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A Deeper Unity – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #45

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Word is Near to You

But what [do the Scriptures] say? “The word is near to you, on your lips and in your heart.” – Romans 10:8

Last night I attended a Bible study in Congress Heights. Those in attendance were from different Christian backgrounds. Besides me, there was a Methodist, a person who grew up in Baltimore Yearly Meeting and is now attending a Roman Catholic church, as well as several people who are members of a local Churches of Christ congregation, including their pastor. This evening, the pastor was leading our Bible study.

At the previous Bible study, I had gotten into a fairly lively discussion with the pastor about the role of Scripture in relation toMy Bible the role of the Holy Spirit, the scriptural basis of women in ministry, and other rather intense topics that should not be discussed over dinner. So, I braced myself when the pastor announced that our study that evening would be on the authority of Scripture.

He guided us through about a dozen Bible verses from the New Testament, explaining the scriptural basis for the supremacy of the Bible as the rule for Christian life. In his understanding, the Bible – the Old and New Testaments together – is the written Word of God. As a Quaker, my understanding of the role of Scripture is different from his, and I struggled with how to engage with his (and his fellow churchgoers’) understanding of the Bible.

In my reading of Scripture, I see the term “word of God” used in two ways. First, it is used as a name for the Son of God, JesusImage of Jesus Christ on Reformation Lutheran church building, Capitol Hill, DC Christ, who is the creative force behind the universe (For examples, see Revelation 19:13; John 1; 1 John 1:1-3). Most Christians – including my brothers and sisters at the Bible study – would not deny that Jesus is the Word of God. They can read the plain meaning of Scripture just as easily as I can, and it’s hard to deny the textual evidence for giving this title to Jesus, the creative power behind all of creation.

But there is indeed another sense in which the term “word” is used in Scripture. The Word of God can, without a doubt, mean Jesus; but it is also used to mean the commands and teaching of God. A prime example of this usage of “the word” is found in the Torah, one of the foundational texts of Judaism (and, by extension, Christianity):

Surely this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. – Deuteronomy 30:11-14

In this passage, Moses explains that the commands that the Hebrews have received from God are not simply a code ofHebrew Scriptures regulations that are written down on scrolls. On the contrary, God’s law and teaching are available to every person and every community. The teaching of God is not a once-and-for-all event; instead, God continues to guide each one of us through the power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and in our midst as the Church. The Word of God never changes – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) – but we, God’s people, do change. Our needs change; our context changes; our challenges are different from day to day. God, in great mercy and compassion, continues to walk beside us and show us how to live in our present context.

The apostle Paul remarked on this phenomenon of Christ’s direct guidance within the human heart, pointing out that following God is possible without having any knowledge of the Scriptures or of the Christian tradition. He explained, “When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law unto themselves. They show what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness…” (Romans 2:14-15). Though the Scriptures and the Judeo-Christian tradition are of great help in walking in the Way of Jesus, the ultimate foundation of our faith and life in Christ is our inward experience of Christ’s presence, God’s law written on our hearts.

I was saddened to hear one of the members of our Bible study say that she was envious of the people she read about in the OldEden Testament, who had full access to God. Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in Eden, and Abraham and Moses had regular conversations with the Almighty. She wished she had a similar “direct line” to God. How I longed for her to experience the living presence of God today, and that continual, personal relationship that each of us can have with our Creator! I wondered whether her church’s teaching that the Bible is the “written Word of God,” presented a stumbling block to her having that kind of intimate, direct relationship with Christ. How could it not be a barrier to have your religious community tell you time and time again that all connection with God must be mediated through the Scriptures?

I struggle with how to communicate the centrality of Christ’s inward presence with my non-Quaker brothers and sisters. The Scriptures are very precious to me, and I would never want to denigrate their usefulness in helping us grow in our relationship with Jesus. Nevertheless, I question this over-emphasis on the perfection, completeness and God-like authority of the Scriptures. I fear that many of my brothers and sisters risk losing sight of the supremacy of Jesus Christ, the Living Word, and substituting a dead letter – “holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5).

I pray that we discover the living, inward presence of Christ, so that we can say with Paul: “…I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is theLiving the Word power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith…” (Romans 1:16). The true gospel is not merely the words that have been written under divine inspiration; Jesus and his gospel cannot be fully captured by any text (see John 21:25).

