November 15, 2008

The great balancing act

Dear fellow bloggers and readers of The Good Raised Up,

It's was hard enough to keep this blog active when the 2008 presidential elections and other things had been keeping my attention.

Now that the elections are behind us and the economy is going nowhere--or nowhere but down--I had hoped I could refocus more seriously on this and other writing. What I have found instead is a barrier in a new form.

Since September, I have been serving the monthly meeting as a co-clerk of the meeting's Ministry & Counsel Committee. There is plenty that I could write about--but of course, "what happens in M&C stays in M&C."

Unless it's a report to the meeting.

Well, even then I'm not so sure.

M&C has given at least one report to the meeting, and certainly other business of the meeting has been taken up and addressed. What surprises me, though, is that I am discovering that I have an internal stop when I consider writing anything at all about specific items that have been threshed or decisions that have been minuted during Meetings for Worship for Business.

I think it has something to do with the hat I wear now, the role I play... It's as though I represent the meeting in a different sort of way than before. Or maybe it's that I represent Quaker bloggers in a different way, but I can't be sure.

When I was a practicing sign language interpreter, my colleagues and I often counseled one another to be mindful that when we were out in the field working, we were, in some odd way, representing all other sign language interpreters, so we had better be mindful of our professional conduct. The sign language interpreter community was so small that we worried that a misstep by any one of us would be seen as a misstep by all of us.

This kind of feels like that.

Of course there's the concern for confidentiality within M&C and the meeting. Just because something is minuted during a Meeting for Worship for Business doesn't mean that the meeting as a whole has digested and integrated whatever the situation was that led to the minute. If I write too soon of a situation, it may be unfair to those blog readers who are also a part of the meeting community and who need more time or more privacy or more "cocooning" with local Friends.

That said, I still have the same buttons that get pushed: I worry that we are making decisions that are more often based on what people want or agree to rather than on how God leads us; I cringe when we seem to be more concerned about efficiency than about faithfulness.

Here's an example I feel okay about lifting up: At a meeting for worship for business, the hour was late but nearly everyone who had arrived at 7:00 was still there at 9:15, even after a break at 8:45. Though some Friends made it known that they were eager to get home, the fact that there was still an alertness among most of us, and interest in certain agenda items that we had yet to hear, demonstrated to me that something of the Spirit was still present to us. I felt a need to reciprocate and to stay present to it.

So I don't know what sort of posts I'll be writing here over the next few months. I'd like to think I'll be sharing more of what comes out of the prayerful work I'm doing with my care-and-accountability committee, or bringing forward news of the worship group, as well as posting things that reach my ears and eyes about FGC and its 2009 Gathering.

I'd like to think that I'll find a way to write about the new juggling act I'm practicing, which includes having my spirit in Ministry & Counsel, my hands in the Quakersphere, one foot in Conservative Friends, the other in Liberal Friends... and my heart with so many of you.



natcase said...

Ain't it the truth. I touch on broad subjects we've talked about and threshed over on M&C on my blog (full disclosure: I'm serving with Liz on the same M&C), but it is frustrating to feel restrained from discussing what I am burning to discuss and get feedback on.

I have a parallel situation in my prison visiting work. Prisoner Visitation and Support has a policy of having PVS visitors not speak out publicly about the Bureau of Prisons, Department of Justice, or the prison-industrial complex. This despite our work visiting prisoners feeling often like a kid of witness. The issue there is essentially political: we keep our mouths shut in public so that the organization can retain the right to visit all prisoners.

In a meeting for worship at our recent training workshop, the phrase "render up to Caesar..." kept going through me. Which is not exactly what Jesus meant, I know, but it's in the same vein.

Which is partly why I find the "what goes on in M&C stays in M&C" thing a bit overbroad. It seems to me that keeping quiet when there are issues of confidentiality and trust is of course necessary, but that the emerging understandings we experience within M&C are best tempered by outward discussions. And that blogging ought to be a good way to do that. We shouldn't be treating each other as Caesar. I think our personal experience of serving on M&C -- not the gory details, but the particular notions and senses of the spirit, and new understandings -- ought in fact to be dispersed out in the wider meeting and the wider community as appropriate.

Martin Kelley said...

I don't have this precise problem but do face a similar one, about talking about the Meetings I visit. I'll often see, hear or realize something that I feel is worth lifting up--an issue specific not just to that meeting but to Friends elsewhere. But I've just been hosted to worship with very nice group of people; Friends were nice, they're well meaning, they're generous, etc., and to talk about them even in a constructive fashion isn't good manners. Not naming the meeting isn't always enough to provide confidentiality.

