10 January 2008

In other words

I finally got around to seeing the iTunes download of the first Daily Show broadcast after the start of the writers' strike. I must say that, as a writer, I find some appeal in the very idea of a writers' strike. OK, society, just try to get along without us! Hah!

Not that I'm about to shut down this weblog out of solidarity. First of all, going out on strike against myself is plain weird, and second, I don't claim that this weekly reflection has any entertainment value whatever.

However, this week I do feel drawn to present some words that others have written. Writer no. 1 is David Finke, whom I have known and loved for many years, with whom I share a deep love of Chicago, and who forwarded to me a copy of a letter that he had written to a mutual friend. In his letter, he said many things that I would have loved to say equally well.

The context is an exchange of letters. First, David sent some Christmas meditations. The particular recipient appreciated them very much--and said so. In his response, David eloquently affirms the value of mutual encouragement. In turn, I can affirm that David has this gift in abundance.

For myself, I relate David's words to my experiences last year of trying to build a larger shared understanding of Friends United Meeting and its perennial conflicts, and in particular of trying to help lead a Board retreat where both integrity and compassion would prevail. We still don't know whether that retreat reached its goals, but David's words beautifully express the wider context of mutual belonging, mutual blessing, within which we can have worthwhile conflicts and find common ground.
Your message of several days ago, in response to my early Christmas Eve meditations, was incredibly strengthening to me. When I send a message to someone, I usually feel fine simply to have sent it. If I hear back from them, so much the better. I don't particularly expect expressions of appreciation, though of course they are welcome. But from time to time I hear, as I just did from you, that there is a particular timeliness in what I had to say, where it intersects with the other person's life in a meaningful or helpful way.

When this happens, I have a cascading set of emotions that include feeling blessed, feeling well-used of God, feeling that miracles can happen on a daily basis, sensing that we all are so interconnected and should act on that reality more often -- to God's glory and our enrichment. Although I may not have mentioned it to you, there have been times in my life when little demons of self-doubt and temptations of self-images of worthlessness have haunted me. Mostly they have not dominated me, but they're never too far away.

However, when something like your letter comes my way, it jolts me back--benignly--to the greater Reality: of the goodness of our Creator and the sources of renewal and empowerment and meaning and direction that are ever at hand, if we but take the leap of faith, accept the invitation of the one who "stands at the door and knocks," and let Love rule our lives. Then--not only for our benefit but also to the benefit of the larger Community--growth and healing and vision and encouragement make life worthwhile once more. We have been "delivered from evil," and the Tempter has been pushed back to the sidelines.

Your note of affirmation is a beautiful part-and-parcel of what I'm increasingly calling the "ministry of encouragement." I'm sure the phrase is not original with me. But the concept has been growing on me, not only as a recipient of such but also a practitioner. I think there must be some physical or biological law in the evolution of our species, that this is something we need as much as protein and vitamins and carbohydrate and water.

It probably has to do with the fact that on the one hand, we have a sense of our particularity, our individuality, our autonomy. But on the other hand, we actually also, invariably, are social creatures, whether we acknowledge it or not. Some baby animals are on their own, surviving, from moment of emerging from an egg; not so we primates. We need nursing and nurture and protection and instruction -- from others! Those of us in Western culture, and Americans in particular, are vulnerable to the traps of "rugged individualism," neglecting the reality of how interdependent we are.

My background in social psychology (actually, sociology was my major) reminds me that our very sense of self comes about in social interaction. It is an "emergent" that comes about as we learn about the world and thereby ourselves from others. There are schools of philosophy which make much the same point. How wonderfully ironic, that "self" comes from "society." But my main emphasis here is that we probably never outgrow our need for affirmation and confirmation, no matter how apparently self-assured and self-confident we may seem to be.

Others may be convinced that we are suave and knowledgeable and well-organized and serene. But I suspect all of us (at least I know it's true for myself) never are totally sure that we have "got it right" or "done it right" or even done as well as we can. Somewhere, in the depths of psyche, there may be at least a lingering measure of anxiety. Maybe for some it is completely obscured by bravado and bluff.

