Friday, December 28, 2012

The Need for Eldering

Last week I wrote about where I see hope among Quakers today. Let me be clear that was only a partial list of the good news and I was primarily focusing on YAFs because I have read and heard YAFs talk about their negative experiences of not being supportive. With the post I did not want to diminish these concerns, but I do not think that is the only storyline out there about the current state of YAFs. But that is the only storyline I see being repeated over and over.

With that being said, I do have a concern about the current state of Quakerism: Our lack of effective eldering (that is, eldering that is spiritual-led and not personal attacks).

We need eldering again. We need people to be elders. We need people who are willing to be eldered.

We need Quaker meetings/churches to be a guide for ministers and a nurturing place for them, but also a place for people in ministry to be challenged and held accountable. I do not see this happening a lot and I, for one, have ran away from eldering on several occasions.

I have held this concern for a while, but I have not written about it yet because I do not have any concrete ideas on how to get to that point. But I feel like I needed to write this post anyways.

Overall, I do not think ministry happens just because of one person or a small group. I do not believe if the one person or group does not act or is not adequately supported, that ministry will disappear forever into the abyss. I know this because I have seen this happen a couple times where people independently feel led towards a particular ministry. Sometimes they join together and work towards this common vision. Sometimes only one or two goes forward with the ministry while others find other callings.

I want to share a personal story about not following a leading. After the last YouthQuake in 2004 (a triennial event that bought together teens and younger young adults from all kinds of Quakerism), I was pumped to have an event for Young Adult Friends across the divide and hold it during the summer at Earlham College. I even gathered together some traveling Quakers in a room to talk about this idea and to gather their opinions about this kind of event. I had found someone else to join me in this work. But it never got off the ground.

But this event still happened about four years later in May 2008 and the people who ultimately organized the conference were not in that room when I shared my idea. I did not feel called or I was not ready to take on the leading, but that energy was not lost because I did not stand up to follow. I am glad others did. It was a great conference. In the future, I hope I can stand up and follow a leading that others had, but, for some reason, they couldn't follow through.

God works in mysterious ways and being in ministry is about being faithful to God and to your own self. But also ministry is also about the community and is larger than one person or a handful of people. I am wary of ministries being focused on the glorification of an individual or a small group. Ministries are a way to live out God's Kingdom here and to show people to see what is possible through God.

This lead me to offer some queries rather than solutions:
How can ministers ground themselves into monthly meetings/churches?
How can monthly meetings/churches hold ministers accountable and ask difficult questions?
How can ministers hear these difficult questions and not feel personally attacked?

I have more questions than answers on this subject, but I am clear that Quakers need eldering again.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Bringing the Good News about the Current State of Quakerism

This summer, I preached three times at the church where I was interning. Part of sermon writing is to bring the good news at the end of the sermon that let people know that Christ loves them and to point out the good in our world that sometimes look like anything but good.

Over the past few months, I have read blog posts about how Quakerism is dying, no one is supporting Young Adult Friends' ministry, etc... I think these points do have a point, but I don't see it as that as the only point. I have seen several instances of Young Adult Friends being supported by the wider community and I believe that we are growing.

Here is some of the good news:

  • New York YM Young Adult Friends Field Secretary Gabi just wrote a post about her travels among Young Adults Friends in New York and New Jersey in the past six months. She has been busy attending to the needs of Young Adults there.
  • Christina has been carrying a leading since 2002 about a Quaker yearlong service program. She followed the leading and others joined her along the way. She was supportive by Friends all over and by her home meeting.  In August her leading came into reality when seven Young Adult Friends arrived in Atlanta to begin a yearlong internship with Quaker Voluntary Service. The leading is still growing. Houses will open in Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon next August too. And it will not stop there... People are energized about bringing this explicitly Quaker program to their community and our dream (Currently I serve on the board) is to keep growing a network of houses. 
  • In Portland, two Evangelical Friends churches and an unprogrammed meeting have joined together to support the new QVS house there. That is amazing and exciting to see the branches working together!
  • Another Young Adult Friend, Ana, followed a leading to create a Quaker summer camp in the Intermountain Yearly Meeting region. She worked for several summers at different Quaker summer camps and visited others. She and her partner, Ariel, have shared their vision with Friends across the Southwest. The camp, Mountain Friends Camp, has been going three years now and it keeps growing each summer. 
  • An unprogrammed Young Adult Friend, Zachary, was led into Navy chaplaincy. He is currently serving in the Navy under the care of an Evangelical Friends church, who have taken him in and supported him in his ministry. Next month he will speak at a Convergent Friends gathering in the Northwest, A Nursery of Truth. I wish I could go. Hopefully others can go!
  • Friends General Conference just started the New Meetings Project. The coordinator, Brent, has found that more than 70 Friends worship groups/meetings/church have started in the last ten years. That translates to one new group starting roughly every seven weeks. I have been to several of these new groups and they have a great sense of community.
  • I am a big proponent of online outreach, but two of these new meetings, West Philadelphia Worship Group and Silver River Meeting, do not have an online presence. They grow because of the community they have created. They see each other throughout the week in between meetings for worship and are deeply connected to each other lives. How can we grow to know each other outside of worship? 

