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After 1,000 Blog Posts

Well, I just noticed that I’ve hit the 1,000 blog post mark. I’m not sure exactly what this means other than I have been blogging for a pretty long time, and have shared a lot of myself with the world. I have been blessed through this blog in more ways than one, and in many ways that I still do not see or understand. The many friendships and conversations have far outweighed the work I’ve put into this site, the difficult comments, and sometimes stressful relationship I’ve had with this site. I am proud of my little blog, and I hope that it has been a source of light and love for those of you who read it. I hope that it has been more or less facilitated a gathering in (the) Light of Christ.

Ever since I was a teen I have followed a call towards ministry. This has not always been easy, it has not always been what I wanted to do, and it hasn’t always been done in the right spirit or even in truth. I pray that for the times when I’ve been less than charitable, when I have been blind to my own sins, biases, and have been less than a Christian living Gospel Order to you that you are able to forgive me so that this space can still be light for you and not darkness. I hope this site has represented, even if simulacra, of my real self, my real journey and my conversion(s) in the process of being made into a follower of Jesus.

This is one road-map among many, but it is still a trace of who I am and I am thankful that many of you take some of your time to read and interact with me. Thank you for walking down this road with me.

I don’t know what lays after the 1,000 post mark. I don’t have any grand master scheme for this website (as hard as that may be to imagine!) but I do intend to keep it around for a long time. I hope to keep it a place for writing and reflecting on the things that spark my interest, give me life, and may (hopefully) spark yours. After all, what good is a light kept under a bushel basket? I hope to keep publishing truth as I know it and experience it for another 1,000 posts and beyond.

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Blog Entries

The New Quaker Ad Network

Just a quick note to say that Martin Kelley and Friends Journal have teamed up to create the Quaker Ad Network. Which is a pretty cool way for Quaker organizations, ministries and individuals to get the word out about events, products, etc. If you represent one of these groups you should look it up and see if it’s a good fit for you.

If you’d like to advertise on gatheringinlight.com, I will be working with the network in this way. Contact them for more details.

Here’s a quick video on what this is all about.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=13023580&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=FEF52D&fullscreen=1

Introduction to the Quaker Ad Network from Martin Kelley on Vimeo.

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Blog Entries

Conversion(s) c

This is a continuation from posts a and b.

I’ve caught myself in the last few years reacting to my Evangelical upbringing around conversion. Why does it have to look and sound one way for everyone? It’s as if to say, “Come, go through the motions, say the magic words, and you can be sure your name is in the Book of Life.” It’s only been recently that I realized my reaction has been mostly passive and negative. I’ve reacted in a way that hasn’t proactive in finding words, images and stories to frame how I understand a theology of conversion. But I think things are slowly starting to piece themselves together again. I trust that my interaction with God is true, and my experiences are trustworthy, but I no longer feel that my experience needs to be someone else’s. My experience of God is not normative for everyone else and it doesn’t have to be. Salvation can take on many forms and happens all around us. When it happens I know that it has an individual component as well as a communal one. It involves my life story and a community of people who embody the truth of salvation in the world. Salvation is never a proper formulation of words, and it is never isolated and abstracted from real life.

What seems to me to be normative are the fruits, the practices, the outcomes of an authentic experience. So then conversion becomes more about the entire journey of one’s life and how that person was faithful to God given what they had. It is about “biography as theology,” a life living out its convictions rather than paying lip service to them. I appreciates the seed of God within all people, while recognizing that we may not always in line with that seed. This helps me appreciate more where people are at in their journey, trusting that God has led them to this place. I don’t have to feel like I need to club them over the head with my ideas (though I still am guilty of this). I can invite them to enter a new space, or try and experience or interact with God in a new way, but not because they are wrong, but because I too want them to taste and see that the Lord is good for themselves.

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Blog Entries Quaker Quotations

Marriage Advice from Barrow Cadbury 1933

While preparing for a wedding this coming Saturday I ran across this quote from Barrow Cadbury (a Quaker who was related to and worked in the Cadbury Chocolate factory in Bournville England) on marital advice. I really enjoyed reading it.

