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Holy Anger

Have they no knowledge, those evildoers,
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon God?
…they will be put to shame, for God has rejected them.
– Psalm 53:4-5

This weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a conference sponsored by Project No One Leaves – a gathering of attorneys, organizers and activists who are working together to address the US housing crisis. Representing both the “shield” of legal defense and the “sword” of grassroots direct action, practitioners from around the country came together at Harvard Law School to connect and strategize for building a broad-based movement to keep residents in their homes and defend our neighborhoods from the abuses of predatory banks and investors.

I was particularly excited to get to know folks at City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU), an established community group that organizes around issues of housing justice. CLVU is an inspiration for many of us in this movement – a case study in what success looks like, and a model to be replicated in other city regions. City Life/Vida Urbana has pioneered a “sword-and-shield” approach to housing organizing, pairing legal education and counseling by lawyers and students with the power of direct public pressure brought to bear on banks and investors. It has become clear that we need warriors for justice, lots of em.

The highlight of my time in Boston was Sunday, when I was able to participate in CLVU’s campaign to challenge the dirty dealings of City Realty Group, which has bought up over a hundred properties across Boston and is systematically evicting tenants and imposing brutal rent increases to drive out working-class residents. We spent time Sunday canvassing properties owned by City Realty, talking with tenants about their rights, and encouraging them to come to CLVU meetings to get free legal counsel and organize with others in their same situation.

It was a powerful experience to witness the human cost of City Realty’s business practices. One woman we talked to had her rent raised by $150 dollars when City Realty bought the building. She had been living in the building for five years and never missed a rent payment, but when her rental check was one day late she woke up to find an eviction notice on her door! I met another man who lost his home to foreclosure and tried to buy it back from the bank for $230,000. At the last moment, City Realty group swooped in and bought his home out from under him for $233,000. Then, they let him know that he could have it back, but it would cost him $490,000!

While we were canvassing, we actually ran into a couple of folks who apparently worked for City Realty. From what we could tell, the tenants of the building had been evicted, and these men were getting the property ready for new, higher-rent tenants. As we tried to engage them in conversation, they were intensely defensive. These men knew that they were up to no good.

Door-knocking in west Boston, we saw both sides of this story. We met those who had been struck, and those who were delivering the blow. We saw the working-class women and men of color who wanted to stay in their homes, and the wealthy investors who saw their homes purely as business opportunities. I was outraged at the gangster-like character of these real estate investors, whose business model relies on pushing families out of their homes. It was almost enough to make me want to move up to Boston and get involved in the fight. I was mad as hell!

Later on, I had the opportunity to debrief my experience with a friend. I told him about what I witnessed, how furious I was, how wrong the men at City Realty were, and how we had to fight back. My friend was clearly concerned about the way I was talking. “What about ‘that of God’ in the real estate investors?” he asked me. “Aren’t we called to love them, too?”

This question surprised me. I had just described a grave injustice occurring – evictions, dispossessions, the livelihood of ordinary folks being gobbled up to line the pockets of a few crafty men – and my friend’s first reaction was to talk about “loving” these perpetrators of structural violence?

Of course, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I am called to love my enemies. But that does not mean I do not have enemies, nor that I need to be nice to those who plot evil and eat up my people as if they were bread. Jesus knew how to call a fox a fox. He knew a den of vipers when he saw one. I looked into the face of evildoers yesterday, and I am not going to sugar-coat what I saw. I am not going to play nice with those who steal from orphans and widows.

It has never been clearer to me that there are times to bind up a whip of cords and chase out the moneychangers. Real love refuses to allow injustice to stand. If “loving” the oppressor means assuming the best about their motivations, I don’t. If “loving” them means treating them with gentleness, allowing them to continue doing evil unchallenged, I can’t.

Real love gets furious in the presence of oppression. Real love sees that the only way to freedom – for all of us, regardless of our station in life – is to work for justice for the widow and the orphan, the foreigner and the poor, those who are most marginalized in our society. We will be judged based on how we treat the least of these.

Too often, we religious people try to suppress anger. We want to skip over it, and go straight to joy, tenderness and healing. We want the resurrection without the crucifixion. I fear that, all too often, we worship a God who lets us off the hook, rather than a holy, righteous God who expects us to be transformed – who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Anger is a gift from God. It is an alarm bell, alerting us to the presence of conditions that we should not accept. Before we can even consider how to speak tenderly to those who are taking advantage of our people, we must first know that wrong really is wrong. We must hear the wake-up call of anger, letting us know that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. We have to feel in our bones that dispossessing the poor is evil, that pushing families out of their homes for profit is a despicable business.

