Blog Banner

Archive for movement – Page 2

A Quiet Power in Our Midst

FOJF Workers+ Retreat

This weekend there were 11 of us (plus one baby!) at the William Penn House, just blocks from the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. We had solid representation from DC, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City, and California, representing the core leadership of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship.

It felt fantastic to be together in one location, dedicating ourselves to worship and shared listening to the Holy Spirit. It was exciting to open the circle wider, inviting all of the active and committed members of the fellowship to participate in our shared evolution in Christ. I feel grateful for the attention, creativity, and joy that each person brought to our time together.

We did some fairly intense discernment about how God is calling us to move forward in the days ahead. How does the Spirit want to use us? What is the unique gift that Friends of Jesus is called to give the world? How will we need to change our lives to embrace this exciting challenge?

While we didn’t receive any shocking new revelations this weekend, there was a quiet power in our midst. Our roots are growing deeper. We can feel more clearly our shared sense of purpose. The Spirit is inviting us into a shared life of prayer, community, and prophetic action, demonstrating the reign of God through our transformed lives.

We are on the edge of something crucial. We’re beginning to understand more fully the kind of radical life change that following Jesus will require of us in the days ahead. It’s time for us to count the cost, to consider whether we are truly prepared to go all the way with Jesus. It will cost us everything – all of our sense of boundaries and control over our lives – but he has promised that we will receive so much more if we have the courage to follow him.

Are you ready to get involved in this community? I hope you’ll join us for the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering this May 12-15 near Indianapolis. Watch for more details soon.

Related Posts:

What is Next for Friends of Jesus?

A Baptism Into Courage

Martin Luther King Isn’t Interested in Your Praise

Martin Luther King Isn't Interested in Your Praise

I’m in favor of holidays, period. Compared to most cultures, the United States has very few festivals where work ceases and we celebrate those things that are most important to us as a society. These times of rest and remembrance are important.

I’m particularly thankful that there’s a federal holiday in the United States that celebrates the life of Martin Luther King. As one of the most important civil rights leaders of the 20th century, he stands as an icon for the struggles that black Americans have faced – and the victories they have won – during the last 400 years of hideous abuse, slavery, Jim Crow, and present-day mass-incarceration and police brutality.

As the #BlackLivesMatter movement reminds us, the civil rights struggle is far from over. The blood, sweat, and tears of our 20th-century civil rights heroes must be followed up by the clear-eyed resolve of a new generation. Ideally, celebrations like Martin Luther King Day should help to sustain this resolve, energizing us for the hard work ahead.

That being said, I suspect that King would not be too thrilled about MLK Day. I doubt he would take much solace in all the schools and highways named after him. The newly erected MLK monument – an enormous stone statue of King overlooking the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC – would almost certainly leave him cold. “What an enormous pedestal they’ve built for me”, he might say.

This past year I’ve had the opportunity to read a number of King’s sermons. Like any good preacher, in each of his speeches King brings something new to light, but he also demonstrates a deep repetition of theme. One of these repetitions is a passage from the prophetic Book of Amos, which warns of coming judgment for a disobedient nation. One of the passages that King quotes most often is Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

For those who are unfamiliar with the text, these might just sound like pretty words. But if we take a look at the verses preceding King’s favorite quote, we see a different story:

“I hate, I despise your festivals,
    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. […]
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

King wasn’t interested in symbolic victories. He wasn’t concerned about whether the civil rights movement was honored by politicians with a national holiday, monuments, and pretty speeches. Quite the opposite. He was well-aware of the human tendency to put on a big show in order to cover up our own lack of righteous living.

King knew that God hates holidays without humility, songs without sincerity. He would know that in a country where black lives still do not seem to matter to most of us, where millions of African Americans are imprisoned or branded as felons, that any celebration of civil rights victory is premature. If King were here to celebrate his holiday with us, he would ask us to show him justice, not statues; changed hearts, not new names on freeways.

As we remember the life and legacy of Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Bayard Rustin, and the many thousands of others who have poured their lives into the struggle for freedom, let’s make sure we keep our eyes on the prize. The civil rights campaigns of the 20th century are over, but the 21st century struggle for righteousness and justice have only just begun. A few more marches and few less statues would make Martin proud.

