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Featured The Pastorate

Origin Stories: Celebrating Barberton Friends Church

Recently, Barberton Evangelical Friends Church in Barberton, Ohio – the first church I ever worked in – celebrated their 75th anniversary. As a token of my own love and appreciation for this community and their investment in me, I wanted to share some of my fond memories and role this community played in my early pastoral life.

In the fall of 2000, my systematic theology professor at Malone College pulled me aside after class and asked me what I planned to do after college. I told him that I had felt called to go into pastoral ministry. He said that sounded great and inquired about my current work situation. I told him that I was working at a place called the, “Flaming Pit,” which as you can imagine didn’t sound like the kind of place you’d find a nice Bible and Theology student hanging out. (The Flaming Pit was a BBQ restaurant and I was waiting tables). I didn’t make much money there because it was slow and small, but the owners were really sweet and let me eat dinner there when I worked, which I appreciated and often relied on because I was putting myself through college and needed all the support I could get.

Dr. Dymale, offered a suggestion, “Don’t you think it would be a good idea to try working at a church to see if you like pastoring?”

A thought that had never occurred to me!

This was pre-Quaker, pre-pastor Wess. I don’t honestly even know if I knew anything about Quakers at that point, and I was coming from a non-denominational church so I planned to just look for anything remotely interesting.

Shortly after this conversation with Dr. Dymale, I headed to the Bible & Theology department and opened the big Three-Ring binder that was full of job postings. Eventually, I found a listing for a youth pastor for Barberton Friends Church and called the church up. Next thing I know, I was eating pizza with Pastor Brian Cowan at the Pizza Oven (MY FAVORITE!) in Canton, Ohio. I don’t remember the specifics of that conversation, but I remember liking Brian and being offered the job either on the spot or shortly after.

I worked at Barberton from the winter of 2000 until the summer of 2003 when Emily and I moved to Pasadena, CA for grad school. In that 2.5 year timespan, I learned and grew a lot personally. I was challenged, found success and made some good relationships along the way. Best of all, I discovered I loved to pastor. Beyond these general things, a few specifics come to mind: I gave my first sermon at Barberton Friends. And by first sermon, I mean I preached for probably 50 minutes with basically all the ideas and thoughts I’d stored up for the first 22 years of my life! When I finished that inaugural sermon, Emily said to me that the sermon was more like two sermons and that she looked forward to my next one when I didn’t have 22 years of material stored up.

Besides being my first place to pastor, and my first place to preach, it was also the place where I became a convinced Friend, lingo for when I decided to become a Quaker. As a Bible and Theology student, coming out of a non-denominational church, I was not big on the idea of denominations. I sort of thought they were signs of a lack of faith, not as spiritual as the kind of church I was coming from. This is a perspective that some non-denominational churches have and it is one I picked up on, even though I doubt it was something explicitly stated. Being at Barberton Friends, was a curious place to find myself. I began reading about Friends history, I wanted to know who these people were that I was working for, what was their theology, what were they about? I had the experience of realizing in the midst of this study that I was already a Quaker, not that I wanted to be one, or hoped they’d accepted me, but that I was already a Quaker and had – in some way – always been one. I had the experience when reading the histories and theologies that “this puts language to things I’ve always felt and believed.” I doubt that my “convincement” registered much at Barberton Friends – I think it was something more personal and individual at this time for me, but something shifted that, as it turns out, would impact the rest of my life.

Out of this experience I began to look at the Evangelical Friends Church community – here I do not just mean Barberton but the many other churches and connections to Friends I gained through Malone – I was surrounded by. By becoming a Quaker I was instantaneously connected to a global family, a thought I loved and continue to love to this day.

I loved this community and could see how they had invested in me. I decided to begin the process of being recorded (Quaker Speak for something like an ordination process) by the yearly meeting there, but I also felt a growing tension between what I was reading in Quaker history texts and what I was seeing around me. Why did “Friends” today look so different from Friends in the first and second generations? What happened and why the disconnect? Are there ways to retrieve what is most important about that tradition for today? To a new Quaker with very little knowledge or understanding of the Quaker world these questions felt paramount, now I see them much better for what they were – my own seeking to find an expression of faith that closely aligned with my own understanding and experience. These issues eventually led me to grad school and to my dissertation and to what I do today.

