August 30, 2009

Two tips for clerks

Not too long ago, I began compiling a collection of brief handouts to pass along to the incoming clerks of the monthly meeting's Committee on Ministry & Counsel. Among the items I wrote up was a sheet that included a few random tips--things that any clerk might be helped by having.

Tracking items during meetings

Each clerk will have a different way to track the “who,” “when,” and “what,” such as WHO will convene a clearness committee; WHEN there should be any follow-up to an item; or WHAT should be brought before Meeting for Worship for Business.

Sometimes the clerk is able to track these pieces by herself/himself. Sometimes the clerk may need to ask a specific person—such as the assistant clerk or the recorder—to help “check” that these details are noted, if not in the minutes then in the clerk’s own notes.

Sometimes there isn’t clearness on how to move forward but there’s a desire to continue discussion at a future meeting (or business session). For accountability to both the specific committee and the meeting as a whole, having a separate way to track these items can be helpful so they don’t “go missing.”

Listening for unity—and being prepared to articulate if there isn’t unity

There are at least three possible outcomes when discussing an item.

  • There is clarity and unity to move forward in a certain direction.
  • There isn’t clarity but there is a desire to continue discussion the next time or at a later date.
  • There has been significant discussion and the sense of the committee is that there is no unity on the issue or direction. When unity or clearness cannot be found, it can be helpful to encourage the group to settle into a few moments of worship as a way to reestablish the corporate connection with one another and with the Presence before continuing.
These are specific items that, as I've grown into my service as clerk, have helped me test the sense of the group while also paying attention to the practicalities of committee work.


August 25, 2009

The power of facing social class issues

I will witness your growth through muddy and tender times.
I will grow you and grow with you, lovingly and faithfully.

These are two of the affirmations my partner and I exchanged with each other during our wedding in 2000. We made them with the faith that by carrying our intentions--to open ourselves to Divine Assistance and stay with one another regardless of difficulty--we would be okay.

It's nine years later and the last two years have been muddy and tender indeed. The multiple veils and blindfolds that have hidden my awareness of social class oppression are being peeled away, with varying degrees of insistence, as the Spirit prompts, as the Way opens, and as I "give over [my] own willing."

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

Quakerism allows for an unfolding of one's journey without pushing the river. Quakerism emerges out of a Seed of Love that calls us to labor with one another and to listen inwardly and deeply to the messages we receive from the Spirit and through others who may minister to us.

One of the things I know about myself is that I don't change when I'm in isolation. I change when I am in community and when I am in relationship with someone I care about. I change because the people around me are different from me and therefore view the world differently from how I view it.

Two people in my life have taken the extraordinary step of telling me how I have not only reinforced their [world]view but how I have contributed to the oppression they have known all their life.

One was a Deaf woman in Milwaukee. When I was at the height of my sign language interpreting career, she said to me, point blank:

At the time, I had had just enough training in those days about the dynamics of power and oppression, and about identity development, and about the history of American Deaf culture that I knew not to get defensive or blaming, but to listen more deeply to this person who was a dear friend of mine and whose version of the Truth had a validity I needed not only to understand but also embrace.

The other person was my partner. It's taken time for me to hear from her just the right phrase to address the thick blindfold that had been placed over my eyes--and the earplugs in my ears--by my owning class family:
The words in this case weren't enough for me to take a hard-and-long look at myself. Just a short and shallow one.

I didn't understand how I was "managing" her or what that even meant. I needed a weeklong workshop with George Lakey, dedicated to the topic of Quakers and Social Change. I needed to read at least two books about social class in America and reconsider Peggy McIntosh's well-known essay in light of social class.

And I needed--and still need on a near-daily basis--a good talking-to by my partner. (I still don't fully get what "managing her" means...)

This awakening to class oppression is powerful for me because social class and classism had been invisible to me before now, as has been my unintentional part in contributing to institutional and societal classism. This is powerful for me because I can begin to see how classism is embedded in our meetings, especially among Liberal Friends.

As Friends,* our actions indicate that we value individualism ("I don't want to give up my preference/privilege") over solidarity ("Let's stand with our brothers and sisters who have less"); we often write letters to legislators and make financial contributions to organizations for their good work rather than strive to engage in the good work ourselves, even at a local level.

