Archive for October 2008

An Update

This is an email that I recently sent out to Friends on the list for attenders of the World Gathering of Young Friends, which took place in Lancaster, England, in August of 2005. I wrote this in response to another Friend who had sent out an email asking for updates. I hope it can serve as an update, and perhaps an explanation, for others. Hay una traducción al español abajo.

Dear Friends,

My life has changed immensely for the better since the World Gathering of Young Friends, in many ways as a direct result of my experience during our time together in Lancaster. For me, the WGYF was a time of being called into deeper commitment to the Spirit of Christ and shown the Way I am to walk. For me, the WGYF was a moment in time that God used to call me into loving obedience to that Life that Jesus was in and reveals to us. What happened to me at the World Gathering changed everything.

Looking back, I can see now that before our time together in Lancaster I had been flirting increasingly seriously with God. I had become involved in my meeting, become a member, begun to study religious texts. I believed that there was “Something”; I knew in my heart that there was Truth. But in Lancaster God called me out in unmistakable caresses of love and forgiveness, calling me into union with God. Early on in the Gathering, one evening sitting and worshipping with another young Friend on a bench outside of the dormitories, I was baptized into the Spirit of God beyond all names, brought into communion with the Living Word. I had been flirting with God, but God asked me to marry that night – and I said yes.

And God gave me a call that I did not understand. I did not understand it, but it was clear to me from that night on that I was called to “ministry.” I place the word in quotations, because I had no clue what it meant, but I knew that it was to ministry that I had been called, whatever that might mean. I took this concern back to my home meeting in Wichita, Kansas; I told them that I had been called to ministry. But none of us knew what to do with that. And so, we waited. I waited and prayed.

And I had been given a gift by Friends at the WGYF: Friends there had opened me up to Jesus and the scriptures which testify of him. I was fortunate enough to be in a Spanish-language small group during the week where I was privileged to learn from Spanish-speaking Friends. I was able to hear from them that which I might have more easily resisted had it come from other English-speakers. I received their testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ and took it seriously, though I did not understand. I was able to take it seriously because those Friends took me seriously, even though I was very pluralistic and skeptical of Christianity at the time. I knew that Friends were really hearing me when I spoke, and I felt moved to open myself up to them in the same way. So, as I waited on what God would have me do for six months while I continued working at a bank in Wichita, I prayed and I read the New Testament in The Message translation. Jesus began to become very important to me. I felt like God was leading me to him.

And then, around the end of the year, late December, 2005, I somehow stumbled onto the website for Earlham School of Religion. When I began to read through the site, my heart leaped and I knew immediately that this was where God was calling me for my next step. To make a long story very short, I began my studies at ESR in the fall of 2006. During my time here, I have been ruthlessly “pruned,” as Deborah Saunders described the process of being inwardly cleansed and sanctified by the Light of Christ. At times this process of inward rebirth has felt agonizing, like dying or being ripped apart. But, then, childbirth is like that, too. And I am being reborn in Christ, praise God. I pray for the courage to stay on this Way of imitating Christ, to be faithful to the continued guidance of the Spirit in my life, in the Church (you, Friends – you!) and in the scriptures.

While here at ESR, I have been involved in some amount of ministry in the Religious Society of Friends. This past year, I spent a great deal of time traveling in the ministry, both within my struggling yearly meeting (Great Plains) as well as to other monthly meetings, yearly meetings, and Friends gatherings. I have sought to be a bridge between diverse groups of Friends, a channel for connection, friendship, and, God willing, unity in obedience to the will of the Spirit. I also served on the planning committee for a gathering of Young Adult Friends that took place on Earlham College’s campus, bringing together Friends from across the United States and Canada. We feel that this has been an important event in the development of the YAF communty in North America and there are signs that this movement towards revitalization is continuing forward.

This is my last semester at ESR, as I plan to graduate after January of 2009. I am currently occupied above all with research I am doing on the Young Friends of North America, which was the primary Young Adult Friends organziation in the US and Canada between the early 1950’s and the early 1990’s. I hope eventually to produce a comprehensive account of the organization’s life.

