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Are you Conservative enough to embrace Gay Christians?

Washington National Cathedral Holds Prayer Service For LGBT Families

Yeah, you read me right. If you want to be a real conservative, you might want to consider supporting LGBT equality in the church.

Let me explain.

In the debate around LGBT equality, almost everyone I know labels an affirming stance as progressive or liberal, while a non-affirming stance is considered conservative or traditional.

I beg to differ.

If conservative means adhering to the prejudices of recent centuries, then yes, excluding gay folks is a conservative move. If conservative is defined as clinging to a this is how we’ve always done it attitude towards life, then I agree, a non-affirming stance meets that definition.

But what if being conservative means conserving the heart of our faith? What if we define conservative as re-connecting with the Spirit that inspired the Bible in the first place? What if love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control were hallmarks of conservatism?

I’m here to say that embracing the spiritual equality of our LGBT brothers and sisters is a radically conservative position. To give love and encouragement to gay folks conserves the heart and soul of the gospel in the face of fear, proof-texting, and legalism.

If anything, those who deny the God-breathed lives and much-needed spiritual gifts of LGBT brethren are liberals. They’re liberal in disregarding the overwhelming witness of Scripture, which teaches us that God always finds a way to break down barriers between people. God favors those who are marginalized. God’s judgment comes, not on the poor and excluded, but on those who think they have it all figured out.

So, I’ll ask you again: Are you conservative enough to embrace gay Christians?

Related Posts:

Supreme Court Debates Same-Sex Marriage – Should We?

We’d Better Get Clear

Stripping Down and Building Up – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #48

Dear friends,
After a period of uncertainty and reflection, new paths are emerging for our work of seeding the Kingdom here in the District of Columbia. For Capitol Hill Friends, this month has been one of major reorientation. Over the past three years, we focused on our regular worship service as the centerpiece of our community. Yet this month, to my great surprise, we reached clarity to lay down weekly worship. Instead, we will direct our energy into the development of vibrant small groups centered around Bible study, prayer and mutual support.
On November 4th, we held our last regular meeting for worship in the old format – a two and a half hour service including Bible reading, singing, waiting worship and a potluck dinner. While we hope to re-launch a regular worship service someday, we feel clear that we should not do so until we have developed a solid core of small groups that serve as a mature and mutually supportive basis for our community in Jesus.
This January, we plan to begin holding small group meetings once a week. We have not ironed out all the details yet, but we sense that our new small group format should center on prayer, reading the Scripture together, and sharing our journeys with one another. The format of the small group should be simple and broadly accessible. We expect that it will last no more than an hour and a half. For folks in our city, that seems to be the maximum duration people feel comfortable committing to on an ongoing basis.
In addition to tightening up the small group time, we want to make sure that people do not feel trapped or guilted into attending. We are considering how to offer small group in bite-sized sequences – for example, we might offer a six-week study of the Sermon on the Mount. Rather than asking our friends to commit to attending small group forever, we are looking to present it as a medium term commitment, measured in weeks rather than in months or years.
While our number one focus will be on our small groups, we are also looking at sponsoring events that would be of interest to our wider communities, featuring compelling guest presenters (Jon Watts, I am looking in your direction). When I imagine these events, I envision something like a very spiritually grounded house concert. Not exactly a worship service, but a space in which folks are invited to be spiritually engaged and come away with a deeper sense of connection with God in Jesus. In the end, everything we do must be about him; yet we want to engage in ways that strike a chord with the people of our city.
We have a growing sense that God is calling us to throw off anything that gets in the way of sharing the good news of Jesus here in DC. Though the members of Capitol Hill Friends are deeply steeped in the Quaker tradition, we are questioning whether many of our traditional forms, language and practices are serviceable in our present context.
Insofar as there has ever been a Quaker model of evangelism, it has generally been one that assumed that outsiders would need to change or discard their culture, dress, language and symbols before they could become part of the Body of Christ. For the last 300 years, Quaker communities have largely developed along the lines of homogenous clusters of people who share the same politics, class, race, dress codes, insider language and cultural assumptions.
We are convinced that this is not only a losing strategy, but that it is ultimately at odds with the example that Jesus gives us. As we move forward in our mission to embody and share the love, mercy and justice of Jesus Christ, we are examining ourselves closely. How are we ourselves called to change, adapting ourselves to the needs of the city we live in, so that we might more effectively share the good news?
The truth is, I loved Capitol Hill Friends just the way it was. Our weekly worship service, with its combination of Bible reading, singing, waiting worship and food, was basically my ideal format. Unfortunately, we have seen that my ideal does not work for most people in our city! If this ministry is to be about more than my own preferences – if it is to draw all people into deeper relationship with Jesus – then I will need to sacrifice my desires and preferences so that the gospel may be most effectively received.
What needs to be stripped away so that we can all see Jesus? What is the most effective vehicle for delivering the gospel message among the people whom we have been called to serve? How are we called to respond when faithfulnessdemands effectiveness?
For a couple of stodgy old Conservative Quakers like Faith and me, asking these questions feels revolutionary. From time to time, we ask ourselves with some anxiety: Are we ditching the Friends tradition altogether?
In a word, “no.” Clearly, the needs of our present context are different from those of Friends 300 years ago – or even fifty years ago. Yet we are also convinced that the essential truths of the gospel that were re-discovered by the early Quaker movement are the same foundation that we stand on today. The forms change, but the substance remains steady. Christ is come to teach his people himself, and we seek to be a people that is attentive and listening, ready to follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
As we wrestle with all of these questions, I am so grateful for the consistent prayers of all our sisters and brothers across the country and the world. Most everyone seems to agree: Washington is a very tough place to be. The ground here is hard, and we know that we cannot plow it up under our own strength. But through the fervent petitions of the saints and the mercy of the Holy Spirit, we know and have experienced that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Your brother in our Lord Jesus,
Micah Bales