Lastly, God loves us for the imperfect human beings we are.

These are just a few examples I know of and why I have not lost all hope in my faith community.

Yes, there is a lot to be sad about with Friends today, but I don't see it as just doom and gloom. I am having conversations with Friends all over about a whole range of topics and I am excited. Yes we have a lot of divisions, but amazing conversations and projects are starting!

Where do you see hope in the world of Friends today?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Questions I am Struggling with on Black Friday

I wanted to write something about Black Friday, but as I sit here and think, only questions come to mind. I am myself absorbed in the consumerism culture, not detached as I would hope I could be. Even through I won't shop today, I will shop other days and I will still continue to benefit from others' cheap labors.

As a person studying for living a life in ministry, often I feel the need to have the answers, to have it all figured out. But most of the time I stumble my way through, trusting on God to lead me. I am not divine, instead I am a human who makes errors every day, who is just trying to be faithful to a leading despite my shortcomings.

Sometimes I feel that all I have to offer others are the questions that I struggle with.

So...  Here are the questions I am struggling with today:

Why do I celebrate Jesus' birthday while bowing down to another god, Consumerism?

Why do I  benefit off of other people's cheap labor, when I wouldn't work for that same wage or under similar conditions?

Why do I find it easier to say my feelings through material gifts, instead of words?

How can I balance my desire for a stable life with my desire to stand in solidarity with others, who are abused by a system that favors cheap goods over their lives?

How can I live more deeply into these questions and not look for immediate, feel-good answers?

What questions are you struggling with today?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Proposal

A lot of people are asking: How did she propose? Instead of trying to explain the story hundreds of times, I decided to write a blog post with pictures.

First- Meet Jenn (for my friends who never met her)

Jenn on the Farm
Jenn is a beautiful and amazing person. She grew up in a small town in Iowa. When she graduated from her high school, she decided to head east and study at Georgetown University in Washington DC. After college, she stayed in DC and started working for a non-profit that does financing for low-income housing projects. In 2010 she decided to go back to school for a Masters in Social Work at Catholic University of America. In May she graduated from there and she moved up to Princeton, NJ where I currently attend seminary. At the moment, she is working on a nearby farm and studying for her NJ Social Work Licensing Exam, which she will take next month.

Second- First Proposal

Last October, we decided one weekend that we should get married. The next weekend after thinking and talking to a couple friends, I proposed. I had an elaborate plan of making her dinner and asking her. But when I walked in the front door I couldn't wait. Right thn I asked her with a ring I had bought from a craft store and a hand-drawn picture. I even put the ring on the wrong hand because I was nervous.

She decided she wanted to propose to me before we became officially engaged.

A picture of us from last Sunday
Back in July we figured out when we would celebrate 500 days of dating in August. (We had once watched 500 Days of Summer together. That movie does not resemble our relationship, but I love numbers and statistics.)

Two nights ago I double checked when 500 days thinking it was yesterday, August 7th, but Jenn showed me it was the next day, the 8th.

Third- Second Proposal

Yesterday I was away at a meeting on campus when Jenn came home from work. She texted me asking for personal time and asked that I would return home later, which was no problem. Then she asked me to bring home ice cream and I knew at that moment she would ask me. (I had expected she would proposed to me sometime in August and that she might do it on 500 days, then the ice cream was the hint).

I returned home with Ben & Jerry's to candles burning and homemade pizza in the oven. She looked beautiful as ever!

