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 26, 2014 § 1 Comment
That first leading was to write a book of biblically based eco-theology, about which I knew almost nothing. So I launched into a study of Christian earth stewardship and I followed the trails of biblical references in those books, studying the passages they referred to on their own in Bible commentaries, and then following the trails that this study opened me to.
To kickstart the project, I wrangled the money to go to Pendle Hill for a term in the winter of 1991, and I loved it so much that I wrangled the money to stay for another term. At Pendle Hill, especially in the Quakerism classes I took with Bill Taber and conversations we had, I learned to pursue this leading and the written ministry it led to in the context of the faith and practice of Quaker ministry.
I had been writing already for some time. Even before I became a Quaker, my writing life and my spiritual life had been closely tied, though I was mostly writing fiction and poetry. Then, as a Friend, I wrote the first draft of New York Yearly Meeting’s new Faith and Practice section on earth stewardship and a bunch of other short essays. But I had not yet come to think of this writing in the context of the faith and practice of Quaker ministry in the focused way I found at Pendle Hill.
Now I had a clear direction and I had a framework for understanding what I was doing as part of an ancient tradition.
A few years later, just when I thought I was ready to start writing the book, I heard about and applied for Earlham School of Religion’s Patrick D. Henry Scholarship for Christian Writers. They accepted my proposal and I went to Earlham for a term to begin writing the book.
The scholarship included the tuition for their course on Writing as Ministry plus a residency in D. Elton Trueblood’s library there, a beautiful brick one-story cottage with a huge fireplace and windows all around, a wide ledge above bookcases on all the walls below the windows, and several huge library hall-sized oak tables. For the first time, I could lay all my books and my notes out where I could get at them.
It was heaven. It was pure joy. I spent two months in an ecstatic creative outpouring of material. Only the first term at Pendle Hill had been such a sustained immersion in joyful surrender to G*d’s wish for me.
Thus began in earnest my calling to a ministry of religious writing. Two decades now of Quaker and biblical writing, guided, when I am in the Life, by the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
My leading had unfolded into ministry. And it has been full of joy, a sustained undercurrent of fulfillment spiced with moments of near-ecstacy when an opening comes from the study, or the words are pouring out of me feeling pure and unbidden for minutes on end, or even days, as it was at Earlham and has been at times since.
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.
September 9, 2014 § 5 Comments
I moved to Philadelphia in June and while packing my Quaker library I uncovered a paper I didn’t know I had: The Caring Multitude: Is It Possible? Preliminary Reflections on Experience in a Large Quaker Meeting in an Urban Setting, by Dan Seeger. Dan is a fairly well-known Friend who has held several high-level positions with AFSC and was Executive Director of Pendle Hill for a time, among a number of other significant contributions to Quaker culture. His 1965 case before the US Supreme Court, The United States of America vs Daniel A. Seeger, won the right to conscientious objection to military service for secular people who were not claiming religious grounds for their stand.
The Caring Multitude was written in 1979 and was originally meant “to be shared with a small group of Friends concerned with the life of the Monthly Meeting”. I am not at all sure how I ended up with a copy, which is a photocopy of a typewritten manuscript that has someone else’s notes on it.
In this little talking paper, as he calls it, Dan addresses the challenges that large urban meetings face in three crucial areas: pastoral care, meeting for worship, and corporate social outreach. He makes a lot of really interesting points. More than interesting—they are true, to my mind, and very much worth considering, especially by Friends worshipping in large meetings.
Because I don’t have permission to republish his paper, I don’t feel comfortable even quoting it extensively, which I would like to do, but I do want to raise up some of his ideas and add some of my own, and invite my readers to think about them. They are especially pertinent for Friends in large meetings and for those of us who attend regional and yearly meeting sessions that get large.
What do I mean by “large”? I want to leave this definition to the subjective sense of large, rather than giving a number. I think, when you read further, you will have a sense of what I mean. And anyway, some of these dynamics apply even to smaller meetings.
What it’s like to worship in a “large” meeting?
