Tag Archives: Society

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)

Google+: View post on Google+

Predictions on the ‘new evangelical’ movement

Read­ers over on Quak​erQuaker​.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.

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.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
2010 Young Adult Friends Conference

Remembering George Willoughby

There’s a nice remem­brance of George Willoughby by the Brandy­wine Peace Community’s Bob Smith over on the War Resisters Inter­na­tional site. George died a few days ago at the age of 95 [updated]. It’s hard not to remem­ber his favorite quip as he and his wife Lil­lian cel­e­brated their 80th birth­days: “twenty years to go!” Nei­ther of them made it to 100 but they cer­tainly lived fuller lives than the aver­age couple.

I don’t know enough of the details of their lives to write the obit­u­ary (a Wikipedia page was started this morn­ing) but I will say they always seemed to me like the For­rest Gump’s of peace activism–at the cen­ter of every cool peace wit­ness since 1950. You squint to look at the pho­tos at there’s George and Lil, always there. Or maybe pop music would give us the bet­ter anal­ogy: you know how there are entire b-rate bands that carve an entire career around end­lessly rehash­ing a par­tic­u­lar Bea­t­les song? Well, there are whole activist orga­ni­za­tions that are built around par­tic­u­lar cam­paigns that the Willoughby’s cham­pi­oned. Like: in 1958 George was a crew mem­ber of the Golden Rule (pro­filed a bit here), a boat­load of crazy activists who sailed into a Pacific nuclear bomb test to dis­rupt it. Twelve years later some Van­cou­ver activists stage a copy­cat boat sail­ing which became Green­peace. Lil­lian was con­cerned about ris­ing vio­lence against women and started one of the first Take Back the Nightmarches. If you’ve ever sat in an activist meet­ing where everyone’s using con­sen­sus, then you’ve been influ­enced by the Willoughby’s!

For many years I lived deeply embed­ded in com­mu­ni­ties co-founded by the Willough­bys. There’s a recent inter­view with George Lakey about the found­ing of Move­ment for a New Soci­ety that he and they helped cre­ate. In the 1990s I liked to say how I lived “in its ruins,” work­ing at the pub­lish­ing house, liv­ing in a coop house and get­ting my food from the coop that all grew out of MNS. I got to know the Willough­bys through Cen­tral Philadel­phia meet­ing but also as friends. It was a treat to visit their house in Dept­ford, NJ–it adjoined a wildlife sanc­tu­ary they helped pro­tect against the strip-mall sprawl that is the rest of that town. I last saw George a few months ago, and while he had a bit of trou­ble remem­ber­ing who I was, that irre­press­ible smile and spirit were very strong!
When news of George’s pass­ing started buzzing around the net I got a nice email from Howard Clark, who’s been very involved with War Resisters Inter­na­tional for many years. It was a real blast-from-the-past and reminded me how lit­tle I’m involved with all this these days. The Philadel­phia office of New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers went under in 1995 and a few years ago I finally dropped the Non​vi​o​lence​.org project that I had started to keep the orga­niz­ing going.
I’ve writ­ten before that one of the clos­est modern-day suc­ces­sor to the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety is the so-called New Monas­tic movement–explicitly Chris­t­ian but focused on love and char­ity and often very Quaker’ish. Our cul­ture of sec­u­lar Quak­erism has kept Friends from get­ting involved and shar­ing our decades of expe­ri­ence. Now that Shane Clai­borne is being invited to seem­ingly every lib­eral Quaker venue, maybe it’s a good oppor­tu­nity to look back on our own legacy. Friends like George and Lil­lian helped invent this form.
I miss the strong sense of com­mu­nity I once felt. Is there a way we can com­bine MNS & the “New Monas­tic” move­ment into some­thing explic­itly reli­gious and pub­lic that might help spread the good news of the Inward Christ and inspire a new wave of lefty peacenik activism more in line with Jesus’ teach­ings than the xeno­pho­bic crap that gets spewed by so many “Chris­t­ian” activists? With that, another plug for the work­shop Wess Daniels and I are doing in May at Pen­dle Hill: “New Monas­tics and Cov­er­gent Friends.” If money’s a prob­lem there’s still time to ask your meet­ing to help get you there. If that doesn’t work or dis­tance is a prob­lem, I’m sure we’ll be talk­ing about it more here in the com­ments and blogs.
Update: David Alpert posted a nice remem­brance of George.
Pics: George in 2002, from War Resisters Inter­na­tional; the Golden Rule, 1959, from the Swarth­more Peace Col­lec­tion. George at Fort Gulick in Panama (undated), also from Swarthmore.