Maybe I shouldn't generalize, but simply speak for myself: I need encouragement, and I delight when I find that my giving of encouragement may make a difference for someone else. When I do that, it is clearly not that I want to be praised or flooded with appreciation; I simply want to do my part, being faithful, to "make a difference." Fortuntately, it happens enough of the time to help nudge me along and not give up the practice.

Let me share another insight that I've been treasuring. For a number of years recently, I've had a sense that there are these half-dozen or so folks who are special in my life, to whom I could share most anything, who would be there for me and understand and accept me -- beyond what we expect in familial and intimate relations. Maybe it's like the Jewish legend that there are a dozen (or is it 3 dozen) Righteous Men whose exisistence assures that the universe will still go on. Only God knows who they are, and they don't necessarily know each other. (I don't know if I'm quite quoting that right, but maybe you get the idea.)

For me, such people--and I count you among them!--are in our beloved Religious Society of Friends. They come from all the branches--FUM, FGC, EFI, Conservative, unaffiliated. They may well describe themselves with different theological terms and self-concepts. Nonetheless, each of them are for me a vital part of a sense of Renewal, points of hope and light. Every one of them--of us--have been tempted with or sometimes caught up in the petty and the factional and the political maneuverings and power-plays of which Quakers are no more immune than any other denomination or religious movement. Some have been bruised by fellow Friends. All have found Liberation in their lives by the presence of Love in lifting us up and carrying us over a sense of disappointment, even of disillusionment--which of course have their own reality but are never the Ultimate Reality.

When I think of the beloved fellow-Friends to whom I send a message or a love-note or a meditation, or even some aesthetic expression from time to time, I realize I have a sense of excitement as well as of reassurance and trust. When I think of them--of you--I know once again that God has not left us helpless or bereft of guidance and direction, in all our human failings. Some other time I might be able to elaborate on this--but for now, let me just state that this happens.

* * *

So, this may all be a preface to saying to you that you are a visible and vibrant part of what I've come to call our "Fellowship of the Holy Spirit." We are not a faction, or a caucus, or even a self-styled "movement." But, among all those whom I find in that Fellowship, there is a sense of the movement of God--as Paul says, "beyond what we would ask or think." As I approach that birthday in a month or so which reminds me that I've lived 2/3 of a century, I know that I have fewer years left on earth than what I've spent already (in all likelihood!) Therefore, I want to use the remaining ones well, while I have lucidity and energy. And I want to do that with companions. You are such a companion. And I want to be for you,
as well.

"Like a mighty army moves the church of God," said the author of one of my lesser-favorite hymns. More likely, we may be moving in little squadrons or patrols, perhaps feeling our way through jungles, sometimes through the darkness. But we are tied together, and we know who is our Captain. And we can live and move with that same confidence that the early church had, before its Constantinian Captivity: that even if we are slain, the movement goes on, the cause of Truth cannot be defeated, the Lord of Life is there in Resurrection, no matter how that is understood or expressed. "Neither life nor death nor angels nor principalities..." can separate us, or allow us to be more than momentarily discouraged.

With these thoughts, with this appreciation, with this added encouragement, let us enter this new year, let us uphold each other in prayer, let us rejoice in the triumphs which punctuate our lives, no matter how small they may appear to others. Let us be more than willing to bear our mutual burdens and shed the sympathizing tear. We are joined in heart. We hope to meet again. We know that our Redeemer liveth. We know that Christ is come, is here, to teach us himself.
I can tell a story about David which may show how truth and love co-exist for him. About twelve years ago, we at Quaker Life decided to do a cover story on the American Friends Service Committee, another occasional source of organizational friction and controversy among Friends. When it became known that we had asked David Finke to write the cover story, we heard from several Friends close to AFSC that they were concerned about our choice. Over the years, David had been asking questions about AFSC's apparent drift away from Friends, and he had consequently become known as one of AFSC's critics. His article for Quaker Life, however, was a balanced and thoughtful piece of writing that lived up to our high hopes for that issue--as I knew it would.

