Friday, November 21, 2008

How Fear Distorts our Perceptions

After the New Kind of Quaker conference, I mentioned two kinds of spiritual journeys - a spirituality based on fear or a spirituality based on love. One of my favorite writers and bloggers, Jim Palmer, writes about how fear distorts our perceptions of reality. I have included a quote from one of his posts. You can read more of what he has to say at

"Our perception of reality is grossly distorted by fear. On an individual, family, community, city, country, hemispheric, global level we function with a fear-based mentality. We make fear-based decisions, we create and perpetuate fear-based institutions, we invest endless resources of every kind to fend off or neutralize things we fear. It’s always in the back of our mind…what if. It is so ingrained that we never question the notion that life is an endless number of people, outcomes, conditions, and circumstances to fear. We live in fear. It is the air that we breathe, and the undercurrent to everything that transpires. We fear lack, death, separation, condemnation, aloneness, loss, disease, and calamity. We feel it - nothing is safe, life is not safe. Every imagined fear is held to be an unquestioned certainty, it’s just the way it is. Only a blind idiot cannot see that fear is real and logical and a force that we must contend with in every moment and decision of our lives.
But what if there really isn’t anything to fear? You know, “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” What if the entire system of fear is a house of cards, and the only thing propping it up is your, my, our belief in it. What if there is no fear apart from the fear we have created and empowered as a result of imagining and believing there is something to fear. What if there is really no lack, or no separation, or no condemnation, or no death, or no calamity?What would happen if each of us, one by one, began divesting ourselves from all fear? What if each of us began to call fear’s bluff? What if we took every fear-thought captive, and refused to live in fear. What if we totally ceased from giving our energies to fear? What if lived in this world and related to one another without fear? I don’t mean positive thinking or hoping there really isn’t anything to fear, but knowing confidently without any flinch that fear isn’t real. In other words, fear is always dialing up for us a response on what to think, what to do, what to choose, how to act, what to feel, etc. But what if we didn’t follow the response that fear dialed up? We ignored it, didn’t listen, and instead followed through with knowing there is nothing to fear?
What might this involve or look like if you, me, we…tomorrow morning…began collapsing the illusion of fear in our own lives? What would that look like for you?"

What Does A "New Kind of Quaker" Look Like?

Since the weekend "New Kind of Quaker" conference in North Carolina (November 14-15), I have been giving some thought to the question, "Exactly what does a 'new kind of Quaker' look like?" Do they look like they always did but just behave differently? Do they wear different clothes? Worship differently? If they are 'new', what does 'old'? mean? I don't know if I can answer all of these - or even if they are the right questions. But, as I have tried to picture a "new kind of Quaker", this is what he/she might look like to me.

1) The old kind of Quaker relies on geographical locations and Yearly Meeting designations to inform their perception and understanding of another Quaker. (ie, "You're from Indiana, you must be an evanglical" or "You're from Baltimore, you must be liberal" or "You're a programmed Friend, you must be evangelical" or "You're an unprogrammed Friend, you must be liberal" )

The new kind of Quaker looks past the geographical locations and Yearly Meeting designations and seeks to truly understand and hear the story, spiritual journey, and heart of the other person. They don't put them in any kind of theological container or file. Rather, they seek to see and hear that of God in the other.

2) The old kind of Quaker is pretty sure that pastoral programmed evangelical Friends meetings focus on evangelism and non-pastoral unprogrammed liberal Friends meetings focus on issues of peace and social justice.

The new kind of Quaker doesnt see this as either/or but both/and. They see the need for a proclamation of the good news (evangelism) as well as a demonstration of the good news (issuesof peace and social justice). One is not more important the the other but both are necessary expressions of God active work.

3) The old kind of Quaker works very hard at making sure the institutional form of Quakerism keeps going and stays propped up because if the "central agencies" and "committee structures" and "central offices" cease to exist then Quakerism as we know it would cease to exist.

The new kind of Quaker is not as focused on the "institution of Quakerism" as they are the "spirit of Quakerism" and they realize that the Quaker vision and calling can be lived out whether or not you have buildings, committees, a central office, or even a menu or programs.

4) The old kind of Quaker tends to focus on the past and seeks to replicate the past as a way to bring life to the present and the future.

The new kind of Quaker appreciates the past but seeks to live in the present because the Living Christ is in the present and is providing leadings, direction, and guidance as to who we are to become in the future.

5) The old kind of Quaker feels that the future of Quakerism will look an awfully lot like the past of Quakerism. The only difference is that we will have somehow convinced more people to get involved and help in making sure this version of Quakerism survives.

The new kind of Quaker feels pretty sure that the future of Quakerism will not look anything like the past of Quakerism and is both scared but excited as to how the future will unfold for Quakers and what Quakers in the future will look like.