A Deeper Unity – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #45

Dear friends,

Every year, I imagine that this time around my summer will be a little less crazy. And every year, Yearly Meeting season makes that an impossibility. This month, I spent most of my days out of town, attending Quaker gatherings in New York, Maryland and Ohio. These Yearly Meeting sessions have taken most of my time and attention, leaving me feeling a bit disconnected from my community in DC. The balance between local work and the wider fellowship is delicate, and I anticipate that the coming month will be a time for me to pivot and refocus on local concerns and more sedentary work. Though it has been enriching to dive deeply into the wider world of Friends, I am looking forward to being home for a while.

My first trip out of town was to New York Yearly Meeting, at the Silver Bay YMCA camp on Lake George in upstate New York. Gathering on Lake George meant that when we were not engaged in Yearly Meeting business, we were free to go kayaking or sailing, or to go hiking in the surrounding woods. Though I had attended Yearly Meeting sessions in a variety of beautiful locations, this resort atmosphere was something new!

I felt particularly blessed that Faith and I were able to be present with a number of other visiting Friends, including Jon Watts and Maggie Harrision, who are engaged in a sustained ministry of calling Friends to spiritual nakedness. Jon and Maggie really challenged New York Yearly Meeting during an evening plenary session, urging Friends to set aside the suffocating comfort of respectability and to dive boldly into God’s love. In one particularly intense moment, Maggie asked Friends why the reports from New York Yearly Meeting’s local congregations rarely mentioned God. Isn’t that what this is all about? You could have heard a pin drop as Friends took in what Maggie was saying. And then, someone yelled Amen!

After New York Yearly Meeting, Faith and I drove down to Virginia for a wedding. I had a day back in DC before I was on the road again, this time to Baltimore Yearly Meeting – a fellowship of Quakers in Virginia, Pennsylvania, DC and Maryland. BYM holds it annual gatherings at Frostburg State University, out in the western panhandle of Maryland. Getting there was easy, though, since I routinely travel out that way en route to Ohio and points further west.
Baltimore Yearly Meeting felt familiar. Because I live within the geographical territory of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, I run into BYM Friends a lot – whether visiting their local Meetings, attending their events, or welcoming them at Capitol Hill Friends. Though I am not a member of BYM, visiting their annual sessions did feel like something of a homecoming to me.
The theme of BYM’s gathering this year was “Spirit-led Social Action,” and I had the opportunity to speak with Friends about my experience of God’s leading me to participate in the Occupy movement when it first erupted in the fall of 2011. I spoke as part of a two-person panel during BYM’s Tuesday-night plenary session, sharing what it felt like to be led by the Holy Spirit into social witness that is outside my comfort zone. I would never have chosen to become an organizer for the Occupy movement on my own, but I am so grateful that I was obedient to the promptings of Christ within!

Because I yielded to the quiet but persistent nudges of God in my heart, I am now connected to a broader community of those who are working for economic justice. I have met so many amazing people who have changed my life for the better, and I am hopeful that my presence has a positive influence. During the plenary, I shared how God opens opportunities for me to bear witness to Christ’s love and power within the economic justice community. Most crucially, I spoke about the spiritual dynamics of activism and community organizing, and about the need to stay rooted in the Spirit of God. There are so many other forces that would shake us from our Foundation; if we do not take great care, it is easy to get caught up in a spirit of chaos rather than the Spirit of love, order and peace that Christ sends.

I hope that I was faithful in communicating to Friends that our social witness must be, first and foremost, a testimony to the love, life and power that we experience in the Spirit of Jesus. Specific outcomes are important – sometimes we are called to “win” – but the highest objective must always be to remain faithful to the witness that God desires to bear through our lives. This takes great discernment, a practice that we as Friends of Jesus can bring to these movements.

Following my visit to Baltimore Yearly Meeting, I was only home for a few days before Faith and I were back on the road. Once again, we drove out through western Maryland, but this time our destination was Barnesville, Ohio – the gathering place of Ohio Yearly Meeting. After visiting so many gatherings this summer, it was a blessing to finally come home to the Yearly Meeting where we are members. Visiting among other bodies of Friends is wonderful, but there is a particular joy that comes when we gather with our particular covenanted community. Our care and responsibility for one another guides and sustains me in a special way.

I was really struck this year by the way in which my Yearly Meeting handles disagreement. We had several opportunities to engage in prayerful discernment around hard issues this year, and I felt like we were generally able to keep our conversation grounded in prayer and loving concern for one another. There is a sense in Ohio Yearly Meeting that our unity runs deeper than opinions about particular issues. While outward agreement is ultimately important, I am grateful to experience an inward, spiritual unity that allows us to wrestle with disagreements in a manner that ultimately draws us closer to God in Jesus Christ.

I envision Ohio Yearly Meeting as a circle with Jesus Christ standing at the center. Individuals in our Yearly Meeting stand at various points around the circle; we emphasize different things, and there are places where we are not in full agreement. There were several explicit points of tension this year – including our relationship with Olney Friends School; our testimony against the consumption of alcoholic beverages; and our shared understanding of human sexuality. Each of these are places where we could fall into destructive division and mistrust. But God is teaching us a better way.

As we gather around Jesus and draw nearer to him, we come closer to one another. Submitting ourselves to Christ’s light, we find our individual perspectives relativized (though not invalidated), and we are able to see how God is speaking through those with whom we strongly disagree. There is a deep faith present in Ohio Yearly Meeting that, if we wait together in the light of the Holy Spirit, we will be shown the way forward together.

It is probably safe to assume that all of us will be surprised by what “way forward” looks like. I am learning that having a variety of perspectives in my community can be a sign of good health, despite the fact that, at first glance, it may seem like chaos and disunity. We read in Scripture that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Yet, we know that we ourselves do change, and that our individual human viewpoints are often too limited to embrace the truth that Christ desires to reveal to us.
When we come together as a community in prayer, seeking after the Lord’s will, I experience the Spirit guiding us into greater understanding and unity as a body. We continue to have our own individual perspectives, but they are tempered and refined in the fire of Christ’s light. When we hold our disagreements in loving prayer, the Spirit intercedes within us and binds us together in a deeper unity that surpasses opinions.

At the conclusion of our time together in Barnesville, I felt hopeful for the future of Ohio Yearly Meeting. I had a strong sense that Christ is at work in our midst, and that we are being invited into the new (yet ancient) way of Jesus. God is giving us an opportunity to embrace Jesus’ example, laying down our lives for one another and surrendering our need to be correct. I am learning that the true meaning of strength is to bear the burdens of others – not only physically, but spiritually.

