Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Exploring the Meaning and Purpose of Quaker Structure" by Scott

I have been exploring and mulling over in my mind the purpose and intent of Quaker structure. Years ago when I worked in a Yearly Meeting office the Superintendent I served with had a great way of looking at it. He would say, "The Yearly Meeting serves the local meeting, the local meeting does not serve the Yearly Meeting." I often think about that because my experience is that Yearly Meeting structures and often international Quaker organizations often seem set up for the local meeting to serve them.

This is not to say that Yearly Meeting offices and international offices don't have a purpose or place. But could it be said that a huge paradigm shift needs to take place and we might need to reimagine the whole set up? What would it look like if rather then the Yearly Meeting structures being set up that all the local meeting energy was flowing towards the Yearly Meeting programming the energy and resources flowed from the Yearly Meeting to the local meeting? (I would like to add to that the idea that rather then sending the Yearly Meeting's "Askings" or "Assessments" the Yearly Meetings sent money to the local meetings - but that's another post).

I recognize that at some point early Friends established structure and organization. My sense, though, is that their vision was that the structure would serve the vision and mission and not that the mission was to serve the structure. Quakers often seem in survival mode these days and in that mode there is a scrambling for resources and a piece of the pie. In that mode, immense pressure is put on local meetings to make sure that the Yearly Meetings survive.

What if the structure of Yearly Meetings in their present form are not meant to stay that way? In other words, can local meetings survive if there were Yearly Meeting offices? Could local meetings still minister and function if there were no Yearly Meeting committees? Could local meetings continue to thrive if there were no Yearly Meeting programs? My sense is they could. To be sure, there would still be some things that Yearly Meetings structures would and should need to provide but have the layers of what Yearly Meeting structures off have become so heavy and thick that it's weighing down the mission of what Friends need to be about?

I'm exploring this...and certainly don't have all the answers. All I know is that the life blood of Friends is the local meeting if there are no local meetings there are no Yearly Meetings and international organizations. It would seem that the thriving and flourishing of the local meeting would be of prime importance.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Blue Bird Houses and the Beauty of Diversity" by Tony

One of the most important things I do every year is put up houses in which beautiful mountain bluebirds nest. These are amazing creatures, no artist could ever come close to the incredible shade of blue of their wings. And when I see that a pair has nested in one of our houses, I am excited because I know that those eggs will hatch eventually and more of those glorious creatures will fly out into the world. And I know that we have been a part of making that happen and the world is a better place and a more beautiful place because they are there.
As I thought about this, it struck me that our meeting is a bluebird house of sorts as well, that people come in looking for a safe space to nest, to grow spiritually and move toward becoming who God wants them to be. Some remain with us for a long time, some sojourn for a spell and move on, but hopefully the results are the same -the world is a better and more beautiful place because the light of God’s love is shining out through them.

As I was sitting on my deck feeling very poetic and sort of other wordly about this, a bird flew overhead and plop -right on the deck rail a big old mess of bird droppings - yep, that happens too. It’s one of the prices you pay for having birds around, along with all the sunflower hulls and thistle and chaff that gets left all around the feeders. Birds make a mess and sometimes the beauty can lost as least for a while in the clean up process. But that’s not unique to birds either. We don’t get perfect people in our fellowship. We get the bruised, the broken, the walking wounded who more than anything else need to know that they are loved unconditionally by the One who made them. They come with a lot of baggage to unload, past hurts and problems that have to be opened gently to let the healing in. It’s a messy process and sometimes there’s a lot of chaff and droppings to be cleaned up with people as well and we can lose sight of the new creature that’s emerging. It’s a dirty job sometimes, but isn’t that what ministry really is?

