Archive for 2008

Gathered in Love in Greensboro

This weekend approximately 90 Friends of all ages, the majority of whom were between the ages of 18 and 35, met together at Deep River Friends meetinghouse in Greensboro, North Carolina to explore how we are being led together as Friends who seek to follow in the way of Jesus. This gathering, hosted by Deep River Friends Meeting and organized by the Friends Center and the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program at Guilford, had as its theme, “A New Kind of Quakerism.” It sought to bring Friends together in an intergenerational gathering to explore the relationship of Friends to the “emergent church” and to the Young Adult Friends movement. Though most Friends came from North Carolina – perhaps a majority from Guilford College – there were many who traveled long distances to be present, including Friends from Earlham College, Earlham School of Religion, Wilmington College, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia, among other places.

The gathering was very brief, taking place on Friday evening and Saturday morning and afternoon. We heard two speakers, Betsy Blake and Evelyn Jadin, who shared with us from their own experiences of growing up as Friends and finding that their ministry led them in exciting and scary directions that challenged their inherited assumptions and their community. We also had the chance to share in several workshops and worship-sharing groups where we were able to share our experiences – our hopes and dreams as well as our struggles and fears – across branch divisions.

I was struck by the diversity of this gathering. While I am uncertain about exact numbers, I feel confident in saying that a very sizable portion of those in attendence were from pastoral backgrounds, and that the group that was gathered at Deep River Friends meetinghouse was well-balanced in terms of background, perspective and life experience. For the first time at a cross-branch Young Adult Friends event, I did not feel out of place as one who names Jesus as Lord.

I was impressed by the spirit of Love that I experienced, particularly on Saturday evening, during our closing worship. While there were many who I believe felt impatient to see us change and grow as a Religious Society, to mature and be a sign of God’s presence to the world, I did not feel impatient that evening. For those who know me, this is strange. I am an impatient person by nature and, in fact, see myself as being one of those who is calling for Friends as a body to move more quickly and deliberately in orienting our lives towards faithfulness to the Kingdom of Christ. But, Saturday night I felt inwardly at rest. I felt in my spirit that the power of the Lord is over all.

God reminded me of how Jesus called God “Abba” – “Papa.” God is the Papa. An image that came to me was that of a mother who is so excited when her baby begins to use words and says “mama!” for the first time. I was shown that God is like that. God is like a mother to us, Her children. She is so delighted when we reach out to Her by putting names to Her. She is overjoyed when we seek to establish relationship in that way, by naming. She is not so concerned with what name She is called; She is pleased above all that Her children are expressing their desire for connection. She responds with unconditional love.

Of course, God wants us to grow up. We can’t stay babies forever. God wants us to mature, and She will provide us with that spiritual milk, that inward sustanence that will lead us into all truth and full maturity in Christ. But God loves us. Though God asks us to change, God does love us as we are. Unconditionally.

Come, Lord. Come, Mama. Let your people know that they are held in love without condition. Let your people know that you long for relationship with them and that you delight in our human attempts to reach out. Let your people know that you love it when we put names to you in love. And let us know that you will stand with us in love and help us to grow, to mature in you. With your assistance, with your care, with your nuture, you will help us to grow into who we are meant to be.

To All Friends Everywhere: A Prayer Request

Friends,

Please pray for the Young Adult Friends gathering that will be taking place this weekend at Guilford College in North Carolina. Specifically, please pray that all who attend will be able to let go of everything that holds them back from radical self-emptying and love of God and neighbor.

Please pray that those who attend will drop all of the things that we allow to get in the way of our relationship with God and our brothers and sisters and that we may hear together the call that God has for us as a people. Please pray that this meeting be blessed by a covering of the Holy Spirit, and that we hear the word of God and let it transform our lives, no matter the cost.

In friendship,

Micah

Individual Leadings and the Body of Christ – Witness and Accountability

For me, leaning on other children of light is essential for me being able to know God’s will for my life. An indispensible part of the process that I go through in seeking the will of God is bringing my leadings and concerns to other saints of Christ, my fellow ministers and elders. This is not to say that I allow all people to speak with authority in my walk with Christ – not all speak with equal weight and discernment. However, I do well to keep myself open to the Word of God even in the words and actions of those whom I consider my enemies. But, suffice it to say that I have a core of minsters and elders, spiritual counselors who I know love me and love the Lord, without whom I would make important decisions only at my own great peril.

