What is my Quakerism?

Barnesville, Ohio

On the campus of Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio

As I have found myself drawn to Quakerism, it does not feel like I am discovering something new. In fact, I feel like I am rediscovering the impulses I had as a new believer in Christ, as well as seeing those subtle, quiet revelations I have gained over the years come together. I have often said that my charismatic convictions have led me to Quakerism, and I mean it when I say that. The implications of the Pentecost, in how it revealed the egalitarian nature of the Church and the accessibility of God’s power and presence, are radical and I find that Pentecostalism, the Charismatic Movement, and Quakerism have understood this to various degrees. The past few years, as I have been confronted by the revelation that Jesus defines God, and have had my views on both the Scriptures and sacraments change a bit, I have discovered that these sorts of things have been addressed and realized in Quakerism for quite some time.

I do not feel that the Quaker Way is the ultimate way, especially since that includes such a broad world of individual spiritualities and philosophies, but I have grown a lot in discovering Quakerism throughout its branches. Coming to know Quaker history and theology has in many ways transformed how I think, pray, and love God and man. I’ve come to see both Christ and his reign of peace more clearly, and come to value the diverse ways we can experience God, especially in waiting and in silence. My approach to revelations and the prophetic ministry have surely been refined and has even changed a bit, but honestly, I feel like the charismatic spirituality I fell in love with is coming to life in deeper and more profound ways. The past year, as I have been exploring Quakerism, and as I have become a part of the Quaker Voluntary Service, I have come to see myself come into my own as a Quaker. I am nowhere near having all the answers, but I have some ideas so far.

So what is my Quakerism?

  • First of all, my Quakerism is Christian. It is rooted and led by my faith in Jesus Christ. It is marked by a commitment to both Christ and his Church. Jesus is the core of my religion, and I echo Robert Barclay’s words in that I, “believe that everything which is recorded in the holy scriptures concerning the birth, life, miracles, suffering, resurrection, and ascension of Christ actually happened.”

Some of the core aspects of my Quakerism, or the Quakerism that I have been led to, are:

  • I believe that the Bible is inspired “and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), but am wary of biblicism, which sociologist Christian Smith describes as a “theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.” I am also wary of bibliolatry, where the Bible is elevated to a divine status and seems to replace the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. Bibilicism is most often a core stance taken by Evangelicals, and very often biblicism slips into bibliolatry. Like George Fox, I feel uncomfortable with equating “the Word of God” with the Bible for Jesus Christ is the Word of God (John 1:1-14).  This discomfort has influenced Quakers’ approach to the Bible and led Barclay to create a helpful distinction between the “declaration of the fountain” (the Bible) and “the fountain itself”(Jesus). The Bible is a gift to the modern follower of Christ and should nurture one’s relationship with God instead of replacing that relationship, which happens too often in personal devotions, discernment processes, and Bible studies. Handling the Bible without Christ being the hermeneutic and the Spirit of God being intimately involved is dangerous, and I would even add that the deep study of the Bible ought to include one’s community’s discernment and guidance.
  • As mentioned before, Jesus Christ is our hermeneutic for the Bible. In A New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren quotes Quaker theologian and author D. Elton Trueblood as saying, “The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.” Evangelical Pastor Brian Zahnd often says something similar in his sermons and writings that expounds on this concept even more: “God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus. We have not always known what God is like— But now we do.” Understanding that “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3) and that he perfectly reveals the Father (John 10:30, John 14:9) radically changes how we read the Bible and view God.  Jesus gives us a new picture of God, and that is that of a Lamb willing to be sacrificed for the sake of creation’s complete restoration and salvation.
  • As Christ as our hermeneutic, it is clear that the Way of Christ is the way of peace. The gospel of Jesus Christ calls for ambassadors to live out his ministry of reconciliation and be peacemakers (2 Cor. 5:8, Matt. 5:9). The cycle of violence is not to be blessed or fueled by those following Christ. Instead, Christians are called as peacemakers to confront the cycle of violence as they lay down their lives, bless their enemies, and forgive those who betray them (Matt. 5:39, 44, John 15:13, Luke 23:34). This way of peace has a cost, which may even include lives, but such a cost is considered gain as it confronts the brokenness of the world and its systems. Any act of violence, including waging war, is not what Christ had in mind for his people. George Fox said, “The occasion of war, and war itself… ariseth from lust All bloody principles and practices, as to our own particulars, we utterly- deny; with all outward wars and strife, and fightings with – outward weapons, for any end, or under an pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world.” Isaiah 2:4 gives a picture of the Kingdom of God, where swords will be “beat into plowshares” as well as “spears into pruning hooks.” Isaiah goes on to give a picture of the all-consuming peace the Kingdom shall have when fully realized as “nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Violence will not persist in the Kingdom of God, and those who pledge allegiance to Christ and his Kingdom are called to forsake the world’s way of violence and take up Christ’s way of peace.
  • Meetings for worship are marked by the presence of the Spirit and the direction and leading of the High Priest, Jesus Christ, and not man’s vain leadership. In this sense, meeting is charismatic, relying on the graces and gifts of the Spirit to be distributed by Christ and manifest for the meeting’s sake. All are called to be expectant that God will speak and move within them, and be ready and willing for God to use them to minister. As Barclay wrote, “we ought not to do it in our own will, where and when we will; but where and when we are moved thereunto by the stirring and secret inspiration of the Spirit of God in our hearts.” The apostle Paul speaks of the meeting of Christians as a space where the body of Christ, with individuals’ gifts, are able to contribute their gifts for the edification of the whole as God so leads (1 Cor. 12:1-31). The gifts of the Spirit which are covered in 1 Corinthians, such as healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, etc., are encouraged by Paul to be earnestly desired (1 Cor. 14:1), especially prophecy. Revelation and prophecy is what most often guides meetings, as the Spirit inspires his people and speaks to their hearts, at times leading them to speak forth these revelations for the sake of the building up of the meeting. As somebody who was spiritually formed in the Charismatic Movement, I was attracted to the testimonies of early Quakerism’s charismatic tendencies, with the miracles in George Fox’s ministry (as well as other early ministers) and the powerful, and even at times ecstatic, experiences corporately shared in Quaker meetings.