When I shared these thoughts with our fellowship, one individual quickly said, “what if you get goldfinches in your bluebird house or cardinals? Do you chase them out to make room for the bluebirds, or do you let them stay?” The answer is we let them stay. As beautiful as the bluebirds are, their color is made more vivid by seeing birds of red and yellow and brown and black and white in the yard with them. I am blessed to live in a place that attracts such a variety of birds and celebrate whatever inhabitants God provides for our bird houses, both the physical and spiritual ones.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"The Ministry Among Us" (Tony's response regarding Scott's Open Worship post)

I wonder how many pastoral ministers would make the same confession I did on Scott’s recent post about open worship – there have been times in my ministry when I have given a message when I have not received one because it was expected of me ( part of what I’m supposed to do as a released Friend for pastoral ministry). The sad part is after awhile you can do it without anybody even noticing. In fact, in my own experience, most of the same folks will say “good message today” on their way out the door. If I said I don’t have a message today, people would wonder what I’d been doing all week that I didn’t get around to what they see as my major responsibility, and maybe even start to question whether they should be looking for another minister.

But I look back at dear old George who on more than one occasion when invited to speak at a particular time and place showed up but never opened his mouth because God did not give him anything to speak for that place and time. And if it happened to someone as deeply spiritual and as in tune with God as George Fox, it’s bound to happen to someone like me. So it troubles me that we’ve somehow gotten the ministry into a place where it’s not ok to say that. What does it say about our belief that all are ministers and have an equal responsibility to listen for God’s message? And even if no one offers vocal ministry in the meeting, does that diminish our worship experience?

Maybe what I should say is sometimes I have a message, or a part of a message, but I don’t have THE message this week. I remember the days in my home meeting before I was a recorded minister when messages came to me during open worship, those times when your heart starts pounding and you get all shaky and your knees feel weak, but no matter how hard you fight it you have no choice but to stand and deliver that which you have received.
That still happens to me, sometimes during sermon preparation and sometimes even during delivery, but I get excited seeing it happen to someone else during our open worship time because it’s a visual reminder that the risen Christ is among us. It’s also to me much more of an affirmation of a real worship service than the comments made on the way out the door. More and more I’m coming to see my role as a worship facilitator, creating an environment and space where the Spirit of Christ and the gathered body can interact. I guess the reason I’m actually in the ministry is because I love the idea that God can use my feeble attempts to be faithful to Him as a springboard to propel others into His presence.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Unapologetically Christian vs Christ-Centered" by Tony

One of the concerns I came away from the YAF gathering in Wichita with is the use of the phrases Christ-centered and unapologetically Christian. While some folks seem comfortable using these terms interchangeably, to me there is a significant difference. Christ-centered is a statement of where I am but it does not require or even suggest that anyone else needs to be at the same place, so it feels more open to the kind of theological hospitality that is characteristic of convergent Friends. For me, it is a place of openness that invites people into conversation about what that means. To be unapologetically anything is the language of presupposed confrontation, i.e. I have drawn a line in the sand and I will not back down even if you demand it of me. It feels like the language of walls rather than bridges and seems to invite others to build their own walls as well (what if the next group to host a YAF event decides they need to be unapologetically non-Christian ?). And there it seems you have the history of Friends to date. So why would we need or want gatherings or events that only add another row of stones to the wall rather than seeking to remove one?

I am not unapologetically Christian. When you look at Christianity’s track record, it’s hard for me to imagine how anyone would not feel the need to be extremely apologetic for the persecutions and gross injustices that have been inflicted on the world by those who have called themselves Christians. Not only does the word Christian carry all this baggage from the past, but in the present it has come to be associated with a set of theological, political, and social stances that I do not always find to be reflective of my own understanding and experience of what it means to follow Jesus. This is why I am more comfortable describing myself as being Christ-centered or as being a follower of Jesus, or a disciple, not in the exclusive sense of being some spiritual guru, but in the true meaning of the word which is simply a learner.

If there is hope for a future for Friends marked by anything other than the same divisions and resentments we have nurtured in the past, we have to find a non-confrontational way of being with one another and listening to one another. And the key word here is find. In order to find something, we have to actively engage ourselves in the act of looking for it, as the Scripture says, “seek and you will find.” It will not just happen but requires an intentional atmosphere of openness and hospitality to and for one another. Not just YAFs, but all of us need to work to create that kind of space in all our gatherings.