Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Provoking Unity

...let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10:24-25

We are profoundly affected by the communities we are a part of. If we spend most of our time with groups that are satisfied with the ways of the world, we too are likely to become inured to the deadening comforts of darkness. This numbing may even progress to the point that we resist the light when it shines on us. We can Great Plains Yearly Meeting 2008become so accustomed to sickness that the approach of the Physician threatens our whole worldview.

Things look dramatically different, however, for those who spend most of their time in community with other children of light. When we are gathered together in communities that have a clarity and unity of purpose, we are prepared to receive the Word of God(1) with joy. A community that is conscious of itself as being a living member of Christ's body, and which waits on the Lord for guidance, is well-prepared to receive the light. Unfortunately, most communities - religious or secular - are a muddle of competing visions, human interests and willful individuals. Most groups spend the lion's share of their time negotiating vision, rather than carrying it out.

Discerning vision is an important step in the process towards unity. Without a careful, prayerful process of discernment of the will of God for the community, the group easily falls prey to human manipulation. Our communities often end up serving the interests of an elite, or of the "common good," rather than clinging to God's guidance. It is crucial that our Christian communities maintain an ongoing cycle of attention, discernment and action: observing the world around us; waiting on the Holy Spirit for fresh guidance forDorlan and Peggy Sue our circumstances; clarifying our sense of calling and mission; and acting according to that united sense of purpose.

It is easy to get caught in the first and second steps - perpetually observing and waiting, never reaching any firm conclusions. Conclusions can be threatening, because they often upset our comfortable lives. They demand an answer of us: Will I submit myself to the Truth, or do I insist on having my own way? Real spiritual unity in the group will often mean that I as an individual have to change my way of life in order to take part in the mission that God has given us. This can be painful.

But what a joy it is when the Holy Spirit gathers us into unity! How unimportant our petty desires and prerogatives seem when bathed in the light of Jesus' risen presence! When together we awaken to the deep peace and singleness of vision that the Lord offers us, there is a new creation and the old order of darkness is swept away. Reviewed in the light of Christ, so many of the demands that we previously laid on our community are revealed to be petty andJack and Cathy selfish. Yet, other concerns are revealed to be more important than we ever suspected.

As we are gathered into unity of purpose in the purifying light of the Savior, we find the answer to our longing for a true home and our thirst for righteous living. We see that our deepest hopes, the ones which we scarcely dared to utter before, are in fact the foundation of this new community in Christ. We discover that God offers us that which we most deeply need: A true home. Overflowing, abundant life. Deep peace and contentedness. The knowledge that we are loved unconditionally. We see that all of our selfish demands and posturing, all of our shows of strength and self-sufficiency were merely attempts to paper over our fundamental need for the living water that Jesus gives us, the unbounded love and mercy of God.

This is not something we can produce ourselves. We cannot control or predict God, and the Spirit blows where it will. We can, however, make the choice to prepare ourselves to be receptive when God sends us the Holy Spirit. Sadly, we are often resistant to the indwelling Word. We get so caught up in our own opinions and visions that we push the Spirit aside on our way to a decision. Kate and KarlaWhen Jesus appears in our midst, many communities are not ready to receive him. We often prefer to throw our own party rather than accepting Christ's invitation to his wedding banquet.(2)

How do we as Christian communities prepare ourselves to be brought into unity by the Spirit? How do we provoke one another to love and good deeds, and to a receptiveness to Christ's guidance in every moment? How do we tell the difference between the false unity of human conformity and the spiritual unity that Christ gives us as we receive him together? How do we prepare ourselves to respond in faith when the Holy Spirit draws us together with others who are seeking to do his will?


1. Jesus, the Risen Lord.
2. See Matthew 22

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Hedge and the City

[The angel] called out with a mighty voice, 'Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!' ... Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, 'Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins, and so that you do not share in her plagues...'"
                                                              - Revelation 18:2, 4

As residents of the capital of the greatest imperial power the world has ever known, we at Capitol Hill Friends are greatly challenged to live as a faithful expression of Christ's reign. We recognize that we are deeply affected by the surrounding culture, that the attitudes and assumptions of our neighbors, families and friends are often diametrically opposed to the demands of the gospel. Yet, we feel that Christ has called us to remain in this environment, as much of a challenge as it often presents to our faith. We feel assured by the Holy Spirit that God has work for us to do here, and we have beenWashington Monument from Independence directed to remain and encourage the formation of a witnessing community that shares the good news and new life that we are finding in Jesus.