I am not going to claim that I am anywhere near being an expert on Quaker history or theology. I also will not claim that this is a comprehensive list of distinct Quaker teachings, evidenced by the fact that I put no effort into explaining Quaker sacramentology (which I do subscribe to). But this is what I find most speaks to my condition, and this is where I am at with Quakerism. At the end of the day, and in the end of the days, all of these approaches and labels will likely be proven to have been helpful but not everything, and I am thankful that being a Quaker was not the end-all. I am thankful that it has all driven me to Christ, and it was all driven by Christ. I am also incredibly thankful that he speaks to and touches us in such diverse ways, and interacts with us all uniquely. My major reservation with all Traditions is that they often seem to ignore that reality and diagnose and assign everybody with the same disciplines, practices, and remedies, completely blind to the personality and nature of every individual. I am thankful that the space I have been given this year, among all sorts of Friends, has helped me understand how I relate and worship God most naturally and most powerfully.

Some Non-Theological Thoughts on Singing in Tongues

Jean II Restout, 'Pentecost'

Jean II Restout, ‘Pentecost’

Some people wander into charismatic prayer meetings and worship services startled or distressed by the use of tongues for worship and prayer. They hear it sporadically break into the service by various congregants and all their ears catch are repeated syllables, sometimes sounding like some exotic battle chant and other times like gentle whispers of gibberish. Though I affirm the use of tongues for what is commonly known in charismatic circles as the ‘prayer-language’ and am a tongues-speaker myself, I can understand why some would dismiss this practice as nonsensical. It often sounds like foolish babble.

That being said, there is something about the corporate use of tongues in worship that is powerful. I have even heard this being admitted by some who are quite hesitant to believe the charismatic practice of tongues as an authentic charism, at least the one described by Paul to the Corinthians. Their theology may not much have space for speaking in tongues, or glossolalia, but they still come to admit to there being a heart-drilling beauty in the corporate singing in tongues, or ‘singing in the Spirit’.

I have heard stories of those converted to Christ by walking into a meeting where almost every individual made melodies in tongues. Their eyes, foreign to the work of Christ, could see a people swept up by the Spirit as these songs were poured out of them. Without a theology on glossolalia, those clueless souls knew something beyond them was occurring and the love and grace of God would well up in their hearts.