Barrow Cadbury, after forty years of marriage, wrote in 1933 some notes ‘gathered from personal experience and from observation’ for the help of young people in the Bournville works:

Start out together on a fifty-fifty basis, each sharing with the other, and thereby doubly enriching both. Recognise the equality of the service each performs, even though the work differs…The wider your interests outside your regular occupation, the more companionship you will enjoy together, and the happier and more fruitful life will be. After all, if two people are going to live together for thirty, forty, or sixty years they must have interesting things to talk about, or they will get cruelly on one another’s nerves. It needs a real effort to cultivate new interests, but the effort is well repaid… The foregoing suggestions are dictated by a common-sense view of life, and common sense is one of God’s best gifts, which is not always used. But for the full enjoyment of all that God gives us in marriage and home life we need spiritual union. Underlying all must be the spiritual union and communion which bring into married life the power and grace which can carry a couple through the most difficult times of testing. The fellowship of fellow Christians which many of us enjoy when worshipping with them is of real spiritual help in life. Much in life goes by precedents, and the habit of attending a place of worship has proved of real value to many parents and children, together helping to create the spiritual bond which unites them and should unite us all.

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Blog Entries The Cultural The Theological

There is No Pure Christianity

A long while back a friend of mine wrote on his twitter this remark:

There is no pure Christianity, it is all syncretist.

And I agree with this point, all Christianity today is influenced to a smaller or larger extent by outside forces. I’m not sure it’s ever been any different to tell the truth.

But I want to take this statement in a slightly different direction. What I have been thinking of lately is something more like:

There is no pure christianity, it is all interpretation.

And I don’t think this is necessarily a problem at all. Questions like “what is Christianity?” and “what does it mean to identify as a Quaker?” are ones that I’ve been thinking about a lot, partly because I’m currently preaching on Quaker testimonies and some of the more specific practices within our particular denomination, but it’s also because of the things I hear in general conversation and in the media.

It is not unusual for people to claim “Christianity is this,” “Christianity is that,” “I am a biblical Christian,” or “I am rooted in Christianity and then I go from there.” For many, all you have to do is assent to a couple value-free ideas about faith and everything is peachy-keen. But even to say something as basic as “Jesus is Lord,” is loaded with cultural, theological, spiritual, historical, and narrative significance that cannot be fully understood, appreciated or experienced outside of these things. And I suppose all of this is fine on the surface but what it betrays is that many of us still assume a Christendom culture, or a general understanding that there is one monolithic Christianity that everyone pretty much understands and accepts at some level. But this is just not the case. And for many the Christianity they understand is the Christianity of the 700 Club, the Christianity of the street preachers at the Saturday Market in downtown Portland hooting and hollering damnation at every passer-by. For many, there is no alternative to this, this is for them the only image of Christianity they have ever witnessed.

When people say “I am simply a Christian and that settles it,” or “the basics of Christianity are…” I always wonder, and sometimes ask, which Christianity are they talking about? It has never been a good idea to talk about the Christian faith within the abstract, or in the generic. But that is exactly what is happening today in a world where biblical language, theological imagery, and other Christian assumptions of the Reformation period can no longer be assumed. Today, when we share Christianity with people (I think) it always needs to be couched in our communities, our traditions, and the stories of people who are actually working this stuff out. The Bible is a part of this, but arguing from it alone as though a couple straight-forward ideas will remedy the problems is (IMO) fools-play and makes light of the transformative power of our Lord.

So when we talk about Christian faith are we talking about a Christianity that supports empire or creation? Are we talking about a Christian faith that is rooted in the life of Jesus, or one that simply focuses on his death and resurrection? Are we talking about Christianity of the creeds, or Christianity of the queries? Are we talking about the Christianity of George Fox, John Calvin, Dorothy Day, Lucretia Mott, or George Bush? And while it is possible that somewhere deep down inside the root of all this there is a common thread, but I think we are too far past a point where we can reach that common thread. And for some of this stuff it’s not an either or (for instance, we are all (at least us Americans) implicated in empire whether we like it or not), but what does it lean towards?

