Post-Evangelical Blogging for Dummies: Harnessing the Zeitgeist for Fun and Prophet

Post-Evangelical Blog­ging for Dum­mies: Har­ness­ing the Zeit­geist for Fun and Prophet :

The Hip­ster Con­ser­v­a­tive writes the defin­i­tive guide. This is a bit close for com­fort but we’re sup­posed to be able to laugh at our­selves, right?

Explain the per­son­al con­flict you expe­ri­ence between your evan­gel­i­cal roots and what you now tru­ly believe is a dev­as­tat­ing chal­lenge to those formerly-held beliefs. Sug­gest that instead of being so quick to oppose the issue, Chris­tians should extend “grace” (don’t define) and a “gen­er­ous response.” Above all, they should “re-evaluate” their views in light of this chal­lenge. Remem­ber: “Ques­tion­ing” is a one-way street.

Via my wife Julie (of course)

Last weekend I was invited to speak to Abington (Pa.) Meeting’s First-day school…

Last week­end I was invit­ed to speak to Abing­ton (Pa.) Meeting’s First-day school (n.b. prop­er FJ stylesheet) to talk about vocal min­istry in wor­ship. I haven’t been to wor­ship at that meet­ing for eons and can’t speak to the con­di­tion of its min­istry, but I do know that vocal min­istry can be some­thing of a mys­tery for unpro­grammed Friends. Many of us are “con­vinced,” com­ing to the Soci­ety as adults and often have a nag­ging feel­ing we’re play-acting at being Friends, but I’ve met many life-long Quak­ers who also won­der about it.

Per­haps as a response to these feel­ings, we some­times get rather pedan­tic that what­ev­er way we’ve first encoun­tered is the Quak­er way. The cur­rent fash­ion of vocal min­istry in the Philadel­phia area is for short mes­sages, often about world events, often con­fes­sion­al in nature. What I want­ed to leave Abing­ton with was the rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent ways unpro­grammed Friends have wor­shipped over time and how some of our prac­tices out­side wor­ship were devel­oped to help nur­ture Spirit-led ministry.

(writ­ten this a.m. but only post­ed to lim­it­ed cir­cles, cut and past­ed when I saw the mix-up)

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Spiritual Biodiversity and Religious Inevitability

Emi­grants from the Irish pota­to famine, via Wikipedia

Peo­ple some­times get pret­ty worked up about con­vinc­ing each oth­er of an mat­ter of press­ing impor­tance. We think we have The Answer about The Issue and that if we just repeat our­selves loud enough and often enough the obvi­ous­ness of our posi­tion will win out. It becomes our duty, in fact, to repeat it loud and often. If we hap­pen to wear down the oppo­si­tion so much that they with­draw from our com­pan­ion­ship or fel­low­ship, all the bet­ter, as we’ve achieved a pati­na of uni­ty. Reli­gious lib­er­als are just as prone to this as the conservatives.

These are not the val­ues we hold when talk­ing about the nat­ur­al world. There we talk about bio­di­ver­si­ty. We don’t cheer when a species mal­adapt­ed to the human-driven Anthro­pocene dis­ap­pears into extinc­tion. Just because a plant or ani­mal from the oth­er side of the world has no nat­ur­al preda­tors doesn’t mean our local species should be superseded.

Sci­en­tists tell us that bio­di­ver­si­ty is not just a kind of do-unto-others val­ue that sat­is­fies our sense of nos­tal­gia; hav­ing wide gene pools comes in handy when near-instant adap­ta­tion is need­ed in response to mas­sive habi­tat stress. Monocrops are good for the annu­al har­vest but leave us espe­cial­ly vul­ner­a­ble when phy­toph­tho­ra infes­tans comes ashore.

It’s a good thing for dif­fer­ent reli­gious groups to have dif­fer­ent val­ues, both from us us and from one anoth­er. There are pres­sures in today’s cul­ture to lev­el all of our dis­tinc­tives down so that we have no unique iden­ti­ty. Some cheer this monocrop­ping of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, but I’m not sure it’s healthy for human race. If our reli­gious val­ues are some­how truer or more valu­able than those of oth­er peo­ple, then they will even­tu­al­ly spread them­selves – not by push­ing oth­er bod­ies to be like us, but by attract­ing the mem­bers of the oth­er bod­ies to join with us.

God may have pur­pose in fel­low­ships that act dif­fer­ent­ly that ours. Let us not get too smug about our own inevitabil­i­ty that we for­get to share our­selves with those with whom we differ.