Reading the notebook Jenn wrote me
After dinner, she gave me a present for our 500 days! It was a little notebook with 500 things she loves about me! I stopped reading at #49 (which was that I am her best friend) because I was tearing up. She asked, "Aren't you going to keep reading?"

"Do I need to? Or should I read the last one?"

"Well I didn't write it in there.... Will you?"


We called her parents, then my parents, her siblings, then my siblings, our grandparents. Then we made it Facebook-official. (It isn't official until it is on Facebook!)

Her dad had asked her when we called him if we were going out to celebrate and I thought no. But Jenn said yes! I was surprised.

I didn't want her to tell me where, so later I gave her my phone when a friend asked me where we were celebrating. While she texted that friend back, my phone beeped with more text messages. She said, "Oh let me answer these, so you don't know about Yankee Doodle thing." (Yankee Doodle Tap Room  is a great quiet bar in the middle of Princeton, where we often go.)

She didn't even realize that she gave it away until I pointed it out. Haha!

Friends made us a poster and Princeton UMC gave us cookies
We aren't doing engagement rings, so she had two ring pops for us to wear out!

We celebrated with over 25 friends. She had been planning with my friends for a couple weeks! I am amazed that no one told me. I saw two friends earlier that day who knew and they kept it a secret from me. Actually when I saw them, I almost told these two friends that I thought Jenn was going to propose to me that night.

It was great to celebrate with friends on a joyous occasion!

Four- Next Steps

We don't know dates or definite plans. The first step is to write my Friends Meeting a letter asking for a clearance committee to be married under their care, which is the standard procedure for Quaker marriages. Our wedding will have Quaker and Methodist elements, honoring the traditions we come from. We will keep everyone informed.

Out celebrating at the tap room
I love Jenn with all my heart and I look forward to loving her every day for rest of our lives. We are continuing on our journey together! I feel like the luckiest person alive!

One key to our relationship is communication. We have talked in some way either by phone, over Skype, or in person every day since March 26, 2011, the day before we started dating. We have talked on days we have been busy with finals, on days when we have been mad at each other, on days when we are traveling far away from each other (like in the mountains of California), but we still make time for each other and to hear about each other's day. I look forward to spending my life with Jenn!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sermon- Gospel Writers in the Windows Luke

Last Sunday, August 5th, I preached my last sermon at Princeton UMC and it was the last day of my internship there. I had preach two other sermons there this summer: Have We Crossed the Line? and Neighborly Love.

My sermon began a new sermon series for the church "Gospel Writers in the Windows", which will explore the four Gospel Writers in the stained glass windows in the sanctuary in order of they appear. Luke, Matthew, Mark, & John (Luke is first because the Tiffany Studio artists a century ago thought the color sequence of the robes was preferable this way.)

I based the sermon on Luke 12:22-34.

Today we begin a new sermon series as Russ said, exploring the four Gospel writers. Each writer brings different elements into their telling of Jesus' life and ministry. The first three gospels, known as the Synoptic Gospels, share a lot in common in terms of stories. Biblical scholars tend to agree that the three gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, & Luke had similar sources. Mark is considered to be the oldest and the two writers used Mark and other sources for their own Gospels. For example, 76% of Mark can be found in the other two Gospels. But yet they each use different literary styles and have highlighted different themes in the story of Jesus. 

Stained Glass Windows at the Church

Then lastly we have the Gospel of John. In that gospel we encounter a Jesus, who is acutely aware of his divinity. There are numerous differences between the Synoptics and John. For instance, in John, John the Baptist does not baptize Jesus. Then, at the Last Supper, Jesus washes the disciples' feet and does not offer them bread and wine as sacraments. Because of these differences, Biblical scholars think John used different sources than the three Synoptic Gospels.

Today I will focus on Luke. Like the other Gospel writers, we know very little about him personally. In Colossians the Apostle Paul refers to Luke as a physician. Also Luke has the distinction of writing two books in the New Testament, this Gospel and the Book of Acts. These two books parallel each other in their structures. The Gospel tells the journey of Jesus and His ministry and then in Acts, he tells the journey of the early church beginning after the death and resurrection of Christ. Luke has a social justice bent, which is apparent by the numerous parables in the Gospel on this topic, like the story of the Good Samaritan. Lastly he dedicated them both to Theophilus, which means "friend of God" in Greek. There are theories about whether this person was Luke's benefactor or even an actual person.

