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The Great Evangelical Break-Up

TL;DR: Post-Evangelicals are one of the most important religious groups that are shaping America today. In many ways, I wish I was one, because I’d like to take part in the conversation. In this piece, I explain my experience as a child of some very early post-Evangelicals who got pushed out of the Evangelical Quaker church. I explore how these experiences might be relevant to the important conversations that post-Evangelicals are currently having about their faith. To all my post-Evangelical peers, I ask: How can I support you in the struggle you’re experiencing?

(Don’t know what post-Evangelicalism is? Check out this interview with Michael Spencer where he explains his view on it, and this blog post by Rachel Held Evans on why it’s so important.)

The Great Evangelical Break-Up

Dear Post-Evangelicals,

This may sound a kinda weird, but I’m going to say it anyway: I’m a little jealous of you.

Let me explain.

There’s a really vibrant conversation happening right now among those who have grown up in Evangelical churches but who, for a variety of reasons, are distancing themselves from that tradition as they seek a deeper, more authentic walk with Jesus. I believe that this is one of the most important conversations happening in the United States today, one which has the potential to profoundly shape the future of the church. Yet, as much as I want to be part of this mix, I often feel like I’m on the outside looking in. Why?

This requires some background. I hope you’ll bear with me as I share a bit of my life with you.

Not Quite Evangelical

I don’t really qualify as post-Evangelical, because I was never an Evangelical to begin with. For most of my youth, I didn’t sing the music. I didn’t hear the sermons. I wasn’t immersed in the camps and the culture of mainstream evangelicalism.

This wasn’t on accident. You see, my parents used to be Evangelicals. My parents were Evangelical pastors. My dad grew up in a Quaker denomination that was, at that time, steeped in fundamentalism. When he decided to attend the shockingly liberal seminary, Earlham School of Religion, he was warned that he might not be able to minister in his home region. He would be tainted.

My mom grew up Baptist and attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Apparently, it wasn’t a fundamentalist institution at that time, but it became one shortly after she graduated. Along with many other Southern Baptists, my mom watched her childhood denomination take a hard turn into into rigid legalism. A culture of theological cleansing left the Southern Baptist Convention a much more sterile – and neo-Calvinist – place.

My parents eventually found a home in the more liberal wing of the Evangelical Friends Church. During my early childhood, they served as pastors in Wichita, Kansas. Our church was very chill, and relatively mainline by Evangelical Quaker standards. I think a lot of my post-Evangelical friends would feel comfortable worshiping there.

But by the time I was in grade school, my parents were becoming increasingly convinced that Sunday-morning Evangelicalism just wasn’t enough. No matter how nice the community was, they yearned to be part of a radical fellowship of Christ-followers, learning how to be disciples in their everyday lives. They wanted to live in solidarity with those who are most marginalized in our society. With increasing urgency, they felt that God was calling them to be in relationship with those whom the mainstream culture had taught them to fear.

In a move that surprised many and troubled some in our church, my family joined several other households in starting the Friends of Jesus intentional community. We relocated into what was then considered a rough area of Wichita, where some of our friends were afraid to visit us. It also happened to be where most of the residents were black. Funny how that works.

Dynamic Tension

My parents had hoped to continue serving as pastors. They were both part-time, and they didn’t see any necessary conflict between this new ministry and their work as pastors. But not everyone felt that way. It soon became clear that this new community project made some folks in our church deeply uncomfortable. When we moved, my parents stepped down as pastors.

I know that was really disappointing for my parents, but we made the best of it. The new community met together for worship, house-church style. It was a good experience for me, a lot more participatory than worship with the larger congregation. I liked playing the drum and singing songs out of our community song book.

For a while, we stayed connected to Evangelical Friends. We were still members of our old church, even though in some ways it didn’t feel like home anymore. We didn’t want to burn bridges; we just had a different mission. Few were ready to embrace what the New Monastic movement would later call relocation to the abandoned places of Empire, but that’s what we felt called to.

