I have also run into label issues within the Quaker world. Because I am a member of a semi-programmed, Christ-centered church but regularly attend an unprogrammed, liberal meeting, I suppose I embody "convergent," but I don't really like that label either. It seems trendy and glib, and I have a hard time feeling like it applies to me. And because I come from a Christian background, the language I use is very biblical, which frankly makes some Quakers uncomfortable.
Most of my friends are not Quakers and the last paragraph probably would not mean a lot to them. When I talk to friends about being a Quaker, I spend a lot of time trying to define terms and explaining what the differences are between Quaker groups and why they matter. People seem to think that because we are Quakers, we must be pretty peaceful. This has not been my experience.
Over the past few months, I have been inviting a lot of friends to Quaker meetings. When I do this, I routinely tell my friends, "I'm not trying to convert you." To me, conversion and evangelism have pretty negative connotations and I don't want anyone to think that I am trying to coerce them into doing or believing anything. I don't think I have The Way to God or truth; I just feel like I have found a path that is working for me, and I want to share that with the people who are important to me.
I was talking about faith with a friend recently and he recommended the book The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, by Shane Claiborne. I got a copy from the library and started reading it on the train last weekend. In the book, Claiborne describes his experiences of going from a pretty typical Christian youth to a faith-driven life that takes him from working with Mother Theresa to communal living and visiting families in Iraq. Although I do not agree with everything Claiborne says, this passage struck me as very true:
It's a shame that a few conservative evangelicals have had a monopoly on the word conversion. Some of us shiver at the word. But conversion means to change, to alter, after which something looks different than it did before―like conversion vans or converted currency. We need converts in the best sense of the word, people who are marked by the renewing of their minds and imaginations, who no longer conform to the pattern that is destroying our world. Otherwise, we have only believers, and believers are a dime-a-dozen nowadays. What the world needs is people who believe so much in another world that they cannot help but begin enacting it now.One of the things that initially drew me to the Quaker faith is how involved in social justice Friends are. I felt like this was a religion that did not conflict with my politics, but instead added a faith component to my political convictions. I feel strongly about Quaker values of equality, peace, simplicity, and service, and I believe that being part of a community that shares those values helps me to live with integrity.
So I want to reclaim the words "convert" and "evangelist." My new definition for "convert" is a person who is willing to change his or her life and follow the direction of the Spirit, and I define "evangelist" as a person who is willing to talk about his or her beliefs openly and honestly. With this in mind, I hope that all of my friends can be converts and evangelists because we can sure do a lot of good in the world if we are.