Friends Need to Tell the Truth

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Too often too silent

Truth-telling. It’s hard to say for Quakers today if it matters the way it once did.

That first generation of Friends were honest. Brutally honest. About the crookedness of Church-as-Empire, about the empty strength of the empire itself. Those Quakers were shameless. They preached a God of justice and peace. A God who didn’t. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t tolerate a religion for show nor the vanity of power-schemers. They surrendered their lives to God, and in sweet surrender found themselves dynamically demonstrating the power of God’s Kingdom. On earth as it is in heaven. The early Friends prophesied, subverted society. Convicted by Love, they followed in her footsteps. She shook them, made them quake. And sometimes they danced. Polite society couldn’t understand and didn’t approve. That’s why so many Quakers ended up imprisoned, tortured – or dead.

I want to be that kind of truth-teller.

I want to welcome Light into the world, to expose, to transform, no matter the cost. Those fearless Friends walked in reconciliation. They showed the world Jesus. And the world despised them for it.

I am no prophet. Not many of us Friends are. At least not yet. But I must speak the truth. People are dying, murdered in the streets. This. Is. Not. Right.

Here’s what I know: my fellow citizens are being murdered by the police – those same men and women sworn to serve and protect. Many of the dead are people of color. Here is my reality. I am an Asian-American. Able-bodied. Cis-gender. Man. And I enjoy all the privilege that comes with these realities.

Systemic racism just isn’t blatant in my daily life. I don’t experience the pain. I don’t experience the loss of friends and family. I don’t feel the fear. It’s numbing. I’m numb. It is hard for me to empathize, hard for me to be angry.

But I can see the reality of white supremacy, and I can see the bodies of those who’ve been slain.

Do you see them?

So I call out and come out against the powers and principalities. I name the violence that haunts us because this is not right.

But what can I do?

I seek not to be conformed to the pattern of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of my mind because the truth is that racism has distorted how I think and act. Without meaning to, I have given myself up to the ways of the world. I have accepted the god of this age, who blinds humanity to the Light of the Gospel. I am guilty, too.

We all are.

I have safely ignored others’ pain. I have been irresponsible, unthinking, callous. I have been an active participant in white supremacy. I have benefited from it. And I am absolutely disgusted with myself.

Maybe what we need is repentance. At least as a first step.

It’s what I need. I also need to learn to see, to understand, and to appreciate the constant struggle of others’ daily experience. I need humility and compassion. I need to embrace rage. I need to remember – over and over again – that this person shot, dead, is not a statistic.

This person is a friend, a child, a partner. A person who bears the image of God. A human being with a name.

Eric Garner. John Crawford III. Dontre Hamilton. Michael Brown Jr. Ezell Ford. Dante Parker. Tanisha Anderson. Akai Gurley. Tamir Rice. Rumain Brisbon. Jerame Reid. Tony Robinson. Phillip White. Eric Harris. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray. Terence Crutcher. Keith Lamont Scott.

And so on and so on and so on.

It has always been this way, and we can’t let it remain this way.

I will admit that I am resistant because it hurts. And then I remember that it’s supposed to hurt. That I’m not the only one hurting and in fact, my hurt is small.

I live in and live off a system that steals lives, the same lives that built and continue to build our country.

I need to remind myself of this truth. I need to remind you of this truth.

I have sinned against my sisters and brothers by giving into fear, laziness, and privilege, by remaining silent in the face of suffering. I have been afraid, unloving, indifferent. I have yielded to racism.

I cannot remain complicit. We cannot remain complicit.

I must not. We must not.

Friends, if our Quakerism is not prophetic, if it fails to speak truth to power, then what’s the use of it? If it is not grounded in an apocalyptic vision, a conviction that the Kingdom is at hand, then what do we have to offer the world?

Do we even matter?

Quakerism – just like white supremacy – is in slavery to itself.

Somehow, that band of primitive prophets and preachers is now a polite group of politically sensitive and mostly silent worshipers. People wonder why we aren’t growing. Is it because Quakers are slowly going extinct? Yes, that’s probably true. A lot of people do know about Quakers, though. They know we are the “good kind of religious people.”

That can feel pretty good. But that’s not what Christ called us to be and do in the world.

Good religious people don’t revolt against the system and liberate the oppressed. Good religious people may quietly resist what they see as unfair treatment, but they are too pragmatic to work for real change.

So what about us? Do we have the spiritual and emotional resources to be more than just good? Can we be prophets once again? Are we willing to see what is real and to talk about it and then to do something? Can we proclaim that Black Lives Matter? Can we tell the truth?

Because if we can’t, then we’re no longer good for anything. Those people are right. The Quakers are already extinct.

We Need a New Quakerism

Early Quaker Meeting

We do not want you to copy or imitate us. We want to be like a ship that has crossed the ocean, leaving a wake of foam which soon fades away. We want you to follow the Spirit, which we have sought to follow, but which must be sought anew in every generation.”
—Extracts from the Writings of Friends, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Faith & Practice

A phrase that keeps coming to mind is “a new Quakerism,” and oddly enough, I’ve been hearing other Friends unknowingly echo this phrase back to me. It seems to me that many Friends, even those who consider themselves “convinced,” are hungry for more than what the Society has to offer. We keep coming back to the same point: we desperately need to re-imagine Quakerism.

We need a new Quakerism.

I’m not talking about re-imagining structures or techniques. We need a complete change of course. We need a revival. A brief breeze of enthusiasm is not enough. In order to survive, we need to do what I’ve heard C. Wess Daniels refer to as committing “faithful betrayal.” We must betray what-we-know in order to discover what is true – what is at the heart of the Quakerism we need.

In order to get to the heart of that Quakerism, the radical vision of early Friends might be a good place to start. From the basics of our movement, from the simplicity of the Gospel, that’s where we can find the power that George Fox lived in and that lived in George Fox. In stillness, in Light, centered on the imperishable Seed within, the living “One, Jesus Christ who can speak to thy condition.” The Society of Friends was not built; it was born – a community of prophets. In the shared worship, where egos were hushed and Love was magnified, there was an abundant life and conviction that led Friends to corporately reject the abusive and unfair ways of the world and seek (and demonstrate) a better Way. A transformative and subversive faith was discovered. Thousands of Friends were imprisoned for their faithful subversion, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to
suffer shame for his name.

At the heart of Christ’s good news and the faith of the early Friends is a vision of the Kingdom – transformative apocalypse. Daniel Seeger wrote a brilliant article in Friends Journal, “Revelation and Revolution: The Apocalypse of John in the Quaker and African American Spiritual Traditions,” that eloquently expounds on the radical implications of Quaker eschatology:

“What the Apocalypse of John revealed to George Fox was not the end of the world but its rebirth, a rebirth instituted by Jesus and continued by his disciples as the disciples act concretely to advance the cause of justice and truth in human society. Using imagery from the Book of Revelation, George Fox describes this struggle for truth and justice as the Lamb’s War, a war carried out by the meek through gentleness, nonviolence, self-sacrifice, and peace. While there is a lot of mayhem and violence in the Book of Revelation, this is violence and mayhem perpetrated by oppressors against each other and against the weak and innocent. The single weapon in the Lamb’s War as described in the book of Revelation is a ‘terrible swift sword’ which proceeds from the mouth of Jesus. In other words, it is not a humanly devised killing machine, but only his truth which goes marching on into battle with the forces of evil.”

Early Friends were bound together by faith in God’s Kingdom, one where God reigns as Lamb and the Spirit of God was upon and within all. This was both present reality and future hope. It is true. It must also be sought. Does that conviction still, in some way, fuel the work that we do together? I hope so. Because it is that conviction that pushed Friends to prophetic work that shook the social order. It’s what made them Friends.

Without that conviction that God reigns and that God will reign, only the empty forms of Quakerism persist. That is the way of death.

We need a revival of that apocalyptic faith. Without it, we may provide folks with open-minded communities and strong, progressive values. Without it, we may provide kind spaces and opportunities to grow in intimacy with God. But without that apocalyptic faith, without that conviction, we lack the full gospel that shocked the world, liberated the oppressed, and empowered the saints. We do not have to be fundamentalists to have an eschatological conviction, nor do we have to be spineless in order to be inclusive. Early Friends knew of God’s wide, generous activity throughout creation, of the innate value and dignity of every child of God, and the need to fight against the oppression of Empire.

Those who fight the Lamb’s War will discover James Nayler’s words to 
be true: “Their paths are prepared with the gospel of peace and good will towards all the creation of God.”

We fight, we wage war, with peace and good will towards all the creation of God, and through this we crush the spirit of the age’s power and extend God’s reign. We usher in a new heaven and a new earth. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., we are confident that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” and we are called to live out this hope.

