Liberal Friends are caught between reclaiming (healthy) Christian roots on the one hand and being seen as excluding long-time non-Christian Friends on the other. We must collectively understand and corporately employ healing techniques and practices, such as reframing, compassionate communication, intentional or voluntary vulnerability, asking questions that demonstrate a move from judgment to curiosity, etc.
This post is based on an entry in my journal from Eighth Month 2006, reflecting on my experiences of the summer.
To say "You belong here" or "It is safe here" is not enough. Our actions toward one another will reveal our deeper and sometimes unconscious convictions.
There are several posts and related comments within the Quaker blogosphere that have me concerned over the way we are (or aren't) communicating with one another. Some examples are these:
Peter's self-disclosing post about his own struggle with Christian language;
Kwakersaur's post in response to Peter's; and
Zach's response to a post by James, and the comments that follow therein.
In some ways, I feel like a child who is overhearing her parents fight, night after night, and being told the next morning, "Oh, Mommy and Daddy are just having a disagreement." The loud voices and the recurrence of the fights are evidence of a genuine love that has gone missing, and all my child-self wants to do is yell out:
Stop fighting and just LOVE each other!!Of course, authentic love doesn't mean ignoring or minimizing our own needs, but it does mean putting the relationship first, practicing loving disciplines (listening first and speaking later, being patient, being respectful, trusting the other's intention, etc.), and being willing to be changed by the encounter.
The answerOn a number of occasions during my summer travels, I have heard Friends ask themselves what is at the root of all the branches of Quakerism that binds us together; what is missing from our Meetings for Worship for Business; what has fallen away from some individual monthly meetings or even yearly meetings that has made Friends so uneasy with one another? And on those same occasions, sooner or later, a Friend will provide the answer:
L O V E .Love.
Not "God" or "Jesus" or "more worship," but love.
I have been holding that answer in my heart as I have traveled. I have seen personalities clash; meetings for worship devolve into meetings for self-protection; and worship-sharing where any sense of safety unravels as a result of talking over each other.
At the same time, I have seen Friends respectfully call each other back to waiting worship; tenderly redirect Friends to consider their words and deeds; and openly shed tears with near-strangers when speaking about broken relationships.
I am becoming more and more convinced: Love is the answer.
Queries laid on my heartTo compare and contrast the variety of experiences I have had among yearly meetings this summer, from Northern to Southern Appalachian; from Iowa Conservative to Canadian, I find my heart filled with concern and with hope. Now that I have stood at the edge of the theological divide that threatens to split most especially Liberal Friends, I begin to hold a new set of questions that may shape my own participation in this thick night.
Do we invite one another to share our concerns? How do we learn to invite concerns to come forward if our words of invitation are not enough to create safety?
Do we receive the concerns with genuine interest, or do we switch to defensiveness and rationalization? How do we learn to receive, to receive without retort, to receive and weigh what has been said?
Do we practice patience, hold tenderly, a thing that was shared with difficulty, rather than respond to it right away?
Do we give weight to what is shared? Do we listen for the Truth in that which makes us uncomfortable? Or do we speak out of our discomfort in order to ensure we will be remembered and our own individual interests will be protected?
How do we learn to hold difficult things tenderly, to listen for the Truth even when we ourselves feel uncomfortable by what has been said?
If we know that the concern that is raised does not "fit" with the practice of the body, how do we lovingly share this information with the Friend? How do we learn to share difficult information in a context and in a manner that expresses love and concern, that invites continued connection and mutual trust, rather than disconnection and dividing?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What I lift up here is not new.
Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people's opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.We cannot cross the divide if we do not learn to listen to one another in love, learn to invite one another to listen with new ears, and learn to receive the challenges of one another as invitations to open ourselves to being transformed, to becoming more than who we are.
- Britain Yearly Meeting, Advices & Queries, 1.02.17
It is tempting to "circle the wagons" and keep close to those Friends who think like us and talk like us. But we cannot cross the divide--we cannot be bridges for one another--if we remain isolated from each other.