Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Final Thought for Convergent Friends October

About a year ago, on another of my blogs, Jay Marshall of Earlham School of Religion posted this remark -- "any chance Friends have of cooperating with God's transforming power will come most easily through building relationships rather than by arguing points."

I agree. And therein is my hope for the future of the Convergent Friends movement. I see it as a place -- a holding vessel -- for important conversations about the future of Friends. I hope it's a place where, regardless of position -- Evangelical, liberal, moderate -- Friends will be able to answer the question "What canst thou say" with openness and be affirmed.

I see it as a new place to talk about the vitality among Friends that can lead to transformation in the 21st century that is theologically hospitable to those who are seeking a vital experience of the Living Christ.

I see it as a place where we can be encouraged to think about what it means to be a Friends congregation in a particular place at this particular time.

What energizes us for ministry? Outreach? Christian social witnesses?

As many of my blog readers know, my spirituality books emphasize Christian Quaker spirituality. As I travel the country schlepping books or leading spirituality workshops, I find a lot of interest in Quakerism.

Then come the inevitable questions about where to find a Quaker congregation in that area. I have to admit that I don't, even as smart as I am, know where every Meeting is and I'm also a bit hesitant to just tell people to look online for Quakers closest to them.

I'd like to be able -- in my wildest Quaker dreams -- to be able to point to some sort of resource that could guide them to a place where they would experience the kind of Quaker spirituality that I write about. Perhaps that's self-serving or naive -- or both.

But I do know some Meetings in that fit that wish -- and I'd like to know about more.

I think a place for theological hospitality among Friends is important. I hear from too many Friends whose meetings feel like exiles in their yearly meetings or are actually contemplating leaving. Likewise, some pastoral leaders.

Can the Convergent movement be a place where thoughtful, caring dialogue can continue? I hope so!

-- Brent

Monday, October 13, 2008

Alone... Amazing

My friend Alan Garinger is the most amazing inventor I've ever met. He's come up with toys (the Infinity Warp), art material (SandArt), a label affixer, and ... well, I could go on about Alan (and often do). I can't decide whether I love him or hate him -- he's just so blamed creative.

Professional jealousy.

In addition to no-so-run of the mill inventions, he also invents books and characters. And his last one is just amazing. Alone: The Journey of the Boy Sims.

Another friend of his sent Alan this tiny description found in a journal int he Fulton County, Indiana courthouse -- Monday, October 28, 1833, Journal Entry Of The Michigan Road Survey Party. ... The boy Sims, in charge of general items, was sent to Detroit today to secure ink to replenish our supply lost in a recent but minor accident during the crossing of the Tippecanoe River. We expect him back in 28 to 31 days. Being a youthful and resourceful as well as an agile lad, he should make the trek in less time and in case he does not return in the allotted period, we shall send for a search party."

From that meager entry, Alan created a wonderful work of young adult fiction. Alone is the story of this young boy and his adventures in the Indiana wilderness. Oh, the places he goes and the people he meets -- and the trials he endures. All vividly brought to life by this master story-teller.

I won't say anymore here -- other than get this book and read it. You won't put it down -- and neither will any young readers you know.


Friday, October 10, 2008

is home for the weekend and enjoying the golden autumn sunlight.
Brent is home for the weekend and enjoying the golden autumn sunlight...
Brent is enjoying this great autumn Hoosier day -- blue skies and coloring leaves.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Let's Get Rid of Church

Our pastor gave a sermon recently centered around some reading he'd done about why the younger generation (from my viewpoint, almost everybody younger than me fits into that!) like Jesus but hates the church.

If the research he read is true -- then Gen Y, Gen X -- are fine with the Gospel (as they understand it) but not too happy with the institution of the church.

This struck me as a wonderful "marketing" opportunity for us Convergent Quakers. Except, we (all Quakers not just the Convergent types) if not adverse to advertising our existence, are not very good at it.

Which is understandable at one level -- how do you capture on a billboard or bumper sticker a spiritual experience as deep as Quakerism offers?

This made me think that one small step might be by undoing a name change that many Friends adopted in the 19th and early 20th century -- the name "Church." As in Podunk Friends Church.

If Gen Y et al like Jesus but don't like the church -- let's get rid of the "church."

By that I mean the name on the front of many a Friend's congregational edifice. Let's drop Podunk Friends Church and go by Podunk Friends Meeting -- and alert the local media to why we're changing our names.

Name changes are all the rage in mega-congregations and those who want to be -- just in our county alone we've got things like Connection Pointe, LifeWay, and all sorts of things that used to Podunk Christian Church or Southern Baptist of Podunk or ...

So let's go back to Meeting and invite folks to Meeting. For one it sounds a bit more hospitable than church. We could emphasize that what we mean by meeting is "gathering" -- we're getting together for worship.

And then we invite people to the second meaning of meeting -- encounter. We come to meet other like-hearted people. People searching for the sacred. Some having found more than others, some of us just learning the way or beginning to think about the Divine seriously.

I say like-hearted, notice, and not like-minded. We don't all have to think alike -- which is a good thing, since few of us do. Sometimes I'm of two minds about things all on my own!

