Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Role of Reclaiming in the Coming of the Blessed Community and Why Quakers Should Do It: Some Thoughts.

As I have been reading into New Monasticism I have been particularly struck by the idea of reclaiming. To reclaim something means that it belonged to someone else who either marked it as unwanted or gave it away. My first exposure to reclaiming was probably the fact that I grew up wearing almost exclusively hand-me-down clothes. While other people, especially young people, would never think of wearing something that wasn’t new I have never thought twice about wearing second-hand
clothes. Even when I have been able to afford new clothes I prefer to wear second hand.

Another experience I have had with reclaiming is with the reclaiming of words, particularly with the word “queer”. Even a generation a good the word queer was a hurtful, hateful word, much as ‘faggot’ still is. Slowly though ‘queer’ has come to be a positive word both politically and academically. While studying in college I studied a lot of queer theory, academic theory that is based on the idea of finding new ways of seeing things, seeing patterns and understanding certain social realities in ways we have not thought of before. Queer theory is about reclaiming, creating, and opening up new space. The word queer is much the same way. I myself feel most comfortable with affixing myself with the label ‘queer’ more then other labels because it is reclaimed to mean something that creates new space and new understanding.

I have never thought about reclaiming space though, or goods per say. However New Monasticism advocates doing just that, and I like that idea. To me reclaiming space, and resources, and ways of living we have been taught to think of as useless or not as good is in line with the teachings of Christ more so then many other forms of political and social activism. Because when we reclaim we do not merely point out where someone is wrong but create an alternative way of seeing, understanding, and acting in the world. We also build communities that way, rather then blindly striking out against the Powers That Be out of anger and hate. It's a harder road but one I do believe Christ taught us to follow. I think Christ taught us to be careful of ways of resisting power structures that are hurtful and hateful and do not build communities. I like the idea of not taking ourselves out of the world and creating our own Utopia off in the forest somewhere, but instead being right there. I like the idea of being right in the middle of things, yet also living a life in God’s image, a life that creates a space for something new. The first mark out of the 12 Marks of New Monasticism talk about reclaiming places of Empire. For me Empire in this context is not referring to a political or social historical reality per-say. Instead it means our fall from Gospel Order, all the things, and systems and oppression in the world that keep us blinded to the Blessed Community. Reclaiming places and in general resources means taking something that the Empire has decided is bad, or just not worth the time and making it into part of the Blessed Community. That can be reusing abandoned houses or building, second hand clothes or furniture, spaces that are considered contaminated, and taking in people who have been cast out. I like reclaiming because it is refusing to play by the rules of Empire. My mother will tell you that I dislike following rules I see as pointless or useless. It’s true I don’t, if a rule is good and helpful and there for a reason I’m totally about following it to the letter, if it’s useless and hurtful though I say why bother? So we rock the boat, we are Quakers and more importantly Christians that’s what we do. I think reclaiming is particularly important for Quakers, especially Liberal Friends because as Liberal Friends we have grown very used to throwing things away. We have gotten rid of beliefs, Church structures, theology and traditions. Yet as Christians and as Friends what we should be doing is reclaiming. Not just in our own religious community, but also out in the world. Reclaiming is a part of God’s politics; it’s a form of protest that creates, and builds something new. We talk a lot in the Liberal Quaker community about acting out of love, and then rely, rant and petition against people like conservatives, Fundamentalist Christians and Republicans. A lot of times I agree, some of what these people do is very wrong and goes against all of the things I believe in as well as how I understand the Church. On the other hand we don’t really try to reclaim anything, and that kind of protest doesn’t build, it doesn’t form communities, it doesn’t make anything new. Brian McLaren calls himself Fundamentalist in A Generous Orthodox, in the Quaker community I am considered very conservative and I would even call myself evangelical. Neither Brian nor I mean these terms in the way they are usually used, but then that’s the point of reclaiming.

I love the idea of reclaiming. I love the idea of taking words, rituals, spaces, things and saying to Empire ‘we aren’t going to play by your rules. You’ve meant these things to be useless, and hurtful, but you don’t have that kind of power over us. We are going to use these things and build a new community with them.’ I think that is what God’s politics is all about, and therefore that is what Quaker politics should be about as well.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Come the New Jerusalem: YAFIR and New Monasticism

It’s been a week since I moved into the house donated to the YAFIR (Young Adult Friends in Residence) program. The house was in bad shape when we got it but half a dozen F(f)riends have worked very hard for the last three weeks and it now feels more like a home. I am the first intern to move into the house and it feels a little strange just banging around the place waiting for things to get started. It’s given me a little down time though, some time to get used to living in a new place, get my stuff moved in and connect with Friends from Perry City Meeting.