If we do not or cannot, then we have failed as Friends.

I wonder, is institutional Quakerism a contradiction to our apocalyptic faith? If we have unknowingly abandoned our core beliefs, what’s next for us? How do we come into Gospel Order? Can we re-center our vision and our hope? What does that even mean? I’m not sure. But I know many who are hungry for a new expression of faith, and I know that the world could use us.

We must follow the Spirit.

Political Protest is Spiritual Warfare

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Philadelphia City Hall

When I was a freshman in college, my friends and I were discovering charismatic spirituality together. We often had long prayer sessions, and we always expected to experience and hear God. It was messy, naive, often fueled by fear, but God was somehow in it as we experimented with this bizarre mysticism that was so confident in Christ’s Spirit being within us. Some of us walked through our campus often, quietly praying in tongues, rebuking the spirits among us causing fear, spiritual drought, depression, etc., and declaring a better way for the Church and for the school. We called this spiritual warfare.

I still believe in the power of spiritual warfare, even if much of our demon-hunting was a bit silly. I’d like to think that Holy Spirit interpreted our prayers the way they needed to be interpreted, and maybe we did push the devil out of our campus a bit. Hopefully. But still, before Friends of Jesus retreats, I often try to spend time in intercession, praying for the outpouring of the Spirit and protection from the enemy, who loves to stir up quarreling among believers and quench the Holy Ghost. I’m still a firm believer that Christ handed an authority to the Church to be declare, prophesy, and shake things on this earth, and in the spirit realm, to realize the reign of God among and within us.

So I still command demons to shut up and back off. I still pray in tongues when I sense something off, which sometimes is a valid spiritual concern, and other times just my social anxiety acting up. That being said, I very much believe these things are helpful, real, and good. I’ve seen God heal dozens of sick people when hands were laid upon them, and the word of God was declared over them: “be healed.” I’ve felt the power of deliverance, having the weight of shame torn off my spirit instantaneously through a prophetic word. I’ve felt shifts in the atmosphere during worship, and then I’d notice somebody quietly praying in tongues, or interceding, and I’d feel that they probably were helping cleanse the environment for God’s presence to be realized.

I think these things are real.

And as we go in the streets to protest, to demonstrate, we are engaging with the enemy: oppressive, abusive, and corrupt systems. We wage war against the spirit of racism as we declare that Black Lives Matter, and as we point out the sins of our country, the sins of our people, and reveal a better way. One of compassion, one of hope, one of generosity, one of love. Even if we are marching with those who do not identify as followers of Christ, they are carrying a mantle and anointing as well to crush the work of the enemy and extend the reality of God’s love.

All that to say: To protest is to rebuke. To protest is to war against the devil. To protest is to prophesy. And as dangerous forms of religious and political fundamentalism continue to grow in all directions, and as the Empire continues to slaughter innocent people all over the world, we need to be loudly warring against these spirits that are strangling the Church and the world, and we need to preach the Good News. We need to be the Good News.

The Church in America, in this mind-boggling and disheartening political climate, needs to speak. We need to call out the systemic sins of the world, including religious institutions, and live and preach a way forward. Your tongue has the power of life and death (Prov. 18:21), and when you choose not to speak out for Life, you are often giving power to death. So speak. Loudly. For the oppressed, for the forgotten, for the lost, for the hurting, and for all God’s children. And in doing this, you bind the enemy and you confess Christ.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” —Ephesians 6:12

 

“And these signs will accompany those who believe.”

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15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.
Mark 15:15-20

As a charismatic believer, I have often seen these verses used to defend the belief that tongues is for all believers and that healing is the desire of God. These verses, though, are not in the earliest of manuscripts (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) and most bibles make note this fact. For a long time, I did not believe these verses could be used at all to defend this view and even railed against those who used in this in their own apologetics on the charismatic gifts. Though I still agree (admittedly, with some hesitance) with most scholars that these verses were not likely penned by Mark, I still value these verses and recognize that they could hold some significance for Christians today. There is the possibility that they may have ended up in the manuscripts because of either oral tradition or the notes of a scribe. Nevertheless, the fact that they exist means something. I think the Church needs to open to the possibility that their existence indicates that a supernatural culture, one full of the miraculous and providential work of the Spirit, was the norm of the early church.