Though we sense the Lord's command to remain and set down roots in Washington, we recognize that life in the city is and will continue to be a serious challenge to our faith and our cohesion as a group. The entire environment is laced with anti-Kingdom assumptions. Ideas about who the important people are; what worthy goals are; what power is; and where meaning comes from. Our faith as present-day disciples of Jesus of Nazareth is under steady pressure to conform to the image of the world around us.

Finding ourselves in such a challenging situation, we seek together for ways to ground ourselves in the living reality of Christ's presence. We support one another in our personal disciplines - prayer, study, service and gospel witness. Yet we also recognize that personal discipline is not enough. We can develop deep personal disciplines to keep us in touch with God, yet we remain Supreme Courtspiritual weaklings if we are not incorporated into the Body of Christ. We must be bonded into a coherent church community, not just a collection of spiritually athletic individuals.

This is harder for us. Because we do live in such an atomized, individualistic environment, developing the life of the local church as our primary commitment is deeply counter-cultural. Sometimes, it seems that the simple act of gathering together weekly for fellowship, study and worship is about as much as we can handle. Our lives are so full of work, family and social commitments. There is so much to do and so little time to do it in.

Our priorities are distorted. We have put the focus on our individual preferences, careers and social networks, yet we are called to place Jesus and his Body - the community of those who are drawn Tom Jeffersontogether to be his disciples - at the center of our lives. The Christian community should not be simply one more obligation to meet among many others. On the contrary, it should be the social foundation from which the rest of our lives grow. The church must be our primary identity.

In his book, Living in Christian Community, Art Gish asserts that, "we are defined by the people we are a part of. ... Those who have no identity apart from the world have nothing solid in their lives."(1) If this is true, then we will never be empowered to emerge from the oppressive culture of busyness, loneliness, self-promotion and greed that hangs over our city like a fog. That is, not until we come to see our shared life as Christ's disciples as our primary identity, a base from which we interact with the rest of society.

For centuries, a concept that was central to the self-understanding of Friends was that of the hedge. The hedge referred to a protective barrier that maintained a distinction between Quakers and the wider society. The hedge was a spiritual reality, but it was represented in a variety of very practical ways - distinctive dress and speech that instantly set Friends apart; refusal to participate in military preparation and war; refusal to swear oaths, use titles,DC Metro gamble, drink to excess, or own slaves. At its best, the hedge did not remove Friends from the world, but instead served as a reminder to Friends that they were set apart for God's service, and that they were not to participate in the degenerate behaviors of the world.

I agree wholeheartedly with Art Gish that, "It is essential that the Christian community always be in close contact with the world so that we can understand the world and be in dialogue with it."(2) Indeed, I believe that our call at Capitol Hill Friends is to be a missional presence in the DC metro area, actively and intimately engaged with the life and struggles of our city. We exist as a church to embody the love and justice of Christ's Kingdom, and to invite others to join us as disciples of Jesus.

However, Art Gish is also right in insisting that we must maintain a certain separation from the world. "Our separation from the world is spiritual and cultural rather than geographic, a result of distinctive loyalties rather than spatial isolation."(2) Through our obedience to the demands of the gospel, we must necessarily be distinctly different from the Eastern Marketsurrounding culture. If we are living into the life that Jesus desires for us, we will think differently, relate to others differently, regard pleasure and suffering differently. We may even appear visibly different to those who meet us.

Christ calls us both to be deeply engaged and active in society, and yet distinct and separate from the lifestyle and worldview of the fallen world. How are we to balance these two gospel imperatives? Some groups, such as the Amish, Conservative Mennonites, and some Friends have taken the route of rural isolation, placing the emphasis on separation rather than engagement. Other groups, such as the Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC have taken a much more active stance, placing their emphasis on engagement, perhaps at the expense of separation. We are still discerning what our response is to be as a community of Friends living as witnesses in the heart of the imperial city.

