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3 Reasons Pope Francis’ Visit Could Change America

3 Reasons Pope Francis' Visit Could Change America

Pope Francis will be arriving in Washington, DC tomorrow, and we locals are getting ready for a huge celebration. Public officials have warned us to avoid travel for the next few days. We’re expecting the roads and public transportation to be flooded with thousands of pilgrims making their way to see the head of the world’s largest Christian communion. It’s gonna be a beautiful mess!

Francis’ visit to the United States will be an enormous spectacle. I have no doubt that many will find it inspiring and uplifting. But what’s the ultimate impact? Could Francis’ time in the US make waves that go beyond traffic delays and photo ops?

Here are three reasons that the Pope’s arrival could mark a tipping point for American culture:

1. The Pope inspires us to move beyond the culture wars. If you’re like most Americans, you’re exhausted from the endless ideological battles that have consumed our country in recent decades. So often in these battles, Christianity has been used as a weapon to attack others and score political points. It’s no wonder that millions of Americans have given up on organized religion altogether. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being manipulated for political advantage.

And yet, most of us are still hungry for something that goes deeper than the numbing consumerism that we are constantly being sold. We’re disgusted by the right-wing, imperial Christianity that justifies foreign wars and domestic discrimination, but we long for the heart of love that we once found in Jesus. We are hungry for the genuine gospel of peace, reconciliation, and justice.

The good news that Francis preaches cuts through the hypocrisy of American political discourse. Francis reminds us that, in Jesus, it is possible to work for the protection of all life – including the unborn threatened by abortion, the natural world threatened by climate change, and the poor who are being crushed by ever-widening income inequality and economic injustice. Pope Francis breaks down the Republican/Democrat binary, holding out a vision of the Reign of God that challenges all political ideologies.

2. Francis is unifying the Christian community. Just as the gospel message dissolves the hostility of the political culture wars, it also has the power to overcome divisions within the church. For hundreds of years, the Christian world has been divided between different Christian denominations, each one claiming to be the one and only true church. The emergence of Pope Francis, with his broad-minded ecumenism rooted in an evangelical mission, encourages us to reevaluate the sectarianism of centuries past.

This doesn’t mean we all become the same. There are important reasons that I am not a Catholic, and that the Pope is not a Quaker. But our differences are relativized in the light of our shared experience of Jesus Christ in our lives. The barriers between us are broken down by a common recognition of the challenges that face us as a species, and the extraordinary measures that we must take together to avert ecological catastrophe and economic atrocity. Our shared calling as disciples of Jesus and heirs of the Reign of God is so much greater than the many ways that we are different from one another. What would it look like if we committed ourselves to working together in all those areas where we are already of one heart and mind?

3. He builds bridges with skeptics. Pope Francis has shown himself to be a universal Christian leader, with relevance far beyond the bounds of the Roman Catholic fellowship. His compassion and demonstrated love for the marginalized speaks to the heart of the spiritual-but-not-religious, agnostics, and the countless other Americans who want something deeper, but cannot in good conscience accept the Christianity presented to them by mainstream Evangelicalism.

Most of these folks are probably never going to become Catholics, but that’s not the point. Francis is a major Christian leader who is showing himself to be a compassionate, principled human being. It’s sad to say, but for many Americans, that’s something new.

For an historically Protestant nation that is increasingly fed up with George Bush Evangelicalism, Pope Francis’ visit is an opportunity to present an alternative vision for what life with Jesus can look like. This pope is connecting with millions of Americans who don’t consider themselves Christians, but who find themselves resonating with the simple, radical faith of Jesus.

This is an exciting moment. I’m looking forward to welcoming Pope Francis to my city and nation. I feel hopeful about the kind of positive change that his visit could bring about in the spiritual life of our country.

What are ways that we can amplify the volume of the gospel message that Pope Francis is bringing to our national stage? How are we, as followers of Jesus, preparing ourselves to reap the harvest of this visit, as thousands – perhaps millions – are brought into a new awareness of what a radiant, loving, faithful life in Jesus can look like?

I’d love to discuss these questions with you in the comments below.

