Like military intelligence or jumbo shrimp…

finding myself, quaker

I’m afraid that the best I have to offer the world is an oxymoron.

Good to Great says that great companies refine their focus to find the one thing they can do better than anyone else in the world. Steve Fawver just read it (I tackled it a few years back), and when we were talking about it a few weeks ago I began wondering if that theory could be applied to individuals. And if so…what in the world could I do better than anyone else? Obviously, if you come up with an answer, it simply proves that you are an egomaniac without a grip on reality. Perhaps a more helpful question is, what am I uniquely qualified to offer the world?

I got the chance to work with a few other people to develop one of the chapel sessions of Quaker Heritage Week at George Fox University. Founded by Quakers and with a desire to hold on to its roots, the reality is that GFU has grown rapidly over the past decade, and the vast majority of students are not Quaker. Our goal for the chapel was to help create a positive bridge between the non-Quaker student and some of our core Friends’ distinctives. We chose to do that by using a barrage of images and media and music to communicate how being at a Quaker university uniquely positions these students to be ready to change the world, to bring justice as they follow the leading of God’s Spirit. And from the feedback we received, we were very successful at hitting our goal.

My role was largely the tech side of things. I ripped the video and set up the presentation (mentally beginning a still unfinished post on “Presentations 101”), and I did get to share verbally a little bit. When it was all over and I had a chance to reflect, I realized that my tech geekiness, communication skills, and passion for Quaker theology all got to converge in good ways. We found ways to tap into how our culture is longing and working for social justice, but then shaped it in a Friendly direction, linking the outward flow of world-changing action inextricably with an inward, intimate connection to the living Jesus.

Maybe this is what I am most uniquely qualified to offer the world: I can use technology, media, and pop culture to communicate the Evangelical Friends theology of Northwest Yearly Meeting to non-Quakers in a compelling and engaging manner.

And that’s what I’m worried might be the oxymoron.

One wouldn’t look at the silent reflectiveness of historic Quakerism and immediately see how music, movies and media sit well with it. My hope is that my blogging and postmodern non-linearity (is that a word?) are a way for me to express with authenticity and integrity the values that have profoundly changed me. My fear is that I’m a living expression of a mutation that never should have occurred.

In all reality, though, oxymoronish or not, I think this is the path that the Creator has laid before me, and which I’m trying to walk with faithfulness. I want to believe that it’s me tapping into the historic progressive tendency of Quakers who engaged the culture with the power of the gospel.

11 thoughts on “Like military intelligence or jumbo shrimp…

  1. We ask the question slightly different question…”What’s your superpower?” Brian thinks his is telling time (especially when its light out.) Mine? hmmm, not sure. I’m wonder if throwing parties can be a super power. There might be a spiritual application out there…


  2. Well, let’s look at the history. George Fox certainly spent time in silent reflection and he also spent a lot of time communicating what he heard in that silence, using all the technology at his disposal. I’d say the same thing was true for Rufus Jones and Thomas Kelly.

    I think the danger is when one disconnects the silence and the communication. The listening has to come before the telling. The listening has to include listening directly to God, not just to other people’s interpretations. The listening has to be followed, not just by talking but by faithful and fearless obedience.

    For better or worse, and you have written about this before, you have been called and released by NFC to have time and material resources and the obligation to do this work. Thank God that you also have spiritual gifts and technical skills to do it well.

    What is my superpower? hmmm. it might be the courage/foolishness to insert myself in conversations that don’t technically involve me.


  3. Oh! What Robin said. Ditto. Except for the superpower. I don’t know what mine is yet.

    Fox and his early gang printed pamphlets like crazy because that’s the technonogy they had at their disposal. You can bet they would have had a blog too if there had been such a thing. It’s about getting the authentic message you’ve been given OUT. And, the silent period that came later stemmed (some would say) from fear of doing or saying the wrong thing….

    I imagine part of what you like is the creative process thus the connection to the Creator. It’s a little weird that someone could connect with God through technology but He is really amazing so I won’t say it’s impossible. 🙂 Enjoy it! It might very well be a spiritual practice for you.


  4. I know it’s not the point of your blog post here-but the phrase, “refine their focus to find the one thing they can do better than anyone else in the world” is what sticks with me. I don’t necessarily think we need to do it better than EVERYONE else in the world-but what I’ve been saying for quite some time about myself and our church is that we need to “refine our focus” and start trying to do a few things really well. It seems like a great idea to have ministries for everything/everyone/every interest-but I think what that leads to is having a bunch of ministries that only do things mediocre. I’d love to see NFC focus and take a few ministries and do them spectacularly. Within every ministries is a bunch of different little “sub” ministries. Within those “sub” ministries, I believe we could use everyone’s “superpowers.”


