I’ll be offering this week long workshop at the week long “Friends General Conference” gathering this summer.  But I’d love to work with anybody about how Quaker-ish process might work in any secular setting.

“We’ll explore ways in which something akin to a Quakerlike process can be used for secular decision making, and how it brings clarity and community to the life of non-profit organizations and even to for-profit companies. What’s left of Quaker process without it’s emphasis on spiritual discernment? Come and find out!”

These are all workshops that I’ve taught at different places, and want to offer again — probably in new ways.  I’m talking with several  conference centers, but also invite you to consider these for your school, your church, or your community group.

About Listening

Listening is the core activity in almost all of our social and work lives — and yet how little time and effort we spend perfecting this skill!  And too often when we should be listening, we’re really preparing to talk, plotting our course, processing our emotions, or even tuning out completely.  In this workshop we’ll practice active listening, offering feedback to test our understanding, and formulating questions that clarify what was already said.  We’ll identify common behaviors that get in the way of listening, and best practices that can help us all.

Photography as Journal Keeping

Photography can be just snapshots, or deeper expressions of feelings, perceptions, ideas, memories. We’ll experiment with deeper ways to see, experience, and feel — using a camera.  This is NOT a technical class on photography, and in fact you don’t even need to bring a camera with you.  Just bring an open mind, open eyes, and (if you have one) an image that means a lot to you.

Read the rest of this entry »

Listening with love

November 27, 2009

Can we hear each other with Love, searching to find the truth — perhaps even  the Divine Inspiration — in each message we read on-line, or that we hear in person?

When we fail to find truth in a message that is important to us, can we still sit with it, listen or pray for guidance, and search carefully for the best response that is possible from us?

Can we feel the pain of those whose views, which may not be “popular” views and with which we may not agree, are treated with derision or scorn?

Can we create in each encounter the same community of  love and respect that we seek to create in other aspects of our lives?

This post was originally published  in December 2001, and is included here without changes.  Sadly,  I believe it is at least as relevant today as when it was written.

Kathleen Parkers recent column, “Even Pacifists Benefit From War” (11/30/2001), cries out for a response.  I write as a pacifist and a Quaker — and must say that I don’t benefit in any way from this war.

Part of my pacifism is spiritual and moral.  Believing, as a Quaker, that there is that of God in each person, I feel that killing — for any reason, in any situation — is wrong.  That means that war is wrong, regardless of the justification that may be offered.

As a religious pacifist, I must say “no thank you” to those who offer to fight this war in my name, with my tax money, and for my supposed benefit. There were so many lives lost (in New York, in Washington DC, and in Pennsylvania), and so many lives disrupted.  The war we are waging only adds to the carnage, and seriously disrupts many more lives.  I believe it is morally wrong, whether or not it offers any security benefit. Read the rest of this entry »

About ‘Public Relations’

November 5, 2009

Public Relations is, literally, about relationships.  To often, it’s misunderstood, and criticized as being manipulative,  brash,  or lacking integrity.  It doesn’t have to be any of these things.  Relationships with the press are essential, if we are to see our stories in print.

I wrote this note — really, a summary of how public relations works —  years ago, in response to the following comment posted on a Quaker list serve.

PR smacks of the kind of approach that relies on manipulation of people in ways older Friends spoke of as “the world’s ways.” It is my observation that too many Friends have too easily embraced, all too casually, techniques that undercut and erode the distinctions that led earlier Friends to challenge public assumptions, rather than embrace them.

It doesn’t have to be so.

Public relations is, quite literally, having a relationship with the public.  While it certainly can be manipulative, it does not need to be that at all.

If I wanted more press coverage about our local meeting:

  • I’d arrange for two or three Friends to speak with the Religion reporter at the local paper (if there is one), for a “backgrounder”.
  • I’d appoint a few Friends who could be available for commentary about local issues that Friends care about (lotteries and gambling, State run liquor stores, etc.)
  • I’d send press releases when we are having public events.
  • I’d invite the Religion reporter to a Quaker wedding (if the couple felt comfortable with this).
  • With all of this, I’d trust that the Truth will shine, and be visible to an earnest reporter looking and listening carefully.

Now — is this manipulative?

Last weekend I was co-leader of a workshop on “Photography as a Spiritual Practice”.  This is how Woolman Hill (a Quaker conference center in South Deerfield, Massachusetts) listed the workshop in their program:

Arthur Fink and Tony Stapleton are both Quaker photographers who carry their photographic work (or play) as a spiritual inquiry or expression.  They invite you to join in this weekend of photographing from within, which will include time for worshiping together, making pictures, sharing our work and process, and just enjoying Woolman Hill.  Our goal is to broaden our vision, open our spiritual awareness, and, in the process, learn how to take more expressive pictures.  This will not be about technical photography instruction, and all photographers are welcome regardless of technical knowledge or experience.

The most important news to report is that we had no trouble finding an energetic  group of participants who agreed with this theme — that photography is part of our spiritual lives.  It’s about discovery and expression, about worship and reverence, about self and other.  Images are metaphors for deeper understanding, even as they are clusters of silver particles or digital pixels that we labor with as we craft our art work.  But these are my words — not theirs.  What I’m reporting is not a manifesto from the group, but my own distillation of what I saw going on.