Now for another voice: that of Marshall Massey, another Friend known for expressing truth with love and love with truth. This time I'm simply reposting some thoughtful words he wrote as a comment in response to my observations of a few weeks ago on "Denomination and monopoly," on the position of the Orthodox Church in Russia. Marshall begins by quoting me, ...There's clearly just one default option for Christian Russians, or Russians interested in being Christian. Anything other than Orthodoxy is somehow strained, strange, and increasingly defensive. He goes on to say:
I've spent many years living on the edge of a part of the United States where there is clearly one default option for Christian U.S. residents, or for U.S. residents interested in being Christian, namely, low-church Protestantism. Much of the rural interior U.S. West and South is like that. In that region, anything other than low-church Protestantism is somehow strained, strange, and most definitely defensive. I recall a Jew who lived in rural west Texas for a while, recounting how the kids in the school where he taught asked him, "What kind of Christians are the Jews? Are they more like the Baptists or more like the Assemblies of God?" The kids could not imagine that there was any markedly different sort of religion, because they'd never actually been exposed to one. (Just watching TV does not make these things clear.) I myself have often been asked, once people have begun realizing that I am religiously a bit different, whether I am "Christian or Catholic".

In Utah and adjoining parts of Idaho, Arizona and Nevada, the one-clear-default-option is LDS, aka "Mormon". I haven't lived there, but I've visited extensively enough to know what it feels like. To be anything but LDS there is somehow strained, strange, and very defensive indeed.

There are some very large and very tightly-knit Catholic portions of the United States, including one in Omaha, Nebraska, where I presently live, where people belonging to the Catholic community are so wholly surrounded and immersed in it that, even though they see Protestants on the streets around them, in their perception there's still clearly just one default option, namely Catholicism, and anything else is somehow strained, strange and defensive. A young woman from that world, who converted to born-again Protestantism a year or so ago, told me this past spring, "I don't dare let my family know what I have become."

There are Friends living in all three of those portions of the U.S., however, and they are very clear that there is a real reason for their belonging to a separate denominational fellowship—namely, to live out, and bear witness to, various aspects of religion that the dominant religious community neglects. It sounds to me as if the Russian who joined the Baptists because they mind one another's business has realized a similar truth.

I don't absolutely know whether we Friends are "a competing form of Christianity" or not, but I suspect we are. Traditionally we've done our best to live in love and coöperation with the professing Christians not of our own Society where we've lived, but there's no question that we've also spent a lot of our history being forthright in criticism of the wrongs that established churches have committed. And we have, traditionally, been a separate religious community, which separateness means that we have been in de facto competition for believers' time and energy, whether we have wanted to admit it or not. Candor should compel us to admit these facts, even as we admit that we have only love in our hearts for every true follower of the living God.
I want to affirm Marshall's candor: wherever Friends maintain a spiritually grounded community and a Spirit-led communal witness, regardless of our statistical minority or even "guest" status, we are in some sense a challenge to the established culture and are implicitly inviting people to consider making a shift of affiliation. Some queries that arise for me:
  • Are we aware of the ways in which the majority or dominant culture provides a challenge to us even as we provide a challenge to it?
  • A related question: How do we remain "convinced" in our own discipleship and testimonies without false heroism or elitism?
  • How do our spiritual gifts help us divide the labor (some focusing on challenge, others on affirmation, for example) while remaining mutually accountable?
  • How prepared are we to take risks in making common cause with those outside our fellowship--or are we fearful of "contamination"? Moscow Friends publicly minuted their support of the Jehovah's Witnesses when the latter were in legal jeopardy in Russia, even though few if any Friends identify with most JW doctrines.
  • Do we believe that every member of the dominant religious culture would be better served by shifting to ours, or just some of them, or very few? How do we know? How many risks of dialogue with the larger culture are we willing to take before we even pretend to have a clue about this? Do we believe that, ultimately, the two groups might have a leavening effect on each other, leaving both better off? Or are we supposed to be a permanent thorn in their flesh? Or are we ultimately just a tiny little chaplaincy for a few idealists who'd rather not deal with awkward newcomers unless they're already pretty much like us?

