I began a comment on Timothy's One Quaker Take in response to his concern over just what "Convergent Quakerism" means.
Timothy references some of what occurred during the interest group at Gathering. Some of the questions he raises about the use of that phrase now prod me into sharing something that has been on my heart for awhile. So I am expanding on the comment that I had started in response to Timothy's post by continuing my thoughts here.
Monday night of the Gathering, when Martin, Robin, and I finally had a chance to review the interest group and what we had just been through, one of the things I mentioned was my concern that Friends who had attended that session may have made the assumption that the three of us identify as Christian.
For the record, I do not identify as Christian. At least not in the conventional/secular use of the term.
I had recognized as the evening went on that more and more Friends were speaking passionately about their love of Jesus and about their joy of being among Christian Friends. I began to worry how any non-Christian Friends might be responding. After all, the evening had begun as a forum to consider the spiritual fire that was leading some of us to restore and reclaim traditional Quaker practices for ourselves. I had no idea that it would open doors for Christian Friends to feel so at home and freed...
Likewise, it had never occurred to me, in my opening comments during introductions, to talk about why I, a non-Christian Quaker, was able to unite with the hunger and excitement of two Christian Friends and co-facilitate an interest group on engaging in a Quaker renewal through a convergence among Friends (though Robin acknowledged she could barely whisper the word "Christian"...).
By the time I had realized that the spiritual safety of non-Christian Friends like myself perhaps was being trumped by the excited witness of Christian Friends, we were well settled into worship.
So. Just where do I find myself in this conversation about Convergent Quakerism?
Like Timothy, "convergent" is a term I wrestle with. For myself, I have recognized that I cannot speak about it until I have lived with it for a while and until I see what, if any, fruit of the Spirit there may be.
I am someone who seems to have a natural affinity for learning languages. How that plays out is that I know intuitively to wait and observe and "feel my way" as I am exposed to how a certain word, phrase, gesture, or even facial expression is used over time, by different individuals, and in a number of contexts.
In the case of the phrase "Convergent Quakerism," (or just "convergence" among Friends) I have observed its use in at least these ways:
It's Wess' words that speak to me and that "tweak" my own conflicted insides. In the article, he writes:
Robin M's initial definition, since she lifted it up for testing; Martin Kelley's own use of the phrase sometime later (see the last sentence of an earlier post of his);
and, more recently,
in an article in Quaker Life, written by blogger C. Wess Daniels.
The excitement [about Convergent Friends] is not over the fact there is a new group of Friends, but that there is a group of people who are in love with early Quakerism, Jesus and the Bible, following the Spirit and sharing God’s love with the world today. Convergent Friends hold both the Bible and experience in high regard, and reject the modern dichotomy between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. In order to do this we must focus on transforming our practices.Here is what I unite with:
One important practice we Quakers must participate in is a continual retelling of both the Christian (through the Bible and church history) and Quaker narrative (through journals, history books, etc.). The retelling of these stories helps heal and reshape the disparaging identity we now bear. Sharing stories must turn into learning and transformation if we are to pass our tradition onward...
1. That there are Friends, from no particular branch and from every branch, who are in love with what we understand is part of early Quakerism.
2. That we love and yearn to be faithful to the Spirit and to live into God's love, regardless of how we name that Presence.
3. That integrating our faith and our practice is key to renewing and sustaining a rigorous, transformative Quakerism.
4. That retelling our personal stories and sharing our historical narratives about who we are as Friends and who we have been as Friends will help convey our faith to those who worship among us.
And here are the things that I wrestle with, given that I was not raised in a Christian tradition:
1. If I do not know Jesus directly, and if I am not "at home" (let alone in love with!) the Bible, how can I count myself among Convergent Friends?
2. If there has been no regular place for Scripture in my experience as a Friend, how can I count myself among Convergent Friends, or even among Conservative Friends?*
3. If I have next-to-no familiarity of the history of the Church, and only a thumbnail's understanding of how the Church has impacted early Friends and Friends today, can I count myself among Convergent Friends?
Are these not some of the items that, in fact, put me more squarely among Liberal Friends?
...And yet, going back to how Robin phrased it, I am in fact "seeking a deeper understanding of our Quaker heritage and a more authentic life" by following the leadings of the Spirit.
What's more, to me the Convergent conversation occurs when participants are secure in their faith and not defensive about it. I can stand firmly and squarely in my faith as I understand it, and other Friends can stand firmly and squarely in their faith as they understand it, even if our Quakerism is expressed or revealed to us in different forms.
It has been my experience that I have gone more deeply into Quakerism because Friends have spoken truthfully with me about their own.
I have gone more deeply into Quakerism because Friends have asked me to risk looking more closely at the roots of practices such as eldership, testing a leading, and providing mutual accountability.
In short, Friends have held my feet to the fire while making it clear that I would be loved and welcomed even if I could not stand the heat.
Maybe two months before Gathering was to get underway, I recognized that I had completely forgotten about the forum on the Quaker sweatlodge that was supposed to be convened on the night of interest groups.
This is a concern I have been following because of friends I have on all sides of the issue. I contacted Robin and Martin to say I was going to have to reconsider--or discern further--where I was meant to be that Monday night.
Robin responded by saying, "Well, you go to where you are called. At the same time, you made this commitment to do this interest group and you are a part of this work." Such is how I remember it, anyway.
I felt no judgment from Robin, no anger, no hurt. Yet she reminded me that God had called me to that interest group, too. Neither Robin nor Martin told me what to do, but God did. Robin's words just reminded me to Listen again.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Convergent Friends seem to hone one other. We connect with one another around our common hunger and desire to delve more deeply into Quakerism, and the commonality is what carries us into the life of the Spirit, into the Stream. We move beyond words, beyond judgment...
And, again, affirming how Robin has described Convergent Friends, I would concur that "the winds of the Spirit are blowing across all the branches of Friends - blowing us in the same direction."
This by no means that ALL Friends from EACH branch feel the wind. Maybe the wind is the Breath of the Spirit that has blown life into only a few of us who had not previously had a voice--or who hadn't had a leading to speak before.
But it seems that something is happening, and has been happening and perhaps quickening for awhile. Conversations across the schisms of Friends have been ongoing since the schisms first emerged. There are always bridge-builders and peacemakers that emerge after a split, regardless of the theological divide, religious rift, or family break-up.
It is clear to me that these conversations, and the evolution of the phrase "Convergent Friends" are not done. We are, however, struggling and wrestling with important concepts, old and new, and we have made that struggle our own.
It may not be easy, so at least let us be faithful.