Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Howard Macy: Friend in Residence

Howard Macy, ESR alumnus from 1970, visited ESR the week of March 26th. As the press release describes him:

Howard Macy is a Friends educator, minister, and author from Northwest Yearly Meeting. He has recently retired as Professor Emeritus at George Fox University and has taught previously at Friends University and Earlham College. Howard has served as a released minister in Northwest, Indiana, and New England Yearly Meetings and has traveled widely among Friends as an itinerant minister. His books include Rhythms of the Inner Life, Laughing Pilgrims, and Stepping in the Light, and he has published regularly in Quaker Life, Quaker Religious Thought, and other periodicals.
Among Howard’s special interests in teaching and writing are the Old Testament (especially the Psalms and the Prophets), spiritual formation, and humor in the Bible and Christian living. Privileged to live in Oregon, Howard particularly enjoys traveling in the wonders of nature, photography, and playing and singing in music ensembles.

The teaching faculty sat down with Howard for lunch on the 28th and immediately delved into questions of the church. Howard had commented at Common Meal the day before that church ministers are sometimes unfairly maligned and Jay’s first question was about the vitality of church institutions. The conversation turned to the “privatized” nature of church, where people go “church-shopping” for something that pleases them. Younger Christians/Quakers vacillate between leaving and living in the midst of the chaos. At the same time the “emergent” church and other movements are in the process of changing the face of Christianity . . . but into what? Nancy pointed out that many older members of the church are not so much afraid of change as they are that the church might change into something that is no longer comforting to them. “I love Jesus, but hate the church.” “I’m spiritual but not religious.” These phrases are common and only the type of the iceberg. Lonnie pointed out that part of the problem might be all the confusing and contradictory things that are going on in the name of Christ in the public arena.

The discussion turned to education within the church. Jay said that if churches are interested in only their own preservation, they will fail. Carole Spencer commented that education can easily become indoctrination, not formation. Nancy Bowen gave her common complaint that so many people in her Old Testament course know only a little about its contents and yet have pre-judged what they will find. “Why do you have to go to seminary to learn this stuff?” I’ve heard her ask more than once. We discussed the preparation of Sunday School teachers and formation among adults. Jim pointed out that most people who go into ministry are “people-pleasers” and are afraid to really delve into tough passages in the Bible or go beyond the lectionary. Howard others noted, however, that when people are given the opportunity to discuss issues like theodicy and suffering and really ask questions, they are glad to have an open forum.

The conversation was rich and Howard did not speak a great deal. He did, however, tell us that he was soaking us all up and his presence encouraged the faculty to deeper discussion. There were no conclusions, but we knocked off a number of sandwiches and a few packages of cookies and had a good time.

  • How do you view the church? Does it speak to your condition?
  • If you could envision the ideal church, what would that look like?
  • What is the balance between maintaining institutions and allowing them to grow and change with their constituencies?
  • How do you find a way to encourage formation without indoctrination?

Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

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