I pray that my life will serve to lighten the burden of those around me, that I may lay aside my own need to be vindicated, remembering that Jesus lay aside every honor and privilege that were rightfully his, bearing the cross for his friends. Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave him the name that is above every name. I pray that we in Ohio Yearly Meeting will find this scripture fulfilled in our hearing, that through our shared submission to Jesus we be brought into the fullness of his truth, unity and love.

I anticipate that the next few weeks will allow me to stay closer to home. After so much time away, it will be good to re-connect with my community here in DC. I am also looking forward to making progress on the new Friends United Meeting website, which we plan to roll out around the end of the summer. I must say that although there are many benefits to travel in the service of the gospel, it is not particularly conducive to web development!

One last item before I close: You may recall that this June I was arrested by the US Capitol Police for accompanying my friend Deborah Harris to speak to Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, during his visit to the Senate Banking Committee. I did not expect to be arrested, much less to be jailed for most of the day and accused of falsifying my identity! It also came as a surprise when I learned that my arrest could theoretically be punished by up to six months in prison. But I give praise to God that my co-defendents and I accepted a deal on Monday which will allow the charges against us to be dropped, assuming we do not get re-arrested in the next six months!

I have no idea how prayer works, but it is my experience that there is nothing more powerful than the prayerful petitions of God’s faithful people. I know for a fact that I have a small army of prayer warriors who are interceding on my behalf. Thank you so, so much. Your prayers are making a huge impact on my life. Please do not stop!

In the month ahead, please pray that I be grounded more deeply in the Holy Spirit as I seek to be a faithful worker in my roles with Friends United Meeting, Capitol Hill Friends and Occupy Our Homes DC. I would also ask for you to pray specifically that our community at Capitol Hill Friends be built up in Christ’s power this month. In recent weeks, several active members of our fellowship have moved away to pursue educational opportunities; we need God’s strength and guidance as we continue to serve as a spiritual sanctuary in the midst of our city.
May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you all.
In his light and love,
Micah Bales

Drawn Into the Light – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #44

Dear friends in Truth,


This is turning out to be a summer to remember. The day after sending out my last ministry newsletter, I was arrested by US Capitol Police while attending a Senate Banking Committee hearing featuring Jamie Dimon – CEO and Chairman of JP Morgan Chase. Dimon was there to explain why his bank was engaged in risky gambling with billions of dollars, but some of us had other questions we wanted answered. I accompanied my friend, Deborah Harris, whose home has been foreclosed on by JP Morgan chase, and I held her in prayer as she got a chance to ask Jamie Dimon in person: Why don’t you face the people that you foreclosed on?

As it turns out, the folks in charge do not like it when you publicly question them. For our thirty seconds of conversation with Mr. Dimon, we spent seven hours in jail. Last Tuesday, we were arraigned at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, where we were subjected to drug tests and ordered to return for a status hearingon August 13th. It is not yet clear what will happen with our case. Please pray for a speedy and just resolution to this matter.


About a week after this new experience on Capitol Hill, I was off to Barnesville, Ohio for the Wider Gathering of Conservative Friends and QuakerSpring. The Conservative Friends gathering was really deep, and there was a profound sense of Christ’s living presence within us, calling us to respond in faith. I was left with the challenge: Do I really live in Christ’s life and power? How does my life demonstrate it?

QuakerSpring was also a powerful experience, though it was harder in many ways. Over the course of the week-long gathering, I became increasingly aware of the burdens that were weighing on my heart. I saw more clearly that I was struggling with anxiety and confusion around issues of financial security and support. I had gotten so caught up in worry about the future that I lost sight of my present Ground and Source, Jesus Christ. I was grateful for this opportunity to retreat for a week with Friends in Ohio. It was an opportunity for me to re-dedicate myself to allowing Christ to work within me, revealing my hidden darkness and drawing me into the light.


God has good timing, because my life was about to get even crazier. A few days after returning home from Barnesville, I began my new job as Interim Communications and Web Specialist for Friends United Meeting. For the next several months, my primary focus will be the FUM website. The current website was originally set up in 1997, and though the site has had an amazing 15-year run, it is clearly time for an upgrade! Once the new site is up and running, I will be able to enlarge my focus to encompass other areas of our communications strategy.

