I recently went through and changed most of my online profiles, email signatures, and even our bulletin for Sunday morning it from “pastor” to “released minister” as that language seems to fit where I am at better. So now, at least on paper, that’s the language I use to describe my work. But in day-to-day language I move between these two labels depending on who I am talking to and the context in which the discussion takes place. I have been getting a lot of questions about what it means so I thought I’d share it here. I am going to write more from a place of what it means to me, rather than here’s the history. If you are a person who knows some of the history or other details behind this I would love for you to leave a comment below.
I thought I would post what I would have said, if I would have preached the other day. (Given that please forgive the very unpolished nature of this piece).
The love of a Parent is powerful. For instance, the other night L came running into our room balling. Now typically, I sleep like a rock but when one of our two children start balling in the middle of the night I’m up in a flash. That night, I was up and running toward L before I realized what was happening. In the middle of crying she said something about owls and was almost unconsolable. My heart melted, I hate seeing her scared of anything. Similar feelings come when she prays at night to be able to eat eggs again (she’s currently on an elimination diet that includes eggs because of some pretty serious food allergies). Finally, one of the good feelings a parent has is when they see their child excited and happy. The other day we were at an unnamed store and L found a piano she was totally into. She played with it and begged us to take the piano home. While we didn’t buy the piano it was fun to watch her take so much pleasure in making music, it brought real joy to both of us. For parents there is a 1 to 1 correspondence between how their child feels and how they feel. Whether pain, saddness or joy, we feel it.
For many people of faith, this week includes two major religious holidays with Rosh Hashanah for the Jewish community and Eid al-Fitr for the Islamic community. However, this week is also charged by the memories of 9/11, plans to build a community center and prayer space in a building 2 blocks from Ground Zero and the furor over threats to burn The Qu’ran, the sacred Muslim text, by a pastor and his followers in Florida. We are grieved at some Americans misunderstanding of one of the worlds largest religions. We celebrate the rich diversity within all faith traditions. We stand together to honor the Islamic Society of Southwest Washington and all Muslims who are our neighbors.
Over the last week I’ve had a number of appointments cancel on me or just not show up. It’s only weird because it has happened with the last four meetings in a row and it is something that usually doesn’t happen. I keep wondering, along with the double rainbow guy, “what does it mean?” I actually don’t mind when things like this happen at all. I almost always have a few books with me and enough other things to keep me busy that when someone doesn’t show up to a meeting or shows up late I just take it as unscheduled “free” time and use that to either get a little caught up on something else or sit back and enjoy a little time to read. (Which consequently I feel like I do not have enough scheduled time for). The other day during one of these periods of unscheduled time, that had been previously scheduled, I caught site of someone who appeared rather distressed. This person was outside shouting and all around looked pretty upset. At first I just tried to remain focused on reading, after all this was my chance to get caught up! But the shouting and commotion continued so I decided to find out what was going on. When I asked the person, someone I already have an established friendship with, he said he had just had something stolen from behind his house and then he said, “It’s just not my week.” Now I am no sage but I took that as an invitation to find out more about what was going on. It turns out that his relationship with his girlfriend is on the rocks, which jeopardizes his living situation (he’s out of work), and it jeopardizes his relationship with their child, and a whole swath of other issues.
This past weekend 29 youth and 3 adult leaders who have been traveling on a month long spiritual pilgrimage through the Pacific Northwest took a (planned) detour through Camas Washington and spent a few days with those of us at Camas Friends. They all slept and ate in our meeting house, and joined us for worship on Sunday morning. There was only one programmed friend in the bunch and he is from Northwest Yearly Meeting. The rest were unprogrammed and mostly from the US and from around the UK and Europe. There was one “token” Canadian as they called him. For most of the friends on this trip their worshipping with us on Sunday was the first time they’ve been to a programmed Friends meeting and I could tell it was a stretch for many as well. But they were gracious, curious, and took it all in. After worship we had planned a BBQ potluck complete with four grills and tons of food. People in our meeting stayed and ate and struck up conversations with these young people and it was really great to see how many of the pilgrims mixed in with our people who they didn’t know while they ate.
One of my favorite conversation was with a couple of pilgrims who came up to me while I was flipping burgers and said, “We’d like to do a programmed worship service during our trip, but we don’t know how to do one. Can you show us?” I scratched my head a little and said, “Well, I guess I never really thought about it before, but sure!” We had a great time coming up with some ideas for them.
Then we split up and some went for a hike in LaCamas Park while others of us went swimming at the Sandy Swimming Hole. While the water was only 69 degrees and a little to chilly for my own taste it seemed like the pilgrims enjoyed being out in the natural and beautiful surroundings.
