4/11/2007

The point of 'convergence' is engagement

I've been sitting on this post for a few days already. It seems that the discussion among Friends with quite different theologies (or a-theologies) is hopping on a few blogs, including Martin Kelley's Quaker Ranter as well as the ones referenced below. So, here's my two-cents/sense.
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In typing up the quotes from Thomas Breidenthal on an "interfaith awakening" recently, I couldn't help but be reminded of some of the conversation going on between Zach and RichardM on both of their blogs as well as elsewhere, or LizOpp's post about unraveling myths about convergent Friends, or our own family's travels among Friends from various branches of Quakerism since we started our blogs.

To me, the point of "convergence" among Friends is to come together as individuals and engage with one another, and to focus on finding areas where our faith and practice overlap.

It follows from the logic of convergence that nontheists, post-theists, etc. etc. are also welcome to come together for pizza and chocolate chip cookies, talk from personal experience, and seek for what we do share in common, versus focusing solely on our differences.

As an aside, it's easy in my meeting to engage with liberal Christians, people with Buddhist practices, who practice yoga, nontheists, even one who calls herself a "post-theist." At the same time, it's not necessarily easy for us to engage with Friends whose style of worship is different from us; that is, programmed. So in my meeting, I believe, the practice is more normative than the theology. Hence we tend to get along well.

It appears that when some Christian, liberal, unprogrammed Friends have engaged with and found similarities with Conservative, Evangelical, or Pastoral Friends, some liberal unprogrammed Friends, especially those who identify as non-Christian, have felt excluded.

For people who do not identify as Christian, it can seem like a weight or a stumbling block when Friends do speak up and identify themselves as Christian, whether in a meeting or online. And that can provoke some pretty strong reactions.

Zach once named the situation as the result of a power imbalance. That seems accurate.

Anyway, suppose the next step of "convergence" were for those of us who identify with that term to investigate together -- preferably in person -- with Friends for whom that term does not resonate what, if any mutuality of praxis we have? What shared Truth and Love do we find revealed to us there? (You might have to put up with a certain amount of Bible talk and probably hymn-singing, though.)

What then? Maybe we would find broad areas of agreement. Or deeper agreement than we thought possible. And quite likely, we still wouldn't agree on things that are "core" for us in one way or another. Would we agree to disagree? Go our separate ways? Or possibly live into more love and deeper truth together? I don't know.

At least, though, we'd be in better relationship with one another. And the food would be good. (Soy cheese and fair-trade chocolate chips available on request.)

12 comments:

Heather Madrone said...

Friend Chris,

First, I want to say how much I cherish connection with you and Robin. I'm not much of a traveler, and I don't know if I will make it to quarterly meeting when it comes to my neck of the woods, but I think of you both with warmth.

I posted on Liz's blog about my discomfort with the idea of convergence because the definition seemed to exclude not just me, but most of the other members of my Meeting (and perhaps even PYM). Elsewhere, I've posted things trying to describe how universalist Quakerism works for me.

Anyway, as a dyed-in-the-wool mystic universalism, the local brand of Quakerism works very well for me. Like you, I attend a Meeting with Christians, Jews, Pagans, Buddhists, Hindu yogis, atheists, nontheists, pantheists, and quite a few universalists who draw from many traditions. We also have a Moslem woman teaching our First Day School (with the help of an adult Friend).

We have occasional friction over our different perspectives, but there's also a deep unity in our Meeting. Although people are occasionally irritated by other Friends' language, there's also shared love and the willingness to communicate deeply.

This afternoon, I am going to Croning for a Jewish attender of the Meeting. The Croning is being planned by a group of Friends. Two of the chief planners are a Christ-centric Friend and a birthright Friend on a decidedly Pagan path. These planners first connected because the Pagan-oriented Friend was irritated with the Christ-centric Friend's long Christian sermons in Meeting for Worship. They've become good friends, and both of them are good Friends.

Until recently, several members of my women's prayer group (a closely knit group who have met for several years) thought that I was Christ-centric. I edit the newsletter, and I often include inspirational writings from various traditions. Many of these are in Christian language.

Anyway, I am wondering whether this inclusiveness is part of our Beanite heritage, and which of our practices allow us to be so harmoniously inclusive. The early Left Coast Friends had to welcome Quakers of all different stripes. Inclusiveness seems to be one of the core values of my Meeting, and it sounds like it might also be a core value of yours.

