Predictions on the ‘new evangelical’ movement

Read­ers over on Quak​erQuak​er​.org will know I’ve been inter­est­ed in the tem­pest sur­round­ing evan­gel­i­cal pas­tor Rob Bell. A pop­u­lar min­is­ter for the Youtube gen­er­a­tion, con­tro­ver­sy over his new book has revealed some deep fis­sures among younger Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians. I’ve been fas­ci­nat­ed by this since 2003, when I start­ed real­iz­ing I had a lot of com­mon­al­i­ties with main­stream Chris­t­ian blog­gers who I would have nat­u­ral­ly dis­missed out of hand. When they wrote about the authen­tic­i­ty of wor­ship, decision-making in the church and the need to walk the talk and also to walk the line between truth and com­pas­sion, they spoke to my con­cerns (most of my read­ing since then has been blogs, pre-twentieth cen­tu­ry Quak­er writ­ings and the Bible).

Today Jaime John­son tweet­ed out a link to a new piece by Rachel Held Evans called “The Future of Evan­gel­i­cal­ism.” She does a nice job pars­ing out the dif­fer­ences between the two camps squar­ing off over Rob Bell. On the one side is a cen­tral­ized move­ment of neo-Calvinists she calls Young, Rest­less, Reformed after a 2006 Chris­tian­i­ty Today arti­cle. I have lit­tle to no inter­est in this crowd except for mild aca­d­e­m­ic curios­i­ty. But the oth­er side is what she’s dub­bing “the new evangelicals”:

The sec­ond group — some­times referred to as “the new evan­gel­i­cals” or “emerg­ing evan­gel­i­cals” or “the evan­gel­i­cal left” is sig­nif­i­cant­ly less orga­nized than the first, but con­tin­ues to grow at a grass­roots lev­el. As Paul Markhan wrote in an excel­lent essay about the phe­nom­e­non, young peo­ple who iden­ti­fy with this move­ment have grown weary of evangelicalism’s alle­giance to Repub­li­can pol­i­tics, are inter­est­ed in pur­su­ing social reform and social jus­tice, believe that the gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and are eager to be a part of inclu­sive, diverse, and authen­tic Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties. “Their broad­en­ing sense of social respon­si­bil­i­ty is push­ing them to rethink many of the fun­da­men­tal the­o­log­i­cal pre­sup­po­si­tions char­ac­ter­is­tic of their evan­gel­i­cal tra­di­tions,” Markham noted.

This is the group that intrigues me. There’s a lot of cross-over here with some of what I’m see­ing with Quak­ers. In an ide­al world, the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends would open its arms to this new wave of seek­ers, espe­cial­ly as they hit the lim­its of denom­i­na­tion­al tol­er­ance. But in real­i­ty, many of the East Coast meet­ings I’m most famil­iar with wouldn’t know what to do with this crowd. In Philly if you’re inter­est­ed in this con­ver­sa­tion you go to Cir­cle of Hope (pre­vi­ous posts), not any of the estab­lished Quak­er meetings.

Evans makes some edu­cat­ed guess­es about the future of the “new evan­gel­i­cal” move­ment. She thinks there will be more dis­cus­sion about the role of the Bible, though I would say it’s more dis­cus­sion fo the var­i­ous Chris­t­ian inter­pre­ta­tions of it. She also fore­sees a loos­en­ing of labels and denom­i­na­tion­al affil­i­a­tions. I’m see­ing some of this hap­pen­ing among Friends, though it’s almost com­plete­ly on the indi­vid­ual lev­el, at least here on the East Coast. It will be inter­est­ing to see how this shakes out over the next few years and whether it will bypass, engage with or siphon off the Soci­ety of Friends. In the mean­time, Evans’ post and the links she embeds in it are well worth exploring.

