Friday, May 11, 2012

Gathering in the Spirit - Micah's Ministry Newsletter #42

Dear sisters and brothers,

I have been given many opportunities this month to travel in gospel service to a variety of communities, both among Friends and in the wider ecumenical Church. In all of my travels, I have joined with my brothers and sisters in asking hard questions: As followers of Jesus, how are we called to work for economic justice and the practical liberation of all people? As disciples of the enfleshed Word, how are we to understand our lives as sexual beings? As a people who have been transformed by the love and authority of the Lord Jesus, how do we lead lives that proclaim him - his joy, his power, his peace?

The lengthiest trip I took this month was to visit Friends in Pendleton, Indiana. Several months ago, I was contacted by the clerk of Whitewater Quarterly Meeting in Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting, inviting me to speak at their gathering in April. I could speak about whatever God laid on my heart - though he mentioned that Friends would be very interested to hear about my experiences as a Quaker in the Occupy movement.

I felt clear to accept the invitation, traveling under a minute from Rockingham Monthly Meeting and Stillwater Quarterly Meeting (Ohio YM). During the afternoon session, I spoke out of the silence, and it was opened to me to speak about God's call for us to emerge from our addiction to comfort and pride. I invited Friends to embrace the radical worldview of Christ's Kingdom, which challenges us to engagement in a broken world. Grounding my sermon in Christ's words to the Church in Laodicea, I felt moved to encourage those present to pursue the passionate commitment and humility that our faith demands. If we open ourselves to the transforming power of the Spirit, we can emerge from lukewarmth and fear, embracing the prophetic faith of Jesus.

The word I was given did encounter some resistance from some Friends present. Nevertheless, I was encouraged to see that others received the word with joy. Some were deeply moved by the message, feeling directly addressed by the Lord.

A couple of weeks later, I had another opportunity to speak, this time as part of a panel discussion at Virginia Theological Seminary, one of the premier Episcopal seminaries in North America. I was invited to speak alongside several weighty leaders in the Episcopal Church, including a retired bishop turned activist and the current rector of Trinity Wall Street - a very prominent parish in lower Manhattan. I was thankful for the opportunity to address an assembly of seminary students and professors, representing a significant portion of the present and future leadership in the Episcopal Church.

I was able to speak about my experience as a Christian occupier, working for economic justice in the name of Jesus Christ. I felt that the Spirit was present with us in the gathering, and it was opened to me to exhort those present - especially the seminary students - to dare to question the moral assumptions of the present culture, which relies more on laissez-faire capitalist philosophy than on the loving example of our crucified Savior. Though much of the Church has been seduced by these human philosophies, we were reminded that our authentic witness as followers of Jesus will seem like foolishness to the world.

The last major trip that I took this month was to a retreat held by Ohio Yearly Meeting on the subject of human sexuality. For almost two years now, Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting have been openly wrestling with our shared understanding of God's intention for human sexuality, and what this means for us in practical terms as a fellowship. Last summer, the Yearly Meeting directed a committee (which I served on) to organize a gathering where Friends could hold these concerns in the Spirit together, sensing how God might be guiding us.

For my part, I was very nervous about this event. This is hard stuff for Friends to talk about, and at times I wondered whether anybody was even going to show up. To my surprise and joy, there were around fifty Friends who traveled from almost every Meeting in the Yearly Meeting to practice shared discernment. This in a Yearly Meeting with an active membership of maybe two hundred!

Even more important than the number of people present, the Holy Spirit was there with us. The whole gathering was grounded in worship, and we were able to largely avoid the caustic back-and-forth the so often characterizes conversation around sexuality. Speaking largely arose from a place of vocal ministry or intimate sharing of personal experience, rather than debate. I felt that we emerged from this gathering with a greater sense of love, trust and fellowship - praise God!

The biggest single insight that I perceived to emerge from our time together was this: We in Ohio Yearly Meeting have significant areas of unity in our understanding of human sexuality, though there are also major areas of disunity. There was a shared sense that we would do best to proceed in love, examining first those areas where we sensed unity, and gradually working our way into the harder areas, those subjects where there is serious disagreement. Our understandings of homosexuality are, as one Friend put it, "the deep end of the pool." We know that there is a large range of opinions about the rightness of gay and lesbian relationships, and we will need to proceed tenderly - and deliberately - as we seek the Lord's will in these matters.

I left the gathering with a sense of unity in the process of discernment that we are engaging in together. I felt that despite our serious disagreements on some subjects - particularly our understandings of gay and lesbian relationships - that everyone involved is acting in good faith and seeking the Lord's will as best they know how. This goes a long way towards reconciliation between individuals, and eventual unity within the Body as a whole. If we can stay humble and grounded in the Spirit, I dare to hope that the Risen Lord will draw us together in one mind and the same love.

Back in DC, the work continues. Capitol Hill Friends continues to grow in spiritual depth, as well as in numbers and vitality. I give thanks for the amazing sisters and brothers whom God has sent to help ground this little church in the midst of the city. I continue to pray that the Lord will send more workers into the field of his harvest. My work in the wider community is moving ahead, and I continue to be active in foreclosure resistance with Occupy Our Homes. In all of this, I am learning how to practice self-care and not over-do it. I am finding that a life grounded in prayer and the study of Scripture is essential to the kind of public ministry that God is calling me to, among Friends and in the wider community.

We are now a third of the way through May, and it looks to be a beautiful summer. I am so thankful for the many blessings that God has poured out on me and my fellow workers here in DC. Thank you for your support and encouragement. Your prayers have real effects that are felt here. Never doubt it.

In Christ's love,

Micah Bales


Anonymous said...

I'd be grateful if you could explain what exactly you mean by your use of the term "economic justice." Thanks!

Micah Bales said...

@Anon - Whew! That could be a post in and of itself; or a book, for that matter!

I'd say that "economic justice" would mean that basic human needs are met and the creation is cared for. Economic justice and human liberation (spiritual and material) are connected. I am inspired by the words that Jesus grounded his first sermon in:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”