In addition to this core of spiritual brothers and sisters – “mothers and fathers in Israel,” as Friends used to say – I am accountable to the wider Church and must wrestle seriously with the Word of God as revealed in the physically living fellowship of the saints. For me as a Friend, ideally the most intimate point of contact with the physically living Body of Christ comes in the form of my local meeting. After my most intimate circle of spiritual counselors, it is to the monthly meeting that I am most accountable. It is in the local fellowship that I am committed, as a member of that body, to bring my joys and my sorrows, my leadings and my concerns, and to set them before the meeting so that we might examine them together in the Light of Christ. The yearly meeting is, ideally, a place to deal with concerns that have been embraced by one or more local meetings and which demand the attention of the wider Religious Society.

In addition to the physically living Body of Christ, I am also accountable to and must wrestle with the testimony of the Church as revealed in the lives of spiritual ancestors (such as George Fox, Saint Francis and John Woolman), and in the most authoritative of all revelations given through the Church, the canonical scriptures. I must allow all of these witnesses speak to me and I must listen to how the Spirit of God is guiding me and the body as a whole.

All of these relationships, all of these organic webs of fellowship and authority, witness and accountability, should be characterized by shared seeking of the Lord’s will and humility before the throne of Christ. None of these relationships are meant to be tyrannies of power. Neither the scriptures, my local meeting, nor my closest spiritual friends have authority over me because of their position or inherited tradition; they have authority only insofar as they are faithful in witnessing to the Spirit of Christ and in demonstrating loving care for me. However, loving care may sometimes involve saying things that I do not want to hear. This, of course, is why trust is critical. If I do not trust my spiritual companions, my meeting, or the scriptures to be faithful witnesses to Christ in our midst, then I will not be able to receive the ministry that they offer up – especially if it contradicts my own desires or preconceptions.

Now, I want to point out that this is a dialogue. The conversation between the individual and the wider body goes both ways. Ideally, one should be subordinated to the discernment of his or her local meeting; but the meeting should also be receptive in receiving and wrestling with the ministry of the individual. The Church should be open to being corrected by the Holy Spirit as we are spoken to through the scriptures; but at the same time, the Church has a responsibility to interpret the scriptures in the Spirit of Christ. Neither the scriptures nor the understanding of the meeting is to be laid upon the individual as a “rule or form to walk by.” Instead, we are given the gift of fellowship, both of the physically living saints and of those no longer physically present who now form that “cloud of witnesses” that helps to guide us in our walk with our Lord. To fail to place ourselves under the authority of the Holy Spirit as the Word is revealed to us through others is, in my estimation, a failure to live up to our potential as members of the Body of Christ.

Report on Summer Travels to Pickett Endowment

I recently submitted the following report to the Pickett Endowment Grant, which helped make my travels this summer financially possible. I would encourage Friends who have ministry projects that would strengthen the Religious Society of Friends to apply for this grant, and for those with the resources to do so to donate to the grant.

Dear Friends,

Over the course of the past several years I have found myself increasingly coming under the weight of a concern to travel among Friends. This first came in the form of my yearly meeting graciously sending me to the World Gathering of Young Friends in Lancaster, England, in 2005. Later, I would travel to Baltimore Yearly Meeting under a minute from Great Plains Yearly Meeting. Eventually, I traveled among Friends in the Mid-Atlantic region, visiting meetings in New England, Baltimore and Philadelphia yearly meetings, as well as to two meetings in Mexico. I also traveled to Midwestern meetings in Indiana, Western, and Ohio Valley yearly meetings, and to other meetings in the Great Plains region.

As this travel proceeded, I found myself becoming increasingly involved in a growing and energetic network of younger Friends, mostly in our twenties, some in our thirties, some even younger, who longed for a deeper experience of Quakerism than many of us were experiencing in our everyday lives. I found that I was not the only young person who was excited about the witness of the Quaker expression of Christianity and the testimony of the early Friends. I found that I was not the only young Friend who was both excited by the depths of the primitive Christianity of Friends and not alone in my belief that we as a Religious Society are being called to radical faithfulness in Christ. In my travels, I kept coming into contact with other Friends who were chomping at the bit to put Quakerism into daily practice, to live into the radical faith that our spiritual ancestors testified to.

