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Archive for September, 2014

Good day friends!

We have been doing a slow read of Parker Palmer’s short book Let Your Life Speak at our small-and-wonderful Blues Prayers service.

Yesterday, this was the passage we considered, from pages 5 and 6:

“I sometimes lead retreats, and from time to time participants show me the notes they are taking as the retreat unfolds. The pattern is nearly universal: people take copious notes on what the retreat leaders say, and they sometimes take notes on the words of certain wise people in the group, but rarely, if ever, do they take notes on what they themselves say. We listen for guidance everywhere except from within.

I urge retreatants to turn their note-taking around, because the words we speak often contain counsel we are trying to I’ve ourselves. We have a strange conceit in our culture that simply because we have said something, we understand what it means! But often we do not – especially when we speak from a deeper place than intellect or ego, speak the kind of words that arise when the inner teach er feels safe enough to tell its truth. At those moments, we need to listen to what our lives are saying and take notes on it, lest we forget our own truth or deny that we ever heard it.”

My reflection on this was fairly simple. We often have our wise inner teacher buried deep and cannot listen to its wisdom because of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that we have experienced in life: our injuries, trauma, abuse, diminishment, embarrassment. All of it. “The full catastrophe” to quote Zorba the Greek very much out of context!

We need deliberate practices and locations that create safety and invitation for that inner teacher to speak to us, and for us to listen to it. Palmer likens the soul or inner teacher to a shy animal that is in the woods. To hear it, to see it, we must move gently, taking time and careful and deliberate steps to move to a place where the shy soul animal will come out and be present to us.

This is not mere navel gazing. Thomas Merton long ago point out in “A Letter to Young Activist” the danger of trying to create change in the world without paying good and prior attention to what’s going on inside oneself. He warned that enormous damage would result. Not unlike what Jesus said to the Pharisees: “You make them twice the children of hell that they already were.”

So we need this inner teacher. And the world needs us to listen to our inner teachers. Quietly, urgently, joyfully, compassionately.

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Hello friends,
My father sent me several documents from the years he was working in denominational leadership. This would be the early 2000s – post-integration, a time of struggle, new hope, and negotiation in the wake of the challenging times our two former denominations had at St. Louis in 1999.

Here’s what I would highlight (from the document “Restructuring Perspectives”)

Organizational Culture

1. Churchwide structures focused on influence rather than control.
2. Flexibility and Networking – assume a somewhat continual process of transformation.
3. Rather than managing all parts of the church, encourage innovation and creativity in various entities such as area conferences and congregations.
4. Dispersion of authority rather than a hierarchical “episcopal” structure. A more centralized governing structure needs to be balanced by a healthy respect for dispersion of authority particularly as expressed in area conferences and congregations.
5. Cultural diversity in the makeup, role and discernment process of structures. How we do the ‘business of the church” should reflect the cultural diversity found in the church. This requires a deeper transformation than simply adding a certain ratio of representation from various ethnic groups.
6. Connecting structures do not serve as ends in themselves. These need to continually justify their existence rather than claiming entitlement through their agenda and maintenance.

I would love to see these insights honored in our work together today.

And here are the whole files, for you avid readers!
Restructuring Perspectives
Several Trends Transforming Mennonite Church USA
Review Report to Assembly 2007

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Some Mennonite words to which I say “arrgh!”
“Foundational documents”
“By-laws”
“It says clearly on line 172… (pick a line)”
“Need to comply, become aligned, follow rules”
“That which was voted on….”

I am increasingly unhappy with what I have been calling “para-legal” talk among Mennonites – talk that focuses on by-laws and other “foundational documents”, etc.

There are not so many of us Mennonites that we couldn’t just talk to each other for awhile without any maneuvering for votes or documents or things that become “official”. And what would happen if we more and more started to just go for a summary of the “sense of the meeting” among delegates rather than voting? Then leaders would take their cues from this and lead, and make decisions on a daily basis aware of the sense of the meeting. And then back to more conversation. And then back to more leadership. A tidal flow of process and discernment. (I saw this modeled in a very “proto-” way in our Mountain States Mennonite Conference listening circles and then the action of the leadership board).

I was chatting with Parker Palmer about this last March, and he noted that among Quakers there is a “Book of the meeting” and it’s most key components are simply testimonials about how the meeting has made a difference in their lives, and what that difference is. At least that’s how I understood his description. I’d like to see something more like that – more wholehearted story telling and less organizational structuring.
FYI here’s a quote from a Quaker website about the books: “While Friends traditionally do not have creeds, most yearly meetings (regional bodies of like-minded Friends) do adopt a book of “discipline,” often called “Faith and Practice.” These books generally describe the practices and procedures used in the yearly meeting, offer inspirational extracts from Quaker literature, and contain “advices” and “queries” (guidance and questions to help Friends examine themselves and their lives as they strive to live more fully in the Light).

I remember in 1997 how alarmed I was when the then-named “Mennonite Church” denomination voted to say that marriage was only between a man and a woman. 90% supported the notion; 10% did not. I was not a voting delegate, but I found myself with the 10%. Subsequently, all the statements were that the denomination decided _______, or believes ________. That left the 10% essentially voiceless in the wake of the vote. Even if the tables were turned now, I would not simply want to be part of a “winning” vote. How would the people who disagreed feel?

So this is a call for a great process of listening and consensus and avoidance of win-lose voting and structural maneuvering to “get things to pass.” Let’s do more maneuvering to listen to the Holy Spirit and to each other. We have the time to do this; it is invaluable. In fact, I would argue that doing anything else is simply a distortion and a waste of time. But when we do listen deeply and well, we actually tend to “get everything done” that we need to.

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