Related Posts:

Why is our Christian President so Violent?

Jesus Commands You to Welcome Refugees

Related Song:

The Beginning is Near: Occupy DC 4 Years Later

The Beginning is Near: Occupy DC 4 Years Later

Today is the 4th anniversary of the Occupy DC encampment in McPherson Square. 

It seems like a long time ago. We’re in a very different place today than we were in the fall of 2011. Our national discourse has been profoundly impacted by the movement that we took to the streets of New York, DC, and urban centers across the country.

And it’s not over yet. This whole situation is still coming to a head. It’s the power that we sensed in the streets. It’s the community that we were gathered into by a force greater than ourselves, a movement of solidarity beyond our own strength. This spark and imagination still waits to be born in us.

It will be born again. When we’re ready.

The Occupy movement was just a first step, an opening act, the Once Upon a Time of the epic tale of our life together. The movement on the streets in late 2011 was the foretaste of something so much greater. It was the life of beauty and power we discover when we stop trying to win the game of meritocracy. Competition is replaced by common unity – a shared passion for creation and creativity, love and compassion.

We’re not going to give up on this. As spoken word artist Jon Watts stated so eloquently in the midst of Occupy DC: We’re in this for the longest haul; our strength is our endurance.

I’m reminded of the words of Slavoj Žižek, who spoke to an assembly in lower Manhattan at the height of Occupy Wall Street:

I don’t want you to remember these days, you know, like “Oh. we were young and it was beautiful.” Remember that our basic message is “We are allowed to think about alternatives.”

Sadly, Žižek’s worst predictions have come true. I look back at the photographs of Occupy Wall Street today, and my immediate reaction is precisely what he warned against: God, we were so young and beautiful. What an amazing moment in our lives, I think. Too bad it wasn’t sustainable.

The fact is, the Occupy movement wasn’t built to last. It was never meant to. Occupy was an uprising, a prophetic movement that by definition could only exist for a short time before we collapsed back into the more ordinary time and space of everyday life. Insurrection is not designed to be perpetual. It resolves. The arrows strikes its mark. Occupy wasn’t a way of life. It wasn’t forever. It was a vessel purposed to deliver a message, to topple the idols of American capitalism.

It succeeded. More than anyone imagined possible, Occupy was a success.

Now, Occupy is over. What comes next?

What is urgently needed now is not an attempt to recreate the thrills of that movement four years ago. Neither must we give ourselves over to the status quo, convinced that resistance is useless. We are condemned neither to fantastic escapism, nor to surrender to the dying order of Wall Street, K Street, and all the other streets that impoverish, militarize, and captivate us with their displays of superhuman wealth and power.

What is appropriate to this moment is endurance. Our invitation is to live in the same life and power that flowed through us during those passionate autumn days in 2011. It might not bring us into streets again (though it might). God only knows where this spirit will lead us. The critical thing is not to let go of the sense of joy, gratitude, and liberation that we discovered during the Occupy movement.

Our strength is our endurance. In love, hope, and awareness, we hold the power to shape our culture for the better. If we will hold on.

As we stay awake to the deep injustice and incredible potential of our society, we are invited to go so much further than we could have imagined four years ago. We’re invited to embrace new movements of the Spirit that have risen up since. Occupy Wall Street, meet #BlackLivesMatter. Will we embrace these new movements that are following up on the ground-breaking action of Occupy? Will we discover a more profound solidarity than ever before?

What I say to you, I say to allStay Awake.

The beginning is near.

Related Posts:

The Ministry of Occupy Wall Street

Remembering Occupy DC – And Taking the Next Step

A Baptism Into Courage

Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering

It’s easy for your faith to become just another obligation, a set of rules to fulfill and a standard that you struggle to live up to. But every once in a while, you catch glimpses of what it could feel like to be part of a community where heaven and earth come together, when everyday life becomes saturated with meaning and authenticity. In such times, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Life takes on a whole new smell, because you are living it on purpose.

In moments like these, you know who you are. You know where you belong.

