Archive for July 2012 – Page 2

Burn Down the Meeting House

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.– Luke 12:32-34

A friend of mine recently suggested that perhaps the best thing that twentysomething Quakers could do would be to burn down a Yearly Meeting meetinghouse. What would happen if the young adults of the Yearly Meeting were to show up one evening with torches and openly burn that ancient, venerable, valuable piece of real estate to the ground?

Of course, the most biblical thing to do might be to sell the meetinghouse and give to the poor. If we had it in us to do such a thing, this would certainly be a powerful witness. But can you imagine an entire Yearly Meeting finding unity to sell the community’s flagship real estate investment? I can already hear the objections. We would be admonished to be more responsible, more realistic. We would be reminded of the building’s substantial history and the role that the property plays in outreach.

It is hard to imagine a Yearly Meeting selling one of its most visible symbols of establishment. I have an easier time imagining the twentysomethings of the community banding together to bear prophetic witness to the wider body. The Yearly Meeting as a whole may not be ready to release the dead weight of the past – the fear of losing money, status and security – but younger generations might call for a break with stagnation and decline. What would happen if we put the movement of the Spirit ahead of property management?

It would probably be premature for Friends of my generation to start burning down meetinghouses. As powerful as this sign might be, it would be an act of desperation rather than a first step on the path of prophetic engagement. What might these first steps look like? How could twentysomething Quakers serve a wake-up call to their Yearly Meetings in a way that older Friends can hear?

The image of burning down a meetinghouse is a powerful one, spurring me to think about what might happen if twentysomething Quakers decided that we were done sitting at the kids’ table. Rather than waiting around for older generations to invite us into responsibility and leadership, the image of burning down the meetinghouse represents younger Quakers rising out of the silence and declaring God’s truth as we have experienced it. Even when it makes the gray-hairs uncomfortable.

One thing is clear: The status quohas been failing us for decades, perhaps even generations. We find ourselves today in the midst of the greatest economic, technological, cultural and religious transition in human history – a momentous shift that virtually the entire world is participating in. This generation faces a stark choice.One option is to continue on as we have for many years, warming ourselves by the dying embers of an ancient tradition. We can huddle together in our creaky, historic buildings, drafting minutes and sinking deeper into irrelevance as our young people drift away to other communities that can provide a more satisfying framework of meaning.We can choose comfort over challenge, anesthetized death over the messy and sometimes painful business of life. This is what the meetinghouse represents.

Or we can change our minds.We can turn back to the same God who taught our ancestors how to lead lives of radical faithfulness. We can embrace the exhiliration and the riskiness that comes when we choose to walk beside Jesus on the water. This will mean venturing out from the safety of the meetinghouse – all of the beliefs, processes and possessions that we cling to for our sense of identity as Friends. The community that arises from the ashes of the meetinghouse will have the clear-eyed aspect of a person who has given up everything to fully invest in the present moment, walking in faith with our ever-present Guide. Burning down the meetinghouse is a metaphor for the true freedom that we find when we renounce all the things that we put before God.

What would it look like for younger Friends to take responsibility for leadership within our Yearly Meetings, not waiting for permission or validation? How can we invite our entire religious community, young and old, into a shared journey of radical transformation and openness to the new thing that God is doing in our time and place? What in us needs to die in order for new life to grow?

My New Job At Friends United Meeting

This month I begin work with Friends United Meeting (FUM), an international association of Quakers with member churches in North America, the Middle East, East Africa and Latin America. My official title is Interim Communications and Web Specialist. The “interim” part of this means that the job will last from July until December, and we will evaluate at the end of that time whether the position should continue in its present form. This job is in many ways experimental, which excites me; I am a starter, an entrepreneur and an innovator, and I am looking forward to pioneering a new chapter in FUM’s role as a communicator on behalf of and among Friends.

The “communications” part of my job title means that I will be focusing on FUM’s strategic outreach, especially online and social media communications. In addition, I will be collaborating on Quaker Life, one of the most prominent print publications in the Religious Society of Friends.As FUM’s magazine for more than 50 years, Quaker Lifeis probably our most important tool for communicating across the entire association at the present time. This is especially true considering the limitations of internet access in East Africa, where the majority of Friends reside.
The “web” part of my job will be especially prominent in this interim period. I will be working closely with other members of the FUM staff as we roll out an entirely new and re-designed website.The current website was originally set up in 1997, and although the site has had an amazing 15-year run, it is clearly time for an upgrade! I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this work.
It is an honor to be on staff with Friends United Meeting. My faith is deeply rooted in traditional Quaker faith and practice – including waiting worship, orthodox Christian belief, and Quaker business practice – and, for me, Friends United Meeting represents the beautiful diversity that is possible when we are gathered together in Jesus Christ. Like so many established Christian organizations today, FUM faces huge challenges. As a diverse and multicultural association of Friends, we are stretched almost the breaking point around questions of authority, our understandings of Scripture, our different levels of access to wealth and mobility, and our vision for what the Body of Christ looks like when we are faithful.

Despite these challenges, I hold out hope for Friends United Meeting. At its best, FUM symbolizes what a broad, diverse, flexible and generously orthodox association of Friends could look like. As a member of FUM’s staff, I will be looking for ways to empower Yearly Meetings, local churches and individual members to live out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. As we are gathered together in the living power of God’s Spirit – spanning nations, cultures, races and languages – I am hopeful that FUM can play a vital role in building up the Body of Christ.

In the months ahead, I want to hear from Friends about how FUM can be more vital and relevant, particularly among Friends in North America. For generations, the primary focus of Friends United Meeting has been on foreign mission fields, and we can see the rich fruits of these efforts among Friends in East Africa, Palestine, and the Carribean. Yet there is a growing sense that North America itself needs to be the recipient of a new missionary effort. What might that look like? 

How might the growing strength of Friends in the developing world contribute to a spiritual rebirth in North America? What role do we have to play in this time of great transition for the North American Church? How might Friends United Meeting be an instrument of Christ’s work of renewal and transformation?

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
-Isaiah 43:19