Friday, October 16, 2009

Bil Kreidler's "Leadings"

Dear friends,
I got this from Heron Dance-- a web newsletter: a most wonderful reflection!! It is possibly the best thing I have ever read on spiritual maturity and faith. He misspells Teresa of Avila, but her words are perfectly clear. Now I want to call her -- Lah-dee-dah! Also, he spells Norwich without the w. She is also a particularly delightful saint, or "friend of God". It is marvelous to me that he became such a friend to these faithful ladies that he called them "Terry and Julie"! With love, martina

The following excerpts are from a presentation by Bill Kreidler--a Quaker who taught nonviolence to school children--at the Friends General Conference in 1994. Bill died of AIDS in June 2000.
Early in his presentation, Bill asked the following question of the audience:

What does the term “leading” mean to you?

One of the things that makes Quakerism unique is the expectation that we will have leadings, the expectation of divine guidance, available to all of us, without mediation by another person or by the printed word.

George Fox writes in his journal very early on: “We should take heed of the promptings of love and truth in your heart, for those are the leadings of God.”

Leadings are more than divine guidance. Part of believing in leadings is accepting as a reality that God can and does say to us daily “I want you to do this.” That God will lead us not into evil, but into goodness and into unity.

Leadings are both miraculous and mundane. They are extraordinary and ordinary. Always, a leading is ours to do with as we will. We may say yes; we may say no. We may say, “You want me to do what?”

Question: Have you ever had a leading? How did you discern it? How did you act on it?

I have, for the past twenty-odd years, lived with a leading. It came to me very slowly and it has evolved over time. Very simply, that leading was, and is, to work with children, and most especially with their teachers. I am learning new and non-violent ways to handle conflict.

The implications to my life have been enormous and awesome to me. I would like to talk to you about what is behind the work, what prompts the work.

When I was in high school, I worked behind the soda fountain of a Howard Johnson, scooping ice cream. One afternoon I was training another fountain boy. There was a woman sitting all alone at the fountain, watching. When she got up to leave, she paid her check and she said to me, “Have you ever thought about going into teaching? I watched you training that boy, and you are very good. I think you have a knack for it.”

She left and I never saw her again. But that woman changed my life.

Over the next few weeks, I realized that teaching was exactly what I wanted to do, and what I was here to do. I believe that God was speaking to me through that woman.

I was teaching in a tough, inner city classroom in Boston. I was in big trouble. There was constant conflict. To make matters worse, I began teaching when the Boston Public Schools were desegregating. So it was the year that the city was erupting in conflict and violence and hate. Well, I knew if I was going to survive, I had to do something about the conflict in my room. At the time there was very little available for teaching conflict resolution in schools. I had a print of Edward Hick’s painting, “The Peaceable Kingdom.” I would sit at night and do my lesson plans, and I would look up at that painting and I would think very wistfully, “How can I get a peaceable classroom?” I kept pondering and wondering and gradually I figured it out. There could be a peaceable classroom. And I could get there. And so gradually I put together a model of the peaceable classroom based on caring, cooperation, communication, and expressing feelings and appreciating diversity and yes, conflict resolution. That model has been the basis of my work for seventy some years. And I think that God was speaking to me through that badly printed copy of “The Peaceable Kingdom.”

After a couple of years I went to graduate school and got my degree in curriculum development. By this time I knew that I had a leading and that this was the work that God wanted me do to. So I wrote my Masters thesis on conflict resolution, and I learned a lot in that process. But that was pretty much it, and one day I was talking to my thesis advisor and he said to me, “You know, you ought to turn this into a book.” I said, “But I am just a kindergarten teacher. People like me don’t write books.” He said, “Well, people like you ought to.” God speaking.

Along the way I have had many openings. A woman at a party came up and started talking to me about Educators for Social Responsibility, an organization I have now been affiliated with since 1981. In 1986 a phone call came out of the blue from a woman who said, “I am doing some work in violence prevention, in Boston high schools. I need some help. Could you help me?” It never occurred to me when I started this work that there would now be a field called violence prevention in schools. But there is now. And I go all over the country and I work with teachers on non-violence, conflict resolution and violence prevention, and I didn’t plan any of it. And I still don’t. The work comes to me. And twenty years after I started, I still know that I am doing the work that God wants me to do. It’s work that I find endlessly fascinating, and that is one of the ways I know it is a leading. I still find it challenging and it still gives me great joy. And I learn from it all the time. And yes, it overwhelms me at times, and it discourages me at times, and sometimes I outrun my leading.