Rather than seeking to assure ourselves that we have pinned Christ down, let us humbly confess that we understand now only in part, but that as we continue to be led by the Holy Spirit we will be brought into the fullness of Christ’s Kingdom (1 Corinthians 13:12). I pray that the eternal, living gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ may come to you, “not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction…” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #15 – Young Adult Friends in Baltimore and New York; Christmas in Kansas

Dear Friends,

Greetings to you in the love and peace of Christ Jesus. In the month since my last newsletter, Faith and I have visited Young Adult Friends in Baltimore Yearly Meeting, traveled to Kansas for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, and attended New York Yearly Meeting’s Circle of Young Friends, in western New York state. In our travels, we have felt blessed by an abiding sense of God’s love in our lives, and we have sensed that God is at work through us.

Just before Christmas, Faith and I were able to attend the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Young Adult Friends retreat. The weekend event was held at Stony Run‘s meetinghouse, in the city of Baltimore. We camped out in sleeping bags throughout the building, cooked in Stony Run’s large kitchen, and watched as a blizzard covered the Mid-Atlantic in a thick blanket of snow. It was good to connect with Friends from BYM that we had known before, and to make new connections. We spoke to the group about the upcoming YAF gathering in May, and we hope that many of them will decide to make the journey to Wichita.

Just a couple of days later, we were on a plane out to Wichita, to spend Christmas and New Years’ with my family. Being back home for the holidays was a real change of pace. I don’t think that I had relaxed so much in at least two years. My first instinct is to say, “I did nothing,” for a week and a half. But, the truth is that I did quite a bit; but none of it was work. My brother gave me a guitar, and I began to teach myself how to play; I read several books and watched several movies; and I got to have some important time with my parents, who I don’t see very often anymore. It was blessed time.

Returning to Washington, though, I had a tough time getting back into my normal routine of ongoing, purposeful work. I felt very behind, having set everything aside for almost two weeks. I felt somewhat adrift after such a long stretch of fallow time. Fortunately, I would soon be given the opportunity to re-engage.

This past weekend, Faith and I drove up to the Beloved Community House, near Ithaca, New York, to attend the New York Yearly Meeting Circle of Young Friends retreat. The Beloved Community House is the site of NYYM’s new Young Friends in Residence program, which consists of three (eventually, four) Young Adult Friends who are released by their Quarterly Meeting to live together in intentional spiritual community. The biggest piece of their service to area Friends will be developing and sustaining a Quaker youth program, focusing on middle school and high school aged youth. This program will be modeled to a great degree on the programs of Powell House, but will also develop its own distinctive characteristics as Friends discover the particular needs and gifts of Friends in their region.

We spent the weekend in the house with around thirty other young adult Quakers, guided by Christopher Sammond in a program of listening deeply and intentionally opening ourselves to the Divine. Some of the young people present were not comfortable with the word “God,” let alone a Christian understanding of God; however, over the course of the weekend, many hearts were touched by God’s Spirit, and great advances were made by the Truth.

The joy of God’s presence was palpable among us, and though not all of us acknowledged God in Christian – or even theistic – terms, it was clear to me that we were indeed sharing in communion with Christ through His Holy Spirit. The outpouring of Christ’s Spirit that came over us created a space for me to share about the Gospel with a number of individuals, and I was grateful to have a number of those attending approach me and thank me for my presence and contribution during the weekend. One young Friend expressed his thankfulness that I was there to express our experience in Christian terms, “which we in New York Yearly Meeting often shy away from.”

When we talked to Friends in New York about the YAF gathering in May, we received a very energetic and enthusiastic response. One Friend’s first reaction was to say, “I can fit seven people in my Suburban – let’s go!” By the time the retreat was over, there was some talk of whether it might be a good idea to rent a bus. Faith and I were amazed and grateful for the energy and tenderness of spirit that we experienced with these Young Adult Friends. We look forward to seeing many of them in Wichita, in May.

