Sunday, February 9, 2020

Surrender and the Serenity Prayer

My Meeting has been going through hard times.  So much so, that it has been hard for me to write for my blog.  I have been doing by prayer practice that involves asking a question and opening in succession books that have been sources of spiritual wisdom and seeing what they speak to me.  So what is coming up for me right now is about the serenity prayer:  “God grant me the courage to change the things I can and the serenity to accept the things we cannot and the wisdom to know the difference.”   This prayer has always been a struggle for me to get clarity around because, as I have written elsewhere, being raised Quaker I was raised with perhaps an inflated sense of what I/We could change.  Afterall we were the people who fought to get religious freedom for the US, to end slavery, to get woman the vote, to end the Vietnam war, etc.  We also are taught to be part of all the decision making of our Meetings and to feel that every voice counts.  

So when you carry that sense of personal empowerment and duty, it is very hard to draw the line of what can I change and what must I accept?   Also deep in the nature of Quakerism is the search for a perfected world, for bringing God’s Kingdom down onto earth.  After all we say to the world that we should act without violence, uphold the equality of all, speak the truth at all times, etc.   These are not goals most of the world pursues or sees as “practical”.

Therefore, in looking at huge disappointments I currently have with my Meeting in its ability to uphold our testimonies in the face of behaviors that are not congruent with them, the difficulty to say no when no needs to be said, or to challenge something when challenging it will be a struggle, I have mainly felt the need to DO things.   However, more than a year and half of doing, on my part and many people’s parts have lead to no resolution or peace.  

So I am now turning towards the serenity part of the prayer or the surrender part as I experience it.  I am touching into a deep learning in my years of being a therapist.  As a therapist you can offer people support, encouragement, guidance, healing, and sometimes inspiration …. But in the end they are always on their own.  They will make their own choices, even if inside of patterns, and sometimes those will be for growth and change and sometimes they will be to repeat destructive choices.  I have had to die to my own impotence over, and over, and over again.  

At first I hated that about being a therapist; but eventually I found something very true in it and actually when I stopped fighting it – something peaceful.  I was able to connect to the notion described in the Bible that the Divine Parent knows everything about us, every hair on our head, judges us not because of knowing the extreme complexity with which we act and yet is there for us, always available, always ready to start a new with us, always inviting us to go towards the Light.

When I would get in touch with that reality then I could understand better that sometimes I am just a witness to the suffering, other times I am holding their intention to grow and change till they can come back to it.  But mainly I could understand that I had reached the end of what I could do and had to rest in what was/is.   In my morning prayers right now I found words also about stepping back from the mind trying to solve everything, from ego or frenetic action.  The reminders to drop back away from the story and drop into ones true spiritual self.

I am still trying to understand what that means about commitment to beliefs that I hold as true.  I don’t think I can simply walk away from those values without abandoning the manifestation of Spirit as I know it.  I think it means still speaking the truth as I know it when I have the possibility to do so.  But I think it means having to drop the expectation or hope for Quakers to be any kind of perfected people.  It means that I will need to work in an intensive way with non attachment every day.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Living Simply without Amazon

This would have been a good post for before the holiday,s but it is very much on my mind this month since so many of my progressive friends have with apology sent me gifts thru Amazon.  Thus I would like to lay out here some of my reasons that living without Amazon is to me a social justice issue.

In general I think huge multinational corporations function without souls in ways that are bad for the environment and bad for labor and bad for the human community.  So in general I try to encourage f/Friends to as much as possible steer way from chains and spend money at mom/pop locally owned stores which much more keeps money in your own local economy.

In the case of this particular corporation however we must look at both the carbon foot print of it and how it is effecting economies throughout the US (and world).   In the old model products were produced and were then shipped to distribution hubs and then to stores around the country with a concentration in department stores or malls that had the additional money for bigger stock selection than smaller stores.  Then  consumers took them home.    This path of miles traveled from producer to distribution hub to store to home might look like: 300 miles + 100 miles + 10 miles = 410 miles.  Now it looks like 500 + anywhere from 10 to another 500.   (They have 20 disruption centers around the country.  If an item is not in the one nearest you it will ship from where they do have it.)  So transport is a bigger carbon foot print but so is packaging since now huge numbers of items are being packaged independently rather than all in their original package and going in one bag at the store with you.  Quite often items you ordered at the same time will go in separate boxes and be delivered on separate days by the same UPS or Fed Ex driver.  This is a terrible carbon footprint.
Carbon footprint

Then there is the effect on the economy.  Because small stores and even department stores cannot compete with the allure of people having every choice manufactured they are consistently losing business to Amazon.  As a result more and more small business are losing business and going out of business.  Even large chains like Toys R us, Sears, etc are going under.  The loss of brick and morter stores is the loss of employment in lots of moderately sized communities around the country.  And with it the loss of more money in the local economy.  It drives even more urban growth to the 20 cities that have Amazon hubs.