  5. On further reflection, I realized that Fox did not use all the technology at his disposal. He didn’t go around composing bawdy songs that would bring people to meeting. Which I suppose he could have. Thomas Kelly didn’t become a Hollywood screenwriter, he became a college professor. That occupation released him to write essays and speeches. But you know, some filmmakers contribute to the greater glory of God and some are wholeheartedly corrupted and corrupting. Same is true for pastors of churches. Same thing was true in George Fox’s day. You can use your discernment about which means are coherent with God’s ends.

    Perhaps in your listening, you are already hearing nudges about where you need to rein things in and where you should proceed that are different from the previous generation or two. You are not alone.

    I want to draw a connection between this post and Martin Kelley’s recent posts about how to communicate Quakerism across cultural lines. There are lines of class and lines of age and other divisions that shouldn’t be such barriers in a religion where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. But we have to work at moving beyond our cultural assumptions to get there.


  6. Wow! How kind of all of you to blow me away with great and thoughtful comments! Starla, the superpower question for me has always been which one do I WANT, not what do I HAVE. And I want the ability to slow down, speed up, or reverse time.

    Robin, your dual comments strike in good places. Yes, listening must always precede the communication, and yes, not all technology/media/culture is the right conduit for communicating the message of God. In fact, I’ll come back to the listening must always precede communicating/presenting in just a bit.

    Kathy, YES! It’s the participating in the creative process that I do love. That’s something I’ve just realized recently, and you hit the nail on the head. There’s something so satisfying at doing work that has a tangible result. What writing and media stuff has over speaking is that it somewhat takes on a life of its own; it can repeat, and I can get a more detached perspective, and at times have even had God speak new things to me from things I’ve participated with God in creating. That’s amazing.

    And Michelle, I have given lots and lots and lots of thought time to the point you raise about excellence and NFC in the years since I read the book the first time. Where I always get stuck is this: truly great companies are defined by financial success, and that is directly tied to specializing their focus in this increasingly diverse world. I just have a very difficult time making that jump to the church for this reason: when I read the gospels, when I see what Jesus is doing in the world, he refuses to be selective in how or to whom he ministers. He does the reverse. He’s supposed to be hurrying to heal the important synagogue ruler’s daughter when he stops because some old tossed aside woman touches him. I just can’t be a leader who pushes us to say “We will only do this” at the expense of following the whole gospel. Now, I think there ARE ways to narrow within that whole gospel, because we try too hard to be the best at everything, and need to learn to be more integrated in how we follow a broad gospel, but that’s another discussion. Hopefully you get my point.

    And that leads me back full circle. This post was a little bit of a red herring. If it’s not the right question for a church, then perhaps it isn’t the right question for an individual follower of Jesus. I’m not going to lose tons of sleep about whether I have discovered the one thing that I am uniquely best at in the world so that I can be labelled as “great” instead of “good.” But I am going to give a lot of energy to what Robin wrote, to listening and silence that allow God to shape the direction of my life, in the little and in the big matters. I want to be faithful more than I want to be excellent. (But of course excellence, or striving for it, is part of being faithful. But this comment has gone on long enough.)


  7. “My fear is that I’m a living expression of a mutation that never should have occurred.”
    Gregg, You have a great way with words!

    From what I have observed, you are more like an excited little boy that is really using, enjoying, and appreciating the presents you were given!

    Speaking as a parent, I can’t help but think that God (the Giver) is extremely pleased when He sees us playing with, developing, and sharing the gifts He has given us—especially when we use them to glorify Him, and point others to Him!

    Here is another image that just came to mind. When the Ron, the paster from God Song, spoke at NFC he used the phrase, “Deep roots, new fruit” as a description of NFC. You are one of the branches—effectively connecting roots with fruit.


  8. I agree Gregg that we can’t as a “church” be selective about who we help and who we don’t…the point I guess I left out, is; how do we define church? Yes, in my previous comment I was speaking directly about our NFC body-but of course the church is much bigger than that. If we broaden our comfort zone of church to mean other local churches -then we (individual churches) could “specialize” a bit more and I think do a better job at helping the entire community. For example, Newberg Christian has an amazing kitchen and facility to do Community Kitchen- we don’t. But NFC has a big sanctuary, and Foursquare doesn’t-so what things could we offer that they can’t. It just goes back to the thought about ONE church in many different buildings. How do we work together with the local churches to specialize each individual “body part” in such a way that unifies and strengthens the church as a whole?


  9. I wish I could write a complete thought…I realized that after writing and pushing “submit comment” that what I’d written sounded a bit too focused on the church facility rather than its people. Of COURSE people are what make up the body of Christ not the church buildings. So, I’ll add that just as each church building has its special features-so do the different congregations. Together we so diverse-and being willing to serve in another church building than our own is really a gift to the entire church body. (ex: MOPS childcare workers from other local churches helping at NFC.)

    Ok, if I have any more thoughts on this-I’ll save them for a different blog 🙂


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