Blogging for the Kingdom

Warn­ing: this is a blog post about blog­ging.

It’s always fas­ci­nat­ing to watch the ebb and flow of my blog­ging. Quak­er­ran­ter, my “main” blog has been remark­ably qui­et. I’m still up to my eye­balls with blog­ging in gen­er­al: post­ing things to Quak­erQuak­er, giv­ing help­ful com­ments and tips, help­ing oth­ers set up blogs as part of my con­sult­ing busi­ness. My Tum­blr blog and Face­book and Twit­ter feeds all con­tin­ue to be rel­a­tive­ly active. But most of the­se is me giv­ing voice to oth­ers. For two decades now, I’ve zigzagged between writer and pub­lish­er; late­ly I’ve been focused on the lat­ter.

When I start­ed blog­ging about Quak­er issues sev­en years ago, I was a low-level cler­i­cal employ­ee at an Quak­er orga­ni­za­tion. It was clear I was going nowhere career-wise, which gave me a cer­tain free­dom. More impor­tant­ly, blogs were a near­ly invis­i­ble medi­um, read by a self-selected group that also want­ed to talk open­ly and hon­est­ly about issues. I start­ed writ­ing about issues in among lib­er­al Friends and about missed out­reach oppor­tu­ni­ties. A lot of what I said was spot on and in hind­sight, the archives give me plen­ty of “told you so” cred­i­bil­i­ty. But where’s the joy in being right about what hasn’t worked?

Things have changed over the years. One is that I’ve resigned myself to those missed oppor­tu­ni­ties. Lots of Quak­er mon­ey and human­ly activ­i­ty is going into projects that don’t have God as a cen­ter. No amount of rant­i­ng is going to dis­suade good peo­ple from putting their faith into one more staff reor­ga­ni­za­tion, mis­sion rewrite or clev­er program.It’s a dis­trac­tion to spend much time wor­ry­ing about them.

But the biggest change is that my heart is square­ly with God. I’m most inter­est­ed in shar­ing Jesus’s good news. I’m not a cheer­lead­er for any par­tic­u­lar human insti­tu­tion, no mat­ter how noble its inten­tions. When I talk about the good news, it’s in the con­text of 350 years of Friends’ under­stand­ing of it. But I’m well aware that there’s lots of peo­ple in our meet­ing­hous­es that don’t under­stand it this way any­more. And also aware that the seek­er want­i­ng to pur­sue the Quak­er way might find it more close­ly mod­eled in alter­na­tive Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties. There are peo­ple all over lis­ten­ing for God and I see many attempts at rein­vent­ing Quak­erism hap­pen­ing among non-Friends.

I know this obser­va­tion excites some peo­ple to indig­na­tion, but so be it: I’m trust­ing God on this one. I’m not sure why He’sgiven us a world why the com­mu­ni­ties we bring togeth­er to wor­ship Him keep get­ting dis­tract­ed, but that’s what we’ve got (and it’s what we’ve had for a long time). Every per­son of faith of every gen­er­a­tion has to remem­ber, re-experience and revive the mes­sage. That hap­pens in church build­ings, on street cor­ners, in liv­ing rooms, lunch lines and nowa­days on blogs and inter­net forums.We can’t get too hung up on all the ways the mes­sage is get­ting blocked. And we can’t get hung up by insist­ing on only one chan­nel of shar­ing that mes­sage. We must share the good news and trust that God will show us how to man­i­fest this in our world: his king­dom come and will be done on earth.

But what would this look like?

When I first start­ed blog­ging there weren’t a lot of Quak­er blogs and I spent a lot more time read­ing oth­er reli­gious blogs. This was back before the emer­gent church move­ment became a wholly-owned sub­sidiary of Zon­der­van and wasn’t dom­i­nat­ed by hype artists (sor­ry, a lot of big names set off my slime-o-meter the­se days). There are still great blog­gers out there talk­ing about faith and read­ers want­i­ng to engage in this dis­cus­sion. I’ve been intrigued by the his­tor­i­cal exam­ple of Thomas Clark­son, the Angli­can who wrote about Friends from a non-Quaker per­spec­tive using non-Quaker lan­guage. And some­times I geek out and explain some Quak­er point on a Quak­er blog and get thanked by the author, who often is an expe­ri­enced Friend who had nev­er been pre­sent­ed with a clas­sic Quak­er expla­na­tion on the point in ques­tion. My track­ing log shows seek­ers con­tin­ue to be fas­ci­nat­ed and drawn to us for our tra­di­tion­al tes­ti­monies, espe­cial­ly plain­ness.

