In The Way of Love, Anthony de Mello writes about the prisons we each live in created by layers of beliefs, ideas, habits and attachments and fears. Each layer is added by culture, traditionalisms, mass media, families, religions, etc. Each is a layer of prejudice that keeps us from being awake, leaves us reactionary and with little sense of self or courage in the face of angry mobs. Sound familiar?
In response de Mello writes:
Realize that you are surrounded by prison walls, that your mind has gone to sleep. It does not even occur to most people to see this, so they live and die as prison inmates. Most people end up being conformists; they adapt to prison life. A few become reformers; they fight for better living conditions in the prison, better lighting, better ventilation. Hardly anyone becomes a rebel, a revolutionary who breaks down the prison walls. You can only be a revolutionary when you see the prison walls in the first place (65).
One of the fears that I have struggled with all my life is the fear of “what people will think?” I am afraid that I will reveal myself as someone who isn’t as smart or creative as people imagine or as I want to project, so I often remain quiet. I am afraid that I won’t be the kind of friend in solidarity with those I aspire to be in solidarity with; that I’ll say the wrong thing, or worse, say hurtful things, and in the process damage relationships. So I don’t always risk the kind of vulnerability needed to create deep friendships. I am afraid that people will think I am a self-promoter, so I have an uncomfotable relationship with being a leader. I am afraid that I’ll reveal my own ignorance and my blindness to my privilege, so I avoid the hard conversations. I am also afraid of what happens once these things are revealed. In the age of the Internet, folks can be merciless. Two seconds of misspeak on the Internet can equal years of dealing with collateral damage.
I am trying to be honest about my fears here because I want defang them. I want to move past them as a friend and as a leader. When I became a pastor, I slowed down in my writing due to workload and because it was hard to know how to be a public writer and a pastor whose work is primarily local and often confidential. Now that I am at a College, and my relationship to work is different, I am again wondering where my voice fits and how do I speak in ways that are authentic and true, while facing these fears that leave me within a prison of self-doubt and questioning?
I love this whole meditation on life and the sympathy from Anthony de Mello but this line in particular continues to ring in my heart.
…You will no longer say to your friend, “How happy you have made me.” For in so saying you flatter his ego and manipulate him into wanting to please you again. And you give yourself the illusion that your happiness depends on your friend. “Rather you will say, “When you and I met, happiness arose.”
“‘We’ is the most important word in the social justice vocabulary. The issue is not what we can’t do, but what we CAN do when we stand together. With an upsurge in racism/hate crimes, criminalization of young black males, insensitivity to the poor, educational genocide, and the moral/economic cost of a war, we must STAND together now like never before.”
There is so much back and forth on Quaker process. So many jokes. So many who easily dismiss it because it “takes a long time.” And outcomes are all that REALLY matter. (I have plenty of examples of Quakers being faithful quickly, taking challenging stands, going against the flow of the status quo in costly ways, and being truly led by the Present Teacher that I have personally witnessed in my own life). My hope is that we can get past these dismissals and learn or re-learn what it means to truly be guided by the Spirit of Life in our meetings, yearly meetings and institutions. My hope is that we will not miss out on the opportunity that faithful meeting for worship for business has given us so many times in the past and present. I think that we sometimes dismiss it because we don’t know it, or understand it, aren’t committed to it, think it’s weird, have experienced it done in wrong or even painful ways, or we are even afraid of it.
I love what Dorsey says here about process vs. outcome and I think she is spot on. I like that she says:
“It’s not what to figure out what everybody thinks will work, it is what we feel led to do as a group.”
“We are looking for, ‘What are we supposed to do here?'”
Process is so important, but even the word “process” reduces down what is actually happening when we sit and listen for God’s guidance together. Words and phrases like surrender, vulnerability, holding my tongue, breathing, paying attention, joining, “yes and…” and revolution, dear God help us, what is it we are missing here, when I think of what happens in the expectant waiting.
In my estimation there are at least three things that make our decision-making difficult today: First, we are not all coming from the same place theologically and we lack a shared understanding of the practice itself. A second is that we are often all working as individuals trying to get the best and most pragmatic idea lobbied for rather than recognizing that we are individuals listening together for the One Voice. It is easy to lack the wherewithal to be patient enough to wait for it and brave enough to act on it when it comes. Third, it is easy to forget that Listening and Action are inextricably linked. I’m not sure if “Quaker process” exists where this chain is broken. If all that is happening is listening with no action, then we are paralyzed by fear or “failure of nerve” or we are just stuck. But this is not “Quaker process.” And if all we do is act all the time than we are just working from a reactive and shallow place.
My hope and prayer is that we will have enough curiosity, wherewithal, and courage to be a people who listen and act.
There is an interesting article on how various people find themselves studying religion in the NY Times today. In the article, they talk about how attaching religious conversation and shared language to a tradition helps create a place to build community and that it is keeping these things connected that is one of the gifts and challenges of education today:
Within higher education, divinity programs often stand apart from the cult of relativism in the liberal arts and the utilitarian emphasis in professional schools focusing on business and law, for example.
“If you were simply looking for the skills, you might go to the Kennedy School of Government,” said the Rev. Dudley C. Rose, the associate dean for ministry studies at Harvard. “And philosophy and liberal-arts fields have given up on the project of finding a moral language, an articulation of values. That language isn’t found in many places. And when you find it, it’s not easy to abstract it. You have to connect it to a tradition.”
What Rose is suggesting has been given up at other institutions, I see as taking place at a school like Guilford College, where I now work. I think the tension is being held between these differing fields at Guilford. There is a diversity of religion and non-religious expressions, but students come together in various ways, learning how to articulate moral language and values or working out in deeper ways what they already come with, that are connected to the Quaker tradition (or challenge it). Of course, not every class does this explicitly, but my sense so far is that the campus as a whole tries to embody this grounding in tradition in ways that make the school rather unique within the landscape of offerings.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:12–15)
Before I talk a little about what it means to be participatory, I want to say something about what it is not.
One of my favorite stories is the story about the Fantastic Mr. Fox. In the story, Mr. Fox, who is the fantastic one, would steal either a “plump Chicken from Boggis, a goose from Bunce, or a nice turkey from Bean.” And every evening these three farmers could never catch him for Mr. Fox was a clever and fantastic fox.
If you know the story then you know that what transpires between the protagonist and these crooked farmers is an epic battle. Armed with machinery and weapons the three farmers matched by the wits of Mr. Fox and the other animals. First the farmers dig up Mr. Fox’s home in the ground with shovels, then they get great big tractors and dig deeper into the ground, pushing Mr. Fox and his family further underground. The more Fox and the other animals escape the more “wild with rage” the farmers become.
First the farmers dig up Mr. Fox’s home in the ground with shovels, then they get great big tractors and dig deeper into the ground, pushing Mr. Fox and his family further underground. The more Fox and the other animals escape the more “wild with rage” the farmers become.
[Slide] Boggis, Bunce, and Bean
One fat, one short, one lean!
These menacing crooks
So different in looks
Are nonetheless equally mean!