relive our past histories, we are reminded in powerful and moving ways of the spirit.

Secondly: My classes on OT Prophets and Gospels have been important for my own humble-understanding of the scriptures. This is at first glance an obvious statement, and I agree we need to be learning more and more about the scriptures as to understand them better, but in many ways I approached these classes as a learned theologian. This is of course my confession, in that I approach many things that way, only later to realize “I was older then, I am younger than that now.” My love for the prophets has deepened so much, the prophets are hard to understand, because most of them are not written in narrative form – this makes them feel distant to us. But as Dr. Butler began to place their lives in within the narratives for which they belong the prophets came to life. their coming to life showed me how much they really have to say to us today, how radical their own faiths were, how much they struggled to follow God, and how easy it is to forget who we really are. The prophets are in someways more like us (those who are called to follow Christ) than any other characters in the Scriptures because they faced the evils of their own day, and struggled with how to transform their situations much like we do. They questioned their own calls to follow God, they wept for the poor and marginal, they argued of the poor politics of the kings and the priests. They even tried to run from God and did insane acts like walk around the city butt-naked. These are my people, their stories i can identify with (not so much the naked part – but wanting to do something radical, willing to lay my own life down for Christ). They also felt the deep need to return to their older stories, their heritage that the people so easily forgot or left behind.

As far as work goes I have struggled with identity in “what i will do.” I know earlier I said that pastoring sounds good, but that comes with a deep terror and fear of inadequacy as well as being afraid that I will get trapped into a mold of unhealthy ministry. But this is not what I mean so much. Because I wonder if I should be paid as a pastor at all, whether I should be a professor, or if that is something far beyond my own abilities or giftings, and what do i do in the meantime. I have felt very guilty about Wyldlife in Glendale, because I really have let the ball drop. I realized that I can take on way to much, out of the desire to “do what is right, and take care of a need.” Emily is trying to teach me about my boundaries and lack thereof – this has been a hard lesson – i want to save everyone from their sorrows. maybe in order to forget my own, maybe in order to pay penance for the sins of my fathers, maybe to feel better about myself, but in any case I have taken on too much once again. Emily is right in that I need to know my own limits, and for her I have to thank for a more healthy life that I will live (if I follow her advice). But this brings me back to wondering what it is that i will do, knowing that i do too much and want to do too much. have i told you that i want to make movies, be a theologian, a father, a pastor, an amazing husband, a folk-singer, a great friend, a discipler and teach others the ways of following Christ, and help the Friends church survive the 21st century? I want to do all those things, and more if I sat and thought long enough; how will i come to terms with my own humanness? my limits? my own failures? I make myself out to be the super-hero in every story, only to learn that this is a lie. What will i do to be happy, and content when there is so much to be done? I wish i could be like others who saw the only needs worth caring for as their own, who are not willing to care for others, or reach out to the lost. I wish that God never gave me Proverbs 24:11 as a call on my life, i mean this, i really wish I could get away. i wish i could not want to do what i know i need to do, but as it stands i have this yearning that i know will not go away until it is done.

Emily and I have experienced a lot since coming to cali, many let downs and many exciting times as well. We are in another stage of transition, another time of difficulty, risk and excitement. we are learning how to love one another mutually. how we can both not dominate the other, how to live a life of compromise within our family. we are seeking to learn what it means to be family, and how our vision of family will shape every choice we make, every child we rear, every story we tell. Emily is facing big decisions about who she is in light of God’s creation, who she is in terms of her abilities and call, this is never an easy conversation with yourself and with God because there are no clear lines, no clear answers, and no clear road. It is in a sense the thing we will always face, it is what the prophets questioned every time the spirit of the Lord told them what to say or do. in a way we need to identity crises. not that we encourage them to come, but when they come they give us the opportunity to reframe ourselves in light of the new information the crises brings. we can make a more educated guess next time around. Emily and I are in this educated guessing right now. this is not to say that the spirit is not involved because it is a guess, rather the spirit is absolutely invovled, and that is why it is a guess – “the spirit goes where it chooses.” No person has the corner market on Spirit, or clear guidance (not even the prophets). This is why we need each other, this is why we cannot dominate another person, this is why every story is welcome at the table, because no one person really knows all that there is to be known about where the spirit is going. we make educated guesses, and the more people we add to our mix the better our guess will be.

