Archive for the ‘young friends’ Category

The end of some things and the beginning of more

March 30, 2008

I woke in the morning in a room of straw. Sunlight glanced through the wide window, and I rose, rested and glad of the day. The last day of my last Young Friends camp for the rest of my life.

I should feel sad but I just don’t. I don’t even feel quite the sense of completion I thought I might. I simply feel content, sure and happy with the experience having unfolded exactly in the way it did.

This path I began in 2004 has filled my life with love I had never envisaged or expected. The connection to these people has become not so much an experience, or something I posses, but just part of who I am, part of the fabric of this wonderful life.

To me this camp felt gentle, warm, calm as a slow moving river in the middle of summer. We sang, ate, worked and worshiped. I laughed with these beautiful people in the springtime of their lives.

Meeting the son of my first love and getting to know him as a friend was an unexpected pleasure. Seeing him instantly accepted by others as if he’d been coming for years filled my heart with a sense of joy I find it difficult to describe.

Even as some things come to an end new things begin.

Meeting Emily from Canberra and realizing we have a whole lifetime of Quaker events, conversations and sharing ahead of us made saying goodbye the start of something rather than the end. It seemed fitting that she was the last person I said farewell to at the airport.

I know now that ending my participation in YF business and YF camps doesn’t mean ending these friendships, or being in some way part of this community as it flows into the wider Quaker world.

When YF Camp finished four of us cycled to the train in Masterton. The day shone as we rode through the rolling hills, and I could think of no place I would rather be. Riding with friends in the sun, sharing our journey for a way, and knowing that in time we will share it again.


Journey’s end

October 6, 2007

We did it! Responsible for twenty two 13-16 year olds for a week. No one got hurt, no one got lost, and now they’re all home safely. It was exhausting, exhilarating, and at times very moving. It’s taken me nearly a week to recover and as I’ve slowly gotten my body, mind and spirit back to a state of normality I’ve been thinking about why I took this on.

JYF camps were a hugely important part of my teenage years. They were a place to be truly myself, to be accepted for exactly who I was. They were a time of forging new friendships, of falling in the first semblances of love, and of being acknowledge as a person in my own right rather than a ‘child’ or a ‘teenager’.

I want my children to be able to experience this. That’s what first set me on the path of organising a YF camp three years ago, and what motivated me to volunteer to organise this JYF camp. I wanted the community to be strong so they’d have a positive experience when they were old enough to go. I wanted to give something back, to carry on the work of people like Angela Brusse who started JYF camps in New Zealand so many years ago.

That would have been enough, but what I got in return was so much more. Organising and running this camp was a transformative experience. It reinforced my sense of confidence in my leadership abilities. It deepened my admiration and respect for the tireless energy and consummate skill of my partner Bridget, who single handedly coordinated incredible food for 28 people, ran four sessions, and had time to make friends with the JYFs and be there for those that needed her. It took my relationship with the other YF leaders to a different level, and my most heartfelt thanks go to Thomas, Mirjam, Melody and Johnny for sharing this path, and making the camp the incredible experience that it was.

Then there’s the JYFs. I have never met such a beautiful, caring, talented and loving group of young people. They included each other right from the start. No one was left out, everyone was accepted. They constantly bewildered me with their combination of extraordinary insights, humour and intelligence, and their sometimes complete lack of peripheral attention and ability to notice what needed doing in a practical sense. My thanks to those of them that did notice, especially to Luke, Rogan and Daniel for doing the fires in the morning, and to Briar-Rose for always being there when I was exhausted and just needed a hand.

It felt to me like an enormous privilege being allowed to create this environment for them. I found that whenever I trusted them, included them in the decision making, and assumed that they’d act responsibly, they did. Perhaps the greatest surprise for me was that for most of the time I forgot there was such an age gap. They so completely accepted all six of us leaders as peers rather than authority figures. It felt a lot like YF camp, and I sense there’s the possibility that as they grow, some of them will become my lifelong friends.

The theme of the camp was “walking in the light”. I felt like this happened. Not by what we discussed, or the activities we did, but by the way we were able to live together, in joy, love and harmony. I feel richly blessed by this experience, and I will carry the memory of it with me forever.

Linguistic Accommodation

June 3, 2007

In May each year the number of people staying at our place each month (bednights in George Fox House terms) drops off. Most traveling YFs have gone back home, generally to their northern hemisphere summers.

Each year we get to meet new people, and get to know them pretty well. There’s something about inviting people into your home, feeding them, having them there when you get up in the morning and get back home from work at night. Depending on their inclinations they play games with the kids, read them stories, put new software on our computers, help in the garden or the kitchen, watch youtube and DVDs with us. They become part of the family for a few nights, or a week or two. Often they’ll go traveling round the South Island then come back for a few nights before they fly out. We miss them while they’re gone, and welcome them home when they’re back.

