But the questions this conference raised remain in my head. I keep saying that Quakers are in the midst of a wider renewal movement. If so, which strand are we in? Do we fit any of these categories? And does “we” mean the whole Religious Society of Friends or San Francisco Monthly Meeting or really just me? I think that neither group is a great example of any one of these strands. But we are some of each and we aspire to more. I don’t think it’s just about me or my wishful thinking.
Over the last month, I’ve had three different invitations to write about my vision for different elements of the Religious Society of Friends. I am still working on them. For today, I am just going to post my somewhat disjointed thinking about how we are and are not part of these four streams. I’m interested in other Friends’ thinking about whether these categories are useful to us or not.
Monastic: Friends have been talking about Quakerism as a holistic way of life as long as we’ve existed as a movement. Early Friends had no need of membership lists because being Quaker meant a way of dress and speech and action that was unmistakable and guaranteed to be mistreated. We have long acknowledged that both men and women can be consecrated to God in the midst of family life. The old saw is that we didn’t abolish the clergy, we abolished the laity. But the hard part of this stream reminds me of when Eric M. of Berkeley Meeting points out that many Friends complain that we can’t fit all the Quaker things we want to do into the 3% of our time we have committed to Quakerism.
In my meeting, we have openly talked about this concept. Some examples of this stream are the Friends who have given up employment with money and prestige in order to be more fully present to the community. Some Friends have desired much more than they have achieved or received. In most cases, I think you get out what you put into it. But sometimes it takes longer to get anything back than you want it to.
Missional: This stream includes all the little nudges to outreach, not just to spread Quakerism or Christianity but to share the good news we have found. It’s not about converting people who are already happy with their faith life or (lack of one) but about being visible to people who are looking for us. Can we say “For me personally, finding Quakers was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Would you like to try it?”
How do we bring the living water of Quakerism to people who are thirsting for it? How do we align the money and time we spend, not just on serving ourselves and our children, but serving all those “unchurched” people who are trying to satisfy their longings for connection and meaning and fulfillment with food or work or exercise or stuff they buy at the mall?
At a Quaker conference I went to last year about spiritual hospitality, a Friend repeated a joke that in every 1,000 people, there are 6 naturally occurring Quakers. The problem is that five of them just don’t know it. (This is of course related to the joke that 98% of all statistics are made up on the spot.)
But if you think about it, it’s not impossible. It’s just unlikely because it would be such a change in thinking and attitudes. If you’ve been in a Quaker meeting long enough, you’ve heard somebody say “Friends don’t proselytize.” But in our history, we have stories about how to be missional. We have these traditions, they’ve just fallen out of use over the last two hundred years. It’s not too late to revive them. The world is hungry for what we’ve tasted. SFMM is working on how to be more missional. But it’s little steps at a time. Like signs that are not perfect but are a valuable first attempt to be visible and vocal about our beliefs. It is made harder by our squeamishness about anything called “missional.”
Mosaic: I think most Quaker meetings are failing most at being in this stream. In many cases because of their failure to be any of the other three. Sometimes our lack of hierarchy or theological center causes us to be more rigid about other forms of defining ourselves. The mosaic stream is going beyond civil rights for racial minorities or diversity awareness for whites. It’s about reflecting the multicultural nature of our context. Because of this, I think this stream will be defined very locally. The context of San Francisco is different than the context of rural areas or the Midwest. In SF, the six naturally occurring Quakers in each thousand people are going to be a lot of different colors and generations and backgrounds and abilities.
SFMM is already an affirming community that includes a variety of gender identities and orientations, but doesn’t define ourselves by that element. We are not “the gay church” in town. We are a church with a variety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and straight members.
We are also a church that has tried to make our building and our community accessible to differently abled people. I’d say we are seeing some success on that, but there is still plenty of work to do. Especially for hearing impaired people.
Emerging: this is the catchall term for alternative worship and postmodern awareness in religion. One definition of the emerging church is “a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” (Emergent Village).
- “Growing: which indicates our desire to develop as the dreams of God for the healing, redemption, and reconciliation of the world develop.”
- Generative: which means that we expect our friendship to generate new ideas, connections, opportunities, and works of beauty.”
- “Friendship: Because we firmly hold that living in reconciled friendship trumps traditional orthodoxies – indeed, orthodoxy requires reconciliation as a prerequisite.”
- “Missional: Because we believe that the call of the gospel is an outward, apostolic call into the world.”
At our worst, we are none of these. Sometimes Friends and sometimes entire Meetings are stagnant and isolationist. Each of our Quaker groups or institutions has people who are frightened of God, Change and Others. And each has people who are actively welcoming the invitation, the vulnerability, the challenge. And pretty much, we each find ourselves on both sides of that coin from time to time. (So postmodern of us to acknowledge that.)
I think the most helpful thing about these categories is to help us keep in balance the varying elements of how we follow God’s leadings. Are we stagnant in worship even if we are growing in our reflection of the varied faces of God? Are we deep in worship but unhospitable to newcomers? Are we so outwardly focused that we fail to live our personal or intramural commitments deeply?
Even if I didn’t get to go to the conference, I am grateful for the inspiration. And grateful to Brent Bill and Jamie for reminding me about this conference in the midst of a conversation about how convergent Friends and the emergent church are connected.
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