I saw that there was a movement growing among younger Friends, a hunger for connection and purpose in a culture hostile to genuine faith; a culture that seeks to commodify all things, including God; a culture that separates us through individualism, materialism and greed rather than uniting us in service to the marginalized and oppressed. I saw that God wanted to use the Religious Society of Friends as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, to draw Friends into fellowships of self-emptying and unconditional love. I sought to be open to how Christ wanted to use me to further this movement of His Holy Spirit in our midst.

This past year, I became clear that God was calling me to undertake more extensive travel among Friends. I felt a concern to personally bridge some of the divisions that have fractured the Religious Society of Friends, reaching out to Friends from across the theological, geographical and cultural spectrum. Thanks in large part to the Pickett Endowment Grant, I was released to undertake such travel this past summer. I visited a wide variety of Friends from across the United States and Mexico, spanning all of the principal branches of North American Quakerism: Liberal, Friends United Meeting, Conservative, and Evangelical Friends Church International.

Following the Young Adult Friends Conference in Richmond, Indiana, I visited Friends in Miami, Florida, where I got a small taste of what Quakerism looks like in Southeastern Yearly Meeting. After attending my yearly meeting, Great Plains, I continued on to visit Friends in Mexico City, rejoicing in the increasing strength of the Casa de los Amigos as Friends there sought who the Spirit of God is calling them to be in the heart of the largest metropolis in the Americas.

Returning to the United States, I attended the General Gathering of Conservative Friends, in Barnsville, Ohio. I was pleased to see the way in which Ohio Yearly Meeting is reaching out to seekers across the United States and the world, sharing their understanding of the Friends’ message of the present Risen Christ. Following that weekend, I attended Quaker Camp in the same location. This was a peaceful week of praying and contemplating with Friends from the US and Canada, seeking to sense each day what it was that Christ was calling us to do.

I had the privilege to attend Friends General Conference Gathering, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and to get a sense of what this event, so lauded and appreciated by many Liberal Friends, was all about. A week of dipping into the peculiar culture that is Friends General Conference’s Gathering was very educational for me, as well as at times being an experience of culture shock. After visiting Friends in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, I made my way to High Point, North Carolina, to attend the Friends United Meeting Triennial, where I was overwhelmed by the diversity of Friends from across the Americas and Africa who gathered together to worship God and celebrate the projects of Friends United Meeting in East Africa, Palestine, Jamaica and Belize. During and after the Triennial, I was able to briefly visit North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), which was meeting concurrently with the Triennial in nearby Greensboro.

I then made my way into the realm of Evangelical Friends, visiting Northwest Yearly Meeting as they gathered in Newberg, Oregon. I was delighted by my experience at Northwest Yearly Meeting and felt a profound spiritual kinship with Friends there. I was also able to visit two local meetings in Oregon: Reedwood Friends in Portland, and Freedom Friends in Salem. Finally, I made my way to Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), meeting on the campus of Scattergood Friends School. I was very impressed by these Friends’ practice of doing business in a worshipful spirit, and I felt great affinity for the heart of this yearly meeting. Gathered together in the presence of the Risen Christ, we were called to turn back from the selfish and destructive ways that we as humans have chosen to live in God’s creation.

I began my journey this summer unsure of what might be the result of my travels. I wondered whether God had a message for me to deliver as I traveled. I do not believe that I did, at least not a message beyond the simple message of giving and receiving hospitality, friendship and the peace of Christ. Nevertheless, by the time I had returned to Richmond, Indiana, to resume my studies at the Earlham School of Religion I felt certain that I had received a message. This message, slowly infused into me over the course of my travels, was a call to repentance.

Everywhere I traveled this summer, I felt God drawing my attention to the desperate need we Friends have to repent, to turn away from our selfishness, our false sense of security and self-sufficiency. So often, we Friends imagine that our belonging to our precious Religious Society is sufficient to save us, to make us righteous and justified before God. We so often imagine that we know the way, and that if only others would listen to us the world would be, if not perfect, a much better place. We want to believe that we can be faithful servants of the Living God while living lives of comfort, participating in empire. But again and again this summer, I felt God placing on my heart and on my lips the verdict of Christ when he spoke to the church in Laodicea: “…you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev. 4:17)

I am not the only one hearing this divine verdict our attitudes and behavior. I heard this judgment on the lips of another Friend during worship at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) when he quoted this same passage of scripture. I was convicted of God’s judgment of our decisions when a minister stood during worship at Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and described her shock when her child discovered a monstrously deformed frog with two extra legs, testimony of the creation to the effect our collective sin is having on the earth and its creatures. I heard us being called to repent, to turn back to our Lord in humble obedience, through the song of one Friend during the closing worship at Friends General Conference Gathering when she sang, calling us to “sink down to the Seed.” There were Friends that I met at each stage of my journey who were concerned that we as a church were not living up to our calling to be the Body of Christ, the children of God who walk in the light of day.