For a middle class person like me, it is easy for me to treat this kind of injustice as an abstraction, but I cannot do that anymore. Holy anger has woken me up. This struggle is real, and I have to be a part of it.

Growing and Adapting – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #46

Dear friends,
This week, Faith and I are out in Wichita, Kansas visiting my family. Since I moved out East, Faith and I have typically made a trip back to Kansas in the early summer and then again for either Thanksgiving or Christmas. This year, however, we are making the holiday trip early so that we can see my grandmother who is visiting from Newberg, Oregon. She turns ninety this year, but she has the energy and focus of a much younger person. I just hope those longevity genes got passed along to me!

Though we are out of town now, for most of the last month I have been able to stay put in DC. After a summer of constant travel, it has been nice to settle into a routine of work, home life and participation in my local communities. I feel like I have made more human connections in the past year than in the two that went before. This is due in large part to my involvement in the Occupy movement, which introduced me to hundreds of wonderful people and plugged me into the DC-area justice community.

Much of my activity this month has been organizing with Occupy Our Homes DC. We are partnering with two homeowners right now, Deborah Harris and Michael Vanzant, both of whom are struggling to stay in their homes after becoming disabled. Both Deborah and Michael have been pillars of their communities, with Deborah working as an EMT/Paramedic with the DC Fire Department and Michael serving Faith Temple Church – DC’s first African-American, LGBT-affirming church – as a pastor.
Since becoming disabled, each of them has been forced into early retirement. Unfortunately, their disability payments are far lower than their salary was. Even more unfortunately, the banks – JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America – showed no interest in working with either of them. As we have seen time and again in this work, the banks are more interested in making a little extra profit than they are in ensuring that good, hard-working people can stay in the homes where they have lived for decades.
As we move forward, Occupy Our Homes DC is doing a lot of learning and growing. Our organization has only been in existence since January, and much of our work has had to do with developing the capacity to sustain long-term campaigns. Given that our efforts are entirely on a volunteer basis, this is a great challenge indeed. How can we expand our base and nurture the communications, relationships and expertise that we will need to truly challenge “business as usual”? As we labor slowly through this process, I am very grateful for your prayers, words of encouragement and support.
It has been a blessing to be consistently present in DC this past month. I am feeling increasingly grounded in all of the work that I do – including my grassroots organizing with Occupy Our Homes, my ministry with Capitol Hill Friends, and my employment with Friends United Meeting. Being in town week in and week out has allowed me to develop a somewhat regular routine, setting schedules for writing, web development and coordination with co-workers around the world. Working remotely has huge advantages, and with the help of web-based tools I am feeling increasingly integrated into the “virtual office” that I share with my colleagues in Richmond, Indiana; Kisumu, Kenya; and throughout the worldwide community of Friends United Meeting.

My complete job description with FUM encompasses electronic communications, web development and social media strategy. In these early months, however, my work is almost entirely focused on doing web development. I have been putting a lot of time into FUM’s new website, which is scheduled for launch this month. It never ceases to amaze me what a protracted process web development is! Tasks that seem simple can often take hours to complete. For a big-picture person like me, building websites is a process of developing my own attention to detail.

