July 17, 2005

Continued reflections on the Gathering:
Exploring Quaker identity, Part II

TUESDAY, July 5: Go!

At the close of opening worship, before we came too far out of the worshipful space we had just been in, and as I had done the previous morning, I asked the group to share what their experience of the worship was like.

I've written about that question and what came out of it in an earlier post, and even that little bit of the workshop experience still sits with me...

The focus of this day, I had hoped, would be twofold: The first would be to engage the group in an activity to illuminate elements of Quakerism that might be considered "core" or primary, and others that might be considered "peripheral" or secondary. The exercise was based on Australian Friend Janey O'Shea's—and I could have sworn I got it off the internet, but now I can't find the link. Sigh. The second focus would be to teach and practice basic compassionate listening skills.

But first things first: Here's what we did early on.

I asked the group to consider for a moment or two what they yearned for, what was missing for them from their Quakerism. Once again, I passed out blank index cards. I would soon after do the same thing around the question, "What is the CORE of Quakerism for you?"

I instructed them to write the item they yearned for on the lined side (and later, what they considered "core"), and then told them to write only one word on the unlined side, and to use marker to write that one word really large. (Actually, maybe I asked them to do this at the end of Monday, I can't recall...)

After everyone was ready, I collected the cards, mixed them up, and then went through them one at a time. Friends placed each card where they thought it belonged in relation to the "center" of Quakerism, which I represented with a card that said CORE and was placed in the middle of our circle.

In retrospect, this is not the question I should have started with, but it was what we had in front of us. [UPDATE: Chuck Fager writes about ways to think about the core of Quakerism in this interesting essay.]

It became clear to me and to others, pretty quickly, that there were quite a lot of elements that appeared to be CORE to Friends:
continuing revelation
the Inner Light
spiritual community
and so on.

A few items had ended up a bit farther off the mark, like Scripture as authority. I didn't keep notes, but this is what I recall, generally.

I then shifted gears and began to talk about the importance of listening compassionately to one another, especially as we come to know one another, our struggles, and that with which we wrestle in our journey among Friends.

In the end, the listening exercise felt flat, and I left the workshop that day puzzled and frustrated. Where had I gone wrong in the experiment, given the amount of inward listening I was doing?

Still, I knew how I would begin the next day, and hoped to get back on track.

WEDNESDAY, July 6: Wait, rewind!

The next day after worship, I said to the group, "Well, I had said from the start that this was an experiment of sorts. Now's a good time to ask how the experiment is going. What do you want more of, what hasn't been working for you?"

It became very clear very early that Friends wanted to return to the "Core of Quakerism" question; that the index-card exercise had touched off a lot of thinking for many of them the previous day; and there was bound to be more within that exercise for them to sink their teeth into.

I hadn't brought the index cards with me, but there was the faithful flipchart and marker that FGC provided. I suggested we start off with making a list:
What goes into a Quaker identity?
Now why didn't I think of starting the workshop with that question?!?

The energy of the group came up in an instant; the list of items spread across three large pages, with more to come if there had been time. Another sheet had been started, focused on items that make up identity in general, but the group continued to turn its attention to the question of Quaker identity.

After having created the extensive list that we had, small groups were formed. I asked Friends to identify from the list what they each felt were the 3-5 primary elements of their own individual Quakerism, and then share within their small group.

Twenty minutes went by; twenty-five.

I interrupted several times, encouraging them to take their break, but I was mostly ignored. The Spirit was clearly moving them, and I knew enough to keep out of the way.

After 30 minutes, I told them that they needed to take a break and come back to the large group in 10 minutes, in order to "share the wealth" of what they had just been sharing within their small groups. Not to mention, I hadn't been in on any of the conversation up to that point, and I wanted to know what all the excitement was about!

In the large group, we talked about how the original index-card exercise could have been expanded by allowing each Friend to use the cards to build their own "foundation" and "house" out of them:
Which card can you pull out and still think of yourself as Quaker?

On what principles and elements of Quakerism do you build the rest of your identity as a Friend?

Which card is it that if you pull it out, the rest of the house of cards will tumble?
It was to be the highlight of the week for me, to see and feel so much excitement and engagement and enthusiasm—so much FIRE in the room!

THURSDAY, July 7 and FRIDAY, July 8: Go again!

In part because of a question about corporate identity raised early in the week, on Thursday after opening worship, I used spectrums to link what we had been exploring around individual identity and relate it to the character and corporate nature of a meeting.

Spectrums are a simple non-verbal exercise that allow a certain amount of self-disclosure and group awareness around a question or scenario without requiring anyone to elaborate on their answer. The exercise often helps reduce the sense of isolation that a participant might feel, because seldom does one individual place herself or himself far from anyone else. And maybe best of all, no individual is singled out; no individual dominates the conversation. If someone begins to dominate, I can literally turn to a different part of the spectrum and ask for comments from that area...

I asked the group to place themselves along an imaginary line that cut across the room diagonally, with one end representing TRUE and the other representing FALSE (or STRONGLY AGREE and STRONGLY DISAGREE). Here are a few possible scenarios I raised:
You feel welcome by your meeting.

You and your meeting are a good fit for one another.

Being obedient and faithful to the Spirit is a core value within your meeting.
If some of these items sound familiar, it's because I've borrowed them from the Thomas Gates' pamphlet of which I'm so fond! And it's always interesting to see how people move about, from one end of the room to the other, as the questions change, especially when the questions are related, in a way, to how satisfied a Friend might feel within her or his meeting.

From there, and based on comments I had heard during Wednesday's check-in, I had the participants get into small groups again. This time, they were to share with each other what had seemed to help enrich their own meetings back home, and how they might bring back to their meetings any of the exercises, activities, and topics that were raised here during the workshop.

One of the last exercises we did came out of an observation that someone had made, about the importance of being part of their Quaker meeting, their Quaker community. I asked each person to take out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. On the top of the paper, I asked them to draw three circles that would be in different sizes, relative to how large or small they experienced each of these three parts of their Quakerism:
Then I asked them to play with their circles and draw them in relation to one another: Were they concentric circles, nested one within the others? Were they overlapping? Were they disconnected entirely?

After just a couple minutes of doodling, I asked them to turn to their neighbor and share what they drew and any observations they made, like what they want their circles to look like, &c. Bzzz, bzzz, bzzz. It was great.

A significant observation

Perhaps as a result of these activities and exercises, and maybe in response to this last one, Friends spoke and lifted up this important observation [well, this is likely a composite of several remarks, actually]:
In my meeting, we don't use exercises like this, though I can see how for some meetings, these activities are useful to get the dialogue going. We come together for worship, and it is in our worship that we know one another.

For me, there is no separation between myself, God, and the meeting community. They are all integrated; there is no separation.
I smiled inwardly, aware of the creative tension and duality that many Friends and many of our meetings must engage in, though the balance will tilt differently in different meetings, between knowing one another through activities and knowing one another in God.

So: How is it that we feed our spiritual hunger as Friends?

I think we must feed one another... through worship, through sharing, through action, through listening.

And through exploring and understanding, more and more, what it is that makes each of us, all of us, Quaker.


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

My reflections about the workshop and the Gathering aren't quite complete, though the greatest bulk of my remarks about the workshop is. Thanks for reading me, again. --Liz


Anonymous said...

How were the evaluations?

Do you think people walked
away changed, enriched, and
fuller, equipped to better
articulate important facets of
their identities?

I think your seminar is a
leadership training seminar in
disguise, in a good way. But
I wonder if people left that
confident or simply feeling
they'd taken the first of thousands
of steps. You yourself seem
to lean toward the latter.

Can you say why that is?

How has/will this help you with
the guidance of the WG back home?

And how/will this help you with
the meeting at large back home?
Has it helped you arrive at
clearness on your life there?

Have you brought your summarization
to M/C committee for clearness
over what it may have provided

Liz Opp said...

David, I did not have a chance to review the evaluations before turning them in, though Friends in the workshop had approached me at various times during the week, thanking me for offering the workshop and appreciating me for the topics I lifted up, among other things.

I would hope that Friends walked away with new information and insights about their own Quaker identity, what makes up an identity in the first place, and what can enrich or strengthen one's Quakerism.

But I must ask myself, as a Friend recently pointed out, not if I was successful, but if I was faithful to how I had been led. At the end of each workshop session, I found myself returning to that question, and felt clear that yes, I had been faithful.

In this case especially, with the workshop and much of its material being new for me, it was important for me to focus on what was right in front of me, lest I start to focus on the results and not on God's leading. Perhaps that is why you sense, correctly, that I leaned towards "[taking] the first of thousands of steps." My experience shows me and instructs me that all I need discern is the next step. After that God, will show me the next one, and the next one—and I am likely to end up in a place I could not have imagined!

Some of the other logistical pieces you ask about remain Large Questions for me, as I have been traveling along this journey with the monthly meeting regarding my measure of Light and the meeting's ability/willingness to receive it. Much of the learning I gained during the week was actively sought out by the worship group; as I recall, only one Friend from the monthly meeting asked me to share how the workshop was going.

As Spirit might have it (I started to type "As synchronicity might have it," but realized this is likely God's work here)—

As Spirit might have it, that same Friend went out with me for "coffee" this morning after MfW. We talked about a number of things, including the workshop as it relates to the monthly meeting. At one point, I was asked, "Do you think there's a place for parts of the workshop to be shared here?"

I answered truthfully:

Yes and no. I think there's value in making our Quakerism explicit as part of conveying our faith; AND I'm not sure I'm the one to offer those pieces.

So, I'll close with these words from songwriter Friend Bimsy Kirkpatrick:

One step at a time, one step at a time
Each one covered with glory and grime
Can't see the mountaintop as I climb
So Lord please show me
One step at a time.

—"One Step At A Time," #162 in the Quaker hymnal