The Cold Shoulder

Our decision to move into what was then called urban ministry was off-putting, but nobody stopped us. Folks in the wider Quaker community had concerns, but they were whispered. Aren’t you afraid for your children? Do you really want them to grow up in that neighborhood? I lost a lot of friends; their parents wouldn’t let them come over to play anymore. It just wasn’t safe.

I think that’s a fair summary of how the Friends of Jesus intentional community was regarded by most folks: Unsafe. We were headed in an increasingly radical direction, understanding Jesus’ message as having profound, real-life applications that go far beyond the personal savior theologies of mainstream Evangelicalism. We wanted to do more than invite Jesus into our hearts. We wanted to invite him into every aspect of our lives.

The straw that really broke the camel’s back was when a lesbian couple began participating in the community. We didn’t realize they were gay at first. We were Evangelicals in the early 90s, after all. Our gay-dar wasn’t very good. We didn’t know, and it didn’t really matter. We were friends.

But, as we got to know one another better, it did come up. Again, we were Evangelicals in the early 90s, so our new friendship raised some real theological questions for the community. This couple seemed healthy, happy, and filled with the Holy Spirit. And they were gay. This was challenging for many of us.

So, the community took a time out. The adults did an extended study of Scripture, to really consider what the Bible actually says about mutually-committed, gay romantic relationships (spoiler alert: not much!). By the time they were done, they had become convinced that God called us to welcome and affirm our lesbian friends, and other gay people, too. They published a white paper, explaining their conclusions for those who cared to read it.

All Hell Breaks Loose

You can probably already see where this is going. Soon, people back at our old church were hearing that we were promoting homosexuality. Scandalous stuff. Before long, concerned church members reported us to the denomination.

The process of being disciplined by the Evangelical Friends Church was a lot more efficient than you’d think. There was no need for a lot of drawn out meetings, or discussion, or prayer. The elders of the Yearly Meeting (the denomination) met with a few of us. Concerns were expressed. A few days later, they sent us a letter, informing us of their decision: Heresy denounced. Ministerial credentials revoked. Crisis averted. The Friends of Jesus community was cut loose.

Move along. Nothing to see here.

Cast Out

On that day, my whole community became post-Evangelical. I was too young to really understand what was going on at the time, but I could tell that my family was experiencing a lot of trauma. It’s hard to be told by your faith community that you’re a heretic. It had to hurt, being cast off, renounced, revoked, with hardly a conversation. I know that this experience profoundly wounded people in my community, and we’re still doing the work of un-twisting ourselves today.

For the children of our community (or at least for me), the effects of this break were perhaps even more profound. My parents were post-Evangelicals, but what did that make us kids? Post-post-Evangelical?

I love you, post-Evangelicals, because I love my parents. I’ve watched as they’ve struggled with the mainstream Evangelical church. I know how much pain is there, how bad it hurt them to lose fellowship in the search for spiritual integrity and a deeper relationship with God. I know that being post-Evangelical comes at a very real cost.

A Whole New Ball Game

My family and my community was marginalized from Evangelical Quakerism when I was still in grade school. Though they handled it with about as much maturity as I think anyone could muster, there’s no doubt that this was a wounding experience. The generation above me will probably be wrestling with what it all meant for the rest of their lives.

It was different for me. As a grade schooler, I couldn’t help but feel the emotional impact of what my elders were going through, but it wasn’t direct. These were adult struggles, and they spared us kids the worst of it.

Still, the effects of these experiences were profound. I ended up receiving a formation very different from the one that my parents experienced. No more Sunday-morning-as-usual for me. I grew up in a household where a radical critique of mainstream Christianity was everyday conversation. I experienced my parent’s faith as being profoundly rooted in the struggle for peace and economic justice. I experienced first-hand the relocation to the abandoned places of Empire that the new monastics would name as crucial some twenty years later.

Instead of mission trips to foreign countries, I was enlisted in practical work for justice and reconciliation in the neighborhoods of my city where most middle class people were afraid to venture. Rather than the altar call, my spiritual proving ground was the pledge of allegiance. By refusing to stand for it, I learned important lessons in how both peers and authority respond when someone questions the religion of nationalism. While most Christians around me were primarily concerned with personal salvation, I was being trained to participate in the present-tense healing of the nations.

