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Blog Entries Convergent Friends Quaker

Mind the Fire, Fan the Flame: A Message of Hope for Quakers

I’m currently digging through my research on Freedom Friends Church and found a blog post Liz Opp wrote awhile back that got my attention. In the post Liz talks about hearing Peggy (FFC’s pastor) and Alivia (Clerk of the meeting) present on their church. She makes some useful observations including the creativity that gets incorporated into worship at FFC:

I liked hearing about the use of a box full of pieces of paper that have a significant quote, query, or advice on them, that worshipers could draw from, pick one out, and contemplate it during worship. I also liked that worship starts with a description of what Freedom Friends are about, especially since most attenders there seem to find the church through the internet. It takes the guesswork out of what these particular Friends believe and how they worship.

But what I really appreciated was the message that Peggy gave in response to Chris M’s query was very similar to a couple other messages I’ve been hearing lately. Liz Opp writes:

Towards the end of our time, Chris M. lifted up the question, Do either of you, Peggy and Alivia, have a message on your hearts for those of us here?

We fell into worship, and after a couple of beats, Peggy offered this:There are embers smoldering among us, and they need to be blown on.

We sat motionless and held that ministry for just a while longer before other comments were addressed.

Robin reflects a similar message given during extended unprogrammed worship at our convergent Friends this past February:

One Friend read to us the parable about the farmer who sows his seed on the road, in the weeds and on fertile soil. Another Friend said to us, “Mind the fire.”

In the middle of the two hours, I noticed that the fire that had been burning hotly in the woodstove when we came in was dying down. I tried to get up and put another log on the fire quickly and quietly so that we wouldn?t get cold, but not waste too much wood since we would be leaving in another hour. By the end however, I was given to understand that you can?t stoke a fire on the cheap. It may flare up but it will also burn out quickly. You have to lay the foundation properly and put in the time it really needs. A later suggestion from another Friend: always add two logs to the woodstove at one time. It greatly increases the chances of them catching fire.

I think the same is true with ministry.

And interestingly enough another message was given at the Northwest Yearly Meeting pastor’s conference last week was:

“Tend the fire.”

One interesting thing about these three messages is their context: one was given at an FGC gathering, one was given during a gathering of convergent friends representing a spectrum of Quakers, and the final one was given to a group of pastoral Quakers. Apparently, God is speaking to all Friends a similar message about how we Friends are to be working with our tradition and call to the Gospel. A second observation is that in each of these settings there were “convergent” friends present, that is to say there were Friends there who weren’t necessarily automatically assumed to be a part of that context or community. God is blessing the cross-pollinations, inter-visitations, and friendships these friends are encouraging. Rather than being unequally yolked, these friends are tending a fire all these groups have and need.

I feel that the Holy Spirit is continuing to be set forth before us this message and is addressing all Friends. This nicely summarizes what I mentioned a couple days ago in my post about the difference denominations and traditions: let us continue to run this race fanning the flame of the faith that has been passed down to us.

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Blog Entries Church in Mission Practices The Cultural

Immigration and May Day

The May Marches are just about to take place and I just received an email with an image seeking to raise awareness around the complex social issues and injustices surrounding immigration in this country. There are a number of pictures by Shepard Fairey dealing with this issue of “Immigration Reform Now” here.

Certainly there are a lot of feelings around this subject, and it’s only going to increase in both in intensity and in frequency. I recognize there are no easy answers to this subject but that doesn’t give us a right to drag our feet while families are being torn apart. My hope is that this year the church will continue (or begin) to reclaim it’s stance as a community of people who practice radical hospitality, caring for all strangers and aliens and find ways to make space for everyone at our bountiful table. I also hope and pray that this year the Quaker yearly meeting I am now apart of, Northwest Yearly Meeting, will put out a minute on this issue calling for the injustices to stop – the way they did on the subject of torture last year.

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Church in Mission Featured Quaker

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.

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Blog Entries Quaker

GIL Video: A Few Thoughts On Forms of Worship

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=4311899&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=FEF52D&fullscreen=1

Here are a few thoughts I decided to video record instead of write about given the lack of time I had in the last couple weeks for writing. There is much to be said about worship, in this video I really just discuss some of my own changes and feelings towards different styles of worship. It’s funny because a lot of Christians seem to think the kind of worship people really want is the full band contemporary “worship experience.” I’ve moved in the completely opposite direction. How about you? Have you experienced a shift in how you worship? Do you experiment with other ways or forms of worship?

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Blog Entries

The House Hunt and other Adventures

Last Saturday we flew up to Portland Airport and picked up our rental car and traveled down to Salem Oregon. We celebrated resurrection Sunday with our friends at Freedom Friends Church. Freedom Friends is the semi-programmed meeting I am doing ethnographic research on for my fifth tutorial. It have been thinking about Freedom Friends for some time and it was great to finally worship with them.