It is an honor to be on staff with Friends United Meeting, which at its best represents my personal faith: passionately Christ-centered, deeply Quaker and committed to mission. I feel hopeful that we at FUM – our staff, our Yearly Meetings and our local congregations – can help to demonstrate what it means to be Spirit-led followers of Jesus in today’s world.

Together with my new job at FUM, working as a technical writer for a national hospice newsletter, volunteering with Occupy Our Homes, writing for my blog and caring for the community at Capitol Hill Friends, I have got a lot on my plate! It has taken a little while, but at this point I have developed a weekly schedule that helps to bring together all the threads that make up my life’s work. I feel deeply blessed to have a life that is so full of meaningful labor, and I pray that Christ will continue to guide me in finding the right balance between work and rest, study and play, solitude and community.

Summer is a fluid time for most people, and perhaps especially for Quakers. Summertime is Yearly Meeting time, and I still have several to attend in the next month and a half. Faith and I will be at New York Yearly Meeting from July 23 to 27. The next week, I will visit Baltimore Yearly Meeting for a few days to speak on a panel and deliver a workshop about how our faith as Friends intersects with movements for social justice such as Occupy Wall Street. From August 7 to 11, Faith and I will be back out in Barnesville, for the annual sessions of Ohio Yearly Meeting. With so much travel and so many opportunities for new connections, it can feel hard to keep my feet on the ground. I pray for inward stability and rootedness in the Spirit. May God will bless each of the gatherings that we attend.

Even as everything is up in the air with summer travels, courtroom proceedings and changes in employment, Capitol Hill Friends is going through a transition of its own. In the next few weeks, we are saying goodbye to three William Penn House interns who have been a real blessing for our community. Lily Rockwell of Stillwater Friends Meeting (Ohio YM) is leaving town this Saturday as she prepares to head off to the University of New Mexico for graduate studies in speech language pathology this fall. Lily has been a vital part of Capitol Hill Friends for the past year, and we will miss her quiet, steady presence.

Sammy and Ceress Sanders are two William Penn House interns who are just here for the summer, but they have quickly become an integral part of our community. They will be leaving in a few weeks, returning to Barclay College, where they have one year left in their undergraduate work. Sammy and Ceress’ commitment to Spirit-led service and a Christ-centered engagement with those around them has been wonderful to experience, and I am praying that they might be able to come back to DC once they finish their college studies. I hope they have gained as much from their time here as we have gained from having them with us.

With Lily, Sammy and Ceress all headed back West, our fellowship at Capitol Hill Friends is bound to feel different. In our experience, spring and fall are pivotal times, moments when our community can really change in exciting ways. This will no doubt be all the more true this fall, as we adjust to the loss of a substantial part of our core group. I pray that God will gather together those people who have need of a community like ours, and teach us how to love one another as Christ first loved us.

Thank you for all of your prayers and words of support this past month – for me, for our work at Occupy Our Homes, for the ministry of Friends United Meeting and for Capitol Hill Friends. Though there have been great challenges, the Lord has stood with us through everything. With each passing day, I am more convinced that neither death nor life, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. May each of you be blessed, just as I have been blessed by God through you.

In Christ’s peace,

Micah Bales



QuakerSpring: A New Creation

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
– Isaiah 60:1-2

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
– Romans 8:22-23

God continues to surprise me. All the Holy Spirit has to do is blow through, and I am back to square one; the sand castles that I have built are swept away by the tide, and I am left without fortifications before God. I suppose it could be frustrating to realize that most of the things I had been worrying about for months do not really matter. But all I feel is joy.

I see with stunning clarity that God is not like me at all. Though I am characterized by grasping and self-centeredness, God’s character is one of self-giving, healing and mercy. God’s presence is power to receive forgiveness, and to be remade in the image of Christ.

This presence and power was very much in evidence this past week at the sixth annual gathering of QuakerSpringin Barnesville, Ohio. QuakerSpring is a unique, Spirit-led retreat that was conceived as an alternative to the frantic programming of some other Quaker gatherings. Rather than planning the schedule ahead of time, each day’s agenda is set out according to the group’s sense of the Spirit’s leading.Rooted in deep worship and shared discernment, QuakerSpring unfolds according to the community’s sense of God’s call.