But one of the mysteries — I am one of those people that thinks he has God all figured out — and I think that to some degree you have to try to figure out God or it just becomes too chaotic. But then when you think you have God figured out, comes what I call the mysteries. When I have stayed true to my leading — remembered that it is God’s work, not my work — I have been taken care of. What I mean is that the way has opened for me. I certainly haven’t gotten rich, but the rent has always been paid, there has always been food on the table, and my collection of those little bottles of shampoo is the envy of all of my friends. And when I haven’t stayed true to the leading, which has happened a lot, an awful lot, when I was more concerned with what I was getting than what I was giving, when I have felt envious of other people, when getting the approval of people was more important than staying in touch with the spirit, like the time when I came home from giving a workshop that had been kind of a dud, a real dud, and I didn’t think “Where did I go wrong? How could it have been better?” I drove home thinking, “They didn’t love me.” When I have been too much in touch with what I need, instead of what God needs, things haven’t worked out as well. The way has not opened. I cannot explain this. It really does run counter to the way I think God works in the world, but it also has been my experience.

Question: Have you ever said to God — “You want me to do what?”

When I give workshops, I often go around the room and ask people to give a reason they have for not praying. This is actually pretty easy for folks. They usually respond by saying, “I don’t have enough time.” Or “I don’t know how to pray.” Or “I am not sure God answers prayers.” But I will never forget the woman who said, “I am afraid of what God will ask me to do.” And I thought, “You know, that is a darn good reason to not pray.” Because it implies that you know the power of prayer.

The thing about “You want me to do what?” is not really a question. It’s a statement: “You want me to change. I don’t want to change.” If we follow God’s leadings, we will be changed. And the change is often not gentle....Often God pushes.

Whenever angels appear in scripture, the first thing they say is “Fear not.” They say Fear not, but we are afraid, and we have every right to be. To be used and changed by the Creator is a fearsome thing. And that fear can make us say no to a leading.

Question: Have you ever said “no” to a leading? Why? How did it feel? What happened?

That wistful regret for that time I said no. There have been other leadings large and small that I have chosen not to follow. And the price is pretty much the same, whether it is deciding not to speak in Meeting or whatever. Nothing catastrophic. Just a kind of sorrow. And also a full awareness of what I am choosing.

One of the little tricks I have for avoiding a leading is to tell God that I will take it under advisement. “Good idea, God. Let me think it over and I will get back to you. In about thirty years.” But the trick doesn’t work. Not really. Because if it’s a true leading you know you are turning it down.

Question: Have you ever had a false leading?

The best advice I have gotten on false leading is: Does it contain anything with which Satan tempted Christ? We are talking about Matthew chapter 4, approximately 1:11, or Luke, same verses. Jesus was in the wilderness, he had fasted for forty days. Satan came to him and said, “Take these stones and turn them into bread. And then throw yourself off the cliff and you will be safe. And also, look out there, the kingdoms of the world with all of their splendor. You can have that.” Three temptations. I think a lot about those three temptations.

Stones into bread: there is an easy way to meet your needs. No pain, no sweat.

Throw yourself off a cliff, and you’ll be safe.

All the riches and rewards of the world.

If the leading has those, then it is probably a false leading or an easily corrupted leading. Those temptations can slip into true leadings.

Early Friends had a phrase to describe this. They said, “Does it come from the creator or the creature?”

Question: Have you ever outrun a leading?

I think that this is a particular danger for Friends. We do good work. And because we do good work we think we must be doing God’s work. There are two dangers with this. One is — I am doing God’s work so I can coast. The other one is, “Hey God, catch up. I am way ahead of you. I’m up here.” I’ve noticed that when I outrun my leading, I have become particularly vulnerable to what I call “the voices.”

Question: What are the voices that discourage you when you try to live a life of the spirit? I think you know the voices. They can be internal. They can be external. They can be both.

When I started to follow my leading, to my astonishment, I heard the voices quite a lot, even in Friends meetings. People would say to me, “You are teaching kindergartners; you are teaching sixth graders; you are teaching children how to resolve conflict. Isn’t that nice. I have to go now. I have something important to do.” Or even, “Why would you do that? We have important things to do.” There is a kind of condescension there. The internal voices were at work too. They said some of the same things. Then there was that lack of confidence. Maybe I wasn’t up for it. There is absolutely no one in the Bible anywhere that is qualified to do what God asks them to do. In fact, some of them are so unqualified that it is ludicrous.

When I sold my first book, Jan Hoffman sent me a wonderful card that I still have. On one side it said, “Congratulations on your recent success.” On the other side it said, “All is discovered, escape while you still can.”