If You’re Skimming, Read This Part

So why did I just tell you all of this? I think it’s easy for any of us to imagine that we are unique, and that we are having our experiences for the first time, ever. But what strikes most me about the post-Evangelical phenomenon is how I’ve seen this before.

I’m really excited about this. It’s a movement whose time has finally come. Back in the 90s, when my parents were being cast out of the Evangelical fold, they were considered extremely radical. Yet today, the ideas and lifestyle that they were exploring is becoming, if not normal, at least increasingly well-known in (post-)Evangelical circles. Radical discipleship is becoming far less alien to the imagination of the mainstream church. It may not be a common choice, but for many it is a live option in a way that it simply wasn’t a mere generation ago.

This is important. We’re in the midst of a tidal wave of change that is fundamentally re-shaping the character of the North American church. Millions of us are discovering the ideas of the radical discipleship movement, and a surprising number are embracing the call to abandon all – our comfort, our wealth, and even the Evangelical subculture – in order to follow Jesus.

I share my story in part because I want you to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is a coherent life, community, and shared theology that is available when we come through the ferment of the great Evangelical break-up. The post-Evangelical experience isn’t simply about rejecting the unhealthy aspects of the Evangelical church; it can be a gateway into a much deeper engagement with the profoundly counter-cultural way of Jesus.

The travail that so many of us are experiencing right now isn’t the end, any more than the Protestant Reformation was. We’re at the beginning of something beautiful. We are invited to participate in a raw and vital movement of the Spirit in our own time and place. I’ve seen it. I’ve watched it happen to my parents and our community. It can happen to us, too. Are we ready?

Forward Together

I have a request for those of you who identify as (post-)Evangelical:

I want to be part of this moment with you.

I don’t know quite how I fit in. I didn’t go to the camps or the colleges. I didn’t grow up singing the songs or reading the books. I don’t speak the language. And, to be really honest, I can’t always relate to your experience. I want to, but it’s not always authentic for me.

Still, I hope that I can contribute to this conversation. I want to bring the experience of my community, my family, to this pivotal moment we’re facing. We learned a lot when I was a kid. We had some amazing successes, and some devastating failures. Some of this experience might come in handy today, as many thousands of us are struggling to discover what lies beyond the Sunday morning show.

I want to struggle together with you, despite all the ways that I’m a little bit out of sync. What could this look like? How can we strengthen one another, discovering the ancient-yet-new way of Jesus in our time and generation?

Video:

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The Long Haul

Mike McKinley, pastor of Guilford Baptist Church, writes, “Young men tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in the short term and underestimate what they can accomplish in the long term.” This has certainly been true in my own life.
I am a very passionate person; and when I set myself to a project, I want to see immediate results. When Faith and I founded Capitol Hill Friends, I imagined that we might get the Meeting up and running within a year or two. By year three, surely, the church would be ready to stand on its own, whether Faith and I could stay or not.
I can see in retrospect how much my expectations and imagined timeline revealed both my impatience and my ignorance of how human community actually works – or, perhaps, how it does not work – in 21st-century urban America. I thought that with a little determination and elbow grease I could start a new church and move on in just a few years. If George Fox or the Apostle Paul could do it, why not me?
It is easy to see now how naïve I was. I believed that the needs of post-modern America were essentially the same as those of 17th-century England, or the 1st-century Roman world. What I did not understand was that the ministry of Paul and George Fox took place in an environment where people were already organized into organic communities. These communities needed to hear the truth; but no one needed to teach them how to live as members of a community as such.
Our situation today in the post-industrial West is different. Most of us are locked into a society that is so intensely individualistic that our ability to live in community is severely hindered. Extended family networks and friendships are strained and broken through the unceasing quest for more money, status and personal well-being. Most of us no longer have any concept of what real community might look like; or, if we do, we are repelled by it. Community can seem like poverty when we are used to being autonomous individuals, ruled only by our appetites and our need for money.
In such an environment, simply sharing the good news of Jesus is not enough. The evangelist must demonstrate a new way of living that draws women and men into stable, committed community. In a society such as ours, genuine community is a striking witness to the power of the gospel.
This witness requires a different model of ministry from that of Paul or George Fox. I believe that the work that God is calling me to has far more in common with that of Benedict of Nursia. Benedict is considered the founder of Western Christian monasticism. He lived and ministered during the collapse of the Roman Empire, when civilization was falling apart and human community was in great danger. In this context, Benedict offered a new way of life – a disciplined community in which women and men could live faithful Christian lives. In the midst of social chaos and confusion, Benedict held a space for community rooted in obedience to Jesus Christ.
In many ways, Benedict provides a more helpful model of ministry for my historical context. However, I must admit, it is a tough pill to swallow. Frankly, I find the ministry of Paul and George Fox to be far more exciting than that of Benedict. I would rather hop from place to place, preaching and helping to gather a far-flung movement. Benedict’s discipline, on the contrary, terrifies me with its admonition to stay in one place indefinitely, cultivating faithful community year after year, decade after decade. Frequently, however, God teaches me and helps me grow through those things which most challenge my natural inclinations. Though I find Benedict’s model less appealing, I sense that it fits better with what God is calling me to.
I am convinced that the work that is needed here in Washington, DC is not primarily the fast, mobile ministry of George Fox or Paul. Instead, I believe Christ is calling me to the slow, patient work of cultivating the vineyard of God’s people. I am here for the long haul. As long as it takes. As long as God requires.