Sightings: Quaker Families, Friends Leadership and In-Group Dynamics

  • Young fam­i­lies need Quak­erism, and Quak­erism needs young fam­i­lies. Where does the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends stand in rela­tion to today’s “belea­guered moms and dads”? To the extent that Quak­er cul­ture has not inten­tion­al­ly orga­nized itself around the needs of young fam­i­lies, many peo­ple of my life stage have opt­ed out of par­tic­i­pa­tion in orga­nized Quak­erism. We know this from research as well as expe­ri­en­tial­ly, as many Friends’ own adult chil­dren – and there­fore their grand­chil­dren –are not active in a meet­ing community.

    tags: quak­er quaker.youth quaker.parenting quaker.philadelphia

  • For myself, I have found that I lost inter­est in or dis­liked many things over the years. I avoid a lot of enter­tain­ments because I find them over­stim­u­lat­ing, they are too loud, too fran­tic and too full of events designed to pro­voke phys­i­o­log­i­cal arousal. More recent­ly I find the amount of rude­ness, vio­lence and sex­u­al­i­ty dis­turb­ing. I am left feel­ing exhaust­ed but restless

    tags: quak­er

  • The kids who remained part of the Meeting’s youth group tend­ed to be ones who strug­gled to find their place in oth­er areas of their lives. Through a set of shared rit­u­als — jazz hands, cud­dle pud­dles, and wink — and shared cul­tur­al assump­tions and behav­iors, the pri­ma­ry pur­pose of the Quak­er youth com­mu­ni­ty becomes about sup­port­ing “peo­ple like us”… This in-group dynam­ic is not lim­it­ed to the youth.

    tags: quak­er quaker.youth quaker.liberal quaker.baltimore

  • While it is true that lead­er­ship can be a trou­bling con­cept for Friends, I have come to believe that we should move beyond our old hes­i­ta­tions. We would ben­e­fit from fuss­ing less about the things that can go wrong, instead invest­ing time reflect­ing upon the top­ic and devel­op­ing an under­stand­ing of lead­er­ship that can func­tion well in our context.

    tags: quak­er quaker.indiana

  • My par­ents acci­den­tal­ly sent me to a lib­er­al Friends sum­mer camp not expect­ing me to come back hun­gry for faith. I missed hav­ing meet­ing every day. I missed the peace I felt in the meet­ing cir­cle and the con­nec­tion to God I found there. I used to go dur­ing free time to re-center myself and to seek a feel­ing I got dur­ing meet­ing. The best way to describe it to anoth­er per­son is that I was get­ting a hug from the Holy Spirit.

    tags: quak­er quaker.youth quaker.liberal quaker.plain quaker.newyork

Post­ed from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Young Adult Friends Conference in Wichita this Fifth Month

I’ve been lucky enough to have two house­guests this week: Mic­ah Bales and Faith Kel­ley (no rela­tion). They’ve come up to the Philadel­phia area to help pub­li­cize a gath­er­ing of young adult Friends that will take place in Wichi­ta in a few months. Before they left, I got them to share their excite­ment for the con­fer­ence in front of my webcam.

Inter­view with Faith Kel­ley & Mic­ah Bales, two of the orga­niz­ers of the upcom­ing young adult Friends con­fer­ence in Wichi­ta Kansas.

FAITH: This is an invi­ta­tion for a gath­er­ing for young adult Friends ages 18 – 35 from all the branch­es of the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends from all across the con­ti­nent. It’s going to be in Wichi­ta Kansas from May 28 – 31. It’s a time to get togeth­er and learn about each oth­er, to hear each other’s sto­ries and wor­ship togeth­er. We’re real­ly excit­ed by this oppor­tu­ni­ty to have peo­ple who have nev­er been to these before and to have peo­ple who have been to oth­er gath­er­ings to come back.
MICAH: A lot of the advance mate­r­i­al is already up online so you can get a good idea what this con­fer­ence is going to be about and to get a sense of how to pre­pare your­self for a gath­er­ing like this. We’ll be get­ting togeth­er with folks from all over the coun­try, Cana­da and Mex­i­co – we’re hop­ing a lot of His­pan­ic Friends show up and we’ve already trans­lat­ed the web­site into Span­ish. Reg­is­tra­tion is set up already; ear­ly reg­is­tra­tion goes until April 15. Air­fare to Wichi­ta is look­ing pret­ty good at the moment; if you reg­is­ter ear­ly you’re like­ly to get a fair­ly decent plane tick­et out.
FAITH: We’re hop­ing peo­ple will choose to car­pool togeth­er. So get orga­nized, reg­is­ter ear­ly and look at the advance mate­ri­als online. 