After graduation, I plan to return to Great Plains Yearly Meeting, a tiny fellowship of five monthly meetings in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. I will be traveling in the minstry under a minute from my yearly meeting among the local meetings of Great Plains and in the wider region, seeking to be a blessing to Friends in the region. I will visit our greatly dispersed meetings by bicycle, spending a week or two with each one during each visit. I will pray with Friends, visit Friends in their homes and seek to hear the voice of God together with Friends. Together, I hope we can hear what God is calling us to next and be given the endurance to be faithful. I would appreciate your prayers for this ministry. Further, I am seeking a traveling companion for this work and would appreciate anyone who feels a leading to travel with me in this labor of Gospel love labor to contact me.

I pray that all of you experience the presence of our Beloved Lord in your hearts and in your meetings. Peace be upon you all.

Micah Bales

En español:

Queridos Amigos,

Mi vida se ha cambiado inmensamente (mejorándose) desde la WGYF, en muchos aspectos como resultado directo de mi experiencia durante nuestro tiempo juntos en Lancaster. Para mi, la WGYF fue un tiempo de recibir un llamado para profundizar mi compromiso al Espirito de Cristo y de ver el Camino que debo pisar. Para mi, la WGYF fue un momento en el tiempo que usó Dios para invitarme al obediencia en amor a la Vida en que fue Jesus y nos revela. Lo que me pasó en la Reunión Mundial cambió todo.

Viendo hacía atrás, ya puedo ver que antes de nuestro tiempo juntos en Lancaster había estado coqueteando más y más en serio con Dios. Me había involuncrado con mi junta, me volví miembro, empezé a estudiar los textos religiosos. Creía que había “Algo”; sabía en mi corazón que había Verdad. Pero en Lancaster Dios me llamó con caricias de amor y perdón inconfundible,
llamandome a la unión con el Verbo Vivo. Me había coqueteado con Dios, pero Dios me pidió la mano esa noche, y le dije que sí.

Y Dios me dió un llamado que no entendí. No lo entendí, pero me estuvo claro desde esa noche que había recibido un llamado al “ministerio.” Le puso en comillas la palabra, porque no tenía idea de qué significaba, pero sabía que fue al ministerio que se me había llamado, lo que sea significara. Llevé conmigo esta preocupación a mi junta local en Wichita, Kansas; les dije que
Dios me había llamado al ministerio. Pero niguno de nosotros sabíamos qué hacer con eso. Pues, esperamos. Esperé y oré.

Y los Amigos presentes en la WGYF me dieron un don: aquellos amigos me ayudaron a abrirme a Jesus y a las escrituras que testifican a él. Fui afortunado en formar parte de un grupo pequeño de hispanoparlantes durante la semana donde tuve el privilegio de aprender de Amigos hispanos. Pude oír de ellos lo que tal vez hubiera resistido más fácilmente si hubiera venido de otras personas de habla inglesa. Recibí su testimonio al Señor Jesucristo y lo tomé en serio, aunque no entendí. Pude tomarlo en serio porque aquellos Amigos me tomaron en serio a mí, aunque fui muy pluralista y escéptico del Cristanismo aquel entonces. Sabía que estos Amigos realmente me escucharon cuando hablé, y me sentí conmovido a abrirme a ellos de la misma manera.
Pues, mientras esperaba durante seis meses por lo que Dios me tenía planeado y seguía trabajando en un banco en Wichita, oraba y leí el Nuevo Testamento, la traducción “The Message” (una traducción de habla corriente, más fácil de entender para alguien que no había tenido mucho contacto con las escrituras). Jesus empezó a volver a ser muy importante para mi. Sentí como si Dios me guiara hacia él.