I’ve put togeth­er top­ic lists and plans before but it’s a bit of work, may­be too much to put on top of what I do with Quak­erQuak­er (plus work, plus fam­i­ly). There’s also ques­tions about where to blog and whether to sim­pli­fy my blog­ging life a bit by com­bin­ing some of my blogs but that’s more logis­tics rather than vision.

Inter­est­ing stuff I’m read­ing that’s mak­ing me think about this:

Hanging with the high schoolers

At the PYM High School Friends retreat, Fall 2009Had a good time with Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing high school Friends yes­ter­day, two mini-session on the tes­ti­monies in the mid­dle of their end-of-summer gath­er­ing. The sec­ond ses­sion was an attempt at a write-your-own tes­ti­monies exer­cise, fueled by my testimonies-as-wiki idea and ground­ed by pas­sages from an 1843 Book of Dis­ci­pline and Thomas Clarkson’s “Por­trai­ture”. My hope was that by reverse-engineering the old tes­ti­monies we might get an appre­ci­a­tion for their spir­i­tu­al focus. The exer­cise needs a bit of tweak­ing but I’ll try to fix it up and write it out in case oth­ers want to try it with local Friends.

The invite came when the pro­gram coör­di­na­tor googled “quak­er tes­ti­monies” and found the video below (loose tran­script is here):

Sorting Quaker peculiarities in the modern world

Friends nev­er set out to start to their own reli­gion; what became seen as the more “pecu­liar” Quak­er prac­tices were sim­ply their inter­pre­ta­tion of the prop­er mode of chris­tian liv­ing. At some point some of the­se prac­tices became forms, things done because that’s what Quak­ers are sup­posed to do. The empti­ness of this ratio­nale led some of those in lat­er gen­er­a­tions to aban­don them alto­geth­er. Nei­ther path is very sat­is­fac­to­ry. Those of us inspired by the Quak­er tra­di­tion and have to sift through the half-remembered ancient forms to under­stand their ratio­nale and con­tin­ued rel­e­van­cy.

When read­ing through Thomas Clarkson’s account of Friends cir­ca 1800, I was struck by the dif­fer­ing lengths of expla­na­tion need­ed for two cus­toms. read ear­lier install­ments of my series you’ll know that Thomas Clark­son was a British Angli­can who  spent a lot of time with Friends around the turn of the 19th Cen­tu­ry and pub­lished an invalu­able multi-volumn apol­o­gy in 1806. “A Por­trai­ture of Quak­erism” explains con­tem­po­rary Friends prac­tices and defends them as legit­i­mate ways to lead a “chris­tian” life. 

The two prac­tices that struck me were 1: the Quak­er cus­tom of using “thee” in speech and, 2: of using num­bers for the names of days of the week and months of the year. Clark­son makes a good defense of the rea­sons behind the prac­tices:

Many of the expres­sions, then in use, appeared to him to con­tain gross flat­tery, oth­ers to be idol­a­trous, oth­ers to be false rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the ideas they were intend­ed to con­vey… Now he con­sid­ered that chris­tian­i­ty required truth, and he believed there­fore that he and his fol­low­ers, who prefessed to be chris­tians in word and deed, and to fol­low the chris­tian pat­tern in all things, as far as it could be found, were called upon to depart from all the cen­surable mod­es of seech, as much as they were from any of the cus­toms of the world, which chris­tian­i­ty had deemed obje­tion­able. (p. 275 – 6, my edi­tion, p. 199 in this edi­tion in Google Books).

Clark­son takes the next four pages to explain some gram­mat­i­cal his­to­ry. In Fox’s time, “thee” was still at the tail end of being replaced by the grammatically-incorrect “you” for the sec­ond per­son sin­gu­lar, a cul­tur­al change that was a “trick­le down” of the courtier’s desire to flat­ter so-called supe­ri­ors in church and state. To a band of reli­gious reform­ers large­ly drawn from rural North Eng­land, the reap­pro­pri­a­tion of “thee” was a bold cul­tur­al state­ment. It spoke to both a gram­mat­i­cal integri­ty and a desire to flat­ten social class­es in a rad­i­cal­ly ide­al­is­tic reli­gious soci­ety.

Fol­low­ing the his­to­ry lesson, Clark­son turns to names of the days of the week and months of the years. Most are pagan names. Good chris­tians seek­ing to hon­or the one true God and deny any false gods shouldn’t spend their days invok­ing the Norse gods Tyr and Woden or the Roman gods Janus, Mars. Replac­ing them by Third Day, Fourth Day, First Mon­th and Third Mon­th strips them of their roots in non-christian cul­tures.

As Clark­son well knew, the ques­tion 150 years lat­er (and now 350 years lat­er) is whether the­se old pecu­liar cus­toms car­ry any weight beyond a kind of 17th Cen­tu­ry Quak­er nos­tal­gia. As he writes:

There is great absur­di­ty, it is said, in sup­pos­ing, that per­sons pay any respect to hea­then idols, who retain the use of the ancient names of the divi­sions of time. How many thou­sands are there, who know noth­ing of their orig­in? The com­mon peo­ple of the coun­try know none of the rea­sons.

When I look at old cus­toms I ask two ques­tions:

  1. The Ele­va­tor rule: could I explain to my pecu­liar­i­ty to a non-Quaker “aver­age Joe” in under two min­utes?
  2. The Chris­tian rule: could I make the argu­ment that this prac­tice is not just a Quak­er odd­i­ty but some­thing that every faith­ful and earnest Chris­tian should con­sid­er adopt­ing?

In the­se cas­es, thee fails and num­bered days pass­es.

Let me explain: I can’t real­ly explain why I would use thee with­out going into a expla­na­tion of pre-17th Cen­tu­ry gram­mar, talk­ing about dif­fer­ent forms of sec­ond per­son sin­gu­lar in the his­to­ry of the Eng­lish lan­guage and the reten­tion of the sec­ond per­son sin­gu­lar in most romance lan­guages. By the time I’d be done I’d come off as an over-educated bore. 

In con­trast I can say “Wednes­day is named after the Norse god Woden, Thurs­day after Thor, Jan­u­ary after the Roman Janus, etc., and as a one-God Chris­tian I don’t want to spend my days invok­ing their names con­stant­ly.” A one-sentence expla­na­tion works even in mod­ern Amer­i­ca. I’ll still be seen as an odd duck (noth­ing wrong with that) but at least peo­ple will leave the con­ver­sa­tion know­ing there’s some­one who thinks we real­ly should be seri­ous about only wor­ship­ping one God: mis­sion accom­plished, real­ly.

I know faith­ful Friends who do use thee. I’m glad they do and don’t want to double-guess their lead­ings. But for me the test of keep­ing it real (which I think is a ancient Quak­er prin­ci­ple) means hold­ing onto odd­i­ties that still point to their ori­gins.

Tempations, shared paths and religious accountability

Some­times it seems as if mod­erns are look­ing back at his­to­ry through the wrong end of the tele­scope: every­thing seems soooo far away. The effect is mag­ni­fied when we’re talk­ing about spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. The ancients come off as car­toon­ish fig­ures with a com­pli­cat­ed set of worked out philoso­phies and pro­hi­bi­tions that we have to adopt or reject whole­sale. The ide­al is to be a liv­ing branch on a long-rooted tree. But how do we intel­li­gent­ly con­verse with the past and nego­ti­ate changes?

Let’s talk Friends and music. The car­toon Quak­er in our his­tor­i­cal imag­i­na­tion glares down at us with heavy dis­ap­proval when it comes to music. They’re squares who just didn’t get it.

Get­ting past the car­toons

Thomas Clark­son, our Angli­can guide to Quak­er thought cir­ca 1700, brings more nuance to the scru­ples. “The Quak­ers do not deny that instru­men­tal music is capa­ble of excit­ing delight. They are not insen­si­ble either of its pow­er or of its charms. They throw no impu­ta­tion on its inno­cence, when viewed abstract­ly by itself.” (p. 64)

“Abstract­ly by itself”: when eval­u­at­ing a social prac­tice, Friends look at its effects in the real world. Does it lead to snares and tem­pa­tions? Quak­ers are engaged in a grand exper­i­ment in “chris­tian” liv­ing, keep­ing to lifestyles that give us the best chance at moral liv­ing. The warn­ings again­st cer­tain activ­i­ties are based on obser­va­tion borne of expe­ri­ence. The Quak­er guide­li­nes are wik­is, notes com­piled togeth­er into a col­lec­tive mem­o­ry of which activ­i­ties pro­mote – and which ones threat­en – the lead­ing of a moral life.

