June 17, 2015 § 3 Comments
When a meeting recognizes the gifts of its members and helps its members mature into their spiritual lives, the meeting matures in its collective religious life. This manifests in deep meetings for worship, spirit-led discernment in meetings for business in worship, effective pastoral care, a loving and resilient fellowship, grounded and focused social witness, and well-managed property and finances.
Newcomers can sense this vitality, even though the sources of it may not be very visible. Even less visible, oftentimes, are the ministries that flourish in a meeting. But they, too, give a meeting a vitality that true seekers after the divine will recognize: here, they will say to themselves, God truly is at work.
Gifts of the spirit and gifts in ministry—almost the same thing. Ministries often arise from one’s gifts—but not always. Both are given by the Holy Spirit. Both are given to the community and to the world but entrusted to individuals.
Because the gifts of ministry are given to the community, the community has a responsibility for them. If meetings do not recognize emerging ministries, they throw the gift away. If meetings do not give ministers help with discerning their leadings, they may lose the gift. And if meetings do not give ministers the support and oversight they need to be faithful to their call, meetings trample on the gifts. These are sins against the spirit.
Because the gifts of ministry are entrusted to individual Friends, the ministers also have responsibilities. If Friends do not bring their gifts in ministry and their leadings to their meeting, they deny their meeting the grace of the spirit. If Friends do not seek help with discernment, they may misunderstand their call. And if Friends do not seek support for their ministry if they need it, the gift may be squandered, or lost, or tangled in the obstacles that arise.
Do our meetings welcome the gifts of ministry that are given to us in the Spirit? And do our meetings and members live the faith and practice of Quaker ministry as an essential aspect of our corporate and individual religious lives?
Queries for our meetings
Recognizing ministry. Does your meeting know the faith and practice of Quaker ministry? Do you teach it often enough so that all members and attenders, and especially newcomers, have a chance to learn it, as well? Does your meeting encourage members to share their leadings and ministries with the meeting, providing both opportunities to share, and an open and visible structure for welcoming leadings? Are your members thinking about the gifts they have as spirit-led? Would a member of your meeting who has a leading recognize it as such? Are they in the habit of thinking about the interests they have in witness or service activities or whatever, within the meeting or in their everyday lives, as possible leadings from the Spirit into Quaker ministry?
Discerning leadings. Does your meeting know how to conduct a clearness committee for discernment of leadings? Does your meeting understand the difference between a clearness committee for discernment and clearness committees for membership, marriage, and making personal decisions, in terms of how the people are chosen and how the committees are conducted? Or does your meeting have some other process for helping ministers with the discernment of their leadings?
Supporting ministry. Does your meeting have a structure and processes in place for supporting the leadings of your members? Would a Friend with a leading know where to go with their leading? Does your meeting know how to form a care committee for its ministers? Is your meeting prepared to provide oversight as well as support, ready, for instance, to help a Friend discover when they have run past their guide, or have stepped through the traces * , or when they have been released from their call? Does your meeting know how to write a minute for travel or service in ministry?
Releasing ministry. In the elder days, when a Friend traveled in the ministry, members of their meeting helped run their farm or their store in their absence. This was called releasing ministry. When your meeting writes a minute for travel or service, do you also inquire into what obstacles may hinder the minister’s ability answer the call and then see what you can do to remove these obstacles? Are you familiar with ReleasingMinistry.org, a new independent Quaker initiative to support Quaker ministry?
* “Step through the traces.” This is a phrase from the elder days of Quaker ministry and refers to a draught horse getting its legs tangled in the tackle—the traces—by which it pulls a wagon. Thus it means to get tangled up in the pursuit of your ministry, making mistakes, failing to walk in the paths of Christ’s leading.
November 27, 2014 § 1 Comment
In this little series on the joys of the Quaker Way, I have been describing how much joy I have found in the practice of Quaker ministry, from the openings, the leadings, and the ministries that have unfolded since that first opening in Talva Chapin’s living room in 1990.
For me, this process has grown like a tree from that one seed. One opening or leading or ministry has led to another as I followed them up towards the Light.
Thus they all feel to me like one integral whole. The branch that aims toward the east seems to be going in a different direction than the one that aims toward the southwest. But they all spring out of the depths within me, from the Seed planted in the soil of my soul. And they all reach toward the same Light.
This decades-long reaching for the Light, this tree of many branches, this organic synthesis of many promptings of the spirit, produces in me a sense of calling.
- As an opening is momentary and specific and inward;
- as a leading is longer-lasting and still specific but more involved, and outward;
- as a ministry is longer-lasting still and broader yet and both inward and outward;
- so the calling is for the whole lifetime, and of the whole of my spiritual life, and transcendental.
