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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).