Finally, this Wednesday, Capitol Hill Friends had its first meeting for worship in 2010. We had a good turnout, with nine people showing up for dinner, Scripture reading, singing, and waiting worship. I feel very heartened at the way that the group is developing, and I believe that a core is starting to emerge. I encourage any of you who are able to make it to our worship to attend, and we would be very grateful to host traveling ministers who feel a burden for building up the Church. Come, and share the Gospel with us! Whether or not you are able to visit us, please pray that God will build us up numerically and spiritually as we dedicate ourselves to the work that the Lord has for us in the city of Washington.

I pray that God bless each of you with an abiding sense of Christ’s presence within you, leading you to boldness and freedom in the Truth.

Your friend in our brother Jesus,

Micah Bales

Fear Revealed in the Light of Christ – Friends United Meeting General Board, February, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, Cliff Loesch of University Friends and I traveled together to Richmond, Indiana for the Friends United Meeting (FUM) General Board meetings. We gathered together with representatives from yearly meetings and associations from across the United States and Canada to do the business of FUM and to share in fellowship and deep listening to the voice of our Teacher, Jesus Christ. The present situation of FUM is not an easy one. There are forces on all sides that seek to divide the body based on longstanding cultural, theological and historical differences and disagreements.

Despite our divisions and suspicions, the Spirit of Christ was present with us; God brought our doubts and fears into the light of day and held them before us to be examined. As we waited on God together in open worship, it was clear how deep the hurts and fears were among many of us. Judging by human standards, it would be easy to believe that our wounds could never be healed. But the mind of Christ in me knew better. As we un-bandaged our wounded hearts in the light of Christ and were held in the revealing, healing and purifying light of God, I saw that God could redeem even us. God wants to use us in ways that we have yet to imagine. But we must let go of our fear.

Early on in the long weekend, I had the privilege of talking with John Smallwood of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. John is a passionate evangelist for Jesus Christ; he is also a man who has a lot to teach me about how fear and judgment of others separate us from God. At one point, John asked me what I thought the cause of sin was. I gave him some sort of seminary answer, but he told me I was making it too complicated. Fear, he said. Fear is the cause of sin. The instinct to self-preservation, he told me, brings us to “defend” ourselves from God. In seeking to preserve ourselves, our own will, our own way, we cut ourselves off from God’s self, God’s will, God’s way.

This really convicted me. I saw more clearly how my own fear of truth caused me to judge others. While I like to believe that I judge others out of a sense of truth and righteousness, I see more clearly now that when I judge others I am in fact setting up barriers between myself and that person, because I am afraid that I might be overcome by that person – I am afraid that person will undermine the things that I hold to be true. But this betrays the fact that I do not really trust God as sovereign; I do not really believe that the power of the Lord is over all. If I did, I would fear no man or woman, because the Truth stands on its own. I don’t need to defend it. Anything that I must defend is probably from me, not from God. I must surrender everything I have, laying all at Jesus’ feet – including my beliefs, my way of life, my most cherished dreams. If all I seek is to serve Christ and his kingdom, I need not fear anyone, ever. And I need not judge others: God is the one and only Judge. Judging isn’t my job. My job is to focus on nothing but being loving and truthful with every single person who enters my life.

In the book of Matthew, when Jesus is depicted as returning to judge the world, the men and women of the world are not judged based on whether they were members of the right church or associated with the right kind of people. On the contrary, the world is judged based on whether we display loving-kindness towards the hungry, the foreigner and the prisoner, towards the disadvantaged, towards those whom our society frequently judges and excludes (Matthew 25:31-46). Thanks to John Smallwood’s ministry to me, I was reminded of my own fear and defensiveness towards others, and of my need for forgiveness and God’s grace in helping me love others, not condemning them. And in seeing my own need for letting go of fear and judgment, I felt also the need for Friends in FUM to open ourselves to those whom we fear. We must risk being hurt. We must risk being changed. We must risk these things knowing that God will not lead us astray, no matter how much we open ourselves to those who we consider to have wrong ways of believing and behaving. On the contrary, we will only be led astray if we wall ourselves off from the Seed of Christ that is present in all people, crying out for liberation.

