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Robin M posts this week about “two Convergent Events”:http://robinmsf.blogspot.com/2007/07/two-convergent-events-in-california.html happening in California in the next month or two. And she also tries out a simplified definition of Convergent Friends:
bq. 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”:http://robinmsf.blogspot.com/2006/01/robinopedia-convergent-friends.html 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”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservative_Friends (“Con-”) and the “Emergent Church movement”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergent_church (“-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”:http://www.quakerranter.org/conservative_liberal_quakers_and_not_becoming_a_leastcommondenominator_sentimental_faith.php, 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”:http://www.quakerranter.org/emergent_church_movement_the_younger_evangelicals_and_quaker_renewal.php 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”:http://johanpdx.blogspot.com/2007/07/fum-retreat-what-did-we-accomplish.html 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.
Robin M over at What Canst Thou Say? has been hanging out with emergent church folks recently and reports back in a few posts. It’s definitely worth reading, as is some of what’s been coming out of the last week’s youth gathering at Barnesville (including Micah Bales report) and the annual Conservative Friends gathering near Lancaster Pa., which I’ve heard bits and pieces about on various Facebook pages.
It sound like something’s in the air. I wish I could sit in live in some of these conversations but just got more disappointing news on the job front so I’ll continue to be more-or-less homebound for the foreseeable future. Out to pasture, that’s me! (I’m saying that with a smile on my face, trying not to be tooooo whiny!)
Robin’s post has got me thinking again about emergent church issues. My own dabbling in emergent blogs and meet-ups only goes so far before I turn back. I really appreciate its analysis and critique of contemporary Christianity and American culture but I rarely find it articulating a compelling way forward.
I don’t want to merely shoehorn some appropriated Catholic rituals into worship. And pictures of emergent events often feel like adults doing vacation bible school. I wonder if it’s the “gestalt” issue again (via Lloyd Lee Wilson et al), the problem of trying to get from here to there in an ad hoc manner that gets us to an mishmash of not quite here and not quite there. I want to find a religious community where faith and practice have some deep connection. My wife Julie went off to traditional Catholicism, which certainly has the unity of form and faith going for it, while I’m most drawn to Conservative Friends. It’s not a tradition’s age which is the defining factor (Zoroastrianism anyone?) so much as its internal logic. Consequently I’m not interested in a Quakerism (or Christianity) that’s merely nostalgic or legalistic about seventeenth century forms but one that’s a living, breathing community living both in its time and in the eternity of God.
I’ve wondered if Friends have something to give the emergent church: a tradition that’s been emergent for three hundred years and that’s maintained more or less regular correspondence with that 2000 year old emergent church. We Friends have made our own messes and fallen down as many times as we’ve soared but there’s a Quaker vision we have (or almost have) that could point a way forward for emergent Christians of all stripes. There’s certainly a ministry there, perhaps Robin’s and perhaps not mine, but someone’s.
- Indiana Friend Brent Bill started a fascinating new blog last week after a rather contentious meeting on the future of Friends leadership. Friends in Fellowship is trying to map out a vision and model for a pastoral Friends fellowship that embodies Emergent Church leader Brian McLaren’s idea of a “generous orthodoxy.” Interesting stuff that echos a lot of the “Convergent Friends” conversation (here, here, and here) and mirrors some of the dynamics that have been going on within liberal Friends. The QuakerQuaker conversation has thus far been most intense among evangelical and liberal Friends, with middle American “FUM” Friends mostly sitting it out so it’s great to see some connections being made there. Read “Friends in Fellowship” backwards, oldest post to newest and don’t miss the comments as Brent is modeling a really good back and forth process with by answering comments with thoughtful posts.
- Famously unapologetically liberal Friend Chuck Fager has some interesting correspondence over on A Friendly Letter about some of the elephants in the Friends United Meeting closet. Interesting and contentious both, as one might expect from Chuck. Well worth a read, there’s plenty there you won’t find anywhere else.
- Finally, have I gushed about how fabulous the new’ish ConservativeFriend.org website is? Oh yes, I have, but that’s okay. Visit it again anyway.