The call I have heard this summer is for all of us, young and old. We must make the decision, as individuals and as a body, to turn towards the Inward Witness of Christ and away from our own understanding, our own desiring, our own striving. Because God can and will raise up true spiritual children to George Fox if we do not live into the Truth, humbling ourselves in the presence of the Spirit, sinking down to the Seed. The call I have heard this summer is that we come together as one, turning away from our selfishness; that we make the choice to bear one another’s burdens and to make ourselves servants to our brothers and sisters. We are to be a blessing to the world, to bring good news to the poor and to proclaim release to the captives. But first we must be healed of our own blindness. Today is the day of the Lord’s favor, and the day of decision. Will we humble ourselves enough to hear the call?

I give thanks for the blessing of being financially released to travel this summer, to minister and be ministered to. I am grateful to the Pickett Endowment for helping to make these travels financially feasible for me, and I pray that the endowment will continue to support budding Friends ministers in this way. Please continue to use these funds to build up the Church and to encourage the ministry of Friends, both among Friends and to others.

Your friend in Truth,

Micah Bales
Heartland Friends MeetingGreat Plains Yearly Meeting

An Update

This is an email that I recently sent out to Friends on the list for attenders of the World Gathering of Young Friends, which took place in Lancaster, England, in August of 2005. I wrote this in response to another Friend who had sent out an email asking for updates. I hope it can serve as an update, and perhaps an explanation, for others. Hay una traducción al español abajo.

Dear Friends,

My life has changed immensely for the better since the World Gathering of Young Friends, in many ways as a direct result of my experience during our time together in Lancaster. For me, the WGYF was a time of being called into deeper commitment to the Spirit of Christ and shown the Way I am to walk. For me, the WGYF was a moment in time that God used to call me into loving obedience to that Life that Jesus was in and reveals to us. What happened to me at the World Gathering changed everything.

Looking back, I can see now that before our time together in Lancaster I had been flirting increasingly seriously with God. I had become involved in my meeting, become a member, begun to study religious texts. I believed that there was “Something”; I knew in my heart that there was Truth. But in Lancaster God called me out in unmistakable caresses of love and forgiveness, calling me into union with God. Early on in the Gathering, one evening sitting and worshipping with another young Friend on a bench outside of the dormitories, I was baptized into the Spirit of God beyond all names, brought into communion with the Living Word. I had been flirting with God, but God asked me to marry that night – and I said yes.

And God gave me a call that I did not understand. I did not understand it, but it was clear to me from that night on that I was called to “ministry.” I place the word in quotations, because I had no clue what it meant, but I knew that it was to ministry that I had been called, whatever that might mean. I took this concern back to my home meeting in Wichita, Kansas; I told them that I had been called to ministry. But none of us knew what to do with that. And so, we waited. I waited and prayed.

And I had been given a gift by Friends at the WGYF: Friends there had opened me up to Jesus and the scriptures which testify of him. I was fortunate enough to be in a Spanish-language small group during the week where I was privileged to learn from Spanish-speaking Friends. I was able to hear from them that which I might have more easily resisted had it come from other English-speakers. I received their testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ and took it seriously, though I did not understand. I was able to take it seriously because those Friends took me seriously, even though I was very pluralistic and skeptical of Christianity at the time. I knew that Friends were really hearing me when I spoke, and I felt moved to open myself up to them in the same way. So, as I waited on what God would have me do for six months while I continued working at a bank in Wichita, I prayed and I read the New Testament in The Message translation. Jesus began to become very important to me. I felt like God was leading me to him.

