in the cataract of thunder,
where is your God?
Where is my God?
He is here
in the water flowing past.
She is here
in the air that I breathe.
After Psalm 42…
And Miserere mei, domine, miserere…
QF&P2.10 In this humanistic age we suppose man is the initiator and God is the responder. But the living Christ within us is the initiator and we are the responders. God the Lover, the accuser, the revealer of light and darkness presses within us. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock.’ And all our apparent initiative is already a response, a testimonial to His secret presence and working within us. The basic response of the soul to the light is internal adoration and joy, thanksgiving and worship, self-surrender and listening.
Thomas Kelly, 1941
Perhaps, our bungling words may be for the best…what if we have to work together in a spirit of love and cooperation in order to reach wherever we’re moving? We’re not a million miles away from each other. We can all speak. How often do we listen, really listen to one another..? We have ways of doing this. Can we use them?
‘You here again? How long you been sent down for this time?’ ‘I got another three years.’ ‘Three years? What, on top of the last three? You must have done something bad, really bad!’ ‘Yea, I did. I’m a Bad Quaker and I gotta find Trouble to get out of here.’
I’m looking for Trouble. Are you trouble? Me, no, I’m a handbook called, ‘Conflict in our Meetings’. You’ll find me on a shelf in your library (Vol. 4 in the Eldership and Oversight series)
According to Izzy Cartwright, Quaker Peace and Social Work (QPSW) Peace Worker, most of the conflicts in our meetings are to do with the ‘warden/staff’, the ‘buildings’ and ‘children’s meeting.’ When faced with difficult decisions, our individual and collective identities feel challenged. In some cases, this can lead to roles changing or ending, which can be difficult, hurtful even. Often, she went on, the ‘unspoken’ issue is what Guardian columnist, Gary Younge, calls the ‘challenge to the dormant identity of power’. This is just as likely to be present among Quakers as anywhere else. Who decides, friends, and how..?
In our first Home group discussion, we came up with three themes to explore. Firstly, we were in agreement that wardenship, staffing and property cause us many difficulties. Do we have clear and effective policies and procedures in place alongside well understood role descriptors? Secondly, coping with change also presents problems. Can we be gentle and loving with one another, even though we may start out from opposite viewpoints ? Some friends may be at risk of ‘burn-out’ from taking too much on or because there is nobody else. The work of nominations is vital here in bringing forward names of friends to succeed in good time. But the ‘Nom’s’ committee needs to be asked. And, thirdly, we recognised the many points of spiritual growth in our meetings. As examples, we named ‘children’, a ‘gathered meeting for worship’ and our Quaker ‘discipline’. The word ‘discipline’ unsettles some but it comes down to being a ‘disciple’, a ‘follower’. Does this ring true for you in your experience?
How do we cope with change? One friend asked, might we need a change manager? Quakers are meant to be good at peace work. We have a Nobel prize for it. But we
I’m looking for Trouble. Are you trouble? No, not me, I’m a book, ‘With Tender Hand’, by Zelie Gross, a book for Elders and Overseers. I have a whole chapter called ‘Conflict and difficulty in the meeting’.
don’t want to hurt people. We’re not so good at letting others know how we feel, especially when that someone may be a friend, who has said or done something hurtful, possibly without ever knowing. How can we be gentle with one another? How deeply do we listen? On your journey, are you open enough to let the stranger help carry your heavy suitcase up the stairs, when you’re struggling? Or do we expect to do it all on our own..? Expect the best..? Well, do we?
Isaac Penington wrote beautifully:
QF&P10.01 Our life is love and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another: but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.’
Isaac Penington, 1667
This is just as relevant today as it was then. Izzy asks us, ‘Which one of these animal stereotypes do you see yourself closest to in the way you go about your business? Are you:
Who am I? And who are we? And how are we going to work together in the Spirit?
Are you Trouble? I’m looking for trouble. No, I’m not trouble. I’m Meeting for Clearness. I’m in QF&P (the red book, it’s all here, you know; 12.22-25 or discover more about me online at http://www.quaker.org.uk/sites/default/files/Clearness-web_0.pdf
Of course, we can be all of these stereotypes at times or get stuck in one. It’s a simple tool but one which illustrates how we can behave towards one another without realising it. Many say we don’t have conflict in our meetings, then how bumpy are our carpets, friends? Surely, there must be. We’re human and come together for worship and fellowship in our community, where conflict happens naturally.
Indeed, ‘We might define true community as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives!’ (QF&P10.20 Parker J Palmer) I love this quote. I find it grounding. Conflict is natural, entirely normal and can be positive.
Back in our home groups, we practised good and bad listening skills…’Seeing as I am away for 5 months, I don’t know how I can help much?’, commented one friend. Well, I pondered to myself, how about holding in the Light those friends in your meeting while you’re gone?
And we talked. ‘You know, I’ve known friends for years and thought I knew them pretty well but it wasn’t till we held an ‘Exploring Our Gifts’ day that I found out so much more about them…and them about me.’
