Archive for November 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