On Monday and Tuesday we did a crash course house hunt in Camas. On Monday we had a friend from our new meeting as our person GPS and Tuesday, knowing the area a little better, we saw a couple more houses and made a decision on where we will be living. We found a really nice 3 bedroom townhouse that has a little back yard, a garage, and is only one mile from the meetinghouse. During this time we also got to stay with a family from our meeting which was great for getting to know them better. We also had had dinner and breakfast with a couple other friends from the church. Having these couple days to hang out in Camas enabled us to start building some relationships and left us feeling really excited about the move.

Now we’re in Rockaway Beach Oregon staying at a beach house working out the Quaker youth book project. It’s really great seeing all the other folks on the editorial board (there are ten of us) and it’s been a lot of fun to work together through these 300 submissions from this book. There is a lot of energy around this book and we all feel that the final product will be a true gift to the Quaker community. We have a few more days of work to do on the book and then on Monday everyone, including my wife and daughter will be heading back home or moving onto their next stop. However, I will be staying at the Friends camp here in Rockaway for the next week to attend my first Northwest Friends pastors’ conference. I look forward to getting to know my new colleagues.

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Blog Entries

A Good Friday Parable

Brother Maynard posted this the other day and I wanted to follow suite. This is a parable of the last super written by Peter Rollins and is found is his new book due to come out in a couple weeks.

It is evening, and you are gathered together with the other disciples in a small room for Passover. All the time you are watching Jesus, while he sits quietly in the shadows listening to the idle chatter, watching over those who sit around him, and, from time to time, telling stories about the kingdom of God.

As night descends, a meal of bread and wine  is brought into the room. It is only at this moment that Jesus sits forward so that the shadows no longer cover his face. He quietly brings the conversation to an end by capturing each one with his intense gaze. Then he begins to speak:

“My friends, take this bread, for it is my very body, broken for you.”

Every eye is fixed on the bread that is laid on the table. While these words seem obscure and unintelligible, everyone picks up on their gravity.

Then Jesus carefully pours wine into the cup of each disciple until it overflows onto the table.

“Take this wine and drink of it, for it is my very blood, shed for you.”

With these words an ominous shadow seems to descend upon the room – a chilling darkness that makes everyone shudder uneasily. Jesus continues:

“As you do this, remember me.”

Most of the gathered disciples begin to slowly eat the bread and drink the wine, lost in their thoughts. You, however, cannot bring yourself to lift your hand at all, for his words have cut into your soul like a knife.

Jesus does not fail to notice your hesitation and approaches, lifting up your head with his hand so that your eyes are level with his. Your eyes meet for only a moment, but before you are able to turn away, you are caught up in a terrifying revelation. At that instant you experience the loneliness, the pain, and sorrow that Jesus is carrying. You see nails being driven through skin and bone; you hear the crowds jeering and the cries of pain as iron cuts against flesh. At that moment you see the sweat that flows from Jesus like blood, and experience the suffocation, madness, and pain that will soon envelop him. More than all of this, however, you feel a trace of the separation he will soon feel in his own being.

In that little room, which occupies no significant space in the universe, you have caught a glimpse of a divine vision that should never have been disclosed. Yet it is indelibly etched into the eyes of Christ for anyone brave enough to look.

You turn to leave – to run from that place. You long for death to wrap around you. But Jesus grips you with his gaze and smiles compassionately. Then he holds you tight in his arms like no one has held you before. He understands that the weight you now carry is so great that it would have been better had you never been born. After a few moments, he releases his embrace and lifts the wine that sits before you, whispering,

“Take this wine, my dear friend, and drink it up, for it is my very blood, and it is shed for you.”

All this makes you feel painfully uncomfortable, and so you shift in your chair and fumble in your pocket, all the time distracted by the silver that weights heavy in your pouch.

Commentary from Peter Rollins:

This reflection was on outworking of my first interaction with the enigmatic figure of Judas. Here I wanted to play with our tendency to identify with the favorable characters in the Bible. For instance, when reading about the self-righteous Pharisee and the humble tax collector, we find it all too easy to condemn the first and praise the second without asking whether our own actions are closer to the one we have rejected than the one we praise.

Judas is here a symbol of all our failures, and Christ’s action to demonstrate his unconditional acceptance. Judas helps to remind us of Christ’s message that he came for the sick rather than the healthy, and that he loves and accepts us as we are.