What has been your experience of engagement and separation? How can they be balanced, and how have you found them fitting together in your context, be it urban, suburban or rural?


1. Gish, Living in Christian Community, 277
2. Gish, Living in Christian Community, 287

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A New Harvest of Faithfulness

What would it look like for a Spirit-led, Christ-centered movement to emerge out of the North American Quaker community? Certainly, such a movement would shake up our comfortable habits of religion. Regardless of our theological or cultural background, we would all be deeply challenged by an authentic movement of renewal within the North American Quaker Church. Such a movement would call into question our conformity to the American way of life, to YAFs at FGC-FUM Consultation in Richmond, Indianawhich almost all of us are deeply wedded. It would demand that we dedicate everything - time, money and attention - to Jesus, receiving his Light and following the guidance of his Spirit.

But do we truly want to be part of such a movement of the Holy Spirit? Most of us would like to see an uptick in energy, financial giving and attendance at our established Meetings. Many of us would even like to see some new Meetings be founded, to have the sense that we are a part of a growing community, rather than one which peaked long ago and is in the slow process of going extinct. It is natural for us to want to feel confirmed in what we are doing, to see positive indications of the health and vitality of our community. But is what we most want a self-affirming human community - or are we prepared to risk everything to follow Jesus?

There are some existing institutions that are already quietly at work preparing the way for a fresh, radical obedience to the Holy Spirit in our North American context. I think of Earlham School of Religion, where Friends and other Christians from across the country and the world are given vital training in Christian scholarship and discipleship. There is the School of the Spirit, which for almost two decades has nurtured Christ-centered eldership and ministry, primarily within the Liberal-Unprogrammed branch of the Religious Society of Friends. The Friends Center of Ohio Yearly Meeting is an example of an attempt by Conservative Friends to provide more opportunities for structured learning and development of gifts. And Wess and EmilyNorthwest Yearly Meeting has its own Friends Center, which is dedicated to developing Quaker Christian leadership in the Pacific Northwest.

It is my hope that each of these institutions - and, surely, many others that I have failed to mention - will provide a base for developing well-informed, self-aware and spiritually grounded leaders for this new century. Yet, I am also aware that this kind of leadership development is by itself insufficient. Leadership training may be little more than hospice care for a dying institution unless we as Friends make the choice to humble ourselves and commit our whole lives to Jesus' mission in the world. Until we are willing to set aside our own prerogatives and desires, seeking first to follow Jesus together, the Religious Society of Friends in North America will continue to wither and die.

And maybe that is OK. If many of our Meetings, institutions and programs are no longer receptive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit Tyler Playing Guitarin our midst, we are not of much use anymore. What is to be done with salt that has lost its saltiness (Matthew 5:13)?

But there are those of us who sense the call to be a flavorful expression of Christ's presence on earth. For those of us who hear this call, how can we join with others in laying down our own priorities and seeking to be completely obedient to the Spirit? How can we support one another in being obedient unto death - the death of the self-will, of our clinging to money and status as a form of security, and even of our physical bodies if need be? How do we make the transition from a faith that is a "good idea" to one that is worth dying for?

And what role do our existing institutions have to play? How can our Meetings and Yearly Meetings become places of shared wrestling with the challenge of discipleship to Jesus? How can our schools and leadership development programs become engines for the radical change from self-serving to self-sacrificing? How can our community and tradition become as a seed that dies in order to bring forth a new harvest of faithfulness (John 12:24)?

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Importance of Play

I have been informed on numerous occasions that I am a rather serious person. Occasionally this comes as a compliment, but generally it is a statement of vague concern. Often, the implication is concern for me personally ("I hope you do not spend your wholeThe Kelleys existence without ever relaxing and enjoying life"). Other times, the concern is more for those around me ("I really wish you would stop expecting everyone to be as earnest and serious as you are").
For my part, I do not generally see seriousness as a fault. I would rather call it sobriety, which is a trait that my spiritual ancestors valued very much indeed. And if I am deemed too serious, well, then perhaps the rest of the world is too glib.