CBS revealed the following:
The rush toward ever-faster shipping is creating the need for more truck trips, undoing the ecological benefits of shopping online.Amazon's package deliveries in 2017 alone emitted about 19 million metric tons of carbon, according to one estimate. "That's just under five coal power plants," one expert said.

Not long ago online shopping was better for the climate than the in-person kind because it benefited from economies of scale. A shopper who's driving from store to store in a car can create a lot of emissions, Anne Goodchild,  "Delivery services can be better -- they can put lots of stuff in one vehicle, do one delivery route and hit lots of homes," she said.

But while that model prevailed in the early days of online shopping, today it's reversed, with very small and quick deliveries -- what she calls "paid butler services" -- growing the fastest. Data show that package deliveries are indeed speeding up. In the last two years, the average time for an item to get from "click" to a customer's door dropped from 5.2 days to 4.3.

Amazon's decision to make one-day shipping the default for its Prime members is likely to increase its emissions ever further. In 2017, Amazon's deliveries alone emitted about 19 million metric tons of carbon, according to an estimate from 350 Seattle, a group that works to combat climate heating. "That's just under five coal power plants," said Rebecca Deutsch of 350 Seattle.That same year, FedEx was responsible for 14 million tons, and UPS for 13 million, according to CDP, a nonprofit that helps companies track emissions data.

The collapse of these other levels of scale builds a monopoly.  We know from history the more an organization holds a monopoly the more we are at their mercy with prices.  Don't count on this government to pursue monopoly busting.  It is up to you to not give them monopoly power.

Some of us, in a world where clothes are made for "standard bodies" which few of us have, still need to go into a store and try on clothes to see if they fit.  Not everyone has the economic means to order all the many many things they want to try on and time to repackage and take back to be mailed back and get the credit.   Everyday people still need stores.  Also in the long run of fixing climate change we need not only stores in our community with their smaller carbon footprint but we need much more regional self sufficiency over all were we make and use things locally.  The trend of Amazon takes us in the wrong direction.

However, living at "ground zero" as it were for Amazon (Seattle) I have an even more up close and critical view of this particular corporation.  Some cities that were bidding for Amazon's next distribution center could not understand why Seattle was not trying to keep all Amazon's business in Seattle.  Well if you lived here you would understand.   "The death of Seattle" as reported recently in a documentary is largely attributable to Amazon.  The huge growth has resulted in escalating cost of office and warehouse space, increased population and with it huge traffic snarls and skyrocketing housing prices and increased overall cost of living.   The pressure on housing resulted in a huge development bout where any small or old property was likely to be torn down and much bigger and taller housing replaced it (also resulting in huge tree loss), hugely driving up the prices.   Small businesses were torn down to build 7 story condo or office buildings with one strip mall type antiseptic storefront at the bottom.  Seattle was re-gentrified loosing all of its character and soul.  Locals mourn the loss of the city they once new.  I moved because I could not stand the constant daily loss.

After the city council tried to impose a tax that would have been heavily applied to Amazon, they ran a misinformation initiative campaign which they used paid signature gathers for and won so that the tax did not go into effect.  Then they spent 2.5 million on the local Seattle election to try to buy the Seattle City Government.  Fortunately they failed.   But this is why I find them extremely objectionable.

So I would again ask you - is this the world you want to support?  You are voting with your dollars.

What are your alternatives?  Fun fact - anything you buy locally and take to the post office will likely cost less than the "standard" shipping for any online ordering (except where free) since it is having to base it on an average size package rather than the actual size and weight of your package.  For those of you so pleased with your "free shipping from Amazon" please note there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Shipping costs are folded back into overall prices and the environment is certainly paying the price of all this shipping everywhere.

For Books - First choice - why not support your local book store? 
If there is not one, support Barnes and Noble while it still stands (on shakey ground because of Amazon).  Can get any book and ship to your relative across the country.
Or better yet use better world books - an online alternative to Amazon which means it also has a big inventory which has donated 8.6 million dollars worth of unused books to global literacy groups.