Editorial note: This week we discussed over email the question “What comes to mind for you when you think of plainness (or simplicity)?” We had a ton of responses from people on our church’s email group. All the responses were thoughtful and helpful. Because there was such a great response I didn’t have to cover some of the basics of this question. One thing that came out of the emails was the fact that some feel more drawn to the word simplicity over plainness or vice versa. This was a big part of the discussion over email. Even still, for those who liked one or the other, the outcome, or way that people shared was similar. I even found myself swapping in plainness where some wrote simplicity, because I am one who prefers the older term for this testimony. The message assumes this prior email conversation.
Plainness vs. Simplicity
One thing I found really interesting over the course of our emails was the discussion that arised around the particular words I suggested: plainness and simplicity. What is funny is that many of you gravitated towards simplicity and for me it was an after thought to put simplicity in there.
My guess is that when people hear plain, they hear amish, old order, dull, maybe even uncool.
If I had to choose, I actually tend to use plainness far more often for two reasons. First, it is more historical accurate as the word early Friends used when they discussed these issues (that and wanton minds!). For instance, George Fox wrote an epistle (no. 250) which challenged Friends to keep out of the vain fashions of the world…[and] to keep in modesty and plainness, fervency and sinceity and be circumspect…take heed of the worlds fashions, lest you be moulded up into their spirit. Early Friends believed that the powers of the world, which included fashions, and what we might call consumer culture today, had the power to mold us into its likeness rather than Gods.
It is also known as the testimony of plainness in the old faith and practices. Heres a statement from 1746, which falls under the heading plainness, but also includes the other word:
We tenderly exhort all, seriously to consider the plainness and simplicity which the gospel enjoins, and to manifest it in their speech, apparel, furniture, salutations and conversation, into which our forefathers were led by the Spirit of Christ, in conformity with his precepts and example; and for which they patiently suffered long imprisonments, and great persecutions; being convinced that it was their duty thus to bear a testimony against the vain spirit of the world.1746.
There are many examples of this taking place in early Quakerism: Speech, Church buildings, Titles, Clothing, Public amusements, Sports, etc.
For William Penn, the cares and pleasures of this life choke and destroy the seed of the Kingdom, and quite hinder all progress in the hidden and divine life.
The other reason why I have tended to prefer it is becuase I find it to be more direct, the fact that it rubs us the wrong way isnt necessary a bad thing. For one thing hasnt our culture co-opted simplicity? Think of every product, every gadget that promises to make your life more simple. There is the simplicity of design that we see in modern furniture, cell phones, vehicles, kitchen-wares, theres the time-saving and simplification devices that can help you spend time on the people who really matter. Whatever grit the word simplicity had, in my opinion, was lost on marketing table years ago.
Plainness in my mind has more teeth than simplicity (even if misunderstood). We know when something is plain. And before we write it off, think for a moment what you dont like about the word? Where do those feelings come from? My sense is that we have a really hard time reconciling with the idea that we might not fit in, that what we will do might be percieved as a little off, odd, or strange. One person mentioned over email that it is surely no compliment to be the plain kid in school. And the nick name plain jane is anything but a pick up line. We want to be followers of Christ so long as it is socially acceptable.
Have you watched the movie Almost Famous [Taken From JR’s blog]? Its a story about a 15-year old boy who gets to go on tour with a band called Stillwater in the early seventies. His task is to write an article for Rolling Stone Magazine. Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays the main character Lester Bangs has this classic line he says in the film, The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when youre uncool.
For early Friends, the point wasnt that they did these things to be weird, or to look different, plainness wasnt an end goal. In fact, it was much the opposite and when we look back at early Friends and admire their faith, their courage and sacrifice we need to remember that this kind of vibrant and beautiful faith stemmed from a conviction that what really matters is our faithfulness to being obedient to the way of Christ. Plainness was the practice that helped them to be free to do this. Plainness is a means, it is a conviciton that in order to follow Christ, somethings in life have to be given up, somethings need to be sacrificed because they work against Christian discipleship. They mold us in a different direction. They believed that in our world there are two powers at work, the power of the Lord, and the power of the evil one, these two masters are constantly battling, and the way we live our lives, what we invest ourselves in, what we spend our time on, what we put our hands to furthers one or two of these kingdoms. This is the point Jesus is making about the two different kinds of treasures in our passage this morning. This was a church that sought to avoid anything superflous, wanton, and vain because they wanted to get to the heart of authentic Christian life.