I was surprised by the spiritual intensity we experienced this year. There was a palpable sense of connection to God, but also an awareness of spiritual darkness. At the heart of our time together was a deep sense of our human brokeness, and of Christ’s presence within, calling us to deeper faithfulness. Our spiritual burdens felt like a heavy weight, but as we sat together in Christ’s presence, much of this darkness was revealed, brought into the light, and purified in the Refiner’s Fire. Both individually and as a group, we experienced real transformation.

During QuakerSpring, I personally became more aware of the burdens I had been carrying. I saw more clearly that I was struggling with a spirit of anxiety and confusion around issues of financial security and support. I was so caught up in worry about the future that I had lost sight of my present Ground and Source, Jesus Christ.

Fortunately, an elder was able to name what was happening. She expressed her sense that the Adversary was loose in our midst. When she said this, I knew immediately that it was true. I perceived the spirit of confusion and anxiety for what it was – a spirit that was not from God – and I felt an immediate release. In what felt like a miraculous moment of spiritual house-cleaning, the darkness, confusion and anxiety cleared out of me. I give praise to God for using this elder to name what was happening, and to reveal the dynamics at play that were keeping me in bondage.

One thing that struck me this week was the prominence of what I would describe as almost “charismatic” expressions of faith. The reality of darkness and evil emerged as major themes of our worship and conversation. At the same time, there was a deep sense of Christ’s inward power that is breaking out of forms and structures and transforming us in ways that we could never have predicted. God is doing a new thing, though it is still unclear what this new creation will look like.

As someone who has been involved in QuakerSpring since the first gathering in 2007, this year felt like a turning point. I have always valued QuakerSpring as a chance to rest in the Spirit and grow in community. I saw QuakerSpring as a vacation from the hard work of ministry in the wider world. This year, however, I had a growing sense that God has a broader purpose for this gathering. What if QuakerSpring is more than a spiritual refuge? What if God is using QuakerSpring as an engine of renewal and rebirth for the Religious Society of Friends?

Everything in the Religious Society of Friends seems to be falling apart right now. Yearly Meetings are splitting, and old venerable institutions are in decline. Many of our Meetings are in states of crisis, and there is a general sense that we don’t really know what to do. We are at a loss for how to respond to our present circumstances. At QuakerSpring, I experience a community that is grounded in the Spirit, listening and seeking to be obedient to the voice of Jesus Christ within. This is the kind of community that I want to be a part of. It is a kind of Quakerism that could truly be relevant for 21st-century post-modern America.

QuakerSpring represents the unique meeting of Christian (or Christian-curious) Liberal Friends and Conservative Friends who seek a more vibrant and flexible Christian faith. I learned in high school biology that hybrids are often much stronger than “pure breeds.” Could this new community – this mutt of branch lineages united in the Spirit of Christ – find a voice and a witness that speaks to the needs of modern-day North America? How is God teaching us to contextualize the truth that early Friends re-discovered in our own – dramatically different – context? How might we move forward with our Guide?

There are no easy answers. While many of us wish there were some sort of “technical” solution for the challenges facing the Religious Society of Friends today, I am convinced that there is no quick fix that will produce faithfulness and awareness of God’s presence and power. Rather than developing a technique or a process, God is gathering a people.

QuakerSpring is not an abstract model or process that can simply be exported. This is not something that we can manage or control. Rather, QuakerSpring is apeople who are being knitted together in God’s love and power. Based on my experience of QuakerSpring, I am more convinced than ever that rebirth within the Church will not be the result of our human plans and strategies. There is a new creation that we can sense, and Christ himself is creating it.

Have you experienced the Spirit drawing a new community together? What does it feel like on the growing edge of a faith tradition? Where is the intersection between what God is doing in each of us individually, and the ways that God is at work in the Body as a whole? How do we give this new creation space to breathe and develop, avoiding the temptation to suffocate it with our own ideas and agendas?

