Convergent Friends, a long definition

Robin M posts this week about two Con­ver­gent Events hap­pen­ing in Cal­i­for­nia in the next month or two. And she also tries out a sim­pli­fied def­i­n­i­tion of Con­ver­gent Friends:

peo­ple who are engaged in the renew­al move­ment with­in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends, across all the branch­es of Friends.

It sounds good but what does it mean? Specif­i­cal­ly: who isn’t for renew­al, at least on a the­o­ret­i­cal lev­el? There are lots of faith­ful, smart and lov­ing Friends out there advo­cat­ing renew­al who don’t fit my def­i­n­i­tion of Con­ver­gent (which is fine, I don’t think the whole RSoF should be Con­ver­gent, it’s a move­ment in the riv­er, not a dam).

When Robin coined the term at the start of 2006 it seemed to refer to gen­er­al trends in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends and the larg­er Chris­t­ian world, but it was also refer­ring to a spe­cif­ic (online) com­mu­ni­ty that had had a year or two of con­ver­sa­tion to shape itself and mod­el trust and account­abil­i­ty. Most impor­tant­ly we each were going out of our way to engage with Friends from oth­er Quak­er tra­di­tions and were each called on our own cul­tur­al assumptions.
The coined term implied an expe­ri­ence of sort. “Con­ver­gent” explic­it­ly ref­er­ences Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends (“Con-”) and the Emer­gent Church move­ment (“-ver­gent”). It seems to me like one needs to look at those two phe­nom­e­non and their rela­tion to one’s own under­stand­ing and expe­ri­ence of Quak­er life and com­mu­ni­ty before real­ly under­stand­ing what all the fuss has been about. That’s hap­pen­ing lots of places and it is not sim­ply a blog phenomenon.

Nowa­days I’m notic­ing a lot of Friends declar­ing them­selves Con­ver­gent after read­ing a blog post or two or attend­ing a work­shop. It’s becom­ing the term du jour for Friends who want to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves from business-as-usual, Quakerism-as-usual. This fits Robin’s sim­pli­fied def­i­n­i­tion. But if that’s all it is and it becomes all-inclusive for inclusivity’s sake, then “Con­ver­gent” will drift away away from the roots of the con­ver­sa­tion that spawned it and turn into anoth­er buzz­word for “lib­er­al Quak­er.” This is start­ing to happen.

The term “Con­ver­gent Friends” is being picked up by Friends out­side the dozen or two blogs that spawned it and mov­ing into the wild – that’s great, but also means it’s def­i­n­i­tion is becom­ing a mov­ing tar­get. Peo­ple are grab­bing onto it to sum up their dreams, visions and frus­tra­tions but we’re almost cer­tain­ly not mean­ing the same thing by it. “Con­ver­gent Friends” implies that we’ve all arrived some­where togeth­er. I’ve often won­dered whether we shouldn’t be talk­ing about “Con­verg­ing Friends,” a term that implies a par­al­lel set of move­ments and puts the rather impor­tant ele­phant square on the table: con­verg­ing toward what? What we mean by con­ver­gence depends on our start­ing point. My attempt at a label was the rather clunky conservative-leaning lib­er­al Friend, which is prob­a­bly what most of us in the lib­er­al Quak­er tra­di­tion are mean­ing by “Con­ver­gent.”

I start­ed map­ping out a lib­er­al plan for Con­ver­gent Friends a cou­ple of years before the term was coined and it still sum­ma­rizes many of my hopes and con­cerns. The only thing I might add now is a para­graph about how we’ll have to work both inside and out­side of nor­mal Quak­er chan­nels to effect this change (Johan Mau­r­er recent­ly wrote an inter­est­ing post that includ­ed the won­der­ful descrip­tion of “the love­ly sub­ver­sives who ignore struc­tures and com­mu­ni­cate on a pure­ly per­son­al basis between the camps via blogs, vis­i­ta­tion, and oth­er means” and com­pared us to SCUBA divers (“ScubaQuake​.org” anyone?).

Robin’s inclu­sive def­i­n­i­tion of “renew­al” def­i­nite­ly speaks to some­thing. Infor­mal renew­al net­works are spring­ing up all over North Amer­i­ca. Many branch­es of Friends are involved. There are themes I’m see­ing in lots of these places: a strong youth or next-generation focus; a reliance on the inter­net; a curios­i­ty about “oth­er” Friends tra­di­tions; a desire to get back to roots in the sim­ple min­istry of Jesus. What­ev­er label or labels this new revival might take on is less impor­tant than the Spir­it behind it.