Besides meeting other like-hearted people, we come to meet God. To encounter the Divine. Not just to be told about the divine through story, sermon, song, and silence, but to actually gaze into the face of our loving God and listen for God's words to our souls. What more winsome invitation could there be than, "If you like Jesus, but not the church, then come with us -- come to Meeting and meeting."


Monday, October 06, 2008

Emergent, Convergent, or Divergent -- What About Quakers?

Nancy and I attended a meeting a few months ago with about 60 other Friends from three yearly meetings. I thought we had gathered to discuss the desire of forming an association of progressive Friends -- primarily for sharing worship and discussion.

Instead it became largely a time to talk about various issues that various Friends were interested in -- prison ministry, being open and affirming of gays, national legislation, and so on. All things, it seemed to me, that were already being undertaken and accomplished by other active Friends organizations.

I understand that the group is still meeting and still sorting out what it is called to be. And hooray for them -- taking time to let a leading season seems to be perfectly in keeping with our testimonies concerning discernment.

But as I thought about that meeting today, I came to the conclusion, based on what I heard at that meeting, my work as a congregational consultant, a writer of Quaker spirituality, and our own little experiment with the Friends in Fellowship group, is that much of what I would hope from such a group is underway in the convergent Friends movement.

While I may not be strictly Convergent (I'm still not certain that I fit (or understand) the definition exactly), the convergent Friends movement is, it seems to me, the Quaker version of the emergent church movement. I find a lot of vitality in the Emergent movement – a group, according to their own words, “is a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” (Emergent Village). They also say that they are about

  • “Growing”: which indicates our desire to develop as the dreams of God for the healing, redemption, and reconciliation of the world develop.
  • “Generative”: which means that we expect our friendship to generate new ideas, connections, opportunities, and works of beauty.
  • “Friendship”: Because we firmly hold that living in reconciled friendship trumps traditional orthodoxies – indeed, orthodoxy requires reconciliation as a prerequisite.
  • Missional”: Because we believe that the call of the gospel is an outward, apostolic call into the world.

Why I think the convergent Friends movement (and indeed much of vital Quakerism outside of the convergent movement) has much to offer is that it embraces the above all within the context of the rich diversity of Quaker faith and practice.

I like the idea behind the word “convergent” – one definition of which is ”tending to come together from different directions.” I am concerned that there be places for theological hospitality and deep discussion about Friends testimonies and their applicability in today’s world.

I don’t think that developing another group of “like-minded” Friends is going to be very helpful to us. That would seem to me to be “divergent.” I know what I cherish are rich times of worship across “lines.” What feeds my soul is when whatever dialogue growing out of that worship is done with respect and caring – me listening and learning from my Evangelical brothers and sisters, my more mystical brothers and sisters, my liberal brothers and sisters and letting Christ teach me through all of them.I don’t think convergent Friends is the final answer for all Friends in all circumstances.

I do think it has a lot to offer to those of us inside Friends who long for places of deep spiritual engagement (and all that means) and those outside of Friends who hear about us and wonder where to connect with a people who seek to be known as the Friends of God in an open and welcoming way.


PS I"m still willing to try an organize a "Convergent Friends" conversation at "The Great Emergence" if there's any interest.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Convergent Friends -- And the Great Emergence

A group of us Quaker blogger types have taken up the idea that this October is Convergent Month 2008. What it means is we’re inviting Convergent Friends -- and Friends interested in the Convergent movement -- to make a concentrated effort to dream, discuss, and have loads of fun thinking about where Friends are and what the Future of Friends might be.

Since there are all sorts of things planned specifically for Friends, (check the Convergent Friends site at for blog rolls and activities), I want to announce one that is open to a wider audience, but still has a lot of interest for Convergent Friends. It is "The Great Emergence" in Memphis on December 5-6, 2008.

The title comes from Phyllis Tickle's new book. She says, "The Great Emergence' refers to a monumental phenomenon in our world, and this book asks three questions about it. Or looked at the other way around, this book is about a monumental phenomenon considered from the perspective of three very basic questions: What is this thing? How did it come to be? Where is it going?”

Phyllis's important new book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why. focuses her encyclopedic knowledge of American religion on the current shifts in the Christian landscape. Paired with her Southern wit and charm, The Great Emergence promises to be the bellwether book in emerging Christianity.

The Great Emergence National Event is a unique and freshly designed event built on innovative adult learning techniques including interaction, participation, and inspiring content on the current state of and future possibilities for Christianity.

Around the four main sessions with Phyllis Tickle, participants will also enjoy the daily office—thrice daily times of prayer—based on Phyllis Tickle’s bestselling book, The Divine Hours, in the majestic and historic Cathedral of St. Mary in Memphis, Tennessee, which will be bedecked with Advent greenery.

Workshops will be offered with some of the best practitioners of emerging Christianity, including Tony Jones,
and more (including me -- but that's not why I'm "plugging" this event. I'd go anyhoo.).

On the day before "The Great Emergence" (the 4th) various hypen-emergent groups are meeting (Presby-mergents, etc). If there are enough Convergents or other interested Friends going, we could set up our own gathering that day. I'd be happy to try to pull something together -- a time of dialogue -- if there's enough interest.

Check out "The Great Emergence" at And be sure to read The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle. She says some interesting things about the role of Quakers in this new movement.

Hope to see you there.

-- Brent