Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thomas Kelly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Search for Community

The following is an excerpt from a paper presented by ESR student Diane Reynolds at the June 2012 conference of the Friends Association for Higher Education. The paper was originally written for a History of Christianity II course with Ken Rogers:

Although separated by nationality and denomination, Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly and Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer had surprisingly similar faith journeys. Both were transformed by their encounters with the divine, and for both, their search for meaning was structured by their shared social location as Euro-centric early twentieth century white males. In their most famous writings, which were informed by their experiences of German totalitarianism, each man shared a similar quest: to find a vehicle for the Christian faith that would transcend the limitations of convention. Each came away with the conviction that developing small, cohesive “monastic” student groups was critically important to reinvigorating the church and hence society. In an era of increased isolation, in which on-line education is aggressively marketed as the answer to the cost of higher education, Bonhoeffer and Kelly’s monastic models are relevant to the survival of Quaker liberal arts colleges.

While Bonhoeffer’s and Kelly’s monastic circles shared similarities, Kelly’s model is clearly closer to the American liberal arts experience. However, both attempts at community building share commonalities:

1. Each developed largely within institutional boundaries but operated with little institutional supervision. Bonhoeffer’s Finkenwalde was supported by the Confessing Church, a breakaway from the sanctioned German Christian (Nazi) Church. The Confessing Church largely left curriculum-building to Bonhoeffer. Kelly created a Haverford student group, but ran it independently.

2. Participation was self-selecting, voluntary, and only attracted a minority of students.

3. Bonhoeffer could have as easily gone to America or to India to live with Gandhi; Kelly didn’t have to invite students to his home. Both were driven by a deep sense of urgency — their commitment to the group was deep.

4. Both Kelly and Bonhoeffer introduced culture and music and “fun” into the mix.

5. Both pushed their students’ boundaries, Bonhoeffer through advocating pacifism in the context of a culture of young pastor trainees eager to avenge Versailles: “The majority of the students completely rejected his suggestion that conscientious objection was something a Christian should consider.” Kelly, as we have seen, urged his students to embrace a George Fox-like evangelism that rubbed against upper middle class American cultural norms.

Quaker colleges already have the infrastructure and methodology to build strong spiritual/intellectual communities in a context of egalitarianism and might do well to more fully embrace that tradition, which is at the heart of Quakerism. In a world that is increasingly commodified, hurried and “cyber,” some students hunger for meaningful living interactions. Both Kelly and Bonhoeffer would likely have advocated for not taking the opportunity to build human capital for granted. Instead, like Woolman, they sought, in a “pattern … plain,” a way to build up that community.

Diane, center, pictured with ESR writing students, faculty, and graduates

You can read the full article here:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What Not to Wear

The following is the text of a sermon delivered by ESR student Leigh Eason on November 11 at the meeting she pastors, West Elkton Friends:

Colossians 3: 8-14 (NIV)  8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.  12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Change is so very uncomfortable, that many times we just stay with what we have, even when we know it isn't working for us.  Take the state of Quakerism, for instance. Today in the United States of America the number of people in the Religious Society of Friends has dropped almost 25% in less than thirty years. Using 2002 data, we dropped from about 121,000 to about 92,000 members. If we are to survive for the next generation, it is paramount that we begin doing certain things that were set out by our founders and certain things that are adaptations and new ways of expressing our beliefs. In essence, we have to be willing to change, to live into our testimonies, and to put on a new self that meets the needs of our society. To use an old phrase, we have to be willing to adapt “so as to speak to thy condition.”

There is a program on The Learning Channel called "What Not to Wear." Friends of the fashion-challenged submit names to the producers along with reasons they feel their friends need a fashion makeover.  If the producers are interested, they stalk the person who needs the fashion makeover taking video footage of what the intended contestant wears for two weeks, making record of bad clothing choices. If they are selected, the person is called to stand in front of the two actors who will show this person, in front of their friends, the video footage in order to convince them to give up their entire wardrobe and go on a shopping spree with their guidance and with 5,000 dollars. They bring in their clothes to a large room, and the clothes are placed on a clothes rack. There is a big metal trash can, and they have to watch as the actors on the program take the clothes off of the rack and throw them into the trash. It is difficult for me to watch. Most of the contestants cry. Many argue for their clothes as if begging for clemency. Many of the clothes have some sentimental value to the contestants. The contestants recall what was happening in their lives when they wore that shirt or blouse, and they don't want to forget that memory. Some contestants don't want to go forward. And these programs I have gotten to see are only the contestants who have gone forward.