Clark­son goes on to detail Quaker’s con­cerns about music. They’re all actu­al­ly quite valid. Here’s a sam­pling:

  • Peo­ple some­times learn music just so they can show off and make oth­ers look tal­ent­less.
  • Reli­gious music can become a end to itself as peo­ple become focused on com­po­si­tion and play­ing (we’ve real­ly decon­tex­tu­al­ized: much of the music played at orches­tra halls is Mass­es; much of the music played at folk fes­ti­val is church spir­i­tu­als).
  • Music can be a big time waster, both in its learn­ing and its lis­ten­ing.
  • Music can take us out into the world and lead to a self-gratification and fash­ion.

I won’t say any of the­se are absolute rea­son to ban music, but as a list of neg­a­tive temp­ta­tions they still apply. The Catholic church my wife belongs to very con­scious­ly has music as a cen­ter­piece. It’s very beau­ti­ful, but I always appre­ci­ate the pastor’s reminder that the music is in ser­vice to the Mass and that no one had bet­ter clap at some per­for­mance! Like with Friends, we’re see­ing a delib­er­ate bal­anc­ing of ben­e­fits vs temp­ta­tions and a warn­ing again­st the snares that the choice has left open.

Con­text con­text con­text

In sec­tion iv, Clark­son adds time to the equa­tion. Remem­ber, the Quak­er move­ment is already 150 years old. Times have changed:

Music at [the time of ear­ly Quak­ers] was prin­ci­pal­ly in the hands of those, who made a liveli­hood of the art. Those who fol­lowed it as an accom­plish­ment, or a recre­ation, were few and those fol­lowed it with mod­er­a­tion. But since those days, its pro­gress has been immense… Many of the mid­dle class­es, in imi­ta­tion of the high­er, have received it… It is learned now, not as a source of occa­sion­al recre­ation, but as a com­pli­cat­ed sci­ence, where per­fec­tion is insist­ed upon to make it worth of pur­suit. p.76.

Again we see Clarkson’s Quak­ers mak­ing dis­tinc­tions between types and moti­va­tions of musi­cian­ship. The labor­er who plays a gui­tar after a hard day on the field is less wor­ri­some than the obsessed ado­les­cent who spends their teen years locked in the den prac­tic­ing Stair­way to Heav­en. And when music is played at large fes­ti­vals that lead youth “into com­pa­ny” and fash­ions, it threat­ens the reli­gious soci­ety: “it has been found, that in pro­por­tion as young Quak­ers mix with the world, they gen­er­al­ly imbibe its spir­it, and weak­en them­selves as mem­bers of their own body.”

Music has changed even more rad­i­cal­ly in the suceed­ing two cen­turies. Most of the music in our lives is pre-recorded; it’s ubiq­ui­tious and often invol­un­tary (you can’t go shop­ping with­out it). Add in the drone of TV and many of us spend an insane amount of time in its semi-narcotic haze of iso­lat­ed lis­ten­er­ship. Then, what about DIY music and sin­ga­longs. Is there a dis­tinc­tion to be made between testoterone power-chord rock and twee singer-songwriter strums? Between are­nas and cof­fee­house shows? And move past music into the oth­er media of our lives. What about movies, DVS, com­put­ers, glossy mag­a­zi­nes, talk shows. Should Friends waste their time obsess­ing over Amer­i­can Idol? Well what about Prairie Home Com­pan­ion?

Does a social prac­tice lead us out into the world in a way that makes it hard for us to keep a moral cen­ter? What if we turned off the medi­at­ed con­sumer uni­verse and engaged in more spir­i­tu­al­ly reward­ing activ­i­ties – con­tem­pla­tive read­ing, ser­vice work, vis­it­ing with oth­ers? But what if music, com­put­ers, radio, is part of the way we’re engag­ing with the world?

How to decide?

Final­ly, in Clarkson’s days Friends had an elab­o­rate series of courts that would decide about social prac­tices both in the abstract (whether they should be pub­lished as warn­ings) and the par­tic­u­lar (whether a par­tic­u­lar per­son had strayed too far and fal­l­en in moral dan­ger). Clark­son was writ­ing for a non-Quaker audi­ence and often trans­lat­ed Quak­ere­se: “courts” was his name for month­ly, quar­ter­ly and year­ly meet­ing struc­tures. I sus­pect that those ses­sions more close­ly resem­bled courts than they do the mod­ern insti­tu­tions that share their name. The court sys­tem led to its own abus­es and start­ed to break down short­ly after Clarkson’s book was pub­lished and doesn’t exist any­more.