By transcendental, I mean something very hard to express. It doesn’t feel particularly cosmic or absolute, however. It still feels personal and particular to me and to my religious environment. To continue with my metaphor, this transcendent presence is to my spiritual process in ministry much like the local ecosystem is to a tree. There is more to the spiritworld than this little valley where I grow, a whole world—a universe, I suppose.
And maybe some of the birds that come to nest in my tree come from that wider world. But this sense of calling is more intimate than it is cosmic. It is more about the bird than it is about wherever the bird may have came from.
Even so, there is something more to it than just me and my spiritual process and my religious environment. As my frequent readers know, this is my definition of G*d: the Mystery Reality behind or within or beyond our religious experience, whatever that experience is.
I have been recounting my own spiritual and religious experiences. I know that they are real because they have transformed me. I can describe them, up to a certain point. I can craft a clever metaphor. But beyond that point, beyond the images I might use to explain it to you or to myself, lies a Mystery, a transcendence to the Reality. And it calls.
Sometimes the calling actually has a voice and a message, a direct address. But even then, the Voice has never given me a name, as Jesus has to so many Friends I know. I have given it some names, because it does often feel quite personal, and thus, I want a name. And it invites me into a relationship, a covenantal one in which we each make promises, and so it needs a name. I need a name.
But the vast majority of the time, this calling is a sense of calling. This Presence is a sense of presence. This Reality remains a Mystery. All I know is that the ecosystem in which I grow as a spiritual being has soft, indistinct boundaries that lie, for the most part, beyond my ken.
I like to think that the evolutionary processes that carry me and my little ecosystem forward are one with the wider spiritual unfolding of the planet and of the human race. But I can only speculate about that. And I do; it’s fun. I get joy from speculation.
But the deeper joy, the greater joy, the more transforming joy, comes from growing in this little valley called the Quaker way and from trying to make my life an answer to this calling from the Light toward the Light in the Light.
November 22, 2014 § 4 Comments
One more branching—Quakers and capitalism
So I have laid out the general outline of my joyful experience in unfolding of ministry as a Friend. This has followed a pattern:
Openings, the flaring of bright moments of insight that come as gifts of the Holy Spirit, which I experience as moments of joy that are sometimes quite sublime. Furthermore, some of these openings have led to . . .
Leadings, specific tasks laid upon me by G*d that, even when they have become a burden, and sometimes they have, still in their pursuit I have found fulfillment, a sustained joy in knowing what I am to do and joy in the doing of it. And then, blessing upon blessing, sometimes these leadings have given birth to . . .
Ministries, calls to service that are broader in scope, deeper in demand, and longer lasting than individual leadings—and even more fulfilling, more full of the joy of service to the community and to G*d.
There is one more layer to this onion—what I call my calling. But I have one more branch in my personal story to tell, another instance in which a leading and the study it required uncovered a new door into service, a new opening that led to a new leading and then to a new ministry.
The opening. I was rummaging through Pendle Hill’s library—i forget what I was looking for—when I “happened upon” the book of proceedings of the first Friends World Conference, held in London in 1920. This book was in amongst other books related to the other world gatherings. I knew nothing about this first gathering, or any of them, for that matter, so I sat down to read for a while. And here was a new discovery: the Eight Principles of a Just Social Order and accounts of the debates that it evoked at the Conference, plus hints about an even more intense debate at the 1918 London Yearly Meeting sessions.
London Yearly Meeting (now Britain Yearly Meeting) had convened a Committee on War and the Social Order in 1915 whose charge was to explore the causes of the Great War. It came back to London Yearly Meeting with its final report in 1918, with a thoroughly-thought out critique and the Eight Principles. The Committee blamed the industrial system—capitalism—in part for the war and the first draft of the Eight Principles, which had been watered down in the final draft after they had been sent to the quarterly meetings for consideration, were quite critical of the economic-industrial system of the time. Meanwhile, the Friends receiving the report were captains of industry in the very system being criticized. In a sense, these Friends were criticizing themselves.
The leading. I was hooked. I now wanted to learn everything I could about Quaker attitudes toward the capitalist system, given especially the tremendous wealth of British Friends through the centuries. Soon, I felt led to write a history of Quaker economics—a history of Quaker contributions to capitalist culture, Quaker economic attitudes, and an economic history of the movement. The resulting research and writing became the unfinished book published in installments as the first posts of this blog (available as pdf files from the link in the sidebar to the left labeled Quakers & Capitalism).
It felt so natural. I had already been studying biblical economics for years. Also I worked at the time as the marketing communications person for a high-end speakers bureau that represented many of the most important thought leaders in the business world and many of the world’s first-tier economists. it was my job to know what these people were thinking and writing and saying, and then present it to the business speakers market. So i was learning how the system worked from the inside, while I was simultaneously learning how Jesus had reformed the economic instructions of Torah.