We are in a world of interpretations and not only should we not forget this, but we might try embracing it. In fact, I think that they are the very things that can help us discover something that is more meaningful and real than if we are left to simple generic forms of Christianity. So much of what passes as “church” these days is a rip off from a commercial on broadcast TV, a stolen play from a big-box store playbook, or a thinly cloaked politics borrowed from the latest town hall rally or social protest. The capitalist model of faith is one where choice is king. We pick and choose what we like, what feels right, what looks, acts, and talks like us and in the process everything is left bland and generic (both conservative and liberal camps are guilty of this). Another way is to assume for ourselves a tradition that is made up of practices, stories, characters, and particular filters (some helpful and some not) and become people who enter into the Christian faith through that corridor. We can offer an alternative to the street preacher/screamer, but that alternative will not on its own look at all like what passes as Christianity today.

So maybe the fact that there is no pure Christianity at this point is actually helpful if we think about it from the perspective of interpretations and traditions.

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Blog Entries Quotations The Biblical

Psalm 52: A Letter to Wall Street and Those of Similar Persuasion

Psalm 52. He and she who has ears to hear let them listen. To the fat cats of American capitalism:

Why do you boast, O mighty one,
of mischief done against the godly?
All day long you are plotting destruction.

Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking the truth.

You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.

But God will break you down forever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living.

The righteous will see, and fear,
and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,

“See the one who would not take
refuge in God,
but trusted in abundant riches,
and sought refuge in wealth!”

But [we are] like a green olive tree
in the house of God.

[We] trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.

[We] will thank you forever,
because of what you have done.

In the presence of the faithful
[we] will proclaim your name, for it is good.

(Psa 52:1–9)

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Featured Practices Quaker Sermons

The Queries and A Life of Discernment

Introduction

Our world is made up of questions and ambiguities. Probably all of you have watched Jeopardy. The unique thing about the game of Jeopardy, besides its suave host Alex Trebek, is that the contestants respond with a question in order to score points.  For instance: Here is an answer for 500 points — July 4. The question: When is America’s birthday? Jeopardy’s unique gameplay suggests that sometimes questions are what is most important. What is most important in our day, we might say, is not so much having the right answer as it is coming up with the right questions.

Quakers have been living with questions for a really long time. These questions have been known as queries, most of you are familiar with them by now and they have a history of their own. The first reference I have found to queries is in George Fox’s journal in 1657. There he writes of queries that he posed to local professors and priests to challenge their lack of scriptural and spiritual insight (professors were people who professed to be Christians but didn’t possess the life of the Spirit).  But the first official queries were used in the 1660’s as the Quaker movement began to be more organized: “It was London Yearly Meeting that employed them “to gauge the health of the Society and provide specific information: “How does Truth prosper among you?” or “How many Friends have suffered for Truth in the past year?’” Are two examples (T. Hamm, email correspondence).

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Featured Quaker Sermons The Theological

John Woolman is Dead

Opening Prayer (from the bulletin?)

“John Woolman is dead.” These words may at first appear to be simply an obvious  statement, uninteresting and useless. For some, it may be meaningless.Who is John Woolman, anyways? For others, to say that the 17th century Quaker abolitionist is dead understates the obvious in a similar way to someone who says “We get rain in the Northwest.”

But these words, John Woolman is dead, holds more power than you might guess at first glance. These are some of the very last words written in his Journal which is now known as an American classic. Woolman is best known for almost bare-handedly wrestling the monstrous abolition beast, the way one might take on a wild boar! He is responsible for convincing countless Quaker meetings West of the Atlantic to stop supporting this unjust system. When, in 1757 Philadelphia Quakers wrote a  testimony against slavery, it was no small victory, yet it took much longer to convince those in the south that this was the right thing to do. So, he turned his attention south and got to work. Many also remember him for his equally important work with the Native Americans, his plain lifestyle and voluntary simplicity,  his refusing to pay war taxes during the French and Indian war, and his deep concern for the poor, animals and the environment. He stands as a looming figure in Quaker history, a saint by most standards today. Woolman was a man who believe that it only takes one person to make a difference, if that person was attentive to the Light. Not that it was done in isolation, it is obvious he was formed by a community and the Quaker tradition, but it was he who had to make the choice to follow his guide.

But even still, John Woolman is dead.