Related Posts:

Why Pope Francis’ Climate Encyclical Matters

Pope Francis: A Social Justice Pope?

Can Unity Come Through Grief?

Can Unity Come Through Grief?

Last week, a young man was shot to death right across the street from us. The murder took place in broad daylight, right in front of a Catholic church.

This hit pretty close to home. Literally. You could look out our front window and see the murder scene, right in front of a statue of the virgin Mary. It was pretty traumatic for our family.

We were glad when we learned that there would be an ecumenical prayer service at the church, to lift up the family of the victim, and to gather as God’s people in the midst of tragedy.

The worship service was deeply moving. Both the music and the silence were powerful, and I was struck to heart by the words delivered by the mother of the young man who lost his life just a week ago.

In the face of this tragic loss in our community, we gathered from different denominations and backgrounds – Catholic, Protestant, and at least one Jewish friend that we’re aware of. We sang, There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain.

With tears in my eyes, I got a better sense of what the power of Jesus really looks like. I saw his people gathered in his broken body and living spirit. I saw a community coming together from across tribes and denominations, brought together by the broken peace of our neighborhood. I witnessed God’s power made perfect in weakness.

The Holy Spirit came descended on us, meeting us in our sorrow and anxiety. For a moment in time, we were undeniably one body in Jesus together. We got a fresh glimpse of what the body of Christ could look like, breaking down barriers of race and denomination. I saw again the dynamic potential of the church to be a force for justice and peace, rooted in the cross of Jesus. Something is moving.

Whatever this thing is, I want to be part of it. Whatever God is up to, I want him to send me.

I hear the chains falling.

Related Posts:

Dear White Church: Repent!

When We Pray, It Boils

Put on Your Sweater and Hang on to Your Hat! – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #66

Dear friends,

Here in Washington, DC, the weather is telling us that fall has just about arrived. Before I break out sweaters and jeans, though, let me take a moment to share what’s been going on with me and the Friends of Jesus community in the latter half of this summer.

The last month and a half has been very full in every way: with ministry, work and family. Compared to some other summers in recent memory, my schedule for travel has been relatively tame. Nevertheless, I still managed to make some significant excursions outside the Beltway. In addition to a midsummer visit to Philadelphia to encourage the Friends of Jesus community there, I was able to participate in the Northeast Christ-Centered Friends Gathering at Powell House, a Quaker center in upstate New York. The gathering was truly blessed, and I was humbled to be among so many women and men who are working to share the good news of Jesus among Liberal Quakers in the Northeast United States.

I was also able to make a trip out to Wichita, Kansas, to visit family and friends there. It was a fairly brief visit, but I was glad to be able to connect with a few folks from Great Plains Yearly Meeting, as well as with Jerry Truex, a dear friend who serves as pastor of Mennonite Church of the Servant. I am so impressed with the vital ministry being sustained by my friends in Wichita, and my heart aches to be among them, even as I know that God has called me to settle in the Washington, DC region for the foreseeable future.

This summer has been very typical in some ways, yet in other ways it has been quite strange. I’m used to all my spring routines breaking down each summer, only to be replaced by new patterns in the fall. The difference this time, though, is that I didn’t have to leave home to make it happen. This deconstruction of my ordinary routines has taken place here in situ, amidst the familiar surroundings of home.

To give just one example, my life was delightfully disrupted by a visit by Tyler Heston and Hye Sung Gehring. Tyler and Hye Sung spent six weeks this summer serving as interns with the Friends of Jesus community in Detroit, and by all accounts had a blast. I am so grateful that they are part of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, and it was great to spend almost a week with them as they swung out to the East Coast. Tyler will be spending the next year finishing up his undergraduate degree in Memphis, while Hye Sung will be out in Portland spending a year with Quaker Voluntary Service. I’m really excited about the friendship and collaboration in ministry that we are developing with these two very talented and big-hearted young men.