We must be about our Father’s work: the work of life-giving, joy-inspiring liberation. This is the God who sets the captives free! This is the Savior who lays his life down for his friends! Can we still be so concerned about keeping those we disagree with at a distance when we remember that the tomb is empty, that our Savior lives, that we are reconciled to God and to one another if only we will heed the oft-repeated angelic instruction: “be not afraid”? If all of us can trust the Truth to defend itself – knowing that Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever – we can be liberated from the self-imposed burden of judgment. We can be freed to share the good news of Jesus Christ and to share in communion with our brothers and sisters in faith. Will we dare to lay down all our defenses at Jesus’ feet? Will we risk reckless engagement with our brothers and sisters? This is my prayer for Friends United Meeting, for the entire Church, and for the whole of creation.

This, I believe, is the only way forward for Friends United Meeting. So long as we shout at each other, issuing statements from our high walls and fortifications, seeking to defend ourselves from others, we shout down God; we wall ourselves off from Christ. Only by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, trusting in God to be our only Fortress and Pillar, can we find the Truth together. That is where unity is. That is where love is. That is where the future of Friends United Meeting lies. Do we have the courage to take up the cross?

As a final note, I should mention the more mundane – but very serious – details of life in community: Friends United Meeting is not only a fellowship of Friends across the world, but also an organization that oversees Friends programs around the globe. Just as the fellowship of Friends in FUM is struggling, FUM as an organization is also in dire shape. At our meetings this month, the General Board approved to cut another $18,000 from the last five months of this fiscal year; we don’t know where the money will be cut from yet, but it’s simply not there to spend! At this point FUM is hard-pressed to keep up the skeleton crew in Richmond and the programs that Friends oversee in Kenya, Palestine, Jamaica, and Belize. This is a time of financial constriction for virtually everyone, but FUM had been experiencing severe financial problems before the economy fell through. This present global economic predicament comes at an especially bad time for Friends United Meeting. Please pray for FUM, and consider a donation to FUM’s General Fund.

Stay close to the Root

Yesterday morning, we got a ride from Deborah Haines and her daughter, Becka, to Alexandria Friends Meeting. It was a sweet little meeting, about twenty five people in attendence. Once I was able to settle, about 20-30 minutes into worship, I felt enveloped by the meeting, drawn down to the Seed of God. I had missed this inward communion with God with a gathered body of Friends so much in the past few weeks, as I’ve been attending a programmed meeting. The church is lovely, but I don’t usually feel able to go very deep there. It’s probably just a question of time. When there’s only ten minutes of open worship, it’s hard to settle, much less prophesy.

There were three messages yesterday morning. The first was from a young lady who spoke about how important the silence is in creating a space where we can be still, calm, and not be expected to speak or think anything. The second minister gave a message about the need to turn to the Inward Light of the Holy Spirit in our times of stress and how easy it is to get distracted from that when we are under pressure. Finally, I spoke, sharing first the image from Revelation 3:20, of Jesus standing at the door, knocking. I said that the Risen Christ was ready to enter in and have communion with those who would open the door. I then referred to how Jesus told the woman at the well that if she would ask it of him he would give her living water, which if she drank of it would leave her satisfied forever.

I was not entirely certain of whether I was supposed to speak, but as I rose to speak I prayed for God to forgive me if I erred. I did my best to listen for what words I was to speak and to sit down once I no longer received inspiration to continue. I felt no inward rebuke, but neither did I feel that any great weight had been lifted from me. Perhaps the message had been just for me. I do not know. I knew, though, that the hour had almost ended, and so I rose and spoke, praying that the Lord would forgive me if I was mistaken in speaking words that were perhaps meant for me alone.

Within my own heart that morning, I felt a very deep sense of the importance of always returning to the Root of all things, rather than attempting to be in control. I recognize in myself the tendency to seek to be in control over the details of my life, to force my choices, interactions and behaviors into categories and paradigms designed to give me assurance of who I am and what I am supposed to be doing. But I am being reminded of how futile all of my own attempts at control are. All my striving for righteousness of my own making falls apart, hitting the reality of my own sinfulness and short-sightedness. I am helpless to devise a system for living in Truth.

I am being shown, being reminded, that I must let go of my mistaken notions of control and my own ability to live a holy life. Instead, I must re-commit myself to inwardly turning towards my Rock and my Salvation, the Holy Spirit of Truth. Forsaking all of my vain, imagined righteousness, I must daily turn inward to the indwelling voice of Christ who is my ever-present companion and who leads me into all truth if I will only surrender myself and all of my ideas about how my life should be, to the purifying, enlivening, transforming Light of Christ.