Since I learned (rather recently) that Beanite Friends are different from Friends elsewhere, I've been trying to figure out how we are different, and also to describe those differences for Friends elsewhere. This is not so easy for a Friend whose experience of Quakerism is limited to a few Meetings in a fairly small geographic area. I'd love any thoughts you might have on that.

I don't resonate with the term "convergent," but I already feel like I'm in fellowship with you. I'm happy to extend and expand that fellowship, particularly if we can find a way to do it with small boys in tow.

You say that non-Christ-centric Friends are welcome if they're willing to put up with some Bible talk and hymn-singing. Is there also room in convergent gatherings for non-Christian expressions of Spirit? I am comfortable with Christian language (mostly anyway; I part company when it comes to misogyny and smiting), but I'm not willing to confine God to a too-small box, nor am I willing to exclude the religious wisdom of the non-Christian 5/6 of the world's peoples.

I sense that this is not a problem for you or Robin (nor can I imagine that anyone who had a real problem with it would actually go so far as to join a Beanite Meeting), but I fear that it might be a problem for Friends who come for a more exclusivist evangelical tradition.

Heather Madrone said...

P.S. Would you send me your and Robin's email addresses? Mine is heather at madrone dot com.

RichardM said...

Chris and Heather,

I'm tired tonight so this probably won't come out right but here goes. The interfaith awakening you wrote about has a couple of different strands to it that are in tension and hence cause confusion as we try to deal with it. On the one hand people are getting sick of secular values and are looking for something deeper. Getting a better job so that I can buy more stuff appeals less and less to people. They want a deeper focus to their lives. And they are not satisfied with getting dressed up and going to church and listening to some pleasant entertainment and then going home and living secular lives. So some of them go to evangelical churches which offer a world view that is not purely secular. And many of them do in fact get a lot out of it. At its best these evangelical churches (Quaker and nonQuaker) will challenge their members to love one another. But a lot of people are searching for something deeper than secular values but are disturbed by the exclusiveness of evangelical Christianity. They can't abide, as Heather puts it, dismissing 5/6 ths of the human race or abide a God who condemns them to hell. So on the one hand they want a community with real teachings and a real path to walk. So we get faith communities among people who reject secularism but also reject exclusion that include everybody--or try to. What makes that hard is that the community lose focus and then it just says to each individual "follow your own path." What people want is a community which will help them follow their path. The tolerance of others is not enough, I want to be on the same team with them. I want to be part of a close-knit community where the individuals don't just stand back and say "do your own thing" but actively help each other. This is why there are Christians who long for a purely Christian Quaker meeting to belong to. Oh, sometimes its about "my God can beat up your God" oneupsmanship, but in the best of cases (see Quakerboy's recent posts) it's about being part of a close-knit community.

How much theological diversity can a group have and still be actively supportive of each other's growth in grace? Quaker experience over 300 years is that much more diversity is possible than most people think. That's the good news. But the bad news is that with all this diversity Quakers have a tendency to splinter off and form tiny isolated little groups. And that's bad because too much isolation is spiritually deadening.

The Beanites seem to try at least to form a real community that embraces an exceptionally wide diversity of theological views. It makes me want to spend some time among them to see how it really works.

As I was commenting on Quakerboy's blog one aspect of Quaker practice, now in relative disuse, used to help with the "are love and unity maintained among us?" without trying to impose doctrinal uniformity. The practice of elders who would pull Friends aside if their zeal for their own ideas lead them to say things that were hurtful to others. I reminded Craig of how my wife eldered him when he made a zealous Christian comment and my wife perceived that it had hurt and offended a more universalist Friend from the Durham Meeting.

Here's an idea. Suppose Meetings were to select from their Ministry and Oversight Committee one Christian Friend and one nonChristian Friend and have each elder those who cross the line with speech that is hurtful. I suppose what I'm suggesting might sound like censorship or political correctness to some but I really do believe that nasty peevish comments come from both sides of the aisle and that words that have such a sound to them are not coming from God--they are coming from human egos.

Well, I'm sure I've gone on way too long but, as I said, I'm too tired to choose my words carefully tonight and feel that something like this needs to be said.

Bill Samuel said...

I guess those who are facilitating the Convergent Friends movement/conversation will have to decide whether the main purpose is to have dialogue among the many strains of contemporary Quakerism or to explore something that pulls together some of the strengths of different strains but aiming to have a spiritual center (albeit one that is not rigidly doctrinally defined). Those are very different tasks, although possibly complementary.

I was reading some stuff earlier which seemed to indicate that it was pulling from different Quaker strains plus the larger emerging church strain within a basically Christian framework. As someone who somewhat reluctantly left Quakerism because of the lack of a center in Jesus Christ in local meetings and found myself in the "emerging church" movement, I found this quite encouraging. I have seen one of the things I might do in my situation is to help cross-fertilization between Quakers and emerging folks.

But now it seems there's a move away from that in fear of being seen as exclusionary by Quakers who don't fit in that definition, i.e., they reject a Christian center. If the movement goes in the direction that many liberal Friends have gone of all beliefs (but sometimes seeming to exclude Christian ones) are equal in value not just generally but within your own group, I can't see that you will present a real alternative and I think you will lose Friends from some strains (such as EFI) and defeat the convergence idea.

What I'm finding in the emerging church is that you can be inclusive and still have a center in Jesus Christ. I find that exciting and would like to see more of that among Friends.

I'm an outsider, and you are free to totally ignore what I say, but I am an interested outsider who had a lot of hope for the convergent Friends movement.

Cathy H. said...

Chris,

You don't know me but I met Robin at the FWCC workshop on convergent Friends. That was a very important occasion and I'm glad I was there. I am a life-long Quaker and a member of Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting.

Bill,

I have to agree with just about everything you said. I, too, see that there are two different movements afoot, and I would not want to see either one subsumed under the other one.

I am very active in FWCC, which for me is the place for all-inclusive dialogue among Quakers. In FWCC we value diversity and believe that by learning to listen deeply to those who are different from ourselves, we can grow spiritually. We learn to trust one another enough to be vulnerable and share what is closest to our hearts, without anybody judging or criticizing. I think that FWCC is crucial for the future health and vitality of the Religious Society of Friends. The organization helps to build bridges across the barriers that divide Friends, without preaching that we should all be the same.

The convergent Friends movement, in my opinion, is very different. While I value FWCC greatly, I also long for a community of Quakers who feel called in a similar direction to me. I have found validation of my call within the convergent Friends movement. I knew about the emerging church movement before learning about convergent Friends, and my first thought was, this is the kind of Quakerism for me!

I posted on someone else's blog that I believe the convergent Friends movement is one room in God's vast mansion. We don't exclude people, but not everyone feels at home in this room. Our statements of who we are is descriptive, not prescriptive. We didn't create the room, God did. We can't change the room to make others feel more at home. It is what it is.

For me, the convergent Friends movement has Christianity at its core, but a kind of Christianity that is inclusive, flexible, and most of all loving. We don't have all the answers but we know that God is calling us to a deeper place. We thirst for God and we rejoice that we can walk together on this path. We are challenged to be better persons and to love others as God loves us.

I understand that non-Christian Quakers feel excluded from this understanding of convergence. I pray that they do not feel any kind of judgment from us, but that they permit us Christian Friends to gather, worship, pray, and dialogue among ourselves without judging us as exclusive. There are times for all to be together, and there are times for us to be in different places. I don't have a problem with that.

Cathy Habschmidt

RichardM said...

I've been articulating the view that convergent Quakerism is all about converging on the center. That's my opinion and I shouldn't be taken as any sort of spokesperson for CQ. I'm just putting it out there and seeing how many people agree with me. Such a view is bound to be more uncomfortable than the FWCC model. Identifying a center automatically means that there are going to be people far from that center who are marginalized. But if we are to speak plainly we have to face unpleasantness and not hide it. Exclusivist Christians who are comfortable with Franklin Graham are going to be marginalized. Atheists who happen to like peace, simplicity, etc. are going to be marginalized. I don't think that all people who fail to identify as Christians need to feel marginalized. A theist who doesn't think that Jesus was divine in any sense might still think that God speaks to individuals in the silence of waiting worship. They might still try to discern the difference between what bubbles up from their subconscious mind and what comes from the Divine Teacher. They might still feel themselves to be called to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven and live according to the Sermon on the Mount. In short people who believe in God and accept some important parts of the Christian tradition while disagreeing with major portions of traditional Christian theology wouldn't have reason to feel marginalized.

