Wednesday, October 08, 2008

convergence and beanism?

I don't have time to do any of this. (Yeah? Then whose time is it?)

This morning I read a post about convergent Quakerism that surprised me a little.

It made me think about standing on the sidelines of the convergent movement, not sure if I really wanted to play and not sure if I was really welcome.

Notwithstanding indications of diversity, it has sounded to me, at times, from some people's mouths, very much like what was going on was about drawing people out of the the current domains of the Society and into a newly developing domain--more division based on some kind of similarity of belief striking Christian, even evangelical, chords.

Perhaps I was (and am) wrong about that, misreading or misinterpreting. Maybe there are personality things going on (it would not be the first time that I turned people off either with what I actually said about something or what they read into what I actually said. And it would not be the first time I did the same thing).

What was written in that post this morning struck me as a great explanation, frankly, of Beanite faith and practice. We belong together not, as some think this mislabeled "liberal" theology "teaches," because we are all "right" but because we are all necessary to one another's perfection. Division deprives us of the edification available through contact with those we exclude or from whom we flee in pursuit of doctrinal purity, of more "comfortable" fellowship.

Listening does not imply that one is easy or in unity with what another says. Sharing fellowship is not approval of everything someone else does. But both make one available to the work of the Holy Spirit that is often accomplished in fortuitous opportunities between and among unlikely people.

A Friend I know states her spiritual condition as "straddling the divides until they close beneath my feet."

Is convergence about the closing--as opposed to merely politely visiting across--those divides?

Is it about taking the change and the edification found in convergent fellowship back and entering into it, enlarging its space, where one has been planted?

Is it about not only bringing everyone along who will come, but also actively and patiently extending a hand of love and humility to those who hold back and even actively resist, waiting for those not yet ready, or unready to become ready, in the confident expectation that they will be along as they are made ready, because they will be made ready (but not by us)?

Is convergence about once again making the Society a place where people share a way of being religious, together, rather than a place of believing or not believing the same propositions, together?

Is it about a place of spiritual practice living in (and in conformance with, being conformed to) the Light, rather than a "safe" space where all encountered will share the same doctrines (even non theological doctrines) or agree that no one will talk about what they believe for fear of offending and riling up others; where, upon hearing things with which they are not in unity Friends will not become offended and riled up?

I don't know that there are answers to those questions, or if anyone has thought or wants to think about convergent Quakerism in those terms. I am just riffing, however, off of Greg's Gambles because he certainly seems to be speaking a language familiar to mine. If it is not the same then it certainly appears to rhyme with mine.

I do know that some of what I have written about Beanite faith and practice has made some "sad" who hold up convergence. I have been asked whether I would not do better if, rather than supporting and encouraging inclusiveness, I took my own Christian faith to meetings in North Pacific Yearly Meeting and talked it up with those I found there.

I don't know what to think about that question, but I know what I am led to do, consistently, every day, every time my hand goes to the work.

An old song says "Hold on loosely and don't let go."

Joel Bean, when asked why he and Hannah did not divide from their yearly meeting when it went so far to isolate and finally excluded them, responded “I was directed to His own perfect example. He never separated Himself from His people in all their opposition and enmity toward Him. He did not disown the Church of His Birthright, though it disowned Him." (letter to R.H. Thomas, 2nd Month 8, 1899).

Is convergence about an eventual "convergence" of all Friends?

Or is it another new domain of an already fractured Society?

Or is it neither of the above and I am just so far off of the farm I can no longer hear the rooster crowing? Oh, that's certainly not so--after all, even on my best days the sound of crowing reaches my ear/heart at least three times. ;-|

I'm thinking people probably have their own answers to those questions (including the answer that says those are stupid questions to ask), and that all those answers will not be the same. But I am wondering whether, really, anyone knows what convergence is really about (quite apart from what they want it to be about) or where it will go (quite apart from where they think it will go, or where they want it to go). We bring children into the world and, in the words of a modern prophet, even though we save, when their rainy days come we find them outside digging the lightening.

But if there are elements of united, independent and balanced spirituality in the convergence movement then Gamaliel's advice (Acts 5:34 et seq) is probably best to heed. In fact, it always is.


John said...

Thank you for posting this :)Friend speaks my mind!

I too have unsure feelings about the Convergent movement; this may be because I don’t really know that much about it. I think and fear that the Convergent movement may bring more division into The Society. The Convergent movement (where it stands today) does have Evangelical undertones.

“…we are all necessary to one another's perfection. Division deprives us of the edification available through contact with those we exclude or from whom we flee in pursuit of doctrinal purity…” I absolutely harmonize with you. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Martin Kelley said...

I think it's just that Convergence looks different depending on where you starting from. It looks suspiciously evangelical to liberal audiences and suspiciously liberal to evangelical audiences. Each of the different Quaker brands have invested a lot of energy in downplaying some aspect of our history while exaggerating other aspects. Newberg Friends aren't going to qualify as Beanite any time soon just because Gregg starts talking about reaching across boundaries. I'd be a lot less worried about boundaries in a setting where Christian discipleship was taken for granted and leading members openly testified about being found by Christ.

When I started talking about these issues, I was calling it the admittedly awkward "conservative leaning liberal Friends." Robin coined the wider "Convergent Friends" because of the realization that some of us were feeling an odd kinship with liberal-leaning evangelical Friends and outwardly-leaning conservative Friends and... The labels multiply and become ridiculous but we realized we were learning a lot from "other" types of Quakers who had important things to teach us about our tradition.

haven said...

Thank you Friend, thee speaks my mind as well.

I have been having a problem imagining nontheist Friends among the convergent. Or very liberal Friends. Or Friends who (and this encompasses many I know) who are struggling to discern how God appears to them.

One of the most attractive things about the Religious Society of Friends has been the welcoming people receive when they attend, regardless of their roots in other religions. Here I see people being drawn to us because they will truly be allowed to seek to find the God of continuing revelation. In meeting, they are encouraged to listen for God's direction and to take action in their lives on a daily basis.

While there are individuals in the convergent movement who would support this, when Friends become involved in defining the convergent movement, it moves me to ask the question, "Who are we converging with?" Often it seems to me that this movement identifies more with the emergent evangelical church movement than with liberal Friends.

This frightens me. I do not see the evangelical church as supporting diversity. I have come to believe that my extremely diverse Quaker community (including my monthly meeting and yearly meeting) is an incredible gift. I am never allowed to rest on my laurels and think that my faith is defined and my knowledge of God complete.

Like pieces of a puzzle, I need each member's insights and leadings to even approach a picture of who God is. While certainly unsettling at times, it is also what helps my belief to continue to grow and evolve. I am never disappointed by the continuing revelation of God.

If converging means excluding in any way, or defining the fringes of Quakerism as less acceptable, then I have great concern.

And Martin, I do not think that it is merely a matter of where one stands. I have not heard a message from any of the convergent blogs that I have read that encourages those who are not sure where Christ fits in the picture to converge.

I am afraid that those of you who are concentrated on converging can not see where you may be separating from the whole of the body of Friends.

Do you accept that the very liberal among us can receive leadings equally weighty to those of you who are more Christ-centered?

Can you consider that God may be leading us to a more inclusive view of him/her?

Can you envision a Religious Society of Friends where all are welcomed and encouraged to share their faith, without fear that this would water down the tradition of Friends?

Gregg Koskela said...

Timothy, this is a very thoughtful and good post. I hope to have the chance to meet you in person sometime.

Quick thoughts:

Just want you to know I got the .38 Special reference. :)

Martin is right about one thing: I am not in the same place as my meeting. And, as some of your other responders have said, it sounds as if some on the non-theist side would struggle with convergence as well. For those and other reasons, I have trouble imagining how God might redefine the entire Society around convergence. But maybe that's just my lack of faith.

I hope it isn't wishy-washy to say that I would define my own faith journey differently than I would define convergence. While I in no way would want to claim that convergence must be Christ-centered, my personal faith, and that of our faith community at NFC, are defined as Christ-centered.

I really resonate with what you say about talking, being stretched, learning from those who think differently. I gratefully join you on that journey.

Thanks! Gregg

Laurie Kruczek said...

Surely an interesting discussion taking place here, and noteworthy post, as well.

I hear what Haven is saying, loud and clear, and it often echoes my own reservations about the idea of Convergence. If an ideal example of true Convergent Quakerism can be found, it is in only one place I know of, and I haven't had the pleasure of visiting them just yet. That place would be Freedom Friends Church in Salem, OR. Peggy Sanger Parsons and Alivia Biko seem to be doing such a great job of crossing those boundaries (put up by both Liberal and Evangelical Friends), and living by true Convergent Quaker values. If I lived closer to their meeting, I have a feeling I would no longer misunderstand what Convergent Quakerism is about.

I want to envision Friends future where ALL are welcome. I have hope and remain hopeful.

In The Light,

Laurie Kruczek

Nate Swift said...

Outstanding post from my viewpoint, and good responses. I am particularly impressed with the need for exchange on the points raised by Haven. As a Christ-centered Quaker attending an Evangelical Meeting, I am very much aware of the need to see all who are "seekers" as "fellow travelers," and I hope that others who share my conviction that Jesus DID and does embody the Christ that is far more than that history of a man and His ministry can see Christ as working in the lives of thosee seekers whether they recognize Jesus as such an embodiment or not. At this point I see "convergence" as a conversation about our commonalities and whether differences are important enough to preclude fellowship and reaching toward understanding each other. That kind of "reaching" is going to involve some examination of just what drove and/or drives those differences.... hopefully in a spirit of learning rather than one of accusation.
In His Love,

cath said...