What I sometimes do is just write about the issue for myself in a private journal or share the observations with a close Friend by email. The purpose isn't to critique but to understand. Sometimes the topic will come up many months or years later, and at that remove I'm often able to share the story with some amount of anonymity. Doesn't always work: I have had a few perceptive insider meeting members see through the cloak and get mad at me. But is that necessarily so bad?, maybe not.

I do wish Friends were more willing to talk honestly and openly about the spirit and life in their meeting. Sometimes we seem overly secretive. Confidentiality is certainly a valid concern, especially around items that come before a sensitive committee, but opennness should be a value of ours too.

Will T said...

Martin touches on something that I ponder but I have no clarity on in practical terms. One of the lesser known traditional Quaker testimonies is one against secret societies. So all of our meetings for worship and meetings for worship for the conduct of business are public meetings to which everyone is welcome. This is why, at least traditionally, anyone was welcome to attend a Quaker wedding ceremony since it is a regularly appointed meeting for worship.

Friends advices are also full of admonitions to avoid tale-bearing and to be mindful of the reputation of others. There is a balance somewhere between being open and transparent and providing a sense of safety so that people are willing to open up and share about intensely personal parts of their spiritual lives. Maintaining this balance may be part of the reason that Quaker minutes are often so opaque that only people at the meeting can figure out what actually happened.

Will T

James Riemermann said...

I hear you, Liz, and I'm glad (not surprised) that you're thinking about these issues. Restraint is not easy, and it's also not easy to know when it is needed and when it is not.

Confidentiality over sensitive issues plays a part of course, but there are other reasons for restraint. As co-clerk of the same committee last year, it became quite clear to me what I had often heard said about clerking but never quite felt: clerking can be in some ways the least influential role on a committee. The clerk works to guide the sequence and govern the flow of conversation, yes, but ideally does so in order to draw out all voices rather than to influence them or the outcome.

And there is another, non-clerking related reason for restraint I have found--though not always succeeded in following. In a meeting I may have a very strong impulse to express something, and the very strength of that impulse is sometimes a clue that I should be quiet. It has often been the case that someone else, someone perhaps less passionate about the question than me, expresses my concern more succinctly, calmly and truly than I would have expressed it. This often serves the meeting better than I would have by speaking.

I look forward to working with you in the coming year, in this new capacity.

Liz Opp said...

Nat -

Thanks for taking the time to comment and for sharing a bit more about your experience with PVS. I've appreciated hearing the little bits and pieces you've shared around Prison Visitation and I've been puzzled that there hasn't been more said at the meeting or at its adult ed sessions--very different from the meeting I attended in Milwaukee, where we heard several times a year how visits to men who were incarcerated were going (but maybe the visits weren't part of PVS...).

And yes, I agree with you that "the emerging understandings we experience within M&C are best tempered by outward discussions."

I think what I'm getting at is some things belong to M&C, other things that have been threshed by M&C belong to the meeting, while still other things can move beyond the meeting to a more public venue, like the blogosphere.

And of course, some things are left for me to wrestle with, in my own little head, heart, and spirit... It's usually those things that I want to share on The Good Raised Up, but I don't wish to do so prematurely.

Martin -

God knows--and all the readers of this blog know--that I often write openly about my experience with a meeting or yearly meeting that I've visited! I guess in some ways, it helps to break down stereotypes while also sharing news of what's happening among Friends who don't live "next door."

There often seems to be a balance to be struck, between allowing the meeting to have its process without "outside interference" and reporting on how a meeting is dealing with a difficult item in the hopes that we ourselves might learn from that experience.

Will T -

"There is a balance somewhere between being open and transparent and providing a sense of safety so that people are willing to open up and share about intensely personal parts of their spiritual lives."

Well, yes: I just wrote what you had already said!

As for the recording of minutes, I recently asked a few Friends about their understanding of the practice. A few of them responded that the minutes' brevity is due, in part, to disallow Friends from being persuaded by "who said what," as well as dealing with the challenge of recording the Spirit's movement among us.

James -

Like you, my experience in clerking tells me that my role is to listen for the sense of the meeting (or committee) and to trust that my own concerns around an issue, if of the Spirit, will find another voice through other Friends who are present.