We "talk about" doing things rather than taking action and doing things. Or we rationalize why we do or don't do things and label that as corporate discernment, even if we aren't in fact tending to "the least of these."

I'm learning... slowly... that much of these behaviors can be attributed to our collective middle-class/wealthy-class backgrounds--something that Jeanne has been telling me/us for a while.

Amidst all of this, I am sorting out the intrinsic values, expectations, and worldview that my parents and grandparents instilled in me and those that are reinforced by American Liberal Quakerism (which is the part I'm most familiar with), not to mention most of America's institutions, of which organized religion is a part.

God asks me to again to grow, to risk, to consider, to pray for more Light. What's my place in this work, where am I called?

Can I ever stop writing about this stuff and just start doing...?


*NOTE: A Friend outside of the U.S. contacted me privately a day after I posted this and makes this worthwhile point: I am indeed speaking of my own experience among Liberal Quakers in the States. Various forms of oppression exist differently--or perhaps not at all...?--in different countries and in different cultural contexts because of institutions, social structures, etc.

During my time in George Lakey's workshop, George spoke at length about Norway and some of its social, political, and economic structures that influence that country's social class dynamic. Similarly I was grateful for the Canadian Friend who shared from her experience that Canada's social systems and institutions (e.g. health care, education) made for very different dynamics around social class than what she has observed and experienced here in the U.S. --Liz, 26 Eighth Month 2009

August 14, 2009

Going from meeting as we have come to it

In recent days, one of my Quaker "buttons" has gotten pushed a few times, so I thought I'd pay attention to it and write about it.

It's the one about to what extent we listen deeply to another Friend's spoken message, whether given during worship, during a committee meeting, or over a potluck meal. How often do we ask ourselves if a particular minister is embodying the voice of God that says:

"You, in the corner: This message is for you."
A few weeks ago, during the part of our worship where "messages that didn't rise to the level of vocal ministry" are welcome, I found myself rising to speak to the metaphor of babies in the river and how that relates to social change. I didn't know that I would be moved to tears as I was telling the story. Clearly, though, Something had been working on me during worship.

When worship ended, a number of people approached me to "thank" me for what I had shared. Most of them took time to affirm me for the good work I was already doing and told me not be hard on myself for not doing more.

As I recall, only one Friend mentioned that the message I offered that day had given her something to think about. And she is already in her 80s, has worked in the Congo, and has been a long-time war-tax resister.

I had already begun wrestling with the question if I'm called to "go upriver" or if I'm called to "pull out the babies" (see the above link), but I left that Meeting for Worship wondering how many worshipers would consider what Light may be in that story for them to wrestle with. I felt disconnected from all but that one person who had approached me after worship. Why?

And then I realized that I worry about and am anguished by the possibility that many Friends who worship in the unprogrammed tradition--many, not all--seem to keep themselves an arm's length away from considering the question, "What Light or Truth might be in that Friend's message for me?"

These days, it's unlikely that we're going to have the experience that Anne Wilson and Samuel Bownas had, when she arose during worship and spoke plainly.

Here's what Samuel writes:
...fixing her eye upon me, she with a great zeal pointed her finger at me, uttering these words with much power: "A traditional Quaker, thou comest to meeting as thou went from it, and goes from it as thou came to it but art no better for thy coming; what wilt thou do in the end?"
In Samuel's case, he was able to listen to the message--if not right away, then at some point later--and not blame the messenger-minister for literally singling him out (if not right away, then at some point later!). He was able to allow the Light to work on him inwardly and over time, and ultimately he grew into his own measure of Light.

But as Liz Gates asks in remarks she made in 2005:
How many of us sit on the bench next to Samuel, comfortable and quiet?
Indeed: How many of us would think that the message Anne gave was only for Samuel, since she pointed directly to him?

Sometimes I fear that we don't listen deeply to a message from a minister because we really don't want to be changed, challenged, or exercised spiritually.

Or if we do open ourselves to the possibility of growth and change, so often it's got to be on our own terms--during summer vacation, or after the baby comes, or after I get done with painting the house.

Have we lost the discipline of coming to waiting worship, expecting we could be changed?