I had sold my first book and then I had to write it. I was so full of discouragement. I was totally bogged down. The voices had moved in on me big time. “Who was I to write a book? I don’t have anything wise to say. I don’t know anything. I can’t even spell.” In those days we used those machines called typewriters. I walked and I felt that despair, and I felt that suddenly, some words came to me. The words were “Touch your heart. Trust what you know is true.” And I thought, huh? What does that mean? By the time I got home, I felt a sense of peace, because I realized that I didn’t have to be wise, and I didn’t have to be profound. All I had to do was share with other teachers. I could do that. I was an ordinary teacher who had tried some stuff and it worked, and all I had to do was talk about that. In a strange way, my ordinariness was a gift. It would allow me to communicate with other ordinary teachers.

Years later, ten years later, I was reading the criteria of Saint Teresa of Labida, the criteria for knowing when God has spoken to her. She said, “You will know when God has spoken to you because of three things: One, you are certain of what the words are. You may not know their meaning, but the words are clear.” Second thing Teresa said, “If they are words from God, they will give you a feeling of peace, whether you understand them or not.” And third, “The words stay with you a long time. Maybe forever.”

But I have gone back to those words “Touch your heart. Trust what you know is true.” When I was writing this talk, the voices moved in on me: “What did I know about leading a spiritual life? Escape while you still can. “Touch your heart. Trust what you know is true. And ordinary can be a gift.

When the voices start, we need to go back and listen to the other voices, the voices of the spirit. We need to discern our leading, and get clear once again.

Question: What are the plagues on your house that you experience?

How do you listen and discern and follow the voice of God amid some of the horrors of this world? One of the most insidious of the voices is the one that talks in terms of success and failure and the enormity of need in this world. There are lots of plagues and lots of epidemics.

Many people over the years have talked about how we are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful. I particularly like Tennyson’s line, “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” All I have to do is be faithful. But the voices, Friends, the voices can reframe even that one. “How successful are you at being faithful?”

One of the most wonderful schools I ever saw is in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. It’s a pretty desolate area. Every morning the custodian sweeps crack viles off of the steps. Drugs are dealt openly around the corner. There have been drive-by shootings past the playground. But inside this school is a haven of peace. Children are safe and cared for. It’s a miracle. I love to go to this school. I asked a teacher how she did this work, given the overwhelming obstacles facing her. This woman lives in Red Hook. She answered, “If I thought about all of that, out there, I’d never be able to work at all. The only thing I can control is what goes on inside these four walls. I don’t know what to do about out there, but in here it’s a safe harbor. In here, these children will not be hurt, and they won’t hurt anyone else.” Let me tell you, she was a woman, who when she said that, you wanted to say, “Yes, ma’am.” And you wanted to say, “Thank God for this woman.” This woman had influenced her whole school, and the school is beginning to influence the neighborhood.

I think that is true of leadings as well. Our job is to be faithful. To be true to our leadings. And then the Creator spirit will take us where it will. Maybe not where we expect it to go. Maybe we will say “You want me to do what?” But we need to be ready to follow as our leadings grow and change, as our spiritual path bends.

About two months ago, I was telling someone the story of that school in Red Hook, and this woman said, “Well, you know, that is just wonderful. You never hear stories like that about violence. You only hear the stuff that makes you feel so hopeless.” And I said to her, “There is lots that can be done about violence. And there are lots of people doing it. All over the country. Not just in schools.” And this woman looked at me and said, “Well you know, I wish people like you would do more to tell the rest of us what people like you are doing. I wouldn’t feel so hopeless.” Oh. I wonder who was just speaking to me. What new dimension was being added to my leading?

Question: Have you seen God take something horrible and use it for the good?

I don’t think there is anything about AIDS or violence that is good, but I have asked God: “God, please help me with this assignment. Help me do something good.”

When I think of that, I think of an example from another time. Specifically, Julian of Norich. Julian was a recluse during a period of war and economic upheaval and three, in her lifetime, major outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague. Three. Do you understand what that means? It means people woke up in the morning, and by night time they were dying horrible agonizing deaths. In one of these outbreaks, nearly a third of the population of Europe was wiped out in a year and a half. No one knew when or where the plague would strike, and so many people died so quickly, there was neither time nor person power to bury them. They stacked them up in the streets. So many priests died that there was no one to give people their last rites. To the medieval mind, there was no greater horror imaginable than to die without your last rites. It meant you spent eternity in Hell, no questions asked. Directly. People thought that truly the anger and wrath of God was upon them, and that the end of the world was coming.

