Returning home

Meditating on facing fear
Afraid to face community
Can a burnt bride be rebuilt,
is such a project desirable?

The heart hopes for community
Reconciliation is desired
There is no desire to abandon that past
Yet there is great fear

Words spoken in anger
Words spoken with meditation
Weighed according to passions
Finding there was great division

Can hearts be reconciled?
Can friendships be mended
Can trust be rebuilt?
Blame always travels both ways

The heart rejoices to hear good news
There is hope that this was spoken in truth
There is deep hope that it is a deep truth
Even an institution can find salvation

I believe that God is always merciful
Praying for mercy knowing the prayer is already answered
All Christians believe that there is forgiveness
Perhaps forgiveness is in order

The heart approaches forgiveness with fear
Questioning if there has been a change


Sunday, I am going back to the meeting where I hold my membership. I have taken a lengthy hiatus in my attendance due to some issues that were personal to me. In brief, I had several philosophical differences concerning administrative and discipline choices. These differences, mixed with the stress of a death of my father made it so I could not bear to attend. After that, I was concerned that I maybe unwelcome because of my outspokenness… I made no attempt to leave any bridge standing.

In brief, I had three difficulties with the way things were being done. My concerns were about ethics, discipline, and focus. I have had news that the meeting has taken efforts to address at least one of these concerns — for the others, I will have to give them the benefit of the doubt as the process of addressing them deals with rather personal issues and would not be public.

The first, in my view was one of ethics. The meeting was careless with fund raising and spending. They would raise designated funds, and then spend the money in the bank account. When it came time to do projects they learned that money cannot be spent twice. While I am sure no malice was intended, this caused great hurt with those who gave generously. At one point (while I still attended), some harsh words were spoken appearing to blame those who gave for having a bad attitude when these donors called for accountability. News has come to me that there was an honest attempt to distribute funds according to the wishes of these donors. I know this step came after deep soul searching and a desire to act honorably. The fact that various outside organizations have received large designated gifts tells me that the meeting has sacrificially made an effort to correct past carelessness. In my mind this issue is resolved.

The second issue is simply a matter of what is appropriate in spoken ministry. There was a series of incidents that I found deeply offensive, and when I brought up the issue to the elders, I felt they did not see the offense. A friend told me my concerns were mentioned in generally at a YM leadership training gathering (though, I am not aware of the complaint being forwarded… my guess is that these are general concerns) so I will trust the good faith of the wider gathering.

For clarification, I do have several ideals about spoken ministry in a gathering of Friends, Specifically, my concern (Fair, or unfair) is that the elders are not ruling and addressing issues of good order. One general concern is that people talk because some are uncomfortable with silence. Talking to fill time interrupts a period intended to meet with God. I confess there is a fine line here, and it might just be a matter of taste that I prefer somewhat more silence than the rest of the meeting. Another concern is the appropriateness of topics. Of specific concern is the use of the meeting of worship to endorse or attack a politician. While I think it is good to be involved politically, there is a time and place for it… this is not it. A third concern is “Biblical” ministry that instead of studying the scripture itself uses scripture to elevate the speakers notions to the level of scripture. Such ministry is dishonest and manipulative. Stepping outside of the Friends context — I am deeply offended by those who steal other people’s words and claim them as their own. As I place my sermons [at times I am an itinerant preacher] on the internet — WordPress informs me that people google for sermons on Saturday night. I take plagiarism of this type personally, and have touched on this offense here.

The final issue is something that is rather difficult to judge. I have a growing concerned that the meeting where I hold my membership is becoming focused on personalities. I have a deep concern with the American Church as a collection of personality cults. I do not like the view that any individual is above suspicion. I do not like Churches that form around a personality — Christians worship God, not people. Anyone who attends a church should go to God’s church, not Rick Warren’s church, not Max Luccado’s church, but God’s church. I understand that it is easy to fall into this trap. A gifted speaker, writer, teacher, theologian or philosopher will have followers, however there should not be a church devoted to any personality — we must worship God and not a man. The greatest difficulty with this problem is that the whole American world view seems built upon personality cults. The swapping of sheep is often not about the worship of God, but preference of a pastor. If a church or meeting will succeed or fail based on the activity of a single person, perhaps it is time to lay down the meeting. Again, I intend to approach this concern with an open mind — time has passed, perhaps people are becoming more mature.

At this point, I am reevaluating whether I wish to maintain membership. In the past, I had been looking into the possibility of changing membership and making a break, it was a matter of finding how and where. I am growing cautiously optimistic and will look into reintegrating into my home-meeting. Either way, I maintain an interest (I believe calling) in ministry outside the apparent goals of my home meeting.

DISCLAIMER: I am not intending to accuse Saddleback or Oak Hills of being personality cults. I happen to know from a member that Oak Hills takes steps to prevent that from happening, I am instead pointing to nationally known personalities that draw people into these churches, creating a special danger.

POSTSCRIPT:
Attended, and was surprised at what I found. Attendance was down from when I was last there, which was expected — but a spirit of carefulness replaced former carelessness. There was a planned music service — and the copyright and licensing information was available for all media used. In the past, I worried that sometimes we were careless with multimedia. Between public compliance to law, to fiscal responsibility certain someones are stepping up — I must guess it is the elders and the trustees. I am very optimistic.

This time — there was music, followed by a Bible lesson from the Psalms, followed by worship in the manner of Friends (not unlike some semi-programed services I’ve attended). Several ministered, often tearfully. It was clear that some people have taken responsibility — and are seeking to refocus and grow. 2 or 3 gave scripture-based ministry — and some others shared hymns or personal struggles. It is clear that Hutchinson Friends is on the right track. All people have a long way to go before we grow into Christs image — but God meets us where we are. Today I saw people who are faithful.

I was sad to learn that as of May 1, our much loved clerk Fred McKinney resigned. Fred served in this role for decades, and is likely irreplaceable. Sometimes we wish that good people could always be young and strong — Fred is one of those people.

Advertisements

2 comments on “Returning home

  1. I’m very glad I found your blog. The concerns your laboring under speak very much to my condition, and it makes me feel less anxious about the gathering in Wichita to know you will be there, with integrity to your ministry. I will be holding you, and the gathering in the Light.

    loving regards,
    john

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s