I have been in places where you hear singing in tongues and it can be a pleasant sound to listen to, but very few times have I heard the whole meeting caught up in singing in the Spirit. This phenomenon was quite common during the days of the Charismatic Renewal but sadly this rarely manifests nowadays in both charismatic and Pentecostal meetings. The few times that I have witnessed and took part in such deep worship, I was shaken up in the most delightful way. The praise band calmed down and the drums went completely silent. Only the guitar would be strummed or the keyboard lightly played. Somehow the whole body of believers knew that words from their mind could no longer be used and just about every individual would let their spirit dive in song. Despite every individual coming before the Lord with their own song, there was still somehow unity and oneness in this worship. The Spirit sowed every song together and birthed a new song.

My eyes danced around trying to capture a full picture of what God was doing among his people during one of those rare moments of singing in the Spirit. It was during an ecumenical retreat centered on teaching about our companion, the Holy Spirit. I saw people of all sorts of backgrounds, ethnically and theologically, united in this new song together. I saw Lutherans, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and all sorts of other streams in the Church flow together in worship. I sensed a freedom bouncing off every person as they enjoyed the barriers of language collapsing in their praise of God. My spirit leaped as I saw the curse of Babel is being done away with.

Just as powerful as those moments caught up in song was the moment following it all. The music completely died down and all the voices faded. A thrilling silence consumed God’s people, in awe of what he had just done. Overwhelmed and incredibly satisfied, some teared up while others had stretched out smiles and glowed with gladness. Though this holy moment probably lasted just a few seconds, time became meaningless and it almost felt like being caught up in eternity.

Such experiences have convinced me that tongues is not the fruit of a shallow spirituality nor is it purely birthed out of emotionalism, as many like to mock. I could go on and on about the theology of glossolalia, defending it as a good and perfect gift from above. I have done that enough in my life, though. What it does to God’s people is a testimony in itself. It may seem odd and even foolish but it is beautifully used by the Holy Spirit, and I have not only seen it transform corporate worship but my own prayer life. Because of that, I can only encourage people to pursue and ask God for this grace in their lives.

A Weekend with Some Friends of Jesus

Last weekend I was able to make my way to Barnesville, Ohio, and attend the Friends of Jesus Fellowship‘s Fall Gathering. Friends of Jesus (FOJ) is a network of Quaker ministries and communities, and they are my spiritual family. I spent this summer interning with FOJ: six weeks in Detroit, Michigan, serving the meeting there as well as volunteering at the Drop-In Center of the Ruth Ellis Center, and two weeks visiting the other FOJ communities in both Philadelphia and D.C. Though I had attended a retreat with FOJ prior to this summer, this summer immersed me into this community, and I discovered how much vision I shared with these Friends. When I found out that this gathering was on the list of QVS-sanctioned Quakerly activities, I was surprised, since we are a small bunch, but ecstatic that I would have such a reunion.

Tyler, Lissa, and I at the Fall Gathering

Tyler, Lissa, and I at the Fall Gathering

When thinking of last weekend, the word ‘reorienting’ keeps coming to mind. Between the Spirit-led messages and conversations, the worship and prayer, and reading “Falling Upward” by Richard Rohr, I felt my mind being renewed and I felt something in me shifting. One thing I was able to sense was the Spirit convicting me of certain sins and leading me into repentance that was more than an “I’m sorry” to Jesus. It seemed to be a change of heart and mind, and a change I am seeing manifest more fully in my life. Overall, I felt redirected, refocused, and refreshed from my time at the fall gathering.

Much of the gathering’s messages were centered on ‘discipleship’, a topic I have felt wary of since culturally detaching from Evangelicalism. It was an intimidating topic, but one I know I needed to hear and think about. We even talked a bit about evangelism as a group, which is even more daunting than discipleship, in my opinion. It was refreshing to talk about sharing the gospel beyond scare tactics, especially since this is ‘good news’. Our conversations were both challenging and inspiring.