And I discovered that the history itself, of Quakers and capitalism, was not only fascinating but also virtually unknown to Friends. As I like to put it, the industrial revolution would have taken place without Quakers—but it didn’t. Friends developed most of the foundational, indispensable industries, businesses, infrastructure, and financing of the British industrial revolution, and they became fabulously wealthy as a result. Yet almost no Friends I have ever met know much about it. Every time I give a presentation on this material, it blows my audience members’ minds.
The ministry. Then, following the pattern I was used to now, the leading to write this book led to a ministry of teaching about not only our economic history and our contributions to capitalist culture, but also a prophetic ministry of awakening to economic testimony.
We stand in a similar relation to the capitalist system as we do to the prison system—we helped create something that has become a monster. And not only are we nearly oblivious of this relationship; we are weirdly neurotic about it. Our amnesia in this area is very strange for a community so obsessed with its own history, and so proud of it. i feel that the collective consciousness of modern Quakerism is neurotic about money and economics.
My ministry is to explore why this is so and to call Friends to “stand still in the light” until the shadow we live under in this matter burns away, and we come up through the flaming sword into a new relation to money and our economic system, until we are open to G*d’s wish for us regarding the economic system we helped launch.
Meanwhile, however, the openings, the leading to write the book, the ministry of writing and teaching about Quakerism and capitalism—all this has been a ceaseless cascade of passion, discovery—and joy. I thank G*d for it.
November 1, 2014 § 3 Comments
In the course of writing How Long Will the Land Mourn, I ran across a book on the ecology of Palestine and the agricultural practices of the ancient Israelites, which included a description of their agricultural technologies, which were first-of-a-kind revolutionary. This knowledge blew my mind and it connected with some of my previous study to ignite a new ministry founded on a series of ecstatic new openings.
I had already studied the relationship between the religion of ancient Israel in the tribal period and Canaanite religion and mythology. The Canaanites were the indigenous people of Palestine, who spoke and wrote a language very close to ancient Hebrew, but whose religion was a classic Mesopotamian pantheistic “fertility” religion that was focused in its mythos and practice on agriculture, rather than the mostly pastoral tradition that the ancient Israelites brought with them. And it involved a rich religious relationship with the land.
Something clicked when I understood the rudiments of ancient Palestine’s geology, geography, weather, soils, and ecologies. I saw how Canaanite religion had this “earth science” embedded in its DNA. I saw how, under the leadership genius of Moses, an Egyptian court-trained “magician”, the ancient Israelites had adopted and adapted this sacred knowledge of the land to make possible their occupation of the highlands of Palestine as primitive agriculturists. For the highlands of Palestine had been unoccupied for 500 years before the Israelites came—it was just too hard to farm until he showed them how. I saw how this religious “earth science” became part of the DNA of the religion of the Israelites when they finally settled in Israel. I had a glimpse of the very roots of the Judao-Christian tradition—our tradition—in the ecology of the Holy Land.
This launched me into a more thorough and focused study of the origins of ancient Israel and of ecological language in Hebrew scripture. At some point, I began to see this substrate of religious ideas and practice in the gospels, as well, not just in Hebrew scripture. So I refocused my study of the gospels on how Jesus used the landscape of Palestine and what I call spiritual ecology in his own spiritual practice. My questions were these: where did Jesus go in his spiritual practice, what did he do there, and why? The baptism, the testing in the wilderness, the call and teaching of the disciples, the transfiguration, much of his public ministry, many of his “miracles”, the agony in Gethsemane, the ascension—all of these events took place outdoors, mostly in wild places. But not in random places. I believe Jesus chose these places for religious-ecological reasons.
The arc of this learning and understanding and writing has been the most exciting series of openings I have ever had. A lot of it is speculation and I still have a lot of research to do, or redo. But the joy of it has been unparalleled.
This was the breakthrough I had been looking for when I returned to the study of the gospel of Jesus searching the good news about earthcare. But I found, not teachings—I had been looking for teachings—but practice. It was Jesus’ practice that is profoundly revolutionary for us today as earthcare ministers. Jesus had a spiritual relationship with the landscape of his homeland, with the land itself. He modeled for us a form of
- spiritual-religious ecology,
- a land-based spirituality, and
- a religious culture of place.
And he did this because he knew that the land, and especially the wilderness and mountains, were the places in which he was most likely to encounter his Father. Because this had always been the tradition of his people, since even before Moses. Because the Father himself was intimately engaged with the land. A mythologist would probably say that Yahweh was a rain god, among other things—or rather, Elohim was, the other important name for God in ancient Hebrew. But that gets us into an exciting but complex tangent.