OK, now that I’ve filled you in on summer, I’m ready to put on my hoodie and tell you about what’s on deck for this fall. As the air starts to change, so does our program. The summer was extremely informal for our community here in DC, and we gathered in many different ways – whether grabbing tacos on H Street, cleaning up Shepherd Parkway in Southeast, or gathering for a low-key Bible study. As we move into fall, our plan is a bit less free-form and slightly more methodical, but we hope to maintain a posture of experimentation and freedom in the Spirit of Christ.

We’ve got several ways we’re looking to engage in the coming months. Let’s go from smallest to largest:

On the small end, we’re launching several Life Transformation Groups (LTGs). These are groups of 2-3 people who gather each week to confess sin to each other and practice intercessory prayer for a few people that members of the group would like to see come to faith in Jesus. During the week, members of the group read a large amount of Scripture, allowing the biblical witness to speak into their lives. We hope that our LTGs will be a practical support for members of our community who want to go deeper in exploring what it means to be disciples of Jesus in the most practical sense, allowing relationships of accountability – to Christ and to one another – to transform our lives.

A slightly larger expression of our community this fall comes in our small groups. Here in DC, we’re expecting a group of roughly half a dozen folks to participate in an 8-week small group experience based on The Tangible Kingdom, a resource produced to help friends come together and discover what it might be like to live as a missional community. Our hope is that this experience might foster a deeper level of commitment and intimacy, together as friends and followers of Jesus. For more information about The Tangible Kingdom, check out the original book, and the TK Primer, which is the resource we’ll be using in our small group (a free sample of the Primer can be downloaded here).

In Maryland, we have a small group that has already begun gathering in Rockville, in the chapel of a retirement community where one of our members lives. By all accounts, it sounds like things are going very well so far. The format of the group is one of interactive Bible exploration, and our Maryland organizers hope that the small group will be a safe, supportive environment for both established Christians as well as those who are just curious about what the Bible has to say and how it might apply to their lives.

In addition to our LTGs and small groups, we are also planning to have a monthly worship gathering that will welcome folks from across the entire DC metro area. For those who are not familiar with our region, travel can be extremely draining and time-consuming, so once-monthly gatherings for the whole metro area seems like the most we can sustain right now as we seek to grow communities in more particular geographical locations. We look forward to these times of corporate worship as opportunities to receive spiritual nourishment from Jesus, and in that communion to connect more deeply with one another as brothers and sisters in him.

Please take a moment right now to pray for us in the following ways:

  • That our LTGs would cohere and become micro-communities where the Holy Spirit can truly do transforming work on each member of our community. That God give us new life and power to change as we become more fully disciples of the Lord Jesus.
  • For the presence of Christ to be felt in our small groups. That he would use each of our small groups to build up core communities in our two present geographical locations, giving us courage and boldness to become fishers of people.
  • That the power of God truly be felt among us in our monthly gatherings for worship, and that geography not hold us back from coming together as one church in the name of Jesus.
  • Finally, please pray that God will bless the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering. Pray for large attendance, powerful teaching, and a palpable awareness of the sweet Spirit who calls us to pick up the cross and become disciples of Jesus.

Thank you for your support – through your prayers, financial giving, and all the ways that you have been instruments of God’s care for this ministry. Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Your friend,

Micah Bales

PS: If you haven’t registered yet for the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering, it’s not too late! Check out our promotional flier, register, and leave a comment on our Facebook page if you have any questions!

Something Is Shaking Loose – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #65

Dear friends,

I’ve been getting around this summer. I’ve done almost as much traveling in the last few months as I had in the whole year before that. So far this summer, I’ve taken multiple trips to Detroit, Indiana and Philadelphia. Reconnecting with my friends and fellow workers throughout the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, I’ve felt more plugged into the life of the whole body. As I grow in my role as a released minister with our geographically dispersed fellowship, I am both blessed and challenged by the work of nurturing our fledgling communities and ministries.

Friends of Jesus Fellowship is in a state of flux right now. It feels like all of our workers in all of our local and virtual sites are feeling something similar. Something is shaking loose. There is a new direction emerging, but it’s still not clear exactly where we’re headed. This can feel scary; we’ve invested so much work into the communities as we know them today. But we are also feeling a sense of divine accompaniment, trusting that Christ Jesus is walking with us, guiding us even when we can’t see the way in front of us. We would invite your prayers for our collective sense of clarity as a fellowship, and for the Holy Spirit to enliven and guide each of our local communities.