The last night of the gathering was incredibly powerful, for myself and for the gathered body there. The worship and prayer felt birthed and carried by the Holy Spirit. Micah Bales, eloquently wrote on his blog:

The only way I knew how to describe it afterwards was to say, It felt like the lid was about to come off. The room was literally shaking with the prayers of those present, our bodies and voices trembling under the power of the Spirit.

The room felt thick with the presence of God. It was evident that the Spirit of Christ was ministering to individuals, as the inspiration and power of the Spirit led people to speak and pray in a manner that I had not seen before among Quakers, including FOJ. As somebody who has been in hundreds of charismatic/Pentecostal meetings, services, and conferences, I have many times heard people claim that the Spirit was uniquely and especially present in such places, but too often these claims were backed by hype and emotionalism. This night was unique; it was anointed and without precedent. It was raw and sincere. And as Micah pointed out, it bore the marks of the Holy Spirit.

Though this night was quite emotional, I cannot say that I walked away from that experience with an intense high (or an intense low, as I returned to everyday life). I didn’t get filled with a frantic zeal nor did I feel like I had somehow become a little more spiritually elevated. I came out of that experience with some more peace, hope, and vision. I felt comforted, assured, and reminded of God’s sweet presence in every moment. I am sure much happened that night that I will not understand for quite some time, if ever, but I am confident that whatever was happening, it was good, it was God, and it was needed.

Discernment: It’s Not About The Answers

This is my discernment pose.

This is my discernment pose.

For me, I have found that many of my inward crises are not best dealt with by solely finding solution to them. I am all for prayer, deep theological study, and turning to community to discern life decisions and theological beliefs, but I think we too often exhaust ourselves discerning and we forget about living. Many of my experiences of hearing God and finding peace in times of ambiguity and seeking answers have occurred when I simply follow what I already know I am commanded to do.

Last year, I wrestled with a lot of things—moral and theological issues—and there were a countless number of times where I had to make the decision to stop obsessing about discernment and go to work, deal with produce (I worked at a small grocery store), talk to customers, smile, quietly and discretely bless all the fruits and vegetables, and be a good employee. In that process of everyday life, with my ego fairly hushed and my mind calmed, I would hear God. I would find myself consoled. I would find peace. Things in my head would find cohesion. And life came together.

When it came to my theological crises, I would often have to stop studying theology in order to understand it. I had to take a step back, not let worry fuel my pursuits, direct my soul’s pondering on Christ and his gospel, and go on with my life; in time, things seemed to just mend themselves. There were even times where I found peace with not knowing—and even never knowing.

I am pretty adamant that there there are times where those struggling with figuring things out, and I mean that in the broadest of terms, need to find a space away from the to-be-discerned matter and just follow God with what he already put on their plate. Sometimes a break from heavy discernment is needed so that one can discern.

I do not mean to oversimplify the discernment process and how to approach theology. Discernment is both a discipline (1 John 4:1) and gift (1 Cor. 12:10) that should be pursued and developed actively through prayer, study, and community. I am just concerned about the excruciating effort people pour into ‘discerning’, as it is often a toxic experience. People become so obsessed about being right or on the right path that they forget about the path they are on and how God is already with them.

I know I’ve often needed to remind myself that gaining answers is not the goal of the Christian faith but developing oneness with Christ is (also known as Theosis among the Eastern Orthodox), which is often cultivated in the processes rather than in the conclusions. The much-needed and glorious struggle is to find God in the messiness and confusion of the process and to let go of the need to be right or to be in control. This is perhaps the greatest gift of discernment; finding God, whether that be with answers or without.

An October Update

Since this blog is not only a place for me to rant about Quakerism and Jesus, but also an invitation into my QVS journey, I thought I would give you an update on my time so far as a volunteer with the Quaker Voluntary Service.

The past five weeks have been incredible, and I really mean it when I say that. I feel like I have been given the perfect space to digest and sort through some major life-things, discover Quakerism, deepen my faith, and prepare for my next step and life beyond QVS. I cannot help but sense the preciousness of this time and carry an immense amount of gratitude for the gift that QVS is.

Portland Orientation with Wes Daniels

Portland Orientation with Wes Daniels

One major thing I have to express thanks for are the Friends in Portland who have been extravagantly kind and generous. The churches and meetings have been supportive in every way possible, providing us with hikes, trips to the beach, homemade jam, pizza, hugs, and a whole lot of everything.

