August 4, 2006

IYM(C) sessions, Part II

NOTE: You can read more about my experience at this year's IYM(C) annual sessions in my previous post.
Annual sessions take place on the grounds of Scattergood Friends School, over four full days, an extra night (at the start), and an extra morning (on First Day, for "pre-meeting" and Meeting for Worship).

Each day, Fourth Day through Seventh Day (Wednesday-Saturday), older Friends attend sessions for MfW with attention to Business, while younger Friends go off for their own activities. Business sessions are often two to two-and-a-half hours, and there are two business sessions on Seventh Day.

Much of the business consists of listening to reports from the various committees within the yearly meeting, which at first glance may appear dry and tedious. But as I listened to the reports, I could hear some of the practice and tradition of Conservative Friends that are not necessarily made explicit:

In two separate reports, the worship group was mentioned by name... and we aren't even affiliated with the yearly meeting! One report was from Ministry & Counsel, acknowledging that there is still contact with a few Friends from IYM(C) while the worship group discerns whether to affiliate there or with Northern Yearly Meeting. A second report was from Religious Education, lifting up some of the questions that the worship group is beginning to entertain about how to approach First Day School for the children.

These reports indicate to me that IYM(C) is responsive and extends care to its meetings and worship groups. The reports also hint at a level of accountability and follow-through that was mirrored in other reports.

Business sessions and interest groups were not the be-all and end-all of annual sessions, though. There were other events that point to the spirit, the fellowship, and the Love that pervaded this year's annual sessions.

Scattergood School alumni panel

Time for confession: When I first saw this event in the schedule for IYM(C), and then when I saw that the panel included at least eight Friends, I thought to myself, "Borrrrrinng." Panels often are too large and have too little time for a rich exchange between the panelists and those attending.

I could not have been more wrong.

As the Friends on the panel began to share their experiences about being a student or administrator at Scattergood, some of them openly wept. The first panelists to speak were two women who are now in or close to their 70s. They each spoke about how they experienced a spiritual awakening while they were at Scattergood, and they made it clear that their ties to the school impacted their ties to the yearly meeting and vice versa.

More than once the word "family" was used. More than once it became clear to me that love of family and love of friends was not the only type of love that was being cultivated and nurtured there. There was a Divine Love that knit Scattergood students and administrators to one another, and to the yearly meeting.

From my journal:
The yearly meeting is a family that transcends family, for their lives are connected through actions, worship, good deeds, study, difficulty, joy, and the Holy Spirit.

This was most especially made clear during the panel of Scattergood Friends School alumni. The oldest panel member had babysat for a child who later would go to Scattergood [and who also sat on the panel]. The parents of a younger panel member had gone to Scattergood with one of the older panel members. And the impact of one Friend in particular provided a multigenerational lineage that also connected the school with the yearly meeting.

[Listening to all the stories pour out and seeing the headnods and smiles among those of us gathered made it] as if I had been invited to attend someone else's family reunion... [a reunion] for a family that is defined by and knit together in love and treasured friendship.
The sense of love extended beyond the years of education that the panelists had accumulated. It was a gift just to have been in the room witnessing the exchanges, laughter, and tears.

Anna Sandidge of Friends Peace Teams and
the African Great Lakes Initiative

I first met Anna while I was at the annual sessions of Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association (SAYMA) in early June near Asheville, North Carolina. Then our paths crossed again during the Gathering in Tacoma. But I didn't get to hear her Story until I was in Iowa.

In Rwanda, the tragedy there is known as "genocide." In Burundi, Anna explains, the tragedy there is known as the Crisis.

Anna is a compelling storyteller, in part because she keeps low, making certain that she is telling the story of the people of Burundi, not turning the Crisis into a showcase of U.N. policy--or American failure, for that matter.
Division does not come from God. We must see each other as brothers and sisters in our hearts, she says.
She talks about how, by the grace of God, she was available to listen to the horrors that person after person observed, endured, internalized, and escaped from.

Each person's story is more horrific than the last, and we hear that one woman in particular has walked three hours one way, just because she has a story that needs to be told, a story that needs to be heard. She had not shared it with anyone, yet she finds Anna to share it with.

Anna balances out the horror by sharing how God--or mere humanity--showed up unexpectedly. Like the time when a school teacher was held at gunpoint, thought to be guilty of massacreing school children. At that moment, a man appeared and "vouched" for the teacher, saying that the teacher should not be harmed. The teacher was released. The man who got the teacher off was Tutsi--but passed as Hutu.

