There’s an interesting discussion in the comments from my last post about “Convergent Friends and Ohio Conservatives” and one of the more interesting comes from a commenter named Diane. My reply to her got longer and longer and filled with more and more links till it makes more sense to make it its own post. First, Diane’s question:
I don’t know if I’m “convergent,” (probably not) but I have been involved with the emerging church for several years and with Quakerism for a decade. I also am aware of the house church movement, but my experience of it is that is is very tangentially related to Quakerism. I really, really hope and pray that Christian revival is coming to liberal Friends, but personally I have not seen that phenomenom. Where do you see it most? Do you see it more as commitment to Christ or as more people being Christ curious, to use Robin’s phrase?
As I wrote recently I think convergence is more of a trend than an identity and I’m not sure whether it makes sense to fuss about who’s convergent or not. As with any question involving liberal Friends, whether there’s “Christian revival” going on depends on what what you mean by the term. I think more liberal Friends have become comfortable labeling themselves as Christ curious; it has become more acceptable to identify as Christian than it was a decade or two ago; a significant number of younger Friends are very receptive to Christian messages, the Bible and traditional Quaker testimonies than they were.
These are individual responses, however. Turning to collective Quaker bodies there are few if any beliefs or practices left that liberal Friends wouldn’t allow under the Quaker banner if they came wrapped in Quakerese from a well-connected Friend; the social testimonies stand in as the unifying agent; it’s still considered an argument stopper to say that any proffered definition would exclude someone.
I’d argue that liberal Quakerism is becoming ever more liberal (and less distinctively Quaker) at the same time that many of those in influence are becoming more Christian. It’s a very proscribed Christianity: coded, tentative and most of all individualistic. It’s okay for a liberal Friend to believe whatever they want to believe as long as they don’t believe too much. Whether the quiet influence of the rising generation of conservative-friendly leadership is enough to hold a Quaker center in the centrifuge that is liberal Quakerism is the $60,000 question. I think the leadership has an inflated sense of its own influence but I’m watching the experiment. I wish it well but I’m skeptical and worry that it’s built on sand.
Some of the Christ-curious liberal Friends are forming small worship groups and some of these are seeking out recognition from Conservative bodies. It’s an achingly small movement but it shows a desire to be corporately Quaker and not just individualistically Quaker. With the internet traditional Quaker viewpoints are only a Google search away; sites like Bill Samuel’s “Quakerinfo.com”:www.quakerinfo.com and blogs like Marshall Massey’s are breaking down stereotypes and doing a lot of invaluable educating (and I could name a lot more). It’s possible to imagine all this cooking down to a third wave of traditionalist renewal. Ohio Yearly Meeting-led initiatives like the Christian Friends Conference and All Conservative Gatherings are steps in the right direction but any real change is going to have to pull together multiple trends, one of which might or might not be Convergence.
Our role in this future is not to be strategists playing Quaker politics but servants ready to lay down our identities and preconceptions to follow the promptings of the Inward Christ into whatever territory we’re called to:
From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Matthew 16:21–28.
My friend Peter Blood is part of a group organizing a “Young Friends North America camp”:www.quakersong.org/quakercamp in Barnesville, Ohio this June and he asked that I help get word out about it. The first few days are a reunion for not-so-young-anymore Friends (YFNA more or less wound down in the late 1990s). The second part is the camp, which hopes “to bring together Friends from all branches of Quakerism, to share what Spirit-led Quakerism is about at its core–and to experience it together.” Check out the “Camp’s schedule”:http://www.quakersong.org/quakercamp_schedule/index.php for details on what this looks like.
The handy-dandy Friends Historical Dictionary says YFNA started in the mid-1950s. I’ve heard enough stories (and met some YFNA couples) to know it was a very important touchstone for a few generations of young Friends. I’ve been involved in a couple of failed YFNA resuscitation attempts over the last few years and can’t tell you why none of them took. It could be economics (high gas prices and high college loans keeping most 20-somethings from being too free-range) or simple demographics (too few Gen X Friends). Perhaps other events like the FGC Gathering fulfilled the young Quaker hook-up function well enough.
Whatever the reason, I’m glad to see that reunion is tied into a free-form camp that doesn’t seem to be trying to be a YFNA organizing meeting (at this point reviving YFNA has the same empty guffaw punch as the kids now nostalgically calling themselves the “new SDS”:http://www.studentsforademocraticsociety.org/). It seems like there’s more Quaker youth organizing going on, which is great, and I hope the camp helps that momentum.
Update: I’ve put up an “YFNA Reunion/Camp”:http://www.quakerquaker.org/events/2007-yfna/index.php page up over in the events section of QuakerQuaker to follow any of the blog chatter about the gathering.
The retreat at the Carmelite Monastery was nice. Here’s some pictures, the first of those “long-remembered”:/if_i_dont_make_it_back.php tall stone walls and the rest of the beautiful chapel:
It was a silent retreat–for us at least. There were three talks about “Teresa of Avila”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_of_Avila given by Father Tim Byerley, who also works with the “Collegium Center”:http://www.collegiumcenter.org/about.php, a kind of religious education outreach project for young adult Catholics in South Jersey (I mentioned it “a few months ago”:http://www.quakerranter.org/teaching_quakerism_again.php as a model of young adult youth outreach that Friends might want to consider). Much of what Teresa has to say about prayer is universal and very applicable to Friends, though I have to admit I started spacing out by around the fourth mansion of the “Interior Castle”:http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa/castle2.toc.html (I’ve never been good with numbered religious steps!).
I’m in no danger of following my wife Julie’s journey from Friends to Catholicism, though as always I very much enjoyed being in the midst of a gathered group committed to a spirituality. The idea of religious life as self-abnegation is an important one for all Christians in an age where “me-ism”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScWdek6_Ids&eurl has become the “secular state religion”:http://www.walmart.com/ and I hope to return to it in the near future.