Despite my natural tendency to shy away from this sort of detail-oriented work, I seem to be doing a lot of it. In addition to my paid work with FUM, I’ve designed and launched a new website for Ohio Yearly Meeting. It has sort of snuck up on me, but I seem to be developing a growing portfolio of web work. Maybe websites are a modern version of tents.
Capitol Hill Friends continues to gather for regular worship on Sunday evenings at the William Penn House. Attendance has been very low this month, which is predictable given the ebb and flow of the seasons. August is probably the worst month out of the year for any group, as far as attendance is concerned. Yet, at the same time we have been challenged by the loss of several dedicated members of our community. Lily Rockwell, an intern at the William Penn House this past year, left for graduate school in mid-July. Over the course of the last year, she brought so much quiet strength and depth to our fellowship, and it has been a major blow to lose her. Just weeks later, we said goodbye to two summer interns, Sammy and Ceress Sanders, who had been very active at Capitol Hill Friends. In a group as small as ours, the absence of these three is very keenly felt.
In the midst of all of this transition, the core membership that remains at CHF has been considering how the Lord might be leading us as we move forward. Faith, John Smallwood and I have been carrying this group for the last two and a half years, and the burden is becoming increasingly heavy. It has become increasingly clear that we may need to change in order for us to be faithful as a community.
This past week, Faith and I met with many of Capitol Hill Friends’ regular attenders to gauge where people were at in terms of their relationship with the group. During these meetings, we considered several questions together, such as: What is working well at Capitol Hill Friends? What has life, and what might we consider dropping? Is Capitol Hill Friends a community where we feel God calling us to commit ourselves, or is CHF still primarily an “event” rather than a congregation?
As a result of our conversations, it does seem like some of our attenders feel a deep connection with Capitol Hill Friends, considering it their primary spiritual home. Many others get a lot out of attending CHF, but consider other congregations (whether Quaker or non-Quaker) to be their primary community. At this stage, it does feel like there is a core group emerging that desires to take responsibility for the life of our fellowship, as well as a number of others who feel less committed but who do want to participate on an occasional basis.
This feels hopeful for Faith and me. Though we started Capitol Hill Friends on our own, it was never our intention for the group to be simply an “event” that we hosted. We are encouraged to see that others may be feeling called to share the responsibilities of nurture, care and decision-making for the community.
In the months ahead, there are definitely some decisions to be made. There is a growing sense that we probably need to change the format and timing of our meetings. We also have continuing questions about who we are called to serve, and how to do so. It has been less than three years since Faith and I first invited Friends to join us for worship in the conference room of the William Penn House, and Capitol Hill Friends is still in its infancy. It feels like we are just at the beginning of the journey, discovering who God is calling us to be together.
As we continue this process of exploration, discernment and deepening in the way of Jesus, I am so grateful for the prayers that our wider community offers up to God for us. Please do not stop interceding on our behalf. We could never sustain this work without the daily guidance, strengthening and conviction of the Holy Spirit.
In the coming month, please continue to pray for Capitol Hill Friends, Occupy Our Homes DC, and Friends United Meeting. Pray that God’s hand be on me, guiding and preparing me so that I may be a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ in each of these communities where I serve.
May the love and peace of our Lord be with all of you.
Micah Bales

Bank of America: Cease Your Evictions of My People!

Thus says the Lord God: Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and do what is just and right. Cease your evictions of my people, says the Lord God. – Ezekiel 45:9
Yesterday, Occupy Our Homes DC paid a visit to Bank of America’s Home Loans Office in the historic African-American U Street neighborhood. We rallied on behalf of Michael Vanzant, pastor of Faith Temple Church, the first LGBT-affirming, African American church in the District of Columbia. For decades, Michael Vanzant has selflessly served others – opening his home to those in need, leading Bible studies, and shepherding a congregation that welcomes men and women who are often excluded from fellowship in other churches. Since the 1980s, he has been a pillar of his community.
During this time, Michael’s home has served as a center of community life. It has been a place of study, prayer and hospitality for the stranger. His home is a refuge for for those seeking a deeper life of faith. Unfortunately, that is not how Bank of America sees it.
When Bank of America looks at a home, they do not see a residence, a place of sanctuary and a center of community. They see a property – an engine of percentage-based profit – and if by evicting the current owner they can produce a few percentage points more per year, they will do it. The human element does not even enter into it.
When Michael Vanzant became disabled in 2008, he had trouble making his full mortgage payment and he approached Bank of America for a loan modification. They flatly denied him. For Bank of America, an uninterrupted profit stream was more important than a disabled pastor’s home, and the stability of his whole community.
Our job at Occupy Our Homes is to remind Bank of America that human lives are precious. We were not created to be bought, sold and thrown out of our homes because of circumstances beyond our control. Our mission is to help Bank of America see that there is a cost when they violate the basic dignity of individuals and families. When the banks intrude on the intimacy of our homes just to make a little more profit, there will be a response.
Bank of America is learning that when they attack our communities, our families and our faith leaders, we will no longer remain silent. Occupy Our Homes DC is part of a broad and growing coalition of grassroots organizations across the United States that is resisting the unrestrained greed and predatory lending practices of financial institutions like Bank of America. Together, we are insisting that the needs of our families, faith communities and neighborhoods take precedence over the endless thirst for bigger and bigger profits.
For me – and, I suspect, for members of Faith Temple Church – I am discovering that we stand in a rich biblical tradition of witness for economic justice. Those ancient Hebrew prophets – Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and so many others – are coming alive with freshness and meaning.
We are re-discovering that God stands with the poor and needy. God denounces the unchecked greed of the wealthy, those who devour the homes of the defenseless. The prophetic tradition reveals that God is not satisfied with pretty words and pious ritual. The true and living God demands justice and equity, mercy for the poor and liberation for those who are in bondage.
I stand with pastor Michael Vanzant, and with the brothers and sisters at Faith Temple Church, as we explore what it means to stand in the tradition of the prophets, to call Bank of America to stop evicting our people. Together, we stand in faith that the God of Israel is not sleeping, but is at work in this dark night that can be felt.
Will you join with us in shining a light on Bank of America’s unjust lending practices? Will you stand in solidarity with Michael Vanzant as he fights to stay in his home and retire in dignity? How might God be calling you into the work of the prophets – naming and revealing the predations of the powerful, calling all of us into the Peaceable Kingdom where there is enough for everyone when we are willing to share? Can you feel the motion of righteous love within you?

