November 23, 2009

The Convergent Friends talk I didn't give

The previous week had been lesson after lesson about waiting for God to give me direction: what should I bring to the yearly meeting's high school group?

I had been asked to talk with them about Convergent Friends but I was having trouble sinking into the topic and understanding what it was I was to pull out and share.

For each of five or six days leading up to the presentation, I would spend anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour a half, writing notes, making lists, reading blog posts, asking Friends for ideas, searching the internet for interactive activities...

And the next day, I would get the feeling that what I had done the day before just wasn't what God was asking me to do.

By the event's eve, I started to let go and submit:

I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know what the group is going to need. I don't know what materials will come in handy. And I'm not going to know until I get to the site where the teens are and be among them.

So that morning, I packed up everything I thought I might be able to use if Way opened--markers, blank paper, flipchart boards, my favorite Quaker books, ALL of my notes, handouts from an earlier workshop...

And I surrendered.

I'm not sure yet if I'll write a separate blogpost about how things turned out and what activities I ended up using. Overall, though, I feel things were... satisfactory.

But along the way, with all the planning and threshing and note-jotting, I ended up with a chart that summarizes my own take on how the Convergent conversation addresses certain topics.

Convergent responses

Jesus Convergent Friends (Conv Fs) are not afraid to talk about or wrestle openly about Jesus. Whether Jesus is a teacher that we follow, a figure that we praise, or a legend that we acknowledge has relevance to our peers, we are willing to ask one another questions and listen thoughtfully for the Truth and Light that might be there for ourselves.
God or the Divine Similar to Jesus, above. Most Conv Fs speak openly about an actively present God, Living Christ, or Divine Figure in our life, but a few are questioning: Is there a God? Can I call myself a Christian? Conv Fs are willing to ask the questions and listen for Truth that may speak to our condition.
Scripture Many Conv Fs have some familiarity with Scripture. Part of the Quaker renewal that Conv Fs are coming into includes a growing openness to talk about and refer to Scripture. Some Conv Fs reference the importance of the Bible and the impact it's making in our lives.
Nontheists There appear to be very few nontheists engaged in the Convergent conversation currently, but the ones who are involved challenge theist Quakers--or at the very least, they challenge me--to watch for how any of us live our life rather than listen solely to the theology we profess. Nontheist Convergent Friends are part of the Quaker family.
Pastors & Programmed Worship Conv Fs recognize that Friends churches and programmed worship can bring Quakers closer to the Living God. Pastors explain Scripture, practices, terms, and history related to the faith tradition in a way that prevent or slow the loss of these pieces, unlike what may be happening among Liberal unprogrammed "Quietist-leaning" Friends.
Open Worship Conv Fs recognize that this form of worship provides a powerful opportunity for worshipers to know God directly and to know God as a corporate body within a gathered meeting.
Faithfulness Conv Fs often speak of a yearning to be faithful and obedient to the Spirit, and how that yearning needs to be pursued and needs to be helped. Conv Fs not only speak of our spiritual yearnings but also offer ourselves to one another for spiritual nurture and prayer support.
Accountability & Eldership Many Conv Fs have established a shared trust that allows us to open to one another for this sort of spiritual exercise.
Power & Humility The danger is that any Friend--Convergent or otherwise--may start to believe "I'm right, you're wrong" (or "We're right, you're wrong"). When we are low and keep love and God at the center of our searching, worship, and finding, we are more able to reach across the branches of our Quaker family tree and help mend the schisms.
Intervisitation Conv Fs feel known in that which is Eternal, even on the internet, and so we often seek one another out as the Opportunity arises. Meet-ups that parallel other events allow Conv Fs to strengthen ties and experience the Presence together.
Finding Conv Fs testify with one another, to the wider body of Friends, and beyond what we have found. Conv Fs testify to the Truth and Love experienced during our spiritual journey.

Not all my thoughts are fleshed out thoroughly, and though I use the words "we" and "our" when referencing Convergent Friends, I also recognize that I myself do not identify as a Convergent Friend!

I will say that I am involved in the conversation. I will explain what being part of the Convergent movement might mean. I will even devote a section of a book to the subject of Convergent Friends. But I find that I am not clear to name myself "Convergent."

That said, maybe I need to add one more part to the table above:

Attitude If the yearning to go deeper into the Quaker tradition is coupled with an openness to the many forms that Quakerism takes; and if that yearning leads a Friend to pursue more time and experience among similarly oriented Quakers, all the while remembering the Source and Inward Teacher that others earnestly strive to Know, then that Friend may well be embracing the Convergent spirit and sensibility...



Ashley W said...

Thanks for posting this description, Liz. I am uncomfortable with labeling myself Convergent too, but it is sometimes easier as a shorthand than explaining my various affiliations/leanings in the RSOF. I am glad that you focused on how Convergent Friends are engaged in a conversation rather than being a split or starting a new branch of Friends.


Kathy, Western Friend said...

Liz, this is a really nice summary. I'd love to put it to use in a future issue of Western Friend magazine--let me know if you would be open to that! editor at westernfriend dot org.

Bill Samuel said...

This description tends to emphasize diversity in faith and practice. It doesn't really define any center or common focus.

Would you say it's primarily about a conversation, and a conversation with no particular focus, other than some relationship to Quakerism?

Liz Opp said...