Clothing: First choice - go to local clothing stores
If sending to a family member across the country again use a chain that is still in existence and does shipping and is not Amazon.

Electronic items:   First choice buy at a local store and ship yourself.
Chains like Best buy, or Penny's or Macy's do ship.

Cool artsey stuff:  support real artists and crafters across the country to have a further reach.  Use where you can find any kind of custom made item.

Some of you may find this a confusing message: Isn't she just really suggesting one shipper verse another?   Well my first choice really is that we all support the local businesses in our communities - that is still by far the better carbon foot print and better for the economy.   Along with that we move away from giving stuff (which also uses resources and has transport foot print behind it, and is part of a lifestyle that will need to become our former lifestyle) and give experiences and services instead.  So for example you give a friend tickets to a massage, or pay the local kid to shovel their drive, or give a ticket to a play (perhaps with you- best of all!)  When you start to think this way there are lots of possibilities.

But I realize that everyone we wish to give a gift to does not live right where we do.   Which is why I remind you that there are at least other chains than Amazon to buy from.   But if you get creative there are ways to give experiences even across the country.   A few years ago I gave my adoptive mom a dinner out by calling her favorite local mom and pop restaurant and they do have gift certificates which I paid for over the phone with my card.  They mailed it.   My in-laws live in the town of my daughter and partner and bought them a couple's message.   But I could have called and paid over the phone for that as well. The same can be done for local theater, etc.   So think outside of the box!  Support the world you want.

Saturday, November 30, 2019


Years ago a f/Friend of mine who is in danger of going blind said she was challenging everyone she knew to "play the Thanksgiving game" which she defined as being able to see what to be grateful for in the ordinary.  She reported being very grateful to be able to see.  It occurred to me upon reading what she had written that I take for granted my ability to see (and to hear, and to walk, etc.) and so I do not count these as blessings.

I have come to see from Native American people that I have spent time with that they see themselves in relationship with all of the natural world around them.  The plants and animals are all their brothers and their sisters.  Because of those relationships they are thankful for all food and all weather and all bounty that they encounter - none of it is taken for granted and none of it expected. Nor is the appears of some plants labeled "weeds", nor some animals or weather as bad.  Each are seen to be bringing their own gifts. This too seems like a posture of gratitude that I never learned coming from ancestors who took what they wanted from the earth with little consideration.

There is a Chinese Proverb that goes something like this…
A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”  A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”  A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, ceasing all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
This story points out that what we are grateful for one moment maybe something we regret in another moment and vise versa.  I was quite fascinated by some happiness studies that pointed out that how people rated the goodness of certain events in their life had to do with whether they compared themselves up or down.   By which they meant if you have a "peer group" that you see as wealthy, healthy, wise and blessed and this is who you compare yourself to you will often report dissatisfaction in our own lives.   If however we have a peer group that is in poverty, poor health, ignorance or unhappy then we will consider our situation very lucky.   It is sort of sad for me to think that our very same situation could be viewed completely differently depending upon what we are comparing it to.  The story of the Chinese farmer above also points to how one could live not assigning a goodness or a badness to an event. 

In a previous blog, Who is Wealthy?,  I wrote I about how pretty much anyone middle class or more in the US is in the global 1%.   Yet because we compare ourselves to millionaires or even billionaires in our country most of us live with some false sense of struggle and deprivation.   How could we keep perspective on how blessed we are to have a roof over our head, to have food to eat, fresh running water, to have freedom, to be able to see and hear and walk, to have health, to have love?  (and if you don't have one of those how lucky you are to have the other things?)  I write this to myself because I struggle all the time to keep perspective on how blessed I am by a Provider who is gracious.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Friends and Conflict