Radical Christian Community in the New Rome

“Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand…”Isaac Pennington, 1667

During my studies at Earlham School of Religion, I was part of an intentional Christian community called Renaissance House, located in an impoverished area of Richmond, Indiana. There were five of us living there: The house’s founder, me, and three other men, each of whom had physical or mental disabilities. We had an open door policy, inviting folks from the neighborhood to stop by and visit with us. Three nights a week, we hosted community meals, inviting folks from the neighborhood, and our friends from around town, to come and have dinner together.

These dinners were an amazing demonstration of what Christ’s table looks like. A normal Wednesday night dinner at Renaissance House included seminary students and professors, area businessmen, the homeless, the mentally ill and physically handicapped. It included the young and the old, the middle class and the poor.

I was deeply affected by my experience at Renaissance House. The depths of community at Renaissance House were profound. We experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of life in community. It was beautiful. We relied on one another, chopping wood, remodeling homes, serving food and gathering around the Scriptures as a little church of misfits and outcasts.

The heart of Renaissance House was our commitment to being radically available to one another. We were not primarily concerned with advancing our careers or “getting ahead” in the world. Our main focus was caring for one another, sharing the gospel and breaking bread together. We bore one another’s burdens and spent hours together every day. We prayed together.

Not everything was ideal. Life at the Renaissance House was very challenging much of the time. We were living on the edge in many respects, and the community was so intense that we had to work constantly on our interpersonal relationships. This was not always easy, and there were some pretty spectacular blow-ups while I was there. Nevertheless, on balance, these challenges seemed healthy. Though we were often uncomfortable and struggled with our human weaknesses, it felt like we were growing together in the Lord.

I wonder increasingly whether this kind of community might be possible here in Washington, DC. There are a lot of challenges here that we did not face in Richmond, Indiana. The biggest of these is the sheer cost of living. Unlike in Richmond, where houses were available in the low 10,000s, the DC housing market is intense. Life in general is more expensive here. Even living on the margins requires a serious income. Is there room in DC for the kind of radical Christian community that I experienced at Renaissance House?

I feel certain that there is. After all, just decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul was writing to an established church in Rome. Life must have been difficult for the Roman church, living in the capital city of the pagan empire that ruled almost the entire known world. They were surrounded by a society that worshipped imperial power and reveled in the luxury that the might of Caesar provided.

The Church in Rome must have had a particular role to play in bearing witness to Jesus and his Upside-Down Empire – an empire of love and justice that stood in contrast to the selfishness and violence of the wider culture. I believe that there is need for such a witness today in the new Rome. In a city that is so weighted down by the narrative of domination, power struggles and abusive privilege, there is a need for an alternative story.