We find out­selves today pret­ty much with­out any struc­ture for shar­ing our expe­ri­ences (“Faith and Prac­tice” sort of does this but most copies just gath­er dust on shelves). Month­ly meet­ings don’t feel that over­sight of their mem­bers is their respon­si­bil­i­ty; many of us have seen them look the oth­er way even at fla­grant­ly egre­gious behav­ior and many Friends would be out­raged at the con­cept that their meet­ing might tell them what to do – I can hear the howls of protest now! 

And yet, and yet: I hear many peo­ple long­ing for this kind of col­lec­tive inquiry and instruc­tion. A lot of the emer­gent church talk is about build­ing account­able com­mu­ni­ties. So we have two broad set of ques­tions: what sort of prac­tices hurt and hin­der our spir­i­tu­al lives in the­se mod­ern times; and how do we share and per­haps cod­i­fy guide­li­nes for twenty-first cen­tu­ry right­eous liv­ing?

Going lowercase christian with Thomas Clarkson

Vist­ing 1806’s “A por­trai­ture of Quak­erism: Tak­en from a view of the edu­ca­tion and dis­ci­pline, social man­ners, civil and polit­i­cal econ­o­my, reli­gious prin­ci­ples and char­ac­ter, of the Soci­ety of Friends”

Thomas Clark­son wasn’t a Friend. He didn’t write for a Quak­er audi­ence. He had no direct expe­ri­ence of (and lit­tle appar­ent inter­est in) any peri­od that we’ve retroac­tive­ly claimed as a “gold­en age of Quak­erism.” Yet all this is why he’s so inter­est­ing.

The basic facts of his life are summed up in his Wikipedia entry (http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​T​h​o​m​a​s​_​C​l​a​r​k​son), which begins: “Thomas Clark­son (28 March 1760 – 26 Sep­tem­ber 1846), abo­li­tion­ist, was born at Wis­bech, Cam­bridgeshire, Eng­land, and became a lead­ing cam­paign­er again­st the slave trade in the British Empire.” The only oth­er nec­es­sary piece of infor­ma­tion to our sto­ry is that he was a Angli­can.

British Friends at the end of of the Eigh­teen­th Cen­tu­ry were still some­what aloof, mys­te­ri­ous and con­sid­ered odd by their fel­low coun­try­men and wom­en. Clark­son admits that one rea­son for his writ­ing “A Por­trai­ture of Quak­erism” was the enter­tain­ment val­ue it would provide his fel­low Angli­cans. Friends were start­ing to work with non-Quakers like Clark­son on issues of con­science and while this ecu­meni­cal activism was his entre – “I came to a knowl­edge of their liv­ing man­ners, which no oth­er per­son, who was not a Quak­er, could have eas­i­ly obtained” (Vol 1, p. i)– it was also a symp­tom of a great sea change about to hit Friends. The Nine­teen­th Cen­tu­ry ush­ered in a new type of Quak­er, or more pre­cise­ly whole new types of Quak­ers. By the time Clark­son died Amer­i­can Friends were going through their sec­ond round of schism and Joseph John Gur­ney was arguably the best-known Quak­er across two con­ti­nents: Oxford edu­cat­ed, at ease in gen­teel Eng­lish soci­ety, active in cross-denominational work, and flu­ent and well stud­ied in Bib­li­cal stud­ies. Clark­son wrote about a Soci­ety of Friends that was dis­ap­pear­ing even as the ink was dry­ing at the print­ers.

Most of the old accounts of Friends we still read were writ­ten by Friends them­selves. I like old Quak­er jour­nals as much as the next geek, but it’s always use­ful to get an outsider’s per­spec­tive (here’s a more modern-day exam­ple). Also: I don’t think Clark­son was real­ly just writ­ing an account sim­ply for entertainment’s sake. I think he saw in Friends a mod­el of chris­tian behav­ior that he thought his fel­low Angli­cans would be well advised to study. 

His account is refresh­ing­ly free of what we might call Quak­er bag­gage. He doesn’t use Fox or Bar­clay quotes as a blud­geon again­st dis­agree­ment and he doesn’t drone on about his­to­ry and per­son­al­i­ties and schisms. Read­ing between the lines I think he rec­og­nizes the grow­ing rifts among Friends but gloss­es over them (fair enough: the­se are not his bat­tles). Refresh­ing­ly, he doesn’t hold up Quak­er lan­guage as some sort of quaint and untrans­lat­able tongue, and when he describes our process­es he often uses very sur­pris­ing words that point to some fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences between Quak­er prac­tice then and now that are obscured by com­mon words.