It may not surprise you to hear me say Quakers are not good at conflict!  I believe this is because our reputation as “Peacemakers” and “Peaceful People” have attracted many who dislike conflict and may erroneously believe that belong to a Friends Meeting means the absence of conflict.  I think overall Friends do not have good conflict skills.   Part of this has to do with some aspects of our Faith and Practice that do not seem to actually help conflict resolution practices.
1)      The underlying assumption of Quaker business practice is that we will listen for God’s will and follow it and that is how decisions will be made.   The problem is that too many of us are not doing that but instead following secular business practice of listening to our own thinking and then trying to persuade or push others to follow that thinking.
2)      We are supposed to trust the work of our committees and generally accept their work as it is brought to Business Meeting.  Two problems here: 1) are our committee really doing the work and also listening for divine guidance   and 2) if they have our we trusting the process and their work?
3)      The general advice for conduct in Meeting for Worship for Business is that we listen worshipfully to what others say and only speak if lead.   This means that it is not considered appropriate to do “rebuttals” of what others have said, or to speak repeatedly. 
4)      This particularly presents a problem if people say things in Meeting for Worship that are untrue.  This leaves no good way to address misinformation since it places one into a position of “rebuttal of a previous speaker”.
5)      It is common in our committee structure that some committees may have confidential information about the situations of some members or about issues creating conflict in the Meeting.  The fact that everyone does not have the same information creates problems for the clearing of conflict.
6)      In other kinds of group conflicts created by people living with mental health problems or very difficult personalities are usually handled by people higher up in a hierarchal structure taking some kind of action to reign in their behavior.   We live most of our lives in these other structure and thus when in Friends Meeting seem to look around for the ‘adult in the room” when someone is misbehaving rather than speaking out about it (as our eldering tradition would suggest.)
7)      Good conflict resolution practice suggests that we listen to each other, reflect what we have heard for accuracy and then look for common ground and ways to address each others concerns.   While sense of the Meeting also seeks to hear all of us and look for a common way to address our concerns – when individual members become upset with each other because of what is said in business meeting our practice does not allow for that direct immediacy that might cool and calm the conflict.
8)      Good conflict resolution practice also suggests that we have boundaries and that when those are violated that we protect or reassert our boundaries.  Because we have a non-dogmatic faith it asserts for less things as absolutes or truths than most religions – and even those it does: non, violence, equality, integrity, etc it does not tell us what to do when someone violates those cherished beliefs.  Some thing about our stance as a non-dogmatic seeking faith, or the lack of hierarchy seems to make us very reluctant or slow to say no, to defend our community agreements and our shared practices when they are violated.
9)      A time honored practice among all humans who hate conflict is to simply avoid it.  So as the conflict rages on more people stay away from Meeting or Meeting for business.   We hope that someone else will solve it.   But who will that be?  We govern as a group.

So what’s a Quaker to do?  I don’t want this article to simply be a catalogue of Quaker shortcomings when it comes to conflict.  As best I can see it here are our ways out and forward as they related to the numbered problems above.
1)       Return to the true practice of Meeting for Worship for business.  Educate our whole group about worship grounded God directed decision making.  The clerk must be diligent and careful in who is called in and when silence is called for and in reminding of the group of what we are doing.
2)      This educating about the true guidance behind our work must extend to our committees there must not be committee reports brought to the floor that all members of the committee are not in consent of.  We must nominate committee clerks that will conduct committees with consensus and members who are willing to operate from that basis. Then we must remind each other on the floor of business meeting that we are not there to redo their work on the floor of business meeting.  We must trust our committees and the nominating process that created them.
3)      If the clerk does not call on people who are making rebuttals or are speaking too often this helps to eliminate such behavior in Meeting for Worship for business.   We must also check ourselves before we speak.  Out of what spirit are we speaking.
4)      I am baffled about this one frankly.   I would hope that if we are listening for the word of God someone would be given words of truth to speak next that are not a rebuttal but in my own efforts to not engage in rebuttal I have remained silent after things have been said that I know to be untrue.
5)      I think committees do have to consider carefully what information they release, when and for what purpose.  I think in general it is good to keep the whole body as informed as does not violate the privacy or vulnerabilities of some of our members.
6)      This is a very challenging area for Friends and I think Friends are both compassionate but also generally aware of what they don’t know when it comes to people with mental health problems.  We either need to get outside advice from mental health professionals or simply insist on normal boundaries that we ask of others.   We do not do folks with mental illness favors by treating them differently than others, allowing them to break norms and boundaries and accrue resentments from the body.  We have to stop looking for “someone else” to handle it.  We must each think clearly about what makes sense to say and do and know we are the adult in the room.
7)      My Meeting recently passed a conflict resolution minute affirming out intention for interpersonal conflicts to be addressed and not be allowed to fester and poison the communal waters for all.  It identified a list of trained mediators and asked folks to first try to talk directly with those they have conflict with and if they cannot or if that did not to use this list of mediators for help talking with the other person.   I would suggest that unresolved interpersonal conflict is a key ingredient in Meeting Conflicts and that we need to create more of these one on one dialogues intended to use best conflict resolution practice (also so described in the Bible) to address the conflict.
8)      Quakers need to get MUCH clearer about our collective boundaries.  I have often joked that it might take someone practicing animal sacrifice in the middle of the Meetinghouse floor before we would rise up and say no.  Even then some Friends would be looking around to see that someone else besides themselves would speak.  It would help if individual committees got clear about behaviors that are and are not acceptable within their area of attention.  (Could the property committee be clear that we do not allow practices that damage the building.  Could worship and ministry be clear that we do not allow other forms of worship to occur during our worship?   Would either of those boundary clarifications empower someone to say no to the animal sacrifice example?)  This is where we need to return to our eldering practices – if we could speak early and lovingly to those who we feel are engaging behavior that is disruptive to the community we could resolve many things.  This is your sacred community – if you won’t speak for it then how will it remain sacred?
9)      Well as already alluded to above.  If you want the sacred community you will have to stop avoiding the conflict and stand for the faith and practices you want.