Ashley -

It's funny--even ironic--to find myself describing Convergent Friends by what we're NOT: we're NOT a movement, we're NOT a branch, we're NOT a split...

Somehow, breaking the thing into topics that the (online) conversation often touches on made it easier to talk about.

And I'm relieved to know that I'm not the only one who squirms a bit when someone identifies me as a Convergent Friend.

Kathy -

Thanks for the compliment. I'd like to see what other sorts of comments and additions might come forward first before giving anything resembling a green light. I'll send you an email to talk further.

Bill -

In light of Kathy's comment and my response to it, your timing is perfect!

While your perception is accurate--I didn't include in the list any sort of "central principle," but that wasn't intentional--I would say that the last item I included, what I labeled as "attitude," gets close to what that principle might be:

a yearning to go deeper into Quaker tradition... while remembering the Source and Inward Teacher that [we] earnestly strive to Know.

In addition to that, I'd say Convergent Friends are well rooted (but not always perfectly) in the motion of Love.

From that place of Love, we can learn about and learn from the diversity of faith and practice that exists within the family that is the Religious Society of Friends.

Hope that helps-- great question!

And I hope that other Friends will feel free to reply to Bill, either here or elsewhere.


Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks, Liz. As someone who has not been part of this conversation, I found this helpful and resonated with it very much.

Martin Kelley said...

I've always thought that what Convergence means depends on where you start from. This strikes me as a good liberal Quaker vision of Convergence but I wonder if it fits the experience of Friends from other traditions.

I'm enough of a Conservative Friend these days that I don't buy into the idea that there's no right or wrong and I'm not actually all that interested in the "many forms" of Quakerism. What does intrigue me are the thoughtful Friends I've found in all traditions that are wrestling with their understanding of Quaker faith and practice. To be a person in a living tradition is to hold tight to the essentials of our faith while adapting to the new social opportunities. To see what other Friends consider essential and to understand what they've chosen to drop or stress is important testing for me.

Convergent Friends are often blamed for not laying out a coherent vision of an alternative Quakerism. I hope we resist the effort to box us in. I would hate to see Convergent become a byword for any particular branch of Friends, though I fear it might be inevitable.

Liz Opp said...

Eileen -

As I mentioned elsewhere, I'm hoping other readers and bloggers will chime in: while some Friends may find this post "helpful," I'm wondering about the extent to which the post is accurate or fails in some way.

Martin -

I like the comment you start with: "Convergence... depends on where you start from... I wonder if it fits the experience of Friends from other traditions."

I'm glad that Ashley has replied, and I've enjoyed collaborating with C. Wess Daniels on his work to craft an entry for the new edition of From A to Z of the Friends, about Convergent Friends.

I would say I am not so interested in the variety of practice among Friends either, though I cannot deny that I have made connections and friendships with Quakers who engage in "outward forms" that are different from my own. But those forms seem to hold Life for these Friends, and as you mention, there seems to be a living tradition that we are tapping--looking back for guidance as well as peering forward for new understandings...

I really don't sense that you and I are very far apart when it comes to articulating what Convergence is or isn't among Friends. As always, I'm open to reading more of your thoughts and considerations, as you are Given them or otherwise come upon them.


Bill Samuel said...

I think a yearning to do deeper into Quaker tradition is dangerous. The key is not the tradition. The key is the Spirit which infused the tradition. Early Friends did not become Spirit-filled by going deeper into tradition, and present-day ones won't either, I think.

It seems to me there has been movement in at least the blogosphere part of Convergent Friends to get too wrapped up in all the controversies and stuff in Quakerism. That easily becomes a distraction from being led by the Holy Spirit.

Liz Opp said...

Bill -

Thanks for the follow-up. I don't find the yearning for a rigorous and vibrant Quakerism to exclude the central discipline of turning to the Inward Teacher: they are mutually compatible in my own mind, heart, and experience.

And yes, sometimes the online (and offline) Convergent conversation gets too filled with "stuff" and then someone like you or Martin or whomever will remind us to be still...

All a reminder to me of how Quakerism is grounded in the covenant community that strives to mind the Light...


Kim Ranger said...

Hi Bill & Liz--
I've found that among our liberal meeting, most are "converts," i.e., we/they come from other denominations or spiritual practices or from no practice at all. So, learning about Quaker tradition helps me, & seemingly others, to be MORE open to the Spirit and its leadings. Sometimes simply learning the language helps us talk openly with each other.

Bill Samuel said...

Kim, I've heard versions of that for many years. And I have known a few Friends who have started from a spiritual nowhere or rejection of their religious background who found the liberal Quaker milieu one in which they grew spiritually - and sometimes outgrew their liberal meetings.

But more often it seems to work as a mutual reinforcement for the negative attitudes people bring about Jesus Christ. And for those who come as Christians, it often seems to result in compromising their faith to get along.

I am now part of a church that is full of "misfits" who didn't fit in where they were, or who were unchurched who were repelled by what they saw in churches. But there's a big difference, in that at my church people come open and willing to learn what it does really mean to follow Jesus Christ, rather than be obsessed with the negative and throwing out the baby with the bath water as seems common among liberal Friends.

Kim Ranger said...

Interesting... As I think about our Meeting, seems like those who were obsessed with the negative & leaving Jesus behind left Meeting & went elsewhere. The rest of us have grown (are still growing). We're a small group & I've only been there 12 years, so my experience is limited.