Y entonces, cerca del fin del año, a fines de diciembre, 2005, de alguna manera me encontré viendo la página web de la Earlham School of Religion. Cuando empecé a leer el sitio, se saltó mi corazón y supe de inmediato que fue allí que Dios me estaba llamando para mi próximo paso. Para hacer muy corto una historia muy larga, comencé mis estudios en ESR en el otoño de 2006. Durante mi tiempo aquí, Dios me ha “podado” ferózamente, como describío Deborah Saunders el proceso de ser interiormente limpiado y sanctificado por la Luz de Cristo. En algunos momentos este proceso de renacimiento interior se ha sentido como una agonía, como morir o romperse en pedazos. Pero, en realidad, así es también para las mujeres que dan luz a sus hijos. Y yo me estoy re-naciendo en Cristo, gracias a Dios. Es mi oración que tenga el valor de seguir en este Camino de imitar a Cristo, de ser fiel a la guianza contínua del Espíritu en mi vida, en la Iglesia (ustedes, Amigos – ustedes!) y en las escrituras.

Mientras he estado aqúi en ESR, me he involuncrado en un cierto grado de ministerio en la Sociedad Religiosa de los Amigos. Este año pasado, pasé mucho tiempo viajando en el ministerio, igual en mi junta anual que se encuentra con muchas dificultades (Great Plains) como en otras juntas mensuales, juntas anuales, y reuniones de Amigos. He pretendido ser puente entre grupos diversos de Amigos, un canál para conexión, amistad, y, si Dios quiere, unidad en obediencia a la voluntad del Espíritu. También he servido en la comité de planificación para una reunión de Amigos Jóvenes Adultos que se llevó a cabo en el campus de Earlham College, reuniendo a Amigos de diversas partes de los Estados Unidos y Canadá. Sentimos que este ha sido un evento importante en el desarollo de la communidad de Amigos Jóvenes Adultos en Norteamérica y hay muestras que este movimiento hacia la revitalización sigue adelante.

Este es mi último semestre en ESR, pues planeo graduarme a fines de enero de 2009. Actualmente estoy ocupado sobre todo con una investigación de la Young Friends of North America, la cual fue la organización más importante de Amigos Jóvenes Adultos en América del Norte entre los años 1950 y los años 1990. Espero producir en fin una historia comprehensiva de la vida de aquella organizción.

Después de mi graduación, mi intención es de volver a la Junta Anual de las Grandes Llanuras (Great Plains Yearly Meeting), una pequeña comunión de cinco juntas mensuales en los estados de Oklahoma, Kansas y Nebraska. Viajaré en el ministerio bajo un minuto de mi junta mensual entre las juntas locales de las Grandes Llanuras y en la región más generalmente, pretendiendo ser una bendición a los Amigos de la región. Visitaré a nuestras reuniones muy dispersadas andando en bicicleta, pasando una o dos semanas con cada una durante cada visita. Oraré con los Amigos, visitaré a los Amigos en sus hogares y haré por oír la voz de Dios con ellos. Juntos, espero que podamos escuchar lo que Dios nos está dando a hacer próximamente y que nos dé la
fuerza de ser fieles. Les agradecería sus oraciones por este ministerio. Además, busco compañero para viajar juntos en este trabajo y me daría alegría que cualquier persona que se sentiera tocado a viajar conmigo en este labor de Amor Evangélico me contacte.

Es mi oración sincera que todos ustedes experimenten la presencia de nuestro Señor Querido en sus corazones y en sus juntas. Que la paz de Cristo esté con todos ustedes.

Micah Bales

Friends United Meeting General Board, October 2008

This past week (October 7-11) the General Board of Friends United Meeting met here in Richmond, Indiana. I had the privilege of attending the sessions as a Young Adult Friend representative. I must admit that, leading up to this first meeting of the General Board, I felt a great sense of anxiety. What would these sessions consist of? To be honest, I feared that the General Board would be a very dour place, a meeting characterized by great contention, great division, clear battlelines, and old grudges. Thank God, I was wrong. On the contrary, I was very impressed with the spirit that prevailed at this, our first gathering as a board for this triennium, as well as with the quality of the individuals who served as representatives for Friends from across the Orthodox** Quaker world.