PS on "Am I a political junkie?" (last week). One commenter wrote,
You spend a lot of time in Russia. I would like to know if you have read the popular Russian religious text The Way of a Pilgrim and its second-half or sequel The Pilgrim Continues His Way and what you think of them overall.

The Way of a Pilgrim - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

They are obviously not Quaker texts but Russian Orthodox. Nevertheless I would find your opinion interesting.

Your blog entry triggered this question because it made me remember a portion of the book in which excessive engagement in political affairs and political talk, as opposed to prayer, is suggested to be an indication of insufficient commitment to God.

For those who have a copy of this text, I refer to the chapter containing the fifth meeting or fifth narrative, in the section where the pilgrim goes to Kiev to make confession and is rebuked gently by the father to whom he confesses.

I struggle as you do with news junkieism. It draws me away from more important things. I sometimes wish I could ditch the computer for a while. But my job requires it and the temptation is always there. Unfortunately I usually yield. It is as if I am a smoking addict who is required by work to smoke a cigarette or two each day while attempting to quit the habit itself.
I replied, in part, "Someone once said that most devotional books are written by intuitive introverts for intuitive introverts--and that suits me just fine, since I'm one of them! But I'm also aware that the church needs to provide for all temperaments, which is why I see such books as illustrative or advisory, rather than prescriptive--even though I don't want to lose the hero-value of the books: it is possible to pray without ceasing, to become utterly God-centered, despite the excuses I come up with to cut myself slack."

Two other comments: First, I really do believe that I'm no longer hooked by politics they way I was in 1992. At that retreat, T. Canby Jones said something that really helped reorient me: Genuine Christian pacifism requires coming to terms with one's own death. Somehow a lot of my concerns seemed trivial in comparison to rededicating myself to that sort of Gospel faith. Now it seems more important to take whatever steps I can to strengthen the Church's prophetic voice in the face of injustice, rather than to rely on the political process to come up with proxy heroes for me. Yes, politics do matter, but as a dimension of relationships and stewardship, not as a spectator sport between different teams of gladiators, no matter how outwardly compelling or repulsive.

A related point: I don't think that there is an abstract principle that politics are always a carnal diversion from self-abandonment to God. Each person is gifted in a different way; for some, the way to God is through politics--that's the arena where their discipleship will best be exercised, provided that they remain anchored in eternity. Another person might truly be called to be apart, away from that arena altogether. Unfortunately, others are exactly where they shouldn't be--whether from peer pressure or laziness or lust for power or whatever. (And I personally have felt at least hints of all of these from time to time!)

Prompted by the commenter who wrote about The Way of a Pilgrim, I spent some time this evening getting reacquainted with The Philokalia, which I'd not even dipped into for several years. I had bookmarks at these points (and here I present my last "other words" for this writers'-strike edition of my blog):
18. Some without fulfilling the commandments think they possess true faith. Others fulfill the commandments and then expect the kingdom as a reward due to them. Both are mistaken.

26. While man [sic] can scarcely keep what belongs to him by nature, Christ gives the grace of sonship [sic] through the Cross.

28. There is an energy of grace not understood by beginners, and there is also an energy of evil which resembles the truth. It is advisable not to scrutinize these energies too closely, because one may be led astray, and not to condemn them out of hand, because they may contain some truth; but we should lay everything before God in hope, for He knows what is of value in both of them.

31. The intellect cannot be still unless the body is still also; and the wall between them cannot be demolished without stillness and prayer.

98. He who can without strain keep vigil, be long-suffering and pray is manifestly a partaker of the Holy Spirit. But he who feels strain while doing these things, yet willingly endures it, also quickly receives help.

