Archive for December, 2006

Doing the work

December 24, 2006

Pete’s post has really got me thinking. Firstly this 95/5% of the work business. I agree completely that it seems like its a few people who do most of the work. I wonder though if what we perceive the ‘work’ to be might be influenced by who we are.

There are so many roles in Quakers. Clerking, being an Elder, Treasurer and other formal roles. Giving ministry. Organising camps and social events. Welcoming people to Meeting. Visiting elderly people, giving people rides to Meeting, being a caring ear, doing the tea roster, preparing the flowers for the coffee table. Some of these seem very visible, and some more behind the scenes.

Perhaps what we see as the ‘work’ is different depending on our personalities. So we see the people like us, doing what we think of as work, and don’t notice all the other people doing their kind of work.

Secondly, servant leadership. I really really believe in this. In Quakers we call the Clerk the servant of the Meeting. Leadership to me is an incredible act of service. It’s putting yourself on the line, taking personal risks for the sake of other people. You simply can’t lead without serving others. If you’re not serving, you’re dictating, and that’s just not leadership. To me leading means people follow out of their own free will.

I wonder what Myers-Briggs type George Fox was?


Heaven scent

December 19, 2006

It seems kind of fashionable in Quaker circles to be a bit ‘bah-humbug’ about Christmas. This seems mostly to be a reaction against the increasingly material, commercialised nature of Christmas, against the dislocation of Christmas from its traditional and spiritual roots.

A number of conversations and posts have got me thinking about what Christmas means to me. Apart from family, there are two things that are ‘must haves’ for me at Christmas time. They are a proper Christmas tree, and Christmas Lilies. The reason is the scent. Smelling the pine needles takes me straight back to the wonder and magic of Christmas as a child. There was one year when I was about eight and we had a Christmas in Keri keri. Grandad got a branch of a macrocarpa tree to serve as a Christmas tree. It was just all wrong for me even when covered in decorations. It looked OK, but it didn’t smell right.

Christmas lilies were Mum’s favourite. If you’re lucky they bloom just a week before Christmas and last for a few days afterwards. The scent of them brings an image of Mum right to the front of my mind, and more importantly the feelings I associate with memories of her come flooding back. It’s nearly eight years since she died but the feelings triggered by the scent of the lilies are just as strong.

Christmas was important to Mum. She’d start make the Christmas cakes several months before, poke them with knitting needles every few days, and pore brandy into the holes. It was important to her to have the whole extended family together so Christmases were often large affairs. She was always very thoughtful when it came to presents, choosing things that really connected with people.

We never wrote letters to Santa when we were kids. When we were a little older we did all write lists for each other to show the kinds of presents we wanted. We didn’t always get things from the lists for each other, often it acted as a kind of inspiration, or a challenge to get them something they’d love, but that wasn’t on the list.

I made a kind of Christmas list this year, none of the things on it were material, they were intangible ‘life’ things I wanted for some of the people I love. They aren’t things I can give as a ‘present’ to those people, it’s not in my power, but maybe by being ‘present’ with those people over the coming year I can help them a little to come to those things themselves.

One of the best pieces of advice I heard this year, was “the greatest gift you can give anyone is the gift of your full attention”. So to me, being present with people is what Christmas is about. I can’t be present with Mum anymore, but the lilies get me close, and that helps me to be more fully with the people that are here.

Reaching out

December 13, 2006

I walked off the plane and into the gate lounge. Standing by the escalator was a man, floppy grey/white hair, tall, looking around as if he expected to see someone he knew. “Kevin” I said, and he looked at me. I shook his hand, then on impulse gave him a hug. Kevin (and his wife) introduced my parents to Quakers when I was nine years old. It was three years since I’d seen him last, and then only briefly. Kevin was over from Brisbane, travelling to Nelson to see his daughter who is two years younger than me, whom I haven’t seen for years.

Caught up in the catching up on career, friends and family with Kevin in the few minutes we talked, I didn’t think to thank him. Every once in a while I get a feeling of incredible good fortune, and ask myself “how, out of all the myriad possibilities in life did I get lucky enough to have found Quakers?” Mum and Dad were seeking something new at the time, and Kevin and Valerie reached out, told them about Friends, and (I imagine) invited them along.

In our non-evangelical brand of Quakerism, how much outreach is OK? Preaching on television is probably out, but if we don’t communicate who we are and how to find us, isn’t that being exclusive? How do we know what is acceptable? Maybe it’s not so much the ‘how’ or the ‘how much’ but the intent behind it. If we seek to convince, persuade others to join by our words maybe that’s going too far.¬† Spreading messages, pamphlets, going door to door all seems geared to ‘change’ people, to force them to see our way is right. Opening the door, welcoming people, and answering questions when they’re asked seems common practice though. How though do we make ourselves easier to find? How do we get it so that those seeking know there is a door to peer around?

George Fox said:

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.

So maybe it’s more about what we do, than what we write or say?

Washing away culture

December 9, 2006

Some friends who immigrated from the UK six years ago recently took citizenship. They also redecorated their house, and put in a brand new kitchen. Myself, two other kiwis and one brit were there the other night and had a fun but heated debate about the fact that they’d put a washing machine in the kitchen, kind of where you’d expect a dishwasher to be. Its apparently very common in europe. To us kiwis though it was just weird, like putting a bath in the kitchen. Both sides tried to rationlise the reasons for and against. When it came down to it though, it was just that we were used to different things, and found the others way just plain strange at a gut level. I think this is part of what culture is, the “how we do things here”. The rationlisations were just a way to try to make our position out to be the ‘sane’ one.

When I told Dad he said the reason kiwis have laundrys might have something to do with the influence of maori culture. Maori traditionally make a strong separation between places you prepare food and places you wash your body and your clothes. To maori having a washing machine in a kitchen is possibly almost as offensive as sitting on a table. Maybe that got consciously or unconsciously taken into pakeha culture. Or maybe it’s that many¬† british houses are much older and when plumbing came along it was hard to install so it was only added to the bare minimum of rooms.

Culture is an ever changing thing. To what extent do we expect immigrants to change their speech, lifestyles and habits when they become citizens of NZ? To what extent do we welcome the change and new ways that people of other cultures bring? Do we actively try to preserve our kiwi culture? How does that relate to preserving maori culture? We changed their culture irrevocably, so what right do we have to think it weird that some brits who arrived a few generations later than we have different ideas about where to put a washing machine?

When I mentioned the maori culture idea as a reason for the difference one of the british immigrants said it was funny how we’d taken that on but very little else. My knee jerk reaction was to say I was glad we hadn’t taken on the eating your enemies part. It really got me thinking though. I know lots about maori traditional and modern social and cultural practices, their myths and their art work, and a bit about their modern business management and political practices. What I know very little about is their spirituality. I wonder that learning more about their deeply held beliefs might help me understand the other things more, to come to grips with the similarities and differences that inform our bicultural, and increasingly multicultural society.