I like the notion from the early days of Quakers, when if a Friend was traveling in the Ministry, and requested to stay, you had to let them. I travel a lot for business, and I feel totally comfortable asking Friends if I can stay with them. I encourage traveling YFs that we meet at Summer Gathering and other places to stay with us when they’re in town. Somehow, on some universal scales it feels like this is ‘balancing the books’. I hope those that stay with us will feel more inclined to welcome other people into their homes sometime in the future.

The only thing that really makes me in any way glad when people leave, is my tendency towards ‘linguistic accommodation’. This is a term that explains the natural human capability of adapting one’s speech to those around them. It’s the way accents work. It’s the way that ‘speaking the lingo’ allows one to be accepted within a community. Mum came out from England when she was 11. She had hardly a trace of an English accent, except when she was on the phone with her mother, when it came out quite strongly. I notice my speech changing the more I’m around people with other accents. When Carrie and Matt were here, I found myself developing an American accent, and using more Americanisms. It was unconscious and unintentional, and I felt a bit self conscious about it once I noticed. I guess though, that if you open your homes and your hearts to people, you become a little more like them. Something of them rubs off on you, and to me that’s not such a bad thing. The more we’re willing to share of ourselves with each other, the greater chance we have for peace.

Where do we go from here (part two)

April 22, 2007

In Meeting for Worship on the last day of YF Camp the above title of a song from the musical “Once More With Feeling” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer kept going through my head. I was thinking about everyone leaving from camp, how people were going south to Dunedin, north to Kaitaia, and to many places in between. How some were going to Australia, New Orleans, and even one on a train journey across China and Russia to the UK.

These people who I’d spent five very full days with, people who I love dearly and had gotten even closer to, were scattering to the four winds. Some I won’t see again in person for two years or more. It got me thinking about what separates us, and what connects us.

On a purely physical level spending 5 days together means that we’ve shared the very atoms of our bodies. Atoms of oxygen, carbon and hydrogen pass from one person to another through breathing, water vapor from sweat and the sloughing of dead skin. 98% of the atoms in our bodies are replaced each year. After 5 days we are, in some small way, made of parts of each other. Some of the atoms that were once in my body, Alex is now carrying across China.

When we leave each other, our relationships developed and enhanced over five days, what else has changed? We have a new set of memories of each other. We have shared experiences, stories, catch phrases and jokes that only make sense to those there. At the level of mind, what is a person, but their collected memories and experiences, the patterns that reality has imprinted on their brains? When we know other people what is it that we know? We have a complex picture in our mind of the ‘pattern’ of that person. Humans are uniquely able to hold a model of the way another person thinks. That’s what enables us to have empathy. We can figuratively try to see things through another person’s eyes. It’s by no means a perfect copy, but the better we know someone, the more we understand them, the more accurate that ‘pattern’ is. So if our minds are patterns of experiences, and we can hold an albeit imperfect model of another person’s mind within our own, then again, when we leave other people we, in some strange sense, have a part of their mind within ours.

At the level of spirit, what is it that connects us? What is enhanced by spending time together, in worship, in laughter and in the simple acts of love and friendship? To me, it’s very hard to describe. There’s a sense of abiding connection that feels like it goes deeper than just the memory of those people. I don’t have the esoteric theology to explain it in objective terms like I can the science of the physical world, or the knowing of the psychological world. I know that there are some friends of mine that I get a strong sense of them a few moments before the phone rings and it is they on the other end. A number of eastern spiritual thinkers talk about the ‘ground of being’, of spirit as a single source which we are all connected to, and that at the level of spirit we are not distinct, but are always together in unity.

Orson Scott Card, in the Ender’s Game series describes the fictional concept of ‘philotes‘, very basic indivisible building blocs of matter and energy. When philotes combine to make durable structures, protons, neutrons, atoms, molecules, organisms, planets, etc., they “twine up”. Each philote connects itself to the rest of the universe along a single ray, a one-dimensional line that connects it to all other philotes in its nearest immediate structure. As individual people develop in relationship with each other, their philotes ‘twine’ together across space and time. There is of course no scientific basis for this fictional theory, but it none the less appeals to me. That in some sense we perhaps become more spiritually entwined with each other.

The words of the song from Buffy go:

Where do we go from here?
Why is the path unclear?
When we know home is near
We’ll go hand in hand
But we’ll walk alone in fear
Tell me
Where do we go from here?

I think it’s wrong. We might sometimes feel that we walk alone in fear, but physically, mentally, and perhaps spiritually we have become part of each other. We are connected, and because of that we are never alone. Wherever we go from here, in some way, we go together.

Drugs, alcohol, and really good coffee

January 27, 2007

Ironic? Karma coming full circle? Terrifying? For me the feeling of being called to run a session on drugs and alcohol the first night of Summer Gathering was all three.

When I was a teenager there were several Summer Gatherings where Young Friends (YFs) drank. One year when Summer Gathering was over New Years Eve, all the YFs organised to go off site and drink. Two people stayed sober to make sure everyone was safe, only overage YFs bought the alcohol. We went to a park, drank in a big fort, and saw the New Year in. Nothing went wrong, no one got too drunk, and we all came back safely together. Even so, the next day we were in big trouble. The adults were upset at us, and we had to have a big meeting with about 50 people. It went on for hours. We got to have our say, but none of us could really see why we’d upset them.

Fourteen years later I was at a recent Summer Gathering, where a number of small groups of adults went to the pub, or off to a restaurant and had wine with dinner. The rules hadn’t changed, the enrolment form said the Summer Gathering was alcohol free. Had the culture changed? Was it a double standard? I began to realise that the issue was complex, not just about the rules of the site, not just about safety, but also about being inclusive. Those years ago we had included all the YFs, but we had excluded the adults. We had literally divided the community. Perhaps that’s really why they were upset.

The Summer Gathering organising committee (this year entirely comprised of YFs) were very keen to have a session on drugs and alcohol. In recent years YFs have brought alcohol or gone off site and gotten drunk. Sometimes under sixteen year olds have been involved too, and there have been occasions where young people were extremely ill and even hospitalised at Quaker gatherings due to the unsupervised use of alcohol. Even though the camp rules say they shouldn’t drink this can be taken as somewhat hypocritical when they know that many adults are sharing a bottle of wine in their tents. The committee therefore didn’t want a session laying down the rules, but one in which the issues were openly discussed on the first night, where corporate witness and a sense of unity might make drinking or not a collective rather than just an individual decision. If different people and different age groups could listen to each others views and explore the underlying issues and values, perhaps there was less chance of the community being divided? We had done this on a much smaller version at the last YF camp and it had worked. With some trepidation, but a strong leading to do it, I volunteered.

Through the conversations I had in planning the session I began to see that this was about more than just drugs and alcohol, it was about being together as a community, about being fully present with each other and building relationships in a positive way. With help from several other YFs I came up with some questions for the session. What does it mean to be a part of this community for 8 days? What makes us feel included at Summer Gathering? What are the behaviors that can make people feel excluded at Summer Gathering? Why might people want to take drugs or alcohol? Is there anything different about doing this in normal life, and doing it at Summer Gathering? Why would people choose not to take drugs or alcohol/abstain at SG? How do we look after each other? How do we keep people safe?

About 100 people of all ages attended the session. YFs took the list of questions and led groups of ten to fifteen people in a discussion, using the questions and several short readings from Quaker literature. As they did this I walked around, caught snippets of conversation, getting a sense of when it was time to encourage everyone to move on to the next set of questions. I don’t know exactly what each group discussed. The tone though seemed thoughtful, considered and caring. It wasn’t as loud, heated or contentious as I thought it might have been, maybe that was a due to a growing sense of unity or maybe it was the ever latening hour and people tired from travelling.

It’s hard to tell what result the session had on the gathering. I do know none of the YFs drank on site, or off site as a group. I know that a few people (adults and YFs) had the odd drink off site. The gathering certainly felt very inclusive to me, and almost everybody, including all the YFs participated in the games and dancing on New Years Eve, and we saw the New Year in as a community, together.

And the YFs did raise nearly $1,000 selling great coffee and hot chocolates in auditorium foyer. Maybe the session kept people on site and away from alcohol, or maybe it was the Summer Gathering café. Quakers after all did invent hot chocolate in the 1700s as an alternative to alcohol!

Special thanks to Leith, Marion, Quentin, Richard and all the YFs for their thoughts, inspiration, and help in planning and running the session.

Totaranui (part 2)

October 25, 2006

I understand that in maori ‘nui’ means big or many. So Wainui is big water, arohanui means lots of love. So Totaranui might mean big totara, or many totara. I didn’t notice many totara in the surrounding bush when we were at JYF camp, although I wasn’t particularly looking.

In New Zealand sometimes important leaders are referred to as totara, especially when they die e.g. “a mighty totara has fallen today”.

Seeing the JYFs at the camp, the next generation of Quakers, seeing the way they worked together to resolve issues, their individual thoughts and ideas, the way they acted responsibly (most of the time), the way they looked after each other, was just amazing. Seeing the potential in these people, I am sure there will be many totara in our community in the future.

Being prepared

July 31, 2006

I’ve just had been visited by two Friends as a part of applying for membership. It was a lovely experience, and I learned a lot about what Quakers mean to me, what brought me back, and what’s keeping me here.

