Friday, May 15, 2015

Time for the End Game

My life, at times, resembles a state of schizophrenia. In the work I do, the two do not meet. In a very real sense, I have to switch back and forth between two languages. In my faith journey, I am to be deferential and kind. Conflict is to be avoided, as is confrontation. Religions, regardless of what we say about them, are usually designed to make people act nice to each other. On top of this we add my activist life, in particular my feminist life. Feminists have no problem whatsoever with being confrontational and direct.

What is out of place in one area is equally out of place in another area. Fellow Quakers have cautioned me to not let my vocal ministry during Worship be too didactic and preachy. Much feminist discourse is confrontational and didactic by design. This may be why feminism is sometimes a challenge for people of faith. That said, I've heard the concerns of many and tried to adapt my oratory and writing to suit them. Fellow feminists, especially when I first started out, sometimes saw my ideas as ill-formed or even a little naive. On both fronts, I have improved considerably.

Most of this post was written at the beginning of the week and it is addressed primarily to a religious audience. I include it here with some edits for everyone to demonstrate the difficulty it is to work in close contact with people. Many feminists write their essays and share their passions online, much as I do myself. Much to their credit, they often do their own work in the field, on the ground. I'm sharing this essay because it demonstrates the challenges of doing religious work directly.

Those who do not consider themselves particularly religious sometimes criticize the system, or their understanding of the system, but they don't really know what it's like within a church or a house of worship. That's where the real problems start, and sometimes end. What some see is an almost disembodied set of beliefs and practices attached to nothing solid. But when boots hit the ground, I can assure you that the definition is quite different.

I am writing here about an unresolved grievance that should have been dealt with very differently. I've toned down the language of the original post, because the effectiveness of ranting is never very high. This is, at its core, a story of a very badly managed problem. Take it as an example of how not to respond in your own life. I try to combine the best part of passionate, confrontational feminism and marry it with compassionate, tender religion.

My last post showed me in an angry, accusatory mode. It is not a role that I intend to repeat. I hope I will never feel as though I need to adopt it again. Now, two weeks later, I'm weary and tired. This process of constant scrutiny and periodic, fresh accusations of wrongdoing has worn me down. While I don't think that particular reaction and approach was intentional on the part of those who have brought allegations, it has nevertheless produced that effect in me.

The question I ask to my audience is a deceptively simple one. What does one do when one's Meeting will not enforce discipline directly? Part of what got me into trouble was frustration on my behalf. I had been told by three separate people of the hurtful behavior of someone else. Because I knew the Meeting would not intervene, nor would these people individually, I confronted this person directly. I regret that I went about it so forcefully, because the strategy totally backfired on me. If I'd known the response it would later create, I wouldn't have bothered. 

This Friend immediately went behind my back to report to the Meeting what I had done. She claimed now that she didn't want to attend Meeting anymore if I was there. That was not my intention. I gather that Friends with whom I Worship would prefer an approach that wasn't confrontational, but discipline, real discipline, is the sign of every healthy Meeting. It bothers me that my side of the argument was not entertained, nor taken into account.

It took me sending a lengthy e-mail to the entire Meeting to tell my side of the story. I can only hope that it was taken seriously. I had no clear path, nor stated means of response available to me. I spoke to shadowy figures that rarely made themselves known to me. I had to improvise and guess as to what the committee wanted of me.

Every interpersonal problem ever reported about me, no matter how trivial and insignificant, has been isolated inside of a committee of six or seven people. But I know that the information in every e-mail exchanged between myself and them does not stop there. I know my words are shared with many others. Reaching a conclusion would be, as I said, a much better avenue, but this is not how they would prefer to handle the matter. This means that the combined concern has been hanging over my head for months. I've vented whatever spleen and anger I had built up already. Now I plead for a sensible method of resolution.

I've encountered a website that shares Fifteen Characteristics of Dysfunctional Churches. What follows pertains directly to me and others.

Triangulation: Triangulation is using "go-betweens" to communicate indirectly with other parties. Results: Unsuspecting, but sympathetic message-bearers become entangled in an unwanted destructive web of blame, anger, and miscommunication. Result: They become uncomfortable with their roles and jump ship.

The Meeting has informally designated a man to serve in this role. I hope he and the Meeting understand how easy it is to respond with fear, anger, blame, and miscommunication when this approach is taken. He means well, I believe, but this model is never going to be effective. I do not wish to pursue it henceforth.

Every Meeting has certain expectations of conduct. This Meeting doesn't want to even entertain the possibility of conflict or confrontation. I've been told that certain Friends have been too intimidated or afraid of conflict to approach me. This is very unfortunate. A couple of people who I have consulted privately have suggested a much more fair approach that also happens to be Scriptural in basis. In this current context, I do not get a voice in setting precedent. I cannot change the way things always have been.

Here's a second problem I see.

Repression: Unspoken rules that it is not "Quakerly" to express feelings of disagreement, dissent, or anger. Instead, one must hide how one really feels or suffer censure for expression of emotions. Instead of expressing feelings, feelings must be hidden. Result: Repression ultimately must be released in episodes (or series of episodes) of uncontrollable anger and hostility.

This might be a bit extreme, bordering on hyperbole, but I get the point. It gives me no pleasure and much sadness to have been considered troublesome enough to merit observation by a committee. As I said before, I don't think my side of the issue has been truly entertained. That said, I admit my fault where fault is due.

Not every person that I have confronted over the last seven years has had an issue with me. They may not have agreed with my tactics or my methods, but they did not find my behavior scary. I am thankful for their presence in my life. They sustained me when it felt like the rest of the Meeting was jumping to conclusions.

There is nothing quite as frustrating as being taken totally out of context. To cite an extreme example, due to my bipolar disorder, I've had a series of severe manic episodes, most of which ended up getting me fired from several good jobs. One of them ended a promising romantic relationship before it even really got off of the ground. Had my health not worsened as it did, I am fairly certain that we would now be married. I know regret intimately and I also know what it is like to feel totally powerless. Though I am not a minority in many ways, I am disabled, and I know a little of what it is like to feel marginalized because of it.

Many opinions about me have been formed over the years. I only wish I'd had the opportunity to add my own voice to whatever others already think. I do not believe my current behavior merits further monitoring by any committee or person. Aside from the go-between, I have been treated in a condescending fashion, as a person with health problems severe enough to warrant pity. I can only wish that this is merely spin, merely a minority's opinion of the matter.

In writing this, I'm not out to win friends or allies. I'm merely setting out a situation before the audience. Make whatever decisions or conclusions you like from the information provided here. I think there's a much better way to resolve problems like these. I've been kept constantly upset because this issue has never been allowed to end. I've gotten more bad news every so often, which only prolongs the problem. I've been under quite a bit of stress recently, and without resorting to hyperbole, it is taking its toll on my body and my brain.

I pray to put this aside once and for all. Against my better judgment, I have jumped through all the hoops requested of me. I have worked on myself as much as I can. I have even made apologies when necessary, and some when it was unnecessary, if only to conclude this process that never ends. Now it's time for the end game. Now it's time to move on to something much more productive.

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