i say this with much hope, not the other way around because we tend to move away from people, to privatization, to individuation. When we don’t like how something goes, we start over somewhere else. these are bad guesses, because we cannot expect that the spirit wishes for more division – and division is movement away from people. The spirit wishes for healing and restoration, unity and love. I have found many people who try to make decisions based on “what the Lord is leading me to do” on first glance this is a worthy cause – but the problem is that the Lord rarely leads one person alone in a direction, it is at least two and it is with the mission of healing and casting out the evils that oppress people. When we become individuals, stripped of the larger body of faith, of storytellers, we lost sight of this, and we divide into yet another maverick Christian (or church). Even when it comes to me deciding what i will do about a career choice, or a girl to marry, the Spirit will lead through a group of people. the guess should come from a group of people. I have experienced this truth in so many ways. I know people who are married or are planning on getting married against the guess of everyone around them, against the people who love them and care for them. I know people who have made career decisions against the better judgment of many people. This is where the difficulty comes in, understanding discernment from preference. I know that this could be giving too much power to a group of people over another’s life, and it is certainly true that the communities, friends and families in our own lives and past have made bad decisions – some of these bad decisions have ruined some of us. but today we dismiss any power of community within our lives, we allow the only authority in our lives to be me, myself and i. In my own case, I am trying to decide whether to do a PhD in Theology with a focus on Quakerism or one more focused on general theological studies. I have had many different guesses from various people on what i should do, and often i find myself saying (even this morning) it really doesn’t matter what others say because I can do what I want. Well of course this is true, and is exactly what Adam and Eve thought. But what my attitude needs to be is “why is it that so many people who care about me say this one thing?” Is this fitting with what the spirit might say? I begin to weigh every bit of advice and counsel against my own experience. I have thus chosen to allow the stories and advices of others to bear weight in my life because I believe that I am not the only one who God speaks to, in fact I have heard God speak so little, that I hope by prayerfully seeking the advice of so many brothers and sisters we may be able to piece together the word of the Lord; then our guess would be an educated one. I must point out that I do believe God can and sometimes does speak loud and clear to people, but even in those moments, that spoken word will not bring individualism and privatization but healing, unity and restoration thus the whole community is involved in both the piece parts kinds of revelation as well as the loud and clear kinds. And thus we must always push back towards people, community and stories, because we know that on our own we will be lost and wondering unable to make heads or tails of life’s greatest mysteries.

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In response to E-money’s comment June 3, 2005:
I appreciate the comment, and I agree with your interpretation of making disciples and sharing the Gospel as primary to following Christ, and that this involves following God, no matter the cost (John 21:18-19). This is of course what being a Christian means, to follow God before everything else. And in terms of you bringing up faith and politics – you have put your finger on one major debate between the majority of Western Protestant Christians and those who fall in the “radical reformation traditions,” the Anabaptists, Mennonites, Church of the Brethren and the Society of Friends (Quakers). Basically the difference lies in understanding the Christian’s relationship to powers and structures; the protestant father Martin Luther called them the two kingdoms, the world and the church, others make a split in using distinctions like secular vs. sacred. This is best illustrated when John F. Kennedy, when he was being elected president he said that he would not let his being a Catholic have any influence over his presidency. In other words he was saying issues of faith and following Christ have no bearings on politics, political activism or critique of the “powers (to say powers is to refer to any and all structures that exercise influencing, and often negative, power in the world, the government, MTV, and the church are all powers in one sense – there is another sense in which we understand that each power is influenced by spiritual forces as Paul speaks of in Corinthians and Ephesians).” Recognize also that Luther came out of a time when the church was the state, or the state was controlled by the church in many ways – he wanted to split this apart because of all the corruption he saw taking place in the name of God.

I agree whole-heartedly with you (and the Scriptures) that say we should pray for the leaders, and that God is in control of powers and superpowers but this also stands in juxtaposition to OT stories such as Isaiah 7-8 where the king out right refuses to listen to the prophet (who carries to word of God to him) and thus Israel is made a slave to the very evil superpower Assyria.

I would like to add to our understanding of leaders and our responsibility in two ways:
A) we are primarily called to follow Christ – which involves carrying out his mission as see in Luke 4:17-19, which at times will lead us to advocate for those who are victims of the Government or other powers (i.e. the people who are taken advantage of by sweatshops).

B) We should not always submit to governments – as seen in WWII, not all governments are “put in place by God.” And in my mind Roman’s 13 submit has more to do with a Christian’s own predisposition to be peaceful (as the rule of Christ – Luke 22:49-51) in all situations no matter how out of control the situation gets (as also exemplified in Romans 12). When the Letter to the Romans was written, Christians were a minority in the Empire, being killed for their beliefs (which were perceived as anti-Rome) – and thus Paul tells them to remain peaceful. For a great explanation of Romans 13 read John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus,” who says, “Romans 12-13 and Matthew 5-7 are not in contradiction or in tension. They both instruct Christians to be nonresistant in all their relationships, including the social. They both call on the disciples of Jesus to renounce participation in the interplay of egoisms which this world calls “vengeance” or “justice.” They both call Christians to respect and be subject to the historical process in which the sword continues to be wielded and to bring about a kind of order under fire, but not to perceive in the wielding of the sword their own reconciling ministry (210).”

That long quote seeks to show how both the sermon on the mount and Paul’s treatise on government should be read together, and that our faith – if carried out will at times rub the government and leaders the wrong way (consider I kings 21 – and Ahab’s summation of the prophet Micaiah), but even so we are to maintain a Christ-like, peace witness to the world.

Early Quaker’s faith, such as George Fox or John Woolman, lived their lives to follow Christ, but accepted that there would be social outcomes of that living. Thus when Woolman (a great abolitionist) refused to wear any clothes made by slaves his belief that Christian’s should live simply took a political turn. Remember slavery, and the abolition movement was very much a political deal, but the important part is they didn’t do it to be political, they fought against slavery because of their theological beliefs about following Christ, and they believed that God created everyone as equal and mutual human beings. This was something they were killed for, and so in this sense I see them as taking up their cross and dying for their faith, not a political belief. It is just that in this case their faith had deep political ramifications.

This happens today when you or I, decide to not shop at stores that get their clothes from Sweatshops. Our faith teaches us that God cares deeply for the poor and marginalized and that in as best as we can we should help them – thus we decide to not by certain clothes. Well that is no problem, until you tell a friend who shops there why you don’t any longer, you will notice how the conversation inevitably will take a political turn, even though your original motive is out of faith – it has political ramifications.

So it is not that Quakers, or Anabaptists in general are a political church, rather we believe (and this is one view) that our faith-practices influence every aspect of life; thus in Luke 4:17-19 you will find Jesus say his mission statement, and then through the rest of the book everything he does fits on of those main missional statements from Luke 4 – even his eating with sinners and prostitutes was a point of following God for Jesus because it was sharing the love of God with the outcast. This is not to say other traditions don’t believe this, but where the struggle comes is when we say that JFK was silly for thinking that his faith would not influence his presidency. We as people of faith are primarily that, which means whatever I eat, drink, say, who I love, and serve, what I drive, where I hang out, what clothes I wear, how I carry myself, all are motivated by how my community of faith has understood the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures to teach us to do those things (or what it means for today).

Finally – Luke 2:10-12 – Jesus is the son of David, Messiah, and Lord – all of these names are political – people understood the son of David as the one who the OT promised would reclaim the holy land with violence and power and make Jerusalem its own state. Jesus was killed because of his political beliefs (though on a cosmic level we know this is only partially true), the reason why the Romans crucified him was because they thought that he was “the king of the Jews” or in other words – a political threat to the system. So the main point, is that I believe that when we are faithful, making disciples and sharing the good news, that there is no way to distinguish a faith side of a person and a world (or political or social) side of a person – because ultimately Jesus’ own acts, and everything he said had theological and social implications. To believe in Jesus, to be saved, is not to just make an intellectual move, from not believing to believing, it is to truly follow Christ – too become Christ-like and live as he lived as best we can. A good question I ask myself from time to time is, “when I ‘bring someone to Christ’ what am I bringing them too?” I mean what kind of version of Christ will they come to know, how will they be formed, what will they look like when it is all said and done. So believing is to us crazy Quakers (and the like) more than an accepting of a doctrine or belief, because if that belief can’t be lived out in the real world, it’s a bad belief – and we know Jesus’ didn’t teach bad beliefs. Further consider Luke 9:52 and following to get a glimpse into Christ’s own evangelistic approach and how it had both theological and social implications.

This is not all there can be said, because as I mentioned earlier this has been a long time debate, the importance is dialogue over how we ought to understand it.

I’d like to hear what you think.

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Zac Moon, Nevada Dessert Experience and Quakerism

met Zac Moon today from Nevada Dessert Experience, a Franciscan ministry that seeks to non-violently protest the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the nuclear test site in Nevada. I really enjoyed meeting with this fellow Quaker who comes as a radical Christian from the un-programmed group of Friends.

In talking about the problems of identity crisis within all strands of the Friends church he pointed to two ideas about why our Quaker churches aren’t as radical as they ought to be: A fear for suffering (owning our traditions narrative and the narrative of the Gospels) and a loss of focus on the Cross of Christ.

We all love our lives to much to be willing to go and protest things we theologically disagree with. Quakers today (especially evangelical ones) are not in the radical stream of living out their faith (generally speaking). What i mean is we as a community are not countering the power structures of the world today in the way that our forbearers did, who were repeatedly scorned, imprisoned, threatened, hated, debated, etc. We are afraid, I am afraid, to own the Gospel narrative in this way. It is much more american, and human, to read about Jesus’ suffering and say “that’s Jesus, I’m not Jesus, he doesn’t expect me to be,” than it is to say, “i own that story as my own, i bear the name of Christ and all he did, and will live it no matter the cost to me, my family, my friends, i have counted it all loss.” We need people today who are willing to enter into this kind of Christianity again, people who will truly own the Christian story, and show us again the power of faith, witness and the cross.