When I began my internship, Pastor Jana gave me a choice on which Gospel to preach on. Immediately I chose Luke, unaware about the history of the beautiful windows on my left. I wanted to preach on Luke because I love all of the parables about social justice, something that I have been passionate about all my life.

A couple weeks ago I happened to read Luke 12 and I knew I had to preach on it. This one chapter has a lot of challenges for us as Christians living out our daily lives out in the wider world and for the church body as a whole. I think I could preach for hours just on these twelve verses.

But in the interest of everyone's time and patience, I will limit my preaching and I will just focus on two messages I hear in this passage: one for individual Christians and another for the church body.

The message I hear for individual Christians is: Can we give up? Can we just give up everything to act like lilies in the field to follow Christ?

A picture of me in 2004 talking on a cell phone
My ego tells me that I tread lightly on this earth and that I have few attachments to my material possessions. But my ego is wrong. Yes I might have fewer possessions than I once had due to moving frequently. But my material possessions still own me. You will rarely see me without two devices: my laptop and my cell phone. These two possessions have a tight grip on my life. I can't even begin to count the numbers of hours I have spent on these two electronic gadgets alone and not even for worthy endeavors. (A side note: Never buy a cell phone with Solitaire on it. I tried to give it up for Lent this year and I failed miserably!) 

Frequently these two devices take me away from the present moment and from the people around me. I can spend hours at a time with these two devices and ignore the loved ones in my life. These possessions allow me to be distracted from my relationship with God and focusing on living out Jesus' teachings. 

What are the material possessions that distract you from deepening your spiritual life? What can't you give up in order to act like lilies in the field?

This line of thinking is counter-intuitive within our current culture, which values consumerism. When we leave the front doors of this church, Nassau Street and beyond are full of messages that tell us that if we buy this one thing, or take that one pill, or amass a lot of possessions, our life will be more valuable and we will be happier with ourselves. But when we overindulge ourselves, we just end up feeling emptier and then we get more material possessions to fill our lives and our homes, ultimately just to feel Loved. Let me remind you all: You are already great and beautiful as you are. In Christ, all are one, no matter if some humans might try to tell you otherwise. Most of all, You are Loved. Jesus is reminding us in Luke that material possessions aren't the way to build the Kingdom here.

The second message I have today is: Are we ready? Are we ready as a church to support each other in responding to a call to ministry? 

If a person stood up right now and offered herself or himself to ministry, how would we respond? Let me guess: some might say "Hey, I think she is nuts." Or "Won't he just sit down? We can't even see the choir." Wouldn't we? Are we prepared for that?

My friend Maurine is a traveling Quaker minister. Several years ago she felt a leading from God towards this ministry. But her Quaker church was not ready to hear this and soon she felt uncomfortable attending that church, knowing that they weren't ready to support her calling. Let me tell you this church was large and wealthy, so it had more than enough resources to support her, but they weren't mentally and spiritually ready to.

Eventually, another Quaker church welcomed her with open arms and she moved there to be under their care. This church was much smaller with a lot less resources and was hours away from the wealthy suburb. Now several years later, she feels supported in her traveling ministry there. And guess what? Since her arrival at the church, two other ministries have been started by other church members and they are fully supported too. The meeting is alive with the Spirit of God in their mist.

That is the remarkable part of ministry. Once someone follows a leading, others can get inspired too and follow their own leadings. Last week Cindy spoke about lay ministry and one integral part of lay ministry is the support of the congregation because it can be scary to take that first step alone. In Quakerism, we have support committees for people following a leading, no matter what it is.

In this church we already have a lot of great ministries here. But I want to ask you: are we ready for more ministries? Are we ready to support other lay members in following their leadings? If not, what is holding us back from being ready to respond?

The great theologian Howard Thurman once said: "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." What makes you come alive? What makes us as a congregation come alive? We need more Christians to live out their faith daily, not just by coming here on Sundays. The world is waiting for us and the world needs us to come alive today!

Thursday, July 5, 2012


For the past year I have been working with Martin Kelley, Stephen Dotson, and Katrina McQuail to set up, a website where Young Adult Friends, also known as Quakers, can connect, find information about others, events, resources, etc...

Stephen has made a wonderful video about the amazing features of the website.