Here in Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area, we’re experimenting with a variety of ways of being community together. Through cookouts, worship, service projects and spiritual exploration through art, we’ve tried a lot of different ways of engaging with God together. It’s still not totally clear what things will look like for us in the fall, but we have a sense of being scattered across our urban region. Christ is inviting us to re-focus on the simple, patient work of making disciples. Beyond all strategies and programs, this work of transformation and growth is our primary calling.

Even as Friends of Jesus is experiencing a sense of creative mystery, I’ve personally been experiencing a lot of growth in my understanding of the work I’m called to. A part of that has been in my professional life as Web & Communications Specialist for Friends United Meeting. This summer, I’ve been spending a lot more time out at the North American FUM office in Indiana, which has helped to deepen my sense of purpose and connection with this international association of Quakers.

I’m growing in my understanding that there is vitally important work for me to do as part of the FUM communications team, and I’m looking forward to the months ahead as we undertake a comprehensive campaign to strengthen the organization. Together, I believe that we can energize, equip and connect Friends across the planet, and – near and dear to my heart – here in our North American context.

Here are some ways that you can be praying in the coming month:

  • That God would energize and inspire Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area to take risks and find companions in the way as we seek to make disciples in our local context.
  • That the Friends of Jesus Fellowship as a whole would feel Christ’s power and seek his guidance in becoming the beautiful bride that he is calling us to be. Let the Holy Spirit raise up new disciple-makers in each of our communities, teaching us to embody and share the good news.
  • That Friends United Meeting would be strengthened, both as an organization and as a worldwide body of dozens of yearly meetings from California to Cuba, Nairobi to New York. May God provide the funds, the staff, and above all the spiritual grounding that Friends United Meeting needs to fulfill its mission: energizing, equipping and connecting fellowships in the name of Jesus Christ.
  • That I would find the support and encouragement I need to sustain the work that God has called me to. May my family of prayer supporters, financial backers and ministry partners continue to grow through the unmistakable power of Jesus.

Thank you for your ongoing prayers, encouragement and love.

Grace and peace in the Lord Jesus,

Micah

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Can Worship Be Taught?

When I first became a Friend, something I heard a lot was that Quakerism is caught, not taught. For many Friends it is a point of pride that our faith is acquired through osmosis rather than instruction.

I picked up most of my Quaker etiquette in this intuitive way. I noticed and imitated the tone of voice and forms of expression that were acceptable in meeting. I learned, both through my own mistakes and those of others, that you could break the unwritten rules of the meeting if you wanted to; but if you did, no one would take you seriously. You would not be a weighty Friend.

As a new Quaker, I learned that the silence of worship is intended to be a time of shared communion with God, and that sometimes the Holy Spirit inspires one or more individuals to speak. More experienced Friends encouraged me to pay attention to whether God might be giving me a message to share during this time. If I felt led, they told me, I should rise and share the message with the gathered body.

For a form of worship that is often referred to as unprogrammed, there sure were a lot of rules to learn! Here are some that I picked up quickly, mostly through observation: Never take photographs during silent worship. Do not sit on the facing bench – where recognized ministers and elders traditionally sat – without being invited first. When giving a vocal message out of the silence, stand first. In an hour-long meeting for worship, do not speak during the first fifteen minutes. Do not respond to or comment on messages that have already been given. Messages should be as long as necessary, but as brief as possible. Do not speak twice.

I learned these rules over the course of years in the community. I got tips and hints from established members, but I never encountered a handbook to unlock the unofficial rules of the game. Fortunately, most folks were pretty gentle with me, both because of my age and how new I was to the community. I could have gotten myself into a lot more trouble than I did.

Strangely, I find that most of Quaker etiquette has little to do with the actual process of encountering Christ in the silence. It is possible to obey all the outward norms of Quaker worship and still be speaking entirely from ego and self-will. The path to truly surrendering ourselves to the Holy Spirit is something that I have rarely seen explicitly taught in our communities. Why is this?