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Blog Entries Church in Mission DIY The Theological

Unless a Grain of Wheat Falls: The Church in 25 years

Scott McClellan emailed me a couple weeks back and asked me to imagine what The church might be like in 25 years and write it in 150-300 words: It’s for an upcoming article for Collide Magazine (a magazine largely dealing with church and new media, an emphasis you will hear in my thoughts). So in a (very) playful, imaginative way I sat down and initially hand-wrote my response out. What I have below is actually more like 600 words, the second part “In 25 Years?” is actually the portion for the magazine, but I included the first part because it’s some background.

Unless a Grain of Wheat Falls

A recent article by the Michael Spencer, also known as the Internet Monk, made its way around the Internet recently titled ominously as “The coming evangelical collapse.”  I received a link to it on the pastor’s list-serve for our denomination, and you can imagine the (justifiable) responses that followed. In the article Spencer basically suggested for Christianity in American everything was going hell and a hand basket: “Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.”

That things are in decline in America shouldn’t be shocking to us, or even cause for fear, Jesus said, “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” The church are the people of the light, those of us who stand for the peace, love and justice of God’s kingdom will continually be reviled. But what we often forget is that the world will hate us because of this revolutionary Jesus-centered imagination and that this is the more normative state of the church than the cozy role of chaplain its had in Christendom.

This seed falling to the ground and dying need not be cause for us to lock the doors, pull the shades and close up shop. We are reminded that this seed, after its death, will give birth to new life: “…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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” In John 12:24-25 we are shown that the church is born with a sort of auto-deconstruct mode, as John Caputo puts it. The Church is only the signifier of the kingdom, always subject to the movements and call of God’s Holy Spirit. There are times it will, even needs to, fall to the ground in order for rebirth.

This is very much the insight Quaker Everett Cattell had in 1966:

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 (1966.).

Thoughts on The Church In 25 Years?

My sense about the future is that the church, whatever is left of it in 25 years, will be built around a kind of nebulous, decentralized participation in God’s mission. I imagine there will be a lot less full-time CEO pastors and more people who see themselves as co-cultivators of kingdom imaginations. People who band together in a world where there is little money, time or space for full-time ministry to embody this call.

At the heart of what we might call “mission communities” won’t be buildings, and budgets but high amounts of inter-connectivity, utilizing and disseminating the church’s wisdom and critique through whatever devices and networks are available. Being tied-down to physical space will be seen less as an asset and more as a disadvantage. I think these people will use whatever space is available to them, and while being committed to particular (local) areas, they won’t be fixed to one location.

Building on this sense of participating within these mobile ecclesial groups will be a strong emphasis on communal creativity, rather than the individualistic focus of the do-it-YOURSELF, they will be focused on a do-it-OURSELVES mentality. In 25 years the church will not count on social services, setup within Christendom, to do its work for it any longer. The church will have to embody God’s mission, creativity, justice, non-violence and hospitality as a community of people committed to being disciples of Jesus.

Because these Christians will be less separated from the world it will be important to build communities and practices of resistance: people who read Scripture together to be reminded and shaped as people of “The Way” while learning how to survive in empire, who share their food, their belongings, and who reject the speed and consumption of hyper-capitalism. They will be non-conformist while living within and seeking to transform the world.

Finally, while this gathered diasporic people will focus on their particular local concerns they will also join with other “mission communities” for collective fronts on important and timely issues of their days. They will disband and regroup as needs arise. Thus even denominations will work more like social networks, cultivating disciples, artists, theologians, leaders and imaginations for survival in a world in need of the Gospel.

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Blog Entries

New Fuller Seminary Bloggers Wiki

A couple years ago I started keeping a list of all the Fuller bloggers here on my site. Some bloggers I knew about and others were invited to add their links to the page by sending me an email. Well the list continues to grow and seems to remain a popular link roll on my site, and interest for others, so I wanted to make it a little better and have it be more self-managing. So I set up a Fuller Bloggers Wiki where any Fuller student, prof, alum, etc. can add and edit their blog by creating a free account with pbwiki.com. If you’re already on the listing page jump over there and make sure it’s up-to-date, if you’re not on the list yet then add yourself now.

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Featured Practices Reviews The Biblical

Christian Nonviolence: An Incomplete List of Recources on Biblical Pacifism

Menno Simons
Image via Wikipedia

Rhett asked me today about books I’ve found helpful on the subject of Christian nonviolence, which reminded me that I had planned on doing a post about some of my favorite books on the subject for quite some time. Here’s a list of books I recommend on the subject, they are in no particular order other. If you have your own favorites please post them below.