And then, around the end of the year, late December, 2005, I somehow stumbled onto the website for Earlham School of Religion. When I began to read through the site, my heart leaped and I knew immediately that this was where God was calling me for my next step. To make a long story very short, I began my studies at ESR in the fall of 2006. During my time here, I have been ruthlessly “pruned,” as Deborah Saunders described the process of being inwardly cleansed and sanctified by the Light of Christ. At times this process of inward rebirth has felt agonizing, like dying or being ripped apart. But, then, childbirth is like that, too. And I am being reborn in Christ, praise God. I pray for the courage to stay on this Way of imitating Christ, to be faithful to the continued guidance of the Spirit in my life, in the Church (you, Friends – you!) and in the scriptures.

While here at ESR, I have been involved in some amount of ministry in the Religious Society of Friends. This past year, I spent a great deal of time traveling in the ministry, both within my struggling yearly meeting (Great Plains) as well as to other monthly meetings, yearly meetings, and Friends gatherings. I have sought to be a bridge between diverse groups of Friends, a channel for connection, friendship, and, God willing, unity in obedience to the will of the Spirit. I also served on the planning committee for a gathering of Young Adult Friends that took place on Earlham College’s campus, bringing together Friends from across the United States and Canada. We feel that this has been an important event in the development of the YAF communty in North America and there are signs that this movement towards revitalization is continuing forward.

This is my last semester at ESR, as I plan to graduate after January of 2009. I am currently occupied above all with research I am doing on the Young Friends of North America, which was the primary Young Adult Friends organziation in the US and Canada between the early 1950’s and the early 1990’s. I hope eventually to produce a comprehensive account of the organization’s life.

After graduation, I plan to return to Great Plains Yearly Meeting, a tiny fellowship of five monthly meetings in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. I will be traveling in the minstry under a minute from my yearly meeting among the local meetings of Great Plains and in the wider region, seeking to be a blessing to Friends in the region. I will visit our greatly dispersed meetings by bicycle, spending a week or two with each one during each visit. I will pray with Friends, visit Friends in their homes and seek to hear the voice of God together with Friends. Together, I hope we can hear what God is calling us to next and be given the endurance to be faithful. I would appreciate your prayers for this ministry. Further, I am seeking a traveling companion for this work and would appreciate anyone who feels a leading to travel with me in this labor of Gospel love labor to contact me.

I pray that all of you experience the presence of our Beloved Lord in your hearts and in your meetings. Peace be upon you all.

Micah Bales

En español:

Queridos Amigos,

Mi vida se ha cambiado inmensamente (mejorándose) desde la WGYF, en muchos aspectos como resultado directo de mi experiencia durante nuestro tiempo juntos en Lancaster. Para mi, la WGYF fue un tiempo de recibir un llamado para profundizar mi compromiso al Espirito de Cristo y de ver el Camino que debo pisar. Para mi, la WGYF fue un momento en el tiempo que usó Dios para invitarme al obediencia en amor a la Vida en que fue Jesus y nos revela. Lo que me pasó en la Reunión Mundial cambió todo.

Viendo hacía atrás, ya puedo ver que antes de nuestro tiempo juntos en Lancaster había estado coqueteando más y más en serio con Dios. Me había involuncrado con mi junta, me volví miembro, empezé a estudiar los textos religiosos. Creía que había “Algo”; sabía en mi corazón que había Verdad. Pero en Lancaster Dios me llamó con caricias de amor y perdón inconfundible,
llamandome a la unión con el Verbo Vivo. Me había coqueteado con Dios, pero Dios me pidió la mano esa noche, y le dije que sí.

Y Dios me dió un llamado que no entendí. No lo entendí, pero me estuvo claro desde esa noche que había recibido un llamado al “ministerio.” Le puso en comillas la palabra, porque no tenía idea de qué significaba, pero sabía que fue al ministerio que se me había llamado, lo que sea significara. Llevé conmigo esta preocupación a mi junta local en Wichita, Kansas; les dije que
Dios me había llamado al ministerio. Pero niguno de nosotros sabíamos qué hacer con eso. Pues, esperamos. Esperé y oré.