Early Friends as reference, not justification

My response to the excellent Greg Woods' If I wanted to live by 1600s standards, I would be Amish. Greg talks about the over-obsession with Early Friends and the tendency to use them as ways to accuse others of un-Quakerism. 

The academic obsession with Quaker history is about 100 years old or so. From the beginning the rise of "Quaker history" has been tied to the arguments of the day. We want to boil "Quakerism" down to it essentials and separate out what is core from what was an artifact of 17th century England. Each branch raises up historians who argue that its churches' focus is the essential of those early Friends.

I consciously try not to use early Friends as justification. But I do use them for reference. I think a lot of the problem is we all have stereotypes about them. When I go back and read the old Books of Discipline, I find them much more nuanced and interior-focused than we give them credit for. 

Greg mentioned taverns, for example. It's not that earlier Friends thought everyone couldn't handle their liquor. They saw that some people couldn't and that spending a lot of time there tended to affect one's discernment and God-centeredness. They also saw that some people got really messed up by alcohol and eventually came to the conclusion that the safest way to protect the most vulnerable in the spiritual community was to stay out. 

The observations and logic are still valid. I've known senior members of past Quaker communities who have had alcohol problems but we don't know how to talk about it because we've decided it's a personal decision. 

What I try to do is not focus on the conclusions of early Friends but to drop into the conversations of early Friends. As I said, the old Books of Discipline are surprisingly relevant. And I love Thomas Clarkson, an Anglican who explained Quaker ways in 1700 and talked about the sociology of it more than Friends themselves did. It's a good way of separating out rules from knowledge. When we ground ourselves that way, we can more readily decide which of the classic Quaker testimonies are still relevant. That keeps us a living community testifying to the people of today. For what it's worth, there's quite a bit of mainstream interest in the stodgy traditions most of us have cast off as irrelevant....

The Quaker testimonies as our collective wisdom wiki


My sort-of response to Callid's great Youtube piece on the Quaker testimonies, I compare the classic testimonies to a wiki: the collective knowledge of Friends distilled into specific cautions and guides. "We as Friends have found that...." I do talk about how the recent "SPICE" simplification (simplicity, integrity, integrity, community and equality) has robbed our notion of testimonies of some of their power.

Looking at North American Friends and theological hotspots

Over on Friends Jour­nal site, some recent stats on Friends most­ly in the US and Cana­da. Writ­ten by Mar­garet Fras­er, the head of FWCC, a group that tries to unite the dif­fer­ent bod­ies of Friends, it’s a bit of cold water for most of us. Offi­cial num­bers are down in most places despite what­ev­er offi­cial opti­mism might exist. Favorite line: “Per­haps those who leave are noticed less.” I’m sure P.R. hacks in var­i­ous Quak­er orga­ni­za­tions are burn­ing the mid­night oil writ­ing response let­ters to the edi­tor spin­ning the num­bers to say things are look­ing up.

She points to a sad decline both in year­ly meet­ings affil­i­at­ed with Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing and in those affil­i­at­ed with Friends Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence. A curios­i­ty is that this decline is not seen in three of the four year­ly meet­ings that are dual affil­i­at­ed. These blend­ed year­ly meet­ings are going through var­i­ous degrees of iden­ti­ty cri­sis and hand-wringing over their sta­tus and yet their own mem­ber­ship num­bers are strong. Could it be that seri­ous the­o­log­i­cal wrestling and com­pli­cat­ed spir­i­tu­al iden­ti­ties cre­ate health­i­er reli­gious bod­ies than mono­cul­tur­al groupings?

The big news is in the south: “His­pan­ic Friends Church­es” in Mex­i­co and Cen­tral Amer­i­ca are boom­ing, with spillover in el Norte as work­ers move north to get jobs. There’s sur­pris­ing­ly lit­tle inter­ac­tion between these newly-arrived Spanish-speaking Friends and the the old Main Line Quak­er estab­lish­ment (maybe not sur­pris­ing real­ly, but still sad). I’ll leave you with a chal­lenge Mar­garet gives readers:

One ques­tion that often puz­zles me is why so many His­pan­ic Friends
con­gre­ga­tions are meet­ing in church­es belong­ing to oth­er denominations.
I would love to see estab­lished Friends meet­ings with their own
prop­er­ty shar­ing space with His­pan­ic Friends. It would be an
oppor­tu­ni­ty to share growth and chal­lenges together.