Out of these openings, which I plan to share in this blog at some point, grew a fourth ministry, a calling to bring Friends and Christians everywhere back to the model Jesus gave us—to reengage spiritually with our own landscapes, to make the places we live in integral to our religious lives, to develop a new religious culture of place, as he did himself.
This sounds like paganism to some people, I suspect. But there’s a big difference between finding the places where divine revelation is most likely to occur and worshipping in that place—and worshipping the place itself.
Also, for Quakers, the “outwardness” of such a practice is rather foreign to the “inwardness” of traditional Quakerism. Anyone who’s been in a meeting for worship outdoors in a forest knows how difficult it is to center down when the bugs are biting (sooner or later, the gnats always find you), when the seating is primitive and uncomfortable, and when the world around you is so beautifully distracting and often, noisy. Furthermore, at least in my experience, communion with the divine outdoors, especially in the wilderness, invites a much more active participation than just sitting.
I would love to know how Jesus dealt with these things as he and Peter, James, and John centered down before the transfiguration on the mountain; how they centered in prayer on Gethsemane, even “falling asleep” there. Maybe Palestine has fewer bugs.
Anyway, this is my fourth ministry now: writing and speaking and exploring bioregional Quakerism, spiritual reinhabitation of our landbases, spiritual ecology, land-based spirituality, and a Quaker culture of place.
October 31, 2014 § 1 Comment
The first leading spends itself
I spent several years researching and then writing my book on Christian earth stewardship, which I early on entitled How Long Will the Land Mourn, from Jeremiah 12:5. I synthesized the messages of the books I read into what I call the 9-plus principles of Christian earth stewardship *(see below). Then I analyzed the assumptions I saw at work behind the principles and their strengths and weaknesses. The final section of the book is a detailed critique of the principles, and finally, concrete calls for action for each principle based on what we would be doing as congregations if we took real responsibility for these principles and did in our practice what we said we believed in our faith.
The book is virtually complete. But I turned away from it because, near the end, when my critique was fully developed, I decided that Christian earth stewardship was a dead end as a religious ideology that could really ignite and sustain Christian earthcare. I still believe that if even a handful of congregations started living according to these principles, an ecological revolution could begin.
But they won’t. That’s the problem.
There are a number of reasons for this. But one of the most compelling is that earth stewardship as it has been articulated so far is not part of the gospel of Jesus. Ninety percent of earth stewardship theology is based on Hebrew Scripture or, to a lesser extent, the letters of Paul. Jesus barely gets mentioned.
What Christian earth stewardship does, essentially, is make ecological destruction another sin, along with all the others, but one that Jesus never talks about. Jesus has almost nothing to say about the environment and land use. And if Jesus isn’t saying anything, why should we listen? If Jesus isn’t interested, then why should we be? I think this is one of the basic problems for Christians in the pews, for ministers in the pulpits, for professors in the seminaries—the silence of Jesus on earthcare.
Meanwhile, Christian earth stewardship is a patent failure. It’s been around since just after Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, and in the fifty years since, it has gained almost no traction. Oh, it might find its way into a sermon around Earth Day. There are courses in some seminaries. Some denominations, including ours, have greened some buildings. But show me one congregation that has any idea where the water comes from that they pour into their babies’ eyes with their baptismal rites, or that knows the working conditions of the vineyard workers or the chemicals used in the viticulture of the wine they celebrate the eucharist with. Are they using herbicides on their church property? Are they growing gardens on their church property? And this is just the easy stuff. You get the idea.
My first leading had led to a dead end.
And yet—there had been so much joy along the way. So many openings, so much immersion in the joy of learning, so much pleasure in thinking creatively about scripture, so much joy in the writing. And I felt I stood at the threshold of something new, if only I would just turn in some other direction. So I sat with it.
The second leading arises
Eventually, it came to me. Because I felt that earth stewardship had to be an integral part of the gospel of Jesus or Christians would never pay much attention to it, I decided that I would start over and begin studying the gospel message itself, on its own terms, without an agenda. If I found something, great; if not, then I would lay the thing down.
I went back to the libraries and started reading commentaries on the gospels. I did not study Paul. I wanted the gospel of Jesus, not the gospel of Paul, and I do believe there is a huge difference. The main one being that jesus radically reformed Torah, but he didn’t throw it out. And as I would learn, this difference makes all the difference in the world, especially when it comes to earthcare. Paul Hellenized the gospel, he urbanized the gospel, and he spiritualized the gospel. What I found was deeply Jewish, grounded in the agrarian economy that Torah was designed for, and eminently concrete, the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
Then I hit pay dirt! I took a year-long course in The Prophetic Tradition from the School of the Spirit, and on its reading list was a book that changed my life: The Politics of Jesus, by John Howard Yoder. Yoder has a chapter on the Jubiliee in the gospel of Luke.
This was it! The gospel of Jesus was at its core economic—it was about relieving the sufferings of the poor. Jesus may have nothing to say about land use, but he was all about land tenure—who gets to own the land. This was a side door into earthcare, admittedly, but the power of the gospel’s economic message overwhelmed my initial intent.
I redoubled my study, teaching myself everything I could learn about the economics of Torah and the Jubilee in particular. Then I returned to the study of the gospels. And there it was: every where I turned in the gospels, I found what I call the economics of redemption in the common-wealth of God. Virtually all the famous sayings of Jesus were about economics, in language, in legal intent, in their implications for living in the “kingdom”, if only you knew how to recognize the “technical” legal, or covenantal, language involved. Half of the parables were about economics. Half of the miracles were about economics, especially the healings.
So I started writing a second book. G*d had given me a second major leading. And this one had a much wider scope. This was virtually a new reading of the gospel of Jesus, because it touched upon every aspect of Jesus’ teachings and life. Eventually, there would be chapters on economics, community (sociology), politics, public health, spirituality, and apocalyptic. And all along the way, there were in fact, implications for earthcare. Especially in the area of spirituality, that is, how Jesus conducted his own spiritual life. But more about this in a subsequent posting.
Well, I had thought the joys of research, prayerful thought, and spirit-led writing had been deep and plentiful when studying earth stewardship! This was years of the same, but much more exciting. One near-ecstatic opening after another.
I gave a number of presentations and led some Bible studies on this material, and that, too, was not only very fulfilling for me, but never failed to excite my listeners. Because this stuff is hidden. We were never taught it. But there it is, all over the place. And once you see it, you think, Oh my God, why have we never been told this? It awakens a new respect for Jesus and his gospel in even the least interested people.
Though it does sometimes exercise folks who are very attached to the Jesus they already have. I have learned not to mess with other peoples’ Jesus, if I can help it, but to try to add a new dimension to the traditional gospel, one that I do believe, however, is integral to his teaching and mission.
So the first leading, which had yielded years of immersive, continuous, and occasionally ecstatic, religious joy, now had led me into another leading, with even more to be joyous about and grateful for.
* The Nine-plus Principles of Christian Earth Stewardship
God and creation
1. “The earth is the Lord’s”: God is the sovereign proprietor of creation, not humans.
2. “Behold, it was utterly good”: God’s creation is inherently good.
3. “They worshipped the creature rather than the Creator”: We rightly worship the transcendent Creator, not the creation.
4. “And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands”: Creation glorifies God—therefore so should we in our care for creation.
Humans and creation
5. “Have dominion over every living thing—to work it and take care of it”: We are given dominion over creation, but only in trust as stewards.
5.5 “You have made them a little lower than the gods”: Among the creatures, we humans enjoy the privilege—and responsibility—of God’s special favor.
God and humans vis a vis creation
6. “I am establishing my covenant with you”: Covenant is the rightful context for our earth stewardship.
7. “…therefore the land mourns”: Responsible earth stewardship calls for social justice.
8. “Do not defile the land where you live”: Harming creation is a sin.
9. “The creation waits with eager longing”: The promise of salvation also offers the prophetic promise of a new covenant and a new creation.
October 29, 2014 § Leave a comment
Petal by petal, the blossoming
This is how my spiritual life as a Friend had unfolded so far:
- My original opening about creation, the cosmic Christ, and ecological destruction as eco-crucifixion became a leading to write a book of biblical eco-theology.
- This leading led me in turn to understand my more general concern for earthcare in terms of Quaker ministry. My spiritual life had looped back, from general concern for earthcare to specific leading to write about earth stewardship, back to my “concern”, now understood as an earthcare ministry, in the terms of the Quaker tradition of open ministry.
- Furthermore, my leading to write this book matured into a broader ministry of writing, in which this core creative impulse of my life was fused with my core identity as a religious person. God became for me my Muse.
So now I had one opening, one leading, and two ministries.
The birth of a third ministry around Quaker ministry
Because I felt led to write a work of biblical theology, and because I had been hostile to the Bible for so long; and because I now understood this undertaking as a religious calling, I felt I needed religious oversight. Not just support in my ministry, but discipline, accountability to my Guide and to my religious community for my faithfulness in the work.
So I asked my meeting for an oversight committee. They were unable to meet my needs.
I met twice with the Ministry and Counsel committee. The first time, no one seemed to understand what I was doing or what I was asking for. The second time, some members did finally understand, but they did not understand why I would ask for such a thing. “We don’t want to tell you what to think,” one member said. Also: “When you take it to a publisher, you will get the feedback you need from your editor.”
I didn’t want them to tell me what to think. I wanted them to tell me when what I was thinking and saying and writing was out of the Life—that is, born of my ego, or my unconscious hostility to the Christian tradition, or from any source other than the Holy Spirit. And an editor could only give me the world’s advice; God would have nothing to do with it, only the market. And it would have been too late by the time an editor saw my work anyway.
They did not understand how afraid I was. I felt a religious calling. I knew I had stuff inside me that would try to stop or distort or even corrupt the work I felt called to do. To fall into such a state of unfaithfulness would have been the most horrible outcome for me. I have no direct experience of G*d as judge, in the traditional sense of sin, judgment, and salvation; that has always seemed perverse to me. Nevertheless, I did feel under judgment. I did fear failing G*d my Muse. I wanted some protection from myself. And I had a firm commitment to the role of the Quaker community in the discernment and support and yes, oversight, of ministry.
My meeting did not understand what I was doing as ministry. I suspect that they did not understand the faith and practice of Quaker ministry very much at all, but at least they did not know how to apply it to an actual case of a Friend called into ministry.
Thus was born in me a third ministry: to recall, revive, and reform the faith and practice of ministry among Friends. Now, for more than twenty years I have labored to learn the Quaker tradition of ministry; to represent it wherever I worship, especially in meeting for worship with a care for the life of the meeting; to work toward reforming our structures and processes in accordance with this tradition; and, of course, to write about it.
Ministry and earthcare
Moreover, this new ministry has looped back to connect to the original earthcare ministry and the original leading to write about earthcare. I have come to believe that, for earthcare to truly take hold as a leading for the Society of Friends as a communion of worshipping communities, we must relearn and re-embody our tradition of ministry. We must know what it means to be called by G*d, as individuals, and as communities. And we must have eco-ministers, more Friends called to the ministry of earthcare who are mature in the faith and practice of ministry and who are getting the discernment and support they need from their meetings.
For all this to take place, we must relearn the faith and practice of Quaker ministry, so that all our members and attenders are accustomed to think of their work in the world as a calling. So that we all are listening always to hear that call. So that we are living lives that leave us free to answer the call. So that our meetings know how to give our ministers, whatever their call—for not all are called to eco-ministry—the discernment, support, and yes, oversight, that they need to be faithful in their call. And we need meetings that expect that G*d will call them as a community as well, activating us as meetings to protect the gift of creation.
Unfolding summarized—so far
So now, from one opening, I have had one clear leading and now have three ministries:
- The opening: the Logos, the Word, the cosmic Christ in creation, and ecocide as decide; G*d as the Soul of the Earth.
- The leading: to write a book of biblically-based earth stewardship; G*d as Caller.
- The first ministry: to awaken Friends to a concern for earthcare; G*d as Creator/Sustainer.
- The second ministry: writing in general as ministry; G*d as Muse.
- The third ministry: to recover the faith and practice of Quaker ministry among Friends; G*d as Guide and Teacher.
But G*d was not done with me. G*d had more unfolding in store. G*d had more faces to reveal.
October 25, 2014 § 1 Comment
My call to ministry began in 1987, I think. It was the year that Marshall Massey spoke at the FGC Gathering about the need for Friends to pick up an earthcare ministry and he had encouraged meetings to form committees around the concern. Eric Maya Joy and his family came to New York Yearly Meeting from the Gathering that year and I was among a handful of Friends who met with them as they passed on the call. That little group formed a Friends in Unity with Nature task group and began organizing interest groups, workshops, and so on.
In 1990, Buffalo Meeting asked FUN to send them a program for the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, and Ty Griese and I answered that call. On the Saturday night before the program, sitting on Talva Chapin’s Hide-A-Bed, going over my notes and praying, an opening suddenly seized me, a completely different message to give the next morning. In content it was not only completely unexpected; it was a cross to my habits of thought at the time.
It was an idea I later discovered in the work of Matthew Fox: that, if Christ, the Word, the Logos, had created the earth, as the Gospel of John chapter one says, and was in fact one with creation, then destroying the creation was recrucifying Christ. In the course of an hour that Saturday night, this initial insight kept ramifying and expanding and deepening. I literally quaked with its power and the joy and thrill of it.
Buffalo Meeting received this message rather coolly, as I remember. I did not blame them. I had spent the past ten years being hostile to Christianity and to the Bible, myself. I had been harassing Christian Friends in my meeting for their Christ-centered and biblical ministry. I had helped prevent the First Day School from teaching my kids the Bible. And now I was obsessing about the Bible and earth stewardship.
Over the next few weeks, the opening became a floodgate.
I had once known the Bible really well. In Lutheran confirmation class in seventh grade, I had memorized a couple dozen Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount in both Matthew and Luke, 1 Corinthians 13, dozens of individual passages, and virtually all of Luther’s Small Catechism. But only snatches came to me related to earthcare. I didn’t know enough. Yet a message was struggling to be born of what little knowledge I had.
Increasingly, I felt compelled—impelled—to write a book about earth stewardship. The impulse would not go away. It did not yield to my long-practiced hostility toward the Bible or the arguments i had been rehearsing for years against what I perceived to be its message and worldview. I could not ignore it.
In fact, this impulse rekindled my original adolescent love of the Bible. I found myself rehearsing the creation story in my head, thinking, “This is where I must start. I wonder what this story really means . . . “
I gave in. I surrendered to the seduction of the years of focused study that I knew this project required. I bought a study Bible, then another one. I paid for borrowing privileges at Princeton Theological Seminary library.
I felt that, if the Christian world could be convinced of the religious imperative to care for the earth, we could turn the corner as a planet. There were so many Christians, so many congregations, that it would only take a small critical mass to begin a worldwide revolution. But I felt that the Christian world would not listen unless the message came from Scripture.
I felt compelled to find that message, articulate it, and share it. I was going to write a book about earth stewardship, a work of biblical eco-theology. I had a leading.
December 29, 2013 § 4 Comments
I’ve written quite a bit already about the next items in my outline of What the Religious Society of Friends is for—the role of the community in nurturing the spiritual lives of its members and attenders. I want to revisit some of those themes here and to expand on them to include more of the corporate worship life and fellowship of the meeting itself. Here’s the excerpt from the outline:
What is the Religious Society of Friends for? — Spiritual nurture in covenantal community: Engage in each other’s spiritual growth through a robust and nurturing culture of eldership; protect the communal fellowship and the community’s worship.
Take responsibility for the corporate side of personal spiritual nurture; that is, work together to name each other’s gifts and discern and support each other’s ministry.
By “covenantal community” I mean a meeting in which the members invite the meeting to actively participate in their spiritual lives and offer their own active participation in the life of the meeting. In concrete terms, this means:
- Sharing your spiritual and religious experience with the meeting. Does anyone in your meeting know what your spiritual practice is? How you came to Quakerism? Why you stay? What you want from the meeting and whether you are getting it? If you were going through a crisis or a dry period in your prayer life, your family life, your work life, your creative life, would your meeting know? If you were facing an important decision and didn’t see clearly what to do, would you ask for a clearness committee?
- If you asked for a clearness committee, would the meeting know what to do? Would your meeting welcome deeper knowledge of your spiritual life? Would they be prepared to help you with a crisis in your spiritual or prayer life? Does your meeting have elders whose own depth of religious experience would equip them to mentor you or help you with your spiritual life? Are you yourself such an elder, at least potentially? Do you look for opportunities to serve the members of your meeting in these ways?
- Eldering. Do you feel that there are people whose behavior disturbs your meeting’s worship or fellowship? Do conflicts trouble your meeting? If you were yourself bringing conflict or disturbance to your meeting, would you welcome loving eldering—the meeting’s caring attention to your behavior?
- Does your meeting act with confidence to protect the worship from inappropriate behavior? Does your meeting act with confidence to protect the fellowship of the meeting? Is your meeting in denial of the conflicts that trouble it? Does your meeting bring accountability up in any way with applicants for membership in its committees for clearness on membership?
- Inviting the meeting to help you deepen your spiritual gifts, your vocal ministry, and the other ministries to which you feel called. Have you identified your gifts of the spirit? Are you engaged in some activity outside of meeting that is a ministry, that the meeting doesn’t know about? Do you think of it as a ministry yourself? Do you speak fairly often in meeting? Do you want to deepen your vocal ministry? Do you feel some obstacle to speaking in meeting?
- Would your meeting welcome knowledge of your leadings? Does your meeting do anything concrete to name each other’s gifts of the spirit? Does your meeting know the faith and practice of Quaker ministry well enough to take responsibility for it? Do they know how to conduct a clearness committee for discernment of leadings? Does your meeting provide opportunities to discuss ministry, especially vocal ministry, in general? Does your meeting provide its ministers with committees of support or oversight, or engage with them in any other way?
What if your answers to some of these questions are no? If our “no”s involve the personal queries about our own relation to the meeting, we can start thinking about how to reengage with the meeting. But often, our reticence stems from our sense that our meeting will not be there for us. So what then? What do we do when our meeting does not meet our spiritual needs, either because it does not have the resources, especially the human resources, or it doesn’t have the interest or the will?
Meetings often lack the will to be a true covenantal community in the way I am describing (that is, to work with their members and attenders in a meaningful way to enrich their spiritual lives) because it isn’t in unity about it whether to do it, let alone about how to do it. Some Friends just wouldn’t want to go there, and through tacit understanding, it just never even comes up. And we are so cautious about possibly hurting people or driving them away. In my experience, very often a solid majority of people in the meeting would be uncomfortable with this kind of meeting life, for a variety of reasons.