And these are the ones willing to even consider change.  The contestants who do not even consider it, never are shown on television.  There are people who just say, "No, I can't do this.” There have to be people who are not willing to let their memories or their choices go into the can.  There is already some dumpster diving that does happen.  Anything worse than that, I presume are the contestants we never get to see. But there are definitely people resistant to the challenge, resistant to giving up their clothes, and resistant to accepting new rules of behavior for a look they won't know or aren't sure they will have control over. Because the contestants are then taken to New York with a 5,000 dollar credit limit, and told how to dress in fashion.

Some of the contestants seem to want to buy 5,000 dollars of their old clothes that just look slightly different. It is more than saying that they have their own personal style. The actors in the show try to teach them new choices, but they also try to understand the contestant and the contestants' reasons for the selections. What ensues is a push and shove of sorts between what the person likes and trying to get them to accept new behaviors and choices.

It is a long, long way from the Quaker gray clothing our ancestors wore. And I'm not citing this to ask that we throw out the simplicity and equality testimonies. I'm not at all. The contrary actually.

What occurs to me when I watch it is that people have specific reasons they dress in certain ways. Choices of behavior, even selections of clothing, have specific triggers in the brain. Even when they get to the part in this television program where the contestants go shopping, change is hard.  But so much of this is like the scripture in Colossians 3, because we hang onto anger and all the memories associated with it, foul language and how cool it makes us feel, the statement it makes about us, we think.  We hang onto our memories of trauma and refuse to heal.  And we hang onto old ways of worship, old ways of organizing, old ways of doing things, because like those nasty ugly sweats, they give us comfort and makes us feel we can move about freely in our bad-looking world.

This past weekend my clerk and I attended The Indiana Yearly Meeting Representative Council.  For a long time the people of Indiana Yearly Meeting have been unwilling to make a change.  They had clung onto what they knew, and wanted others to do just what they had done for years, even though it wasn't working.  Yet, I witnessed a change in Indiana Yearly Meeting on Saturday. Sitting there listening as changes were made, and people felt uncomfortable, I was reminded of this television program, but it also gave me hope.

After the Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business ended, I had a chance to speak with Doug Shoemaker, the superintendent of Indiana Yearly Meeting, and expressed to him my want for the two yearly meetings to work together in the future.  I told him I thought he had the harder job. There were members of the old Indiana Yearly Meeting who wanted to vote. There were members of the old Indiana Yearly Meeting who thought we didn't know Jesus. There were members who talked about cutting out the flesh eating diseases to save the body of Christ. And I said, “and with all that, we (meaning the new association of Meetings and individuals from IYM) get an opportunity to revive Quakerism. “I like my job much better than yours,” I said.  And he agreed.

Given the task ahead of reviving Quakerism, my question for us today is, "Can we let go of the old and put on the new in order to not only preserve our heritage, but to make the future possible for Quakers?"
If there were a rack of old behaviors that don't serve us well, would we allow for the necessary change? Do we, when the behaviors are changed, have the urge to go in after them, and quickly put them back on? It is even more complicated than this superficial show about outfits. When we look at changing behaviors personally, we have to look at not only stopping the behaviors, but accepting and healing what creates the urge to do them again.

We can follow the prescription in Colossians. Can we accept that we not only have to take off the garments of distractions, but that there are two levels of change that have to happen: we can change the focus inside of ourselves on more discerning and prayerful actions, and we can change the focus we take outside of ourselves as well, changing what we do in the community? We can't just change one or the other because they are intertwined.

There are things that motivate us not to change. I know that sounds like an ironic statement, but even not changing is a choice. I can use myself as an example. My choice at times to keep the same eating habits that made me unhealthy may have a lot to do with an old trauma or just fear. But it is not an excuse. It is a need to see where I need to heal, and get the healing work done. I can’t make excuses. As Maya Angelou said, “Someone was hurt before you, wronged before you, hungry before you, frightened before you, beaten before you, humiliated before you, raped before you… yet, someone survived… You can do anything you choose to do.”

