Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Emerging Church Idea Emerging

I had never heard of the "emerging church" until I stumbled on these blogs. Maybe it's not talked about much in Canada. Reginald Bibby's latest book Restless Churches talks about church renewal in Canada, but in no way is he talking about post-modern thinking. In fact, except for a couple of good quotes and some meticulous statistics on church growth/stasis in Canada, it's a bit of a yawn.

Now that our meeting is moving to larger quarters, I'm thinking more about the whole post-modern thang and how to tie that into meeting growth. And even more, how to "sell" it to our meeting.

So I've roamed around the web and culled the basic principles of the "pomo" movement and how it must apply to religious groups. And I created a list of some 15 outreach ideas based on these principles. I know I'll have to work up to them, get the meeting thinking about post-modernism little by little until they start asking the right questions.

And this is always the problem. Once I see the big picture of things, I have difficulty slowing down enough to ease someone else into the idea. Once I gain an inch of ground, I toss all my careful plans out the window and charge in like cavalry.

For example, I can just picture the recording clerk's face at next MM if I were to suggest we start a weekly book club called "Quakerism on Tap" that would meet at a pub. Or if I were to suggest we instigate a city-wide "Drum Down the Sun" on the waterfront every Sunday night during the summer as an act of worship of creation. With just a little slip of the tongue, I could easily end up doing this.

Or worse, if I suggested that we start actively "planting" worship groups in all the surrounding small communities (fertile ground, those small communities. After all, what else is there to do? One has already started up spontaneously at a little town that can only charitably be called a Bend In The Highway.)

There's more. When we finally get our new meeting space, I'd propose having a big sandwich board out in the front. No lamps under no bushelsr. The board would use real language, not Quakerese: something like "Quaker Meeting for Listening, 10:00, No perfect people allowed (All others welcome) [www....]." And I'd propose a second sandwich board right beside it where we put up a long juicy quote of the week, something from Faith and Practice maybe. Something that would change every week, for the entertainment and curiosity of the dog-walkers and park-goers. I'd want them to go home with something to think about.

Maybe as a compromise with the traditionalists, we could try placing more (yawn) ads on the church page of the newspaper (which nobody reads). But this time, use a plain font and language, such as what I suggested for our sandwich board. Or maybe something like "Clergy doesn't do it for you? We have no experts. Quaker Meeting for Listening, 10:00 [address]." It has to be a contrast to the heavy gothic fonts and gagging sermon titles of the other ads.

Or better yet, write the whole ad in texting language. (RU 4 rl?)

So how will I win over the we-don't-proselytize Quakers with this?

I'll tell them outreach has to be cool and funky.

And then wink.

Yes, I can just picture the recording clerk's face...

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Movin' On!

Thanks to everyone who responded to my posting on The Move and to those who may have held out meeting in the Light this morning.

The meeting occurred this morning and this afternoon, and a decision was reached. To my complete surprise, those present felt unequivocably called by the Spirit to move to a larger meeting space. Some said that they felt we had been being "nudged" to move for years. The meeting minute said that we have been called to move and are prepared to act on this calling.

What overwhelmed me was that some of the people who were most opposed to the move at our last meeting on the subject were now the most adamant that it was time to leave. They spoke passionately and with conviction about the need to follow God's will. Some transformation took place over the past few weeks that is difficult to explain.

We are in the process of negotiating with the non-profit owners of the new place. If we can find a way to get around Revenue Canada's rules about non-charity business activities by non-profits, then we hope to be in a new home in a few weeks. But if not this space, then another.

A great peace descended on me as soon as the minute was recorded. I'm sure it was the same for many others.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Quaker Passivism

Our meeting has a somewhat tense special meeting coming up in 10 days to discuss moving to a larger meeting space. We currently meet in an almost-free room on a university campus and have done so for more than 20 years. However, the meeting has grown, families are now attending, and we're packed in there like sardines. Even with extra folding chairs, the children and their parents have to sit on the floor. On top of that, the little room that is used for the children has been taken over by university groups, so that the only table space is covered with computers. Already, some families have stopped coming. In the spring, a search committee was set up and a new meeting place was found early this fall. It will cost more to rent, but it has excellent facilities for the meeting and accommodates superbly to families.

The problem? Some members and attenders don't see a reason to move.

Go figure.

They speak with glowing faces about simplicity and making do and describe all the wonderful ways we could make "better use" of the place we're in. And they give cheerful descriptions about how meeting memberships rise and fall, so all we have to do is wait a little bit till the numbers drop again.

It's all I can do not to roar.

When did being passive become a Quaker virtue? When did we lose the courage and convictions to live lives lead by the spirit? Why do Quakers gravitate toward hesitation?

And whatever happened to the old Second Advices? ("Live adventurously.") Have we just lost that spark?

Why is it that when an interesting and engaging idea is presented in M4W4B members fall over themselves to quietly put it down, as if somehow it were better to fail to act than to act? Why, when there is a decision between action and non-action, do we let non-action select itself by default, through not deciding, not finding clearness?

What are we so afraid of?

And what is it in our decision-making process that allows the passive to triumph?

Fortunately for the new meeting place idea, the clerk and the "elders" of the meeting are all in favour of it. It's just a few holdouts holding out -- members who are unsure and who are very firm in their unsure-ness.

Unfortunately, I believe that many of the Friends in favour of this move will sit silent during the meeting, afraid to speak out, afraid of upsetting someone. Being decisive and assertive and firm-- saying YES too loud-- is somehow unQuaker.

(End of rant. I'm glad I got it out of my system. Now hopefully I will not be tempted to say ANY of these things at the meeting next week. But just for the record, I do think roaring is very Quaker.)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Dear Pat Robertson

Dear Pat Robertson:

Please stop calling yourself a Christian. Please stop referring to yourself as a spokesman for God.

Your track record over the past two decades suggests very strongly that you are following your own religion, not Christianity. Through your death threats to world leaders you don’t like, your support of apartheid policies in South Africa, and your vitriolic slurs against women, Hindus, Muslims, atheists, and non-heterosexuals, you present a very non-Christian face to the world. I suggest that your real religion is the worship of all things Pat Robertson – that is, being male, white, Protestant, Christian, American, rightwing, heterosexual. Everything else is on your list to despise.

You see, Pat, that is not Christian, not by anyone’s definition. And to be very frank, it also doesn’t make the least bit of sense. You can’t call yourself a patriotic American when you call on people to denigrate its laws, its supreme courts, and its ethnic diversity. And you can’t make calls to hatred and violence in the same breath as quoting the loving teachings of Jesus.

I have noticed the same tendencies among other fundamentalist groups, such as fundamentalist Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. And before you get angry by that comparison, consider how similar fundamentalist groups are, despite their rigid differences in creed. In fact, creeds are about the only real difference among them: the way they all live, speak, and act on their creeds is exactly the same. Violence, hatred, superiority, claims about what God wants, claims about who gets into heaven, opposition to change, education, science. They also all show a remarkable disdain for democratic principles, human rights, laws, and human progress. We really should consider fundamentalism as its own religion, with sub-sects of Christian, Muslim, and Jew.

And speaking of science, Pat, just a point of information. It’s not a collection of facts approved by the powers that be, as you seem to assume. Science is a method. It is a way of determining the truth of a principle. It is a testing and retesting and reviewing and discussing and experimenting path to truth. So school board authorities can’t dictate to the world’s science community what is and isn’t science, just because fundamentalists are breathing down their necks. Science just is such as it is. So if you really want to discuss creationism or its newer euphemism, intelligent design, then you need to find a more appropriate avenue. I recommend church or home.

Just as science is not a collect of facts, Christianity is not a collection of rules and edicts approved by the powers that be either. It’s especially not a set of rules of who-to-hate and edicts of what-harm-we-get-to-do-to-which-others. It’s a way of life, following the example and teachings of Jesus.

This is why, mysterious as it seems to be to you and your followers – this is why people in your country are demanding a sharp separation between church and state affairs. They don’t want people who know nothing about science or education -- or democracy or decency or human kindness -- returning everyone back to the Dark Ages.

Fundamentalist, it may be. But Christian, it ain't.


Nancy A


Dear Dover, Pennsylvania:

You rock. Totally.


Nancy A

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Emerging Bible II

What would a bible be for the new era? I'd like to talk more about an emerging bible.

Certainly, the bible is a great book, but there are parts of it that have only marginal value to the modern age. And I realize with careful interpretation you can make those parts of the bible have some value. But is it enough to compensate for the amount of space these books take up, while excellent stories and writings from the post-Christ era sit in secondary status in non-bible books? My editorial eye sees great potential for a second edition bible, one that keeps the best of the old and includes the new.

First of all, my new bible would focus on narrative (rather than theology), just like the current Old and New Testaments, as well as the Gnostic Gospels. I think it would be a mistake to switch to a theology-centred bible. Let's face it: the most read-worthy parts of the bible are those with a storyline. Stories also leave room for spiritual interpretation and insight, thereby giving the reader a role in the book's message. Into these stories I would intersperse major theological characters and enough of their teachings and sermons to spark ideas and responses.

In order to make room for the new material, I would cut sections of the current bible. (Remember, I'm an editor. Cutting is good.) From the Old Testament, I would cut out the major history section starting after the Creation story up to the prophets (keeping the poetry sections). The concept of God in that time period is so far removed from a modern concept of God that the stories are only of historical interest. From the New Testament, I would cut the Gospel of John, the pseudo-Pauline letters and John letters, and the Revelation. All of these cut sections would go in a separate volume, along with some of the Gnostic Gospels, that people can have around if they really want it--the same way that many people have a copy of the Nag Hammadi or the Lost Gospels on their shelf. The point here is to make room for better, more relevant material in the main book.

Thus, the new bible would have three parts: an OldTestament, a NewTestament, and a brand new Christian Testament.

Exciting, huh!

Here is my first draft of what would go into the Christian Testament. As a whole, the object of the Christian Testament would be to show ongoing revelation and spiritual growth through Christian history. The narrative sections would have a largely neutral tone, leaving the stronger spiritual messages in the speeches, sermons, and writings of the historical characters being discussed and in the characters' actions.

Book 1: Book of Constantine

This book would narrate the stories of the Church Fathers and the creation of Christianity, as well as the story of Constantine and the birth of the Holy Roman Empire. It would then move to the first thousand years of medieval mystics and saints, their stories and writings.

Book 2: Book of Augustine

This would be the "dark" book of the Christian Testament: the story of the inquisition and crusades. It would start by narrating the story and teachings of Augustine and move to their influence on the Holy Roman Empire. Quoted passages from contemporary writing, both for and against the inquisition and crusades, as well as descriptions of other spiritual issues (such as the plagues) would help show that Christianity went astray during this period.

Book 3: Book of Luther

This book would narrate the story of the Reformation with all its major characters. It would also describe the beginning of the early major non-Catholic denominations, with some of the major teachings. This section would juxtapose different emerging theologies to show the diversity of thought on revelation and relationship to God. It would also include a description of the Catholic counter-reformation.

Book 4: Book of Galileo

This book would cover the history of scientific discovery as it gave revelation to Christianity, starting with Galileo and ending with Darwin (the scientific method, astronomy, the Green Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, evolution, etc.). It would also talk about the rise of education and of women's voices. Major religious and poetic voices related to science and truth would be included.

Book 5: Book of Empires

This book would narrate the spiritual history of the modern period (1600s to present): wars related to religion, imperialism, slavery, Christian missionaryism, the rise of democracy, WWI and WWII. Simultaneously, it would cover the major religious voices of this time (for example, Wesleyanism, the early evangelical movement, Vatican I, and women's rights).

Book 6: Book of the World

This book would narrate the end of the imperial era, the rise of independence movements, the rise and fall of the Iron Curtain, and major disasters--showing how the world gradually grew out of distinct, fighting nations into a more global outlook. This section would cover 20th-century theologians and prophets of the future, touching on the major theological contributions of this time period: for example, solidarity, human rights, pacifism, global justic, humanitarianism, environmentalism, and poverty. It would also provide a selection of writings on daily life, including marriage, work, family life, and technology, as well as the major religious trends: fundamentalism, universalism, mysticism, existentialism, and agnosticism, and would include theologians from around the world. Since this is the most recent of the books, its content would be more thorough.

Book 7: Book of Questions

The final book would put a Quaker stamp on the whole new bible: a series of queries related to personal faith and practice, the future of religion, and global responsibilities. This would give the end of the bible a definite future focus.

Those are my thoughts. But I'm negotiable.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Emerging Bible

We’re not done with the bible. Someone decided that we’d put down the pen back in 300 AD after the Church Fathers put their stamp on it. But like everything else in the emerging church, the bible is emerging too.

Or at least, I’m not done with it.

My good f/Friend Sequoia Edwards and I used to talk about this at length years ago when I attended Coldstream Meeting. What would go in a 3rd testament of the bible, one that could bridge the gap between early church theology (remember: they buried their dead in catacombs because they believed the second coming was imminent) and modern Christian thought? What stories, what ideas, what heroes and heroines?

It sounds like a great idea until you try to wrestle it down. The problem is that opinions on this subject will be divided—right down doctrinal lines. But keep in mind that opinions were divided for the Church Fathers too, and dubious compromises were made. Yet if they had been afraid of the discussion, we’d still have only the old testament.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


I came across a sentence in a book I was editing today. It's from an essay by Laurence Shames:

"Success is what people settle for when they can’t think of something noble enough to be worth failing at."

It seems somehow to echo a Rufus Jones quotation I used to know well, something about how an act of love that fails is just as much a part of the divine life as an act of love which succeeds.

In the margins of my Quaker Faith and Practice, I've scribbled quotations. There's one from Henri Nouwen: "Somewhere we know that without a lonely place, our actions quickly become empty gestures...In the lonely place, Jesus was made free to fail."

Three quotations about being free to fail.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Do You See What I See

In an odd twist of holiday fates, I was singing Christmas carols on Halloween. Monday night is choir practice. I was a little late getting there, waiting for my kids to get back and dump their bags in exhaustion. It was eerie, driving down the dark streets, black figures darting everywhere.

Yet, once inside the church hall, I was hurtled fast-forward into Yuletide.

"Said the night wind to the little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb?"

My daughter is at the age where she wonders if people all see the same colours. Maybe what she sees as red, I see as green, only I call it red. Her seven-year-old brow furrows as she puzzles this through.

Do you hear what I hear? I now confess to a heresy. I don’t hear a still, small voice. I don’t hear the Word. I don’t hear the Almighty. I don’t, as Annie Dillard suggests, have any inclination to wear a helmet to Meeting for fear of the forces let loose from the universe.

I hear a cry, like a baby.

I first heard that cry on the eve of first Gulf War. Canadian soldiers were heading to war for the first time since World War II. A huge multifaith group had gathered in our city—some 200 Hindus, Catholics, Muslims, Bahais, Evangelicals—all in the same room, all in agony. We sat in silence, with some rising to sing, some to chant, some to pray with beads, to weep, to return to silence. I heard it then, the cry of a baby, helpless, abandoned, forgotten.

"…a child, a child,
Shivers in the cold,
Let us bring him silver and gold…"

Why do people have a Father-God image for God? I think it’s because for millennia, the human race lived like children--gathering nuts and game from day to day, telling stories around a campfire every evening, knowing little, believing anything. They didn’t read, didn’t think, didn’t know, didn’t lead, only followed. Their lives were too short and too full of suffering to spend perfecting knowledge. To our child-ancestors, God had to be a big, strong man, a protector, a granter of wishes, a champion always on their side. A powerful Father. Mighty King. Lord of hosts.

"My God is so big, so strong and so mighty,
There’s nothing my God cannot do!"

But we’ve grown up now. We’ve learned secrets of science, disciplined ourselves to use reason, even participated in creation. We are now the adults. Having an image of God as more-adult, super-adult, more powerful than ourselves seems like a worship of power more than a worship of God. I don’t find any spiritual meaning in it.

Nor does it mesh with the realities of our collective spiritual life. Everything of God—that of God—is so fragile. Democracy is fragile. Human rights are fragile. Peace is fragile. Opposed to these there is the power of the jungle: tigers, cobras, malaria, jackboots. Oppression, force, distortion, lies, crucifixions.

God is so in need of our protection. We have the task of keeping God alive among us, feeding God, helping God to grow. It’s the reverse of the old image: now it’s we who carry God through hard times, so that it’s our footprints in the sand.

Otherwise, I’m afraid God might die.

Later that night, as I drove home, the ghosts and witches had all vanished. The jackboots and Guantanamo Bays and insurgencies and political machinations and anti-terrorism legislations had faded away. I was left only with the cool, fall night.

"Do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite,
With a tail as big as a kite."