Organizing the Church

My involvement with the Occupy movement this year has given me a lot of insight into the way groups of people unite around a common set of concerns. In my work with Occupy Our Homes, I have seen the power that can be unleashed when a small group of people focus their passion to work together for justice. And in recent months I have spent time studying and testing models of community organizing that could forge our organization into a more effective instrument of empowerment for the 99%.

As I have begun to explore the practice of community organizing, a whole new world has opened up for me. I am particularly inspired by the pioneering strategic philosophy of Saul Alinsky and his successors. While by no means do I agree with the whole of Alinsky’s ideology (especially his abysmally cynical view of human nature), I know in my gut that his model, which has been refined and enriched by successive generations of organizers, is of great value. I feel the need to integrate the wisdom of this tradition into my own life and work.
This will involve integrating my “religious” concern as a gospel minister and my “social” concern as a budding organizer for economic justice. Looking to Jesus, I see that his “spiritual” mission was never separated from his “social” mission. Spiritual liberty and material emancipation from social and economic bondage have always been two sides of the same coin. I serve the Savior who brings not merely an invisible, “spiritual” rebirth, but a genuine refashioning of the whole human community. As Jesus revealed when he was nailed to a cross for sedition against the Roman state, the gospel is dangerously practical!
Is my own faith similarly practical? Does the life of my community reveal the messianic Kingdom of Jesus – the visible, redeemed network of social relationships that God created us for? Does the life of the Church bear witness to the wholeness, justice, mercy and love of the God of Isaiah?

As a Christian in the United States, these questions challenge me. I see how many of our Christian communities have far too little to do with the living power of Jesus’ gospel. So often, we fail to combine the inward work of spiritual transformation with the outward labor of making the Kingdom of God visible.

Rather than dividing the work of spiritual transformation and social justice between religious and secular institutions, how could we embody the dynamic inward/outward tension that Jesus demonstrates? What might the practice of community organizing teach us about building healthy congregations that exist to serve our neighbors?

Community Organizing and the Gospel

As I get excited about community-based organizing here in DC, I cannot help but notice the parallels between the work of the organizer and the labor of the gospel minister. When I reflect on the work of Paul, Margaret Fell, George Fox and so many other servants of the gospel, it seems clear that their ministry did not consist of simply delivering a verbal proclamation about Jesus and demanding intellectual assent to certain propositions.
Nor did they limit their ministry to individuals. Christ’s apostles throughout the ages have clearly seen their role as being to challenge and nurture entire communities. The gospel is not merely limited to some sort of interior heart-change; everywhere that the good news of Jesus is authentically proclaimed and received, the Holy Spirit unleashes a wave of counter-cultural activity, transforming communities in the very practical details of their lives – spiritual, social and economic.
Throughout the Scripturesand the history of the Christian Church, there is a strong connection between sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and empowering local communities to work for justice. Faith without works is dead and, in the grand scheme of things, works without community are limited, at best.
When I recognize that Jesus founded his ministry on a proclamation of debt forgiveness and human liberation, the implications are clear. No longer can I let myself off the hook, imagining that the purpose of faith is to make me feel good, or even to make me personally righteous. Instead, I must face the reality that my own salvation is bound up in the groaning of all creation, and that I have a role to play in the story of cosmic liberation.
At the same time, my role in this grand narrative usually does not seem “cosmic” at all. Organizing for justice is some of the most brutally earthy work I know. What could be more tangible than walking into a neighborhood where you do not live, knocking on the door of someone you do not know, and asking whoever answers, “What are your deepest concerns? What do you and others in your community feel passionate about? What is the change that you wish to see?” Community organizing is all about particular, personal relationships. We often only see the transcendent once we have taken the plunge into the terrifying work of being human.
What is the connection between gospel ministry and community organizing? When I go canvassing in DC neighborhoods, my goal is not to convince those whom I meet to accept the gospel as I understand it. Instead, I am focused on practical human needs, obstacles that have been placed in the way, and the tools that we need to get our community’s needs met. The immediacy of the human precedes the transcendent. If we see God, it is only from behind.
But that does not mean that there is no divine connection. As I understand it, the goal of community organizing is to draw out the hidden creativity, passion, energy and thirst for justice that lies latent in all human communities. For me, that hints at something even deeper. Where does that hidden power come from? Who is the source of our hunger and thirst for structural justice and personal righteousness? Who inspires the love that allows a community to unite around its weakest members and see an aggression against one as an attack on everyone?