Consequences of a Life Following Christ
Another point about this is that for Early Friends faith was much more like a taking on a covenant of marriage than it was to believe in a set of rules or doctrines. There was this idea that upon recognizing and coming under the power of Christ one enters into a covenant with the Lord in a way that his or her life is entirely re-made. All their choices, the way they live, how they act, what they enjoy, their priorities all change because of this covenantal encounter with Christ, similar to what you have when you get married. Once your married you no longer live for yourself, everything you do, every choice you make takes into account the needs, desires, and your love for your spouse.
Over time, in the 19th century, this idea of a covenant with Christ transformed into church being more about a contract of a set of rules that someone signs. This is when the word plainness was dropped and the word simplicity was picked up. Simplicity is a little easier to accept, and after all what is simple to one person doesnt have to be simple to another. Thus, it became uprooted from the context of a community and was more a testimony as rule, rather than a testimony as a consequence. That communal, consequence of conviction that arises from obedience to Christ became a lifestyle rule that we choose on own privately how we handle it.
So then, when we talk about testimonies, regardless of the words that we use, I think we need to recapture this idea of communal, consequence of conviction. That we collectively consider how the Spirit of Christ is leading us to live our lives, what Christ is guiding us to spend our time on, our money on, etc. Christian discipleship requires sacrifice and a giving up of oneself, that will lead us to cultivate a plain life.
Treasures of Enough
In our bibical text this morning, which comes again from the Sermon on the Mount – like our previous two testimonies, Jesus talks about what we possess, who we serve, and our stance towards that which we need to live. Here is where Jesus talks about the two treasures, and the two masters.
In v. 19-21 Jesus says that where your investments are is where your attention is. So if you have a bunch of invetsments in the stock market and they bomb, you know what hes getting at in a real way. But he doesnt just mean your investments. I think what he means here is anything that makes you unfree, anything that molds you into its own likeness and begins to control your time, your resources, your identity, your allegiances, etc.
Our treasures on earth, whatever that may be, are the obstacles to our discipleship with Christ, they bind us up and make us unfree. To Jesus, stuff changes our lives, wealth distorts our priorities from the kingdom of God. All around him he saw people being ignored because they were sick and poor, or exploited to make others rich. His entire ministry was to welcome these kinds of people who were casualties of money and power. Jesus says your heart is with your treasures, that means your true loyalty, your love, your passion is with what your heart possesses.
Nothing enslaves more than that which we cannot live without. – S. Hauerwas
The testimony of plainness today then asks, what is it that makes you unfree? Where is the treasure of your heart? What can you not live without? We need to repent of being This is because we are possessed by our possessions, and turn to God who gives real treasure.
Abundance of Creation
Finally, we turn to the last portion of our text where Jesus talks about the lilies of the field, the birds of the air and clothing the grass of the field. I think is appropriate for our times because many of us are worried about what is going on with Jobs, etc. If you want to know what a new revision of the testimony of plainness might be, then we need to return to creation for our theology and include it in this conversation. Because Jesus sees it as the main example of God tending, caring for, and treasuring what is beautiful and in a way that all is cared for.
Why are the animals important in a reflection on plainness? For one there is a natural beauty in the created world that doesnt require superflous things. Another is that the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, and the grass of the field do not worry and I think to live a plain life is resistance to our current consumer culture which causes undue amounts of worry. They trust that God is a God of abundance. It is us who do not trust. Our lack of trust comes out in hording. We take (and consume) as much as we can, as much as is allowed by our credit reports, because we do not trust that God is a God of abundance. Worry is a symptom of our desire for control over our circumstances, worry is also a symptom of our being molded by a consmer culture. If we do not worry, then we are content, and if we are content with who we are and what we have, then we will not sucomb to latest marketing pitch.
Abundance, not scarcity, is the mark of Gods care for creation. But our desire to live without fear cannot help but create a world of fear constitude by the assumption that there is never enough. Such a world cannot help but be a world of injustice and violence because it is assumed that under conditions of scarcity our only chance for survivial is to have more. (S. Hauerwas, 82)
The more (superflous) things we try to amass for ourselves, the more we are operating out of an understanding that God is a God of scarcity rather than abudnace. For us to not worry is to resist the anxieties of our world and live in a way that is marked by a life that lives out of a covenant with Christ, ready and free to be obedient when he leads us.
If we learn to see God the way Jesus saw him, as a God who can be trusted, who abundantly cares for all creation, including us, then we can grow into a community who operates out of that place of trust. Who recieves only what is given, who does not hoard, who shares with all, who does not over extend and exploit others, whether people or creation, we can then live a live of plainness, unfettered and free to follow Jesus Christ.
