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Archive for October, 2010

Not long ago I had a conversation with three Quakers, each from a different part of the US. We talked about Friends in Kenya, the east African country where the largest concentration of Quakers live. I expressed my concerns about an upcoming seminary faculty trip there and how I did not want us to continue the long history of cultural imperialism that dishonors the Other by assuming we have what they need.

We then discussed briefly the denominational body, Friends United Meeting, that provides oversight for many of the yearly meetings (i.e., regional associations) in the country [CORRECTION: ‘provide oversight,’ was my original phrase but is probably not the best description…perhaps, instead: ‘that works in a partnership with’]. I commented, as I often do, that given the demographics and population density of global Quakerism, that the denominational office should relocate to Nairobi or, that we should have more Kenyans working in the central offices here in Richmond, Indiana, or at minimal, we ought relinquish US oversight of Kenyans Quakers.

Since we were talking about education, I mentioned the irony that STILL, we (i.e., white, US Quakers) were in leadership of the major Friends theological training institute in the country, Friends Theological College (FTC).

I’m a professor so I am accustomed to having a room full of people disagree with me. It’s part of the job. However, this conversation was startling. Each person, two women, one man, in his or her own way, stated that Friends can’t be trusted…at least Kenyan Friends. I wasn’t prepared for that.

“They’re not ready yet to have leadership.” (Really? FTC was founded in 1942…that’s 68 years ago.)

“There has been so much corruption in the past, I’m not sure it’s time.” (Friends are no stranger to scandals: financial, sexual, political. To suggest, however, that having a white North American in leadership is a guarantee this will not happen in Kenya is nothing short of insulting.)

“They need someone in leadership who has academic credentials the Kenyan government will acknowledge.” (Ok. I understand this argument.  For accreditation and for public recognition, academic qualifications are crucial. However, what I do not understand is how in over half a century of involvement we have not been able to do what is necessary to minimize this dependency.)

Then came the final blow. One of my conversation partners said: “They don’t trust each other. They want us to be there.”

I do not know whether this is true, but I suspect it is just another one of the self-assuring justifications that have been used for centuries by those who colonize and who subjugate others in the name of a great ideal. In this case, the “ideal” is a version of Quakerism I simply do not recognize.

I want to state in no uncertain terms that I have a great deal of respect for the persons who have been and who are presently providing leadership in FTC. Some of them are personal friends of mine. My concern is not about the personalities but with the principle. This is, it seems to me, the inverse of the last comment made in my conversation with these three Friends. For some, at least, the principle is: “We do not trust them. We want to be there.”

What do you think?

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Estoy serviendo en un comité en mi iglesia lo que espero que muy pronto llegue a fin. Hay comités que son buenos y son necesarios por mucho tiempo, y, quizás para siempre. Otros comités son temporales y se los forman con una intención particular y los terminarán depués de cierto período. Estoy en un comité de Búsqueda de Pastor. O sea, cuando discernimos la persona para ser nuestro pastor y tan pronto esta persona ha aceptado la invitación, terminaremos esta función.

Eso es lo que debería ser.

Sin embargo, algunas veces no es fácil. Ocasionalmente, esperamos que los comités que hemos formado (y agregaríamos: organizaciones, juntas, iglesias, programas, etc.) van a continuar para siempre. Pero, cómo sabemos cuando un comité ha servido su propósito? Cómo discernimos cuando es la hora de irnos? Cómo reconocemos cuando deberíamos concluir algo?

Esta es una pregunta bien difícil de contestar. Cuándo dejemos de pasar una organización o un programa? Con frecuencia, nuestra própia identidad está en vueta en esta organización o este programa y nos ha dado sentido a un groupo o familia. Este acto de dejar pasar tiene un aspecto emocional y este es más fuerte que el hecho si todavía lo tiene revelancia o valor.

Estoy pensando en eso porque en años recientes varias iglesias cuáqueras en esta area han estado terminado. La decisión de hacerlo no fue fácil y había resultado en personas que se sientan como si fueran deplazadas. Estoy considerando eso porque probablemente haya otras iglesias (y comités y organizaciones y programas, etc.) que van a seguir  por eso camino.

Sin embargo, aún son difíciles las decisiones, debemos considerarlas. Por qué? Porque cuando algo se discontinúa eso señala al fin de un proceso de disminuir, de decomponer, de morir.

Parece que es obvio. Pero, pienso el tiempo de dejar de pasar es ANTES DE respirar la última repira, ANTES DE morirnos.  En otras palabras, los grupos que hacen esta decisión deben empenzar de una posición de confianza, vida, y con cierta energía. No estoy proponiendo que terminamos organizaciones y programas que están floreciendo. Para nada! Sin embargo, si estamos atentos a signos de la vida y el movimiento del espíritu y menos compromidos a nuestros programas y organizaciones, entonces quizás podemos sin dificultad arreglar, renovar o, cuando es tiempo, dejar en concluya.

Cómo sabemos que algo se cumple su propósito? Cómo reconocemos cuando es tiempo de seguir adelante? Cómo percebimos cuando es tiempo dejarse algo concluido?

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I serve on a committee at my meeting/church that I hope will soon come to an end. Some committees are “standing” committees, that means their work is ongoing and thus the committee is needed for a long stretch–years, possibly forever. Other committees are ad hoc, or temporary and are formed to take care of a particular task that will come to a close after a certain period of time. I am on the Pastoral Search Committee. Thus, when we discern the right person to serve as pastor and we issue a call (and that call is accepted) this committee will be dissolved.

This is as it should be.

However, it is sometimes not so easy. Occasionally we expect the committees (and let’s add here, organizations, meetings, churches, programs, etc.) we form to last, if not forever, for a very long time. How do we know when something has served its purpose? How do we know when it is time to move on? How do we know when it is time, as Quakers like to say, to “lay it down.”

This is a difficult question. When do we let go of an organization or program? Often our identity is wrapped up in it, or it has been (or continues to be) meaningful to a person, a family, or a group. Thus, letting go is wrapped up in emotional and historical issues as much if not more than in the conviction that its role is still relevant and vibrant.

I am wondering about this because in the past few years two local Friends meetings have been “laid down.” These decisions were not easy and it resulted in some feeling displaced. I am wondering about it also because there are probably a lot of other meetings (and committees and organizations and programs, et al.) that need to follow suit.

However, as difficult as these decisions are, I think it is important that we consider the matter of “laying down.” Why? Because generally, when something is discontinued it is at the end of a long process of decline, decay, and death.

Ok, that seems obvious enough. Yet, I think the time to let go is BEFORE the last breath of life is drawn, before we are writhing on the ground in an extended public demise. In other words, groups that come to a close can and should do so from a position of confidence, life, and some strength. I am not advocating laying down organizations that are thriving. Of course not. However, if we are more attentive to the signs of life and the movement of the Spirit, and if we are less attached to our programs (and committees and meetings and organizations) then perhaps we can reshape, renew, and when it is time, release.

So again, how do we know when something has served its purpose? How do we know when it is time to move on? How do we know when it is time to “lay it down?”

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As a follow up to my previous blog post, I’m curious what signs of new life bring you hope?

For me, I am energized by the creative, edgy, visionary leadership among a number of Friends. As important as some of the existing Quaker organizations have been (and, in some cases, continue to be), I am hopeful when I hear people thinking outside those categories–not only outside the present structures, but also outside the “brand identity” of Quakerism for the sake of Quakerism.

I am hopeful when I hear people talking about ministry and leadership as living out their faith in the living Christ, not as means to perpetuate familiar patterns of organizational life.

What do you think?

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Growing something new

Do we recognize new life when it is trying to emerge?

I have literally mowed over young plants springing up in our lawn that I did not recognize as flowers my wife had planted. Without paying much attention I moved almost effortlessly into a pattern of work that I had been doing regularly for a long time. The familiar routine was good and right–I needed to mow the lawn–but I did not attend to life that was emerging in places I did not anticipate.

I’m thinking about this in connection to ministry. Some of us are involved in religious organizations that have been around for a long time. I teach at a seminary celebrating its 5oth anniversary and I worship at a church that, last year, commemorated its bicentennial. In these spans of time we develop patterns that make a lot of sense in our context.

But do we recognize new life?

Recently a new Facebook group began gathering together folks with an interest in this very thing–“Quaker Church-Planters.” That’s an idea we don’t hear much about these days! After the burst of corporate-business patterned ‘church growth’ that blazed through in the 1980’s there hasn’t been much public discussion, among Quakers at least, about “planting” new meetings and new ministries. There is more attention given, these days, to tending the already seeded and mature lawn–even those areas dried out and probably in need of re-sodding.

So, how do we discern where new life is trying to emerge? How do we attend to it, encourage its growth, cultivate it, and help it flourish?

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