Nevertheless, while I do see great value in sobriety and single-mindedness, the many people who have questioned my sometimes overly-serious demeanor were on to something. The way to the Kingdom is a winding, often non-linear path that involves a lot of things that might not occur to us. The way from here to there is not always straight. We often arrive at our destination not by coming at it directly, but through relationships that take us in directions we did not anticipate or intend.

Human relationships are a good example. We do not come into relationship with others by simply willing it into being. The child'sChristmas question, "will you be my friend?" reveals the naïveté of the idea that we can create deep connections simply by choosing to have them. Most of us eventually learn that relationships take time, persistence and self-denial in order to develop to maturity. We grow in relationship by sharing life together - work, meals, worship and play.

For a relatively serious person such as myself, work, meals and worship are high priorities. I can see the practical value of each one. Play, though, is more difficult. I have often found myself feeling vaguely guilty for spending too much time at play or just hanging out with friends. There is serious work to be done! Do I really have time for these non-essential activities?

As I grow in the Lord, though, I am learning that fun and play are not luxuries. Rather, they are an essential ingredient in developing RISKand sustaining the life of the Kingdom. Just like work, meals and worship, play can be used to build up the Body of Christ. It is a vector for the experience of Christ's presence among us, and in play we can be drawn out of ourselves and into relationship with one another in the Spirit. By taking the time to simply be with one another, without any apparent objective to be achieved, we can make space to grow closer to one another, and to God.

When my wife Faith and I were engaged to be married, a friend of ours gave us this counsel: Take time to have fun together. Though it sometimes takes a lot of conscious attention, we are learning to take our life together little less seriously. We do our best to take time to just be together, even in the midst of our very full schedules. And, for me, our relationship often serves as a refuge from the need to always be serious. With Faith, I can risk being a lot less guarded than normal. Sometimes I can be downright silly. Our Monopolymarriage is a training ground for me as I learn to open up in this way to a wider circle of people.

Faith and I do what we can to provide opportunities for the kind of fun that not only strengthens our marriage, but also nurtures the seeds of our community. For some time now, Faith and I have been hosting a Friday game night. It is a very simple thing, but this regular opportunity for gathering to eat homemade pizza and play board games has been a positive force in strengthening our community here in Washington, DC. Hilarity has been known to break out.
What has been your experience of play - in your family, your neighborhood, your local church? What are faithful ways of playing that you have experienced? What are ways that play can be twisted and damage the life of the Spirit?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Gift of the City

Living in the city is hard for me. There is traffic, noise, high prices, and the lack of open space, among other things. Life in DC is a real challenge for me, DC Metroyet I feel a deep certainty that God has called me to live and work here for an extended period of time. I feel firmly called into an urban context, even though it is uncomfortable for me in many ways.

I cannot help but wonder why God has called me to this context. I know that the Lord does all things to further the purposes of his love, mercy and justice. What opportunities are present here in Washington, DC that would not be available in a less urban setting? What is the gift that the city brings to the work of sharing the good news of Jesus and inviting others into covenant community rooted in him?

I am reminded that Christianity, for most of its history, has been primarily an urban phenomenon. The early Church spread rapidly throughout the cities of the ancient Mediterranean, while making inroads much more slowly in rural areas. During the post-Constantinian period and Middle Ages, the word heathen was frequently used to mean both "non-Christian" and "uncivilized." TheNear Tenleytown-AU Metro Station, Washington, DC city was conceived of as the center of civilization, and the rural countryside was associated with heathenism - pagan idolatry and cultural backwardness.

In the United States today, the urban centers are still the seat of high culture, and the rural hinterland is seen as peripheral, at best, to the civilized business of the city. Perhaps the most outstanding example of this is the fact that much of the United States, the part with lower population density and fewer cities, is commonly (if half-jokingly) referred to as "fly-over country." One big thing has changed, of course: The cultural Christianity of Christendom has become the new heathenism. Christian faith is frequently looked down upon as backwards and uncivilized, and cities serve as bastions of a new, post-Christian era that is taking shape.