I agree with Dan’s assessment that our way of silent, waiting worship doesn’t really work in large meetings. That it can’t work, in fact. Here’s why (the core insight here is Dan’s; most of the elaboration is mine):
A certain proportion of Friends are likely to feel a genuine call to speak in meeting. Another proportion are likely to speak with less obvious grounding in the Spirit. The more people in the meeting, the more people are likely to speak. When the population gets to a certain point, you get an awful lot of speaking, and, as Hegel first pointed out, at that point, quantitative change precipitates qualitative change.
First, it tends to induce popcorn speaking, a chain reaction of messages that have been prompted more by each other than by the Holy Spirit. Second, the increased number of messages squeezes the intervals between messages, and this squeezing suppresses the ministry of those Friends who feel it’s important to leave a decent interval between messages and who use that interval to properly attend to each offering. Thus the Friends who are most likely to bring a deeper, more seasoned ministry to the meeting are least likely to finish their seasoning or find an appropriate moment in which to deliver it.
This has several bad effects. First, by denying Friends the time of waiting silence necessary to go deep, we don’t go deep. By denying Friends the vocal ministry of some of its most gifted ministers, we disrespect both the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s servants. And by virtually guaranteeing a certain amount of un-gifted ministry, we degrade the quality of the worship.
Furthermore, the situation reinforces the low standards for both corporate behavior and individual ministry that prevail in such a meeting, encouraging more of the behavior that causes the problem. It gives newcomers a false impression of what meeting for worship is for, and it inevitably drives some of them away. I know this from personal experience: one of my sons stopped attending such a meeting because “the same blowhards rise to speak every meeting”. And it drives away seasoned Friends who want a deeper worship experience; but before they go, it leads them into grief and even despair.
And the whole dynamic is a self-reinforcing downward spiral. The more devoid of Spirit the ministry is,
- the more likely that gifted ministers will either keep quiet (and bring down the spirit of the worship with their despair), or leave;
- the less likely that avid Spirit-seekers will stay and join;
- the more bandwidth the blowhards will occupy; and
- the more likely that gifted ministers will lower their own standards in desperation, and then get even more depressed because of their own perceived unfaithfulness.
Does any of this make sense to you? Is it your experience? Do you serve on a ministry and worship committee, which is charged with nurturing a deep meeting for worship and with protecting the worship from unworshipful influences? Do you have any idea what to do about these problems?
I hope you respond, and, in my next post, I want to try out some ideas for dealing with these problems. Some come from Dan’s paper, and some are my own.
March 28, 2014 § 3 Comments
Human life is quite full of human suffering. One of the most important roles for the Quaker meeting is to minister to one another in our suffering. Thus pastoral care is for Friends a form of ministry.
The faith and practice of pastoral care, the roles and responsibilities of both the individual and the meeting, are not different for pastoral care ministry than they are for vocal ministry or witness ministry, or any other form of ministry:
As individuals, to always seek to be open to the promptings of the Spirit to serve, in the knowledge that any one of us at any time could be called to be there for someone in pain; that you do not have to have professional training to do this.
As meetings, to teach the spiritual practice of Quaker ministry, including pastoral care as one of its forms, thus encouraging all members and attenders to be available to the Holy Spirit, and to each other as pastoral caregivers; and to create a fellowship in which Friends know each other well enough to recognize when someone needs our care.
Pastoral care as ministry
As with all other forms of ministry, the goal is to bring someone to G*d and to bring G*d into their life. To seek to awaken the sufferer to the Comforter within them and to give them whatever kinds of support seems appropriate.
The one sure vehicle for doing this is love. For whatever else “God” is, most of us can agree that G*d is love, that loving is as close as we can normally get to the divine. This love is taught in a Masters program that no outward schooling in counseling can replicate, though it can facilitate.
Just as this love is inwardly learned without outward instruction, so it is outwardly expressed without specific forms. That is, when we encounter someone in pain, the first thing we can do is to be still inwardly and listen for how we might be led. We can seek to act and to speak in the situation in answer to that of G*d within our Friend, and to heed that of G*d within ourselves, waiting as it were to be led into action and speech by the Holy Spirit, by the Mystery Reality that binds us together in love. We can settle into the feelings we have for our Friend, our care for them, our wish for their well-being, and in the fullness of that silence, find a way forward revealed. Thus simply sitting together for a time, in the silence, in the light, in that love, can often be the best first action.
We may, in fact, end up employing professional skills and tools in the situation, just as a Bible passage may find its way into our vocal ministry, or our knowledge of hydrofracking may inform our tactics in our earthcare ministry. But love is the first motion, and along with that, expectant listening, knowing that we can be inspired to right action if we attend to the light within us and within others.
But pastoral problems often are—well, usually are—complex and hard to deal with. They often feel bigger than our meager knowledge or skills or gifts. And they are so fraught with tension that it is hard to silence our fears and sense of helplessness, our reluctance to intrude or the tendency to seek a solution, so that it can be very hard to hear that little voice inside or feel that little nudge toward right action. And very often, there really isn’t much we can do, as an individual or as a meeting or pastoral care committee, to actually solve these difficult situations.
We can try. We should try to do something, even if we are not clearly led, I think. The trying is its own act of love. But at the least, we can love and we can pray. We can just be there, and say that we are there. We can listen. And we can minister to the heart, even when we cannot minister to the situation. We all know what a difference it makes to know that the meeting cares, to get those flowers and cards and visits and covered dishes. These things any pastoral care committee can do, whether it has trained professionals or not.
We often do put people on our pastoral care committees who are mental health professionals or professional mediators, people whom we recognize have already realized their gifts and their calling in this area. But even when these Friends are bringing their professional training and skills to a pastoral need in the meeting, they also are bringing the gifts and the calling that led them to their profession, they are bringing the love and the healing of G*d, the giver of those gifts, the source of that calling.
Gifts of pastoral ministry
And what are the gifts of pastoral ministry?
- The gift of attention, of being consciously open to the signs of suffering in others;
- of listening, of really being present to someone when they are speaking;
- of empathy, making a habit of imagining what someone else is going through as though it were you;
- of compassion, making a habit of turning from the awareness of some problem to the resolve to do what you can to help;
- of discernment, a deep openness to G*d’s inspiration as to the source of someone’s suffering, or the solution to the situation, or to the possible role of the meeting;
- of prayer, the practice of bringing others into our devotional life;
- of presence, the willingness to simply be with someone on their own terms, without any expectation of outcome and without fretting too much about the awkwardness;
- of healing, one of the rarer gifts, of channeling healing power, knowing what to do or what to say or how to help in the moment of counsel, beyond even the great gift of just being present.
These gifts are universal, a natural capacity we all possess, though we each possess them in different measure. Some people seem quite naturally to possess some of these gifts in greater measure, but I believe we can cultivate them within ourselves, we can raise them up or strengthen them, with a little practice.
I want to emphasize the value of prayer. The gift of prayer is one of the most endangered in the liberal Society of Friends. But ironically, its very rarity among us enhances its power when we use it. And it has tremendous power to start with. Even “holding someone in the Light” has real power when through the practice we descend into our own depths and send forth our love.
I have seen the truth of this many, many times. In my own meeting just recently more than one Friend has testified to how important the meeting’s prayers were to them and how they could feel the meeting’s love at work within them. I have seen miracles.
I do believe that healing prayer stands a much better chance if practiced in conjunction with some deepening exercise. At least that’s been my experience. Something happens when you take the time to really center down before praying for someone, and when you stay in that deep place for a good time, allowing your lovingkindness to sink you ever deeper as you reach out across the ocean of light with G*d’s love. Oh, it feels sublime and it has great power.
I believe that the Quaker meeting has a special role to play in ministering to the financial suffering of its members. This was the central mission of the church that Jesus built and it was a central mission of the Quaker meeting in the earliest times for Friends. But this post is long enough. This discussion will have to wait until my next post.