People come to a meeting and to religious life wanting different things. Most want comfort, support, spiritual companionship, renewal, recharging—peace. Far fewer want transformation, let alone the fire of the spiritual crucible. And yet a meeting should try to meet all these needs, both the comfortable and the uncomfortable.
So a meeting should try to accommodate those of us who want more engagement around our spiritual lives, but hopefully in ways that don’t threaten others, or force them to change in ways they don’t want to, or that pulls the community rug out from under them. This is a delicate balance and hard-to-achieve. Any experiments along the path toward greater engagement and accountability between members and the meeting would inevitably meet obstacles and inevitably, we would make some mistakes.
I’m not sure what to do about this. Naturally, we can’t force our meeting to change just for us, especially if we really are in the minority about this sort of thing. Some meetings might be led in this direction over time—a long time, probably—given some deft leadership.
But it’s awkward—and not often successful—to try to be the leader yourself, the person who teaches the meeting to how meet your needs; to teach the meeting how to conduct clearness committees for discernment, for instance, when you are the one who needs help with discernment; or to teach the meeting how to write a minute for travel when you are the minister who feels the leading to travel.
And it’s even more complicated when eldering is called for, when conflict or inappropriate behavior or weak clerking trouble the meeting. In these cases, bold and wise leadership is called for, and it’s not easy to take the initiative, especially if you’re not serving on a committee that would normally deal with such things.
Very often, in fact, the nominating process is one of the sources of the problem—people appointed to positions for which they lack the depth or knowledge of the Quaker way, or who in areas in which they have a strong opinion or an axe to grind that would obstruct the committee’s effective action. I have seen more than one committee on worship and ministry with a member or two who either know very little about Quaker ministry and/or are uncomfortable with its faith and practice, especially with the role of eldering, and would resist action in these areas. I am not sure what to do in these situations, except perhaps speak with nominating committee about one’s concerns, and see what the next cycle of nominations brings about.
In the easier case of personal ministry and spiritual nurture, the only thing I can think to do is to try the meeting first, to see how far you can go. And then, if it looks like the meeting isn’t going to be able to respond to your needs in a timely fashion, to try to create for one’s self, with others of like mind, a non-formal structure for spiritual exploration, support, nurture, and accountability independent of the meeting’s formal structures. For many Friends in smaller meetings or meetings less amenable to these ideas, this will mean some kind of regional group. In New York Yearly Meeting, the networking for this kind of engagement is quite lively at the Yearly Meeting level, but it hasn’t moved down into the regional meetings very much, as far as I know.
What I’m getting at is that, in many yearly Meetings, there might be opportunities for grassroots networking at the local meeting level around this kind of spiritual nurture that could converge with similar efforts taking place at the yearly meeting level, which could then be relocated at the regional meeting level without too much difficulty. New York Yearly Meeting is too big geographically and meets too seldom as a yearly meeting body to host groups that serve these kinds of spiritual needs very well. But a New York City spiritual nurture group, or an outer Long Island group, or a central or northern New Jersey or Finger Lakes group might be able to meet more regularly.
The model here might be the Experiment with Light groups, which are usually organized, if I am not mistaken, at the local meeting level, but often with participants from nearby meetings; and the spiritual nurture groups formed by the School of the Spirit and by the spiritual nurture programs sponsored by Baltimore and other yearly meetings.
And what would such groups do? The following ideas assume that the local meetings are not willing or able to serve your needs in these ways:
- Hold extended periods of open worship, hopefully without a programmed time to end.
- Provide opportunities to share the joys, challenges, and evolution of each others’ inner lives, personal practice, and the life of the spirit in general.
- Conduct clearness committees for discernment of leadings.
- Name each others’ spiritual gifts in some way, and find ways to help each other mature in your gifts.
- Share your spiritual practices with each other and provide mentoring in them, if you feel qualified and others show interest.
- Create structures for sharing and learning together the faith and practice of Quaker ministry and Quaker spirituality.
- Provide support and oversight committees for those following a leading, especially those led to travel in the ministry or to pursue some specific service, and for those who feel called to vocal ministry.
- They would not, however, intervene in local meeting situations that require eldering. This, I think, remains the prerogative of the meeting, even if it’s dysfunctional in this area.
Hopefully, within some meetings, such non-formal groups would prove to be seeds for a more robust culture of eldership based in the meeting, once members saw how it worked and how valuable it was for its participants. So these groups should not hide their light under a bushel. Nor should they evangelize out of spiritual pride. But they should be open and inviting to any who would want to participate. For this is one of the things that the Religious Society of Friends is for—corporate nurture and support of personal ministry and spiritual life.