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Convergent Friends, a long definition

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.

A Quaker model for emergence?

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.

Else­where:

  • 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 (herehere, 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 Con​ser​v​a​tive​Friend​.org web­site is? Oh yes, I have, but that’s okay. Visit it again anyway.

Neat idea: postcard for World Peace

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).

Munching on the wheat

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.

Con­tinue read­ing

Turning workshops into worship

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.

Powell House Weekend (Food for Fire par­tic­i­pants.Powell House Weekend (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.

On Fire! FGC Interest GroupBlog­ging par­tic­i­pants of On Fire! work­shop pose together. About fifty peo­ple total came out for the Mon­day night inter­est group. Click photo for names and links.On Fire! FGC Interest Group
Lots of dis­cus­sions hap­pened at the rise of the wor­ship.
The semi-impromptu post-discussion group. (Thanks for FGC’s Emily for tak­ing & post­ing this!)

FGC Gath­er­ing pho­tos on Flickr and Tech­no­rati

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.

Related posts

Lots of folks have been talk­ing about the Gath­er­ing and the Mon­day night inter­est group:

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.