Monday, January 28, 2013

Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

I am spending this winter thinking about fruit. Spring is not here yet, but the trees around us are getting ready to bud. They will produce flower, fruit and seed. And soon enough, we will be able to visit the orchards and enjoy the blessing of fresh-picked fruit

Jesus and Paul talk about fruit also. “I am the vine and you are the branches,” Jesus tells us. When we are attached to him, good things will grow in our lives. “You will bear much fruit” is what happens when the branch remains attached to the vine. Paul describes the flavors this fruit comes in: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Here's a story about one of those flavors of fruit:
The kingdom of heaven is like a Thanksgiving dinner

 It was a house filled with happiness. Grandparents, parents, children, cousins, aunts and uncles gathered for the annual tradition. Food was shared in abundance along with stories. Uncle George shared stories everybody had heard at least once before. A few people rolled their eyes, but most everybody still laughed at the familiar places, and there were some friendly backslaps at the predictable punchlines.

After the meal, a group went to the den to watch football. The cheering and groaning that accompanied each play could be heard throughout the house. Some people went over to the couch and continued to share stories, talk about food, and catch up on news. Some of the women headed to the kitchen to clear and clean – and grumble, in a not-too-serious way, about the lack of help from the others.

Annie had to herself into showing up, but it wasn't easy. She was going through a tough time. Money was very tight. Her job wasn't going well. And of course there were relationship issues. Thanksgiving dinner with family is supposed to be a happy time. She didn't feel happy. She didn't feel like laughing at Uncle George's stories. A roomful of people making a lot of noise about football was not going to make her feel any better.

Annie did manage to laugh at some of the stories, but other stories reminded here of her own difficulties. After dinner, she helped with the clean up and joined in the grumbling about the lack of help. Then she found a quiet corner.

Aunt Maggie could see that Annie was unhappy. She followed Annie to that quiet corner and simply asked, “What's going on?” Annie began to talk about the money, the job, and the relationship issues. Aunt Maggie listened. Aunt Maggie listened some more. And after some more listening, Aunt Maggie shared some stories from her life. These stories didn't have punchlines, but they spoke to Annie's needs.

Annie left the house with the same burdens on her shoulders, but they seemed lighter. She discovered that she was not alone, that there was somebody to sit alongside her and listen to her. She was part of a family. There was a feeling of joy that began to push away the unhappiness that she was carrying.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. . . I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete.”

Prayer: May I grow in my attachment to Jesus an others and may his joy fill up what is missing in my life.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Elevator Pitch

You're in an elevator wearing one of our new Plainfield Friends T-shirts. Somebody enters the elevator, sees the T-shirt and says, "I've driven by Plainfield Friends on Highway 40. What kind of a church is it?" What will you say while the elevator makes its way to the floor you are headed to?

This is the idea of the "elevator pitch." The goal is to give a concise and clear description that is boiled down to 30 or 40 words that will leave the listener wanting to know more. The description needs to be in terms understood by the listener. It needs to be genuine. And it needs to be short enough to share between floors on an elevator.

A discussion group on "The Religious Society of Friends - Quakers" on Linked In looked at the question of what might be a good elevator pitch for Friends and got me to thinking about it.

What would an elevator pitch for Plainfield Friends sound like?

It needs to include what we are (fill in your own ideas in the blanks below), such as:
   We are a Christian church
   We are a gathering of people who worship together
   We are people who are learning to follow Jesus
   We believe that Jesus Christ has come to teach his people himself



It needs to include what we do, which might include:
   We sing, pray and share the Bible together
   We feed hungry people through the food pantry
   We host the Plainfield Farmers' Market
   We spend time in quiet, waiting worship

It needs to include why someone would want to be part of our group, maybe:
   We try to keep things simple
   We look for ways to serve each other and our community
   We make room for people



What would your elevator pitch sound like? Write it down, send or give it to me, and let me share it with others (anonymously, if you would like).


Monday, May 16, 2011

Someone is thinking of me!

I just received the Spring 2011 issue of Interchange, the newsletter of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, and discovered that someone is thinking of me.

It is time to register for the 340th annual session of Baltimore Yearly Meeting.  The theme this year is "Moving Forward in Community:  Welcoming the Divine, Welcoming Every Person."

On page 2 is a presentation of the theme and a set of queries for individuals and meetings as they prepare for the annual sessions.  Then there are some additional queries under the heading "Related Thoughts:"

  • What does our experience with mentally ill F/friends teach us about inclusion?
  • Is our Meeting House welcoming regarding Accessibility issues?
  • Are we welcoming to Transgender F/friends?
  • Are we welcoming to Christocentrics/others?
  • Does our meeting reflect the diversity of the population in our area?
I am happily "Christocentric" (although I am puzzled by who those "/others" might be) and am always bemused when groups of Friends are challenged by the presence of "Christocentrics" among them.  Three generations ago almost every Friend, whether in the Gurney, Hicks, or Wilbur traditions, would have been very comfortable with being considered "Christ-centered."  What happened?

One explanation:  It is a working out of Neuhaus' LawWhere orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.  (I encourage you to read the linked article to get a fuller understanding of what Neuhaus meant.)

Thank you, Baltimore Yearly Meeting, for thinking of me.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

General Query 7 - The Business of Life

General Query 7. Business Responsibilities-Do you avoid such undue expansion of your business responsibilities as to endanger your personal integrity? Are you truthful and honest in your business transactions, punctual in fulfilling your promises, and prompt in the payment of your debts?

General Query 7 is easy to pass over.  We see the title – “Business Responsibilities” – and move on, thinking that it doesn’t apply to us because we are not involved in any kind of business.  The warning about undue expansion of business, being truthful and honest in business transactions, fulfilling promises and paying debts reinforces this impression.

But Query 7 is talking about more than behavior in business.  The behaviors it describes have to do with integrity, a commonly accepted basic testimony among friends.  Even though I may not be a businessperson, there is a business I am part of that demands integrity – the business of living with others.

Life in a family, community and world requires a basic level of integrity.  It is the mortar that holds relationships together, one-on-one and in a community.

The warnings in Query 7 about business practices apply to the way we conduct the business of living:

-“Undue expansion of business” is a warning against allowing activities to take over our lives to the detriment of relationships.  In an age of social networking it could be a warning against spending so much time interacting with people over networks and various media that we forget the importance of being a living presence with those close to us.

-Being truthful and honest  applies to much more than business transactions.  “Let your yes be yes and your no be no,” is a simple instruction from Jesus that applies to all of life.  Good communication depends on sharing words that are reliably true.  Unfortunately, we learn from an early age a variety of ways to “spin” our words in ways that are misleading or false.

-Fulfilling promises and paying debts promptly is more than just being fair and upright with others.  Fulfilling promises is one way we demonstrate love to those around us.  Healthy relationships are built on promises that are kept.  Paul reminds us,  “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8).

Here is my revision of General Query 7:
The Business of Living  – Am I guarding against cluttering my life with things that keep me from being a caring and loving presence with those close to me?  Are my words reliably true?  Am I keeping promises and paying my debt of love to God and others?


Monday, April 18, 2011

General Query 6 - Staying Focused

(Another post in a series on the Western Yearly Meeting General Queries)

General Query 6 in the Western Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice:

Standards of Life-Do you observe simplicity and moderation in your manner of living? Do you give proper attention to the rules of health? Are you careful to avoid all places of amusement that are inconsistent with Christian character? Do you practice total abstinence from tobacco, narcotics, and alcoholic beverages?

We live in a “newer, better, bigger” culture. Enterprises spend incredible amounts of money to convince us that we need the newer electronic gadget, the better laundry soap and the bigger television. We are persuaded that we need things that we have gotten along fine without. We are eager to adopt the latest opinions and ideas and jump on to the “newer, better, bigger” bandwagon.

General Query 6 addresses this cultural issue as it presents three traditional Friends testimonies – simplicity, moderation and abstinence.

Simplicity is the spiritual discipline of being focused and staying focused -- organizing one's life for a purpose. In a world that tries to distract us in thousands of ways and invents needs that never existed before, maintaining a focused center in our lives is hard work.

There are magazines and books that will tell us how to simplify our lives, get back to basics and recover simpler ways of doing things, but the spiritual discipline of simplicity cannot be put on like a set of new clothes. I see it growing organically out of our spiritual priorities. Are we honest with ourselves about our faith? Are we willing to be open to God's leading and are we trusting God's paths? As our inward path becomes more focused and simple, our outward paths will change as well. We will be less easily distracted by the “newer, better, bigger” culture that we are part of.

Moderation is one way we express the discipline of simplicity. As we disconnect from the “newer, bigger, better” culture we are less inclined to jump on the latest fad or invented need. As we maintain our focus on what is important we are able to remain calm and quiet in the middle of a world of invented needs.