If I am correct there are going to be a lot of people who feel comfortable with the center. Including a lot of people in the pastoral side of Friends who will feel that the theology of their churches has gotten too narrow-minded over the years. It will also include a lot of Friends from unprogrammed meetings who feel that the Quaker testimonies cannot be productively upheld without belief in God and that liberal inclusivist Christianity has been unfairly equated with fundamentalism.

If people keep articulating this view from the center I feel it will draw more and more Friends towards it. But, as I say, that is just my opinion.

James Riemermann said...

Chris, I very much appreciate the open and generous spirit in this post, but going by the best information I can find about the convergent discussion (I wouldn't call it a movement), I have to say "No, thanks."

I think Bill''s and Richard's posts accurately gauge the overall tenor of the conversation. A great many posts of the major players in this conversation usually stop short of saying that non-Christians or nontheists are unwelcome, but they stop equally short of extending a warm and unreserved welcome. My strong sense is that convergence is about narrowing the circle of liberal Quakerism, not broadening it.

Beyond that, while I'm sure there are Friends on the liberal end who, as you say, have a hard time hearing Christian messages, I hear lovely, deep and genuine Christian messages many weeks in worship in my very liberal meeting, and my sense is that these messages are received very warmly and openly. Outside of my meeting, what I hear again and again in nontheist Quaker conversations is how important it is for us to be open to such messages, and not react badly simply because some of us (not me) have had a hard time with the more intolerant strains of Christianity in the past. We don't always succeed, but we know it's our failing to deal with.

The only kind of Quaker Christianity I don't care to associate with, is the kind that thinks I'm not a real Quaker and should learn my place. That's the line I draw.

I'm sure intolerant, anti-Christian messages are out there in the liberal Quaker world, and I feel terrible for the Christian Quakers who have to deal with them. It's not kind and it's not right. But in all seriousness, the Quakers whose legitimacy I hear challenged, again and again, are various sorts of non-Christians, with a special energy when those non-Christians are nontheists. The challenges are usually presented in a subtle way, but I see it in post after post. And mostly in the context of the convergent conversation. So, no thanks. No convergence for me. I'll stick with good old shamelessly liberal Quakerism. It's my home.

Heather Madrone said...

Wow, Friends, what an interesting and uplifting discussion.

Richard asks how much theological diversity a religious community have and still hold its center. Even with great theological diversity, our Meeting has a shared practice and a generally shared understanding of what it is that we're doing together, that it goes beyond the words that people use to describe it.

One of the threads that seems to bind us are the Queries. Many members of Meeting have told me that they think the Queries are at the heart of our practice together. The Queries do seem to help us focus on being a beloved community, one that nurtures the spiritual growth of its members wherever they happen to be.

I think, though, that what really makes our community work is our great collection of elders and our active Oversight and Worship & Ministry committees. There's a lot of communication in our Meeting. I cannot count the times I have been gently eldered. (Nor am I sure that the elders always know that that's what they're doing. Sometimes I think they're just trying to maintain contact with all the folks in Meeting, and the eldering is part of their personal witness.)

It's really good when the people who give ministry that hurts or irritates other people can communicate directly with those who feel hurt or irritated. That sort of dialogue is more fruitful, in my experience, than eldering from members of Worship & Ministry.

When our Meeting had an issue with overzealous Christian ministry hurting or offending others, a member of Oversight spearheaded a series of Quaker dialogues. Each group was carefully mixed so that Friends would be listening to others with very different theological views. Once people established trust, they were able to communicate about the issues that bothered them.

Liz Opp said...

There's something in James' remark that tweaks something in me. He writes, in part:

My strong sense is that convergence is about narrowing the circle of liberal Quakerism, not broadening it.

I don't see Convergent Quakerism as narrowing the circle of Liberal Friends. How can that be, since there are Conservative Friends, FUM Friends, and independent Friends who are part of the conversation? (I don't know if there are EFI Friends...)