The website is still a works-in-progress! Let us know if you have information you want added. Also you can add stuff to the Google Map and the Google Calendar yourself. But if you can't, please email

We are setting up a support committee for the website and we are open to new people. We are especially looking for more representation from Conservative Friends and Evangelical Friends! Please email if you are interested!

I am so excited that it is finally launched!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sermon "Neighborly Love"

This is the second sermon that I preached last Sunday at Princeton United Methodist Church as part of my summer internship. (You can read the first one "Have We Crossed the Line?" here and my last one will be on August 5th on the Gospel of Luke.) Since the first one went so well, I asked to preach one additional time. I have wondered a lot about the contradiction between God giving land to the Israelites and Jesus' command to love our neighbors, so I decided to preach on it. 

Also I had an elder in attendance for this sermon, following Friends tradition.

This sermon is based on Joshua 1:3-6 and Matthew 22:34-40

"Neighborly Love"

Won't you be my neighbor?

I have been thinking a lot about that question in the last few weeks since Scott sent out the link to the video of Mister Rogers remixed in the church e-newsletter. I do not remember watching Mister Rogers a lot growing up. What I know about the show is very little. I think I learned his famous question from one of the few times that I did watch the show.

Anyway I absolutely love this question. Won't you be my neighbor? It was a leading question when Mister Rogers asked it. How could anyone say no to a kind man, like Mister Rogers? How could anyone respond with No I don't want to be your neighbor. Leave me alone! That question is like the command that Jesus gives His followers about loving their neighbors. It is an invitation to something greater.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus offers to the people two commands: Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself. Again this sounds so simple, doesn't it? It is almost a checklist for us to do: Buy Milk check, mow lawn check, love God check, love your neighbor check. Such simple words but it is such a hard task, especially loving that nosy neighbor next door. But at the same time what does loving your neighbor mean in the larger context outside of just meaning the people living next to you? How can we love people who live in a different context than us?

Something I have struggled with is to put Jesus' simple, yet challenging command to love our neighbor in Matthew with the proclamation that God made to the Israelites in Joshua 1. There God promised the land to the Israelites and led them there. But the land was already inhabited by other people, the Canaanites. We are told conflicting stories about the Canaanites, but in the end we never hear about what finally happened to them. Biblical scholars have several different theories about what happened to the Canaanites. The theories range from the Israelites destroying them all to the Canaanites co-existing with the Israelites peacefully. What is the Canaanites' side of the story of the Israelites coming into the land? What would that story sound like?

This week we will celebrate the 236th anniversary of our nation's independence. A nation that was founded with the claim that God meant for the Europeans to have this beautiful land that they had “discovered" by accident a couple centuries before even though there were already millions of people living here. Even at the time of the founding of this country, most of the land, that we now know as the United States, was still inhabited by Native Americans.

Our country's story is told from the European's side, from the side of the conquerors. What is the Native American story of the United States' Independence? What would that story sound look? Unlike the Canaanites, we actually know the history of the Native Americans. I will give you a hint: It is not pretty. That story involves lies, broken treaties, slavery, and massacres. It is still not pretty. Some of the worst poverty in the nation exists on the Native American reservations. Also there are high suicide rates among Native American teens, just to give you a small glimpse into the current situation on the reservations.

Don't get me wrong! This is not a "Shame on the United States of America" sermon on the Sunday before Independence Day. I love this country. I have traveled this country countless times by car, bus, train, and airplane. Some of the most beautiful places in the world are within our borders. I love the diversity of our land and the people who live within the borders. We have a lot to be proud of about our country and our freedoms. But at the same time, I am not going to sugarcoat our country's history and ignore the problems we have had and still have as a nation.

As Christians we should not shy away from this history. Because if we do, we are bound to keep repeating the same history over and over. As a people yoked together in Christ we commit to be honest about our sins, both personal and corporate. Let me be honest. We are not a perfect people. I am definitely not perfect, so let not pretend to be perfect. In not pretending to be perfect, I mean admitting our sins that we do to each other and our neighbors out of contempt, jealousy, and even carelessness. The good news is that we can strive to be better, strive to something greater especially as a corporate body gathered together in Christ's name.

That is the radical message of Jesus. He called on His followers to break out of the religious complacency existing in the First Century. Jesus showed His followers a new path! He advocated for His followers to hang out with the least of the society, their own neighbors, while at the same time challenging them to live to a much higher level. And that challenge is still before us today.