Here on Capitol Hill, we witness the ways in which the narrative of Empire is expressed in the feverish scramble for control and power over others. This anti-gospel is a tangible reality in the offices of the many organizations that seek to gain influence here. In the face of this very real darkness, there is need for another story to be told, embraced and lived out. It is the story of a little baby who is born in a back alley, the Savior of the world. It is the story of the Messiah, tortured and executed by the imperial authorities for challenging the narrative of privilege and domination. It is the story of a community that serves a Risen Lord and is led by the Holy Spirit – a Spirit that reveals the falsehood of human empires and invites us into a life of sacrificial love and siblinghood.

I believe that there is a call for such communities here in Washington, DC. Despite the challenges that we face as residents in a wealthy center of imperial power, God is calling us to set aside our fear and our need for control. God is inviting us to live as the Body of Christ, not in a metaphorical sense, nor in a merely “spiritual” sense, but concretely. We are called into life together as a community, a life of mutual care and shared suffering for the Truth.

Surrender to Jesus in community will come in small, practical ways. We may be asked to surrender habits that upset our brothers and sisters. We may be asked to forgo career advancement that conflicts with the needs and mission of the community. We will most certainly be asked to give up some of the mobility that our present society so highly prizes.

During my time at Renaissance House, I learned that true Christian community is not a theoretical question. We can have all the right ideas about God and still fail to step out in faith. The Body of Christ only becomes a reality when we are willing to surrender control and live in community guided by the living presence of Jesus.

Are we willing to let go and become a part of something greater? Are we ready for a life more grounded in community? It will be hard to let go of the individual freedom that the wider culture so cherishes. But the reward that we are promised is so much greater – the abundant life that we receive as we live into God’s purpose for us.

Stability

One of the pillars of Christian monasticism is the vow of stability. In the monastic context, vowed stability means making a commitment to remain in a particular, geographically rooted monastic community until death. The purpose of such stability is to remove any escape route from the process of inward conversion that the monastics have committed themselves to in community. These women and men know that they will live the rest of their lives and die within the context of the vowed community to which they first committed themselves.

As a Quaker, formal, vowed monasticism has never been a live option for me. Even if it were, the fact that I am married and feel that God calls me to an energetic engagement with the surrounding culture would present stumbling blocks to embracing that path. Nevertheless, while I see that my calling in the Lord is distinct Eastern Market - Washington, DCfrom that of my vowed brothers and sisters, I also perceive some similarities.

My natural state is one of flight. I like new ideas and projects, new locales and experiences. I like to start projects, but finishing them is harder. All things being equal, I am likely to seek the sweetness of beginning. I tend to flee the struggle of enduring to the finish.
For someone like me who is a “starter,” the great temptation is not to finish. There is always another intriguing possibility on the horizon (or, more likely, dozens!); there is plenty of good work to do that does not involve the painful endurance of years.

But growth takes more than a decision to begin. This is the reason that the early Quaker movement taught that justification (getting “saved,” being at peace with God) must go hand in hand with sanctification (being remade in Christ’s image, the conversion of all areas of ones life). The decision to start is not enough. There must be an ongoing decision to be faithful, to submit to Christ, to take up the cross and walk with it. Even when it is difficult. Even when it is painful. Even when it is boring.

In my life, “stability” is about remaining where God has placed me and being willing to stay there until my death, if God wills it. In my present situation, it means Plants at Eastern Market - District of Colombiacommitting to be faithful in the work that God has given me here in the DC area. As long as it takes, unless and until God releases me for a different kind of service.

I make my vow of stability to Jesus Christ, to remain in him and in his Way, all the days of my life. This is my spiritual vow of stability: not to any particular place or community, but to God’s call on my life. And it may amount to the same thing, in the end. If God wills it, I will remain here in Washington, laboring for the Kingdom in this particular place and community until I die. I will not seek to escape my Holy Orders, instead living by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

The Quaker Charism

Within the Roman Catholic tradition, there are a number of monastic orders that maintain a certain level of autonomy and distinctness from the wider Church. Each of these orders has a particular sense of call and a special gift that they lift up for the wider Body. This special purpose, the particular giftedness and mission of the smaller order within the Body, is called a charism. Some orders focus on teaching, others on missionary work, still others on dedicated prayer; whatever their particular call as a community might be, it is this charism that justifies their existence as a semi-autonomous order within the Church.