If we use the analogy of this show, my refusing to get this healing work done would be the equivalent of me reaching into the trash can to retrieve behaviors God has tossed away. I am actively refusing an opportunity for something better in my life.

And oh do we find the excuses to not change: it's too hard, it won’t work, and the most profound, we don't have time. There is a quote from a book called Life's Little Instruction Book that says, “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresea, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” How we spend our time is a choice.

So how does this apply to the problem that I first brought up, the drop in activity and membership among Quakers? It is the resistance to change that is killing us and choosing to be absorbed into a dying form of Christendom. The good news is that we have Testimonies that we could be living into. They are profound, earth-shattering Testimonies that people in this world need us to live into so that we can lead a way to spirituality that works, that is clear, that gives light and life and grace.

But we choose to remain in whatever state we have been in. This stifles our growth. Because being a Friend isn't just a belief, it is an applied belief system. Other than the ability to remain civil in the face of opposition, I witnessed a wonderful act of Friendly Process at that Indiana Yearly Meeting meeting. Greg Hinshaw, the clerk, practiced restraint, let go of old behaviors, set aside what he admitted was a behavior pattern of agenda making and let go of intentions, and listened. It made all the difference in the world. Being totally present and listening to that of God with whom we disagree is what it means to be Friends. It is an example of trusting the process because we trust the God in the process to work through it to bring about needed change.  This process has to be trusted and these testimonies have to be lived out from the inside out. They challenge us to change our behaviors from the norms of society, and to become lights in the darkness of life, and to trust a God who is aware and living through us to make this world a healed place of existence.

But they also challenge us to look within to find the reason that we don't live with simplicity, or that we don't speak with peace, or that we don't include others. It gives us a community that is supposed to be about not only inclusion but accountability, helping each other to live closer to these Testimonies so that we can be the change in this world.

Imagine our lives if simplicity reigned, if we only spoke with peace and goodness to other people, if we only allowed positive and affirming conditions to exist in our own beings. It doesn't matter what we do in committee or even what we do in our world or our work that is about these testimonies if we don't apply them internally. Did you know that the statistics of abuse among Quakers has some disturbing information contained within? Did you know that the most abusive Quaker spouses are more likely to be involved in outside work for peace? We can't change the world until we change ourselves. Hypocrisy revolts people. So if we want to attract others to us, we have to not be afraid of internal change. Internal change is the most difficult change.

As the light shines on your life in silence, introspection for points of resistance and change is always in order. There is no change that is outside of the reach of God. We simply have to be willing to allow these changes to happen.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Making Things Holy and Whole

Below is an excerpt of a reflection by ESR student Josh Seligman on a message delivered in worship on November 8, 2012:

In today's programmed worship service at ESR, Michael Sherman preached from Hebrews 10 about sacrifice.  Michael argued that Jesus' death on the cross was the final sacrifice and that God no longer desires Christians to sacrifice, but rather to give of ourselves willingly.

This resurfaced some questions I have been asking since being in seminary:  What was and is the meaning of Jesus' death on the cross?  How did or does Jesus' death save us?  What does it mean for Christians to sacrifice?  Perhaps exploring the very word "sacrifice" will help.

Sacrifice comes from "sacra," which means holy, and "facere," which can mean to make, to do, or to perform. "Holy," it is important to note, comes from "hale," which means health, heartiness, wholeness.  Literally, to sacrifice means to make or do something holy, something whole. 

If Jesus' death on the cross was a sacrifice, then Jesus' death was something holy and whole, or it made some thing or things holy and whole--or both.  As I understand it, this is consistent with the gospel.  Christians proclaim that Jesus' death on the cross has reconciled humanity and God.  Some say that his death has reconciled the whole world with God.  That through Jesus' death, we receive forgiveness of sins, and through Jesus' wounds we are healed.  That the cross has dismantled the wall between Jew and Gentile.  Jesus' death is holy and whole because it makes us holy and whole.  If his death did none of these things, then it would not be holy; it would not be a sacrifice.

