Thursday, June 23, 2011

Unsteady Transfers of Power

"It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged."- Abraham Lincoln, 1865

Delegating leadership responsibilities for Young Adult Friends continues to be problematic. I should say first that most people have not given me fits, but one specific concern has recently consumed most of my energy. In our new configuration, many of the tasks that I once performed by myself are now labeled "Communications". I would very much like to continue in this role, but have decided to reluctantly vacate the position for the sake of someone else. And by vacate, I mean that I have no continued heart for a power struggle. I do not doubt her qualification for the position, but I regrettably resent her method of going about it.

David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments--lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals, and trumpets. But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the Ark. Then the LORD's anger was aroused against Uzzah, and he struck him dead because he had laid his hand on the Ark. So Uzzah died there in the presence of God. David was angry because the LORD's anger had burst out against Uzzah. He named that place Perez-uzzah (which means "to burst out against Uzzah"), as it is still called today.

Taken literally, this seems extremely petty on behalf of God. But the larger context is necessary. David had not prepared for the carrying of the Ark in proper fashion. God gave one set of instructions, but David ignored them because it was easier to do it his way, instead. Uzza reached out to steady the Ark, but had God's desires been followed in the first place, the Ark would never have been in danger of falling in the first place. A right intention will never justify a wrong action.

I return to the present day. The Friend first tried to undercut me by speaking to the outgoing clerk alone, the person with whom I previously shared all pertinent tasks. Observing what she was doing, and not blind to her tactics, I sent a somewhat scathing e-mail to let her know that if she had problems, speaking to me was the best option. She agreed to do so last night. Though the talk was mostly cordial, her extreme ambition was evident. With time, I have learned that certain people deliberately camouflage their true intentions. It hasn't been until I'd been able to take an adequate and accurate vantage point of the situation that I have truly realized this.

Also creating problems is that she has a different idea of how the group was formed. To make a very long story short, no Young Adult programming existed when I first moved to DC, back in October 2008. I had many ideas for change and was finally paired up with someone also willing to put the time into building the framework. Several months later, this Friend of which I am speaking arrived on the scene with a few others. When they joined, their participation did, I admit, help the group to gel. Shortly afterwards, a core group of Friends began to develop, the sort who could be counted on to attend every scheduled event and contribute to its overall development. The Friend, I think, overstates the importance of her arrival to the scene, not realizing that without the hard work that went into establishing the group, there would have been no outlet in which for her to take part.

Revisionist history aside, I am left feeling a bit bruised. Once formal leadership positions are finalized on Sunday, my responsibilities with Young Adult Friends will be a fraction of what they once were. Had I been able to give my blessing to a successor, someone who I then intended to mentor into the role, I should have nothing upon which to complain. But this is not how the matter unfolded. As I said earlier, I know she's quite qualified for the position. All of the skills necessary for the position are those she does during the work week for her day job. Though I have offered my assistance as a resource if needed, I get the feeling she believes she can do everything adequately without my instruction.

The truth is that I don't think she realizes how time-intensive the job truly is. This is one of the reasons I'm standing aside and letting her take it. If I was very petty I'd cut off my nose to spite my face and refuse to articulate to her what specific tasks are needed. Or I'd delight in seeing her struggle to fit in the demands of working along with her faith community. My feeling of anger are subservient to the greater health of the group, and, of course, the greater workings of God.

If I have any greater fear it is that she will fail to place credit where credit is truly due and not ascribe her accomplishments to a force beyond herself, whatever she may call it. I remind myself constantly that if God had not wanted this group to exist, he would not have worked through me and another Friend to establish it. If he had wanted it to dissolve, he would have let that happen as well. But I do know that God does not rush in to save us when we make mistakes. He will let us destroy ourselves for the sake of learning a larger lesson, especially when we do not follow his advice and counsel.

The world around us works on the same principle. Its life lessons are accordingly essential. I simply do not understand those who thrive on this degree of conflict and confrontation. It doesn't seem healthy. My most profound lamentation of all is the sorrow of seeing this kind of worldly squabbling in what ought to be respite from the venom of power politics outside Meeting walls. It may be a commentary on our society that we have to learn behaviors like these to fight for whatever it is we can get. These days, with the job market and the economy still lagging behind, we may feel we have to resort to Survival of the Fittest attitudes to even have a paycheck. I have learned much from this ordeal, and in the time going forward, I pray I don't let negative responses prevent me from seeing that of God in everyone, as I am to do if I am a Quaker.

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