A Friend After 50 Years

A record of one journey into a peculiar type of Quaker Christianity, and a bit of silliness to boot.

Location: Arkansas

Friday, August 31, 2007

Giraffes & Testimonies

In response to some messages about interpersonal communication and Quaker testimonies on our meeting's discussion list:

In Nonviolent Communication they don't approach what they are teaching as the "right" or "better" way, rather they look at whether certain language is going to serve life or not. Marshall (Rosenberg's) strongest admonition is that, if you speak "Jackal," you are going to "pay" for it in some manner. He himself actually loves to speak Jackal, although usually in a humorous vein. He is from Detroit, and refers to foul language as "Detroit poetry." (For those unfamiliar with NVC, "jackal" is basically critical, judgmental language, distinguished form "giraffe," the language of the animal with the largest heart and the ability to see the farthest).

I have spent a great deal of time delving into NVC, and have found that most people I have met, many of whom have had greater exposure than I have, ultimately have trouble "pulling it off." However, I still believe its a worthwhile thing to study more for the underlying philosophy and understanding of the dynamics of human relationships. I am not very accomplished at actually using it, though -- old dog, new tricks and all that. I'd also add that there have been a very few occasions when it has worked wonders in my "difficult conversations," and from Marshall's accounts, at least, it has been very effective in some highly confrontational situtations.

And the idea of speaking from what you're experiencing does, I think, correspond to the Quaker approach of "testimonies." I think its also important, however, not to confuse ideas like "testimony" and "continuing revelation" with unbridled personal desire or will, and I think that may be where approaches like NVC can fall short. The "center of concern" is largely "my feelings" and "my needs." In fairness, there is also an emphasis on listening to "your feelings/needs," but this still seems to atomize us into organisms seeking nothing more than "getting our needs met." This may be unfair, but there is a certain level of discomfort there for me around that.

Friends, on the other hand, traditionally have seen the value in checking their presumptive leadings with other Friends and against scripture, not to make sure that other Friends are "getting their needs met" or that "everybody's happy" but to see whether there is a possibility of transcending personal cravings and compulsions -- in traditional parlance, seeking "God's will." Today, some Friends are speaking of this as "accountability." I'm lukewarm about that terminology, but it points to something that I think we need. Now, can I put that in "I" language, state what I am observing, what I need and how I feel about it, and then pose a clear request? Probably more than I can manage at the moment. But if you're willing to put your "giraffe ears" on, maybe you'll be able to hear me saying, "please" rather than hearing this as a "demand."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Worship Works

On our meeting discussion list, I posted the following as part of a larger discussion:

"If we spent more time worshipping and less time using our limited-capacity brains to cook up the same-ol' same-ol' solutions, we could tap into a power that makes a real difference."

This led a Friend to ask, "Just what exactly is the nature of the worship that taps into the power that makes a difference?" My response follows:

You know, I've asked Jesus-centered Friends that question (in the blogosphere) -"just exactly what are you talking about?" and never really received an intellectually satisfying answer. No surprise there, but I don't believe its simply a matter of believing superstitious nonsense that can't be rationally explained. Now you are asking me a similar question, and I can see how that's rather tough to answer. I know more that worship does work to change our orientation from agitation and self-concern to a much more pacific and loving state than how it works. The old Quakers just said "Christ is teaching his people himself!" I suppose scientists who hook up electrodes or take brain scans of meditators, for example, could explain it in physical or chemical terms, at least to some extent. I know there's a lot of research going on in that area right now.

But my take is that being quiet for extended periods, without necessarily trying to accomplish anything (or prevent anything on the other hand) allows us to notice the very act of noticing, and to start sensing that what we are noticing within ourselves in the way of thought and the emotions it produces are not what we are. If we can see (or sense in any way) an object then that object is not the essence of what we are. The only unchanging thing about us that we can know for sure is that we are conscious. Consciousness itself is not bothered by anything, and understands its essential unity. Thus it does not "believe" that there is a separate entity that must be defended or advanced as against "others." So lately my "practice," although rather spontaneous, is to look at stuff going on in my mind and body and to think, "but that's not me, I am what's conscious of that." Sometimes I think of this consciousness as the "light" or "Christ" within, I suppose just to have some linkage with our Quaker-Christian heritage. But the analogy of an "inner teacher" seems like a good one too. So maybe the way it works is that when we are quiet, we can hear the teaching, although its more experiential than verbal.

I think George Fox was touching on this when he wrote,

"This is the word of the Lord God unto you all; what the Light doth make manifest and discover, as temptations, distractions, confusions, do not look at these temptations, confusions, corruptions, but at the Light which discovers them and makes them manifest; and with the same Light you may feel over them, to receive power to stand against them." I don't quite resonate with the "standing against," as I see "them" sort of just dissipating in the Light, but the rest of his statement holds true in my experience.

And my experience is also that in the case of silent worship, the sometimes dubious adage, "if a little is good, then a lot is better" holds true. Just going to twice a week made a tremendous difference for me. Not claiming that I'm "all that" spiritually, but you should have seen me before! (Plus I'm a lawyer, so you have to give me a handicap there!)

In Friendship,


Friday, August 17, 2007

A Clerking Retrospective

My wife has decided that she doesn't want me to re-up as clerk of our meeting in January. I'm a little hazy on why she feels this way, though we have a meeting for clearness on this with a few Friends coming up. It sort of feels like a breath of fresh air, actually. Clerking has been rewarding, and not for me the burden I've heard of in other meetings. Nevertheless, its been uncomfortable in some respects, and my agreement to continue was based in some measure on the prospect that no one else would be interested. My insistence (not always so graceful) on coming to a sense of the meeting (and at a meeting for business, of all places!) hasn't always set well with the former more free-wheeling way of doing things and that has caused some tension. On the whole, though, its been an honor (and I mean that in the least trite or egoic sense I can manage). On the other hand, I feel that somewhere I've failed, that I've stressed process over substance, somehow. I've actually felt self-conscious about pausing for silence during MfB, like I was trying to pull a fast one. Its not the norm here. One of my goals was to have more spirit-led meetings, yet they still feel like a modified form of secular business to me. It feels like there is a discontinuity between meeting for worship and everything else. I have a yearning for the opposite, where everything we do feels as though it is coming from a place of worship. God willing.

'What can I do?' - SiCKO