This weekend has been one such moment for me, a time of power, presence, and life. I’ve been at the annual Fall Gathering of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, held this year in Lebanon, New Jersey. Our theme this weekend has been Fully Human, focused on the ways that we can live into the love-saturated life and power that Jesus promises us in the Holy Spirit.

Together, we’ve been experiencing the living presence of Jesus. We’ve been hearing his invitation to truly abundant life. What he offers us has more depth and reality than the false promises and illusions of the dominant culture: consumerism, materialism, and the soul-numbing myth of the autonomous individual.

We were made for more. We can feel it our bones.

Every gathering of God’s people has its own flavor. Some are raucous affairs, whipped hard by the winds of the Holy Spirit. At this gathering, though, we’ve experienced a sweet spirit of reassurance and gentle challenge. We’re being invited to take a realistic look at our lives, and to consider how we can take the next steps into deeper discipleship with Jesus.

This weekend has been a baptism into a deep reservoir of courage. It’s the kind of bravery that can only be lived into over a period of months, years, decades. It’s not the thrill of the quick decision or the decisive battle. We’re being called into the gentle, relentless faithfulness of water – slowly wearing down the path that God desires to walk in us.

There is a stream of living water that is flowing through our lives as friends of Jesus. We’re encountering an invitation to turn away from the many ways that we burden ourselves. The Spirit is calling to us, inviting us to take up the easy yoke of Jesus. Together.

It’s not clear what the next steps will be, though we’ve gotten some hints. It’s going to involve slowing down and really being present with one another. It’ll mean taking big risks over long periods of time, preparing ourselves for those kairos moments when God will use us to take powerful and transformative action, in ways both seen and unseen by the world.

The path we are being called into calls for patience, discipline, and steadfast love. There will be few quick victories, no easy answers. Nevertheless, Jesus has promised to walk with us along the way, and we already experience his child-like joy accompanying us. We are learning to trust him, and to take him at his word. He is faithful.

I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next.

Related Posts:

We’re Gathering Momentum – Are You In?

The Spicy, Subversive Kingdom of God

Should the Church Embrace Individualism?

When I was in seminary, community was the thing. We were taught how to use models of group discernment to help us make important life decisions. We had a student government, run on Quaker principles, that was supposed to help us work together as a community. We had shared worship that was meant to draw us into a corporate relationship with God.

Despite all these good intentions, my experience of seminary was largely an individual one. I was on my journey, and others were on their own. I made friends and shared great experiences with others, but the reality was that my fellow students and I were generally only going to be around for a few years. Once we were done earning our degree, we’d be off to some other part of the world.

It was hard to build really strong community in such circumstances. Despite all our ideals about communal decision-making and discernment, there’s only so far you can go when you know that nobody is going to be around three years from now.

Fast forward to my present ministry context: Washington, DC. In many ways, it’s not so different from seminary. I know lots of wonderful people, and we have a good time together. I learn a lot from my friends here, and we support one another as best we’re able. But in the end, we’re all on our own journeys. Some of us will be here a long time; others will be moving on in just a few short years. It’s not always clear who will fall into which category. 

Life is in a state of near-constant flux. At any given moment, some of our friends may be leaving the city. At the same time, new and wonderful people will emerge to take their place. Our city is an amazing environment for networking, for making new friends.

Forming community that transcends our individual choices is tougher. What does it look like to bind ourselves together in community when we’re so focused on maximizing our own personal dreams – career, family, life’s work?

These are worthy goals that we’re pursuing. We’ve got jobs we love, children we adore, hopes that we nurture, and ambitions that excite us. It makes me wonder, is it possible that my desire for committed, intentional community has been misguided all along? What if we’d be better off encouraging each individual (or family) to follow God’s call for them? Would we be more faithful if the church embraced individualism?

Even if this kind of radical individualism isn’t the best path to enlightenment, it surely is more in keeping with the spirit of our age. When I look at the movements and networks that are growing and thriving, it is those that allow individuals to take autonomous action to improve their lives, and the lives of others. Most successful movements in our time are those that invite you to come, just as you are, and participate in your own way. No strings attached.

At least not at first.