I have long felt that the Religious Society of Friends is, in effect, a sort of religious order within the wider Christian Church. Believing that this is so, I am led to ask: What is our charism as a community? What is it that justifies the separate existence of the Quaker Church? If we are ultimately merely a subset of the worldwide orthodox Christian Church, what reasons can we offer for existing as a distinct society – an order – within the wider body? To put it another way: What are Friends United Meeting Triennial, 2008the special gifts that we bring to the wider Body? What is our particular mission as a people within the universal Church?

I would argue that our most essential calling as a people is to lift up a compelling witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is indeed risen from the dead. In our experience, this is not a figure of speech nor merely a fact that will only become truly relevant at some point in the future, when Jesus returns. We believe and we testify to our experience that Jesus has returned in a very important sense. He is available to us now, as he promised, whenever two or three are gathered together in his name.(1) The most basic mission of the Religious Society of Friends is to proclaim and make visible the fact that Jesus Christ is here, now, teaching and leading us himself.

Flowing out of this experience of Christ’s literal presence in the midst of the community, Friends have developed certain beliefs and practices that make us unique, distinct from the rest of the Christian Church. Because of our faith that the Holy Spirit will lead us in our life together as a community, we seek to submit ourselves to its guidance in all things. Rather than attempting to interpret the Bible like a legal code, we seek to allow the very Spirit that inspired the Scriptures to inspire us as well, so that we can understand the trueGreat Plains Yearly Meeting, 2008 meaning of the holy texts. We wait on Christ, trusting him to open the Scriptures to us, just as he did for the early Church.(2)

This direct reliance on the Holy Spirit for direction not only gives Friends a distinctive relationship with the Bible, it also changes how we understand human authority. For much of the Christian Church, a human system of government is set up as the ultimate authority for the community. Whether it is a hierarchy of bishops and priests, bodies of elected representatives, or simple voting at the congregational level, most of the Church operates essentially under human control.

Truth be told, much of the time Quaker churches and institutions make their decisions with same degree of functional atheism as within the wider Church. However, at the core of our tradition is a practice of inward listening and trust in the living presence of Christ to guide us as a community. Out of our testimony that Christ is literally here, the functional Head of his Church today, we have developed a method of decision-making that involves group discernment of God’s will. Rather than relying on human hierarchies or political-style voting, our charism expresses itself in a practice of voteless decision-making, where all the members come togetherGreat Plains Yearly Meeting, 2007 - Group Photo and are (more often that one would guess) brought into clarity and unity by the present Spirit of Christ.

The discernment of God’s will by the entire membership of the Church, waiting to be brought into unity by the Holy Spirit, is one of the most profound characteristics of the Religious Society of Friends that justifies its autonomous existence within the wider Church. We believe that this is a practice that the entire Church should adopt, and the best way we can witness to this super-human way of being guided directly by God is to continue to practice it as a distinct community.

Out of this process of waiting together as a community for the guidance of Christ’s risen presence and power, a number of other distinctive beliefs and practices have emerged. Once again, we believe that these beliefs and practices are fundamentally faithful to the Truth of the gospel, and we feel that we are justified in remaining a distinct community Jay Marshall with Friends in Mexicowithin the wider Church so that we might continue to witness to the truth that has been revealed to us.

One part of our particular mission as Friends is to witness to the primacy of the spiritual reality of the gospel over the formal ritualism that so often threatens to choke out the Seed of Christ. Because we believe that the inward baptism of the Holy Spirit is so important, we feel led to refrain from participating in the outward ritual of water baptism. Similarly, because we feel that communion with Christ is fundamentally a spiritual reality, we refrain from conducting the ritual of the Lord’s Supper within our community. Instead, we receive communion with Christ through a form of sacramental silence and prophecy.