For me, the week began with a long meeting of the North American Ministries Committee. This was a special meeting of the committee, as there were serious questions about whether it was serving a function at this point in FUM’s development. Given the serious limits in FUM’s financial and staff resources, most of our energy is currently going into sustaining our work in overseas missions sites, such as East Africa, Ramallah, Jamaica and Belize. The question was frankly put forward, “does this committee have any work left to do?” The answer that we heard was that the North American Ministries Committee does indeed still have work to do, and must be transformed from being merely an “idea committee,” where dreams are tossed around but little is done, to being an engine for action. Those of us there for this meeting identified four priorities that FUM would do well to concentrate upon in the next triennium: 1)Publications; 2) Curriculum; 3)Traveling Ministry and Intervisitation; 4)Nurturing Ministry and Leadership

Recognizing that FUM’s staff is already overworked, we did not propose any additional obligations for folks at the Richmond office. Instead, we suggested that the North American Ministries Committee could serve as an oversight body for four taskforces, one for each of the areas where we felt FUM was being called to labor in North America. Each of these taskforces would be open to individuals (both board members and others) who felt a concern to work in this area. If there were not energy to do the work, then the taskforce would remain inactive until there was. Speaking for myself, I feel a concern for traveling ministry and intervisitation, and I expect to volunteer for that taskforce. Each of these areas are important, and I pray that the Lord will raise up those who have gifts appropriate to the work that we are being called to as the Church in North America. (If you personally feel a leading to serve in one of these taskforces, please email me at micahbales AT gmail DOT com)

The North American Ministries Committee met a day before the rest of the General Board sessions, so once the bulk of the board had arrived, I was already done with my committee work. This was advantageous in that it gave me the opportunity to take part in some very passionate and tender discussions among the board members while others were in committee meetings. There were set topics for any given time period, including “The Richmond Declaration of Faith,” “The Christian Faith of Friends,” and “Friends views on the Bible.” I was very impressed with the vulnerability of those present in these discussions, and the tenderness, openness and love with which we were able to speak.

I felt that Friends were trying to hear and understand, not to judge or dismiss others. We did not always agree, but there was a genuine lovingness and openness to hearing truth from one another that pleased me very much. I, of course, was not the only one who caught on to this. There were Friends who expressed during our conversations, “there is a really wonderful spirit here,” and remarked at the way Friends were really listening to each other, having the courage to be non-defensive and stand together in the Truth.

This courageous openness towards each other and groundedness in who we are in Christ despite our differences extended beyond our discussion times; this same spirit of trust in each other, in ourselves and in Christ’s present guidance carried over into our meetings for business. There were some fairly tense moments, especially around the notorious personnel policy, but also around some other things that hadn’t occurred to me beforehand. Nevertheless, in that tension it was clear that we were all seeking way forward. As far as I could tell, no one was trying to make things difficult for the sake of making them difficult. The questions that we as a board are faced with are simply difficult and we are walking together in God’s Light as best we can, praying that we will be shown way forward as we wait on the Holy Spirit. It was clear to me that we were family, brothers and sisters in Christ, and that we were diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Far from being the tension-laced snipe-fest that I thought it might be, I am very impressed with the caliber of those who have been selected by Friends to serve in the governance of Friends United Meeting. This has been my first experience of being able to sit down with Friends from across the Orthodox spectrum, breaking bread and sharing spiritual communion together with Friends from Baltimore, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Canada, California, Iowa, and everywhere in between. What a blessing it has been to share fellowship with these Friends from such disparate geographical, cultural and theological backgrounds and to know that we are one body in Christ! At these meetings I have known it experientially and not just as a concept. We have felt it together. Some of us may not even like it, but we know that we are knitted together in the Spirit of Christ and that we are called to work for God’s Kingdom together.

**A note on language: I use the word “Orthodox” to refer to Friends bodies that are part of Friends United Meeting – for example, Indiana and Baltimore yearly meetings. I understand that some yearly meetings that have chosen not to be part of Friends United Meeting are characterized by highly Orthodox Friends; on the other hand, some yearly meetings that are part of Friends United Meeting contain a large number of individual Friends who would probably not think of themselves as Orthodox. Nevertheless, despite our sometimes vast differences, I consider all yearly meetings that form part of FUM to be a part of the venerable “middle way” of Quaker Orthodoxy. We have been brought together as a body, committing ourselves to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.