I recognize my own religious and ethical systems as being stumbling blocks to my growth and development in Christ. When I begin to believe that I have some things figured out, that I have become in some measure righteous myself, the spirit of deception has a grip on me. When I begin to imagine that I have found a method to inward peace, to enlightenment, to salvation, and that I am one who is qualified to teach this Way, I must tremble in the fear of the Lord and repent of my own vanity. No human being, no human system, no ortho-doxy and no ortho-praxy is capable of raising up men and women into the Life of God’s Kingdom. There is yet one, Christ Jesus, present with each of us inwardly and directly, who can speak to our condition. When we cling to Christ and to Christ alone, we will be saved.

But it is key that we let go of our own ideas about who God must or must not be, as well as releasing all limitations that we place on ourselves and on who we are to be in Christ. Let that Inward Guide have complete control; for the outward letter of human reasoning quickly quenches the voice of the Spirit if we allow ourselves to become confused, imagining that our own desires and designs can reign in the place of God. Even our good, noble ideas must be let go. Let nothing stand but the desire to be fully, intimately a possession of our Lord and to be a vessel of the Divine Will, even if that Will puts our own desires and inclinations to the cross.

We’d Better Get Clear

I spent most of this past weekend with young adult Friends from Baltimore Yearly Meeting and also had the privilege to attend a Quarterly Meeting within Baltimore YM, where Silvia Graves, the General Secretary of Friends United Meeting, spoke. The conversations with young adult Friends before that meeting, the conversations with older Friends at the QM and more conversations with young adult Friends later on today often returned to the question of FUM, and, implicitly, its current institutional stance on homosexuality. Saturday evening, other young adult Friends and I attended a gay pride parade near my home in Washington, DC, and I experienced what I felt was an opening from the Lord.

Watching the parade, I saw several local Christian groups – Episcopals, Seventh Day Adventists, Unitarian Universalists, and others – going along in the procession. Sitting there, I felt a movement of the Spirit, and as I bowed interiorly, I was struck – again and again and again – with a two-second soundbite from Deborah Saunder’s first sermon at the World Gathering of Young Friends. She had been mocking us young Friends for being so unfocused in our faith journey, and she suddenly became deathly serious: “You’d better get clear,” she warned us. This memory, this soundbite of Deborah Saunders saying, “you’d better get clear,” repeated in my mind as if fired by an automatic weapon.

You’d better get clear. Accompanying this message was a great sense of compassion for all of the people I saw before me at this parade, reveling in their sexuality and identity as legitimate human beings. I was struck with the sense that the Church was losing these people. At the recent FUM board meeting in Kenya, as Friends were engaged in debate as to whether or not to re-affirm the Richmond Declaration of Faith, a Kenyan Friend reportedly admonished the board members, saying, “my people are perishing while you squabble.” This is no less true in North America than it is in Africa.

While we, the Church, bicker about the very existence of homosexuality, we fail to address the terrible brokenness and unfaithfulness that so many of us find ourselves caught up in with regards to our own sexuality. While we squabble, many Friends deny homosexuals the covenant of marriage. While we scream back and forth about how right or wrong homosexuality is, we seem to be ignoring the lack of integrity with which we carry out our heterosexual liaisons. While we bicker about whether or not to “accept” homosexuality, we avoid doing the important work of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to those whose sexual orientation is not our own, yet who want to live the fullness of the Christian life.

We’d better get clear. I am increasingly aware of how the question of homosexuality in the Church is allowing Friends to ignore so many other more substantive questions that face us as a community. It is a lot easier to focus on nailing down points of doctrine – be it liberal or orthodox doctrine – than it is to take a real look at whether we ourselves are glorifying God with our sexuality. Are we all, hetero- or homosexual, living out our God-given sexuality with integrity and submission to the yoke of Christ? Are we all, gay or straight, engaged in wholesome, committed, honest relationships with others? Do Friends respect the sanctity of the God-given bond of marriage? Perhaps once we get the log out of our own eye, we might see where the root of our struggles as a Church lies.

We’d better get clear.