But the focused life of simplicity can lead us to do immoderate things. The history of the Christianity is a history of people being immoderate in following God – St. Patrick, Francis of Assisi, George Fox, and more contemporary activists like Martin Luther King, Jr., Clarence Jordan, and Millard Fuller. Twenty years ago, Kathy and I adopted three sisters. It was an immoderate thing to do (at least one person called us “crazy”) but it grew out of our desire to do what God wanted us to do. It complicated our lives incredibly, but at the same time helped us stay focused on what was important. A complicated action that was an expression of simplicity.

Abstinence can be another expression of the discipline of simplicity. This General Query calls us to abstain from a few specific items, but there are many things that do not need to be part of our lives for our own physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Practicing the discipline of simplicity means asking ourselves over and over again, “Does this activity/pursuit/interest/possession bring me closer to where God wants me to be? Does this need to be part of my life?” It's a tough question that we need to ask over and over again.  And these are questions we need to involve our community as well - family, friends and congregation.

General Query 6 as written is too narrow. Simplicity is not simple, moderation is not necessarily the outcome and abstinence is too shallow a word.

Here is my suggestion for rewriting General Query 6:
Standards of Life - Is my life focused on God's leading and am I trusting God's path? Is my outward path consistent with my inward path? Am I being distracted by the “newer, bigger, better” culture around me? Do my activities/pursuits/interests/possessions bring me closer to where God wants me to be? What do I need to let go of?


Monday, April 11, 2011

General Qery 5 - An Ongoing Building Project

(A series on the General Queries in the Western Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice.)

General Query #5 - Youth and the ChurchDo you seek the conversion and spiritual development of your young people?  Do you endeavor to instruct them in the principles and practices of Friends?  Do you strive to create a community life that will promote their mental and physical well being?

This is a fundamental principle – the adults of the community have a responsibility to tend the spiritual life of the children and young people.  When Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment he begins by repeating words from Deuteronomy 6 – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  This follows the Shema - "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one."

But a heart that loves God needs cultivating.  The passage in Deuteronomy goes on,
 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.(Deuteronomy 6:6-7 NIV)

The community has a responsibility to find ways to plant love of God in the hearts of our children.  Jesus reinforces this with a challenge and a warning, "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:5-6 NIV)

Rufus Jones talked about young people and the church in terms of building – “There is no generation of young minds that finds the truths and realities of religion easy of apprehension.  Faith is never ready made; it must always be built.  The building process is easier in some epochs than in others, but the structure of the spirit must be reared in every case in the face of real difficulties.”(Christian Faith and Practice, #511)

Building a new building is complex, time consuming and expensive. Building hearts that love God is also complex, time consuming and expensive – and it is a building project that never has a clear and definable date of completion. Yet we still need to spend time and money on this building project of christian education and spiritual formation. 

It is a good building project to be involved in.  We can look around in our meetings and see young people and young adults that have learned to love God.  We see the results of generations of caring and sharing the love of God.  It is also a frustrating project because it is likely that those young people will move to different places and we might wonder if our efforts were worthwhile.  But we must not abandon the building project, even if we do not receive the ultimate benefit.

“Faith is never ready made, it must always be built” (Rufus Jones)

My revision of Query #5:  Youth and the Church - How well are we building the love of God in our children and young people?  Are we drawing them into a community that loves God?  Is our expression of the principles and practices of Friends winsome enough to draw in the youngest in our midst?


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Coming to Terms With the Queries

This is the first of a series of posts on the General Queries in the Western Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice.

Coming to terms with the Queries

The season of Lent is a time of self-examination. Friends have not emphasized Lent, but self-examination in the form of Queries has long been a part of our history.

Friends' statements of faith often include queries, and the Western Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice includes two sets, one for everyone and another for elders. The introduction to the General Queries describes them as "guides to personal and corporate discernment." Individuals and meetings are encouraged to read them frequently.

A lot of people dislike the queries. They understand the purpose behind them, and will agree that they can be useful, but they avoid them whenever possible.

Why we don't like the Queries:

-The Queries sound like nagging parents. When we look at the queries, we hear faint echoes of, "When will you remember to pick up your clothes?" or "When will you stop wiping your nose on your sleeve?" The heart of the problem is that we don't like to be reminded of things that we know we should or shouldn't do.

Query #4 asks "Do you make your home a place of hospitality, friendliness, peace and Christian fellowship?" and all we can think of is last night's argument, the mess in the living room, or the anxiety over keeping or finding a job. We know we don't measure up and the Queries are good at reminding us of that fact.

-The Queries make us feel like Sisyphus, stuck in a life of rolling a huge boulder up a steep hill, and before we reach the top, watching it roll back down, so that we have to start over. Always striving, never arriving.

Query #1 asks, “Do you strive for the constant realization of God's presence in your life?” We have moments in which we experience the presence of God. And then those moments are gone and we start over again. Always striving, occasionally arriving.

Part of the problem is that constant string of “Do you? . . . Do you? . . Do you?” The presentation of the queries puts us off. I have come up with a couple of ways of thinking about them that would be more embracing and welcoming. Perhaps you have some suggestions as well.

How we might grow to like the Queries:

Here are two positive ways to think about the Queries--

-The Queries as a string tied around our finger. There are things we need to remember to do, and one traditional memory device is tying a string around a finger. We need help to remember to drop the clothes off at Goodwill, pick up some bread and bananas, and get to the meeting at the library. We sometimes forget those things because we are in the middle of doing everything else.

The Queries, like a string tied around a finger, are reminders that there are things we need to be doing while we are busy doing everything else. We get busy and forget to "strive for the constant realization of God." We need help remembering.

Maybe Query #1 could start off “Please remember to strive for the constant realization of God's presence in your life. Try to find some ways to be sensitive and obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit.” There must be some ways to word these things so that we don't hear a nagging parent in the background.

-The Queries as a traveler's checklist. When we go on a long trip, we make a list. We know from experience that if we don't have a checklist, we will forget something important. It's very hard to take those great travel pictures if the camera is still hanging on the hook back home. If you don't pack your comfortable pillow, you will be stuck with those lumps of foam at the motel. The checklist makes the journey go better.

The Queries are preparation for a journey. They remind us of some important things that we need to pack, but they are not the journey itself. The Queries can help us make sure that the stuff we need is in the suitcase.

In this case, Query #1 might go like this: “In what ways am I experiencing God's presence in my life at this place that I am at right now? Where am I getting my directions from?”

How do Queries work for you? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Waiting Rooms and Worship

We all spend time in waiting rooms. Often it is in a doctor's office, waiting to get help from a medical professional. It might be in a hospital, waiting for news about someone we care deeply about. Or it can the the noisy waiting "lounges" of modern airports, getting ready to go to the next stop on our journey. Waiting rooms are common experiences in the sense that we we experience them many times through our lives. They are also common experiences in the sense of a shared, universal experience common to all of us.

The waiting that happens in a waiting room is not passive, but active. We are not just waiting around with nothing to do. There is a reason for the waiting. We are waiting to see the doctor. We are waiting to board a plane for the next stop. We are waiting to find out how the surgery went. It is a waiting of anticipation, being ready to move on to the next step.

The waiting that happens in a waiting room involves paying attention. We listen for our name or our flight to be called. We may distract ourselves with books, old magazines or music on our mp3 player, but part of us is listening. That part of us that is paying attention hears a door open, a name called, or sees movement.

And finally the waiting that happens in a waiting room is resolved in activity. We gather our things together and move to what is next. We board a flight, see a doctor, hear the news from the surgeon. The time of waiting is transformed into action.

On Sunday evening, October 10, we will begin something at Plainfield Friends that I am calling "The Waiting Room." It will be a time of traditional Friends worship at 6 pm followed by a time of Bible exploration and discussion at 7 pm.

Traditional Friends worship is a lot like the waiting that happens in a waiting room. It may be quiet but it is not passive.  There is a reason for the waiting as we anticipate some kind of moving.   In a doctor's office or an airport lounge we have a pretty clear idea of what will be happening.  Waiting in worship means we are open to something happening, even though we may not know exactly what that something may be.
Waiting in worship involves paying attention. We may notice a variety of things - the ticking of a clock, our stream of consciousness, a passage from the Bible, the concerns of the day - but in all of that there is a listening going on. We listen for others and we give attention to what God is doing. As we wait, we may find our name being called.

And waiting in worship may bring us to a place of action. We may share something with the group. Or we way discover something that needs to be done afterwards, in our relationship with others or with God.

There is a place for everyone in the waiting room. 

The Waiting Room

beginning Sunday, October 10
6 pm - The Waiting Room
A time of traditional Friends worship

7pm - The Bible Hour
A time of Bible exploration and discussion


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Quaker Perspectives Wanted

Wess Daniels in Gathering in Light  mentions that Jez Smith from the British Quaker magazine “The Friend” is looking for a variety of Quaker perspectives on a few questions. He asks us to read this and consider helping him out-

Just what is the World Family of Friends? From 3-5 September Quakers from Britain Yearly Meeting, Ireland Yearly Meeting, Aotearoa/New Zealand Yearly Meeting and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting will be exploring this question through worship, workshops, activities and fellowship at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham, UK.
The participating Friends will be bringing their own connections to many of the Yearly Meetings and worship groups around the world. But I would like to add some more perspectives to share with participants and to share online as a resource for other Friends who want to explore this starter question. To facilitate this, I would appreciate it if anyone would take the time to answer the following questions:
  • a. Why are you a Quaker?
  • b. How are you a Quaker?
  • c. Please give an example of how a Meeting for Worship is conducted in your tradition.
Ideally please keep to a word count of around 800-1,000 but any length of response will be accepted. Please also give me your name and Meeting details. A photo would be great too. Email to If you prefer to video your response, or have photos online that would help with your response, please email links to uploaded material to the same address. Initial deadline for material for the course is 2 September 2010 but earlier submissions appreciated!

Here's my response:

Why am I a Quaker?

I am a Quaker because when I was in high school I went to county-wide Youth For Christ meetings at Garden Grove Friends Church in Southern California.  Fast-forwarding a few years, I found myself looking for a church to attend and while browsing through the phone book came across Garden Grove Friends.  I was curious about what a "Friends Church" might be since I had grown up in various Baptist churches. 

There I discovered something very different from what I had grown up with.  The forms of worship in this meeting were familiar because it was programmed worship, but the people I encountered there knew God in a way that was new to me.  God was present.  Jesus was teaching his people.  So I stayed.  As I discovered other things about Friends - our way of doing business, our understanding of ministry and the testimony of equality - I realized that I belonged among Friends.

How am I a Quaker?
I am a Quaker who continues to be amazed at how the first generation of Friends broke through the forms and structures of the church of their day and discovered a way of living almost totally in the presence of Jesus Christ. 
I am a Quaker in a programmed meeting who enjoys and gains from unprogrammed times of worship. 
I am a Quaker who is part of a stream of people extending back to biblical times who have experienced the revelation of God in many ways and forms.  I am a Quaker who learns from George Fox, Margaret Fell, William Penn, Robert Barclay, John Woolman, Elias Hicks, Joseph John Gurney, Rufus Jones, Elton Trueblood and the many contemporary voices expressing Quaker faith.
I am a Quaker who understands Quaker faith as an expression of Christian faith.

Worship in my tradition-
I enjoy being part of the programmed tradition of Friends.  Singing, group prayer and preaching are valuable elements of worship for me. We have times of unstructured waiting as well, and I personally would like to move more in this direction.

How would you respond?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When Did Jesus Become God?

Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ
A basic defining issue among Christians is the question of who Jesus is.  The Nicene Creed describes Jesus as
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
one in Being with the Father.1
The creed describes Jesus as unique, eternal, true God and one in being with the Father.
One of the widely circulated ideas about this description is that it was late in coming.  The argument is that the first generation of Christians did not have this understanding of Jesus, but that it was developed in the second and third centuries in order to either consolidate church power, justify burning heretics, or encourage military expeditions (or all three).

Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ by Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski argues that, based on what the first generation of Jesus' followers have written, they understood Jesus in the way he is described in the Nicene creed.  They argue convincingly that "the deity of Christ is . . . a major theme throughout the New Testament."

The book is a very readable and thorough treatment.  The material is organized around an acronym developed by one of the authors - "Jesus shares the HANDS of God:
Honors:  Jesus shares the honors due to God.
Attributes:  Jesus shares the attributes of God.
Names:  Jesus shares the names of God.
Deeds:  Jesus shares in the deeds that God does.
Seat:  Jesus shares the seat of God's throne."

The authors cite numerous biblical passages and discuss various issues of interpretation in making their case.  They do a good job of dealing with contemporary biblical scholarship and provide a wealth of references for further study in the endnotes and bibliography.

There are two questions that can be raised about this argument for the deity of Christ-

First, can we rely on the New Testament texts to know what Jesus did and what his followers believed?  I think we can.  There are many resources that present good arguments for the reliability of the material we have.  One recent example is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels As Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham.

The other question has to do with whether those first Christians were even able to give a clear picture of what Jesus was about.  Perhaps they were confused or self-deluded (or, in some scenarios, even intentionally misleading).  A New Testament introduction such as An Introduction to the New Testament by D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo is a good place to start in sorting out those issues.

Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ  is a very helpful approach to understanding who Jesus is.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Who Are We? (Preparing for Western Yearly Meeting - 2010)

 About a year ago I wrote about "Preparing for Yearly Meeting".  Here is the 2010 installment:

Western Yearly Meeting is working through a process of self-identity.  It is often expressed as a simple question:  "Who are we?"  This attempt at self-identity has been going on for at least 15 years.  In that time there has been some confusion, anger, and heat. Sometimes there has been positive conversation as well.

Who are we?  One suggestion is that the Yearly Meeting is simply the collective identity of the people who constitute it.  If we can blend together our collection of leadings, understandings and personalities in some way, we can identify who we are.  But this only gives us a snapshot, like those group pictures that are taken on anniversaries and other special occasions.  A snapshot only shows us a single point in time and only shows what the camera lens can see.  There is a story behind that single picture but eventually the snapshot becomes all that is known of that story.

A Yearly Meeting is a group of people that has developed an identity over many points in time as they work alongside each other.  In order to identify who we are, we need to look at the story behind the snapshot. 

Any organized group has a history.  There are founders who bring a group together for identifiable reasons.  Over time, new issues come up and the original founding reasons are adapted, changed or added to.   I'm in the Plainfield Kiwanis Club and the Kiwanis motto is "For the children of the world."  Kiwanis began in 1914 as a social club for young businessmen, with no apparent concern for the children of the world.  Understanding how it changed helps me know what Kiwanis is all about.  An organization cannot know itself without knowing its history.

Structures are also created and adapted, changed or added to.  There is a tendency to see structure as negative, to suggest that all of that organization as getting in the way of doing things.  In fact, groups develop structure in order to get things done.  An organization needs some level of organization!  True, sometimes structures outlive their usefulness and there is often resistance to structuring things in new ways.  But to know who we are we need to understand the ways our history and structures interact with each other. 
And all organizations have some common belief structure that shapes the group.  The common element in the "Kiwanis belief system" is that we are doing things for the children of the world.  That shapes our activities.  If  I started urging the club to stop sending all our hard-earned elephant ear money to Riley Hospital for Children, some of my fellow Kiwanians would take me aside and suggest that I might need to find a different service club to join.  As a faith-centered organization, Western Yearly Meeting has described its belief system in some detail in Faith and Practice.  It is a belief system that has been shaped by history, is expressed in our structures and  shapes our ways of doing things.

The answer to the question of who we are is found in this intersection of beliefs, structures and history. 
For me, the answer to the question begins by taking seriously the faith that was agreed to in the Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice.  The "Essential Truths" are an excellent statement of a distinctively Christian faith.  We add to that our distintively Quaker history that is filled with people whose lives were transformed by that faith, and we begin to catch a glimpse of what we could be.  And then we need to examine our structures and ask some tough questions about how they connect with our beliefs and our history. 

pastor Bill

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summer Reading

Past, Present and Future Church:

 The Concurrence and Unanimity of The People Called Quakers edited with introductions by Patrick J. Burns and T.H.S. Wallace.  A new edition of Quaker sermons collected by Andrew Sowle and originally published in 1694.Movements begun by charismatic leaders like George Fox begin to transform as they enter their second generation.  Many of these sermons are by second generation Friends.  As I read these, I sense that the fire is still there.

The Journal of Elias Hicks in a new edition edited by Paul Buckley.  Paul Buckley has gone to Hicks' original manuscripts for this restored edition.

To understand Friends today we have to deal with Elias Hicks.  Gnostic heretic or defender of the true faith?  Read his own account of his journey and discover for yourself.

Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola.  A call to restore Jesus to the heart of faith, arguing that everything else flows from this.

You can read a brief version of the manifesto at

The common thread is the Jesus Question: 
"Who do you say that I am?"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Instant Sermon!

Three connected points that all start with the same letter.  Can't get any easier than that!

(I-77 north in Virginia, headed to West Virginia)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Another Poem by William Stafford

How the Real bible Is Written
by William Stafford

Once we painted our house and went into it.
Today, after years, I remember that color
under the new paint now old.
I look out of the windows dangerously
and begin to know more. Now when I
walk through this town there are
too many turns before the turn
I need. Listen, birds and cicadas
still trying to tell me surface things:
I have learned how the paint goes on,
and then other things--how the real Bible is
written, downward through the pages,
carved, hacked, and molded, like the faces
of saints or the planks ripped aside
by steady centuries of weather, deeper than
dust, under the moles, caught by the
inspiration in an old badger's shoulder
that bores for grizzled secrets in the ground.

from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems