Monday, April 29, 2013

Apocalypse Now!

What comes into your mind when you hear the word apocalypse? Most of us think of us think of the total destruction of the world, or at least life as we know it. Think zombies roaming the streets, feasting on brains. On the other hand, my sarcastic generation is doing a pretty good job of using apocalypse as a silly word. I remember a few years ago when we had a large winter storm here in Washington, DC; it was instantly dubbed Snowpocalypse!
The English word apocalypse derives from the ancient Greek apocalupsis, which is the original title for the infamous Book of Revelation. Revelation involves a lot of fire, smoke, battles and things generally blowing up, so it’s understandable that today we would associate apocalypse with end-times battles. However, the word apocalypse contains a much deeper meaning. Far more profound than the long-awaited zombie hordes – or even the end-times prophecies of some churchgoers – this ancient, misunderstood word is an essential tool for comprehending the world we live in.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

We Can't Have It All

As anyone who has lived here for very long can tell you, DC is a very intense place. It is a city full of passionate people – big-picture idealists who are intent on making a lasting impact on our society, culture and government. Thousands of people move here every month for jobs at non-profits, think tanks, government agencies, lobbyist groups and educational institutions. The focus of the city is on high-level policy, and many of us seem to live in real-time sync with the political theater of Capitol Hill and the behind-the-scenes machinations of K Street.
In my experience, Washington is a place where the line between work and personal life is often virtually non-existent. This is a city where the office never sleeps. 60-hour work weeks seem to be the norm, and I have no doubt that much higher hour counts are common. And in the age of smart phones and wireless internet, many of us never truly unplug. It is easy for our job descriptions to creep into every area of life and every waking moment; but if we love our work, what’s the problem?

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Leaders: Can We Grow Our Own?

As a new Quaker, whenever I had a question about my faith, more experienced Friends at my Meeting would recommend a book or pamphlet I should read. I was inspired by stories about the profound awakenings and prophetic ministry of my spiritual ancestors, and over time I came to trust my sense of spiritual intuition, developing an increasingly deep relationship with God. I grew a lot just by waiting in the silence and listening for the inward voice of the Spirit.

Yet at the same time, I felt something was missing. There was this yearning that could not be filled by pamphlets, nor even the weekly training of silent worship. What could answer this aching need to lead a life of faithfulness like the ones I read about? What did I have to do to live in the light, life and power that I saw glimmers of in worship?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Last Quaker Standing

Not too long after becoming a Quaker, I remember hearing an inspiring story. I was told that there was once a Friends Meeting that had at once been a vibrant community. The meetinghouse was built to hold several hundred people, and at some point – perhaps a hundred years ago – it had been filled to overflowing.
But times changed. For a variety of reasons, the community shrank dramatically, and by the turn of this century, there were only a few elderly members left. Finally, even these last few members died or moved away to retirement communities, leaving only a single old man as an active member!
Not so inspiring, huh? But wait – there’s more! While most people would have given up and found somewhere else to worship, the last remaining member of this Meeting made a different choice. Rather than joining some other community, he just kept on attending, all by himself. Each week, he drove down to the meetinghouse, opened up the doors and sat for an hour of silent worship. Alone.
Here’s the inspiring part: After a while, things began to change. Week after week, the last elderly member of this Friends Meeting sat alone on the facing bench, holding a silent vigil, but one Sunday morning, a young family arrived. They appreciated the hour of silence, a respite from their busy lives. To the old man’s surprise, the family came back the next week. And the next. Somehow the word seemed to get out about this little meetinghouse and its unique style of silent worship. Soon, there were several families and individuals attending.
The triumphant conclusion of the story, as I remember it, is this: Today, the meeting has thirty or forty attenders, and is an active part of the Yearly Meeting.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Can Quakerism Become A Mass Movement?

I was talking recently with a friend about the possibilities for growth and outreach at Capitol Hill Friends, and he made a comment that struck me. He said that he did not view Quakerism as having much potential for being a mass movement, since it can be such a demanding, austere path. It was his opinion that many of the core disciplines of the Quaker path – such as silence, waiting, and group discernment – are simply not accessible to most people in our culture.