Up until this afternoon I didn’t really feel prepared for the visit. Partly this was because although I’d intended to do lots of reading to prepare, events of the last two weeks didn’t leave any time for this. Talking to Leith this afternoon though, made me realise that I had been preparing. Not by reading about Quakerism, but by helping others prepare for Yearly Meeting, by supporting and being supported by other Young Friends, by running a session for JYFs, by taking the kids to Meeting. Quakers have become so much a part of my life that I didn’t have any time to read about being a Quaker!

And I guess that, for me, is why I feel ready to take membership.


May 28, 2006

So, after two good nights sleep, falling asleep in Meeting twice today, then a long afternoon nap I'm feeling 1000% better.

I've been thinking about this 'travelling in the Ministry' business. Having agreed to take on the role of YF communications/outreach I'd kind of imagined it'd mean setting up a few email lists, doing web site stuff and maintaining the national YF address list. Somehow it's actually worked out as seeing lots of Friends all over the country. Mostly this is because my work takes me to Wellington lots, and to other centres from time to time.

Over the last year or so I'd just kind of started staying with Quakers rather than work colleagues, as I found it much more restfull. Simply talking about totally different things than work in the evening made a difference to my energy, plus there's all the care and hugs that come with staying with Quakers.

While it's a lot, that's not really enough though to explain why I feel so enthuasiastic about this role. I want to contribute to JYF and YF so when my kids get there it's really strong. I want to help give to the life and depth of this community. I want it to grow. Sometimes this almost feels like it might risk being something like evangelism. Is that wrong? Is it unquakerly to want our faith to grow, to be strong, resilient, and healthy?

There's lots to make sense of in this role. If anyone has useful ideas or information about what's good to do in Quaker outreach I'd love to hear about it.

Tears And Laughter

April 24, 2006

We've just finished YF Camp. It was an amazing experience for me, and the biggest camp since I'm not sure when.I wasn't aware of the camp having a predefined theme. I think there was one but it was never mentioned explicitly. A theme did though emerge for me during the time I was there. It was "tears and laughter" It comes from a song that Leith sang on stage at the World gathering of young Friends in England last year. It goes:

Kind Friends all gather round, there's something I would say,
What brings us here together, has blessed us all today,
Love can make a circle, that holds us all inside,
Where strangers are as family, and loneliness can’t hide,
So give yourself to love, if love is what you’re after,
Open up your heart to the tears and laughter,
and give yourself to love, give yourself to love”

On Sunday during the camp we went to Meeting in Palmerston North. YFs swelled the normal attendance by about 300%. Early in Meeting Freda, a Palmerston North Friend read from Advices & Queries.

It was a passage on accepting other cultures. It got me thinking about the risks we take by inviting people into our county, our towns, our homes and our hearts. People we invite in might be noisy or hurt us or change our way of life for the worse. Or they might inspire us, show us new wonders, take us to new heights. It seems to me that we have to take the risk of being hurt in order to grow. It may even be that we have to be hurt sometimes in order to truly grow, we have to have our souls carved out by pain to expand the space we have for love. We have to accept the tears to get the laughter.

The camp felt like this for me. There were lots of risks taken and much at stake. it was the first time that I've felt the full age range truly come together as a group. There was a big risk this wasn't going to happen, and many of us older YFs had taken a risk coming, a risk that we would feel out of place, that our presence wouldn't be accepted.

There were many emotional risks taken by all as relationships developed. These were not without tears as boundaries were negotiated and love of all kinds was offered and accepted or not as the case maybe.

Opening my heart and my life to this group was a huge risk. It is one of the best things I have ever done. The tears, laughter and joy I have experienced have enriched my life, and given me a strong sense of place and purpose in the world, and within the wider community of Friends. So go on, give yourself to love.

Rosy glow

April 20, 2006

I've just come back from YF Camp. It was an incredible, tiring, moving experience, and one of the best Quaker camps I've ever been to. As often happens, once I'd finally said goodbye to everyone and left for the airport I felt filled with a kind of glow. I was smiling at everyone in the airport, looking deep into their eyes, and feeling all rosy with the joy of being alive. It was all I could do to restrain myself from hugging the friendly airline crew.

It's a feeling I don't often get in my busy life, especially in airports in which I spend a lot of time, generally stressed and in a rush. What is this feeling, and what causes it? Is it some kind of 'happy clappy' religious fervour induced type thing like speaking in tongues? Or is it a brighter expression of the inner light that's always there? I know it wears off over time as I go back into the busy world. I'm wondering whether it's something I get from being around other Friends, which then fades over time, or whether it's something that's always there, and I've just temporarily peeled back some of the barriers to it shining through (which then grow back to protect against the pressures of the world). I'm not sure which idea I like better.

I do wonder if it's possible to feel that way all the time. Imagine a world where that was the case for everyone. Imagine if we could each in our own ways help to create that…