Sensing that this might workshop might not fill Woolman Hill, the director had scheduled another workshop to share the conference center with us.  We were paired with “The Wisdom to Know The Difference: A Weekend on Discernment”, led by Eileen Flanagan.  I’d strongly recommend her new book, “The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make a Change and When to Let Go” — available at Amazon.com and at other bookstores.  It was wonderful to be constantly reminded that the process of photography is a kind of discernment, as we choose to put our frames around very select portions of the visual world that we experience.

I’m excited about running other similar workshops, as well as more programs on creativity and spirit in general (not tied to a particular artistic discipline, like photography or dance).  I’ve run these in the past, and was always touched by the gifts that each participant shared.

My main message to our  group this weekend — Look and see, before you photograph.  This may sound trivial, or obvious.  It’s not.  The process and technique of photography can easily absorb us, and distract us from sensing where we are, what we feel, and what we have to say and share.

Interested in this dialog?  Please respond here, or contact me.

This was the subject on a promotional e-mail I  received.  What
an oxymoran!  Or is it?

It set me thinking about simplicity, about what we need, want, crave,
appreciate, enjoy, use, draw sustenance from.  What do we have to declare?

No answers, and (without apology) no guilt, but keen interest.

I have feelings and judgements … and try to put these aside.

I’d like to believe in the purest simplest communion … that some or many of us might just sit in silence and get closer to that Spirit … that some will hear or feel that Spirit offering guidance, clarity, direction … and that when this is strong enough it may result in vocal ministry. In this view, reading would be a distraction from this serious exercise.

But who am I to say? Perhaps for some a book of poetry or meditations may be the entry to that space we seek. For some (not me!) a book of mathematical equations may have similar beauty. And for those who have made the bible, or another book, their close friend, perhaps having it on the table right in front is handy and helpful.

And, I must confess, on occasion when I’ve worshiped in Amsterdam, and I believe in other meetings as well, I can recall reaching for a book to find a quotation that has been dangling imperfectly in my mind.

A quite different situation is that some parents bring books for their children, as the silence alone is too much. Here I must trust that these parents are seeking a balance.

In all of these, we need to be wary of DAD (Dogmatic Anti-Dogmatism). Different people come to meeting in different ways, with different practices. I’d hope that we welcome as many as we can — while still noting that some practices are just outside our sphere.

On Centering

May 31, 2005

It’s rare that we arrive for meeting for worship ready to settle right into a deep communion with the Spirit.  Most of us come from busy lives, with lists of tasks to be done, conflicts that need resolution, relationships that call out for attention, etc.  Ideally the time before meeting can be a gradual withdrawal from all of this, so that we are somewhat prepared.  A period of spiritual reading, reflection, or contemplation can be helpful.  Listening to the news, or hurrying about with last minute tasks generally gets in the way.

Friends generally refer to the initial period of meeting for worship as a period of “centering down”.  Quaker writers from all periods of our history offer different descriptions of this process, which appears to be vary for each of us.  It’s been described as a process of “clearing”, of “getting the garbage out”, of “throwing away or putting aside the laundry lists”.  Some Friends draw on Eastern religious traditions or on meditation techniques.  Others worry that this may impart a foreign element into our worship.  But what matters is that we find an openness to listening, that we might hear and be led by a Spirit beyond ourselves, or, simply, that our time of silence is a time of connection and renewal.

M. C. Richards in her book, “Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person” draws on the metaphor of the potter centering a piece of clay.  The potter pushes against the clay but leaves space for it to move, until it is well centered on the wheel.  At that point the potter can touch one point of the pot and the whole moving piece of clay will respond.  But the potter must be careful — for if the clay gets off center a strong touch might pull it apart.  Instead, the potter will carefully lead the pot back on center, and then continue working it.  Of course there are limits to the strength of the clay, especially when it is wet and heavy. An understanding of this reality must moderate the potter’s touch.

Similarly, we may need to re-center ourselves in meeting for worship, if we drift or get pulled away from where we need to be.  We may note to ourselves that we’ve taken a wrong turn or gotten off the trail, and need to find it again.  This is not a sign that we are imperfect or inexperienced, but simply that we are human.  And when we are on center — everything is possible.

It should be noted that M.C. Richards is not a Quaker, and is not writing about Quakerism.  Still, her words seems particularly appropriate in discussing how we enter into meeting for worship.

Things don’t always go well.  Sometimes “centering down” seems impossible, as laundry lists of tasks and issues keep running through our minds.     Undone tasks, complex relationships, or other matters may loom large, and not let themselves be pushed aside even for an hour.  There are no rules, and there is no “right” way to be.  It can be okay to just be where you are, noticing that it’s not the settled place that may have been desired. It may help to revisit the most enriching moments of the past week, to lists those events that touched us, to catalog those feelings that have been with us.  Particular prayers or meditations might be brought to mind.  Withhold judgment, be prepared to let go, and wait.

Other times one may feel settled and centered, but not inspired.  And — perhaps just on rare occasions — there may be times of feeling absolutely inspired, with a Divine presence strongly felt.  This certainly doesn’t happen at every meeting, and for some people it may never seem to happen. When there is a shared feeling of such presence, Friends talk of a “gathered” or “covered” meeting.

Friends worship is a “come as you are” activity.  While coming with preparation, rest, some distance from daily concerns can be helpful, what is most important is the simple act of gathering, of waiting together in the silence, of hearing whatever vocal ministry may come forth (and it may or may not speak to our condition).