Where is the convergent conversation now?

Baltimore? Newberg? Boston? Richmond? Salem? Philadelphia? San Francisco? Minneapolis? High Point? Pasadena? Barnesville? Berkeley? Plainfield? on the Internet?

Yes, yes and yes. All of those and more. It is still amazing to me that this phrase, convergent Friends, has struck a chord in so many places and ways. For those who are new to the conversation, for me it was originally a short hand way to refer to the commonalities between “Conservative-in-the-Quaker-sense-leaning liberal Friends” and “progressive evangelical Friends who are interested in Quaker distinctives” which I think we can all agree are really long and clunky strings of adjectives.

Linguistically, "convergent" alludes to an affinity for both Conservative Friends and the Emergent Church. Metaphorically, convergent Friends are moving closer together towards a radical understanding of the Kingdom of God embodied in our postmodern culture. I have tried out longer and shorter definitions, none of which are really precise or academic sounding, although they have frequently been peer-reviewed. It’s more of a fuzzy understanding that keeps changing, as more and more people use the term.

I see around me that Friends are (once again) examining our heritage for what is helpful to us today and what is superfluous. Friends are rediscovering and experimenting with traditional Quaker practices like plain dress, plain speech, right livelihood and traveling ministry. Friends are also testing some ancient-future practices that are common in the wider world, like sustainable economics, especially around energy and agriculture. We are looking at faithful practice in other traditions and communities – new monastics and other radical Jesus followers, engaged and Zen Buddhists, Arab-Israeli peace activists, among others, to be sure that we don’t stagnate in our own backwaters.

We are cutting doors in the institutional walls that built up in the 19th and 20th centuries. We are walking right through them and finding out that the rumors we’ve heard are not all true and that no side of the fence is greener and no group is monolithic. Will T points at curiosity as a convergent characteristic. I like that.

At first, it was my blog-fueled, mind-opening discovery that I had more in common with some evangelical Friends than I would have ever imagined that led to this naming. Over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten to know a few folks in the Conservative yearly meetings that have reinforced my original vision. This spring, I had the opportunity to visit with Friends in Indiana and North Carolina - FUM folks who were also intrigued and encouraged by this conversation. This feels like the final leg to my convergent table – not just three legs now, but four branches of Friends to lean on. Some would say there are five branches involved now, maybe it’s more like the five wheels on a good rolling desk chair with room for all of us to sit and spin in it together. (I don’t think I’ve met any serious Holiness Friends, but I’m hoping to read this book later this year.)

And the conversation has gone viral – did you see the latest ESR newsletter? Did you hear the keynote address at the FWCC Section of the Americas meeting in April? Did you read about the interest group at the recent FUM Triennial 2008? I didn’t really have anything to do with any of them, but I feel somewhat maternal about the phrase. I’m pleased to see it grow up and take off in the world.

I think that this phrase has become part of the current rise of Friends redefining what it means to be a Quaker – there are competing visions, to be sure, but they share a hope that what they cherish about Quakerism will not die out. I think this movement towards renewal has been going for about 20 years now; it’s gathering steam and starting to cause friction. I don’t know any more than anyone else where it will lead in another 20 or 50 years, but I hope to be around to see it.

So where IS that convergent conversation happening now?

A couple of weeks ago at the FGC Gathering, Liz Opp, Chris M. and I led an interest group intentionally called, “Where is the convergent conversation now?” It wasn’t bad, about 35 people came and participated, but it wasn’t great for me. I was tired, and I felt unprepared, and I hate that. I learned that leading a workshop is more than enough work for me for one week at the Gathering. I’m so glad that Chris and Liz held up most of the organizational work of putting it together, and thanks also to Paul L. who helped out that night.

I was expecting to see many of the same people as the previous couple of years and I was prepared to give an update – an account of what’s happened since last year. But the people who came were mostly new to the conversation and I wasn’t as prepared as maybe I should have been for that. People had really basic questions. They weren’t there to debate the fine points of the definition or to argue about the direction of the conversation. Other people, including Chris and Liz, tell me it was fine. But by 8:00 that night, I was not in a good space for noticing where God was working in others.

The main thing I learned, partly by hearing myself say it, is that it doesn’t work as well, for me anyway, to announce a discussion of “convergent Friends.” It would be better to establish a topic of something that I think is important and let the Friends come who are also interested in that. I don’t have to set myself out there as an expert on convergence. I’d rather open a conversation about specific elements of Quaker faith and practice. The convergent Friends will come.

I just read about a gathering in North Carolina coming up in November that will focus on the new expressions of Quaker faith and practice and the relationships of Quaker institutions and young adults. You can read more about it on Scott Wagoner’s blog, A New Kind of Quaker. It sounds very interesting and I hope to hear more about it, before and after!

I also want to put in a plug for an upcoming weekend at Ben Lomond Quaker Center in California with me and C. Wess Daniels, February 20-22, 2009.

I think the weekend will include time for participants, including Wess and me, to share some of our spiritual journeys, in small groups and in writing. We will walk in the redwoods, sing and laugh, have extended waiting worship, and eat together. We will take time to refine our understanding of the phrase convergent Friends. We will experiment with some traditional Quaker practices and develop some tools to take home, to help us be the change we wish to see in our meetings and the world. I am hoping that way will open for other convergent voices to join us from around the country. I expect that childcare will be available. We are open to hearing what would you want to do/see/hear if you came?

Where else do you see the convergent conversation happening now?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Robin: great great post. I started a response, writing a paragraph, then another paragraph, then... well, you see where this is going. I realized I had just written a post. Is it Convergent to talk about Convergence? is trying to figure out how this convergence talk relates to outreach, and how we can keep convergence from becoming schtick.

7/25/2008 10:18 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thanks, Martin! I hope you'll come out in February.

7/26/2008 1:02 AM  

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