October 20, 2006

Soft spots

God has given me a number of occasions to be of service in the past month, not only to support my parents but most recently to support my partner, who parted with her appendix over the weekend! (Hence, in part, the long spell between recent posts.)

Thankfully, the appendix had not ruptured but it was giving warning signs that it just might do so in another few days. Also, thankfully, the on-call surgeon in the E-R was able to do the procedure laparoscopically, which meant a very quick surgery (30-45 minutes!) and a much faster recovery period at home. All appears to be going well.

The other item that has taken up much of my attention, and to which I have been called, has been clerking the Workshops Committee for the 2007 Gathering in River Falls, Wisconsin.

Before anyone jumps to conclusions: No, the slate of workshops for next year's Gathering will not be overrun with workshops about Convergent Friends! In fact, the list of workshop offerings will probably look very much like what has been offered in the past.

Change comes slowly to well-established systems. Take my parents, for example.

When I went to New Jersey to support my folks after my dad was diagnosed with sciatica, there was hope that between my two brothers and me, we could sway my parents to make different choices: sell the small apartment they maintain but seldom use; ease my 79-year-old father into (partial) retirement; simplify their complex financial structure.

Not only did my parents refuse to sway or be swayed, they resisted acknowledging the gentle wind of inevitable change being blown into their house!

"Yes, our taxes are complicated but there's nothing to be done about it."

"No, we're not going to sell the apartment in the city."

"No, I'm not going to take a rest in the middle of the day because a little sciatica never hurt anybody, so I'll keep putting hours of work in at home, even if I have to hobble from room to room, my leg hurts most of the time, and I'll feel worse in the morning."
My dad makes a perfect Scrooge in some ways. Retirement? Bah, humbug!

My parents might make each other miserable some of the time, with their long entrenched habits developed over 40 years of marriage, but they'd be more miserable if they were forced to change their lifestyles, their finances, and their mental attitude overnight.

Being with my folks for even a couple of days showed me how strong the power of love--and entrenchment--can be. Nearly impenetrable.


After the first day or so with them, I realized that there were what I came to think of as "soft spots" for each of them individually and in their coupleship. Mom at one point said, well, she could probably call off the remodeling of the apartment, since no papers were signed.

And Dad was able to acknowledge that there may be some benefit for lying down, if only for thirty minutes, to rest before picking up the pace again.

I had my own soft spot, too. By the end of my visit with them, I had switched my own lens through which I saw them and their situation:

I started off believing that they were going to have change and change soon (sound familiar?), and I ended up understanding and accepting that very little was going to happen in the immediate future, but some things might be prepared to happen in the next 6-12 months or longer.

Soft spots: where I can poke and discover some "give" to them; not as much resistance.

It's an apt analogy as well for my work on behalf of FGC and its Gathering.

When it comes to seeking and selecting workshop proposals--which is only one part of the work of the Workshops Committee, but a very large part it is!--there are all sorts of Friends who have all sorts of needs, wants, and expectations about what the week of Gathering will hold for them:
"I work everyday at the office with Friends, so at Gathering, I'd like to take a workshop where I can be out in nature and just slow down."

"I love to sing, it's how I connect with God."

"The history of our religious society has a lot to teach us. I always take a workshop on a famous Quaker or the history of Friends. It makes me think."
Before I started my service on the Workshops Committee, I was an "outsider" to that committee's work and process.

When I initially started my service on the committee, I assumed it would be easy to incorporate more workshops that were grounded in a rich Quaker tradition: workshops that were about the transformational power of the Light, the covenant of the religious community, the corporate nature of seeking God together in our worship and in our business...

As is usually the case, though, being on the "inside" of a system presents all sorts of information to the former "outsider" about why things work the way they do. It is eye-opening.

For one thing, FGC has received over the years a steady flow of comments about how much Friends from across Canada and the U.S. appreciate the breadth of workshop selections as well as the sense of worship that pervades them. And yes, there are many Friends who also are concerned about that breadth: what would happen if the offerings of workshops didn't stray into interfaith studies, recreation, or intellectual presentations?

The best summarizing statement I came across in my own mini listening project around why the Gathering offers such a wide variety was this:
Where else can you go, as a Friend, and get together with other Friends, and talk about or explore nearly any subject AS a Friend?
My heart opened a bit, even though something within me acknowledged that there is still a place for working to restore and renew Quaker practices that are on the brink of being lost.

Still, I have needed to avoid the pitfalls of polarization. I have needed to ask questions and look for soft spots. And, as one Friend recently put it to me, I need to be wary of seeking to assert my own will when I need to be willing to seek the will and guidance of the Spirit with how to proceed.

It's been a few months since the preliminary work of this committee has gotten underway. I'm still poking around for the soft spots where new ideas might be introduced into an established system. And in my own case, one of the gifts of being a clerk--at least for me--is that I am reminded, regularly and repeatedly, that the task of the committee is to listen for God, to reach for Love, to be faithful to how we are called.

It may be a while before anything changes... and it may be that no one even notices how the Wind has shifted.


P.S. It's likely that my posts will become less frequent, given what I am facing in the weeks and months ahead. But I admit that blog-writing is a nice break and gives me a chance to connect with Friends whose support I feel, regardless of the medium.


Kody Gabriel said...

It's good to hear more about this work. Thank you!

Robin M. said...

The first time I read this, I was too caught up by the end in the questions of workshops to remember to say that I hope Jeanne is feeling better, and I'm glad they caught her appendix in time, and I hope your family comes through the many transitions of the next few years in love, if not in peace all the time.

Regarding workshops, I have faith that with your service on the committee, there will be one I will want to take. We'll see if there turns out to be a transportation option that works as well!

Anonymous said...

Today in conversations between things at Central Committee, two Friends mentioned how Gathering workshops they had expected to be mostly practical had turned out to have unexpected spiritual value for them. I have heard similar comments about AVP basic workshops. Perhaps attention to a process can create openings for unexpected Light.

Tom Farley

Liz Opp said...

Thanks for you comments, Kody, Robin, and Tom. I hope to share more about this process when it's behind me and I have a bit more perspective. We'll see how things turn out.