There are historical reasons for this lack of direct instruction. For centuries, Quakers were a sectarian group, with most Friends growing up within the community. The lived experience of participating in the life of the body, attending meeting, and reading Scripture together was enough for many to get the knack of being a Quaker without systematic teaching. If it tooks decades for the lessons of the community to sink in, that was not a problem. Nobody was going anywhere, and few outsiders were joining.

The times have changed. Most Friends today were not raised in Quaker families, and even those of us who grew up among Friends have been influenced far more by the wider culture than we have by our religious community. In more cases than we might care to admit, our meetings have lost the thread of the tradition altogether. Many of us don’t know how to practice our faith anymore. We were never taught.

As a new Quaker community, Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area is keenly aware of the importance of having a fresh encounter with our faith. Our meeting has been around for a few years, not centuries; we do not have institutional momentum to fall back on. If we are going to thrive and multiply, we must learn how to embody and transmit the gospel order of the church. Osmosis isn’t going to be enough.

With this in mind, our DC-area small groups are embarking on a new experiment. For the next six weeks, we are attempting to teach the process of worship itself. Through guided meditation, we will be explicitly training ourselves how to center down – calming mind, body, and spirit – and learning to pay attention to the inward presence of Christ in our hearts. Rather than alluding to rules of etiquette, we will be teaching a process by which we may make ourselves more aware of and receptive to the motions of the Holy Spirit.

Our goal is ambitious: In six weeks, we hope to teach a process that takes many Friends decades to unravel: a way of drawing near to the light of Christ within. For those who are thirsty, we will point to where the water is, and provide a shovel to dig the well. We recognize that it is only through God’s sovereign action that we can receive this abundant life, joy, and power. Nevertheless, we hope that by learning to practice greater awareness and wait on God, we can increase our likelihood of faithfulness.

What is your experience of learning and sharing our faith? Do you think that there are ways that we can be teaching the process of centering and waiting worship in our meetings? Are there times that you have seen this done effectively? How can we teach and encourage one another to seek the living guidance of Jesus within?

Are You Keeping Busy?

I’ve often heard this joke about Washington, DC: Here, people ask your job before they ask your name. That’s a slight exaggeration, but it has the ring of truth to it. DC is filled with extremely bright, highly motivated, driven people. This is a city of go-getters, one that centers itself around idealism, success, and career advancement.

We are a city of workaholics. We work hard and play hard. We are always on, wired and connected. If we’re not occupied with something very important, we pretend to be. The appearance of busyness is a symbol of success. A packed schedule says: My life has meaning. I am in demand. I do important work.

It also serves as a defense mechanism. After spending long days on the job, DC offers up a cornucopia of extra-curriculars: seminars, concerts, demonstrations, cultural events, brunches and dinners. It would be easy to fill up a 20-hour schedule every day of the week, if the body and mind could endure it. Caught on an endless treadmill of very important things, it can seem like the only way to avoid total burnout is to excuse ourselves: I can’t, I’m sorry; I’m much too busy.

As part of an effort to establish a new Quaker community here in DC, I have experienced busyness as one of the most profound barriers to the gospel. Busyness reduces connection between people, making us so task-oriented that we struggle to truly see one another. It speeds us up. We talk fast, think fast, schedule fast, and cancel fast. We’re often moving so quickly that we miss out on the incremental development of relationship. We accomplish a lot, but enjoy little.

Chronic busyness creeps in gradually, even when we think we’re on guard against it. This past year, I have been overwhelmed by too much, too many, and too fast. Even as I have intellectually recognized the danger of the super-charged DC lifestyle, I have somehow gotten caught up in it, too. How can the good seed of life grow among all these weeds?

There is a way out of this labyrinth. There is a way to greater peace, an open way of life that invites love, community and reconciliation. It is a way that requires us to release our need to control outcomes. We must truly believe that the world does not rely on us, and that God’s love is not conditional on how well we perform. We cannot work our way out of workaholism.