Sing and rejoice ye children of the day and the light; for the Lord is at work in this thick night of darkness that may be felt: and the Truth doth flourish as the rose, and lilies do grow among the thorns and the plants atop the hills, and upon them the lambs doth skip and play. 
– George Fox

Christ Is Within You… What Are You Going To Do About It?

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. – 2 Corinthians 4:6

Quakers like to party. And when I say “party,” I mean sitting in silence for long periods of time. When it comes to this kind of partying, there are few groups who are bigger carousers than Conservative Friends. This weekend in Barnesville, Ohio, we spent most of our time seated together on the long, time-tested wooden benches of the ancient Stillwater Meeting House. We quietly waited together, to see what God had to say.

Believe it or not, this often actually works. It seems that Jesus really meant it when he said that he would always be with us, present in our midst through the Holy Spirit that he sends. In our experience as Friends, when we gather together in his name, Jesus shows up. And let me tell you, crazy things happen when Jesus is in the house.
This weekend was one of those precious times of awareness not only of Jesus’ sweet presence, but also of his continued teaching among us. The comfort and joy of the Holy Spirit laid a foundation for transformation, and over the course of the weekend it became clear to many of us that God had a particular lesson to teach us.
First, the Spirit reminded us that Christ is in us. We together are the temple of the living God. We bear within our bodies the presence and power of the Spirit. What an amazing gift this is!
But blessings come with responsibility. Christ does not live within us simply to make us feel good. The Holy Spirit has not been poured out on us to boost our self-esteem, or even to make us nicer people. God’s presence inside us is not just God’s breath; it is also a refining fire.
Throughout the weekend, it felt clear that God was pushing us to examine the implications of our amazing calling in Christ Jesus. It felt like the Spirit was demanding of us: If Christ is in you, what are you going to do about it? What are the concrete, practical implications of the indwelling presence of God? Of course, we wanted to dodge this very uncomfortable question. Change is hard, and there is nothing that will shake up our daily routine more quickly than really living into the transformative power of Christ’s presence. But God would not stop pressing the question: Do I really live in Christ’s life and power? How does my life demonstrate it?
Many of us are carrying this query back home with us. God is shining light in our hearts, revealing all the ways that our lives are timid, lukewarm, comfortable imitations of true discipleship. But Christ is within us, and so there is hope! With divine assistance, we are called to lives of breath-taking faithfulness. As we turn to face the beauty of his inward presence, our outward lives begin to reflect God’s truth and mercy, patient endurance and steadfast love.
What is your experience of Christ’s presence within? How has it changed the way that you live? Are there ways in which you sense God calling you in challenging directions? How have you experienced the Refiner’s Fire?