I have similar feelings to those of Haven's. In addition....

I feel that renewal is coming for Quakers, and that Convergence will have a role to play in that renewal. I think looking at our history is important and appreciate how much effort Convergent Friends are putting toward historical and theological thought. I'm happy that many people feel so passionate about it. It's all rather exciting, actually.

However, I would also like to see a deep dialogue among "all" who seek to get us out of the doldrums. While I feel that an attempt to reconnect with our early history or with the Emergent Church or Consevative Quakerism are good things (all things that have been explained to me as part of what Convergence is), I also feel we need to review all of our development over time and space, including more modern interpreations and then seek to find the dense portion where they all overlap.

In the past, there have been times when I have asked if there is a place for a non-Christian "theist" in the movement, and I've met with some requests that I change or accept something that is not part of my spiritual truth. I've been told that it is my obligation to wrestle with the fact that Quakerism is a Christian religion while very few have suggested that perhaps we all have an obligation to wrestle with our development over time as a religious and spiritual community in the world. And in one case I received a curt request to "move along" and not post again.

Interestingly, a person on the nontheist blog affirmed a couple of my posts and expressed regret that I have been dismissed. Prior to that, I had not thought that I had much in common with nontheist Friends. :)

I will not say that all people involved with the convergence movement have been rude or dismissmive. I've had a couple of really good off-the-blog email exchanges with people who sincerely seek to have dialogue. And I expect to find more Convergent Friends (perhaps this weekend) who can accept my non-Christian belief in God without irritability. At least, I am counting on this. Without a sense that all of us are welcome at the table, some of us will lose our interest in the Convergent Movement.

(I have been advised by one Convergent Friend that it is a "conversation" rather than a movement, but it appears to me more often these days that it has taken on movement qualities--if people are now identifying themselves as "Convergent Friends" then one would suspect that they have accepted something they consider codified enough to become a personal adjective.)

Among all the discussions I see on blogs and elsewhere, I am left with a few questions:

Have the terms and agreements of Convergence already come together in the minds of leaders of the movement? If not, who will be allowed to enter into further conversations about definitions?

Are good people trying to convince other good people of the spiritual superiority of these terms and agreements? (I doubt it, but sometmies it begins to feel that way.)

Is the "conversation" part starting to be overcome by the drive to put Convergence in the forefront?

Is Convergence "right" while those who are not yet convinced about it "wrong?"

I don't know the answers to these questions and do not post them as indictments but rather as an attempt to understand how cohesive the idea of Convergent Friends has become.

And finally, in what ways can Convergence bring people together if there are people who have legitimate beliefs that do not fit the Convergent mold?

I believe that the Convergence Movement is a catalyst for a general renewal among Friends. The world needs us, and to meet that need, we need to be larger and stronger. I'm hoping that we can avoid acrimony in our development of renewal.

And I don't think we can overlook our tradition of continual and personal revelation and avoidance of distinctly credal statements of dogma.


cath said...

I know some blog owners do not like people posting more than once on a thread, so I beg indulgence for this second post.

As I was getting ready to leave the house, this thought came to me:

I believe that the Convergence Movement has been a door through which Light came to us so we could begin to re-think what we are about as the Society of Friends. However, if we are to stay true to the ideas of corporate discernment and the movings/promptings/leadings of the Spirit, we need to be prepared for a longer conversation than we might want, one that may (or may not) depart from talking about Convergence as its prime topic, and also for a final agreement or set of agreements that we cannot foresee at this moment.


James Riemermann said...

I share the ambivalence about convergence expressed by Timothy in this post and several others in comments; in fact I would go beyond ambivalence into skepticism about convergence.

I also very much appreciate the unwillingness to draw boundaries that Gregg expresses in the post Timothy links to here. If I saw Gregg's perspective as central and fundamental to those calling themselves convergent, I might call myself the same. But I don't think that's the case. Though I see softening from time to time, it seems to me most of those from the liberal side of Quakerism calling themselves convergent, have begun with the proposition that liberal Quakerism has become too liberal, should be more willing to draw boundaries. They only broadening they are speaking of, is a broadening to encompass less liberal realms of Quakerism.

What I find particularly frustrating is, the new proposed boundaries are so often drawn just loosely enough to include the speaker, and just tightly enough to exclude, or at least marginalize, those on the fringes. Something like this: "It is important that we be broad-minded enough to encompass me, and perhaps my close friends, but not broad-minded enough to encompass you. If we encompass you it is only with the understanding that my perspective, not yours, is the foundational one."

Is Christianity the best outer boundary? Monotheism? Theism? Willingness to accept the reality of "something out there" regardless of whether one calls it God? Etc, etc, etc?

You can keep extending that boundary nuance by nuance, but as long as the primary concern is drawing boundaries, I would rather not play. The world is filled with relgions that define themselves by what they exclude. The Quakerism I have come to love is not like that.