Movement for a New Society and the Old New Monastics

Robin wrote a lit­tle about the New Monas­tic move­ment in a plug for the Pen­dle Hill work­shop I’m doing with Wess Daniels this Fall.

Here’s my work­ing the­ory: I think Lib­eral Friends have a good claim to invent­ing the “new monas­tic” move­ment thirty years ago in the form of Move­ment for a New Soci­ety, a net­work of peace and anti-nuclear activists based in Philadel­phia that cod­i­fied a kind of “sec­u­lar Quaker” decision-making process and trained thou­sands of peo­ple from around the world in a kind of engaged drop-out lifestyle that fea­tured low-cost com­mu­nal liv­ing arrange­ments in poor neigh­bor­hoods with part-time jobs that gave them flex­i­bil­ity to work as full-time com­mu­nity activists. There are few activist cam­paigns in the 1970s and 1980s that weren’t touched by the MNS style and a less-ideological, more lived-in MNS cul­ture sur­vives today in bor­der­line neigh­bor­hoods in Philadel­phia and other cities. The high-profile new monas­tics rarely seem to give any props to Quak­ers or MNS, but I’d be will­ing to bet if you sat in on any of their meet­ings the process would be much more inspired by MNS than Robert’s Rules of Order or any fif­teen cen­tury monas­tic rule that might be cited.

For a decade I lived in West Philly in what I called “the ruins of the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety.” The for­mal struc­ture of MNS had dis­banded but many of its insti­tu­tions car­ried on in a kind of lived-in way. I worked at the remain­ing pub­lish­ing house, New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers, lived in a land-trusted West Philly coop house, and was fed from the old neigh­bor­hood food coop and occa­sion­ally dropped in or helped out with Train­ing for Change, a revived train­ing cen­ter started by MNS-co-founder (and Cen­tral Philadel­phia Meeting-member) George Lakey It was a tight neigh­bor­hood, with strong cross-connections, and it was able to absorb related move­ments with dif­fer­ent styles (e.g., a strong anar­chist scene that grew in the late 1980s). I don’t think it’s coin­ci­dence that some of the Philly emer­gent church projects started in West Philly and is strong in the neigh­bor­hoods that have become the new ersatz West Philly as the actual neigh­bor­hood has gentrified.

So some ques­tions I’ll be wrestling with over the next six months and will bring to Pen­dle Hill:

  • Why haven’t more of us in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends adopted this engaged lifestyle?
  • Why haven’t we been good at artic­u­lat­ing it all this time?
  • Why did the for­mal struc­ture of the Quaker-ish “new monas­ti­cism” not sur­vive the 1980s?
  • Why don’t we have any younger lead­ers of the Quaker monas­ti­cism? Why do we need oth­ers to remind us of our own recent tradition?
  • In what ways are some Friends (and some fel­low trav­el­ers) still liv­ing out the “Old New Monas­tic” expe­ri­ence, just with­out the hype and with­out the buzz?

It’s entirely pos­si­ble that the “new monas­ti­cism” isn’t sus­tain­able. At the very least Friends’ expe­ri­ences with it should be stud­ied to see what hap­pened. Is West Philly what the new monas­ti­cism looks like thirty years later? The biggest dif­fer­ences between now and the hey­day of the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety is 1) the Internet’s abil­ity to orga­nize and stay in touch in com­pletely dif­fer­ent ways; and 2) the power of the major Evan­gel­i­cal pub­lish­ing houses that are hyp­ing the new kids.

I’ll be look­ing at myself as well. After ten years, I felt I needed a change. I’m now in the “real world”–semi sub­ur­ban free­stand­ing house, nuclear fam­ily. The old new West Philly monas­ti­cism, like the “new monas­ti­cism” seems opti­mized for hip twenty-something sub­ur­ban kids who roman­ti­cized the gritty city. Peo­ple of other demo­graph­ics often fit in, but still it was never very scal­able and for many not very sus­tain­able. How do we bring these con­cerns out to a world where there are sub­urbs, fam­i­lies, etc?


RELATED READING: I first wrote about the sim­i­lar­ity between MNS and the Philadel­phia “New Monas­tic” move­ment six years ago in Peace and Twenty-Somethings, where I argued that Pen­dle Hill should take a seri­ous look at this new movement.