I have been thinking and praying a lot about the community aspect of the program. It has been very clear to me, and the YAFIR committee, that the interns were to build and live in an intentional community however how that would happen and what it would look like has totally been left up to the interns. I have very definite feelings about this. I am not comfortable with the idea of us just being a group of random people living together in the same house. Neither am I at all comfortable with the idea of us living in a community based on the usual model of alternative, secular intentional communities.

I am however very strongly drawn to New Monasticism. When I read 12 Marks of New Monasticism I knew that what it outlined was what I wanted, and more importantly what I needed. It spoke to my condition perfectly. It was a deeply moving spiritual moment for me. Every time I pray about this it only becomes clear to me that I am being called to participate more fully in the Emergent Church movement and New Monasticism as part of that.

On the other hand I and my other interns have not had an opportunity to get together and talk about it. The other two Young Adult Friends involved in the program do not identify as Friends in the Spirit of Christ and I do not know what their feelings will be about participating in or affiliating ourselves with a movement that is undeniably Christian. I must admit the Christian theology and practices New Monasticism embodies is a large part of what draws me to it though. On the other hand those already involved in New Monastic communities are doing much the same work the YAFIR program was designed to do. I think that the connections with other people doing similar work we could make by connecting in some way with this movement would be helpful and nurturing to the YAFIR program as whole. I also think this is a great opportunity for Young Adult Friends to reach out beyond the Quaker community and make connections with other serious religious people involved in similar work. I think Quakers do have a place in the Emergent Church and New Monasticism and I would love to see the YAFIR program take part in finding that place.

The other two interns and I have tried to communicate via e-mail but it hasn’t really worked out up until this point. I hope and pray we will come to a clearer understand of the direction this community will go once at least two of us have the opportunity to talk face to face. I also hope that the other two interns possible leeriness of Christianity will not stop us from building a strong, meaningful community under the guidance of the Spirit.

I will continue to pray for strength and faithfulness for all of us.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Friends In The Spirit of Christ Epistle


Eighth Month 30, 2009

To Friends everywhere, and to all who seek love, joy, hope, and meaning in life:

We, a group of Friends gathering at Powell House in Old Chatham, NY for a weekend entitled “Following Jesus in Community,” send our loving greetings to you. We’ve come from places ranging from Maine to Virginia and Ohio and from a variety of Quaker traditions. We have shared our personal experiences of the love of the living Jesus Christ and have been buoyed and stirred by Christ’s healing and forgiving presence among us this weekend. We want to invite you into the joy, hope and love we have known here.

We experienced a divine covering that helped to reconcile us all, dissolving many anxieties some of us felt in gathering with strangers whose theological tendencies we did not know. Knowing that language and doctrinal notions have caused unnecessary divisions among people of faith, we have no desire to add to these, but simply to stand with Jesus Christ at an open door, where He offers His light and love. We have found that these are available to everyone. We are eager to share the experiences that have liberated us from so many burdens and sorrows in hopes that you and others may know the same joy.

We intend to meet again within the year, and invite inquiries to: Friends in the Spirit of Christ, c/o Anna Obermayer, 599 Trumbulls Corners Road, Newfield, NY 14867 (

In love,

Ann Armstrong (NEYM)
Doug Armstrong (NEYM)
Jim Atwell (NYYM)
Susan Bailey (OYM)
Connie Bair-Thompson (NEYM)
Arthur Berk (NYYM, OYM)
Peter Blood-Patterson (NEYM)
Steve Chase (NEYM)
Shayla Cody
Jim Contois (NEYM, NYYM)
Ann Dodd-Collins (NEYM)
Ann Davidson (NYYM)
Roger Dreisbach-Williams (NYYM)
Elizabeth Edminster (NYYM)
John Edminster (NYYM)
Ellen Flanders (NYYM)
Dorothy Garner (NYYM)
David Herendeen (NYYM)
Seth Hinshaw (OYM)
Raye Hodgson (OYM)
Ruth Kinsey (NYYM)
Herb Lape (NYYM)
Rene Lape (Attender, NYYM)
Reb MacKenzie (NEYM, NYYM)
Barbara Meli (NYYM)
Salvatore Meli (NYYM)
Kate Moss (NYYM)
Anna Obermayer (NYYM)
Christopher Sammond (NYYM)
James Schultz (NYYM)
Stella Schultz (NYYM)
Susan Smith (OYM)
Thomas Swain (PYM)
Lillie Wilson (NEYM)

Key to Yearly Meeting Affiliation:
NEYM = New England Yearly Meeting
NYYM = New York Yearly Meeting
OYM = Ohio Yearly Meeting
PYM = Philadelphia Yearly Meeting