  1. A Declaration on Peace: In God’s People The World’s Renewal Has Begun by Douglas Gwyn, George Hunsinger, Eugene F Roop, and John Howard Yoder. A book focused on an ecumenical dialogue between Brethren, Quakers, Mennonites, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Discusses not just pacifism but a “renewed vision of the entire purpose of God in the world.”
  2. Biblical Pacifism by Dale W. Brown. This book covers important biblical passages on peace.
  3. Binding the Strong Man by Ched Myers. A very helpful commentary on the Gospel of Mark which looks at the nonviolence of Jesus.
  4. Transforming the Powers: Peace, Justice and the Domination System edited by Ray Gingerich and Ted Grimsrud. A collection of theological and ethical essays rooted in Walter Wink’s idea that “the powers are good; the powers are fallen; the powers must be redeemed.” Among other things the book looks at how the powers might be redeemed through the nonviolence of Jesus.
  5. Jesus and Nonviolence by Walter Wink. A small yet very influential book on understanding Jesus as a nonviolent revolutionary. Walter Wink’s trilogy on the powers including “Engaging the Powers” also cover these issues.
  6. The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanely Hauerwas. Christian Ethics rooted in how the church is to live as an alternative peaceable community in the world.
  7. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context by Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee. Stassen and Gushee base their ethics in the Sermon on the Mount and the “transforming initiatives of Jesus,” then move on to look at key ethical questions from war, to abortion, euthanasia, gender roles, marriage, etc.
  8. Peace by Walter Brueggemann. An Old Testament look at the shalom of God.
  9. What About Hitler? Wrestling with Jesus’s Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World by Robert W. Brimlow. Among the many questions pacifists get asked is What About Hitler? Brimlow tackles this question head on and does so with a thorough use of Scripture.
  10. What Would You Do? If a violent person threatened to harm a loved one by John Howard Yoder. In this short collection of essays a number of authors look at hypothetical questions in ethics and other ways to respond to violence.
  11. Nevertheless: Varieties of Religious Pacifism by John Howard Yoder. Yoder dispels the myth that there is only one version of pacifism by explaining the nineteen different versions of nonviolence throughout history.
  12. The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder. The most important book written on the nonviolence of Jesus in recent history Yoder shows that Jesus’ nonviolence was not simply a personal piety but the very political character of the kingdom Jesus announced and enacted.
  13. Strength of Love by Martin Luther King Jr.  This is a short book of King’s sermons all profoundly moving and deeply committed to nonviolence.

If you just want a couple of the basics I would recommend these three: The Politics of Jesus, Jesus and Nonviolence, The Peaceable Kingdom.

Edited: April 6th 6:40am

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Blog Entries Reviews

Long Reach Toward Just Peacemaking: Fuller’s Theology, News and Notes

I want to commend to you the latest Fuller Theology News and Notes, a magazine that comes out bi-annually and is edited by a Fuller professor. This issue was edited by ethcist Glenn Stassen and is called the Long Reach Toward Just Peacemaking. The issue has a number of great Christian thinkers in it talking about practical ways to embody peace in the world. What’s Just Peacemaking? A kind of hybrid between Just-war and Pacifism, but still with the historic Christian refusal to war. Here are just peacemaking’s ten practices taken from the introduction:

  1. Support nonviolent direct action. Based on Jesus’s way of transforming initiatives (Matt. 5:38–42). See James Burke’s article herein.
  2. Take independent initiatives (also Matt. 5:38-42). This is how George Bush Sr. and Mikhail Gorbachev disposed of half the nuclear weapons of America and Russia.
  3. Use cooperative conflict resolution (Matt. 5:21–26). This is how American President Jimmy Carter achieved peace in the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel. See Paul Alexander’s article and http://www.matthew5project.org.
  4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness. (Matt. 7:1–5). The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa lanced festering historical injustices in this way.
  5. Advance human rights, religious liberty, and democracy. During the twentieth century, democracies with human rights fought no wars against one another.
  6. Foster just and sustainable economic development. See Bryant Myers’s article herein.
  7. Work with cooperative forces in the international system. Empirically, the more nations are involved in international organizations, communication, travel, missions, and international trade, the less they make war.
  8. Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights. Empirically, nations more engaged in the UN avoid war more often. Unilateral policies cause more wars.
  9. Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade (Matt. 26:52). This makes war less likely.
  10. Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups. Every Church a Peace Church (www.ecapc.org) has links to church peace fellowships.

Each of the essays builds on this in one way or another. I highly recommend reading Mennonite Scholar Kent Davis article An Abrahamic Paradigm for Just Peacemaking, Fuller psychology professor Cameron Lee’s Making Peace In Our Families, and Evelyne A. Reisacher’s, who does Islamic studies and intercultural relations at Fuller, Evangelical-Muslim Peacemaking: Drink Lots of Cups of Tea.