Just like the cities of the ancient Mediterranean, the North American megalopolis is a place where the traditional community life and mores of the hinterlands are broken down. The old heathen cultures are challenged, examined, and synthesized into more cultured and individualized blends. The bell-and-steeple ChristianityThe Washington Mall of the twentieth century is being melted down, re-thought and mixed with new philosophies and alien traditions. Could this be an opportunity for advancing the living gospel?

Is there an opening in the American city for a fresh emergence of the gospel message of Jesus, just as there was in the ferment of the Greco-Roman polis? Is this, perhaps, why God has called some of us to embrace life in the city? Is there a special opening for the good news here in the city, an opening not available in the countryside? How can we be faithful in stripping away the heathenish demands of the cultural Christianity that is now so reviled and rejected by the cultured city-dweller, while still retaining the essence of the gospel? How can we faithfully re-contextualize the gospel in this new forum, inviting the people of our city into a living relationship with Jesus and a new life in covenanted fellowship with sisters and brothers in the Church?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Tending the Soil–Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #30

Dear brothers and sisters in Truth,

The past month has involved a lot of travel. From Flint, Michigan to Atlanta, Georgia, I have been all over the eastern United States visiting Friends and seeking to nurture the life of Christ in the communities I have visited. As is so often the case, I have surely received more nurture and blessing from these trips than I could possibly have bestowed on those visited. Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blesses all of us beyond our deserving and understanding!

While travel has been a big theme these past weeks, the most profound thread that is running through my life lately is a call to rootedness and stability. Throughout my time visiting among Friends, there has been a steady, persistent call: Settle. Lay roots. Patiently tend the soil. This motion of the Holy Spirit calls me out of my own thrill-Stillwater Quarterly Meetingseeking and into the radiant life of broken humility that is found in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Yet, despite the call to rootedness and commitment to Christ's work in my local context, there is still some business in the wider world that I do feel led to attend to. One such matter of business was the gathering of Stillwater Quarterly Meeting early this April. We held our sessions in Flint, Michigan, where we were hosted for the first time by Crossroads Friends Meeting. Crossroads became a full Monthly Meeting within our Quarter only recently, and so this was their first opportunity to host Quarterly Meeting. It was a blessing to be with them, and with all of the sisters and brothers who traveled from across the eastern United States to be present.

Later in the month, I was blessed to have the opportunity to visit Chattahoochee Friends, a worship group near Atlanta, Georgia, which is under the care of Rockingham Susan and Martha at Stillwater Quarterly MeetingMeeting. Faith and I observed during our visit that they were quite developed in their maturity as a group. While theoretically Faith and I were visitors from the "parent body," we received from Chattahoochee Friends a great deal of spiritual care and counsel regarding our work on Capitol Hill. We were pleased to learn a couple of weeks later that Chattahoochee Friends has decided to pursue Monthly Meeting status within Stillwater Quarterly Meeting. We are blessed to have them as part of our extended fellowship!

Shortly after the trip to Georgia, we were pleased to welcome Friends from New City Friends in Detroit on the occasion of their New City Friends at William Penn Housevisit to Capitol Hill. Last year, New City Friends and Capitol Hill Friends jointly adopted a set of advices and queries, and since January we have been answering the queries each month. By answering the queries and reading each others responses, we have grown closer together in an organic relationship as we seek to deepen our discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ. By holding a joint weekend retreat in Washington this month, we were blessed with the opportunity to grow closer still, strengthening the bonds of unity that we share in the Lord.

Finally, I also had occasion recently to travel among Friends in the Philadelphia area. It has been amazing to see the work that the Lord is doing in gathering Friends in recent months, and I hope that I can be of some service in supporting the faithful brothers and sisters who are being united in the love and presence of Jesus Christ. With such abundant evidence of Christ's work in this region, I see with my own eyes that the power of the Lord is over all!
Christ's presence and ministry is being made visible here on Capitol Hill, too. The Spirit is gathering together a faithful community of women and men, which meets on Sunday Suzanne and Faith at Eastern Marketevenings at the William Penn House. Though I struggle with impatience, in my better moments I trust that our pace of development is according to God's will. We are still in the very early stages of life as a church community; we are laying the groundwork - spiritually, socially, intellectually, and even financially - for what is to come.