174. If you should ever reach the stronghold of pure prayer, do not accept the knowledge of created things which is presented to you at that moment by the enemy, lest you lose what is greater. For it is better to shoot at him from above with the arrows of prayer, cooped up as he is down below, than to parley with him as he offers up to us the knowedge he has plundered, and tries to tear us away from this prayer which defeats him.

(--St. Mark the Ascetic, "On those who think they are made righteous by works: two hundred and twenty-six texts")

* * *

7. Spiritual discourse fully satisfies our intellectual perception, because it comes from God through the energy of love. It is on account of this that the intellect continues undisturbed in its concentration on theology. It does not suffer then from the emptiness which produces a state of anxiety, since it its contemplation it is filled to the degree that the energy of love desires. So it is right always to wait, with a faith energized by love, for the illumination which will enable us to speak. For nothing is so destitute as a mind philosophizing about God when it is without Him.

11. Spiritual discourse always keeps the soul free from self-esteem, for it gives every part of the soul a sense of light, so that it no longer needs the praise of men[sic]. In the same way, such discourse keeps the mind free from fantasy, transfusing it completely with the love of God. Discourse deriving from the wisdom of this world, on the other hand, always provokes self-esteem; because it is incapable of granting us the experience of spiritual perception, it inspires its adepts with a longing for praise, being nothing but the fabrications of conceited men. It follows, therefore, that we can know with certainty when we are in the proper state to speak about God, if during the hours when we do not speak we maintain a fervent remembrance of God in untroubled silence.

(--St. Diadochos of Photiki, "On spiritual knowledge and discrimination: one hundred texts")
These quotations are from St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, The Philokalia: The Complete Text, v.1, ed. and transl. G.F.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, Kallistos Ware, London, Faber and Faber, 1979.

Righteous links: In the spirit of the Philokalia, Rosalie Grafe's Domestic Monastery. Enjoy the many links! ~/~ On the 24-7Prayer.com site: Andy Freeman writes plausibly on "2008: Year of Decision." ~/~ A thank-you to Janet Riley for these human rights education resources on the Council of Europe site. ~/~ Karen Street always sets helpful challenges in her A Musing Environment weblog. In her most recent post, she considers the report, The Age of Consequences, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ~/~ Mary Kay Rehard publishes a new weblog, Kenya News, for Friends concerned for peace in Kenya.

From the sublime to the ... well, ecstatic: in my Converging Worlds Dept., the blues come to Moscow, as Ana Popovic answers the question of the ages, "How'd you learn to shake it like that?"


Anonymous said...


These spoke to my condition:

"wherever Friends maintain a spiritually grounded community and a Spirit-led communal witness, regardless of our statistical minority or even "guest" status, we are in some sense a challenge to the established culture and are implicitly inviting people to consider making a shift of affiliation."

I like your queries because I often wonder these myself. I'm a young newcomer to Friends, I go to San Francisco Meeting. San Francisco culture usually already "challenges the established culture". I arrived looking for radicals, progressives, but sometimes I wonder how much Friends stand out among progressive, hippie, multicultural activists. How does Friends activism trump everything else? The religious radicals I know (non Quaker) are out wandering the streets with the homeless.

I ask: What does the Light give us that others don't tap, how can we let the Light stretch us more than the mainstream let themselves be stretched? When the message hits the mainstream, is it time to identify another cause?

This part especially resonates with me and is something some of us have recently brought up: "are we ultimately just a tiny little chaplaincy for a few idealists who'd rather not deal with awkward newcomers unless they're already pretty much like us?"

Right now, the activist world I'm in outside the Quakers is very accepting and diverse, and not necessarily less spiritual. I'm trying to figure out what we can learn from that.


Johan Maurer said...

I hope others will help respond to your excellent comment. Here's what immediately came to me: Jesus is the unique, subversive, decisive element. Living in community with him at the center changes everything. Putting all our eggs into the Jesus basket, breathing Holy Spirit when we're alone and when we're together, reading the Bible with raw honesty and NO false piety, and then walking into the world with all our hearts, ready to know both joy and pain--all of this is what I yearn for in community.