In reflecting on all of this, and so much more – my friendship with Brian Cowan, his early support of me and guidance as I began my pastoral work, his commitment to helping people no matter the cost, and his deep faith continue to inspire me. The youth there – who are youth no more – many of them I remain in contact with and keep tabs on to this day. I cannot recognize the role of Barberton Friends enough. It is the place and the cause of my convincement. It was the beginning of my Quaker journey and a major catalyst for my questions around change and renewal and the Quaker tradition. I could not ask these questions, let alone understand them enough to begin to truly wrestle with them without first having been invited to be on the inside of this community, where I was able to learn not just what the books say, but experience how the people live these things out.

I celebrate the ongoing work of this community and pray for its vitality and faithfulness well into the future.

Categories
Quotations

Howard Thurman on the Act of Creation

“The simplest definition of art is that it is the activity by which people realize their ideals…We are all artists in the sense that we are all engaged in some kind of activity by which we are realizing our ideals. What kind of ideas are you realizing? There is no neutrality here. Everybody is engaged in this activity.

Is what you are realizing worthy of you, or are you engaged in the realization of ideals of which you are ashamed, and before which you stand condemned in your own sight? Long, long ago, it was said by a very wise and understanding friend, “By their fruits ye shall know them…”

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Books

Pre-Order the Print Version of “Resisting Empire”

Hi Friends, many of you has asked about a print version of “Resisting Empire” and it is almost here. You can now pre-order it:

The print version, proudly published by Quaker independent publisher Barclay Press, also has new material that is not in the kindle edition: poetry from @rashaunps, foreward by biblical scholar Wes Howard Brook, and afterword by pastor Rev. Darryl Aaron of Providence Baptist Church here in Greensboro, NC.

Here is some of what Rev. Aaron and Wes Howard Brook writes:

The book of Revelation, according to C. Wess Daniels, is a resistance text for “Angelic Trouble-makers,” who must learn how to remix, understand how scapegoating functions, recognize the shaping and forming powers of liturgy, and discover the composition of the multitude…. I pastor a people who have historically been pushed to the periphery of all existence, even ontologically declared as non-human or three-fifths human. Therefore, to read the “multitude is a beautiful tapestry woven together of all humanity, with those who were lynched, those who were oppressed and victimized, at the center with the lamb. This centering of the victims and marginalized is something that is too often missed within western, white, middle-class Christianity today,” makes my soul happy. This prophetic claim of Daniels places Black people at the heart of God.

–Rev. Darryl Aaron

No other book has been as consistently and wildly misread as has John of Patmos’s visionary narrative. And yet, at the same time, no biblical book carries as much passionate power and imagery aimed at inspiring Jesus-followers to “come out” of the place of imperial violence and domination and to dwell instead in the light- and love-filled realm of God. C. Wess Daniels masterfully and clearly lays out a series of reading strategies and perspectives culled from the best of recent scholarship to invite readers into engagement with John’s vision. If you’ve been drawn to study Revelation but have been stymied as to where or how to start, you can trust Wess’s step-by-step guidance to lead you into the depth and breadth of this unique narrative.

–Wes Howard-Brook

Categories
Quotations

“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.” 

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Uncategorized

The Banality of Evil

Recently, I was listening to a podcast from OnBeing about Hannah Arendt who spoke about what she called “the banality of evil.” (“The Banality of Evil” is covered in her 1963 book about the Jerusalem trial of Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann). The Ardent scholar on the podcast, Lyndsey Stonebridge,  explains that the “banality of evil” is the inability to hear another voice, the inability to have a dialogue either with oneself or the imagination to have a dialogue with the world, the moral world.

The banality of evil means that we are susceptible to becoming so fused with empire and its ideology that we not only fall asleep to its ills, but we actually become an extension of it.  For Arendt, this leads to passivity and alienation. This is exactly what Johns vision in the Book of Revelation is meant to warn us of and wake us up from.

Where is the Spirit inviting us to be people of the lamb that was slain in these four themes that show up in Revelation: 

  • In relationship to enemies (do we have enemies?)
  • In relationship to wealth (do we manage our wealth or does it give us freedom)
  • In relationship to how we worship and who we worship with?
  • In relationship to how we build and create community, whose voices get lifted up, who is centered and cared for us.

For more information on these themes check out my new book “Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation” visit “Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance” Kindle Edition https://amzn.to/2l7OUgI

Categories
Poetry

A Spiritual Journey by Wendell Berry

A Spiritual Journey

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, 

no matter how long, 

but only by a spiritual journey, 

a journey of one inch, 

very arduous and humbling and joyful, 

by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, 

and learn to be at home.

~ Wendell Berry ~