A good place to start is prayer. What is prayer, after all, than the act of wasting time for the love of God and others? We can pray, not to accomplish a certain outcome, but simply in order to be present with God in loving relationship. As we extend this prayer outward into the rest of our lives, we can waste even more time, simply being present with others who have nothing tangible to give us. Just relationship, and an awareness of how God’s love is present in community.

The path out of busyness is to realize – to really know in our bones – that God does not operate like us. God does not keep a timesheet. God does not care about our resumés. God does not measure success in the ways we do. The Spirit is calling us to be present to her, and to others – to love just like Jesus loves.

Do you struggle with busyness? Is there a culture of over-work and unavailability in your area, like there is in mine? What are ways you have found to root yourself in the life and power that takes away the occasion for busyness? What has this cost you? What are the blessings you have received?

Way Is Opening – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #62

Dear friends,

It’s getting to that point in the winter when it feels like spring will never come. Yet, there is real growth happening amid the cold and ice. The Friends of Jesus community is growing in depth and momentum as we find our way forward as a community rooted in the Spirit. It’s amazing to watch God draw us together as a team, as friends, as companions in the way of Jesus. And I’m growing on a personal level, finding my way towards being more faithful in the ministry that God has called me to. Little by little, I’m finding ways to release my own priorities and open myself to how God wants to use my life.

I experienced this sense of opening just this weekend, during a trip to Philadelphia. On Friday, I was invited to speak to students at Swarthmore College about discernment and Spirit-led decision-making in the Quaker tradition. I shared about the biblical basis for our practice, and how we might apply these principles in groups and organizations that don’t necessarily share the same faith basis.

It seemed that my talk was very well-received, and I felt hopeful that it may have helped to strengthen the Christian and interfaith witness at Swarthmore. I was surprised and inspired to find this door opened to me, and this visit made me more aware of the hunger that the rising generation has for decision-making that is based in truth, rather than egotistical power plays. This may be an area for greater exploration.

Following my visit to Swarthmore, I headed up to Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting House, where the planning group for Quaker Spring gathered for a weekend retreat. We had a deep time of shared listening together, and I felt blessed to be in partnership with these faithful Friends. I am looking forward to the Quaker Spring gathering this June 24-29 in Barnesville, Ohio.

My travels this weekend left me feeling inspired. Something has been broken open inside me, and I am feeling drawn to re-dedicate myself to the core ministry that the Holy Spirit is calling me into. This ministry is both local and universal, involving both a settled witness here in DC as well as traveling to share the good news of Jesus and support the emergence of new leaders and communities in other areas.

At times, it has been a challenge to stay focused on this mission. In the last year, in addition to the rather intensive demands of the ministry, I’ve been working several part-time jobs. Sometimes this has worked well, but on many occasions it has created conditions for a great deal of stress and anxiety in my life. Worst of all, I have the sense that at times my over-busyness has negatively impacted the exercise of the most essential ministry that God is inviting me into.

This weekend, something clicked into place, and I had a clear sense that 2014 is a year for me to be transitioning into more focused ministry, less weighed down by other concerns. There have been times in the past when I have felt a drawing to this kind of focus, but now God seems to be preparing the conditions for me to truly live into that vision. My local community here in DC has shown amazing support in recent months, encouraging me to pursue a more fully released ministry. I am both humbled and emboldened by the ways in which Friends are investing their time, energy, resources and love into creating a space where this ministry can advance unhindered.

In the months ahead, we will be exploring together what it looks like for me to be serving Friends of Jesus as a bi-vocational released minister. With the support of local community members and Friends from across the country, we are hopeful that we can help create space for this exciting ministry to flourish in the ways that God intends.

Thank you for your prayerful support of my ministry, and of the Friends of Jesus community as a whole. This month, please pray for us:

  • That the Spirit would open doors for me to share the good news of Jesus with boldness, in unexpected and exciting ways.
  • That the network of prayer and support for this ministry would continue to grow and create an environment in which ministry can be exercised freely.
  • That we be empowered to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit, gathering people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known in an intimate, personal way; where each of us has the opportunity to become his disciple and demonstrate his love for the world.

In gratitude and friendship,

Micah Bales