But is every hope for renew­al “Con­ver­gent”? I don’t think so. At the end of the day the path for us is nar­row and is giv­en, not cho­sen. At the end of day — and begin­ning and mid­dle — the work is to fol­low the Holy Spirit’s guid­ance in “real time.” Def­i­n­i­tions and care­ful­ly select­ed words slough away as mere notions. The newest mes­sage is just the old­est mes­sage repack­aged. Let’s not get too caught up in our own hip verbage, lec­ture invi­ta­tions and glo­ri­ous atten­tion that we for­get that there there is one, even Christ Jesus who can speak to our con­di­tion, that He Him­self has come to teach, and that our mes­sage is to share the good news he’s giv­en us. The Tempter is ready to dis­tract us, to puff us up so we think we are the mes­sage, that we own the mes­sage, or that the mes­sage depends on our flow­ery words deliv­ered from podi­ums. We must stay on guard, hum­bled, low and pray­ing to be kept from the temp­ta­tions that sur­round even the most well-meaning renew­al attempts. It is our faith­ful­ness to the free gospel min­istry that will ulti­mate­ly deter­mine the fate of our work.

  • Ken­neth Henke

    I espe­cial­ly liked the last para­graph, Martin.
    Ken Henke, Moorestown Month­ly Meeting

  • I like Robin’s def­i­n­i­tion, and it doesn’t wor­ry me that the “tar­get” of con­ver­gence is not defined. It’s real­ly the dia­logue, and the atti­tude of avail­abil­i­ty for dia­logue, that seems cru­cial to me.
    I believe that Jesus Christ has come to teach his peo­ple him­self, but much of the teach­ing occurs through dia­logue. Post­mod­ern peo­ple don’t receive any­thing as self-authenticating – that’s the chal­lenge and excite­ment of evan­ge­lism in these times.

  • Some very help­ful com­ments, I think.
    It is very tricky to have an iden­ti­ty with­out it being tied to a rigid set of words. But it needs to be worked at, nevertheless.
    There needs to be a direc­tion for Con­ver­gent (or Con­verg­ing, which I agree might be a bet­ter term) Friends that gives some idea about what the loose move­ment or net­work is about enough to give folks an idea of whether it’s some­thing they’re in gen­er­al har­mo­ny with.

  • Hi Bill: I’m glad you found the long def­i­n­i­tion use­ful. In many ways you’re a pio­neer of all this, hav­ing been deeply involved with Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends in Ohio and now with Bri­an McLaren’s church. Even just being a FUM-identified Friend in Bal­ti­more prob­a­bly qual­i­fies as Con­ver­gent. All of your inter­net out­reach, most­ly late­ly with “Quak​er​in​fo​.com”:http://​www​.quak​er​in​fo​.com, has been a great resource for many of us. So I’m always inter­est­ed in your take on all this con­ver­gence talk.

  • I’ve been out of the loop for a num­ber of weeks, so I don’t know how “warm” or “cool” this top­ic is.
    Mar­tin, many of the points you bring up here are things I was half-waiting for when the word “Con­ver­gent” was first brought up: I had thought there’d be more… resis­tance… to nam­ing what­ev­er this connection/movement/trend/thingy was. But since I didn’t know exact­ly what I was wait­ing for, and I saw no resis­tance from oth­ers, I became a wit­ness to the growth we were find­ing among one anoth­er thru blogs, vis­its, etc. and wor­ried less about what it was called.
    And I paid atten­tion to the fruits that were emerg­ing. I do believe the Spir­it has been present among us…
    In this piece, you write, “we each were going out of our way to engage with Friends from oth­er Quak­er tra­di­tions and were each called on our own cul­tur­al assumptions.”
    I agree with this, that these were some of the behav­iors that fel­low Quak­er blog­gers were expe­ri­enc­ing. I would clar­i­fy that such “engage­ment” was done over email, with­in blogs, by phone, and through face-to-face meet-ups.
    I sense I have more to say, and I think it belongs over at Robin’s own post, which you reference.
    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  • Mar­tin, anoth­er too short ver­sion: thank you for writ­ing this.
    Good luck/have fun and be faith­ful at OYM©!