I wanted to update my regular readers on a change in my personal life.
I’m in the process of becoming a dual-member of the Oklahoma City Friends Meeting (the Quakers), while maintaining my membership and ministry work at Joy Mennonite Church.
It’s hard to begin in explaining this decision, but the short version is that both faith traditions speak to me and I feel a great deal of kinship and connection with both communities. I spent a lot of time praying and thinking about this decision, and spoke to several friends about the decision, and I am now at peace with my decision to embrace both faith traditions. (for those who don’t know, I became a Mennonite I think in 2003, and I’ve been attending the OKC friends meeting since the spring of this year)
What I love about the Mennonite tradition is the strong emphasis on the teachings of Jesus (including his teachings on non-violence), their radical belief in the separation of Church and State (the Anabaptist movement which the Mennos are a part of, were some of the first to argue for this seperation — more than 200 years before the US Constitution was drafted), and the traditional emphasis on simplicity and solidarity with the poor.
What I love about the Quaker tradition is the emphasis on mostly silent worship (that enables a deep connection with the divine), the tradition’s unique decision making processes (not just consensus, but seeking unity), and at least for the part of Quakerism I feel drawn to, a strong belief in Universalism (and that the Divine cannot be constrained by the language we use to explain it).
And what I really dig is that both faith traditions complement and deepen the experience of living out the other tradition. Or to say it another way, being a Quaker helps me to be a better Mennonite (and vice-versa).
Also it is not just about two broad traditions but rather two local communities. Neither community is perfect, but both communities have a center that is focused on love.
To tell the longer version of the story, I’ll need to go back a little bit and recount some of my faith journey to date.
I grew up in the Churches of Christ (link to the Wikipedia article for a reasonably objective description of the tradition). I was baptized at age 9 and took my faith very seriously. My experiences with my local congregation were pretty mixed, but I did LOVE the week I spent every summer at church camp (most years it was Camp Lu-Jo Kismif). Church camp was where God seemed so alive and the love I read about in the Bible seemed real. But within a few days of being back home, regular life was back, and it was back to what seemed to be a very sterile and heartless faith experience.
There was and still is a lot of good in that faith tradition. Some of the best people I’ve ever known are in that tradition (including most of my family), but when I was in high school and college, I increasingly felt that the beliefs of the COC’s were ones I could not live with. I appreciated their strong emphasis on scripture and the simplicity of their worship and polity, but felt increasingly at odds with their extreme literalistic reading of scripture (including their ridiculous stand on instrumental music in worship — I love acapella singing and think there are strong reasons to use it in worship, but to believe that the use of an organ will send you to hell, is beyond comprehensibility) and the belief by many that there is only way to salvation, that they alone have found it, and everyone else is going to hell.
During this time, one guidepost to a different path was Cecil Hook, a COC minister who had become a potent (yet loving) critic of extreme legalism in the COC.
The other thing that was calling me in a different direction was a deep hunger and yearning for an authentic and genuine experience of the divine. The COC’s teachings on the Holy Spirit was confused and contradictory (either that the Spirit only spoke through the Bible, or that the Spirit worked in other means, but we had no idea what those means were), but I read enough of the New Testament to know that the Christian experience was not supposed to be the dry, lifeless experience that I too often saw in the COC’s.
Over the next few years, this hunger continued to fuel me. I wanted to connect with God.
To be continued…
In future parts of this post, I will discuss my decision to change colleges and study at the Institute for Christian Studies (now Austin Graduate School of Theology), my experiences in a non-denominational cell-based charismatic church, my return to the COC’s and my year as a COC minister, my decision to become a Mennonite, and my more recent experiences. I’ll also talk about my “conversions” to embracing the peace teachings of Jesus and to a Universalist theology.