July 31, 2006

Evangelical pastor challenges congregants

Well, it is mighty seldom that I will post anything from the news on this blog, but when my partner called me over to look at what she was reading on the internet, I knew right away it would be worthwhile to post it... not to mention, it's a lot easier to cut-and-paste from the New York Times' website than it is for me to write up all that I want to share of my experience while at Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)'s annual sessions!

Here are some choice quotes from the NYTimes article, published 30 July 2006 and headlined "Disowning Conservative Politics, Evangelical Pastor Rattles Flock."

I'll interject a few notes here:

1. For readers who don't wish to register for the NYTimes in order to access the article, try these Google news' links.

2. This congregation is a few miles from where I live, in the nearby St. Paul suburb of Maplewood, Minnesota. I've already called the pastor to thank him for his faithfulness and to express appreciation that the board has not stood in the way of his sharing the sermons he had prepared--something that is mentioned in the article.

3. I get a kick out of seeing the word "disowning" in the title of the article. How Quakerly!


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Disowning Conservative Politics, Evangelical Pastor Rattles Flock

The requests [to Reverend Gregory A. Boyd] came from [the evangelical megachurch's] members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

. . . . . . . . .

“There is a lot of discontent brewing,” said Brian D. McLaren, the founding pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and a leader in the evangelical movement known as the “emerging church,” which is at the forefront of challenging the more politicized evangelical establishment.

“More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right,” Mr. McLaren said. “You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people. Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’ ”

. . . . . . . . .

[Mr. Boyd] said he first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing “God Bless America” and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.

“I thought to myself, ‘What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?’ ” he said in an interview.

. . . . . . . . .

“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”

. . . . . . . . .

Mr. Boyd has a new book out, “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church,” which is based on his sermons. He is known among evangelicals for a bestselling book, “Letters From a Skeptic,” based on correspondence with his father, a leftist union organizer and a lifelong agnostic — an exchange that eventually persuaded his father to embrace Christianity.

July 23, 2006

Off to Iowa once again

This week [Seventh Month 2006] I head to the hometown of Herbert Hoover, near which will be held the annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative).

This will be the second time attending these particular sessions, and it looks as if I will run into fellow Quaker-blogger Kody... but will miss Conservative Friend and Quaker-blogger Marshall, as he approaches Baltimore Yearly Meeting territory at the end of his trek.

During Meeting for Worship today, I spent some time recognizing that I had found yet another way to put myself in the center of my Quakerism: I had caught myself imagining having all my high expectations about IYM(C) met simply because I had had such a good time last year... because I had ZERO expectations last year.

I was making IYM(C) be all about ME: Would I have such a good time again? Who would I see there? What new people would I meet there? Would I enjoy the singing as much? Would the business sessions be as grounded in worship as they had been last year?

Would I come away from sessions being a better Friend, a better Conservative Friend...?

What I need to be doing is putting God in the center:

What will God ask of me?

How might I be of service?

What will help me stay open and attentive to the gentle promptings of the Spirit, despite the busyness of the sessions, so that I might be a faithful servant?
I'll let you know how it goes when I return.


July 17, 2006

Is Judaism going convergent too?

I can hardly contain myself.

I occasionally read Rachel's Velveteen Rabbi, whose blog has helped me consider the Judaism of my upbringing in a new light.

Recently, Rachel was part of a conference for progressive bloggers of faith... and she wrote about her experience being with other Jewish bloggers, which so closely parallels what us Quaker bloggers have recently been blogging about that I just had to tell you all to go read what Rachel had to say!

Very cool!


P.S. Rachel has put up other links to separate posts she or others wrote about her experience at that conference...

QUICK UPDATE: I just came across an earlier post by Rachel about just what is Jewish renewal?!?, which I also find intriguing, given the current topic(s) of our respective blogospheres.

July 15, 2006

Do I have to be a Christian
to be a Convergent Friend?

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:

  • 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.
  • It's Wess' words that speak to me and that "tweak" my own conflicted insides. In the article, he writes:
    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.

    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...
    Here is what I unite with:

    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.

    For example:

    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.


    *This is largely why I consider myself "Conservative-leaning."

    July 12, 2006

    Freedom Friends at FGC Gathering

    Well, it figures that I'd be adding another post here or there as I remember other significant meetings and events that happened at the Gathering.

    (FYI, on this blog's home page, on the lower right-hand side, there is now a listing of Gathering-related posts.)

    On Wednesday night of the Gathering, during the evening's picnic dinner, I was wandering around the field looking for just the right conversation to join, when I heard someone call out--

    Hey, that must be Liz Opp!
    I looked toward where the voice was coming from but didn't recognize the faces who were there, so I kept on walking.

    But something drew me back to that spot just two or three seconds later.

    "Did someone here just call out, Hey, that must be Liz Opp?" I asked.

    And then a woman responded,
    Yeah, I did. I'm Peggy.
    The look on my face must have told her I was clueless, and as I was taking in the scene of this unfamiliar woman wearing black cowboy boots and her head resting on a motorcycle helmet, she added,
    Peggy of Freedom Friends, Peggy Senger Parsons.
    Ohhhh, Hello!!

    So then I was introduced to clerk Alivia Biko and I took a seat to listen in on the conversation.

    I don't remember much of what was said, but at one point, I turned to Peggy and told her I was looking forward to attending the session the next day when she and Alivia would be speaking about Freedom Friends.

    She wondered what I was talking about.

    I couldn't tell if she was serious or not, so I decided to err on the side of taking her seriously. I pulled out the paper that had a list of FGC outreach events and pointed to the one that said Friends from Freedom Friends Church would be speaking about their experience.

    Well, whether or not they knew ahead of time that they were scheduled to say something about Freedom Friends Church, Peggy and Alivia were great the next day in how they asked us to participate in a worship service in the manner of Freedom Friends.

    The room was set up in concentric squares, and Peggy and Alivia spoke out of the opening silence about the attenders and visitors who come to Freedom Friends, their own history among Northwest Yearly Meeting and their departure from it, and what we as attenders of Freedom Friends might expect to experience during the course of worship...

    I liked hearing about the use of a box full of pieces of paper that have a significant quote, query, or advice on them, that worshipers could draw from, pick one out, and contemplate it during worship. I also liked that worship starts with a description of what Freedom Friends are about, especially since most attenders there seem to find the church through the internet. It takes the guesswork out of what these particular Friends believe and how they worship.

    Then we moved into a period of sharing concerns and joys, with Peggy wrapping up that sharing time with vocal prayer.

    I don't remember some of the other programmatic things that were talked about, or the opening song we started with, but I remember that the period that is typically used for open worship was, for this particular session, reserved for Alivia and Peggy to speak out of the silence about their own journey and leadings to establish Freedom Friends.

    Somehow, hearing each of their stories helped me understand a teeny weeny bit about programmed, pastoral Friends churches. I had not known, for example, that among EFI churches, there can be Friends who travel in the ministry, which had been a part of their story.

    What struck me was Peggy's and Alivia's integrity and sense of call. Here are two Friends, striving to be faithful and obedient, living up to the measure of Light they have been given, one day and one worshiper at a time.

    What also struck me was that the manner of worship for Freedom Friends is not one that would work for me, but it clearly works for others. And the same can be said for the unprogrammed manner of worship for liberal and Conservative Friends, that it works for some but is not for everyone.

    Towards the end of our time, Chris M. lifted up the question, Do either of you, Peggy and Alivia, have a message on your hearts for those of us here?

    We fell into worship, and after a couple of beats, Peggy offered this:
    There are embers smoldering among us, and they need to be blown on.
    We sat motionless and held that ministry for just a while longer before other comments were addressed. Shortly after that, I needed to leave as part of a mini-exodus: a number of us were headed to a meeting related to next year's Gathering.

    It is now very clear to me that Freedom Friends Church is indeed "passionately Christ-centered, passionately Quaker, and passionately inclusive." I was glad I could make it to this particular session.

    Having met and heard from these two passionate Friends, I'll now read Peggy's Silly Poor Gospel with a different lens. Thanks, you two, for making the trip to Tacoma. And thanks to the faithful Friend in FGC who helped smooth the way for them.


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    July 11, 2006

    After the 2006 Gathering

    This year, my experience at FGC's summer Gathering was so-so. Nothing compared to last year's Gathering, in which I led a well-received workshop and found opportunities to connect with and worship with young adult Friends.

    Still, there are some highlights worth mentioning, the most significant of which is the interest group about Quaker renewal and Convergent Friends. (Robin M. has a fine definition of Convergent Friends, by the way.)

    On Fire! interest group

    On Sunday night, the evening before the interest groups were to be convened, Robin M. and Martin Kelley and I got together to consider how we might set up and organize the On Fire! interest group. We had an energetic conversation, just the thing I needed to get stoked and fired up for the next night's event.

    Robin had put forward the topic for a round of introductions, suggesting "Name one spiritual discipline or practice you use that brings you joy or somehow sustains you."

    Then it was suggested that this be carried out in a "worshipful frame," so that Friends would be less likely to take the time to explain why that practice was significant to them. Since more than 40 Friends attended the session, introductions could easily have expanded to fill nearly an hour of time, so we did well to set the expectation that (1) the sharing be brief and that (2) we take time between each person's introduction to receive and "absorb" what was shared.

    Martin, Robin, and I also agreed that we would start with a decent amount of worship and then share our own stories of how we came to lend our voice to the growing movement among Friends for a renewal of certain practices and a convergence among the branches.* What ultimately emerged from our own sharing was that we had set the stage for others to share deeply as well.

    I don't know what I had been expecting--a few questions about our life as Quaker bloggers? a challenge about how Quakerism can't or shouldn't be brought into a venue such as the internet?--so I was delighted to hear from others about their own experience in having navigated, traversed, and transcended the schisms that typically keep us Quakers in our own geographic and theological boxes.

    There was a reference to the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theological Conference, for example, which appears to be scheduled for September 2006. (Sadly, my Google search did not turn up a decent website for this conference.) And there were other stories of how the Living Christ has brought Friends together in small and large ways.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    A side note: Of the three of us who convened the interest group, I would say I am the least "convergent" of us. That is, I am still establishing and strengthening relationships with liberal and Conservative Friends who believe in Christ Jesus, and have not ventured very far afield in exploring relationships with Friends from EFI or FUM.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    After so much talk of and witness to the power of Christ in our journey among Friends, the concern was raised that we not turn into a "Christian glee club." Clearly there were more stories to be shared and questions to be asked and answered, but instead we found ourselves falling into a deep and gathered worship.

    I can only point to how well Martin, Robin, and I had come to the interest group "with hearts and minds prepared," and how most of us in that room shared a belief in the ability to know God directly when we stop and listen together out of worship.

    It was hard to break worship and close our session, but as Martin has written elsewhere, the cell phone of a Friend--who was giving vocal ministry at the time--went off. We had a good chuckle, the Friend rather hurriedly finished the message and abashedly sat down, and Martin offered a beautiful segue by articulating that we ourselves had not broken worship yet it was time to go.

    It was clear that Something was among us that had moved us into a deep place that night.

    Martin then invited Friends to continue our conversations throughout the week, adding that there would be an informal gathering with young Friends that night who were offering and/or participating in other interest groups--one on FGC's new Youth Ministries Program and another on the 2005 World Gathering of Young Friends.

    Intergenerational meet-up afterwards

    On Martin's suggestion, a number of us wandered over to the prominent clock tower on campus, and got into a wonderful intergenerational conversation with about 20 Friends, including a handful of bloggers. At first we shared how our respective interest group experiences went... and then we started talking about the state of FGC's age-segregated Gathering.

    One Friend commented on the difficulty of bringing us together in an intergenerational community when there are concurrent activities that clearly break us up along age lines--such as having an interest group dedicated to young Friends, which was occurring at the same time when fFriends of young Friends were conducting other interest groups!

    There were other comments about how well certain yearly meetings were doing in embracing and integrating young Friends, too, which were valuable affirmations to hear.

    And then came a question that I couldn't have anticipated:

    Why don't older Friends talk to us? asked a young Friend.
    We fell into silence, holding that question. It was a question I felt called to answer.
    I'm afraid of you, I answered plainly. I don't want to intrude, so I hang back and give you space. Plus, I had such a miserable time in middle school and high school--I wasn't surrounded by Quaker teens and supportive Quaker adults--and I am only now beginning to have some healing about that. I don't know how to connect with young people because I've gotten older and my life is so different now. Plus I don't always know how to invite you into things that other adults at Meeting are talking about...
    I don't remember what else was said after that, but I remember feeling grounded and cared for after having spoken.

    We were under that clock tower for an hour or hour and a half, when I discovered that yes, the Pacific Northwest does have mosquitoes. But that meet-up was another highlight of my time at the Gathering.

    So much to do, so little time

    The Gathering was so incredibly FULL this year, probably because it was one day shorter than it usually is. FGC was concerned that east-coast Friends wouldn't come if they didn't have an extra day to travel... (Never mind that many east-coast Friends still did not come, but many more western US, Canadian, and Alaskan Friends did!) So here is a list of things I didn't squeeze into my schedule, for one reason or another.
  • The forum and follow-up discussion on the continued concern about the status of the Quaker sweatlodge workshop.

  • The meetings for worship with attention to healing racism.

  • The noon sings.

  • Hearing Kody sing at the Lemonade Art Gallery.

  • A number of films that were shown during the week.

  • Meetings for Worship with attention to Business, for Friends for LGBTQ Concerns.

  • And impromptu conversations that probably happened at the main dining room, where I visited only one meal a day, late in the evening.
  • Oh well. There's always next year, in River Falls, Wisconsin!


    *Be sure to look at a related post and great comments about what Convergent Friends may and may not mean.

    UPDATES, ongoing:

    1. Photo of bloggers at the interest group

    2. Other posts about the 2006 Gathering:
  • Paul L reflects on many good things that happened there

  • Rebecca writes about a Meeting for Worship on the train

  • Robin M. describes how we set the stage for a firey interest group

  • Martin adds his take to the interest group... and creates a list of Gathering-related posts at the end of his entry, too (my list and his list are slightly different, fyi)

  • Timothy wonders about the use of the word 'Convergent' at the interest group

  • Pam questions the format of Gathering workshops

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