“The Work of Transformation” message on 11-13-14

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. “                                  Romans 12:1-2, The Message

My journey to New York Yearly Meeting’s Fall Sessions last weekend began with a drive to Powell House on Friday afternoon before the rush hour traffic began. The next leg, beginning at 4:00 a.m., was driving in the dark down the Taconic Highway, accompanied by Ann Davidson and a cup of good strong coffee, to the train station in Poughkeepsie. Our ride on the Metro North train into Grand Central was a slow; deliberate, and beautiful 2 hours along the Hudson River valley, which was showing off the last of its remaining fall colors. After a final stop at Harlem, we arrived in the busy and bustling Grand Central terminal. Orienting to the quick rush of passers by and locating the appropriate street on which to exit always takes me a few minutes to tell my mind that this isn’t Glens Falls anymore. Due to the fact that both of us were recovering from knee injuries, a taxi seemed the most user-friendly of ways to get downtown. We were able to easily locate a taxi and enter the hectic traffic stream of honking vehicles on Lexington Avenue. “15th Street; between 2nd and 3rd Avenues” I told the driver on the advice of one of my NYC resident friends. As we made our way through the Manhattan streets my senses were inundated with smells, sounds, and the colorful sights of this incredible town. In about 15 minutes, we were paying up and disembarking on the corner of Rutherford Place and 15th Street. Stuyvesant park which is on the corner of 3rd and 15th, was filled with kids and dogs enjoying the moderate weather of the 9:00 hour on Saturday morning. Facing us was the red brick buildings that comprise the location of 15th street monthly meeting, Friends Seminary—a private Quaker run school for 1st through12 grade, Manhattan Monthly Meeting—the small programmed meeting that lives in the city, and the offices of New York Yearly Meeting. We; along with about 200 other Friends were here to do the work of transformation.

In the video, which I hope you will take time to watch again if it’s possible for you, Noah Merrill defines the transforming work of Quakers to be the way of living where we recognize that in every second of our days there is the possibility of the in-breaking of something beyond us that opens up God’s perspective which brings love, justice and redemption into what already exists. This prophetic view expresses the hope and the truth that we can bring forth “what could be” from “what is”, and invites other to join us in that effort.

Many of the conversations and discussions that I have been a part of among Friends at the local, regional, or wider level, that broach the topic of the role of Quakers in the world, usually turn to what changes must be made in the future in order that the ORGANIZATION will survive. We often end up dealing with issues around resolving the differences among different groups of Friends, or how we might attract new people into our faith communities, or what we might try in order to keep the younger folks engaged. Denominational polity and organizational structure is NOT the work of transformation.

Early Friends understood themselves to be a part of a MOVEMENT; NOT a denomination or a sect. Their convictions led them to view their beliefs as that which might just offer a universal Truth that could be shared by EVERYONE, regardless of the existing churches or denominational structures. One of the most useful statements that I discovered this week came from a public talk given by Quaker Lloyd Lee Wilson who commented that “The challenge facing us is not to modernize our faith tradition to meet a changing society, but to embody our faith traditions more fully so that we can be leavening and seasoning in that society.” I believe that Noah Merrill would agree with that statement. I understand that to “embody” our faith is to live daily lives that minute by minute show and share our Quaker values. THIS is transformational work.

In the gospels, Jesus describes coming of the Kingdom or the Reign of God like a woman mixing a bit of yeast into the flour until all of it was leavened. The small bit of yeast must be sifted into the flour to produce the change that makes great bread dough. Living prophetically or doing the work of transformation SEASONS the world –the culture, the planet –to become, little by little, that in which God can and will be present and active. That is how Quakerism can work, with our own activity and commitment to bring forth a better world–the Reign of God.

Back to Fall Sessions! There were two experiences that I had in the meeting room at 15th St. that I believe demonstrates how transformation among Friends is happening…

The first was through the report given by the General Secretary Christopher Sammond.

As he detailed how our Yearly Meeting can implement the priorities that have been created over the past 5 years, he named 3 crucial strands of our Quaker identity for us to emphasize or expand in order to move our group forward in realizing the Kingdom of God; Communion, Community, and Living in Truth. Notice that none of these have much to do with the organizational structure of the yearly meeting.

Communion is that powerful feeling of being gathered in worship, when the power of the Lord is over all. This comes most directly from the core Quaker understanding that humans can connect directly with God without any need of intermediaries; that we can as individuals and groups can realize and understand and act out of the relationship we have with the Divine.

Community is the connection and connectedness we have as a group; living, and working, and worshipping, and playing together. All are equally involved; all affect the whole. It is grounded and given life in the spiritual dimension of Communion.

Living in Truth is the work of witness in which we engage. Naming and having the courage to live in the truth of a world where people are destroying our planet, where violence kills so many, where economic injustice is rampant. Witnessing is also taking actions that work to heal these broken places, and calling others to notice as well as becoming involved in the work of making the world a better place.

All of these strands intertwined together provide unity and purpose when we recognize that ALL THREE are vital to our Quaker message and mission; they equip Friends to live into the work of transformation.

My other personal experience of the work of transformation at Fall Sessions occurred during worship on Sunday morning…For all the external noise of traffic and people surrounding the buildings, the worship space is an oasis of quiet, even as one looks outside the windows at the world moving by. As we sat together, I began to recognize the sound of the water moving through the radiators in the room. It sounds to me like rain falling or a distant waterfall. As I worshipped, I began to understand that background sound as that Divine Presence which surrounds each one of us as well as the whole group together. This was an experience of THAT OF GOD which is in each of us!. It is that which Noah says that we are being invited into beyond the anxiety and fear of this culture. It spoke to me of the unity, and the transformation that is always present and always possible and just outside ourselves. It was as if God’s-self was inviting and exhorting me and the group that surrounded me into that reign of hope and grace and justice that is also always present. I was called to realize and live into the truth that transformation comes bit by bit only as I give myself, and those with whom I live and work, no matter when or where, over to the in-breaking of that which is just beyond the status quo.

Romans 12:2 as it is in the New Revised Standard Version says: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

I think Eugene Peterson’s translation speaks better to the effort that leads us into the Kingdom of God. Placing our everyday life before God, embracing God’s already present gifts, and making changes from the inside out. Those are the keys to transformation.

The actions taken by the Yearly Meeting last weekend included allowing for way to open for us to approve the 2015 budget, as well as approval of a minute calling from the release of an sick, incarcerated man who was perhaps wrongly convicted and who doesn’t want to die in prison. The body also directed the clerk to endorse a travel minute for a Friend who wants to travel and do ministry in Kenya. We heard our clerk encourage visitations between meetings and worship groups in order to affirm one another and undergird the Yearly Meeting with these connections. The many committee meetings that took place Saturday also enabled the work of our Yearly Meeting to go forward, allowing for our daily lives and activities to become steeped in God and God’s reign. As we understand our place within this Yearly Meeting, we become part of its efforts to bring about change that brings forth the reign of God among us and our world. This IS OUR WORK of transformation, TOGETHER.

As we discussed the topics in our series here—WDTQS?!–, a number of folks expressed that they couldn’t understand why people aren’t flocking into Quaker meetings when. Our doors need first to be opened by our own efforts; initiating and enabling the hope, love, justice and redemption that show that God is present and active. This will provide the welcome that all who inquire need and want to see…

So Friends, will you join me in the work of transformation for ourselves as individuals, as well as our faith tradition?