A project from Estonia, a “blog of postcards for world peace”:http://postcardworldpeace.blogspot.com. From the site:
bq. The idea is simple: Send us a postcard from your country/city (or any postcard you want) writing in the backside a message of peace to the World. All the postcards will be uploaded in the blog, and there will be a record of how many postcards per country we receive (including a map showing the coverage).
There have been a few recent posts about the state of the Quaker blogosphere. New blogger Richard M wrote about “Anger on the Quaker blogs”:http://quakerphilosopher.blogspot.com/2006/08/anger-on-quaker-blogosphere.html and LizOpp replied back with ” Popcorn in the Q-blogosphere?”:http://thegoodraisedup.blogspot.com/2006/08/popcorn-in-q-blogosphere.html.
Last night LizOpp, Robin M and myself hosted our FGC Gathering interest group. The title was “On Fire!: Renewing Quakerism through a Convergence of Friends.” All morning long we’ve had Friends grabbing our arms to tell us how powerful and important it was for them. One well-traveled Friend went so far as to say the spontaneous worship that occurred halfway through was the deepest he’s experienced in twenty years of Quakerism. The obvious challenge for us hosts is keeping our egos securely tamed from all this praise.
The work wasn’t ours. We simply set the stage. My first impulse is to say we helped create an environment where the Spirit could break into the event, but that’s not really it. We tried to create a space where participants would recognize when the Spirit knocked on the door.
|Food for Fire participants.Bloggers at the workshop pose for a goofy attacking-one-another photo.|
What happened last night felt similar to what happened in last February’s Powell House Food for the Fire workshop. While I took notes and journaled a lot about it I never gave a followup blog post. It was powerful and I needed to digest it. Luckily participants Rob, Amanda and Zach and Claire all shared about it or its themes in the weeks afterwards.
I’d like to share something about the assumptions and preparation that went into these two events. There’s no way to create a cookie-cutter agenda to force a deep spiritual high. In fact part of what’s needed is to move beyond predictability. Both times I’ve had a clear sense that a point came when I was no longer facilitating, where Spirit was actively guiding us and participants were actively responding to that process, even eldering us past the control of facilitation.
When I came to Powell House I had a workshop description and a keen interest in the topic. What I didn’t bring was an agenda. I’m trying to experiment with not being too prepared.* Early Friends held open meetings and while they often bore concerns and had themes that frequently reoccurred in their ministry. Friends today rely very much on models borrowed from higher education: we have workshops that expect agendas, we give talks that expect pre-printed speeches. These are often the opportunities we get for teaching ministries, yet they are very programmed. The challenge is to figure out how to subvert them to allow for unprogrammed surprise.
At Powell House I spent time before each session walking around the grounds in prayer for guidance on what to do next. I had brainstormed ideas beforehand but my main preparation had been a lot of Quaker reading and prayer in the weeks preceeding the event. I wanted the sessions to connect to the spiritual condition of the participants, as individuals and as a group. There were a few moments I thought I was nuts. For example, walking around before the Powell House Saturday afternoon session it seemed like reading a chapter of Samuel Bownas’s Description of the Qualifications would be a good idea, but by mid-afternoon I could see the sleepy faces. We did it anyway and faces and spirit lit up. People wanted to engage with Bownas. As it turns out we read all of chapter three, “Advice to Ministers in a State of Infancy.” It was so cool.
The real inbreaking happened a little later. The group was tired, dinner was nearing. I started to recommend we go into a circle to break up. One Friend interrupted, looked at another across the room and said “you have something to say, don’t you.” The second Friend said yes, then challenged us that we hadn’t actually answered our queries at all. The main question was still on the table. “What are we called to do?” There was a release. I knew I was not in control of the workshop anymore. We came into a prayer circle and started to talk about some of this. One Friend said something about naming who it is that call us. A theme came out that it wasn’t enough for us to find some sort of personal salvation and comfort in our Quaker meetings: we needed to bring all the world into this if it was to be meaningful. It truly felt like the Holy Spirit was in the room. It wasn’t necessarily so comfortable and it somehow seemed like not enough, but it pointed to the work we needed to do afterwards.