Ordinary Faithfulness – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #41

Dear friends,
With spring in full bloom, this past month has felt alive with possibility – and with work! Exhilaration and exhaustion alternate as I seek to be faithful in my ministry with Capitol Hill Friendsand to get equipped for my work within a grassroots movement for economic justice. While there are many challenges, the overall direction of the last month has been positive. I continue to find way opening for Spirit-led service within the Religious Society of Friends and in the wider community.
These last few months, I have developed many new relationships and have begun work with others to build organization and make practical gains for justice. My most energetic involvement continues to be with Occupy Our Homes DC, as we work to promote a society in which individuals and families are able to secure decent, affordable housing – a society in which the big banks are not permitted to throw honest, hard-working people out of their homes.
We won our first victory in late February, when we worked with Bertina Jones – an accountant and grandmother – to obtain a loan modification, despite the fact that Freddie Mac and Bank of America were dead set on kicking her out of her house. After raising public awareness of the issues – and the fact that Bank of America’s dealings with Bertina were probably illegal – the two giant banks backed down, and the foreclosure on Bertina’s home has been reversed.
Last week, we won another victory when we worked with DC tenant Dawn Butler to help her stay in her home, despite an imminent threat of eviction. Dawn’s landlord had been foreclosed on some time ago, but in DC tenants have the right of first refusal – if they want to buy the house they live in, they are first in line. Unfortunately, JP Morgan Chase calculated that they could make more money by throwing Dawn out on the street. Apparently breaking the law and manipulating the courts, JP Morgan Chase had successfully obtained an eviction order. The US Marshalls were on their way, literally to throw Dawn’s belongings out on the street.
Fortunately, we at Occupy Our Homes were able to mobilize very quickly, blockading Dawn’s house while she went down to the courthouse to seek a stay of eviction. The courts had ignored her request before, but now they knew that the community was ready to stand in the way of eviction. We would not go quietly. With the pressure on, the judge granted Dawn a stay of eviction until her next court date, later this month. We feel confident that Dawn has a strong legal case, and will eventually be able to purchase her home. But we intend to keep the spotlight on until we know for sure.
Behind these exciting actions lies an increasing depth of organization. Much of my time has been taken up this past month with committee meetings, telephone calls, and outreach to the wider community. One of the most exciting ways that I have been able to reach out more broadly has been to get involved in a weekly pastors’ breakfast, attended mostly (though not exclusively) by African-American ministers. It is a time for these pastors to come together, support one another in prayer, sermon and song, and to share their thoughts with one another about the latest happenings in the city. It is a real blessing for me to be able to take part in this gathering, and I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with so many seasoned leaders from the African-American Church here in DC.
My work in the wider community is complimented by an ever-deepening involvement in the ministry of Capitol Hill Friends. I have felt blessed this past month by regular mid-week meetings of the members. We gather to check in, do business, and support one another spiritually. It is a vital time for me to touch base and hear how the Lord is speaking to us in our individual lives, as well as in our shared ministry.
This past weekend, we held our Spring Retreat in Barnesville, Ohio, together with Friends from Detroit and Philadelphia. This is our third retreat since Capitol Hill Friends and New City Friends formed a network of mutual care and accountability. The gathering included not only members of our two groups, but also a like-minded friend from Philadelphia. We hope that as this network continues to evolve it will be a source of strength and encouragement for many local Meetings, as well as individuals who would benefit from the support and care that our network can provide.
It felt good to have our retreat in Barnesville. Roughly equidistant from DC and Detroit, Barnesville is also the hometown of Ohio Yearly Meeting, and functions as a sort of “Mecca” for Christ-centered, unprogrammed Quakers. Both New City Friends and Capitol Hill Friends have had significant involvement with Ohio Yearly Meeting, and our faith and practice is deeply influenced by their witness. It felt somehow right to me that we root our new Christian community in the same physical space as the ancient Ohio Yearly Meeting. It is my prayer that our emerging network will absorb many of the valuable traits of our Conservative kin, even as we seek to be faithful to the distinct call that God has for us as fellowship.
Life is vibrant for me right now, alive with an immediacy and urgency that feels both pregnant with possibility and grounded in responsibility. I find myself being called into new, risky action – both within the Quaker community, and in my work for economic justice. At the same time, I am pulled into a deep grounding in place and community. I feel increasingly accountable to Capitol Hill Friends, and to our wider network, and I am settling into a long-term commitment to a new neighborhood and community here in DC.
I never expected radical faithfulness to look so… Ordinary. I used to think that “freedom” meant not being constrained by anything but immediate, fiery revelation from God. I am beginning to see that what faithfulness looks like in my life right now is quite different from that romantic vision. Rather than becoming less entangled in the world, God is calling me to engage deeply in this human existence. I am to build a house and dwell in it; to plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
God calls me to show my commitment not by freeing myself from the conditions of everyday life, but instead by entering more deeply into them. Rather than taking me out of the world, Christ is guiding me into a life of deeper, inextricable involvement. Jesus challenges me to be part of not only a city on a hill, but also a city in the trenches. I feel God calling me to a witness that is anything but aloof – one that is revealed in its profound identification with the daily struggles of the human community.
The daily grind of ordinary faithfulness is harder to talk about than the exhilaration of big actions or gatherings. It is easy for me envision the Kingdom of God as existing in a daring, decisive moment – heroic, charged, picturesque bursts of clarity, beauty and power. Such moments do exist, and it is a blessing when they occur. Nevertheless, the foundation of all God’s work is steady, hidden faithfulness in ordinary time. I pray for the Holy Spirit to teach me humility and singleness of vision to dwell in the divine ordinary, to embrace the simple pains, pleasures, duties and delights of life – all to the glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
May his life and presence be with each of you, today and always.
Micah Bales