Is this true?
Without a doubt, the simple commitment to follow Jesus runs counter to many of the assumptions of mainstream society. In many ways, it is a hard thing to be a follower of Jesus and a citizen in Empire. Yet, many churches are growing today; a community of 150 people is not generally considered to be extravagantly large. Being a Christian is deeply challenging, but I know that there are many people in our city who would prefer a purposeful life of challenge to the meaningless rat race of consumer society.
All that being said, there is a certain reality to the claim that the Quaker path is simply not appealing to most people. The truth is, Quakerism has not been a mass movement for centuries. Based in my own personal experience, I would say that most North American Quaker congregations today have fewer than 50 active participants, and many – probably a majority – have far fewer than that.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Friends of Jesus in Barnesville

This past weekend, Friends from across the United States gathered in Barnesville, Ohio, which has been a key site of Quaker activity for well over a century. Much more recently, this little Appalachian town has become a meeting place for the Friends of Jesus Fellowship.
The event this weekend was our Spring Gathering, one of two regular get-togethers that FOJF puts on each year as we explore what it means to be a community gathered by the Holy Spirit. We had folks make the drive from Detroit, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Jersey, NYC, New England and St. Louis – and one Friend even flew in from Seattle! It was inspiring to hear what is happening in the communities that are organizing themselves in many of these cities, as well as a new virtual group that has begun to meet via Google Hangout.
The theme for this gathering was John 11:14-26, particularly Jesus’ declaration, “I am the resurrection and the life.” This scriptural focus was helpful for us as we listened together for where the Christ’s life is emerging in our life together. All of us face great challenges to living as children of light in a world that so often embraces the darkness, yet we found courage and strength in one another, and the ways in which the Spirit is preparing us for the work of love, justice and compassion.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Love Of Money

In our modern society, it is almost impossible to survive without money. The use of money has become an inescapable aspect of our daily lives. To secure food, shelter, utilities, clothing, transport or recreation – for just about anywhere we want to go and anything we want to do – a monetary exchange is involved. Whether by cash, check, credit card or online payment, most aspects of our lives are now regulated by transactional currency exchange.
What is the problem? Well, according to many public thinkers, there isn’t one. Common wisdom is that money is merely a placeholder for economic value; it simply serves as a technical fix that allows our modern economy to function. With the help of a regulated currency, goods and services can be exchanged in an orderly, efficient manner. Money is a fantastic invention that allows individuals to store and exchange the value of their labor.
But money has become so much more than that. In the thousands of years since the invention of standardized currency, money has consistently shown its ability to twist human behavior. Instead of serving as a means of exchange, we turn it into an end goal. Instead of seeing life as it really is – a pure gift from God – our monetary systems ensnare us in a worldview that reduces the majesty of creation and the details of human life to numbers on a balance sheet.

Monday, April 01, 2013

My Inner 23-Year-Old – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #52

Dear friends,

God has a way of sneaking up on me. For the last decade or so, a constant theme of my life has been amazement and surprise. Ten years ago, I never could have guessed that not only would I become a Christian, but that I would go to seminary and dedicate myself to a path of ministry. When I first came to live in Washington, I did not imagine that Faith and I would end up settling down and buying a house here. When we started Capitol Hill Friends, we did not suspect that God would call us to a form of community life that is very different from that which we originally envisioned.

In every step along this journey, God surprises me with the way he gentles me, slows me down and humbles me. In a slow process of transformation, the Spirit is mellowing me out. She is balancing me, making me less erratic, less swept up in every high and low of my personal experience. The Spirit is softening me while at the same time deepening my constancy. I am being re-formed into someone who can be relied upon by a local community.

Just a few years ago, my self-image was almost entirely based in moving around – “traveling in the ministry” as it is fashionable to call it. I definitely did some ministry, and I might have even been helpful sometimes, but the traveling part was at least as much about my need to explore and personally develop as anything else. And, at a certain point, it becomes clear that travel can be a way of escaping certain uncomfortable facts: I cannot do everything. Commitment is required (even not committing is ultimately a commitment). People, places and things change – relentlessly. Sooner or later, I am going to die.

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