Last night, at the FGC interest group, something similar happened. Robin, Liz and I had planned out the first half of the meeting. The most important piece: coming early to sit in prayer and holding it well past the time the interest group was supposed to start. The work of Friends needs to be rooted in worship. We need to be still enough to hear the Holy Spirit. If the medium is the message, our message was about the need to not pack ourselves in with agendas. We started predicatbly enough by asking the fifty-or-so participants to give their names and to name a spiritual practice that gives them joy. We asked for space in between speakers to keep worship at the fore and we were blessed by a self-faciliating group; Friends did hold the spaces in between.
Then the three of us told our stories of starting spiritually-focused blogs and coming to find a fellowship that extended beyond our traditional Quaker branches (hence the term “Convergence of Friends”). I went first and explained that I trying to be careful not to do this to lift myself up. My story is simple and like those of many Friends. I was giving testimony. The idea of testimony rang throughout the evening. Robin’s story in particular was very grounded and coming last it took us into the unprogrammed agenda-less time we had left free. Friends rose to give testimony of other “convergent” experiences, for example particpation in the Northwest Women’s Theological Conferences, events of the Western branch of the Christian Friends Fellowship.
At some point a woman I didn’t know stood up without being recognized and she had a pose of supplication. My first though, “oh no!” Then I noticed another Friend, worshipful in spirit, who pointed her to us. She said she was going to sing a song. “Oh no again!” I thought. But this was the facilitation coming off our shoulders. This was a Friend rising to name what we needed and another Friend pointing that we needed to go this direction. It was like the two Powell House Friends: one recognizing in the other a need to share ministry and being willing to break through “proper” group process. At the interest group the song was powerful, it brought us to a place where we could be low and thankful. We were now spontaneously in worship.
Liz, Robin and I had planned some closing worship but this wasn’t the time yet. But it was the time and the suceeding ministry was heartfelt and largely from the Source.
The only funny aside was that we felt we couldn’t let the group go on past our 8:45 end time, for the simple reason that childcare ended then and we needed to let parents go. We mentioned this around 8:30 but twenty minutes later the worship was continuing. Just then the cellphone of the Friend giving ministry went off: it was his daughter calling to ask where he was! He turned off the phone but it gave us the excuse to close the meeting and invite an extended meeting to continue outside. This was wonderful as there were a number of other similarly-themed interest groups (one on youth ministries, the other on the World Gathering of Young Friends) and participants from all three groups met outside and continued the sharing for another two hours.
Lessons? Simply to ground workshop events in worship, let the agenda be empty enough for the Spirit to intervene (having backup exercises just in case it doesn’t is fine!). I don’t think this is a foolproof method. A lot depends on the participants and how willing they are to share in the faciliation and worship. A lot also depends on Friends breaking into the agenda, for both times that was what turned the event from a workshop to a gathered meeting.
* For me the danger is a personal style that has long relied on a last-minute miracles (I was the kind of college student who read all the material through the semester but didn’t actually start writing anything until the night before an assignment was due). I don’t want my theology to be an excuse for my procrastination and I try to test this regularly.
Lots of folks have been talking about the Gathering and the Monday night interest group:
- Co-faciliator LizOpp also details some of the process of the Interest Group and of the semi-impromptu multi-generational interest group afterwards. She’s also written about the visits from Freedom Friends Church.
- Co-facilitator RobinM has the first of a handful of promised posts where she emphasizes the importance of grounding and starting the session in worship.
- ChrisM describes how he couldn’t sleep after the Interest Group.
- Dave T has a quick check-in and description.
- Paul L felt a real covering of the meeting halfway through the Interest Group.
- Both AJ Schwanz and Gregg Koskela have posts about a post-Gathering meet-up of some Friends around a picnic table in Oregon.
I’m sure more reaction posts are up there and I’ll link to them as I find them. I suspect that in addition to being the biggest group Quaker blogger photo to date (sorry Gregg!), this will end up being the most blogged about Quaker event yet, at least till Wess gathers West Coasters together next month. I counted at least 20 Quaker bloggers at the Gathering.