What does that mean for us right now? What does loving our neighbor in the 21st century look like? In what ways can we live out Jesus' command today?

As a church, we have started by inviting our neighbors in for meals on Wednesdays; we help each other during times of need. Right now 51 members of our congregation family are traveling to work with our neighbors in West Virginia, while another member is in the Democratic Republic of Congo working with our neighbors there. What more can we do? Do we know our neighbors of different faiths, our neighbors around us who believe differently than we do? How do we as a congregation reach out to them?

I think this all starts with an invitation to join us at the table, an open invitation to sit with us on an equal level to get to know each other. A little like what will happen when Susan invites us to the communion table later in the service. Mister Rogers' simple yet powerful question, "Won't you be my neighbor?" provides a great way to invite others in for fellowship and learning about each other. 

Isn't that a great way to start relationships with our neighbors and live out our faithfulness to Jesus' second command in the book of Matthew?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Update About Life

I wrote a letter to my home church, Columbia Friends Meeting, updating them on how seminary is going so far and my life. I thought others may want to read it too, so I edited it slightly for a wider audience. 

Dear all,

I want to update you all on how I am doing at Princeton Theological Seminary so far. This past year has been a year of learning and growing. At several points through the year, I felt challenged both by the mainline Protestant theology and being one of the most theologically liberal students here. At the same time, I missed being a part of a diverse religious community which I had grown accustomed to after attending Earlham College and then living in Washington, DC. But through these challenges, I have learned more about Christianity, leading me to more closely examine my own beliefs and deepen my faith. Some of the classes I have enjoyed the most have been Theology and Practice of Community Organizing, Critical Race Theory, Pastoral Care of Adolescents, and Models of Young Adult Ministry.

With the other Quaker student at the seminary and her husband, we have held meeting for worship one evening a week over the past year, whenever possible with the rigorous academic schedule. We have welcomed several visitors in the past year, including a local young adult who is new to Quakerism. We will start again in the fall, and we hope to attract more people from the seminary and wider community. At the same time, I have begun making connections with Princeton Friends Meeting. I look forward to spending more time with the meeting starting in the fall and helping them think about outreach.

As part of my field education, I have to intern at two sites. I decided to do both of my site placements outside of the Friends tradition because I wanted to see how other church bodies function. This summer, I am interning at Princeton United Methodist Church. As part of my duties, I am working with youth and young adults as well as running their social media outreach campaign. In the fall, I will work at an Episcopal campus ministry on Rutgers University campus in New Brunswick. I look forward to working with the campus minister on growing relationships with groups from other faiths and to encourage service among the campus ministry student population.

Last Sunday I preached for the first time on Amos 7 about the plumb line. The sermon was received well! I enjoyed preaching so much that I asked to preach more, so I will preach again on July 1 and August 5. I welcome your prayers as I plan these sermons. I will follow Friends tradition so I will have an elder with me when I preach.

In other news, Jenn moved to Princeton in late April, and we are glad not to be dating long distance anymore. She graduated this Spring with a Masters in Social Work degree and currently works at a farm for the season helping with their Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. In the fall, she will look for a social work job. Lastly, at the start of this year, I joined the board of Quaker Voluntary Service. We are launching our first service house in Atlanta with seven young adult Quakers, and we hope to expand in the following years to other cities. It is very exciting!

In service & peace,



Monday, June 11, 2012

Sermon - "Have We Crossed the Line?"

This summer I am interning at Princeton United Methodist Church as part of my field education requirements for my Masters of Divinity degree. I preached the sermon yesterday (for both services), which was the same day I was formally introduced as the summer intern. The church's current sermon series is called "Majoring in the Minors" with the focus on the minor prophets. Yesterday was Amos, so I preached on Amos 7:1-9. I am pretty happy with the message God gave me. (This was also my first sermon I have ever given in a church outside of the Friends' tradition.)

Also, following Friends' tradition, I did not wear a robe and I had an elder praying for me (She became violently ill on Saturday and could not physically attend the service, but I still felt her presence)

Have we crossed the line?

A long time ago God erected a wall with a plumb line upon Israel reconfirming God's faithfulness to the Israelites despite their disobedience. In erecting this line, God made a promise to never leave us. As confessing members in the Body of Christ, do we keep our own promise to God to remain faithful? Do we cross the line into unfaithfulness? How do we practice this unfaithfulness? What would God answer today if we asked for God's perspective on this question?