I saw this love and support most come alive right after the Portland QVS house was broken into in the middle of the night and a few of us had personal belongings stolen. Friends immediately came together to make sure we were secure and feeling safe, with food, new locks and doors, an alarm system, cards and letters, emails, etc. I am confident that these things played a large part in how quickly our house emotionally recovered from this traumatic experience. And thanks to QVS, my laptop and my housemates’ stolen belongings are being replaced (which you can help with by donating to QVS).

I came to my internship with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) during a major transition of theirs, as the Peace Program was (and is) being reformatted and the office was moving. I have been as much of a help as I can be in the moving process, which has been lengthier than all of us expected, and I have been helping with the research needed for the new program. The AFSC Portland staff has been incredibly welcoming, and I could tell from the beginning that the work they had for me this year would be rewarding. This week I am attending a retreat in Northern California for regional AFSC offices. I look forward to connecting to other AFSC staff and receiving more vision for my work this year.

Wandering around Barnesville, Ohio during the FoJF Fall Gathering.

Wandering around Barnesville, Ohio during the FoJF Fall Gathering.

This past weekend I attended the Friends of Jesus Fellowship‘s (FoJF) Fall Gathering. FoJF is a network of Quaker churches and ministries that I have had the privilege of developing a friendship with the past year. I had the opportunity to intern with them in Detroit, volunteering 4 days a week at the Ruth Ellis Center, “a youth social services agency that serves the needs of runaway, homeless and at-risk youth,” in addition to serving the Friends meeting. Being able to attend this retreat meant a sweet reunion with so many friends I love and powerful worship and fellowship that was packed with the Spirit’s presence.

This eleven-month experience has had a wonderful start, and I know this time will fly by. I am grateful for everyone who has supported me in prayer, in financial support, and in all other ways. Consider donating, if you would; more importantly, hold me in the light as I continue on this adventure in both service to God and to others and in personal growth.

Advice I Wish I Could Give to My Newly Converted Self

A selfie of mine circa 2011

A selfie of mine circa 2011

After I came to faith in Jesus at sixteen years old, I was fairly clueless on what following God looked like. If time traveling were a thing, and I could interfere with fate, I would have loved to have said the following five things to myself before voluntarily drowning in the world of American Evangelicalism.

  1. Do not stress out or condemn yourself over how little you know about Christianity. Your relationship with God does not depend on how much you have him, or doctrines regarding him, figured out. Theology is a wonderful way to worship God with your mind, and be excited to wrestle with God intellectually, but please remember that theology is not God himself. Also, hold on to the fact that God loves you in your confusion… and your error. You’re going to change your views a bunch of times, and that’s okay; God loves you the same.
  2. Live in the gospels. This will be a lifetime-thing. Dive deeply and ground yourself in the gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and never find your way out of there. Let this be the foundation of our your faith: the person of Jesus Christ. The gospels gives a beautiful picture of who the Savior, King, Healer, Deliverer, and God is. This will launch you into understanding the rest of the Bible and is essential in understanding the nature of God.
  3. The Church (and God) is really big. People express and practice their faith in Christ in hundreds of different ways. Make peace with that and don’t be scared of learning from different traditions. I recommend the book ‘Streams of Living Water’ by Richard Foster.  And some people don’t know the name of Jesus and serve him a whole lot better than you. Right now that sounds like heresy, I know, but you have to trust that God is a whole lot kinder than you. (Also, yoga isn’t from Satan, so calm down.)
  4. Read the stories of saints throughout church history, as well as the living ones. Read biographies and memoirs. Learn about those who stirred up revivals and those who changed the world. Get to know St. Patrick of Ireland, St. Francis of Assisi, John Wesley, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom, Mother Teresa, Heidi Baker, etc. Mourn and celebrate with them. Learn from their mistakes and their victories.  It’ll do you a whole lot of good, I promise.
  5. Fear is not from God. That’s some Jesus 101 (1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear—you know.”). If you encounter a ministry or ‘teacher of the Word’ that is fueled by fear, and abundantly produces fear, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is being quenched and that something is fundamentally wrong. A godly ministry, and Christian life, would instead pour out love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).