For those readers who have been paying attention….yes it has been two months since I posted.  The conflict in my Meeting has been wearing me down.   It has real costs when Friends abdicate their part in working on the problems in our Meetings.   I pray we can all tune up regarding conflict.   There is hidden in it the silver lining of the chance to find and reassert our true values, return to our real practices, and come to new agreements with each other that serve us better.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Empty Forms? Living Waters

I am at annual session of NPYM because the Friend in Resident this year is Jay O'Hara.  This is a journey to annual session that I have not made in 7 years because of my frustration over form heavy structures in our Yearly Meeting, and an appalling experience I had with the clerk 7 years ago telling me outside of session what decisions "would be" made by the business meeting.  (Despite my protests that if we our approaching business meeting as faithful listening for the guidance of the Holy One that no one could know in advance what would be decided.)

Jay was billed as speaking about Climate Change, and although he has, he has even more called us to be a Gathered People listening to Divine Authority.  He has challenged us to examine where we have empty forms that are keeping us stuck and driving away young Friends and where to go more deeply towards our traditions of receiving spiritual guidance, and centering our actions and life together in that Power.  For me it is a very welcome eldering of our whole body.

In my last few blogs I have written about ways in which our committee structure and nominating process can become empty forms, or limiting structures.  I often hear Friends lament why are we an older, graying religion?  Why are numbers dwindling and "where are the young people?"  I often also hear older Friends attribute to the youth that there disappearance as soon as they are old enough to not go to Meeting is because they have better things to do, are more interested in hanging out with peers, or have been swallowed by wide world values.   While certainly that is true in some cases, or may even be expressed as "better things to do"...I want to say as someone who has spent time listening to Young Adult Friends in their 20's and 30's, there is a certain blindness here operating about why they leave.

The male privilege and class privilege and racial privilege is readily apparent to anyone who has those lens and enters our Meetings.  If they speak up about these things they can be treated like a "child" of the Meeting and dismissed, or because they are a distinct minority they can find it daunting to try to raise this alone.   And if they do raise for example a complaint about mansplaining (if you do not know what this is please look it up) and are responded to with defensiveness, no support by whoever is clerking and a continuation of the behavior, they can wind up feeling so frustrated and trapped as to just decide that the benefits don't out weigh the pain.

How then do we go towards Living Waters?  There is a bit of a what comes first the chicken or the egg problem.   When people experience authentic Spirit voiced ministry and the experience of a covered Meeting, they are hungry for more.  They themselves are opened up spirituality and you thus get more Spirit moved vocal ministry.  There is a synergy that moves things deeper.   But when we experience inauthentic ministry, that which is driven from head and from ego, it is dampening to the worship and to the soul.  There is a disorientation from sorting the wheat from the chaff.  There is a discouragement - like a pollution in water.

This takes me to eldering.  Eldering in its orginal and intended form was to hold each other accountable to the faithfully minding of the Light.   People were eldered if they spoke from head and ego and not from an inward prompting.  They were also eldered/mentored in how to listen to the inward promptings.   People were eldered if they behaved in ways that blocked the corporate experience of true worship.  They were given experiences of true worship so they knew what to aim for.  And they were eldered if their behaviors in the world were oppressive to the Light in others.  They were provided patterns and examples of how not to do this.  As I have written about in other previous posts, eldering has gotten a bad name among Friends.   We need to return to this as a living practice, not a badly applied censoring of something we personally dislike.