Y los Amigos presentes en la WGYF me dieron un don: aquellos amigos me ayudaron a abrirme a Jesus y a las escrituras que testifican a él. Fui afortunado en formar parte de un grupo pequeño de hispanoparlantes durante la semana donde tuve el privilegio de aprender de Amigos hispanos. Pude oír de ellos lo que tal vez hubiera resistido más fácilmente si hubiera venido de otras personas de habla inglesa. Recibí su testimonio al Señor Jesucristo y lo tomé en serio, aunque no entendí. Pude tomarlo en serio porque aquellos Amigos me tomaron en serio a mí, aunque fui muy pluralista y escéptico del Cristanismo aquel entonces. Sabía que estos Amigos realmente me escucharon cuando hablé, y me sentí conmovido a abrirme a ellos de la misma manera.
Pues, mientras esperaba durante seis meses por lo que Dios me tenía planeado y seguía trabajando en un banco en Wichita, oraba y leí el Nuevo Testamento, la traducción “The Message” (una traducción de habla corriente, más fácil de entender para alguien que no había tenido mucho contacto con las escrituras). Jesus empezó a volver a ser muy importante para mi. Sentí como si Dios me guiara hacia él.

Y entonces, cerca del fin del año, a fines de diciembre, 2005, de alguna manera me encontré viendo la página web de la Earlham School of Religion. Cuando empecé a leer el sitio, se saltó mi corazón y supe de inmediato que fue allí que Dios me estaba llamando para mi próximo paso. Para hacer muy corto una historia muy larga, comencé mis estudios en ESR en el otoño de 2006. Durante mi tiempo aquí, Dios me ha “podado” ferózamente, como describío Deborah Saunders el proceso de ser interiormente limpiado y sanctificado por la Luz de Cristo. En algunos momentos este proceso de renacimiento interior se ha sentido como una agonía, como morir o romperse en pedazos. Pero, en realidad, así es también para las mujeres que dan luz a sus hijos. Y yo me estoy re-naciendo en Cristo, gracias a Dios. Es mi oración que tenga el valor de seguir en este Camino de imitar a Cristo, de ser fiel a la guianza contínua del Espíritu en mi vida, en la Iglesia (ustedes, Amigos – ustedes!) y en las escrituras.

Mientras he estado aqúi en ESR, me he involuncrado en un cierto grado de ministerio en la Sociedad Religiosa de los Amigos. Este año pasado, pasé mucho tiempo viajando en el ministerio, igual en mi junta anual que se encuentra con muchas dificultades (Great Plains) como en otras juntas mensuales, juntas anuales, y reuniones de Amigos. He pretendido ser puente entre grupos diversos de Amigos, un canál para conexión, amistad, y, si Dios quiere, unidad en obediencia a la voluntad del Espíritu. También he servido en la comité de planificación para una reunión de Amigos Jóvenes Adultos que se llevó a cabo en el campus de Earlham College, reuniendo a Amigos de diversas partes de los Estados Unidos y Canadá. Sentimos que este ha sido un evento importante en el desarollo de la communidad de Amigos Jóvenes Adultos en Norteamérica y hay muestras que este movimiento hacia la revitalización sigue adelante.

Este es mi último semestre en ESR, pues planeo graduarme a fines de enero de 2009. Actualmente estoy ocupado sobre todo con una investigación de la Young Friends of North America, la cual fue la organización más importante de Amigos Jóvenes Adultos en América del Norte entre los años 1950 y los años 1990. Espero producir en fin una historia comprehensiva de la vida de aquella organizción.

Después de mi graduación, mi intención es de volver a la Junta Anual de las Grandes Llanuras (Great Plains Yearly Meeting), una pequeña comunión de cinco juntas mensuales en los estados de Oklahoma, Kansas y Nebraska. Viajaré en el ministerio bajo un minuto de mi junta mensual entre las juntas locales de las Grandes Llanuras y en la región más generalmente, pretendiendo ser una bendición a los Amigos de la región. Visitaré a nuestras reuniones muy dispersadas andando en bicicleta, pasando una o dos semanas con cada una durante cada visita. Oraré con los Amigos, visitaré a los Amigos en sus hogares y haré por oír la voz de Dios con ellos. Juntos, espero que podamos escuchar lo que Dios nos está dando a hacer próximamente y que nos dé la
fuerza de ser fieles. Les agradecería sus oraciones por este ministerio. Además, busco compañero para viajar juntos en este trabajo y me daría alegría que cualquier persona que se sentiera tocado a viajar conmigo en este labor de Amor Evangélico me contacte.

Es mi oración sincera que todos ustedes experimenten la presencia de nuestro Señor Querido en sus corazones y en sus juntas. Que la paz de Cristo esté con todos ustedes.