I believe that this Source Jesus Christ. If I can be an instrument to call out the secret power that lies waiting in every human community, I believe that I am nurturing the life of the gospel. If I can help equip a community to draw nearer to the source of all justice, righteousness and love, I know that I am participating in the process of drawing people to Jesus through the power of his Holy Spirit. I trust that, through this process, the Lord will provide me openings to share about the source of my passion and joy. If I am ready to give an account of the hope that is within me, some may be encouraged to explore a deeper, more explicit relationship with Jesus.

How have you seen God at work in your community? What has been your experience of being part of a community that is lovingly challenged and nurtured – whether by explicit gospel ministry, Spirit-led eldership, or apparently secular community organizing? How have you experienced God calling you to organize in your community, to lift up the hidden life and power of God?

Hitting the Streets with Occupy Our Homes

In the last eight months, I have become deeply involved in the work of Occupy Our Homes DC (OOHDC). Our goal is to prevent unjust foreclosures and evictions of homeowners and tenants in our area. We have taken a multifaceted approach that brings pressure to bear on the people and structures that are bullying our friends: We engage public officials, conventional news reporters, social media campaigns, and – of course – the banks themselves. These are areas where we are strong, and getting stronger.
But our toolbox is still missing a screwdriver or two. In my view, our most critical “growing edge” is the way we engage with the neighborhoods where our homeowners and tenants live. Our media campaign is surging; we are figuring out where the banks’ pressure points are; and we have a strong base in the DC activist community – but so far we have mostly neglected the real source of grassroots power that will make or break us as an organization.
Last week, we had a community barbecue at the home of Deborah Harris. The idea was for Deborah’s neighbors to come have a hot dog and learn about the details of her case. We hoped to develop awareness within the community where the foreclosure is actually taking place, because if this could happen to Deborah, it could happen to any of us.
In preparation for the barbecue, we spent our evenings canvassing the area. We went door to door, asking folks to sign a petition to Freddie Mac; we followed up with an invite to the barbecue. These nights out in the neighborhood were the highlight of my summer! It was so amazing to get into the streets and talk to other DC residents about the issues affecting the neighborhood. By the time the barbecue rolled around, we had collected a lot of signatures and convinced some people to show up for the cook-out. Even more importantly for me, I had gained a much better understanding of the character of Deborah’s neighborhood, and of the concerns that local residents share.
It turns out that foreclosures are not limited to Deborah’s house. When we were canvassing we met other individuals who were being thrown out of their homes by the banks, and many others knew someone who had been foreclosed on. Some of Deborah’s neighbors viewed these foreclosures as being part of a system that is pushing older, African-American residents out of the neighborhood, making way for the next wave of gentrification. There was a lot going on in Deborah’s part of town, and I felt sure that if we dug just a little deeper we would learn even more!
In my mind, getting out into the neighborhood was our first serious step into community organizing. Previously, we had largely been operating out of an advocacymodel, seeking to create change “on behalf of” affected communities. This is not what we wanted of course, but so many of us have professional backgrounds in advocacy work that it is hard to break the habit. But now I see an opportunity for us to explore models that place our local neighborhoods and community networks at the center of the process, encouraging the whole community to express their needs and to determine what is necessary to achieve their goals.
As these developments have unfolded, I have been deeply inspired by conversations with veteran organizer Laura Dungan – founder of Sunflower Community Action in Wichita, Kansas. She has taken time out to take me under her wing, nurturing me with her wealth of experience, as well as acquainting me with the example of her own mentor, Shel Trapp. I am catching a vision for what grassroots, people-centered organizing might look like here in DC.
As I begin to explore what this all means, I have a lot of questions: What is the relationship between my calling to gospel ministry and this new opening to grassroots organizing in an apparently secular setting? How can I bear testimony to the life and power of Jesus Christ, while deeply respecting and working closely with those who do not necessarily profess faith in him? What is the right balance of action and contemplation, engagement with the wider society and grounding within the Church? What steps can I take to be sure that I ask in every moment and situation: “Lord, show me where you are at work. Use my life to reveal your hidden power and love.”

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