This is why I like Christina Baldwin’s ‘Storyspace’ idea very much. In her book ‘Storycatcher’, she describes how a group of friends meet to share food and stories, discovering each other’s gifts, getting to know each other at a deeper level, leading to greater understanding and fewer rifts (I added the last bit – hopefully…)
There are many other examples of how friends can be together in Ginny Wall’s wonderful lilttle book, ‘Deepening the Life of the Spirit’. There ought to be a copy in every library. Conflict is healthy in meeting…if we’re owls and foxes, but not, if we act like sharks or turtles.
Are you Trouble? I’m looking for trouble. No, I’m Meeting for Worship for Business…where decisions are made in the spirit of Quaker worship with each individual listening to their inner self to discover their experience of God’s guidance.
I felt conflicted. ‘I like conflict. Conflict is good and healthy…actually, I hate conflict. I’ve never liked it, since I was a child. I’ve either retreated from it as far as possible or rushed headlong into it. But now, I know there are other ways, more assertive ways of dealing with it; things I’ve learned from Alternatives to Violence (http://www.avpbritain.org.uk ) tasters and workshops. To use ‘I’ statements more, for example. Many find Turning the Tide helpful too – http://www.turning-the-tide.org/. I know I can still act like a turtle or a shark but, with practice and affirmation, I’ve come to like myself, and others around me, who are all part of this amazing community I belong to. I’ve discovered I’m a nice person. So, why would I want to hurt anyone else?
‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate: our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’ wrote Marianne Williamson1 . If you’re reading this for the first time, then wow, what a statement! Reading it again, it’s still WOW! And if you’ve read it before many times, keep it near to read again when you’re nagged by self-doubts.
One friend said, ‘I think it’s not about judging or blaming anybody. It’s like saying “I have a problem. At least, I think there may be a problem in our meeting – I may be mistaken, of course – but can we open it up and talk about it. Would that be OK?”’ Do we trust one another and our processes to open up the container and look inside? A lot of us don’t. And we need a healthy container which holds everything for us and knows when to let it go.
Still, don’t expect to make big changes in your meeting. You can try but it will probably never happen. You can, however, begin to change yourself and how you respond to conflict. Maybe, you will influence someone in some small way along the way…and you will probably never know…
‘Come here, Trouble!’ ‘Who, me..? Did you call me Trouble?’ ‘Yes, I did. Come over here.’ …spoken in a kindly, loving way, the way a parent, carer or grandparent speaks to a child… ‘You mean, I’m Trouble?’ ‘You are!’ ‘I’m so glad. I’ve found myself at last.’
Yes, I found trouble. It was me all along.
‘But isn’t that selfish, thinking only of yourself?’, asked one friend in our Home group. Well, we know what Marianne Williamson has to say on that. We can ask William Penn too…
QF&P19.48 They were changed men themselves before they went about to change others. Their hearts were rent as well as their garments, and they knew the power and work of God upon them…And as they freely received what they had to say from the Lord, so they freely administered it to others. The bent and stress of their ministry was conversion to God, regeneration and holiness, not schemes of doctrines and verbal creeds or new forms of worship but a leaving off in religion the superfluous and reducing the ceremonious and formal part, and pressing earnestly the substantial, the necessary and profitable part, as all upon a serious reflection must and do acknowledge.
As they say, time passes…’So, you’re off?’ ‘Yeah, three years flies…’ ‘Will they be sending anyone else down here, looking for trouble?’ ‘I guess so, expect so, hope so. There’s always someone looking for Trouble.’ ‘Well, they’ll find it here, that’s for sure…it’s been good knowing you. Keep in touch.’ ‘Will do…and what about you? Have you had enough of trouble by now?’ ‘’s right, yeah, ha…but can’t get out…like to but just don’t know how to…to change…don’t think I can, that’s the problem…did think about trying one of those avp workshops you’ve been on…give it a go, see what happens…’ ‘Well, why not? It was good for me…in the end…not always easy but lots of Light and Livelies make you laugh and get you through it. But have a look in Quaker Faith and Practice 4.23…I’d start there and see where the spirit leads you. I wish you the strength to bear it, the love to hold it and the kindness to find your way through it.’
‘You reading John O’Donohue again…! Go on, get going or you’ll miss that train you’re always singing about.’ ‘Thanks, mate, and if I don’t see you again, I’ll see you again, if you know what I mean? I’m off, then. Go well, my friend.’ ‘You too, my friend.’
And they parted.
1 Quoted in Costing not less than everything, 2011 Swarthmore Lecture 2011, p36
Quaker faith and practice (QF&P 5th edition) – the red book as in iitfrb! (it’s in the flippin’ red book…apparently). A good tip is to insert 5 book markers into the book in different places. It encourages you to read different parts of the book at the same time. If you fold an A4 piece of blank paper into a concertina shape and use it as your bookmark, you can make notes on the bookmark as you read. I find it works really well. Also available in sections online at http://qfp.quaker.org.uk/
The Peace Kit by John Lampen, everyday peacemaking for young (and not so young*) people, (1992), Quaker Books
Once upon a conflict, a fairytale manual of conflict resolution, by Tom Leimdorfer, 1992, new edition 2014, Quaker books
Deepening the Life of the Spirit by Ginny Wall, Quaker Books, 2013
Creative Conflict Resolution by Bill Kreidler, published by Good Year Books in America
Everyone Can Win by Helena Cornelius and Shoshana Fayre, Simon & Schuster in Australia.