Post-Constantine Christianity (note: perhaps a problematic term, but a historical shift is undeniable, and Constantine was definitely helpful in that) may have ushered in a spiritual drought as Christianity lost its counter-cultural, subversive nature. The Church became a pillar of the Empire, and though the good news of Jesus continued to nurture and instruct thousands of souls in the ways of righteousness, the political implications of this good news was much-rejected, and the spiritual power of the Church seemed to have been drained as a result. It did not help that the Galatian heresy of mixing Christ’s grace with the Law seemed to also consume the formal doctrine of the Church, and that the role of prophets and prophecy (which continued into the early church, as evidenced by the Didache) vanished as Ignatius instructed the Church to “do nothing without the bishops,” pushing the gift of prophecy to lose its egalitarian nature as it became a gift for bishops alone. (Read “The Decline of Ecstatic Prophecy in the Early Church” by James L. Ash, Jr. for more on this.)

Augustine developed a form of cessationism during this time, arguably because of the lack of charismatic activity in the Church. This experience was quite common throughout the Church of the time. Before this period, the approach to the miraculous was much more earnest and frequent among Christians. In the second century, both Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyon spoke of the charismatic gifts, discussing prophetic ministry, exorcisms, and even the raising of the dead. The practice of jubilation, which seems to be practice of singing in tongues, was even a part of the liturgy, and continued even into the ninth century. By the end of Augustine’s life, he had changed his view as he witnessed a revival of healing, but his cessationism continues to influence many Christians.

All this to say that these extra verses in Mark seem to reflect the early church’s practice of the miraculous.

  1. In my name they will drive out demons (a practice described by Ireneaus of Lyon, Origen of Alexandria, Lactantius, Tertullian, among church fathers and early Christians)
  2. …they will speak in new tongues (note: not other tongues but new tongues, which could likely include the practice of “jubilation” as described by Augustine and the mystics)
  3.  …they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all  (not a practice to reproduce, as some fundamentalists do, but a promise of protection; Paul experiences this in Acts 28:3 when bit by a snake)
  4. …they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well (reveals the authority to heal among believers and is talked about by a number of early Christians, including by Augustine in the City of God)

If this Spirit-driven culture of the Church was the norm for early Christians, and they regularly exercised the charismatic gifts and miracles, then I cannot see why it shouldn’t be the norm for the believer and Church today. Throughout Church history, we have seen this apostolic and prophetic power restored and tapped into time after time, among several Anabaptist and Huguenot groups, throughout Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement, as well as the Quakers, especially the first generation of Friends, who regularly saw such manifestations occur.

As Christendom as we know it crumbles before our eyes, the heresies of legalism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, leader-centered/hierarchical models of worship, violence, imperalism, and all our limiting theologies on the work of Christ and the Spirit, are losing their hold on God’s people. I pray that as we move forward in the revelation of Christ, in the pursuit of God’s Kingdom, we would seek the Spirit’s anointing and grow in an imaginative, dynamic faith that welcomes the impossible.

Speaking to my Quaker sisters and brothers, we must not forget that the first generation of Friends were yielded disciples of Jesus Christ. They were truly Pentecostal; united in the experience and life found in the Spirit of Christ. Their actions were often subversive to both the Church and State, and their ministries and fellowship were marked by the life-changing power of the Spirit. They saw miracles daily, just like the Church after Pentecost, and they boldly lived out the political implications of the gospel. All of this was the result of following and submitting to the lead of the Holy Spirit. We have a glorious inheritance in our spiritual lineage, and I am confident that as we discover and yield to the Spirit that sparked our movement, we can walk in the power of early Friends and the apostles, and see the greater things that Christ promised to us (John 14:12).

 

What the Wise Men Can Teach Us About God

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Journey of the Magi; Inquiry of King Herod (Chora Church, Istanbul, Turkey)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;  and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’

 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’ After listening to the king, they went on their way.

And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” Matthew 2:1-12

I’ve been thinking a lot about these Wise Men, often called the Magi or the Three Kings. Over the past 2,000 years, plenty of theories and legends about these men have circulated throughout the Church. In the Western Church, there is a legend that their names were Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, and that they were respected scholars. It’s been long-claimed that Melchior was Persian, Caspar was Indian, and Balthazar was Babylonian. Syrian Christians claim the names of the Magi to be Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Hormisdas. Ethiopian tradition calls them Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater. Armenians believe their names to be Kagpha, Badadakharida and Badadilma. Meanwhile, Matthew never tells us their names, the number of these wise men, or their actual vocations. There is just about no indication that they are kings, though the Greek word magi (μάγοι) apparently may indicate that they were of a higher, priestly caste.