You can read Josh's entire post here:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

ESR alum Silas Wanjala: Peacemaking in Kenya

ESR alum Silas Wanjala just finished six months as the Friends Relations intern at American Friends Service Committee and recently shared. With the assistance of a grant from the Pickett Endowment for Quaker Leadership, Silas has been speaking about unrest in Kenya and the efforts of Quakers and other organizations to promote peace there. Below is an excerpt from a recent piece he wrote for AFSC:

"I was studying at Friends Theological College (FTC) in Kenya. After the election and the violence that followed in December and January, I was eager to learn peacemaking skills and how the Quaker church can help. At FTC I had three experiences that led to my believing that nonviolence can be taught and that Christians ought to teach it as part of their message.

"One overriding message that was common to all three experiences was the element of forgiveness as a process of healing. I also was introduced to nonviolence as a conflict resolution tool and I was taught to understand the message of Jesus as recorded in the Sermon on the Mount. "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

"Those teachings and my understanding of Jesus' teachings on nonviolence have convinced me that the Quaker church can contribute to resolving and reducing conflicts and violence in Kenya and in Africa as a whole. I want to be a part of that process."

You can read the entire article here:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Quakering Theology

ESR professor David Johns has an article,"Quakering Theology: Manifesting Our Convictions in the World Today," in the latest issue of Western Friend. Below is an excerpt:

"I am interested in Quaker-ing theology—how we add a Quaker texture to Christian thinking. This is a process of leaving fingerprints all over conversations about faith.

"[W]hen we are Quakering theology rather than building a Quaker theology we are involved in a conversation much larger than our group alone. It requires we maintain openness to the ideas and ways of being of others; but more than openness, it requires we listen and develop a deep familiarity as well. It means recognizing that honest engagement with other communities of faith will challenge us and call us to change individually and as a movement. Quakering implies entering the conversation in meaningful ways, adding a certain texture or quality to it carrying the life and experience of Friends. This does not come easy; it needs time, life, and love."

You can read the full article here:

 David Johns is a graduate of ESR and the School's Associate Professor of Theology.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Can Friends develop a heterotopic praxis?

ESR alum Scot Miller recently shared his thoughts on Quakers and the apocalyptic, utopia, and heterotopia on his blog. Below is an excerpt from that post:

In terms of sacred spaces, I am intrigued by the garden stories. Quakers may easily identify gardens as particularly meaningful “set apart” spaces because, qualitatively at least, Friends have a love for natural beauty, creation and creativity, and nature as a simple, perhaps whole, reflection of the divine. Gardens as “set apart” or “sacred” space are what Michael Foucault called heterotopias. While utopia may be a “future perfected place,” or the building of perfected place, those on the outside only observe unrealistic expectations and often, exclusion but are often excluded unless one is willing to accept the normal behaviors and boundaries of utopian groups.

Foucault considers utopian places as separate, but unrealistic in their goals of harmony or perfect space. In fact, they serve as heterotopias, or separate places that serve as voluntary spaces that affirm identity or ideas about the sacred. They are also involuntary, spaces like prisons and mental health facilities.

The main point of heterotopia, or separate space, is that they are defined by difference, or, peculiarity according to those who enter the space. Prisons act as a space that separate a people who have not found the means to operate within the norms of their community. Mental health facilities serve the same purpose. Yet, separate spaces also have more positive purposes, and I think that Quakers can not only identify with certain aspects of separate and sacred spaces, but might carry “otherness” as a corporate identity that adds meaning to worship, sacramental living, the way we speak about ourselves and the culture, and how we contribute to the world around us.

Can...Friends, who have learned to thrive within the heterotopic space of waiting worship, further develop heterotopic space into heterotopic praxis?

Quakers had their apocalyptic moments, and have necessarily lost the characteristic. To self-marginalize is to die before one’s time, and martyrdom can only make sense in the worst of unjust circumstances, or specific responses by individuals as an act of self-sacrifice for a greater perceived good. Yet, apocalyptic or utopian thinking is still an important aspect of human participation in changing the scope of history. Without apocalyptic action, change might not occur, but more importantly, it might not be remembered. Suddenly, history and justice become void of genesis and viewed more or less as nothing but the onward thrust of history that is driven by the unique capacity to reason.

