Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Quakers As The Great "Middlers"

Over Thanksgiving I had the chance to peruse some books that I still need to get to. One of them is the new book The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle. This book has getting a wide read and is also sparking some conversations. Like other authors prior to Tickle, she sees new movements emerging approximately every 500 years and seems to indicate that we are right within the 400 to 500 year period now. That is to say, one of the reasons denominations, churches, church leaders, and denominational execs feel so much upheaval and even stress is that we are quite possibly living in a huge era of transition. Consequently, the "old maps" don't work anymore and are pretty useless in providing us guidance and direction. We are like explorers who need to write new maps and chart new territory. Unfortunately, if a person leans toward a leadership of high control and regulation, this will be a very frustating time. The leadership needed for times such as this is a leadership that is adaptable and flexible.

While perusing Tickles book I came across this quote near the end of her book. In it, she has some things to say about Quakers:

"Both by heritage and by virture of having always been middlers belonging in nobody's camp, the Quakers have from the beginning had a distinctly 'other' easiness with the paradoxical interplay of revelation, discernment, and Scripture in the life and governance of the body of Christ on earth. Not exactly a refusal to engage questions of authority, Quaker thought chooses rather to assume that quiet engagement with God and the faithful reveals authority from the center out to other centers of engagement. Network theory, in other words, or at the very least, proto-network theory."

Rather then having a center of authority, Tickle seems to indicate that Quakers have, as part of their heritage, the ability to "network" spiritually and to keep following the sense of Truth through their leadings and engagement with the Spirit at a very deep level. This gives Quakers the ability to connect with folks from various backgrounds as they seek to "network" with the leadings of others.

Part of this new emergence also is that we are more connected with narrative then proposition. Tickle goes on to add:

"Narrative...is the song of the vibrating network. It is the spider's web in its trembling, a single touch on one strand setting all the others to resonating. Narrative circumvents logic, speaking the truth of the people who have been and fo whom we are. Narrative speaks to the heart in order that the heart, so tutored, may direct and inform the mind."

The beauty in all of this is that Quakers have a real role they can play in the emergent movement. Rather then fearing it, we can joyfully engage it and add our own nuances to it as we seek to follow God's leadings through this time of transition.