Micah Bales

Friends United Meeting General Board, October 2008

This past week (October 7-11) the General Board of Friends United Meeting met here in Richmond, Indiana. I had the privilege of attending the sessions as a Young Adult Friend representative. I must admit that, leading up to this first meeting of the General Board, I felt a great sense of anxiety. What would these sessions consist of? To be honest, I feared that the General Board would be a very dour place, a meeting characterized by great contention, great division, clear battlelines, and old grudges. Thank God, I was wrong. On the contrary, I was very impressed with the spirit that prevailed at this, our first gathering as a board for this triennium, as well as with the quality of the individuals who served as representatives for Friends from across the Orthodox** Quaker world.

For me, the week began with a long meeting of the North American Ministries Committee. This was a special meeting of the committee, as there were serious questions about whether it was serving a function at this point in FUM’s development. Given the serious limits in FUM’s financial and staff resources, most of our energy is currently going into sustaining our work in overseas missions sites, such as East Africa, Ramallah, Jamaica and Belize. The question was frankly put forward, “does this committee have any work left to do?” The answer that we heard was that the North American Ministries Committee does indeed still have work to do, and must be transformed from being merely an “idea committee,” where dreams are tossed around but little is done, to being an engine for action. Those of us there for this meeting identified four priorities that FUM would do well to concentrate upon in the next triennium: 1)Publications; 2) Curriculum; 3)Traveling Ministry and Intervisitation; 4)Nurturing Ministry and Leadership

Recognizing that FUM’s staff is already overworked, we did not propose any additional obligations for folks at the Richmond office. Instead, we suggested that the North American Ministries Committee could serve as an oversight body for four taskforces, one for each of the areas where we felt FUM was being called to labor in North America. Each of these taskforces would be open to individuals (both board members and others) who felt a concern to work in this area. If there were not energy to do the work, then the taskforce would remain inactive until there was. Speaking for myself, I feel a concern for traveling ministry and intervisitation, and I expect to volunteer for that taskforce. Each of these areas are important, and I pray that the Lord will raise up those who have gifts appropriate to the work that we are being called to as the Church in North America. (If you personally feel a leading to serve in one of these taskforces, please email me at micahbales AT gmail DOT com)

The North American Ministries Committee met a day before the rest of the General Board sessions, so once the bulk of the board had arrived, I was already done with my committee work. This was advantageous in that it gave me the opportunity to take part in some very passionate and tender discussions among the board members while others were in committee meetings. There were set topics for any given time period, including “The Richmond Declaration of Faith,” “The Christian Faith of Friends,” and “Friends views on the Bible.” I was very impressed with the vulnerability of those present in these discussions, and the tenderness, openness and love with which we were able to speak.

I felt that Friends were trying to hear and understand, not to judge or dismiss others. We did not always agree, but there was a genuine lovingness and openness to hearing truth from one another that pleased me very much. I, of course, was not the only one who caught on to this. There were Friends who expressed during our conversations, “there is a really wonderful spirit here,” and remarked at the way Friends were really listening to each other, having the courage to be non-defensive and stand together in the Truth.

This courageous openness towards each other and groundedness in who we are in Christ despite our differences extended beyond our discussion times; this same spirit of trust in each other, in ourselves and in Christ’s present guidance carried over into our meetings for business. There were some fairly tense moments, especially around the notorious personnel policy, but also around some other things that hadn’t occurred to me beforehand. Nevertheless, in that tension it was clear that we were all seeking way forward. As far as I could tell, no one was trying to make things difficult for the sake of making them difficult. The questions that we as a board are faced with are simply difficult and we are walking together in God’s Light as best we can, praying that we will be shown way forward as we wait on the Holy Spirit. It was clear to me that we were family, brothers and sisters in Christ, and that we were diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Far from being the tension-laced snipe-fest that I thought it might be, I am very impressed with the caliber of those who have been selected by Friends to serve in the governance of Friends United Meeting. This has been my first experience of being able to sit down with Friends from across the Orthodox spectrum, breaking bread and sharing spiritual communion together with Friends from Baltimore, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Canada, California, Iowa, and everywhere in between. What a blessing it has been to share fellowship with these Friends from such disparate geographical, cultural and theological backgrounds and to know that we are one body in Christ! At these meetings I have known it experientially and not just as a concept. We have felt it together. Some of us may not even like it, but we know that we are knitted together in the Spirit of Christ and that we are called to work for God’s Kingdom together.

