Monday, 24 August 2015

What unites a Quaker Community?

There's a team effort every time some strange cat decides to prowl round the garden. Usually this matter is brought to our attention by the loud indignant wailing of our own cat, who is elderly, very deaf and so has no idea of what a coward she seems. By putting all her energy into a sound she cannot hear, the whole street will be informed that some major crisis is about to happen. Prompted into action, the dog starts pacing up and down, quivering with excitement knowing there is a specific role in this emergency situation dogs tend to do rather well.

Nose pressed firmly against the back door, whimpering, scratching with increased urgency. After seconds which feel like years, the door is finally opened. There is the smallest signal of command and then its a case of Whoosh!, joyful barks, off down the garden path, and "Goodbye" to the ginger tom. For a few moments there are a few barks to advertise this achievement and then its a case of job done, back to the house and sleep.

If only our moments of Quaker ministry could be like this! We would receive some compelling insight, perhaps loudly, then quake in our customary way. Moments of reflection would be a joyful experience, full of confidence and excitement.Then its onto our feet with a whoosh, happy barks at being able to make so positive a contribution to the life of our Meeting. Fast retreating fur represents that struggle against evil in whichever form this appears, and then its a case of job done. A few moments later the cat flap opens and shuts, and your most improbable Friend of this all-inclusive Meeting gratefully creeps inside. Afterwards other Quakers come up to you to say that they heard your barking, then saw all sorts of other cats, even tigers run away and it made a lovely sound.

So how does this kind of ministry come about in Meeting? If you asked most cats for a weekday opinion it would be noted that dogs can be a bit of a pain most of the time. Unlike these more sedate Friends, dogs are too bouncy, excitable, do not understand cat body language, cannot politely contain their curiosity and instead of communicating in the proper way, sniff in all the wrong places. Dog thieving makes it necessary for cats to gobble up their dinner. Its embarrassing for cats to find themselves so impolite with no time to pick about and savour. Cruel necessity leaves nothing to look forward to later. What if other cats make judgements, think you have forgotten how to behave when you are only trying to fit in? In turn dogs can be quite unfair, ready to misjudge a friendly contented purr as some kind of threat. Dogs have different temperaments, and even though you may be trying your hardest, cannot always hear you.

So far as us dogs are concerned, that wailing, hissing, scurrying, noise outside could well be for someone else's attention. If you get it wrong and start bouncing up and down excitedly for no apparent reason, people can get pretty annoyed. Some thoughts which only you can hear, seem of no relevance to anyone else stay with you.
If you do not wish to listen to the problems of elderly grumpy noisy cats, there would seem much less likelihood of hearing. Its a cold night.  The basket's safe and warm so I'm going curl up tightly. No one criticises a quiet dog remaining in their basket. Suppose anyway I get it wrong? Just because I've never seen an elder throws slippers or a cushion at someone about to give ministry doesn't necessarily mean they don't want to. Cat's is not my business. Basket's the best place to be. But then loyalty becomes an issue. Who after all belongs to my family, my friends, my Meeting, my community, my world? Why should I care? Why should I take the risk? Why do I find myself suddenly and quite unexpectedly barking?

Some weeks ago someone collapsed in Meeting. I did not know what to do. It would have been foolish and arrogant to pretend that I did, but worrying it seemed no one else did either. No one took her pulse. It seemed ages before anyone helped her to lie down. Instead she was propped up by someone who talked to her in a reassuring way with the best of intentions. No one took the initiative to clear the room so it was all so public. What if our lack of knowledge was making her condition worse? When the ambulance man arrived the surprised look on his face to see so many of us still in the same room, seemed to say it all. I was so ashamed to be there. It seemed to me that our Meeting needs to work out what procedures they should follow and appoint some of us at least to learn first aid. Some big scary tom cat came visiting and we did not know what to do.

This incident raised so many questions for me, setting in place a process that I should have become used to by now. How can I consider myself a Quaker when things happen which make me so frustrated and angry? To me it is so important that we should be humble, accepting our lack of knowledge and the importance of leadership. We do not have faith leaders as such, but surely this does not mean we are capable of doing everything on our own? Quakers can at times seem pretty arrogant to others. I dont want to be pretending to have all the answers, preaching. There must be some other faith group or faith community more accurately matched to my character and needs. For hours I surf the net, reading up about all the other different religions, hoping that someone somewhere will reach back the other way.
Steadily however I have become much more aware that is is not similarity that binds a Quaker community together. Although there is an expectation we should be loving and responsive to every insight and need, and there might well be matters of agreement, actual leadership does not come from each other. Instead we are able to act and take responsibility as individuals, trusting to be guided by the Spirit. Bouncy dogs are not very much like grumpy old cats. A plan of action worked out between them probably wouldn't work. Instead through receiving love they identify loyalty and can still work together as a team.  

Maybe among Quakers it is possible to be a little bit on edge, always listening out for the dangers. Dogs can be a bit distracting and not all their intervention welcome. Sometimes we get things wrong, and affectionately chew up your slippers. None of us are perfect but at least we are still listening, honest about what we hear and prepared to take the initiative about protecting the things that matter.