Thursday, March 06, 2008

Still More on Convergence and Emergence and Doing What God Wants

Since I’ve been blogging a bit (okay, a bunch) on the emergent/convergent movement, I guess you can tell that I’ve had something on my mind. And that something is mostly, “What does it mean for Quakers to be the Friends of Jesus in this day?” And I mostly mean that for the programmed tradition since that's the tradition I know best.

The first thing I believe is that the convergent Friends movement is not for everybody or every congregation. There are many fine, vital congregations functioning in our Society as well as society at large. Nor do I think that it is a magic bullet – which probably is a good thing, since we Quakers don’t really care for ammo. The third is that moving this direction, as a congregation or as individuals, is a matter of discernment, of seeking God’s will. The ultimate question is not “What would Jesus do?” but rather the more demanding, “What would Jesus have us do?” That requires carefully discernment work. And before you think this is a plug for my new book Sacred Compass: The Path of Spiritual Discernment, let me assure that it’s not (though it is a really good book!). Rather, it seems to me, to be the starting place because asking what God wants should be the starting point for any spiritual exercise – including the reformation of our life together, also known as Church.

This discernment must be centered in the transformative work of the Holy Spirit – leading, guiding, directing. It will involve lots more listening, I think, than it will doing. It must begin with the questions, “What is God calling us to do in this time at this place with these people?” Why has God brought us together? Why are we located geographically where we are? Why do we do what we do with our time together – in worship, study, prayer, fellowship?

If we take time to answer those questions, which seem to me central to the emergent/convergent movement, we may – I would posit, probably will – find ourselves moving new directions. And asking even more questions that would involve a rethinking of our "order" of worship and maybe even a reorientation of our architecture. What should a Meetingroom look like? Could we -- would we -- dare ask such questions of ourselves? Would we -- could we -- change if called to?

And, I further posit, that very few of the emerging convergent congregations would look alike – either in their worship styles, room configurations, study opportunities, outreach. It would be much more organic – growing from the soil of the community in which they are planted and nurtured and growing in the warmth of God’s love and guidance.

For example, I doubt that any other group would look quite like the Friends in Fellowship group that meets every two weeks at Ploughshares. We gather, usually center in silence, and then engage in an intentional (but unplanned) spiritual conversation around a topic that arises from the hearts and souls of those who are gathered. We have no clerk nor any idea what shape the evening will take – we have committed ourselves to being Spirit-led. We trust that since Christ is our present Teacher, the Spirit will lead our worship. And so we’ve worshipped and talked worshipfully about such things as discernment, peace in a war-wracked world, what is the “right” size for a spiritual community and so much more. When others hear about our group, I’m happy to tell them how we do what we do and say that they are even welcome to come experience it. But I also tell them they must go deeply into the questions above.

One reason I do that is that I’m finally, at geezer-hood, learning to trust – to trust God and God’s faithful people. And so, at the first meeting of the Friends in Fellowship group, Mr. Bill (me) came with his plans – which were promptly scuttled by the people God called together for that meeting. And together we developed our way of being God’s people together. And it was – and still is – good. For us. I don't know -- or particularly care -- whether it would be good for any other group. That's for the group and God to decide.

What the convergent Friends have in common is hearing God's voice calling us to do what Tony Jones’ The New Christians urges us to do -- to live out a beautiful Christianity, be faithful, and then see what the Spirit does in our midst? If that’s at the heart of the emergent/convergent movement for Friends – regardless of whether a particular congregation continues as it is or devolves or evolves into new ways – then God things will happen.



Chris M. said...

This is like a taste of Living Water, Friend Brent. Thank you.

You wrote: “It must begin with the questions, 'What is God calling us to do in this time at this place with these people?'”

Yes! How interesting. Just last night I was drafting our state of the meeting report, and we had done some small-group work around just that query, among others. And there was no clear answer. To me, it was a signal that we have some more work to do with that one.

You wrote: "...then God things will happen." > Lovely, just lovely!

-- Chris Mohr

wess said...

Thanks for your continued reflections on this Brent, I am enjoying them as well.