Have we crossed the line?

 Last week Anna preached on Hosea. In Hosea we find a disobedient family and an unfaithful spouse. In her message she confessed to being an unfaithful spouse to God. This week we are focused on Amos. He is speaking to the community of Israelites about their collective unfaithfulness to God. Earlier in Amos, he talks about how the Israelites have not practiced justice and righteousness towards both God and their fellow neighbors.

This language is key. Amos does not call out certain people. He doesn't blame John or Jane, or the ancient equivalents of those names, but instead he calls out the whole community of Israelites. The whole community is responsible for their actions, not just one person. In today's world, we always look for a scapegoat, someone else to blame, whether it is an individual, a neighborhood, a political party, a business... How many times have we witnessed this? We can open today's paper and read this sort of blaming. That goes back to the question I asked in the beginning: Have WE crossed the line? Please note that I didn't asked: Have YOU crossed the line?

We are a community of seekers. We worship together, we break bread at the communion table together on the first Sunday of the month. We play softball together, we have BBQs. Christianity has always been a communal faith. In the early church they would meet in each other's houses to worship, in that intimate of a setting Christians could not forget that their faith was communal. In the body of Christ, we are yoked together for better or worse. We are together in this journey. Sometimes many churches have sadly lost this sort of intimacy and in those churches, strangers worship together and then go home failing to connect with each other. In my first two weeks here, I feel that this church is different, but I think there are still strangers within our midst. These people are the ones who stand alone at coffee hour or avoid coffee hour altogether, the ones whose hands we rarely shake during passing of the peace, the ones who feel utterly alone during difficult times, not knowing who to reach out to in their time of need.

Have we crossed the line?

Amos is talking as an outsider to the Israelites. He came from the Southern Kingdom of Judah to the Northern Kingdom. As an outsider, he has a special point of view because he is not entrenched in the everyday life. Because of this viewpoint, God has led him there to witness to the Israelites about their sins. They are very apparent too, so Amos tries to warn them about God's wrath if they do not change. Even though they do not listen to him, he still tries to stand up for them. In the passage we just heard, Amos begs God not to shower locusts or to bring fire on to Israel. God relents and instead builds a wall to signal that God will never leave them behind. I see that as a line of faithfulness for us too. But unlike God, we cross the line with our actions outside of our Sunday mornings together.

How would an outsider view Christians' actions today? If Amos traveled here, what would he see? Would he see Christians living out the Gospel in everyday life and building the Kingdom here on Earth? In many ways I see us 21st century Christians in the same position as the Israelites in Amos' times. Sure we worship other gods, they are not named Baal, instead they are named Google, Starbucks, Whole Foods. I could go on. Consumerism is the god in this country and the effects are all over us and our community. We value consumerism more than anything else in this land.

What about injustice in the midst of us? It is obvious. Right now we have over two million people involved in the penal system. 1 in 3 black males will end up in prison at the current rate due to discriminatory factors in our judicial and penal systems. Then let’s look at how we spend our money as a country. The number one expense in the federal budget is for our military. Often times that money goes more towards private defense contractors than our own soldiers. We spend more money on the military than feeding people. More than 1 million of our neighbors here in New Jersey have to worry about having access to food, about where their next meal will come from. Surely this wasn't what Jesus meant when he preach that we should love our neighbors.

Have we crossed the line?

Do you enjoy those windy country roads that are around Princeton? I know I do. One of my favorite roads is Canal Road up in Montgomery Township. It is a narrow road with a couple one-lane bridges. Sometimes when I drive that road, I get distracted by looking out at the canal on one side or at the beautiful homes on the other side. Then suddenly I realize that I have crossed over the center line and a car is coming the other way, so I have to get back into my lane quickly. How many times has that happened to us? We get sidetracked by something while driving and cross over the center line. Then we look up and realize this and quickly get back into our lane. Or sometimes it is just easier to go over the line to smooth out the curves than staying in our own lane, especially if no one is looking.