However, Friends can no longer justify apocalyptic thinking as the marker of our communities. Friends serve as valuable components of our communities in a variety of capacities. Yet, Friends have little to say about the ways in which Quakerism(s) are meaningful outside of individual interpretations of testimonies (not representative of heterotopia due to individualistic nature of authority) and our fact of worship (heterotopic in that we are an alternative space of sacredness due to the communion, and not the building or otherwise). Outside of worship, and likely a few other practices that are increasingly viewed as archaic or unimportant, Friends have nothing to offer as a faith community other than our “faithful participation” in liberal democracy, electoral contexts, and participation in ecumenical strategies that focus on unity, indeed, at the expense of diversity. Utopias, as I perceive them, are intentional in eliminating diversity by seducing others into a coerced vision of justice of all regardless of differences. Yet, in utopias and apocalyptic communities, the first action of self-marginalizing ‘heretics” is often to weed out subsequent heresies.

Heterotopic communities, however, have an ability to continuously avoid the loss of meaning and identity, continue a critique of culture, violence, and degradation, contribute to their community at large with a attention to meeting the obligation to love one’s neighbor, and, plant and water future apocalyptic or utopian movements that bring about a sense of urgency that is necessary to achieving justice and self-determination. I believe that Quaker heterotopia can achieve such a balance, but the balance can only be achieved when Friends become willing to serve our communities according to our testimonies, but refuse to attempt to control outcomes.

Our separate space, set aside for worship and the living out of testimonies, can only be maintained over time if we reassess our role and participation in liberal democracy, and how such participation serves as a barrier to our youth maintaining a role in among Friends, attracting new participants by offering an true alternative, and watering the hedges of faith by giving rise to apocalyptic interpretations of the faith that will promote change, with our support, until those utopians grow exhausted and return to the heterotopic existence of identity maintenance within a context that can never really be made just, or even whole, but can continuously serve as a voluntary alternative space that refuses to hold a stake in political or economic outcomes.

A community can never, or should never, force an ethic onto the rest of the world. I believe Quakers will agree with such statement as it presents. However, in order to achieve preferred outcomes, Friends will often find themselves engaging in actions that tend to make testimonies unintelligible. Two examples readily come to mind. Vote exchanges in the Bush-Gore election, and the recent support offered by Friends to the LGBT community concerning the right to serve openly in the United States Armed Forces. I perceive the above actions as fully representative of the manner in which Friends failed to preserve identity and “otherness” – or a valuable critique of war and power – in order to accommodate the pressures of controlling political outcomes that favor the ever-present myth that there is a “lesser of two evils.”

A commitment to expression of Friends values, not only within the heterotopia of worship, but within the context of corporate expressions of testimonies, is not only a means of identifying ourselves as a peculiar people, but indeed, as identifying ourselves a people who need not control outcomes, but provide an example of possibilities – possibilities that can only occur when we step outside of the perceive as real, but truly chaotic world of management, power and control, coercive behaviors that even extend to voting, and perhaps most of all, disengaging from confronting political opposition through ballot box or debate, and instead working on developing that separate space. We can work for our communities and be a valuable part of those communities – and show our commitment to healing and non-violence by being a presence, and not a force.

Scot Miller is a 2008 graduate of ESR. He offers the following update: "I am continuing my work with Georgetown United MethodistChurch as the Director of Adult Ministries. I am also starting LGBT support groups at the church with another Quaker for individuals age 14-21. Along with the farm, which continues to be a great experience, I am developing a program for Well House, a former emergency homeless shelter that will soon become, with funding, a residential program for mothers who are in danger of losing custody of their children, or are working to regain custody of their children who have been place in foster care. I have just accepted an position with Pine Rest Christian Health Services, working as an MSW Street Outreach therapist and program designer. On top of it all – I still teach as an adjunct instructor of social work at Kuyper College, and am applying for admission to the Michigan State Ph.D program in the social work department."

You can read the rest of Scot's post on his blog here: