Archive for the ‘QuakerMundo’ Category

[There has been a lot of talk this week about the coarseness of public conversation. Here is a selection from my book in progress (*Quakering Theology*) about the importance of learning the language of blessing to counter the language of curse.]

The language we use in our conversation concerning peace and social justice (tone and intention) may be as critical as the actual content of our conversation. Combative, vitriolic language characterizes the left as well as the right. Public conversation is becoming more coarse, increasingly aggressive, even violent. If language is viewed primarily as a vehicle whereby experience is articulated in a descriptive fashion, then the language used to speak of our world, ourselves, will be violent. In fact, we could conclude that our speech must be aggressive in order to “speak truthfully” with integrity.

[However] … language does not simply describe reality, it evokes reality. Our speech may actually create new and inhabitable worlds, not simply describe presently existing ones.

Rooted as Friends are in the narrative of Christianity, the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus—our discourse ought to be the language of and practice of blessing. The aggressiveness of societal discourse speaks a curse—so much easier to utter in many ways; one that condemns, that dismisses, that diminishes, that sends away. “Send the children away, the Lord is tired.” How ought Friends to respond to groups whose demeanor is aggressive, belligerent, bellicose, dismissive, or even violent (even when—especially when—those groups are activists whose social agenda many Friends share)?   Shaped by this narrative and inspired by language birthed from the experience of a violent world, we may well follow suit.

In blessing the children Jesus speaks a language of a “less traveled vocabulary.” Perhaps the language of evocative, world-creating vision is more properly the language of poets and artists, musicians and lovers. If so, Friends may have some difficulty entering such a practice, schooled as we have been by the sentiment of William Penn, for example, who dismissed the arts as distractions from the pursuit of things spiritual: “These were never invented, but by that mind which had first lost the joy and ravishing delights of God’s holy presence.”[1] A distressing lack of imaginative incarnational vision.

We may enter with wobbly knees, hobbling on crutches, but it is into this place we should enter. Speaking blessing rather than curses, the blessings of a new covenant, the blessing of a vision of a new heavens and a new earth. In so speaking, we may even give birth to a new world.

[1]Penn, No Cross No Crown, 236-237 (XV.7).


Read Full Post »

[As mentioned in my last post, I’ve asked Ann Riggs if she would contribute to this discussion as the voice of someone who works closely with FUM and within FTC. I am grateful for her perspective here. When I raised questions about US  and Kenya Friends I did so in response to conversations and observations in general, not as an insider with FTC. Therefore, I am even more appreciative of the contribution Ann makes to this conversation. –David Johns]

I write as the head of Friends Theological College. FTC was indeed founded in 1942, under a different name, and operated for many years at a much lower level of academic expectation than the current programs. The current courses of study almost all presuppose a completion of secondary school. All are currently carried out according to the same requirements as apply to similar institutions of higher education in Kenya and the same standards used by accredited institutions of theological education across Africa.

At the time of Kenyan national independence 1963-4, the college was made a responsibility of East Africa Yearly Meeting. In the 1990s that yearly meeting and the FTC board asked Friends United Meeting to assist them by taking the college under its care. As noted in other posts, Friends United Meeting does not “oversee” its member yearly meetings. Indeed the yearly meetings oversee Friends United Meeting, an organ created by and for the yearly meetings. But FUM does oversee Friends Theological College, in service to all the African FUM yearly meetings. The principal of the theological school – a role that in the US would be called its president – works as a member of the FUM field staff and reports to the FUM general secretary and the chairperson of the FTC board of governors. The FTC board and its chairperson are appointed by the Africa section of the FUM general board. The college is lead by an appointee from the United States, then, because African Friends have requested such care.

The burden of David’s discussion, however, is not entirely addressed by simply stating this datum of historical and institutional information. The faculty and administration of Earlham School of Religion are scheduled to visit FTC in June 2011. How might such a visit be thought of so that it makes sense as a gift rather than an imposition, an instance of a larger relationship that serves the needs and dignity of all? Are there paradigms that might be applicable to broader questions of relationship in the post-colonial era?

First and very importantly, most African Quakers are grateful that someone brought them the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. While there are exceptions, most are appreciative of the introduction of new technologies and new forms of social life. They value modern medicine, cell phones and the internet, and a greater equality between women and men than their traditional cultural patterns used. My presence in Kenya and the expertise I bring seem to be viewed by many in similar ways – as an importation of desired resources rather than as a resented intrusion.

In a recent conversation I heard a recent graduate of FTC’s bachelors in theology program, who is now an adjunct faculty member at Friends Theological College, and an applicant to the Earlham School of Religion Access program, speak on the relationship he saw among the secular democratic societies and governments of England, the United States, and Kenya. He described England as the mother country of both the US and Kenya and the US as the older sibling of the more recently independent Kenya. There would certainly be other matters on which this man would speak of Kenya in African terms or of his tribe or sub-tribe in ways that made no reference to England or the US. Yet, the vantage point his remark creates is very important for understanding Kenyan Friends. He thought and spoke in terms of relationship not separation. And the root metaphor of his sense of relationship was familial.

How different from both David’s initiating post and the perspective of the conversation partners he references.
The adage made so widely familiar by South African Desmond Tutu makes African sense not just of the inherently relational character of individual human persons but of larger human communities as well: I am because we are. We are because we all are. Kenyan Friends are because the wide community of the Religious Society of Friends is. The teachers and administrators of Friends Theological College are because there is a wider community of theological educators of which the faculty and administration of Earlham School of Religion are also a part.

Kenyan Friends think very much in terms of ordered family relationships. People introduce one another to their “first born” and “last born” children, to their “elder brother” and “eldest brother.” If Friends in the United States are elder, predate the introduction of Quakerism in eastern Africa by two and a half centuries, then there is an expectation that Friends in the US will have some life experience, some accumulated wisdom gained over those centuries that we have a responsibility to share, especially when requested to do so.

Yet, African Friends also expect to be treated with the life-promoting respect and care that the elder sibling is traditionally expected to show to the younger, the parent to the child. Perhaps a reference to the three-fold understanding of community in African Traditional Religion is helpful: the ancestors, the current generation, and those yet unborn. In this understanding, a family, a community is not complete without this last group, without those yet to be born. Those who lie sleeping in the future generativity of our younger siblings’ children are also members of our community now. In this world view the education of students at Friends Theological College is an appropriate concern of all Friends because these students are the future theological parents of the spiritual children of us all.

Are North American Friends able to think less individualistically, more relationally? Are North American Friends able to accept, despite our anxieties about being paternalistic, the family metaphors that Kenyans find so congenial? Might there not be a richer and more abundant life in so wide a family?

Read Full Post »

The response to my blog entry concerning Friends, US and Kenyan, has been lively and vigorous.

Yesterday, while attending the American Academy of Religion sessions in Atlanta, I had the opportunity to speak with the current Principal of Friends Theological College, Ann Riggs. We spoke about this issue and about whether a fuller explanation might help us understand better the relation of Friends in Kenya, and specifically, at FTC. Thus, I’ve invited her to contribute a series of two or three short essays, as a guest of Theography, to help place this in a broader perspective. The conversation will be open. I’m not sure she and I are in agreement on some of these points, but I welcome the contribution of someone working very closely with the situation (as I value Johann Mauer’s reply to the initial post).

I’d encourage you to check out Micah Bales new work on Missional Quaker Faith where he is also raising some of these concerns.

So, please stay tuned… this conversation will continue.

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

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?”

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: