Archive for August, 2006

Going unconditional

August 19, 2006

When I’ve bought and sold businesses and houses the contracts always come with conditions. “I’ll buy the house, as long as you fix the leak in the ceiling, and as long as I can get finance”, or “I’ll buy the shares in your business, as long as I find out it doesn’t have any debt you haven’t told me about”.  Once all these conditions are met, the sale goes ‘unconditional’.

I’ve been thinking recently about unconditional love. Someone at Meeting last week gave ministry about having noticed recently that the things that annoyed her about other people were often the things that she hated about herself.  Once she realised that, it was easier to accept those things in herself, and then easier to love others.

How is it we can love our children unconditionally, our partners, and maybe at a stretch some close family members, but everyone else comes with conditions. “I’ll love you as long as you treat me nicely”, “I’ll love you as long as you don’t bomb my country”. It’s like there’s this little circle of light around us, but it’s only big enough for those closest to us.  The rest of the world is in the darkness of conditional love at best, at worst it’s unconditional hate. They have to ‘make the grade’ to get into our personal circle of unconditional love.

Maybe this makes sense. It might be dangerous to love everyone unconditionally.  It could be a big risk.  They might hurt us.  Maybe we do need to filter the bad people out to protect ourselves.

But what did Christ mean when he said “love thy enemy”. Was he talking about conditional love, or unconditional? Was he playing it safe? Love thy enemy is easy to say, but I imagine very hard to do. I’ve never really been challenged to do this in a significant way. Seeing the opportunity for it to happen to people in Lebanon, Israel, in the news in NZ, and even in our own communities and Meetings I think I can see why it would be so hard, and why it is so important to try.

Only then can we expand our circle of light. If we only give unconditional love to those who give it back to us, those who somehow ‘make the grade’, we’re unlikely to grow very much. And we’re even less likely to have a chance of healing those hurt by others in the past. If we can expand our circle of light even just a bit though, we might just be surprised by what happens.

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Sky on fire

August 10, 2006

After the intense few weeks I’ve had I’ve been catching up on rest with a quiet week in the office. I’ve been getting up late (well, 7am, which is late for me), and generally feeling fairly cruisy and even like a bit of a slacker.

Sky on fireThis morning I got up at my normal time (just after 6am), and headed off to work not long after 7. I was rewarded by an incredible sunrise. With the shape of the clouds, the red of the light, and some grey wispy clouds like smoke it was like the sky was on fire.

For some reason this seemed to kick off my regular intense energy again. Maybe it’s because I’m so strongly pitta, that the association with fire triggered something. Or maybe I’ve just had enough rest and the beauty of the morning, the fiery sky and chill air, just made me feel more alive.

Whatever it was I don’t really care. I’m feeling again the joy, passion, and fire of life. Sometimes I’m incredulous at the rich blessing I have, and how much I love this life and this world. There is so much to do, and it feels like anything is possible.

Click here to join

August 10, 2006

Having just recently taken, what was for me, quite a big step in becoming a member of the Religious Society of Friends, I was very amused to get this email today:

Subject: [Flickr] You’ve been invited to join Quakers

annadunford has invited you to be a member of Quakers.

To find out more about this group and to accept or decline this invitation, click here:

http://www.flickr.com/groups/quakerpics/

I got the email because Anna was inviting me to join up to a group on Flickr of people sharing photos of Quaker things. She didn’t know exactly what the automated invite email would say. And the Flickr site didn’t know that the combination of its email template, and the name someone had chosen for the photo sharing group would make for a very amusing email. It’s like Pete says, “push back at the machines, they don’t mind”.

I guess I found it amusing because the process of taking membership in Quakers was so completely opposite to this. There was no invitation, and certainly no ‘click here to accept’. There was no overt encouragement to consider membership, I had to come to it when I was ready. I’d gradually, slowly become more involved in Friends over the last four years. I’d had a sense I wanted to take membership, and had waited for more than a year for the still small voice to tell me when it was time. Then there was writing my letter of application, a visit by Friends, and consideration of my application at Monthly Meeting. While there was no ceremony, or new kind of shirt to wear, or any other external ‘badge’ or ritual, it was quite a spiritual/emotional process for me.

So while it sometimes seems like it would be nice if life were as simple as computers make it out to be, I like it the way it is.

Making sense of money

August 9, 2006

We’re currently working on financial assistance guidelines in our Monthly Meeting. This has been a very contentious topic over the last two or three years. Some people in the Meeting want fairly prescriptive guidelines so that it’s easier for overseers to make decisions and be fair with money given. Some people feel that we shouldn’t need guidelines, that overseers should know people well enough to deal with issues personally and directly. Some feel that money should be given based on need, some based on contribution to the Meeting.

It’s a complex issue and one that has caused conflict. We’ve been unable to get agreement whenever draft guidelines have been brought to Monthly Meeting. A couple of months ago when the issue was considered at Monthly Meeting a small group volunteered to help facilitate the creation of a set of guidelines that might be acceptable to everyone.

My current rule of thumb is that I won’t get involved in Quaker committees, or take on roles that aren’t to do with kids, JYFs or YFs. Regardless I seem to have been coopted in to this project, and it is something I’m feeling led to contribute to.

One of the people involved sent me some photocopied articles from a recent Friends Journal issue on Friends and Money. Reading this, and talking with those leading the process it’s becoming clearer that there seem to be some different core values and beliefs underlying people’s responses. It’s in effect, impossible to come to agreement because the discussions are at crossed purposes. We think we’re talking about money, but we’re actually talking about much deeper things to do with security, sense of worth, attitudes to work, and beliefs about equality.

Last night I facilitated a session to help move the process forward. We started by relating stories to each other of experiences we’d had giving to others, or being given to in the Meeting. We then did a brainstorming exercise on what people give to each other in our Meeting. This was done on post-it notes, and then the results clustered on a wall. On the right is a picture, and here’s the large version of the picture.

I do a lot of this kind of facilitation in my work, but this was quite a different experience. It was such a quiet, gathered, contemplative process as people slowly moved the post-its around, and thought about what they meant. We followed this by considering in small groups the question “how can money help us have these things in our Meeting”. What came up for me, and seemed to for the others was that money can create opportunites for the things that matter to happen. It’s about enabling equal participation. Money can let people who are stressed out of their minds for financial reasons to get through crisis so they can actively participate in the spiritual life of the Meeting (which let’s face it, is pretty hard when you’re worried about how you’re going to pay the bills). Money can enable people to travel to events so they can build relationships, gain knowledge, and give back to others.

We each have different gifts. Some people are good at generating income, or investing. Some people are good at giving ministry, or organising camps, or being an Elder, or running children’s sessions. We all give to our Meetings in different ways, and we don’t think to try to measure and be accountable for all the other things. But somehow with money it’s harder.

I’m hoping that through going a bit deeper, and considering what really matters, what we really value we can come through this process as a more united Meeting, that is even better at caring for everyone and enabling equal participation.

Pronoia

August 6, 2006

Talking of wisdom in unexpected places has gotten me thinking about a word I heard in the late 90s. It was in a quote in a Wired Magazine compendium of mind grenades.

“There’s a new and virulent cultural virus ripping through the world. The symptoms of those infected include attacks of optimism, strong feelings of community, lowered stress levels and attacks of pronoia*
* the sneaking feeling that someone is conspiring behind their backs to help them”

There’s a more complete definition of pronoia here. John Perry Barlow defined it as “the suspicion the Universe is a conspiracy on your behalf”.

At the time I first heard the word I was caught up in the heady optimism of the tech boom in the late 90s. A lot of the time since though, I’ve continued to feel this way. Maybe it’s just another way of describing optimism, or faith. I think though that there’s a slight nuance here, one of intentionality. That people, the world, the Universe have the best possible intentions for you and are/is actively working towards them.

Pronoia is for me, a feeling or state of mind very akin to faith. It’s nice though when the universe does confirm it’s out to help us, and sends a few signals that all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.