Instead, I wonder if Convergent Quakerism is a sort of cross-section of the RSoF, cutting "across" the spectrum in such a way that some (small?) portion of at least 3 of the 4 major branches (I'm leaving out EFI) are attracted enough to learn more and/or to engage themselves in the topic.

I think of the "tree" that is often used to represent the branches of Quakerism. For me, the idea of "narrow[ing] the circle of liberal Quakerism" would be akin to pruning the main branch of Hicksite/Liberal Friends... and leaving the other branches intact.

But where the convergent conversation has gone, it seems, is across the branches, or through them somehow, maybe from the roots up.

And when I think about that, I think about how the branches all come from the same root: LOVE. Agape love. ...A love that calls out the best of us, despite the worst of situations we may ever find ourselves in.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

James Riemermann said...

I hear what you're saying, Liz, and there's a sense in which it is true. The conversation is not limited to liberal Quakers, so in that sense it is broader than liberal Quakerism.

But liberal Quakerism, FUM Quakerism and Conservative Quakerism are different branches. So, while I definitely see value in conversations between the liberal and other branches, those conversations do not constitute a broadening of the circle of liberal Quakerism. FUM and Conservative Quakers are not becoming part of liberal Quakerism, they are communicating with it. Those are not the same thing.

On the other hand, a shift away from the very radical univeralism and tolerance that currently defines liberal Quakerism, would in fact be a narrowing. As I said, the part of the conversation that calls for this tends to be subtle and hard to pin down, but it's really pretty hard to miss. A strong thread of the whole conversation is how our great theological diversity has become our essential flaw. I reject this understanding.

I hear Chris reaching out in this post, wanting to include people like me, and I very much appreciate that. But as much as I appreciate it, that kind of openness isn't what I've seen on the blogs of most of the people calling themselves convergent. What I hear is talk about boundaries. Boundaries exclude. That is their function.

Cathy H. said...

James,
I really appreciate your comments here. Personally, I have to agree with you that Chris's generous offer of "everybody is welcome" is a bit misleading.

You said you don't like the word "movement" to describe the convergence whatever-is-happening. However, I think it is important to make a distinction between the movement (i.e., people who feel called in the same or a very similar direction) and the discussion about convergence, in which of course everyone is welcome to participate.

Richard's description of a movement towards the center fits my sense exactly. This means the center of Quakerism as a whole, not just of the liberal branch. By definition, as Richard states, people who are far from the center in any direction will feel marginalized.

I am very concerned that you feel we convergent Friends are creating boundaries. That really breaks my heart. Maybe I'm naive, but here is my vision of what we are/should be doing:

Some friends from all 4 branches (yes, EFI is represented) have over the past number of years felt ourselves drawn towards the center, and lately we have discovered each other across the boundaries of the branches. We are coming together to talk, to worship, to rejoice, and to discern how God is at work among us. We feel energized and challenged to live up to the task we see before us, namely to work for the Realm of God here on earth.

As we gather more people who hear about us and say, "me, too!" we are challenged to describe ourselves to other Friends who are not in the same place we are. Thus the name was created, and various attempts to explain what that means have been made.

I truly hope that our feeble attempts to describe what we feel we are called to does not sound like a litmus test, a boundary, or a judgment of other Friends. Yet, I fear that is how we are being perceived.

In absolutely no way are we saying that all Friends should be like us. If you are aware of a particular individual who says such a horrid thing, please let me know who they are and I will labor with them individually.

Diversity is very important, and there is plenty of room under the Quaker tent for anybody who wants to join the broader society. We convergent Friends have just found that one little part of the tent feels right to us, and we are excited to find others there.

We do not define who can or cannot join us in our small area. It is totally up to each individual to decide where they belong, by what feels right to them.

Can you help me to understand how we can communicate better, so that other Friends don't feel we are judging them? This is a critically important issue.

Thanks,
Cathy Habschmidt

Chris M. said...

Dear Friends,

I have been away at evening meetings the last few nights followed by long stretches at the copy shop, so I have not really had a chance to read most of the comments.

@James: I am glad that you felt the spirit of reaching out in what I wrote. That is what I intended.

@All: I do sense there are two currents in my original post, which you are teasing out. It will take me some time to consider and respond.

I appreciate the opportunity to think together with you, Friends.

-- Chris M.