Thomas Clark­son is inter­est­ed in what it’s like to be a good chris­tian. In the book it’s type­set with low­er­case “c” and while I don’t have any rea­son to think it’s inten­tion­al, I find that type­set­ting illu­mi­nat­ing nonethe­less. This mean­ing of “chris­tian” is not about sub­scrib­ing to par­tic­u­lar creeds and is not the same con­cept as uppercase-C “Chris­tian.” My Luther­an grand­moth­er actu­al­ly used to use the lowercase-c mean­ing when she described some behav­ior as “not the chris­tian way to act.” She used it to describe an eth­i­cal and moral stan­dard. Friends share that under­stand­ing when we talk about Gospel Order: that there is a right way to live and act that we will find if we fol­low the Spirit’s lead. It may be a lit­tle quaint to use chris­tian to describe this kind of gener­ic good­ness but I think it shifts some of the debates going on right now to think of it this way for awhile.

Clarkson’s “Por­trai­ture” looks at pecu­liar Quak­er prac­tices and reverse-engineers them to show how they help Quak­er stay in that chris­tian zone. His book is most often ref­er­enced today because of its descrip­tions of Quak­er plain dress but he’s less inter­est­ed in the style than he is with the practice’s effect on the soci­ety of Friends. He gets pos­i­tive­ly soci­o­log­i­cal at times. And because he’s speak­ing about a denom­i­na­tion that’s 150 years old, he was able to describe how the tes­ti­monies had shift­ed over time to address chang­ing world­ly con­di­tions.

And that’s the key. So many of us are try­ing to under­stand what it would be like to be “authen­ti­cal­ly” Quak­er in a world that’s very dif­fer­ent from the one the first band of Friends knew. In the com­ment to the last post, Alice M talked about recov­ered the Quak­er charism (http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​C​h​a​r​ism). I didn’t join Friends because of the­ol­o­gy or his­to­ry. I was a young peace activist who knew in my heart that there was some­thing more moti­vat­ing me than just the typ­i­cal paci­fist anti-war rhetoric. In Friends I saw a deep­er under­stand­ing and a way of con­nect­ing that with a nascent spir­i­tu­al awak­en­ing.

What does it mean to live a chris­tian life (again, low­er­case) in the 21st Cen­tu­ry? What does it mean to live the Quak­er charism in the mod­ern world? How do we relate to oth­er reli­gious tra­di­tions both with­out and now with­in our reli­gious soci­ety and what’s might our role be in the Emer­gent Church move­ment? I think Clark­son gives clues. And that’s what this series will talk about.

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Reach up high, clear off the dust, time to get started

It’s been a fas­ci­nat­ing edu­ca­tion learn­ing about insti­tu­tion­al Catholi­cism the­se past few weeks. I won’t reveal how and what I know, but I think I have a good pic­ture of the cul­ture inside the bishop’s inner cir­cle and I’m pret­ty sure I under­stand his long-term agen­da. The cur­rent lightening-fast clo­sure of sixty-some church­es is the first step of an ambi­tious plan; man­u­fac­tured priest short­ages and soon-to-be over­crowd­ed church­es will be used to jus­ti­fy even more rad­i­cal changes. In about twen­ty years time, the 125 church­es that exist today will have been sold off. What’s left of a half mil­lion faith­ful will be herd­ed into a dozen or so mega-churches, with the­ol­o­gy bor­rowed from gener­ic lib­er­al­ism, style from feel-good evan­gel­i­cal­ism, and orga­ni­za­tion from con­sul­tant cul­ture.

When dioce­san offi­cials come by to read this blog (and they do now), they will smile at that last sen­tence and nod their heads approv­ing­ly. The con­spir­a­cy is real.

But I don’t want to talk about Catholi­cism again. Let’s talk Quak­ers instead, why not? I should be in some meet­ing for wor­ship right now any­way. Julie left Friends and returned to the faith of her upbring­ing after eleven years with us because she want­ed a reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty that shared a basic faith and that wasn’t afraid to talk about that faith as a cor­po­rate “we.” It seems that Catholi­cism won’t be able to offer that in a few years. Will she run then run off to the East­ern Ortho­dox church? For that mat­ter should I be run­ning off to the Men­non­ites? See though, the prob­lem is that the same issues will face us wherever we try to go. It’s mod­ernism, baby. No focused and authen­tic faith seems to be safe from the Forces of the Bland. Lord help us.