I think that when we began the work here on Capitol Hill, I conceived of the labor in terms of Paul's evangelical ministry to the gentiles. Paul preached the gospel, established new congregations and moved on fairly rapidly. I get the sense that Paul's timeline in a city was to establish a new Meeting within a few months - maybe a year or two, at most - and then move on. I still believe this model can work under the proper conditions, but I do not believe that we are experiencing those conditions here in Washington, DC.

The soil here is relatively hard. For one thing, many DC residents are transient, expecting to be in the city for a matter of months or years - probably not decades. There is also a prevalent culture of skepticism towards all things religious - and towards orthodox Christian faith in particular. Finally, unlike in Paul's context, where he was likely to see the conversion of entire extended families or clans,Capitol Hill Friends conversion and transformation is made more complicated by the extreme individualism of US urban culture. Frequently, households are divided in their faith, and having one spouse accept the invitation to become a disciple of Jesus does not necessarily mean that the other spouse, or their children, will be involved at all. We encounter here a startling lack of bonded community. Ours is a wealthy, individualized culture that feels little need to depend on others.

Under these conditions, the effort to plant a church is more akin to establishing an apple orchard than planting a vegetable garden. The labor of planting, tending and watering will take years of intensive effort before we can expect to see mature fruit.

I now harbor fewer illusions about being able to reproduce the itinerant ministry of Paul (or George Fox, for that matter). Context is important, and our context here in post-Christian urban America is atomized, complex, and requires vast investments of time and attention. To return to gardening images, it is as if we had to re-New City and Capitol Hill Friendsdevelop the soil before we can even get around to planting. Compost happens.

While I would prefer the adventure and glamour of a Pauline itinerant ministry, it feels like the needs of our context here at Capitol Hill Friends call for endurance in the nitty-gritty work of building up the soil. This is the work of many seasons, and I recognize that we are only at the beginning. I could be here for a long time.

I ask for your continuing prayers as Faith and I seek to be faithful to the Lord's call in our life together. As we learn to yield to the humbling guidance of the Holy Spirit, we find true peace and freedom, even if it looks very different from what we might have chosen for ourselves.

In the name of the Master Gardener,

Micah Bales

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Under the Care

One phrase that has deep meaning in the Quaker community is, "under the care." Friends often employ this term in sentences such as, "Sarah's ministry is under the care of Ministry and Oversight," or, "James and Rachel's marriage is under the care of the Meeting." Most commonly, when Friends speak of something being under the care of a group, it is a reference to a formal relationship that is bound up in procedure. For example, if a couple's marriage is under the care of a Meeting, this generally means that the couple goes through a process of clearness - similar in many ways to premarital counseling - with other members of the Meeting. To be under a group's care often means to take part in a process of accountability with the group.

Perhaps in some Meetings this is all that being under the care means. As with all traditions, some of our communities have fallen into reliance on the outward forms of care - committee work and procedure - while having lost sight of the spiritual substance of the matter. For a healthy, spiritually vibrant Meeting, however, beingFaith and Susan under the care is far more than undertaking a certain series of procedures or committee obligations.

In the ideal, relationships of care are diverse and interwoven throughout the Meeting - individual to individual; ministers to elders; individuals, couples and families to the Meeting; and the Meeting as a whole to the Quarterly and Yearly Meeting. These care relationships are not, first and foremost, a series of procedural obligations. In fact, it is my opinion that the fewer committees a Meeting can get by with, the better. Instead, care within the Meeting is primarily about love, transparency and mutual submission in the Lord.

In Ohio Yearly Meeting, it is our conviction that Christ Jesus is the head of the Church, of which our Yearly Meeting is one small part. Jesus being the head, we have found ourselves gathered together and bonded to one another in his life, way and truth. In him, we are able to submit ourselves to one another, testing our sense of Christ's guidance with one another, trusting that the wider community has important insight into the experience of the individual. We experience that the Meeting, when submitted to the present teaching of the Holy Spirit, can speak with authority to the lives of individual members or groups under its care.