So what do we know about these men?

Not much. They were from the East. We don’t know if that means they were Persian, Babylonian, Indian, or something else completely. We don’t even know what religion they were. Many, such as the Swedish religious scholar Anders Hultgård, convincingly argue that these Wise Men were in fact Persian Zoroastrians, but again, that is never mentioned in the text. What seems evident enough is that they were not Jewish. They had to ask Jewish people about the scriptural prophecies on the messiah’s birth. They called this man, this baby, the “King of the Jews.” They even followed a star to find Jesus, which sounds awfully astrological to me.

And yet, these non-Jews, perhaps Zoroastrian, perhaps amateur or even seasoned astrologists, looked for Christ, found him, and worshiped him. They never converted to Judaism, they never articulated that this child was God or even Savior, but they knew they had to honor him. And today we venerate these men, often as saints, despite the fact that they never knew about the atoning sacrifice of Christ and never claimed to worship the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Not that we know of, at least.) And yet God led them to this baby, not to be evangelized to, and not to convince them of some doctrine or perform some saving ritual, but so that they may honor him and, I think, experience his presence.

It seems to me that these men knew God. Matthew tells us that God even spoke to them in a prophetic dream as they left Christ, warning them to not to return to the blood-thirsty Herod. God was pretty serious about talking to these men. Even though their religious practices and beliefs would not be considered orthodox by the Jews of their day or even modern Christians, God was with them, for them, and used them. It seems that God even used their own religious system, which in many ways was incompatible with Judaism, to do this.

This is shocking. And I think it’s part of the gospel.

In fact, it makes a lot of sense that God’s arrival on Earth in Christ would be kicked off with an invitation to these men. It seems to me that this was a glimpse into the heart of God. Paul reveals in 1 Timothy 4:10 that our God “is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.” This Savior is the Savior of all people. This good news is good news for all people. I even think this extends to those who do not identify as Christian or even as a Theist.

In Acts 17:16-34, Paul preaches in Athens among philosophers and worshipers of various gods, and appears to commend them for their religiosity as something fascinating and respectable. He boldly claims that their altar and worship to an “unknown god” is truly the “God who made the world and everything in it.” The God proclaimed by Paul “does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” He goes on to say that God “is not actually far from each of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.”

Jesus was prophesied to be Emanuel (Matt. 1:23)or God with us. The new covenant of Christ, revealed through his incarnation, his ministry, his death and resurrection, and even through Pentecost, make it clear that God is with usall of humanity, all of creation. It was the Church, the followers of Christ, who knew very early on that the Spirit was truly poured out on all people (Acts 2:17).

There is an inextinguishable hope for all people in Christ. 

I am confident that it is through Jesus that we can most perfectly know God and most fully inherit the abundant life he offered (Matt. 11:27, John 1:18, 6:37, 14:9, 2 Cor. 5:19, Col. 3:3). That being said, my pursuit of Quakerism has given me the courage to state something I’ve long known but also been hesitant to say out loud: there truly is that of God in everyone.

I have several friends who have left behind Christianity because of the toxic culture in the Church and their inability to have faith in the Christian God, and often any god. Some of them have turned to Buddhism, others dabble in self-help and New Age books and practices, while others have given up an active pursuit of spirituality. Most of these folks have come out of their de-conversion more fully themselves and I would even say more Christ-like. No longer are they hindered in their ability to love and accept others because of their church’s dogma, no longer are they trapped in a culture of condemnation and a phobia of anything academic, and they have found the freedom to ask hard questions and be true to themselves. I think I can see Jesus in that. I would dare to say it is a move of the Spirit.

After all, the life of Jesus illustrates that God will do anything to redeem all people, even if it requires meeting us where we are at and entering into our mess. If you can believe God is in the mess we call Evangelical Christianity—which so often looks like a rigid moralism rather than a spiritual path and which so often contradicts the message of Christ by advocating for violence, nationalism, and capitalism—then it can’t be too hard to accept that God is even working among those who do not know or believe in Jesus Christ.

It is because I believe in the Lordship of Jesus, the incarnation, and the atonement that I can declare that God is in and with all people.

Not only can I declare it, but I can see it and experience it.