In the middle of all of this horror, the woman we call Julian had some visions. Sixteen of them, in fact. And God came to her and gave her comfort. And then God said to Julian, “Write a book.” You want me to do what? Julian tells us that she said to God, “I am but a woman, and unlettered.” In other words, she couldn’t write a book. What was God talking about? But God said again, “Write a book and write it in English.” English? If books were written at all, they were written in Latin. By men. English was the language you used when you said “Who will buy my cow?” You didn’t talk about God in English. But Julian did as God asked, and she wrote the first book in English by a woman. And she wrote it twice. She spent the rest of her life writing it again. She described her visions and the messages that God gave her. Messages of incredible sweetness and incredible power. She said God is not wrathful. God is love. God is not angry at sin. God is sorrowful about sin. God does not punish us. God draws us to His and Her bosom, because God is both our Mother and our Father. And at a very deep and profound level, God protects us. Not safety. Safety is from Satan. Protection is from God.

Now this message of love must have seemed incredible and even preposterous, given the theology and the horrors of the day. There are many people today who would consider it preposterous. When Julian wrote, “God did not say to me that you will not be tempted, God did say you will not be molested, God did not say you will not be weary or discomforted, but God did say you will not be overcome. All will be well. And all manner of things will be well.” This is a message of love and a message of hope. It is so important in this world to have real messages of hope. Real hope, not pie in the sky hope. But hope that is based on divine love and protection.

The truth is not that it is going to be all right, the truth is it already is. Yes. All will be well.

Question: What are your sins?

I like the way Julian defined sin. A sin is anything that separates you from God. Sin, Julian says, sin is not about doing bad things. Although, doing bad things does separate you from God. But good things can as well. What separates you from God? I had a startling realization not long ago. I had started to pray the fruits of the spirit. The fruits of the spirit are found in Galatians, chapter 5, 22-23. The fruits of the spirit are “Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.” I read that and thought, “I am in big trouble.” Patience. I don’t have time to be patient. I have to get to the airport, and get on a plane, and go to another city, and do God’s work. Get out of my way.

Yes, indeed, following my leading had become an occasion for sin. It separated me from God. I had forgotten that we need to be as well as to act. What I mean by be, is that we need to let our lives speak. Not by the big leadings we follow, alone, but by the little things as well. It has been my experience, Friends, that it is the little things that lead me closer to God, or seemingly harmless little things that lead me further away from God, and I did it a step at a time, one little thing after another. Like it says in First Corinthians, 13, if we speak with the tongues of angels, if we have all knowledge, if we give away all our possessions, but we have not love, we gain nothing. What we might gain are those fruits of the spirit. That little things count. Listening. Acting. Being.

Madeline Engle says we do not convince others by telling them loudly how wrong they are and how right we are. We convince them by showing them a light so lovely they will want with all their hearts to know the source of it.

Last question: Why are you a Quaker?

One reason that many of us became Quakers is that we met someone whose life spoke. Whose life was an embodiment of listening, acting, being. Someone who showed us a light so lovely. The theologian Phillips Brooks was once asked by one of his students why he was a Christian. Brooks answered that he was a Christian because of his aunt in Teaneck New Jersey. She showed him a light so lovely that he wanted with all of his heart to know the source of it.

Aren’t we all called to be aunts from Teaneck, New Jersey? Here I am Lord, send me.

Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables, describing an old Catholic woman. He says about her, “Her life, which had been a series of pious works, had cloaked her in a kind of transparent whiteness. And in growing old she had acquired a kind of beauty of goodness. What had been thinness in her youth, was in her maturity a transparency, and this ethereal quality permitted glimmers of the angel dancing within.” Friends, I read that and thought, “Hot damn, that’s for me.”

Now, one thing that is very clear to me is that that kind of glow comes from a very well-tended, inner spiritual fire. I have a confession to make. I don’t know how to build a physical fire. I do know this much — every fire starts with a flame, and every fire has to be tended or it will go out. This is true of both physical and spiritual fires. I have tried to avoid the spiritual equivalent of dousing charcoal with lighter fluid. Which doesn’t leave me much choice but to just tell the truth. I hate that.

Monday, October 12, 2009

from "Not so fast" by Jill Lepore, in the New Yorker 10/12/09:

Efficiency was meant to lead to a shorter workday, but in the final two decades of the 20th century, the average American added 164 hours of work in the course of a year; that is a whole extra month's time, but not, typically, a month's worth of either happiness minutes or civic participation. Eating dinner standing up while nursing a baby, making a phone call to the office, and supervising a third grader's homework is not, I don't think, the hope of democracy."

I would add that the extra month's time spent working is not "paid". It is work fit into the interstices of what is already work, and already busy, and has caused a lot of psychic stress.
When people are looking at America and wondering what is wrong with us, why we are phrenetic and anxious and unhappy, this little fact should be considered.
fond regards to all of you who are trying to "beat the clock" and "make ends meet" and engage in "the pursuit of happiness"!

Wherever you go, there you are. Being happy is not something to pursue, exactly. Remember the old saw about the bluebird landing on your shoulder while you aren't looking. East meets west, as the Buddhists say, "be still. go deeper. Be here now."