Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Belonging and difference

A probably apocryphal Quaker story tells of a visiting Friend arriving at a meeting house he had not been to before for worship on a Sunday. Finding it empty, he sat down and waited in silence. Eventually a local friend arrived who came straight up to the visitor and said, 'Friend, thee is sitting in my place'!

Many of us find difficulty in facing change. The way a meeting house is arranged and the way Quaker faith is expressed have both changed over time. There have always been those who find it difficult if not impossible to let go of what has gone before. In my local meeting I always sit in the same place and acknowledge that I find change difficult, but in spite of this there are ways in which I have changed.

I believe that in order to go forward we need to share our experience, to look at what is important to us and to be ready to share it with others - to give an account of the hope that is in us [I Peter 3:15] and in each individual. It may not be the same hope or it may be expressed in different words but we need to speak and listen rather than keep silent for fear of hurting or offending others.

The Bible quotation goes on to advise us to do this with 'gentleness and respect' and that is vital too. Telling our own truth and hearing other people's cannot happen if we denigrate others or dismiss their position as wrong. It can be painful to hear another view which makes it all the more necessary to hear it with love.

I have written before about the pain that being labelled can give. I have had difficulty in working through the feelings that experience raised in me but recently I found in a friend's [@bookgeekrelg] tweet a helpful Credo that I can use wholeheartedly for myself - and wish I could have used back then. 'I believe in God but probably not the God that you don't believe in'.

In true community we must try to balance acceptance and love with the need to find more people-like-us to be with and beware of turning away those we perceive as different, asking them to give up their seats if we feel that the comfortable way we always do things is threatened.