In Rockingham Meeting where I am a member, we place a very high value on yieldedness. This is a concept that I suspect Rockingham Meeting has imbibed from the ambient Mennonite culture of Shenandoah Valley, and it means that the individual should value the insight of the wider fellowship and be willing to change his or her life in order to meet the expectations of the community. In thisFaye life of yieldedness, each individual is profoundly under the care of the community as a whole.

In practical terms, this means that the individual should consider the convictions and witness of the community in all aspects of her or his life. For example, my Yearly Meeting has a longstanding testimony against gambling and financial speculation. As a member of the fellowship, I have a responsibility to respect that testimony, and prayerfully consider how God might be calling me to make changes in my life to live more fully into it myself. On the most basic level, it is important that I do nothing to publicly discredit the testimony of my community, even if I am personally struggling with how our testimony fits into my own life.

A good example of this of this sort of yielding might be declining to participate in charity raffles (instead simply donating money), even if I do not yet entirely understand on a personal level why Friends testimony against gambling and speculation is important. Being under the care of the community means accepting the discernment of the community, even when I do not understand. There is value in yielding to the community on matters in which I do not feel convicted to the contrary by the Holy Spirit.

The latter part of that last sentence is key: Yieldedness is not about giving preference to the human opinions of our community over the motions of the Holy Spirit. If the wisdom of the community is contrary to what Christ seems to be revealing to me, I have a responsibility to bring this concern to the community. In a sense, the Meeting is also under the care of the individual. Each of us must lay our own sense of Christ's leading before the Meeting, even if itMike and Seth is unpopular. It may be that God is calling on us to adapt the testimony of the Meeting to meet a new situation.

Yieldedness is not about unduly venerating human authorities, nor is it about remaining silent in the face of injustice, spiritual blindness, or just plain old incompetence. But it does mean giving the Meeting the benefit of the doubt, laying our concerns before the community. If the Meeting is placing itself under the immediate guidance of Jesus Christ, seeking to be obedient to his Holy Spirit today, we do well to participate fully in the Meeting's process of discernment rather than running off ahead of the Meeting.*

We discover our full potential to be the Body of Christ when we simultaneously place our lives fully under the care of the Meeting and take care for the Meeting as individuals. Taking seriously the guidance and discernment of the Christ-centered community, we are better equipped to recognize and obey the voice of God within our own hearts. When we hear and respond to the inward presence of Christ, we offer our own witness to the wider body and deepen the Meeting's understanding of how Jesus is guiding us today.
When care and yieldedness are fully mature, we come to see that we have been under Christ's care all along.


*If the Meeting is not seeking to put itself under Christ's leadership, that is another matter altogether. While one should never lay down membership in a Meeting lightly, there are times when it is appropriate to dissolve ties with a Meeting that has ceased to follow the risen presence of Jesus. We may trust in Jesus himself to let us know when that moment has arrived; he may ask us to labor with a wayward Meeting for quite some time.

Friday, May 06, 2011


One of the pillars of Christian monasticism is the vow of stability. In the monastic context, vowed stability means making a commitment to remain in a particular, geographically rooted monastic community until death. The purpose of such stability is to remove any escape route from the process of inward conversion that the monastics have committed themselves to in community. These women and men know that they will live the rest of their lives and die within the context of the vowed community to which they first committed themselves.

As a Quaker, formal, vowed monasticism has never been a live option for me. Even if it were, the fact that I am married and feel that God calls me to an energetic engagement with the surrounding culture would present stumbling blocks to embracing that path. Nevertheless, while I see that my calling in the Lord is distinct Eastern Market - Washington, DCfrom that of my vowed brothers and sisters, I also perceive some similarities.

My natural state is one of flight. I like new ideas and projects, new locales and experiences. I like to start projects, but finishing them is harder. All things being equal, I am likely to seek the sweetness of beginning. I tend to flee the struggle of enduring to the finish.
For someone like me who is a "starter," the great temptation is not to finish. There is always another intriguing possibility on the horizon (or, more likely, dozens!); there is plenty of good work to do that does not involve the painful endurance of years.

But growth takes more than a decision to begin. This is the reason that the early Quaker movement taught that justification (getting "saved," being at peace with God) must go hand in hand with sanctification (being remade in Christ's image, the conversion of all areas of ones life). The decision to start is not enough. There must be an ongoing decision to be faithful, to submit to Christ, to take up the cross and walk with it. Even when it is difficult. Even when it is painful. Even when it is boring.