We were entranced by the stories of the people of Burundi and how they were moving towards reconciliation, one story at a time.
I have found [that] the tree of mistrust only gives bad fruits. But the tree of trust gives good fruits. The bad tree symbolizes the bad that people do and you have to find them and help them plant the good tree in their hearts. I realize the teachings are powerful. The people who learn this are wise because it is the healing of a traumatized people. --page 15, "After The Guns Have Stopped"
Many of these experiences that Anna relates to us at IYM(C) are available in the written report from the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams.

But the report is much more than a report. It is a narrative of the reconciliation work that is occurring in Burundi, "after the guns have stopped." It is a narrative of the transformative power of Love.

Arthur Meyer Boyd, Friends Committee on National Legislation

The annual sessions were coming to a close on First Day morning. The pre-meeting remarks were given by an associate executive secretary of FCNL, Arthur Meyer Boyd. Not a topic I was looking forward to, since I often experience presentations about peace-and-social-justice work more as rhetoric rather than as evidence of how the Spirit is growing us.

But like the Scattergood panel, I was delighted by what I heard. Arthur had been encouraged to share some of his personal and spiritual journey. He spoke of how an early leading he had--to seek CO status--ultimately led him to work for reform within mental health institutions of his day (aka asylums).

I appreciated the point he made that early Friends did not have a leading to go to jail; they had a leading to stand up to the status quo... and they were imprisoned as a result. Subsequently, these early Friends--and later Arthur himself--were simply being open to applying principles of their faith wherever they happened to find themselves.

Arthur lifted up a few other things that gave me pause.

For example, he offered that it was likely that prominent early Friends had much "ordinariness" in their own lives. They likely wrestled within themselves, sought God's guidance, resisted God's call, and at times, fell into being obedient to the Spirit.

But the journals condense into one volume all the really wonderful things that happened in the lives of these Quakers, and contemporary Friends are left to think we aren't being faithful enough, we aren't doing enough, that it should be possible to lead such amazing, extraordinary lives... but we fall short. There are no more Foxes, Fells, Woolmans, Peningtons, or Motts among us.

Arthur reminded us, though, that chances are their lives were pretty ordinary most of the time. It's just that not a lot of this "ordinariness" was recorded in their journals!

Arthur also spoke about what has sustained him and others at FCNL over the years. He referenced an article by Ed Snyder that had appeared in the magazine Quaker Life, called "Sustaining the Peacemaker." (The only link I could find was to this article, which seems to address a similar theme... and has the citation in the footnotes, item #15.)

Arthur pulls from Ed's article the "false motivators" that appeal to us at first but do not sustain us over the long haul:
  • anger;
  • fear;
  • guilt; and even
  • success.
Then he offered up some of the real motivators, especially based on what has worked for him:
  • love;
  • joy;
  • faithfulness in pursuing a prophetic vision;
  • vision and a long view of things;
  • balance in one's life;
  • maintenance of relationships despite disagreement (as opposed to burning bridges);
  • a spiritual community to belong to; and, similarly,
  • like-minded, like-spirited people to spend time with.
In the end, because of Arthur's remarks and all that I had witnessed and experienced during the course of the week, I would say that Friends within Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), and IYM(C) as a body, seem to be highly dedicated to the pursuit of doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. Especially when no one is looking.

Some closing thoughts

From my journal:
[Among Iowa Conservative Friends,] there is an innate consistency of understanding, generosity of time, and discipline of patient waiting that seems lacking among Liberal Friends. There is a sense of WE that is nearly out of place in American culture and that is more often felt among Liberal Friends during weddings and memorials. But imagine that same WE feeling extended for several days, during worship, business, meals, and leisure time.

I have heard how Conservative Friends especially feel a deep and devoted love for one another. I would have thought I was beginning to see and even feel this love, especially during the Scattergood panel. But then I started to feel something else, something deeper, something... MORE.

I noticed it at first when I saw Deborah glancing around the room from the clerks' table... [At first] I thought she was sending her love to each Friend in the room. And then I realized it was not just
her love, but also GOD's Love that, in that moment, had arisen in her and found its release through her.

So it wasn't the clerk who brought us all together: It was God, the Living Presence.
It was a blessed week.


P.S. It wouldn't be a complete report if I didn't mention how I got to spend time with Kody. He and I even had a chance to blow the coop for a bit and get to a co-op nearby.


Liz in the Mist said...

What a great report and great details!! I know Anna and she is quite amazing!

Robin M. said...

I was moved at PacYM by the sense of finding all these familiar faces in a new and strange place. I have been thinking about what it would be like if yearly meeting sessions were like a family reunion for me, the way it is for some people - what if my grandchildren came to yearly meeting to see their cousins? I also wonder what it would be like if I was approaching my 40th annual session instead of my seventh. My four year old just went to his fifth...