We can blog the ques­tions of course. Why would some­one who dis­likes Catholic cul­ture and wants to dis­man­tle its infra­struc­ture become a priest and a career bureau­crat? For that mat­ter why do so many peo­ple want to call them­selves Quak­ers when they can’t stand basic Quak­er the­ol­o­gy? If I want­ed lots of com­ments I could go on blah-blah-blah, but ulti­mate­ly the ques­tion is futile and beyond my fig­ur­ing.

Anoth­er piece to this issue came in some ques­tions Wess Daniels sent around to me and a few oth­ers this past week in prepa­ra­tion for his upcom­ing pre­sen­ta­tion at Wood­brooke. He asked about how a par­tic­u­lar Quak­er insti­tu­tion did or did not rep­re­sent or might or might not be able to con­tain the so-called “Con­ver­gent” Friends move­ment. I don’t want to bust on any­one so I won’t name the orga­ni­za­tion. Let’s just say that like pret­ty much all Quak­er bureau­cra­cies it’s inward-focused, shal­low in its pub­lic state­ments, slow to take ini­tia­tive and more or less irrel­e­vant to any cam­paign to gath­er a great peo­ple. A more suc­cess­ful Quak­er bureau­cra­cy I could name seems to be doing well in fundrais­ing but is doing less and less with more and more staff and seems more inter­est­ed in donor-focused hype than long-term pro­gram imple­men­ta­tion.

One ene­my of the faith is bureau­cra­cy. Real lead­er­ship has been replaced by con­sul­tants and fundrais­ers. Finan­cial and staffing crises – real and cre­at­ed – are used to jus­ti­fy a water­ing down of the mes­sage. Pro­grams are dri­ven by donor mon­ey rather than clear need and when real work might require con­tro­ver­sy, it’s tabled for the façade of feel-goodism. Quak­er read­ers who think I’m talk­ing about Quak­ers: no I’m talk­ing about Catholics. Catholic read­ers who think I’m talk­ing about Catholics: no, I’m talk­ing about Quak­ers. My point is that the­se forces are tear­ing down reli­gios­i­ty all over. Some cheer this devel­op­ment on. I think it’s evil at work, the Tempter using our leader’s desires for posi­tion and respect and our the desires of our laity’s (for lack of a bet­ter word) to trust and think the best of its lead­ers.

So where does that leave us? I’m tired of think­ing that may­be if I try one more Quak­er meet­ing I’ll find the com­mu­ni­ty where I can prac­tice and deep­en my faith as a Chris­tian Friend. I’m stumped. That first batch of Friends knew this feel­ing: Fox and the Pen­ing­tons and all the rest talked about iso­la­tion and about reli­gious pro­fes­sion­als who were in it for the career. I know from the blo­gos­phere and from count­less one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions that there are a lot of us – a lot – who either drift away or stay in meet­ings out of a sense of guilt.

So what would a spir­i­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty for the­se out­sider Friends look like? If we had real vision rather than donor vision, what would our struc­tures look like? If we let the gener­ic church­es go off to out-compete one oth­er to see who can be the bland­est, what would be left for the rest of us to do?

20080608-xcjchpscnwekhsh85kg2hr7nbf.previewI guess this last para­graph is the new revised mis­sion state­ment for the Quak­er part of this blog. Okay kids, get a step stool, go to your meet­ing library, reach up high, clear away the dust and pull out vol­ume one of “A por­trai­ture of Quak­erism: Tak­en from a view of the edu­ca­tion and dis­ci­pline, social man­ners, civil and polit­i­cal econ­o­my, reli­gious prin­ci­ples and char­ac­ter, of the Soci­ety of Friends” by Thomas Clark­son. Yes the 1806 ver­sion, stop the grum­bling. Get out the ribbed pack­ing tape and put its cov­er back togeth­er – this isn’t the frig­ging Library of Con­gress and we’re actu­al­ly going to read this thing. Don’t even waste your time check­ing it out in the meeting’s log­book: no one’s pulled it down off the shelf in fifty years and no one’s going to miss it now. Real­ly stuck?, okay Google’s got it too. Class will start short­ly.