In my life, "stability" is about remaining where God has placed me and being willing to stay there until my death, if God wills it. In my present situation, it means Plants at Eastern Market - District of Colombiacommitting to be faithful in the work that God has given me here in the DC area. As long as it takes, unless and until God releases me for a different kind of service.

I make my vow of stability to Jesus Christ, to remain in him and in his Way, all the days of my life. This is my spiritual vow of stability: not to any particular place or community, but to God's call on my life. And it may amount to the same thing, in the end. If God wills it, I will remain here in Washington, laboring for the Kingdom in this particular place and community until I die. I will not seek to escape my Holy Orders, instead living by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The False Atonement of Osama Bin Laden

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:28

[In Bin Laden's death there are] ...no red states or blue states, just United States; no MoveOn progressives or Tea Party conservatives, just Americans. - Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post

After months of preparations, a small detachment of US commandos entered Osama Bin Laden's high-security compound in Pakistan and put a bullet in his head. Bin Laden's body was quickly evacuated from the scene, to be buried at sea. President Barak Obama soon appeared on television to announce to the nation and the world that the mastermind of the September 11thYouth Celebrate Bin Laden's Death attacks and spiritual leader of Al Qaeda had been killed. "Justice has been done."

I first got word of Bin Laden's assassination just before going to sleep on Sunday evening. I also learned that crowds had gathered in front of the White House (and, I would later learn, in New York City). Hundreds of people - mostly the very young - took to the streets to celebrate the death of the perpetrator of the most devastating foreign attack on the United States in living memory. For many of those celebrating Bin Laden's death on Sunday night, the 9/11 terror attacks took place before they were in high school.

While the youngest generations were the most visible celebrants late Sunday evening, jubilation seems to have swept through all generations. Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post crowed the following morning, "Triumphalism and unapologetic patriotism are in order. We got him."(1) In perhaps the most extreme example of said triumphalism, the New York Daily News trumpetedCelebration Outside the White House the news, saying, "the message of the Bin Laden killing is this: We are still here. And he rots in hell."

It is clear that the youth gathered outside the White House and on the streets of New York on the evening of Bin Laden's death were not merely isolated demonstrations of adolescent bluster. Much of the nation, led by our news media, has found a delirious national unity in the death of our chief enemy.

From everything I understand about the man, Osama Bin Laden was devoted to murder and fomented hatred and death throughout the world. He worshipped a false God of violence and coercion, taking pleasure in the deaths of his enemies. And for almost a decade he served as the arch-enemy of the United States and the Western world in general. Now, through his assassination by the United States government, the process of scapegoating is Rot in Hellcomplete. The United States has spent ten years piling the sins of the nation on top of this man, and his death promises an opportunity for redemption. A ragged, divided nation looks to Osama Bin Laden for atonement.

Thanks to the death of Bin Laden explains Robinson, there are now, "...no red states or blue states, just United States; no MoveOn progressives or Tea Party conservatives, just Americans."(1) A new national myth is being forged: Through his death, Bin Laden has united us. We are all one in his death. This is the blood atonement of Osama Bin Laden.

Clearly, this is a monstrous falsehood.

Where is the Church of Jesus Christ in all of this? Where is the Body of Christ in the United States? How did Osama Bin Laden become our savior, cleansing us with his blood? How did we come to substitute our own violence for the saving power of God? How is it that we now find ourselves standing in the place of Pilate, nailing Bin Laden to a cross of our own devising and engineering a manmade atonement?

Bin Laden was no Jesus, but we are acting like Romans.

Far from being a day of national celebration, this should be day for repentance. Like the people of Nineveh long ago(2), far from gloating and cheering the death of our enemy, we should put on sackcloth and ashes. We should mourn the horror and destruction that comes from human greed, fear and lust for domination. This is a time for us, the Church, to repent of our involvement in Empire and to call our fellow citizens out of it as well. We must not swallow the lies of nationalism and militarism that have replaced the cross with an American flag. Lord Jesus, have mercy on us - we know not what we do.