God laid down a clear plumb line in front of Amos, but we don't see that line today. That line is not as clear as the center line on Canal Road. It is not as finite. Back in Missouri near my parents' farm, there are a lot of back roads with no center lines, so as a driver I have to pay extra attention to where I am on the road so I do not cross the invisible line into the other lane. But it is sometimes hard to tell where the line should be. I think following God is like that. It is hard to know always what to do, especially when it’s against the cultural norms. Sometimes faith is just not easy or clear-cut.

The good news in all of this is that God will remain faithful to us, no matter how unfaithful we are towards God. God won't cross the line like we do. Just as Anna reminded us last week, I will remind you again that God will remain with us. God will always welcome us back with open arms. By setting that plumb line in Amos' presence, God made a commitment to us, the followers of God. As people gathered together in Christ, We have made a commitment to follow God. We may wander but we do come back. Our presence here today confirms that.

Also we have each other. We are not alone in our journeys and struggles. Christianity is still a communal faith, even in the great age of individuality. In a community, as we know, not everyone will always agree on everything, but we do all look out for each other. We help each other, offer comfort and aid during hard times, give advice and mentorship during difficult moments. We can ask each other questions in an open and loving environment. We share in each other’s joys and accomplishments.

We are extending our Christian love beyond the people sitting here today. Just this last week we began our Cornerstone Community Kitchen where we open the doors to anyone to have a meal. All walks of life are welcome. We do not have ulterior motives in this ministry. We aren't trying to fill our seats on Sundays or enticed the unchurched with a free meal. Instead we just want to nurture our community through food and good conversation in the heart of our beautiful town.

It is also through our love that we are acting this month to help a fellow congregation, Turning Point UMC, with collecting donations for their congregation and their own ministry to their neighborhood in Trenton.

Lastly, in the fall the church will sponsor a 5K run/walk to help raise funds to help people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These three things are just a small bit of our work for others.

So I ask once again: Have we crossed the line?

Yes we do cross the line from time to time, but as a community we can hold each other accountable. And yes God will still love us when we do. And finally yes we, as a church community, do practice our Christian love out in the world, even if we each falter now and then. Our love for others can be seen within our own community and by our collective actions for our neighbors across the world.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Messy Faith- Inclusivity Within Friends

I love Quakers, yet they frustrate me endlessly. Regardless, all of them are still part of my religious family. I have traveled among Friends of all types, backgrounds, theological perspectives, ages, etc.... and we are an interesting, diverse community worldwide. We have a lot of room for improvement, for spiritual growth, for outreach. But I do not want to kick any one out, instead Quakerism to me means to be on a journey with God within a community of seekers, not a community of know-it-alls.

If we start saying, "I am a Quaker and you are not." We are setting up Quakerism to be an enclosed community, a gated community, again. Who will have the keys? Who will make up the rules?

I am grateful that Quakers believe in continuing revelations, that God is still speaking to us. In that belief, I feel that we do not need to conform to 1600s Quakerism, but instead ask ourselves, "How is God leading us today?" (See another blog post I wrote: "If I wanted to live by 1600s standards, I would be Amish")

The 1600s Quakers were radicals, then the 1700s US Quakers started to close themselves from the outside world, which continued until the mid 1800s. Especially in the mid 1700s, US Quakers read people out of meeting for a lot of infractions of all kinds, like attending a wedding of another denomination. This was meant to keep the faith pure. For example, meetings would issue traveling minutes as ways of introducing their members to other meetings, but it was also a way to track members, to keep them honest, and make sure that they did not wander off.*

So if we start kicking people out, what will be the list of infractions we will enforce? Who will decide? Do we want to return Quakerism to a pure state? Do we want to isolate ourselves again? Do we want to track each other's movements all the time?

Or, instead, do we want to invest in the spiritual growth of all Quakers and help each other grow? Do we want to struggle and grow together in faith?

I want to keep Quakerism a messy community. I want to invest in my fellow Quakers and to keep challenging them to go deeper in their faith, while they challenge me to go deeper. I do not want to be involved in a faith where everybody follows the rules for fear of being expelled.

There are a lot of conflicts within Quakerism today. They are hard, difficult, and painful. But, if dealt with loving kindness, these conflicts will help all of us to go deeper with our faith.

Lets keep challenging each other and keep Quakerism a messy faith, instead of a pure, exclusive community open only to the members who follow strict rules.

What would the Religious Society of Friends look like, if we challenge each other to go deeper?

*I recommend reading The Reformation of American Quakerism, 1748-1783 by Jack Marietta