2010 Young Adult Friends Conference

Burnt Ubers and Reluctant Ranters

Inter­est­ing read­ing today about how our Quak­er struc­tures can choke the Spir­it and hem in our com­mu­ni­ties. Johan M is no stranger to Quak­er insti­tu­tions, but in “Clerk Please” he writes:

But who will see and pro­claim these things to new audi­ences if we are so busy try­ing to sort out our struc­tures, nom­i­na­tion process­es, and inter­per­son­al ani­mosi­ties that we don’t take the time to dis­cern and hon­or leadings?

Susanne K echos some of these themes in her lat­est post, “Quak­erism and Struc­ture”:

One of the key parts of George Fox’s rev­e­la­tion was that reli­gious struc­tures can kill the free move­ment of the Spir­it… My Ffriend R has advo­cat­ed the prac­tice of dis­band­ing the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends every 50 years. He believes that the spark of the ini­tial vision and pas­sion of reli­gious groups only sur­vives for about 50 years before devel­op­ing struc­tures start to choke the move­ment of the Spirit.

It’s been about eigh­teen months since I was side­lined from the pro­fes­sion­al Quak­er world (I work for some Quak­ers now, but on a con­tract basis and the rela­tion­ship is much dif­fer­ent). A year or two before this, my month­ly meet­ing melt­ed down and more or less devolved into a wor­ship group and while I’ve found a more active meet­ing to attend, it’s not par­tic­u­lar­ly close and I haven’t joined.

The result of these two changes is that I haven’t sat in a staff meet­ing for over a year; I don’t attend busi­ness meet­ings; I don’t belong to any com­mit­tees; I don’t rep­re­sent any group at con­fer­ences. After years of being what Evan Welkin called an uberQuak­er, I’m an unin­volved slack­er. Bad Mar­tin, right?

Except I’m not unin­volved of course. I feel I’m doing as much now to help peo­ple find and grow into Quak­erism than I did when I was paid to do this. I don’t spend much time with that 2% skim of Quak­er élite who attend all the same con­fer­ences and appoint each oth­er to all the same com­mit­tees, but then cater­ing to their needs was pret­ty high main­te­nance and was nev­er some­thing I thought of as the real mission.

Suzanne talks about the “Sab­bat­i­cal Year” meme, and of course lots of elec­trons fly about the blo­gos­phere about the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the Emerg­ing Church move­ment. There’s a hunger for a dif­fer­ent way of being a Friend. I know one Quak­er who threat­ens to burn down the famous meet­ing­house he wor­ships in because he feels that the build­ing has become an emp­ty icon, a weight of bricks upon the Spir­it (I’ll leave him anony­mous in case some­thing mys­te­ri­ous hap­pens to the meet­ing­house tonight!). How trag­ic would it be, real­ly, if some of insti­tu­tion­al bag­gage was laid down and we had to find oth­er ways to con­firm and sup­port one another’s ministries?

I love teach­ing Quak­erism, I love help­ing Quak­ers use the inter­net for out­reach and I love reach­ing out to poten­tial Friends with my writ­ing. I’m doing all that with­out com­mit­tees or staff meet­ings. No bud­gets to fight over, no mis­sion state­ments to write.

Half a decade ago now I wrote about the “lost Quak­er gen­er­a­tion,” active and vision­ary Gen X Friends who seemed to be drop­ping out in droves. We’re all keep­ing in bet­ter touch now via Face­book but I haven’t noticed much jump­ing back into the fray. What I have noticed is a phe­nom­e­non where Friends half a gen­er­a­tion old­er are tak­ing on Quak­er respon­si­bil­i­ties only to drop away from active meet­ing involve­ment when their terms ended. 

If we could pull togeth­er all of the dropouts togeth­er and start meet­ings that focused on wor­ship, reli­gious edu­ca­tion and deep-community activ­i­ties, I think we’d see some­thing inter­est­ing. I envy those with less-musty, Gen-X heavy meet­ings near­by (Robin M show­cased her meet­ing recent­ly). And don’t get me wrong: I also love the old Quak­er ide­al of the strong local Quak­er com­mu­ni­ty and the bonds of the com­mu­ni­ty on the indi­vid­ual, etc., etc. But I don’t see meet­ings like that any­where near­by and the only clear lead­ing I real­ly have is to con­tin­ue this “free­lance” teach­ing, writ­ing and orga­niz­ing. It’s not the sit­u­a­tion I want but it’s the sit­u­a­tion I have and at this point I have to just trust the lead­ings as they come step by step and have faith they’re going some­where. Boy though, I wish I knew where all this was head­ing sometimes!

More ways to QuakeQuake in the socialscape

ff.gifFor any bleed­ing edge Web 2.0 Quak­ers out there, there’s now a Quak­erQuak­er Friend­Feed account to go along with its Twit­ter account. Both accounts sim­ply spit out the Quak­erQuak­er RSS feed but there might be some prac­ti­cal uses. I actu­al­ly fol­low QQ pri­ma­ry by Twit­ter these days and those who don’t mind annoy­ing IM pop-ups could get instant alerts. 

Web 2.0 every­where man Robert Scoble recent­ly post­ed that many of his con­ver­sa­tions and com­ments have moved away from his blog and over to Friend­Feed. I don’t see that occur­ring any­time soon with QQ but I’ll set the accounts up and see what hap­pens. I’ve hooked my own Twit­ter and Friend­Feed accounts up with Quak­erQuak­er, so that’s one way I’m cross-linking with this pos­si­ble over­lay of QQ. 

For what it’s worth I’ve always assumed that QQ is rel­a­tive­ly tem­po­rary, an ini­tial meet­ing ground for a net­work of online Friends that will con­tin­ue to expand into dif­fer­ent forms. I’m hop­ing we can pick the best media to use and not just jump on the lat­est trends. As far as the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends is con­cerned, I’d say the two most impor­tant tests of a new media is it’s abil­i­ty to out­reach to new peo­ple and its util­i­ty in help­ing to con­struct a shared vision of spir­i­tu­al renewal. 

On these test, Face­book has been a com­plete fail­ure. So many promis­ing blog­gers have dis­ap­peared and seem to spend their online time swap­ping sug­ges­tive mes­sages on Face­book (find a hotel room folks) or share ani­mat­ed gifs with 257 of their closed “friends.” Quak­er Friends tend to be a clan­nish bunch and Face­book has real­ly fed into that (unfor­tu­nate) part of our per­sona. Blog­ging seemed to be resus­ci­tat­ing the idea of the “Pub­lic Friend,” some­one who was will­ing to share their Quak­er iden­ti­ty with the gen­er­al pub­lic. That’s still hap­pen­ing but it seems to have slowed down quite a bit. I’m not ready to close my own Face­book account but I would like to see Friends real­ly think about which social media we spend our time on. Friends have always been adapt­ing – rail­roads, news­pa­pers, fre­quent­ly fli­er miles have all affect­ed how we com­mu­ni­cate with each oth­er and the out­side world. Com­put­er net­work­ing is just the lat­est wrinkle.

As a per­son­al aside, the worst thing to hap­pen to my Quak­er blog­ging has been the lack of a com­mute (except for a short hop to do some Had­don­field web design a few times a week). I’m no longer strand­ed on a train for hours a week with noth­ing to do but read the jour­nal of Samuel Bow­nas or throw open my lap­top to write about the lat­est idea that flits through my head. Ah the tra­vails of telecommuting!

Convergent Friends, a long definition

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.