I want us to see that Quaker faith and practice gives us the keys to a completely new synthesis of progressive politics and evangelical (word used intentionally!!) faith. Original Quakerism was an INTENSIFICATION of Christianity, not a relativization of it. Quakers didn't abandon Jesus; instead, they abandoned the religion industry.

I don't think the new spirituality industry has any more substance or integrity than the old religion industry; when we abandon all the counterfeits, I'm counting on the Holy Spirit herself, and nothing else, to take up the slack.

PS: Best wishes for your new blog. "Touching hearts is a sensitive art" indeed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for replying. I think I need to clarify - my queries were not about the why or what of Quaker activism, but a question if modern Quakers are living up to their history and what they say they believe in. I have been attending since last summer and have to admit I am disappointed and struggling with the discrepancies I perceive between Quakerism in theory v. in reality. I was drawn to Quakerism in its original form, and not necessarily its present form which is not nearly as radical as I'd hoped. When I told my friends about becoming Quaker, no one knew of their presence in this city. That is a problem! Why is there no Catholic Worker type movement that is visible, penetrates mainstream society and makes everyone else say, "Wow, those Quakers are really hardcore!"? Maybe there is more to it I haven't seen yet.

Johan Maurer said...

What set me off on my tangent was your observation, Right now, the activist world I'm in outside the Quakers is very accepting and diverse, and not necessarily less spiritual. I'm trying to figure out what we can learn from that. Both Friends theology and the Philokalia seem to be telling me that being spiritual, accepting, and progressive isn't enough to earn attention. What I didn't say directly, but have said in the past on this blog (as have some others here and elsewhere) is that our actual discipleship doesn't often enough live up to our theory or our theology.

So what I wrote was not so much an explanation as an exhortation. I can't aim it at Friends in San Francisco, since I've only been there a few times briefly--but we fall short too often in too many places. I poured my heart out on this topic more than once (here, here, and here). So far, my own yearly meeting, Northwest, seems to have done as good a job as I've seen in the USA, and it looks like Kenyan Friends have just made an unusually forthright public proclamation in the face of crisis.

I think that we can do better, and I've seen flashes of evidence in support of this hope. Part of my modest contribution is to help seed the culture with an expanded vision of our foundational elements (choosing both evangelism AND social justice instead of the tired old OR; rejecting objectification; and encouraging EVERYONE to stop faking it).

I'm actually moderately optimistic. Thanks in part to the Internet, discussions on the core values and the integrity of Friends' discipleship are far more widespread than at any time in my memory. We're asking the awkward questions ("Why do we seem to love diversity more in theory than in practice?" "Why do we claim to be accepting but put so little energy and creativity into true accessibility?" and so on.) The next step I yearn to see is more Friends following the advice of Shane Claiborne and start building the church we want to be instead of complaining about the church that is. I think that will happen, although the results may not always look like we Quakers have looked in the past. As long as people are seeking to live and worship with Jesus at the center, supporting each other in that effort and its amazing ethical consequences, it will be Quaker.

Johan Maurer said...

Just to add another thought: Maybe what I'm asking for is what old-timey Christians used to call a revival. If the Quakers in any given Progressive Urban Culture don't seem to stand out by virtue of being accepting, appreciating diversity, and having the right political opinions, isn't it possible that what is needed is NOT more of the same?

Nor is guilt or shame needed ("We're *sigh* just not enough like the early Friends anymore." "If only we dressed more plainly/stopped consuming so much/became even more nuanced and sophisticated in our advocacy." NOT that any of these things are necessarily bad or to be made fun of!!)

But what might be needed even more is contrition, repentance, and conversion. Maybe we need to let God and each other through our borders of stern autonomy. Maybe we need to let tears melt down our self-sufficiency, our cerebral analyses, our resistance to knowing in our very bones that in God we are totally loved.