Most Christian bodies believe that water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are essential for salvation, and we know that many will be worried for the state of our souls. Yet it is precisely for this reason that it is so important that we maintain our witness in this regard. While we do not believe these traditional Christian rituals are wrong per se, it is our fervent belief that Jesus Christ desires lives of holiness and love, not religious ritual. We pray that, through ourTyler Hampton at Freedom Friends Church abstention from these forms (and, admittedly, adoption of different forms) we might help to reveal the truth that God is truly sovereign and that we cannot control God through ritual.

There are a number of other distinctive beliefs and practices that form part of the Quaker charism: Acknowledgment of the spiritual equality and ministry of women and men; denying participation in war and preparation for war; care for the Creation; refusal to swear oaths, and a general intensity in our call to be truthful at all times. All of these beliefs and practices are rooted in our experience with the risen Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. In our desire to be faithful to him, we feel called to remain a distinct society – an autonomous order within the wider Church – until such a time as our faith and practice is fully integrated into the entire Body.

For Friends: What is your response to this? Does this resonate with your sense of our charism, our mission as a community? For Friends and others: How does this relate to you and your faith community? How do we maintain a distinct witness in a culture that is both intensely sub-divided and yet skeptical of commitment to any one path? How do we affirm our distinctive call as a community while staying engaged with the wider Body of Christ?

1. Matthew 18: 20
2. Luke 24:32

Missional Quaker Faith: Letting Our Lives Preach

Our encounter with Jesus changes everything. When Jesus approached Simon, Andrew, James and John while they were working as fishermen by the sea, his call to them was so compelling that they immediately left behind everything that they had known – family, profession, security – and followed Jesus.(1) When we experience Jesus’ presence and hear his gentle but firm invitation to come and follow him, we are challenged to radically change our lives – both in the outward details as well as in our inward motivations.

In our life together as a community of disciples, we come together to follow Jesus and to practice deep listening to how the Spirit isFriends at Chestnut Ridge Meeting House, Barnesville, Ohio guiding us in this present day. As we listen for God’s guidance in stillness and song, in rest and in work, we are drawn deeper together as a human fellowship that is rooted in love and obedience to the Spirit. It is in this context of love and trust that we are able to lean on one another as we walk together in the Way of Truth.

Ultimately, though, this loving community is only a small haven within a wider culture that is dedicated to the pursuit and protection of money, power and self-interest. It is in this wider world that most of us live the greater part of our existence, and it is to our hurting world that Jesus is extending his healing hand. Jesus knows the pain of this world better than any of us, and he knows what it is like to be excluded from polite society for loving those who are viewed as too sinful to have a part in mainstream society. He hung out with tax collectors, lepers and prostitutes, as well as with zealots, pharisees and desert mystics.

Jesus embodied God’s love to those who the culture of the time had deemed unlovable. He was scandalous in sharing his presencePreparing a Meal at Renaissance House, Richmond, Indiana with those who were not even allowed to enter the Temple – the center of social, religious and economic life in his time and place. Jesus summed up his generation’s judgment of him like this: “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”(2) Today, we might well say of him, “a friend of Muslims and atheists.” Jesus shows mercy to those who are open to receiving it; and if those our society regards as “successful” are not ready to hear the Good News, he will share it with those whom the wider culture has cast out.(3)

We are called to embody the reckless, socially unacceptable love that Jesus shows us. We are called to love not only to those who appear to be doing well in the current social order, but also those who have been rejected by mainstream society. We are called to show Christ’s love to the poor, the uneducated, the physically and mentally disabled. We are called to love those whom our culture excludes. We are called to demonstrate our love in acts as tangible as washing feet and breaking bread.

If we truly wish to follow Jesus, our daily habits, patterns of consumption, and social relationships must change. As we struggleDowntown Chicago to embody the Gospel in our daily lives, we are challenged to open ourselves to people that we never would have associated with before. We are forced to get out of our comfort zones. Embracing the radical hospitality of Jesus means being confronted by our own routines of exclusion and self-centeredness.

We should be horrified that the modern-day Church tends to exclude the very people that Jesus commands us to embrace. How often have our churches treated the poor as a problem to be fixed, rather than as brothers and sisters to be embraced, loved? How many of us have treated our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters like the Pharisees treated lepers? How many people have we sent screaming into atheism and New Age religions through our legalism and scorn for those who do not fit into our boxes? How many of us, still within the Church, live in fear of being excluded if our fellow Christians were to learn who we really are?

Rather than relating to our Christian communities as fortresses to be walled off and defended against ungodly intrusion, I believe thatSharing the Good News on Boston Common Christ is calling us to use our communities as a base from which to reach out to the wider world. The mission of the Church is the same as that of Jesus Christ: to save the world, not to condemn it.(4) While we as followers of Jesus must be clear about our commitment to be obedient to Jesus as we know him in Scripture and in his present Spirit among us, our purpose is to call others to wholeness.

To live into Christ’s mission of redemption, we will need to make substantial changes to our own lives, giving Jesus our house, job and bank account, not just our heart. Many of us who belong to privileged classes in our culture may be called to change our lifestyles, work, and living arrangements in order to do justice and live at peace with all people. Jesus’ love is not about charity; it is not about sharing with those “less fortunate than us.” On the contrary, when Christ is in us we see that we are just as deeply in need of God’s mercy and transformation as anyone else, regardless of where we fall in the world’s social hierarchy. The Spirit of Christ leads us into a life of self-emptying and service to others, in imitation of our Lord.(5)

A good outward measuring stick for communities that seek to live out Christ’s mission in the world is the Twelve Marks of the New Monasticism.Chicago Cityscape These marks, including, “relocation to the abandoned places of Empire,” and, “sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us,” present a challenge to the prevailing culture in North America. In a society that consistently encourages us to enlarge ourselves, improve ourselves, promote ourselves, we are being called by Jesus to surrender ourselves, to die to self. As we meditate on the life, teachings, death and resurrection of our Lord, and as we listen to how his Spirit is guiding us today, it is clear that our lives must be radically changed in things as practical as where we live, who we buy our groceries from, and who we have over for dinner.

We will discover who we are in Christ when we commit to changing our lives in order to share the Gospel with all people – especially those on society’s margins. The kind of sharing that we are called to goes far beyond putting a Jesus fish on our bumper or even delivering a sermon. When we are in Christ, we are called to let our very lives preach. It is through the way that we live, and the love that we show for others, that the world will come to know Jesus.

1. See Mark 1
2. Luke 7:34
3. Luke 14:15-23
4. See John 3:17
5. See Philippians 2:5-11
Resources for Further Study:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_monasticism
http://www.newmonasticism.org/12marks.php
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movement_for_a_New_Society

Can Quakerism Survive the Airplane?

One of the greatest challenges for this generation of Quakerism will be figuring out how to adapt our traditional practices to a society in which human mobility and information technology have reached a level never seen before. For the first three hundred years or so, the Religious Society of Friends could count on a certain level of geographical stability on the part of its membership. Most people lived and died in the same time zone. When Friends did move, we often did so as a community, re-establishing our social context wherever we migrated to – be it Rhode Island, the Carolinas, Ohio, Kansas or Oregon.

Our present generation lacks the stability – dedication to place and community – that was normative for the first three centuries of our history. All of our structures – Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly Meetings; Ministry, Eldership and Oversight; and the seemingly endless committee structures that have blossomed over the years – all of them were developed in the context of geographically stable, covenantal community.

How might Friends today adapt to the radical itinerancy of our (post) modern context? How do we maintain the spirit of our tradition while re-examining the old forms that often seem poorly adapted to our new situation? How are we being called to re-evaluate our lifestyles to discern when our lives ought to conform themselves to tradition, rather than insisting that tradition conform itself to the exigencies of mainstream 21st-century society?

Are we being called to question our radical mobility? What are the social consequences of our detachment from place? What are the ecological consequences of our dependence on fossil-fueled transportation, particularly air travel? What are the spiritual ramifications of our choice to participate in the wider culture’s nonchalance about place, community and rootedness?