**A note on language: I use the word “Orthodox” to refer to Friends bodies that are part of Friends United Meeting – for example, Indiana and Baltimore yearly meetings. I understand that some yearly meetings that have chosen not to be part of Friends United Meeting are characterized by highly Orthodox Friends; on the other hand, some yearly meetings that are part of Friends United Meeting contain a large number of individual Friends who would probably not think of themselves as Orthodox. Nevertheless, despite our sometimes vast differences, I consider all yearly meetings that form part of FUM to be a part of the venerable “middle way” of Quaker Orthodoxy. We have been brought together as a body, committing ourselves to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.

Stay close to the Root

Yesterday morning, we got a ride from Deborah Haines and her daughter, Becka, to Alexandria Friends Meeting. It was a sweet little meeting, about twenty five people in attendence. Once I was able to settle, about 20-30 minutes into worship, I felt enveloped by the meeting, drawn down to the Seed of God. I had missed this inward communion with God with a gathered body of Friends so much in the past few weeks, as I’ve been attending a programmed meeting. The church is lovely, but I don’t usually feel able to go very deep there. It’s probably just a question of time. When there’s only ten minutes of open worship, it’s hard to settle, much less prophesy.

There were three messages yesterday morning. The first was from a young lady who spoke about how important the silence is in creating a space where we can be still, calm, and not be expected to speak or think anything. The second minister gave a message about the need to turn to the Inward Light of the Holy Spirit in our times of stress and how easy it is to get distracted from that when we are under pressure. Finally, I spoke, sharing first the image from Revelation 3:20, of Jesus standing at the door, knocking. I said that the Risen Christ was ready to enter in and have communion with those who would open the door. I then referred to how Jesus told the woman at the well that if she would ask it of him he would give her living water, which if she drank of it would leave her satisfied forever.

I was not entirely certain of whether I was supposed to speak, but as I rose to speak I prayed for God to forgive me if I erred. I did my best to listen for what words I was to speak and to sit down once I no longer received inspiration to continue. I felt no inward rebuke, but neither did I feel that any great weight had been lifted from me. Perhaps the message had been just for me. I do not know. I knew, though, that the hour had almost ended, and so I rose and spoke, praying that the Lord would forgive me if I was mistaken in speaking words that were perhaps meant for me alone.

Within my own heart that morning, I felt a very deep sense of the importance of always returning to the Root of all things, rather than attempting to be in control. I recognize in myself the tendency to seek to be in control over the details of my life, to force my choices, interactions and behaviors into categories and paradigms designed to give me assurance of who I am and what I am supposed to be doing. But I am being reminded of how futile all of my own attempts at control are. All my striving for righteousness of my own making falls apart, hitting the reality of my own sinfulness and short-sightedness. I am helpless to devise a system for living in Truth.

I am being shown, being reminded, that I must let go of my mistaken notions of control and my own ability to live a holy life. Instead, I must re-commit myself to inwardly turning towards my Rock and my Salvation, the Holy Spirit of Truth. Forsaking all of my vain, imagined righteousness, I must daily turn inward to the indwelling voice of Christ who is my ever-present companion and who leads me into all truth if I will only surrender myself and all of my ideas about how my life should be, to the purifying, enlivening, transforming Light of Christ.

I recognize my own religious and ethical systems as being stumbling blocks to my growth and development in Christ. When I begin to believe that I have some things figured out, that I have become in some measure righteous myself, the spirit of deception has a grip on me. When I begin to imagine that I have found a method to inward peace, to enlightenment, to salvation, and that I am one who is qualified to teach this Way, I must tremble in the fear of the Lord and repent of my own vanity. No human being, no human system, no ortho-doxy and no ortho-praxy is capable of raising up men and women into the Life of God’s Kingdom. There is yet one, Christ Jesus, present with each of us inwardly and directly, who can speak to our condition. When we cling to Christ and to Christ alone, we will be saved.

But it is key that we let go of our own ideas about who God must or must not be, as well as releasing all limitations that we place on ourselves and on who we are to be in Christ. Let that Inward Guide have complete control; for the outward letter of human reasoning quickly quenches the voice of the Spirit if we allow ourselves to become confused, imagining that our own desires and designs can reign in the place of God. Even our good, noble ideas must be let go. Let nothing stand but the desire to be fully, intimately a possession of our Lord and to be a vessel of the Divine Will, even if that Will puts our own desires and inclinations to the cross.