Jesus opened my eyes to his sweet presence everywhere. For so long I was numb to that presence, that air of reverence, that breath of God, outside of the ministry of Christians-that-I-mostly-agreed-with. But the longer I’ve been walking with Jesus, I’ve come to discover how wicked that “us vs. them” version of the gospel was and I came to discover God’s presence outside of worship services and Christocentric settings. I came to know the presence of God as I watched my agnostic brother-in-law holding my nephew, as I delighted in the Hare Krishna devotees chanting on the street, and in long late-night conversations with elderly Moonies. I came to know that God was truly with us; all of us.

My Quaker Pilgrimage So Far

A photo from the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering, shot by Micah Bales

A photo from the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering, shot by Micah Bales

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
 They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion.”
Psalm 84:5-7

I have encountered a good number of recovering Evangelicals who have expressed that they vaguely consider themselves Quaker or would potentially become Quaker. I have been consistently annoyed at how little effort they put into exploring this faith they somehow feel connected to and I get especially bothered when they act like Quakerism somehow does not exist anymore. But the more I have thought about it and explored Quakerism for myself, I get why they feel Quakerism is unapproachable.

I came to QVS with a fairly open-ended idea of what Quakerism was and in love with the little I had grasped for myself. I knew that some of the core things I have come to believe the past few years were in harmony with what the early Friends taught, and I felt empowered by that. It was comforting to be so in line with an established religious tradition, and I’ve seen it as an honor to be connected to a group with such a rich heritage of cultivating a spirituality that takes action. Friends of Jesus Fellowship, my long-distance church family, confirmed to me that the message George Fox carried was still alive today, being preached and manifested.

Living in Portland, the heart of the Convergent Movement among Friends, has been an incredible blessing and opportunity in my life. I am thankful for the beautiful cross-branch interactions in this city. I am thankful that I was able to attend two different parties this weekend with Friends from 5 different Friends meetings/churches, Evangelical and Liberal. And I am thankful that I know people who serve and love Jesus from very, very different meetings.

That being said, though… I still feel a bit isolated. The Quakerism I fell in love with, and the Quakerism I desire, seems to be a variety that is hard to find. And finding the Quaker community I need has felt impossible. Often I am confused about what Quakerism even is.

At times, I am confused on the point of meeting. I am confused on the point of worship. I am confused because I do not really understand what binds a meeting together, or what really makes our worship distinct.

Is it our testimony of peace, or S.P.I.C.E.S. as a whole, that binds us together?

Is it actually the Light?

Is it mere communal meditation?

Is it, dare I say, Christ?

…Or is it simply being Quaker?

I am scared by how often it may be just that. We are Quaker because we are Quaker, and we practice being Quaker by being Quaker. And yes, that may very well be hyperbole, but does it ring true in some sense?

So for my friends who expressed an interest in Quakerism but did not feel they could pursue Quaker community, I sympathize. I get it. Quakerism is a personal experience of the Light, but it is also just as much, if not more, a communal faith. The community and flavor of Quakerism you need and long for may not be found in institutional Quakerism.

That is a reality I have been coming to face myself.

I long for a community that is not simply centered on Christ, but is consumed by and in complete surrender to Christ. The Quakerism I am looking for takes the radical implications of the gospel very seriously, and I desire action fueled by the Spirit’s power.

And I think there are others out there who are also hungry for such a Quakerism, but, again, it is hard to find.

Much of Quakerism, both Evangelical and Liberal, can be spiritually beneficial for these sorts of folks and can fill a need for some form of community, but it is often not enough.

I am reminded of something my friend Micah Bales wrote a few years back on his blog:

What if we stopped trying to be Quakers? What if, instead, we put our energy into being communities that truly reflect the love, joy and peace of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? What if, instead of trying to preserve an heirloom faith, we cast aside everything except our determination to be God’s holy, chosen and beloved people, here and now?

I think the way of Christ was never meant to be confined to a single tradition. I think it is a lot bigger than a set of spiritual disciplines. And it is much, much bigger than Quakerism. It is about the Kingdom of God and the extension of Christ’s reign. It is about being committed to living intentionally with those who have also come to follow Jesus. And of course, it is about following Jesus, our Friend, Savior, and King.

And I am scared that there is little room in institutional Quakerism for those who desire to follow Jesus communally, living out the Sermon of the Mount as a people. I don’t think there is much space for those “lowercase e” evangelicals and “lowercase c” charismatics in Quakerism.

From where I stand, I see glimmers of hope in Quakerism with the Convergent Movement and different meetings/churches that believe and worship Christ, are passionate about the gospel, seek justice for the oppressed, are LGBT-inclusive, and are not stagnant in their Quaker identity.

I also find hope outside of Quakerism.

I find hope through the growing number of Evangelicals whose view of the Bible lines up with what Quakers have been preaching since the mid-17th century.

I find hope through prophets and teachers like Bob Ekblad, a Presbyterian who actively works for the liberation of the imprisoned and the undocumented. He is also training others to be ministers of reconciliation at the People’s Seminary, marrying liberation theology and the charismatic gifts of the Spirit.

I find hope through pastors and leaders like Brian Zahnd, who take humanity’s God-given dignity and the authority of the Christ’s words seriously when he claims that one cannot support torture and be Christ-like.

I find hope through my spiritual family, Friends of Jesus Fellowship, who are faithfully serving Christ and are not bound by their Quaker heritage, but enriched by it.

I find enough hope to believe that the Church is moving forward, that the Spirit of God is still working on this earth, and the mission of Christ is more alive than ever among us.

It may be hard to believe sometimes when taking the suffering of the world into account and when we see all the brokenness in the Church, but the fact that we can see these things may reveal that we have been healed of blindness and are being prepared to bring Christ’s healing power into the Church and the world.

As of now, I feel a bit like a wanderer, jumping from meeting to meeting, seeking out of fellowship wherever I can find it, but still not grounded in a community. I believe the burden that I have to be in a community that is grounded in Quaker values, LGBT-affirming, worships and follows Jesus, is led by the Spirit, and is preaching and living out the gospel, is not to go to waste. I sense a call to create the space for those who long for the same thing, and I am thankful that I have a body, though currently distant, that believes in the same mission. Yes, I’m still discerning what that call is and what it will look like, but I can no longer numb the tug of the Spirit. I am accepting God’s invitation into ministry, though I admit hesitantly, but this alone is undoubtedly a step forward. Perhaps I was really placed here for such a time as this.

I don’t think this is a message just for me, but I think this is a very special time for the Church as a whole.

As Christendom breaks down, as global violence and warfare escalates, and as the corruption of the world’s systems come to light, the unhelpful ways of the Church and her fondness for the empire becomes more apparent and the Way of Christ becomes more distinct. The Way we have been called to is radical and requires making decisions that are risky and taking action that is not in line with the way of the world. It seems that life and death, blessings and curses, are set right before us to choose.

Will we cling on to the comfortable ways of religion, are we going to blindly serve the empire, and are we going to choose the cycle of violence, or are we going to follow Christ, the crucified God, and the Way to peace and life abundant?

I have been confronted by the gospel of Christ over and over again as I have discerned where I belong in Quakerism. I’ve gotten worked up and anxious over how exactly I fit into this gloriously peculiar, wildly divided, and truly anointed, spiritual family. Often times, in the midst of this wrestling, I remember there is a Church and world outside of Quakerism; a Church that needs to be “be built up until…all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God… attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13) and a world that desperately needs the reconciliation and healing offered by Christ.

As I’ve written before, the label of Quakerism is but a label. If my Quaker faith is simply for the sake of Quakerism, then it is futile and worthless. I think my Quakerism’s purpose is much bigger than that. I would hope it is for God,  the Church, and for all God’s children and creation.

This pilgrimage of mine is not just for the ideal Quakerism; it is for Zion, it is for the Kingdom of God, and it is for Jesus.

This pilgrimage can wear me down, and at times I feel so alone in this, but I keep going because I see others, though very often far away and with very different callings, also seeking Zion. I keep going because I know that such a pursuit is a grace and gift. I sojourn on because it is worth it and I trust that I will go from strength to strength till I appear before God in Zion. 

Advent and Waiting for the King(dom)

Advent is here and for the first time in my five years of following Christ, the Advent narrative has spoken to me. You can consider this shameful for two reasons: 1) This is about the birth of my Lord, so this should kind of be a big deal for me, and 2) I almost became Catholic… twice. All I can say to defend myself is that I have never formally belonged to a liturgical church; that’s all I really got. Having said that, Advent seems extra relevant this year and has caused much-needed self-reflection, especially in how this season is marked by waiting.

For those foreign to the idea of the liturgical calendar, Christian Smith makes following it very attractive in his book “How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps” (I know, it’s a mouthful). He explains that this calendar is “an ancient, highly-developed system of marking and living time that is shaped by a historically Christian sense of reality.” He goes on to explain the benefit of this sanctified time, writing that “the marking and flow of time is a fundamental force shaping our lives” and that “lives formed by a Christian approach to time tend to over time become more Christian.” He continues, “The significance and power of the cosmic story of redemption becomes more real, more embodied, more formative as it is dramatized across the year and within each day. The flow of the seasons, our waking and sleeping, become connected to Christian meanings and teachings. Christian discipleship is thus pressed home by means of a dimension of creation and life—time—that is both deeply natural and human.”

Advent is a season in this calendar where Christians worldwide anticipate the birth of Jesus Christ, who is believed to be Messiah prophesied about throughout the Old Testament and the one ancient Israel was promised for their redemption and liberation. In this season, we intentionally place our faith in Christ’s coming, believing in him despite our circumstances, and trusting that our hope’s fulfillment is approaching. During Advent, we not only take part in the joy that was Christ’s first coming, but find hope in Christ coming again. As we live in this paradox of the Kingdom of God being “already/not yet”, we choose to embrace the struggle of the “not yet” as we believe that one day Jesus shall fully reveal his faithfulness in his return and in the coming new heavens, new earth.

For me it has been striking how relevant Advent is to my life currently, as I seek to find and create the spiritual community that both I and others in the Church need, as I have yet to find out how soon I shall be reunited with my partner, as I wait to find out what exactly my post-QVS life shall look like, and as I discern my calling and vocation.

Part of me celebrates that this season is so relevant, and it feels like a gift from God, but part of me is annoyed. I am nudged by these Advent reflections to look at my life, with so much of it up in the air, and believe that this hope I am barely holding on to will be fulfilled. But how will this vague belief be good enough? I need answers, I need money, and I need my life to make sense! But no—the truth is, I need humility to trust that my life is in the hands of the maker of Heaven and to believe that God is faithful.

But this waiting-thing is a vital aspect of Christian spirituality. Waiting will not simply be a marker of a few transitioning seasons of my life but it will be essential to my discipleship under Christ.

The Kingdom of God has not fully arrived, and the condition of this world can seem like such a mess that seeing hope in it can be considered foolish. But our calling remains the same: to contend for this coming Kingdom to be made manifest on this earth. This is not a complacent waiting. It is an eager waiting. It is an active waiting. Like John the Baptist, we are called to prepare the way for Christ’s coming. We are called to cooperate with Christ in revealing and extending the reign and Kingdom of God, and trust and find joy in that one day this Kingdom shall arrive in all its glory.

John of Patmos watches the descent of the New Jerusalem from God in a 14th century tapestry.

As Christians, we find hope in the coming Kingdom, but we believe that the Kingdom is also accessible to us now. The gospel we believe and preach is an invitation into this ongoing story of redemption and restoration. This gospel is relevant in every age, and that includes now, as the reality of systemic racism has become more and more apparent in the media, and as we’re hearing about the unjust deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Yes, it is difficult to muster up hope that mankind has a positive destiny, but the mission of Jesus Christ speaks directly into this oppression, as revealed in Luke 4:18-19,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus launched his ministry with this statement, and revealed that his mission is to undo and abolish oppression in all forms. The heart of his ministry was liberation, and it continues to be just that today, as Christians are called to follow the Way of Christ in the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:11-21).

If that is so, we are to believe a day shall come when the “year of the Lord’s favor,” or “jubilee,” is initiated for eternity. A large part of the jubilee year in the Old Testament was the freeing of slaves and cancelling of all debts. Jubilee addresses the hardships of oppressed and forgotten by offering them a new beginning. Jubilee was proclaimed and reframed by Jesus as a time that was coming while also meant to be experienced now. True Jubilee to be both desired and pursued.

And so we wait. And in this waiting we long for the Kingdom where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4) but also contending for the Kingdom in the meantime by visiting “the fatherless and widows in their affliction” (Jam. 1:27), feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty something to drink, inviting in strangers, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, finding Christ in the least of these (Matthew 25:31-46), and doing all that must be done to serve the hurting and liberate the oppressed.

We wait believing that Christ was prophesied to be “Emmanuel” or “God with us.” We wait believing that Christ is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3). We wait believing that Christ reveals a new way of being, a greater Kingdom, and good news. We wait believing the gospel that soothes the ache of being caught in the growing pains of the Kingdom of God, providing hope for now and the future.