Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) is holding our Annual Session this weekend. In this age of the COVID-19 pandemic, we, as so many others, are using Zoom (an online meeting app) to connect with each other. When we resume, we re-Zoom.
What I miss about not meeting face-to-face at Scattergood Friends School and Farm, where we usually meet, are exchanging stories of what has been going on in our lives. I have become increasingly aware of how important stories are. One of my favorite quotes is “All that we are is story” by Richard Wagamese. “We change the world one story at a time.”
ALL THAT WE ARE IS STORYRichard Wagamese (October 14, 1955-March 10, 2017) Ojibwe from Wabeseemoong Independent Nations, Canada
From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship — we change the world one story at a time.
I enjoyed last night’s session of worship sharing. Worship sharing begins with a statement or question. Then those in the group take turns responding. Each response contains a story within. Often a story that others hadn’t heard before. People who have known each other a long time, get to know each other better. Especially spiritually.
I encourage us to create more opportunities for worship sharing. Not only among ourselves, but with others in our wider communities. The language used for wider participation needs to avoid expressions that others might not relate to.
During last night’s worship sharing, I expressed that I believe we are in a time of spiritual poverty. I think that should encourage us to share our spiritual gifts with others. Sharing our stories is the way we can do that. It is important to keep in mind that sharing is as much about listening deeply to the story you are being told as it is about telling your own story. As I have become more aware of this, I find I no longer care about sharing my experiences as much as I practice and enjoy listening to others’ stories. Actually, I’ve found that creating new relationships begins with encouraging the other person to share about themselves. When they see you are interested and paying attention to them, that creates an atmosphere where they will then want to hear your stories (maybe).
For some years we have been collecting Quaker stories. I would love to hear stories you might have to tell. We’re looking for more stories to add to this collection.
I think one thing we have to offer the world are stories about what was and might be. https://quakerstories.wordpress.com/
If we are to find a new kind of good life amid the catastrophes these myths have spawned, then we need to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves. We need to dig deep into old stories and reveal their wisdom, as well as lovingly nurture the emergence of new stories into being. This will not be easy. The myths of this age are deeply rooted in our culture. The talking heads (even the green ones) echo these myths with the dogmatic fervour of zealots. They talk of “saving the planet” through transitioning to a “sustainable” future, primarily through new renewable energy technologies. They seem only able to conceive of a good life that mirrors our lives more or less as they are now, where the living standard continues to improve and rate of consumption continues to grow, yet somehow decoupled from all the pollution, destruction and guilt.Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse By James Allen, Medium, June 18, 2019.
We are our stories, stories that can be both prison and the crowbar to break open the door of that prison; we make stories to save ourselves or to trap ourselves or others, stories that lift us up or smash us against the stone wall of our own limits and fears. Liberation is always in part a storytelling process: breaking stories, breaking silences, making new stories. ’Rebecca Solnit, ‘Silence Is Broken’, in ‘The Mother of All Questions’
Following are five questions posed to us during our most recent Midyear Meeting of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) . I think telling our stories is pertinent to answers to several of these questions.
- If we are called to change the world, as our Testimonies tell us, do we need to find like-minded people to work on solutions?
- Do Friends think it is God’s responsibility to decide who will find their way to our faith tradition?
- Do we as individuals and as a meeting, do enough to bring new people into our faith community? If not, why?
- When new people come into our community, do we have a way to help them understand our faith community transform our lives, and how Quaker history speaks to us today?
- Do we talk about our spiritual experience with one another, and when opportunities arise, with non-Quakers outside of our meeting?
One Quaker practice I really appreciate is the consideration of questions like these below. We refer to them as queries. There are twelve sets of queries, so each Quaker meeting discusses one set of queries each month. The various things people say to answer the questions are then summarized into a written response.
Our answers will likely be different in the face of the pandemic. Might help us live through it ourselves, and might help others as well.
- What are we doing about our disproportionate use of the world’s resources?
- Do we see unreasonable exploitation in our relationship ‑with the rest of creation?
- How can we nurture reverence and respect for life? How I can we become more fully aware of our interdependent relationship with the rest of creation?
- To what extent are we aware of all life and the role we play? What can we do in our own lives and communities to address environmental concerns?
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE
- How are we beneficiaries of inequity and exploitation? How are we victims of inequity and exploitation? In what ways can we address these problems?
- What can we do to improve the conditions in our correctional institutions and to address the mental and social problems of those confined there?
- How can we improve our understanding of those who are driven to violence by subjection to racial, economic or political injustice? In what ways do we oppose prejudice and injustice based on gender, sexual orientation, class, race, age, and physical, mental and emotional conditions? How would individuals benefit from a society that values everyone? How would society benefit?
PEACE AND NONVIOLENCE
- What are we doing to educate ourselves and others about the causes of conflict in our own lives, our families and our meetings? Do we provide refuge and assistance, including advocacy, for spouses, children, or elderly persons who are victims of violence or neglect?
- Do we recognize that we can be perpetrators as well as victims of violence? How do we deal with this? How can we support one another so that healing may take place?
- What are we doing to understand the causes of war and violence and to work toward peaceful settlement of differences locally, nationally, and internationally? How do we support institutions and organizations that promote peace?
- Do we faithfully maintain our testimony against preparation for and participation in war?