While I can’t imagine that Christ is truly calling the church to embrace individualism, neither can I believe that our present situation calls for the same type of community that was life-giving in centuries past. Electronic communication and rapid transit have fundamentally altered our reality. The world has changed. What does the faithful church of Jesus Christ look like in these new circumstances? What does it look like to be the body of Christ in such a mobile, fluid, creative, and exhausting age?

Our answer to this question will be crucial for the development of a living faith in our time. Have you found part of the answer? Please share.

Related Posts:

Do We Really Want Community?

Freelance Ministry or the Body of Christ?

Are Quakers Already Dead?

We Quakers think a lot about our own demise. I’ve lost count of how many events, conferences, books, and lectures have essentially centered around the question, Will Quakerism survive?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you already know that I believe this is the wrong question. The ultimate fate of Quakerism is not nearly so important to me as whether we are ignited by a living movement of the Holy Spirit today, in our own time and place. Labels and Quaker brand loyalty aren’t worth much if we aren’t willing to follow Jesus – wherever he leads.

It concerns me, how frequently this conversation comes up in the Quaker community. The question of denominational survival is a major preoccupation among Friends. Maybe even an obsession. We demonstrate an almost morbid fascination with our own impending doom.

A friend of mine recently suggested that what is missing in modern day Quakerism is a triumphant, victorious spirit. He suggested that, in many cases, we as Friends have already accepted defeat. We’ve assumed failure as an inevitability. We’re so busy contemplating Quaker doomsday that we fail to see the incredible abundance and possibility of the moment we live in.

I’m convinced that we’re not dead yet. God has important work for us to do – not just back in the 1650s, not only during the Civil War or Vietnam, but right now. We are alive now for a reason.

What would happen if we located ourselves, not at the end of a long line of historical events, but at the beginning? Rather than maintaining the legacy of people who lived and died hundreds of years ago, what if we used all that raw material – theology, meeting houses, writings, endowments, faith and practice – to launch a whole new God movement in our time, place, and culture?

What if we refuse to rest on our ancestors’ laurels? What would it mean to accept the challenge of radical discipleship here, now?

We’re only dead if we refuse to try.

Related Posts:

Is it Time to Get Rid of Yearly Meetings?

What If I Really Lived Right Now?

Is It Time to Get Rid of Yearly Meetings?

Is It Time to Get Rid of Yearly Meetings?

I’ve been deeply embedded in the Quaker Industrial Complex for a long time. I’ve been one of those professional Quakers. I first became a Christian while studying at a Quaker seminary, and subsequently worked for years in official Quaker circles – at Earlham School of Religion, and later at Friends United Meeting. I’ve lived, breathed, and dreamed Quakerism.

During this time, I’ve spent lots of time visiting local Quaker congregations, gatherings, and regional bodies. Often during these visits, Quaker leaders would tell me what they were most worried about. Some of these concerns were very specific to a particular group or situation, but others were more universal.

This Is My Concern, Dude

One of the most regular and consistent laments that I’ve heard from Quaker leaders is that the rank and file in their congregations don’t see the purpose of the yearly meeting* structures. They say things like this:

We can’t figure out how to help our people understand how important the Yearly Meeting really is. People ask us, What does the Yearly Meeting do for me?, but they’re missing the entire point! The Yearly Meeting is about being body. It’s not about what the Yearly Meeting provides for the local churches; it’s how we’re called together as a people, the shared experience we have of God when we’re together. After all, how are we supposed to do the work of the church if we don’t gather and support one another?

I’ve heard words like these so many times I’ve lost count. What’s more, I’ve said words like these on numerous occasions. As a person so dedicated to institutional Quakerism, the idea that many of our members no longer find the Yearly Meeting necessary was really threatening to me. After all, what is the Quaker community without our wider fellowship? How can we even exist without the Yearly Meeting?

Another Way?

Despite my misgivings, I’ve recently begun to wonder whether those naysayers might actually be right. Is there something fundamentally unhelpful about the Yearly Meeting system as it presently exists? What if the best thing that could happen would be for us to release our institutional structures altogether, opening ourselves to a more organic, responsive way of being Christ’s body?