I understand that the discernment of what is a living form and what is an empty form is a confusing thing for many people - perhaps in the eyes of the beholder.  All of us have experienced somewhere empty forms that are maddening to have to comply with and feel simply like "because I said so" dictates of a power over parent.  If forms in their original creation were ever useful, ever life giving it was because they were created to try to name and protect a way of doing things that had discovered to be life giving.  But when we teach people "how to" do something, without teaching them why to do it that way (and maybe do not even know ourselves) then we teach an empty form, something which has simply become a ritual.   Some of our forms made sense before copy machines, phones, facetime technologies, internet, etc.   But they now are forms frozen in time, trying to serve a purpose which maybe better served by new forms. 

So just as I have written about our committee structures, we have to go back to questions about what are we trying to achieve and apply those to our structures to see if they do serve.   If Fox was saying to the religions of his times "These rituals are empty forms" then we need to examine carefully whether 350 years of practice has rendered us some empty forms.  If some of our forms serve valued purposes we need to start being able to articulate and practice those forms in ways that make that clear to all beholders.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Not enough People for the Committee Roster?

Last month I wrote about nominating committee process and commented that often things went badly if the Meeting was just feeling the pressure to fill committee openings.  I said at the end I would discuss this month what to do if there are not enough people.  At least one Friend has let me know she is waiting with baited breath to hear about that!

This also is not a one shoe fits all problem or solution.   While almost all Meeting have shrunk in the last 50 years we still have Meetings that range from small worship groups or small Meetings to medium size ones and large Meetings (which I'm defining as over 60)  So to begin with these different size Meeting have had different types of committee structures all along.   And one obvious solution is for a Meeting to "downsize" its committee structure to that which is common for the next smallest size committee structure.   One example would be that medium to small Meetings often do not have a separate Ministry and Worship Committee from Pastoral Care (Combined in and M&O committee).  I personally feel that even Medium size Meetings should keep those functions separate.  I think when combined it is easy for the duties of spiritual nurturance of the Meeting to get overlooked due to pressing Pastoral Care needs.

So for groups under 8 what makes sense to me is to have a formal treasurer, but to rotate month to month who clerks the business meeting (with lots of help from others if new to it) and to have all business be done in the Business Meeting.  For groups up 10 12 it may make sense to have a serving  clerk.  What is missing so far, which would be the first committee I would create, is Pastoral Care. I say that because in discussions of someone with failing health too stubborn to accept help from the Meeting or the provision of money to a Friend in hard times - these are discussions that should take place with confidentiality and not in the whole body.

Greater than 12, I think the Meeting should have two committees: what I will jokingly call here the "right brain committee" and "the left brain committee".  Some readers know the left brain does problem solving and practical matters - this committee I would have attend to property if there is any and finances and communications.  The right brain deals with emotions and spirituality and I would have that committee deal with M&W as well as Pastoral Care.   As soon as there are enough people to make another committee I would split the right brain committee for reasons I already stated. The next split after that would be of property and finance.

In such stripped down structures I would see all Social Concerns and issues like how we do outreach and the creation of a clearness committee etc being brought as issues to discuss in business meeting or in adult Ed hours or threshing sessions sometimes held after Meeting for Worship, or for work parties to be called for the care of the Meeting house.  Friends in Meetings without a committee structure should expect to spend longer in business committee because they are not investing their time in committee work but decisions still have to be made.

I would be amiss if I did not mention the new person.  Often nominating committees think it only appropriate to ask members and long time attenders to serve on committees.  I think sadly we can often think of someone as "new" who has come for several years if they do not come every week, and yet to them this IS there spiritual committee.  Service on committees is actually the best way to learn how the Meeting works and to get to know better other members of Meeting, so I truly hope that nominating committee can approach even "new people" and with no pressure simply ask if they have any interest in committee structure.  Perhaps for long terms Friends who have just moved here it is best not to ask them on their first day what Committee they might want to serve on!  LOL!

We are all familiar how as a Meeting expands that property committee can have an upkeep committee and Pastoral Care can have a committee managing care committees and clearness committees, and communications can be its own committee or several separate ones and Adult Ed and Children's committee spin off of M&W.   However, it is much harder to see when you have had all these committees which to lay down because we still see their purpose and value.  Perhaps one starting point is to let go of the traditional notion that this committee is always X number of people and ask instead "how many people are minimum to do this?"  Are there any places where technology can assist us?  Rather than clerk of the committee run around and see who can do snacks or close Meeting, could we use an online calendar function (which also helps people find folks to trade with when they have a conflict for their regular time)?

I am not a proponent of the practice first modeled by Baltimore Meeting of a "Sabbath year" where all the committees but the critical committees (which is a Meeting that size where as many committees as most small Meetings ever have) are laid down for a year while people "rest" and rethink the committee structure.   In Baltimore yearly Meeting they had many threshing sessions and Quarterly special called business Meetings to work out their restructuring.   In smaller Meetings what this has meant in practice is really a sort of collapse of functioning where people felt relieved to not serve for a year and when the year was up nothing was figured out and nominating committee had no easier time to fill committees which is why I do not favor that method.

What I do think makes sense is that a special called threshing session be called and that people for the purpose of the exercise decide that none of the committees exist and then describe functions that need to happen.  Examples: "we need someone to keep our building from falling down, we need someone to pay our bills, we need someone to run our business meetings, we need a way to conduct weddings and Memorial services, etc."   Then after that is done a committee take away the notes and combine the needs in a logical way (maybe with new names) and presents that to business meeting for discussion and tweeking.

Here are some creative ideas for consideration: We do not need a whole committee for the newsletter and one for the website, and one for FB etc.  There can be one person in charge of each thing and a communications committee made up of those individuals who come together to bounce stuff off of each other and support each other.  Rather than having assistant this and assistant that on various committees - can we call to the larger group for someone to step up on the day the recording clerk has to be absent from bBusiness Meeting?

First Day school or children's program is very problematic in many Meetings because there can be a very few children across wide age gaps or no children one Sunday and 6 the next.  Again creativity is needed.  If young children are mainly being supervised rather than instructed, rather than a whole committee trying to provide this, volunteers (with appropriate background checks) can volunteer to enjoy their company on the days they are there.  If children only show up once or twice a month, children's committees job maybe to come up with some "lesson plans" that just hang out till their next opportunity for implementation.  It could again be possible to recruit members of the Meeting in a rotating fashion - if they are assured of being handed a plan.

Perhaps one of the most concerning areas is the lack of an active Peace and Social Justice Committee.  In our heyday this what we were known for in the wider world.  Now I find that such committees often struggle to find a shared focus or enough interest on the part of the Meeting, and yet it is rare that a Meeting does not have members that are doing amazing works for peace and social justice in the world outside of Meeting.   Thus I think a good starting point is to have a second hour focused on social justice where in a worship sharing fashion each friend is asked to share what concerns are tender to their heart and how they attempt to take action on those.   Simply starting by seeing what we are already collectively doing is quite important.

It might emerge that some Friends share similar concerns and may find ways to come together on them.   But more the case it maybe the more interesting question to ask: how can the Meeting support us emotionally or spiritually to continue with a calling?  (IN reality John Woolman's Meeting or Susan B Anthony's Meeting were not acting as a body with them - at best they provided emotional and spiritual support - and sadly we know in many activist Friends lives they were actually given a hard time by or expelled from their Meeting.)  Another useful function of P&SC maybe to hold regular sessions after Meeting for worship sharing or discussion of the pressing concerns of the day.   Since Friends often feel to be "marching to a different drummer" in the outside world, it is a valuable thing to have a place to process and perhaps gain vision with people of a similar values set.  Many Meetings have been known to respond to a national crisis by one Friend proposing a collective action the Meeting can take in response and a quick unity arising.  How can we create an environmental that allows for that?

One of the most commonly struggled to fill positions is all the countless "representative to X and Y" Quaker organizations.   In my opinion, not popular with some others, if we do not have people already engaged with those organizations or easily willing to learn about the org by serving as rep than maybe that connection is going to need to be laid down.

I guess the overall theme of my sharing is step out of "the way we have always done it" thinking, be willing to embrace change that may simplify people's lives, be creative in thinking of new ways and new structures - the form should serve life....and not the other way around.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Nominating Committee

It is important for Friends to not lose sight of the fact that nominating is a spiritual process – not an assert Tab A in Slot B process.  Now a days as attendance at Meetings dwindle but the number of positions on committees stays the same, it is easy for the nominating committee to feel somewhat desperate (leading to many inside jokes about not leaving the room or nominating committee will nominate you.)  So Friends may need to think about other ways to address the shortage of available people to staff committees.

As originally envisioned by Friends, nominating was a discernment process, discerning the gifts that members brought and matching those with the needs of the Meeting.  This meant starting with a clear job description for each of these positions and asking Friends to thoughtfully consider where they might be led to serve each year.  Now a days, a sort of secular posture has crept in of both members just sort of waiting to be “assigned”.  But also modern nominating committees have taken it as a goodness if people volunteer for positions and seem to fail to stop and discern if the enthusiasm of the person matches the skills needed in that committee.   As a result, we can get people who volunteer for a position because they view it as powerful or interesting but have wrong gifts for that committee.
Many Meetings have rules about needing to be a member to be clerk, assistant clerk, treasurer, or on Pastoral Care or M&C if they are combined.  Some extend this to M&W.   

This was out of realization to that to Clerk a whole Meetings business Meeting you need robust exposure to Quaker Business practice and how it differs from secular consensus processes or world business meetings run by voting or Robert’s Rules of order.   It has also been felt that to be trusted with all the money of the Meeting you needed to have a committed relationship to the Meeting.  Since Pastoral Care or M&C often deals with confidential, personal matters of individuals in the Meeting, it was also felt that seasoned and well trusted friends needed to serve here.  Because M&W (or M&C in Meetings which combine them) is responsible for the spiritual well being of the meeting – for nurturing the members spiritual growth, tending the health of the worship hour, and eldering Friends when needed it was again felt that this needed to come from Friends who has spiritual depth and experience with Quaker practice.

One of the kinds of mistakes I have seen is where people who do not have gifts of ministry are put on ministry and worship, because they are “available” to serve or because they ask.  If they themselves are not grounded in Spirit how will they help the whole Meeting to ground?  Or how will they think in a spiritual way about the Meeting?   Another mistake I have observed is putting for example men on Care and Council who were not called to it for “gender balance”.   I have known men with wonderful gifts of nurturance and emotional support.  I have also known men who live in their intellect 24 times 7.  If one of the former were put on C&C for gender balance, it will achieve that but only that.   Members seeking support from the committee will not wind up feeling supported.  This would be as silly as making someone treasurer who does not know how to balance a check book or read a financial statement.

These same issues are more starkly clear when nominating people for a clearness committee.  If we put people on there for balance of gender, or length of time in Meeting, or because they are married (for a committee seeking clearness on marriage) the person may or may not know how to help discern clearness.   Since clearness committees are suppose to be spiritual discernment and seeking processes, it is most helpful to put members who believe Spirit is available to help us find answers and are willing to listen for those answers.   Not just a magic number of people on the committee.
Many nominating committees today create a form they ask members/attenders to fill out and turn in.  That is certainly time saving – and could be an ok starting point.  I would be careful in the language on the form.  It should ask things like have you spent time in reflection and discernment about which committee you could best serve the Meeting on?  (Rather than: “On what committee do you want to serve?)  It should also ask:  What are your gifts?  How are you feeling called to serve the meeting right now?  I personally have been surprised sometimes that I’m called to things that I would not have expected to be “my choice”.  

An ideal might be for the committee to divide up the Meeting directory and try to talk with each person about possible openings and where they might match.    But then the nominating committee needs to have frank conversations with each other about whether what is put forward by members really fits.  How many nominating committees have regretted later the service of someone they inwardly knew was not right for the committee but “we just needed one more person”.   Frankly in situations like that the committee might be better off short one person!

Another thing which I see becoming more of a practice in some Meetings these days which I think is not proper process is the practice of not nominating the clerks of committees but leaving that to the committee to decide.  The main problem I see with this is that sexism, racism and classism, all lead towards white men assuming power and those from less privileged groups having a hard time speaking up for leadership, or being taken seriously if they do.   By nominating committee being in a neutral position outside of the committee they are in a much better position to decide who will provide good leadership to a committee and don’t have to worry about serving with someone they just offended by saying they did not think they would be a good clerk.  

And Heaven forbid they have put together a committee that has no one fit to actually lead it!  It seems to me that failing to figure out the answer to that question in advance is an abdication of the responsibility for creating healthy functional committees.   If someone says yes to serving on a committee knowing they have time for only that, not leading it and gets “drafted” this is a recipe for either resentment or for the committee barely functioning from neglect.  The nominating committee needs to determine ahead to time if they have tapped that kind of energy and availability ahead of time.

Next month I will address the issue of what if you don’t have enough people?  Or if no one wants to serve in a particular position/committee.