Last fall a few of us (younger) Quaker ministers from the Northwest Yearly Meeting got together to start work on a podcast. After a little deliberation we decided to call it Composting Quakerism (Facebook page), bringing together two of my very favorite things. Compost is rife with theological allusion, and packed full of living organisms in various stages of decay. The idea behind the podcast is to assume that within Quakerism there is both the decay, as well as that rich soil ready for new life. Each podcast we ask basic questions, does the Quaker faith have relevance in our lives, what is it like being Quaker ministers in the 21st century, and what needs to change.
On initial launch our facebook page steadily ramped up to 170 people, not too bad for a podcast by Quakers! There’s been little feedback, but I know people listen because we’ll randomly get a friendly comment here or there about something we talked about. The podcast is really a roundtable discussion where Jason, Darla and I share stories, do a little talk about history, and then try and find ways to apply this in our new context. Our audio equip leaves a little to be desired so you may have to crank up the volume, but hey, we are fashioning our project around compost after all.
Just the other day I said to my wife, Emily, “I really like being a dad.” I will tell our oldest daughter L that from time to time as well. I find that there are some events that take place, some moments along the journey of the day that really remind me that I really love being dad. Some of the things that typify this experience are things I remember doing with my dad(s): wrestling, making tents, playing on the playground and working on bikes are a few that come to mind. There are other days and other experiences that are completely new and these too have a way of helping me see, even if the glass through which I look is dark, what is so great about fatherhood.
Today was one of those days. I had been planning all week to take L down to our local bike shop, Camas Bike and Sport, to join in their one year anniversary festivities. I’ve been noticing that L has been showing interest in bikes a lot lately. She likes to check out mine and ask me about it, she likes to look at other people’s bikes, and we have an old, non-working, bike a neighbor left behind that she consistently asks to ride. So my idea was to hook up our burley trailer so that she and I could ride to the bike shop together, hang out, eat some free grub and let her do a little “window shopping.”
Well, for one, every moment with a 2.5 year old is a potential treasure trove of stories waiting to happen. She helped me assemble the hitch so to my bike so we could connect the trailer, all the while explaining to me how to do it with arms waving as she paced back and forth as if she was explaining a matter of grave importance. Then, when my hands were to big to pull a spring out of the gear shaft it was jammed in, she was able to grab it with her tiny fingers with no problem. Except one thing. She said, “Dad, hands dirty. Want to wash them!” Okay, not quite my little greasemonkey yet, but then again, I couldn’t wait to go wash my hands either. 😉
She loved riding in the trailer and frequently commanded, as only someone riding in something that looks way too much like an ancient Roman chariot would, “faster, faster, want to go faster.”
When we got to the bike shop we said hello to a few friends there. Checked out all the fancy bikes, while desperately trying to ward off envy, enjoyed eating some tacos provided by the Mexican restaurant across the street. (I put in a few raffle tickets to win a new commuter bike, but since I haven’t received any phone calls since yesterday, I’ll take that as an indication of how the raffle turned out.) I don’t think L has ever eaten hard-shelled tacos before (she’s had plenty of Mexican in her life however) and she loved it. But one of the things that cracked me up was that she only wanted to eat the bottom part of the taco were all the meat was (not something your vegetarian mother likes to hear!). And lastly, I got her to try out some different bikes. I am kind of interested in one of those balance bikes. I guess the theory goes, that kids are better off learning balance first on bikes with no peddles. Once they get that down (by age 3 for many) peddling is really easy. Sounds good to me. So we tried some out. L really only liked it if I would pull her around on it with her legs up in the air. Finally, she said, “Dad, I want a real bike.” As she ran over to the Barbie pink two-wheeler with training wheels (also happened to be twice as expensive as the balance bike!). So we rode that around for awhile. She’s been talking about riding bikes all day long now.
When we got home to take a nap I was pretty tired. So when I tried putting her to bed, I kept falling asleep. she’d grab my face and turn it toward her to check and see if I was still awake. I fell asleep while telling her a storied about a little girl who rode her pink bike back and forth to school and all the adventures she went on.
Text from my sermon June 13, 2010.
This morning we begin our summer long discussion on Quaker testimonies with the testimony of truthfulness, or what has more typically been called the testimony of truth-telling, honesty, integrity, against oath-taking, etc.
Irregardless of what we call it, listening to, learning, and living the truth are the central activities to the Quaker tradition of truth. These practices of the truth what we see in Gods own acts: when God speaks, God speaks truth, when God acts (as we see in the life of Jesus), God acts truthfully, and when we build communities based on the Holy Spirit these communities become learning communities of truth.