Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Prophet in His Hometown Reflects

Then they scoffed, "He's just the carpenter's son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers--James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?"

Each of us aspire to be important to someone. This can mean being the best father or mother to one's children, or the best librarian to care for patrons. For me, aspirations and goals are close to the same thing. I want to be a well-regarded writer of essays and short fiction. I want to be a male feminist who consistently challenges himself to learn more, to know more. I want to learn more about the guitar and become a better musician.

In my Quaker world, my aspirations have begun to flower. For one thing, there aren't very many of us out there. On the East Coast, where I live now, there are probably somewhere around 100,000 Friends. I will never meet all of them, regrettably, but paths have crossed, usually at conferences. I have shared space with many others who share my faith and my passions.

Young adults are a minority within the Religious Society of Friends. As you might imagine, it doesn't take long to make acquaintance with the same few hundred socially active young people. We are the most committed and most serious about our faith, the sort that stick out notably on First Days (Sundays) at our home Meetings. Speaking for myself, my reasonably young age has only accentuated my distinctions. Word of mouth speaks with greater influence than any column I write.

The East Coast corridor of liberal Friends stretches from roughly North Carolina to Philadelphia and up into New England. Ever since I left Alabama, I've jumped into the middle of the historic avenues of influence and, dare I say it, power. The past six years of hard work have given me a name and a reputation, one I didn't recognize fully until I came back home.

Everyone seems to think of me as the local boy done good. Three men had prominent man crushes on me, which is flattering and uncomfortable at the same time. The one closest to my age asked me for my opinion on a particular matter. I was glad to oblige him, though I don't consider myself the sole authority by any stretch of the means. A little hero worship isn't a bad thing and I'll allow myself to appreciate it.

Ever since I left, my writings, podcast interviews, blogging, and publication in Quaker periodicals have given me a following. Unlike Jesus, a return to my hometown showed how far I've come, not a summary rejection. I planted myself in the middle of a city where many aspire to great influence, in many avenues, and won a share of it myself. This did not come easily.

Some may know my name, but never know my face. I'm perfectly content with this. Part of being a Quaker is a strong discouragement of hierarchy. Individual accomplishments are to be downplayed, and to be sure, I never find myself drawn to false humility. Strict humility, however, means perpetual anonymity, and my own leadings are too strong for that. I'm a leader with ability. In a different age, I would have requested and been granted a formal designation of recorded minister, a belief that my vocal ministry and life's example were clear gifts from God.

As I said, I will allow myself a particular length of time to appreciate a few starry-eyed Quakers. I tend to impress others with a unique combination of vulnerability and thoughtful insight. There's no turning back now, and I wouldn't want that for myself. There are greater goals and aspirations for me now. Everything is set in motion. God pushes me to greater service for his sake and his plan, whatever it may be.

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