6) The old kind of Quaker wants to make sure we pass on buildings, property, and programs to the next generation.

The new kind of Quaker wants to make sure we pass on a living faith, a demonstration of faithfulness, and a heart of integrity to the next generation.

7) The old kind of Quaker secretly believes that their version of Quakerism is the true version and that all the others are not yet enlightened.

The new kind of Quaker believes that Quakerism cannot be contained within a methodology and that their is no one true version but that all "versions" have something to offer and gifts to share.

8) The old kind of Quaker believes that Quakerism can best be defined propositionally and relies on "belief statements" and "declarations of faith" to fully describe the living experience of Quakers.

The new kind of Quaker believes that a propositional faith is not adequate to sustain the Quaker experience and believes wholeheartedly that the world "relationship" best describes what it means to live as a Quaker - to be in relationship with God, Jesus, and one another.

9) The old kind of Quaker sees business meetings as a "necessary evil" and something that must be put up with until we get to the good stuff.

The new kind of Quaker seeks to see the Living Christ moving and leading amidst the business and truly sees it as a meeting for worship with the purpose of conducting business.

10) The old kind of Quaker gets ticked off when they see a list like this because they feel threatnend and live out of a spirituality of fear.

The new kind of Quaker chooses to not fear but chooses to love and live out a spirituality of love and is willing to hear what truth, if any, might reside in a list like this.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"New Kind of Quaker" Gathering - Greensboro / High Point,North Carolina

This past weekend, I had the privilege and opportunity of being part of a very special gathering of Friends. It was the "New Kind of Quaker" sponsored by the Friends Center of Guilford College and hosted by Deep River Friends Meeting in High Point, NC. As the pastoral minister at Deep River Friends, I had the opportunity to be there for the whole experience as a workshop leader, participant, and even dishwasher! I was blessed in all my roles.

I want to say how struck I was by the sincere spiritual depth of those attending. I have to say that I was probably one of the older ones at 46 years old. At the risk of sounding patronizing (which I hope I don't!) these were very spiritual sensitive young adults who seemed to have a much deeper awareness and grasp of a spiritually powerful Quakerism then I did. The first night, I walked a few minutes late into the meeting room and already there was a deep silence covering the room. They had already gathered and were sitting in silence to prepare for the evening session. No musical Prelude was necessary. No tacky religious emcee. Just sitting in deep centering prayer and making room for the Divine Presence. It had been a long time since I had been part of something like that and these young adults were leading the way.

All the workshops and main sessions were filled with a deep sense of F/friends seeking greater understanding of truth as well as a greater understanding of one another. There were hard questions as well as hard answers. There was also deep sharing in the Worship Sharing groups and a desire to get to know one another in deeper ways. Personally, I was excited to witness a group of Quakers gathering to see how they could come to a deeper understanding of the Living Christ and how to live in the way of Jesus rather then trying to figure out who was the real Quaker and whether or not my God can beat up your God.

The conference was designed to connect up with the ongoing emergent movement and come to a greater understanding of the movement called Convergent (Quakers exploring the emergent movement and made up of Conservative Quaker leanings and Emergent leanings). I'm not that sure we adequately covered that and addressed that but I felt that what we experienced on Friday and Saturday was itself a living example of what it would mean to live out a Convergent experience.

What I also witnessed were young adults with a deep desire to follow the leadings and callings of the Living Christ but to live them out in ways that addressed social issues and justice issues. This was not a group looking for just a "personal salvation" experience or how they could add more information to their spiritual seeking. This was a group that was desiring to be faithful to the calling of Christ to open up their hearts to the many offices of Christ (Prophet, Priest, King, and Savior) as well and bring justice and righteousness to this earth. As one who was certainly older then most of the participants, I felt challenged and convicted by their passion and desire to live out an authentic spiritual journey.

Most of all, I was touched by the graciousness of everyone I met. I am sure there were those in attendance that believed differently then I did or saw life differently then I did. But, there was a deep graciousness that covered the whole experience. This was so refreshing and different from other gatherings - even within my own Yearly Meeting - where folks gather and seem tense because of fear of the other.

Ultimately, I discovered this past weekend that our spirituality can either be based on love or fear. If its based on fear, you will always be suspect of the other and even manifest anger, cynicism, and sarcasm. If its based on love, there will be graciousness, kindness, hospitality, and even patience. I, for one, long to live out a spirituality of love rather then a spirituality of fear. Fear always loses and is a loss for the world. Love always wins and is a victory for the world. And what our world needs is a love based spirituality and not a fear based one.

I certainly do not see this conference as the end but a beginning. The beginning of a conversation that will invite us to consider more of what the Convergent Movement can bring to Friends. Those who are leading the Convergent Movement I encourge them to keep on going and listening to the Living Christ. It is a much needed experience and is finding openings in many hearts.