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.