Somewhere I quoted John Punshon as saying that the children of the Reformation ask, "Where will I spend eternity?" and the children of the Enlightenment ask, "How can I know what is true?" These two sets of children often talk right past each other, but it's time for them to play together and be one body, even at the possible cost of their secular cool. Modern Quakers, especially liberal Quakers, tend to be found among the Enlightenment kids, but they're actually part of a stream of Christian history that has powerful Reformation and Radical Reformation DNA. When we unite these elements, we'll be a lot more fertile.

I'm aware that I'm still on a tangent, but I'm grateful that you've stirred up these thoughts!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for performing your own ministry of encouragement by responding to my question about The Way of a Pilgrim.

Contrition and repentance are valuable, but they have to be of that sincerity that leads to conviction. The breast-beating must resolve itself in works borne of faith.

Related to your comments about what is needed for revival: I know what my problem is, or at least one of them (I have many). It is cowardice. Is it lack of conviction that leads to cowardice, or cowardice that weakens faith?

I am afraid of ridicule. I am afraid of public opinion. I am afraid to lose my job. I am afraid to confuse my friends. I am afraid to discard my life of relative security. I am afraid to lose hold of my few threads of certainty. I am afraid of physical pain and discomfort. I am afraid to risk much only to be abandoned. I am afraid to lose my life.

If I had conviction, perhaps my fears would melt away; or better still, perhaps I would be moved to act in spite of fears that do not leave. That is bravery; bravery is not being fearless but doing in spite of fear.

But I am faithless and in response to all the questions I have I can say only "I do not know!" So the few, weak, feeble things I do in the service of good are just that; few, weak, feeble, and done for my own benefit, where they might be many, strong, full-blooded, and selfless.

Bill Samuel said...

I have to say how appropriate it is that the last comment is Anonymous, because what the writer says speaks for so many if we were honest about ourselves. It being Anonymous perhaps will raise up its almost universal quality.

In my church, we are just beginning a 6-week discipleship group series on Who Am I? We are examining our influences and our history, our spiritual gifts, what holds us back from being faithful, and how we can change. This requires a lot of openness and vulnerability in sharing this with each other. It is being done in small groups with material prepared by Church staff, including rather extensive personal exercises to be done before each small group meeting. An illustration of what delights me about my church - Cedar Ridge Community Church - is that 250 people (out of an average attendance of about 400) have signed up for the discipleship groups. We are trying to take seriously being disciples of Jesus Christ. We are trying to take steps to move ourselves from the cowardice of which Anonymous so eloquently speaks. It is something for which we really need the support of each other.

Johan Maurer said...

On cowardice: I have two opposite reactions to the conversation above between Anonymous and Bill:

1) I'm really impressed by the 5/8 ratio signing up at Cedar Ridge for the discipleship groups. It often seems to me that the difference between passivity and active, courageous discipleship is not individual courage as much as corporate encouragement. If our meetings' elders actually set things up to oversee and counsel tax refusers and others practicing civil disobedience, for example, wouldn't the amount of such witnessing go up? Same for evangelistic initiatives--especially when they happen in the same meeting!

2) As I mentioned back in a post on "evangelical machismo," I'm cautious about leaders whose models of worthy discipleship "set us up either for an impossible heroism of our own (another stepladder with God's mallet at the top) or for a vicarious heroism that only they can embody on our behalf...."

I honestly don't expect even a huge revival to turn us all into instant super-disciples. "A few will do outwardly extraordinary feats of discipleship; a few will be in prison for their convictions; a few will travel the lecture circuit or write books about real or imagined feats of spiritual athletics. For most of us, the greater conformity to Christ will happen between the lines: we forgive more rapidly, confess and resist addictions more consistently, speak out against injustice more openly, reveal our faith more creatively, consume more judiciously, interact in our meetings and churches more transparently, assess and critique more generously, live more prayerfully. We will love more passionately, treat ourselves and others more tenderly. We will laugh and cry more often. And the upwardly reinforcing spiral will transform our world."