Church in Mission Featured The Political

Is It The End Of Our SUV Lifestyle?

I just finished reading Tom Sine’s recent book, “The New Conspirators: Creating The Future One Mustard Seed at a Time,” for a review in a Friends’ periodical. It’s a book I highly recommend for those of you involved in ministry currently, or are interested in getting into ministry (however that may look) at some later date, and are looking for compelling examples of faith. It is full of great testimonies of people living for the kingdom of God.

In his book, Sine discusses at length problems of wealth and the “democratization of luxury” in America; a shift necessary for consumerism to keep on the rise amidst a growing celebrity culture. This has led to what he calls our obsession with an “SUV lifestyle,” where bigger, better and more are the underlying motivations. This kind of lifestyle (and economy) based in consumption creates real problems for our well-being and faith-practices as a church:

…as we see growing pressure to spend more tie at word and more time consuming and producing media, we will have less time for other things, among the family, friends, church, prayer and scripture – and certainly less time to be involved in serving others (Sine 2008, 157).

This is a similar point that Michael Budde makes in his outstanding book, “The Magic Kingdom of God:” that the practices of our culture are quite often based in a counter-narrative to the Gospel. These “worldly” practices are powerful disciple-forming activities that most of us in the church are more influenced by than the practices of Jesus.

Reading the Times this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder if with the passing of yet another stimulus package marks the end of this lifestyle for many of us. We know the penchant: “Our economy is in crisis, we better buckle down and be responsible. Scrimp and save!” I won’t deny that this is indeed true or that we ought to do what’s suggested, but if Sine and others are right, with every crisis comes opportunity for the church to rethink its mission and respond to where God is at work.

I see this “crisis” as a chance for the church to start paying attention more to the pulse of those in our neighborhoods. Surely everyone in our pews is effected by this in one way or another. No longer are we just talking about helping the guy who is out on the corner everyday with a cardboard sign asking for money to help him get back home, now we’re talking about people losing their homes, and people who live right next door to our homes. We are all learning that treasures hoarded on earth do indeed rust.

Here is our opportunity to get serious about “breaking bread,” not just with those in greatest need among us, but with those who find themselves unexpectedly in deep want. Both need generosity, but one will break our archetype of “those in need.” May we, the church, regain the discipline of saying “no” to worldly treasures and practices, and again say “yes” to the practices of the kingdom. My hope is that instead of panic and fear, marks that characterize far too much of our church, we will live with an open-hand and be true sharers of all that we have with all who need; and show that God’s economy is based on giving rather than taking. For a church rooted in the divine economy, no bailout will be necessary.

Blog Entries The Political

Witnessing History: Barack Obama Becomes President

Yesterday, we witnessed history-in-the-making; NY Times headline reads: Obama Takes Oath, and Nation in Crisis Embraces the Moment. Wherever we were, whatever ethnic, political or religious backgrounds we have, we were all aware of the momentous occasion and place in history January 20, 2009 will forever hold. I was glad to be alive, to see it with my own eyes; to hear the prayers, and Obama’s speech as it happened and to see all the people spilled out across the landscape of downtown DC was very moving.

I took our daughter to a friend’s house from Church, and there I got to witness this event with our one-year old child. That was what really made it special for me. L clapped every time someone in the room clapped, and stood front-and-center engrossed by the TV while Obama spoke.This is the world she is born into and this is her president. Barack Obama will be the president she remembers when she gets older, just as Reagan is the first I remember even though Carter was in office when I was born.

I hope and pray, along with every parent in my generation, that our children will see a country that truly lives up to its beliefs about freedom and equality for all. I also hope and pray our world will be a little more peaceful, a little more just for those who are in debilitating poverty, stable so that we have something worthwhile to pass down to younger generations. Yesterday, felt like a great celebration. We all know Obama won’t usher in the Kingdom of God and he certainly will stumble and make mistakes (some of which will the church will be unhappy about), but hopefully he will do his best, make wise judgments, remain open to criticism, listen to others, show integrity and honesty, and hopefully that will make a difference for her world.

Yesterday, I was happy to be living. Yesterday, it was a beautiful day to be an American.

One of my favorite parts of the whole ceremony was Rev. James Lowery’s benediction:

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou, who has brought us thus far along the way, thou, who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.

Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand true to thee, oh God, and true to our native land.

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we’ve shared this day.

We pray now, oh Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration.

He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national, and indeed the global, fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hands, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations.

Our faith does not shrink though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.

For we know that, Lord, you are able and you’re willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union.

And while we have sown the seeds of greed — the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountain top, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together as children, pledging that we won’t get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone.

With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around … when yellow will be mellow … when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.

Full text provided by the Associated Press.

Who did you watch the inauguration with? What are you hopes and prayers?

Featured Quaker The Theological

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.

Blog Entries

Barclay Press: Convergent Friends and Quaker Renewal

I’ve published another Barclay Press article, this time it’s a very basic (though a bit long) introduction to convergent Friends called: Beyond the Boundaries: Convergent Friends and Quaker Renewal. I wrote it with Evangelical Friends in mind, I know all of you who read this blog know about what we’re up to, but I hope that this will be at least be a little helpful for Friends who have not yet really heard much about this will be a inspired.


A Tribute to Herbert R. Dymale

Dr. Herbert DymaleThe other day a friend emailed to let me know that our Bible and Theology professor from Malone College (now University), Herbert R. Dymale, passed away this last week. Dr. Dymale was a hero for many of us who had him over the forty years he taught at Malone. Here was this old German theologian who had served in Hitler’s army as a medic, was taken prisoner of war, and while he served his time in the states decided to study at get his masters at Princeton theological seminary. Later he became a “working theologian,” not unlike the Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, as he taught theology and pastored as a way to maintain his grounding in ministry. Actually, in a way, Dymale was our living Barth, he shared story after story of his service to the church, his deep passion for sharing Christ, and living and preaching the “Christ Event.”

I took at least 5 classes with Dymale, and he was my adviser, during my time at Malone and while he was getting up there in years when I had him, and we, more often then not, found him wandering in and out of his lecturs as though on a casual walk around Myer’s Lake (where he lived in Canton), many things he taught us still stick with me even today. One, of course, was his incessant demand that every sermon we preach contain at its central core the “Christ Event.” Dymale, who was no stranger to Friends history and theology, saw the Christ Event as the central historical moment in human history and the point of which everything the church does and says needs to turn. What Jesus did in his ministry, on the cross, and through the life offered to the church through the resurrection is what makes us truly the body of Christ. I’ll never be able to pen a sermon without thinking about my semester with Dymale proclaiming that a sermon is not really a sermon unless it contains within it, as its central point, the Christ Event.

And certainly one aspect of the Christ Event is its power to call us to live changed lives and beckon us to live according to our calling; for me Dr. Dymale fully embodied this feature of Christian witness. Shortly after starting my junior year at Malone, I approached Dr. Dymale after a class I had with him (he was also my advisor) to talk about where I was headed with my studies. I think finally he must have realized that I didn’t have any clear direction because he asked me what it was I planned to do when I graduated. Up to that point, I planned to go into ministry. Dr. Dymale questioned me further, where was I working now, he asked. Earlier that summer I started work at Berean Christian Bookstore over on 30th street. For Dymale, this was an unacceptable response. He asked rhetorically, “If you think you’re being called into ministry, then don’t you think you should be working in a church to see if it’s really what you’re called to do?” It was rather frank but also a pretty reasonable question to ask.

He was right of course; interning at a church made a lot more sense for a student of Theology than stamping names onto people’s Bibles and selling “Testamints (though that latter required an equal amount of patience!). ”

I know it seems like a small thing, but Dr. Dymale’s prodding me to get serious about ministry set me on a trajectory that might not have happened otherwise. Within just a couple months of this conversation I quit my job at Berean and was hired at small Friends Church in Akron. From there I not only became a member of that church, but I felt God draw me to working in and with the Quaker tradition as a whole. Subsequently, I went to seminary and am now pursuing doctoral studies on issues relating to the Friends church in our contemporary culture. Without Dr. Dymale’s very gentle but stern push towards the vision I thought God was calling me toward, I would have never found what was in fact my true calling.

Dr. Dymale, as well as a handful of other professors at Malone College, played a very important role in changing my perceptions of the Gospel, showing me what it meant to be faithful in day-to-day life and our helped to shape my ideas of ministry and the role the church in our society. For all of this I am grateful of Dr. Dymale ministry as a professor.

Blog Entries Convergent Friends

Join Us at the Convergent Friends Retreat in February

Robin, Martin and I will be co-leading a weekend retreat on convergent Friends we’re calling “Reclaiming the Power of Primitive Quakerism for the 21st Century” at the Ben Lomond Quaker Center this February 20-22. We’re getting pretty excited about the weekend. Basically, it’s going to be a time for everyone interested and/or already invested in the convergent Friends conversation to come together get to know one another better, worship together and wrestle over issues of renewal, the Friends tradition what it means to be Quakers in the 21st century. The retreat center we’re staying at is located in the beautiful Redwoods and has some very peaceful grounds. There will be childcare available and I know L, as well as Robin and Chris’ kids, will be there; so it’s definitely kid friendly and we’d love to add to that mix. Also, if you’re thinking there’s no way you can afford the trip email Quaker Center [mail @ quakercenter dot org] because I hear there is some help available.

Here’s a little descrition we wrote up on some of the things we’ll be doing:

The weekend will include time to share some of our spiritual journeys in small groups and in writing. We will listen deeply and lovingly to one another, as we speak courageously and gently about our own experiences of the Truth. We will explore what we can learn from each other’s stories, what it means to worship in Spirit and in Truth in the postmodern age, and how to share a lived faith as we serve all creation. We will walk in the redwoods, sing and laugh, have extended waiting worship, and eat together. We will experiment with some traditional Quaker practices and develop some tools to take home, to help us be the change we wish to see in our meetings, churches and the world. Expect inclusive and Christian language.

Along with all of that we’ll also be talking about convergent Friends in the past, I’ll be discussing a little bit about Everett Cattell and what we can learn from him for what we’re doing today, and Martin and Robin will be discussing the New Foundations Fellowship and Lewis Benson’s work for renewal. After working through some practical excersizes about faith and Quaker testimonies and delving into some historical examples we’ll turn to “dreaming” a little about where we would like to see convergent Friends go, where we believe God is taking, and we’ll share stories about where we see God already at work among Friends and in the world.

I hope some of you will be able to join us!

Download the registration flyer here and find more information on the convergent Friends website.

Blog Entries

Dress-Down Friday | Peace in the Holy Land

We got back safely into LA this past Monday from a great vacation with our families in Ohio, but since then it has been a whirlwind week of things to do. But just because there’s lots to do doesn’t mean there aren’t cool things happening around the web, here are a few of those things.

Here are a few new apps that you may find interesting as well:

  • Profcast – For recording lectures, etc.
  • Things – For organizing your projects.
  • Mendley – For collaborating on research papers.
Blog Entries Quaker

Heeding God’s Call – Peace Gathering in Philly

Next week I will be going to Philadelphia for the peace gathering there: Heeding God’s Call.  There’s never a bad time to reflect on God’s call to peace and discuss ways in which we can be involved in working alongside that mission, but it seems especially timely considering the recent events in Israel and elsewhere in the world:

Members of the Historic Peace Churches planning this gathering have a growing sense that the Spirit is stirring people of faith to renew, revitalize and bring together efforts to seek peace amidst our nation’s violent responses to international terrorism and the violence in institutions and neighborhoods. These people of faith must seek nonviolent ways to confront this violence, terrorism and fear. The challenge is to find new ways to address violence through acts of goodness, compassion and honest efforts to understand and meet the legitimate needs of others.

I’ve not gone to conferences like these in the past and wouldn’t have gone to this one (due to time and money) but was invited to be a delegate for the Northwest Friends Yearly Meeting. Fortunately enough, I still fit the bill as a “young adult” and was able to get some financial help as well! I’m excited to hear Ched Myers speak for the first time, and I’m planning on taking the new anniversary edition of his commentary on the Gospel of Mark “Binding the Strong Man” for reading during the trip. I am also excited to see a number of Quaker friends including Paul Anderson, Thomas Swain and Colin Saxton. I anticipate it to not only be good for meeting people involved in peace work around the world but a great time to worship and learn more about what God’s Spirit is calling our generation to:

The Gathering will guide participants in exploring and celebrating together the spiritual grounding of our individual and collective peace work and witness as seen in the life and teachings of Jesus. A combination of worship, plenary sessions, workshops, sharing in small groups, and panel discussions, will explore the faith basis of our peace testimonies; raise up current peace work and witness; and examine how we might better support and engage each other in ongoing peace work, as well as in creating new opportunities to witness together for a more peaceful world. We anticipate a total of 600 participants, approximately half of whom will be from the Historic Peace Churches and half from other Christian traditions.

The Gathering is envisioned as a place where participants will worship and work together, under the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit, to develop new bonds, new ideas, and new energy for the work of building peace in themselves, their cities, the nation and the world. The Gathering on Peace will work to produce outcomes, including projects, suggestions, and actions that enlarge our peace concerns. We hope to have a declaration at the conclusion of the Gathering, as well.

You can find out more here about the gathering and if you’re planning on going let me know!