In order to really consider these questions, it’s been helpful to take a step back from the Quaker bubble for a little bit. For the past couple of years, I haven’t been actively participating in a traditional Yearly Meeting. Instead, I’ve been part of a new, missional Quaker network called the Friends of Jesus Fellowship.

At first, we thought of ourselves as a sort of proto-Yearly-Meeting. We figured that our local missional communities were essentially Monthly Meetings, and that our Fall and Spring gatherings were more or less our Yearly Meeting (bi)annual sessions.

But as time has gone on, it’s become clear that we’re not a Yearly Meeting, and probably never will be. Instead, we’re finding something new and different, something born into the challenges that the church is facing in our present world.

As members and leaders in the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, we take seriously the question, How does our community sustain and propel us in the mission where Christ has called us? Our fellowship does not exist for its own sake, but for the purpose of making disciples and demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ for our neighbors. The structures of the Fellowship are exist for this purpose, and they evolve as the Spirit leads us.

A New Kind of Community

This openness to Christ’s ongoing direction is creating a network of disciples that looks quite different than what we had experienced before. Here are some key characteristics we’re finding that make the Friends of Jesus Fellowship a truly vibrant community:

1. We empower individual leaders to operate in their gifts and unlock their potential as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. By emphasizing the giftedness and unique calling of each person, we come together as a body with all parts working together in harmony.

2. The Friends of Jesus Fellowship is rooted in spiritual affinity and shared calling by Christ. The Fellowship is most strongly based in the eastern half of the United States, but we are not necessarily limited by geography. We have friends and co-workers scattered from Berkeley to Baltimore, from Madrid to Moscow.

3. Our membership is based on shared commitment and mutual accountability. We are members of one another because we have come together as disciples, followers of Jesus who are engaged together in learning from Jesus himself. Becoming a Friend of Jesus isn’t a matter of clearness committees and paperwork. We’re not a club to be joined primarily for a sense of identity and belonging. It’s about doing the work, showing ourselves to be friends of Jesus by our love for one another.

4. Rather than preserving an institution, we are focused on igniting a movement. In place of nostalgia for the past – even the admittedly glorious past of the early Quaker movement – we are inspired by a vision for the new things that God wants to do right here, right now.

It’s not that we don’t need institutions. We definitely do, and we are actively developing appropriate structures under the guidance of the Spirit. Still, we know that our institutions are means, not ends. No matter how efficient our structures and procedures are, their purpose is always to move us forward together in the dynamic mission of Jesus and his reign.

Freedom from the Quaker Law

As a recovering Quaker process junkie, this is all very new, disturbing, and refreshing! I have some sense of how Paul must have felt when he was released from the deadening straight jacket of the Law. This is what gospel freedom feels like: It’s the end of all the shoulds of religious observance, an invitation to a life of deep relationship with Jesus and his friends.

As part of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, God is introducing me to a whole new way of being a follower of Jesus. Rather than seeking to defend the Quaker tradition and my insider bona fides, I am discovering a way of ministry that goes far beyond anything that Quaker tribalism could offer.

For all my friends who remain faithfully serving within a traditional Quaker context, I know this essay might feel like an attack. I hope you’ll believe me when I say it’s not. I have been among the fiercest Quaker loyalists, defending tooth and nail what I considered a traditional Quaker vision of gospel order. I still value this tradition, even as I join with a community that is radically re-mixing it in order to be faithful to where the Spirit is leading us today.

Whether you’re a Quaker insider or have never heard of a Yearly Meeting before reading this post, I want to invite you into something bigger. Something deeper. Something more beautiful than any human structure.

What would it look like for us to let go of the traditional Yearly Meeting altogether? What discoveries might we make if we started fresh, rooting community in our 21st-century context? What kind of power could we unlock?

I think we’re in for some beautiful surprises.

*For my non-Quaker readers: A Yearly Meeting is a regionally and theologically defined association of local congregations. It is the highest decision-making body that Quakers have, and is roughly equivalent to a diocese, district, or conference in other denominations.

Related Posts:

Get Your Hand Out of that Pickle Jar!

Burn Down the Meeting House