Friday, June 09, 2006

"No Meat, 30 Bosses"

Ok, that most likely won't make sense to anyone who never worked at the New Riverside Cafe, a now-defunct, collectively run vegetarian cafe in Minneapolis (from about 1972 to 1997?) I was a member of the collective from 1991 to 1993. It was a rich and most often maddening experience.

When they asked in my interview if I had any experience with consensus decision making I said, "well, I went to quaker school, and they made us do it in fourth grade" apparently close enough.

What I remember most there was the constant struggle to get 25-30 people who had grown up in the "real world" to really live into a system where they were responsible for their own work.

Our slogan, at some points was, "No Meat, No Bosses!" - which I liked very well. But consistently, various people would embrace the attitude of "no boss! great!! I guess I can come in late and slack off and no one will pester me!"

So, we discussed in collective meetings that it needed to be more like "30 bosses" than "no bosses" - that we needed to hold each other accountable, and take our own responsibilities seriously. The idea worked on some of us, slowly, but many simply wanted to see how long they could collect a paycheck before even their easygoing hippie friends would can their a**es.

I hear quakers here and there yearning for "leadership" - more and more questioning of the idea of not having paid ministers (or designated ministers at all? which I think is a distinction that we lost somewhere along the way...) many of us are perhaps feeling a bit like we're wandering in the wilderness, and we're hoping someone else will show up with a compass.

I value greatly the immanency of quaker faith - that no one is closer to God than another (well, that's part of my interpretation anyway).

The equality of it all can feel like quite a mess. Someone on Quaker-L recently admonished listmembers for failing to call a fellow listmember on something that most of us would say was clearly a delusion (but how do you ever know? Maybe God doesn't work the way that it seemed to you God did?) It is hard to stand up to each other and say "you are wrong" - or to find a way to say "that does NOT speak to my condition" in a way that furthers and deepens connection, rather than cutting it off.

I do not want hireling priests. I do not want hierarchies of power or holiness. And yet some do seem to be more organized, or to have greater insight into the truth of the spirit. Living with no bosses, no priests, feels much less stable, much less safe (a bit like being an orphan?) and yet it is so much more true (as far as I know) - it is worth living into the flux and chaos, in which is maybe found perfection.


Thee, Hannah! said...

[It's me again. I'm just going to be Little Miss Nosey-Parker today.]

The leadership thing is another one I just don't understand.

Well, I sort of understand. The meeting of which I am a member is probably the weakest of the three I have ever attended (but there aren't any others in the area, and it's not in crisis by any means). We often blunder through things and don't accomplish as much as we would like to in terms of outreach, although our members individually are quite active in their own pursuits (Habitat for Humanity, volunteer prison counseling, social work, fair trade businesses, etc. etc.). We are not high-profile (mostly) but we are not powerless. Again, I think a lot of them just don't do what we do "in the name of Quakerism". They would do it anyway even if they didn't have the label, and they would help the rest of us get into it if we felt called.

Internally, we don't have a rubber-stamped leader, of course, but we have leaders. We have some very creative, concerned, and dedicated FDS teachers who have made an enormous difference for our kids. We have members who have gone out of their way time and again to do for others of us who are emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes materially in need. They mostly don't stand out and sometimes they aren't even leaders voluntarily, but they're still our leaders.

Maybe this is just "leading by example", but I don't see how that isn't just as much a leader as the guy in the pulpit, if not more so.

Robin M. said...

I think your point about needing 30 bosses instead of no bosses is an important point for Quakerism.

I also think that there is something to whether one decides that the folks who are working hard are one's role models vs. the folks who are seeing how long they can get away with... This is an individual decision, but it has collective repercussions.

For me, the yearning for leadership is not about wanting to hire a preacher, it's about wanting to recognize the teachers among us. It's about defining leadership in ways that serve us, not just whatever way it's been the last fifty years.

I think there are people who want high maintenance religion (lots of engagement, accountability, study, time spent in worship, in religious community, etc.) and people who want low maintenance religion (just to come on Sundays). On the one hand, these are both just ways that people are, and they're both fine. On the other hand I think that, like sportscars, just to use an unfortunate metaphor, high performance demands high maintenance. Like almost anything else, you only get as much as you put into it, you reap what you sow, GIGO, if you want to have a friend, you have to be a friend, there are a thousand ways to say this.

I happen to be a high maintenance religion person, for better or worse. And I want to learn from people who have followed this path before me. Perhaps I can see better with their light shining ahead.

I don't want to spend a lot of time
badgering the low maintenance religion people to be more like me, but I don't want them to get in the way of me finding the other folks who want to tinker with carburetors, tune up our engines, compare notes on gas mileage and speed records (or whatever the religious equivalents would be.) And I want to talk to the folks who already know how to drive and have been really interesting places!

Maybe this is a post I should write, rather than dragging out this metaphor in your comments. Sorry. I seem to have digressed completely.

Thee, Hannah! said...

I almost completely misread Robin M.'s comment and stuffed my foot in my mouth yet again. Thank goodness the UPS man interrupted me so I had to take a breather and re-read what I wrote before I posted it.

I suspect my meeting is one if the un-Christian, flagrantly liberal ones by which some of our bloggers are served so ill. Since I know that there are plenty of high-input, high-output members, and I could easily name the teachers among us, I wonder if this comes down more, almost, to a question of structure,

I, personally, don't want a lot of external structure. I grew up without it and the lack of it is perfectly comfortable for me. I don't consider lack of structure to be the same thing as lack of discipline or lack of commitment, since I feel I have witnessed all three. I can understand, though, that a lot of--probably most--people are not like that and want more structure. What saddens me is the difficulty we seem to be having hearing one another when talking about it (myself included, I must confess).

earthfreak said...

Hey Robin, I can't wait to read your post!

I resonate with what you say, that it's not about hiring a leader, but recognizing the leaders among us. At least I think I get that.

I guess the difference in the metphor was that in my ideal metaphor, my ideal vision for the cafe, we had no leaders and many leaders. We had no on ewho was honored above everyone, nor did all the work.

Now, mostly that didn't work, because of human nature, or because none of us had grown up knowing how to be responsible for ourselves.

And, of course, we had, and needed, very different sorts of leaders. People who could get their heads around finance, people who could help get us through meetings, hopefully drawing out some communal vision of how we wanted to evolved, people who could cook really well, people who could buy food, people who would notice what needed to be done and do it. People with grandiose notions of the future, and people with a foothold in the real world.

But, when it worked, most of us contributed something very valuable, even if it was only getting our butts to work every day and being nice to the customers.

I worry about the idea of "not letting people get in the way" - actually, it's a great phrase, but what does it mean, are we open to altering our ways? to trying out new paths, or can we see stopping to help someone (ala the good samartian) as part of our way, rather than a hinderance?

I initially read the phrase to mean sort of knocking away any slowpokes who might slow us down, in our impatience to reach the light.. And I know all too well the temptaion (and often, perhaps, necessity) of doing that as well.

But also, my experience of spirit isn't a lot of work. I wonder if that means I would get in your way??

That's not to say that I have a very deep experience of the spirit. Most of the time the connection eludes me. BUt I find it in quietness, in sittng still, in letting go of thoughts rather than thinking hard enough.

I find also, more, it's not so much that I want to "just go on Sunday" as that I want faith and spirit to enliven everything that I do. This is, again, not so much about always thinking, "what would Jesus, do?" but listening to my heart, and to spirit, to ask, perhaps, what would I do?

So, for me, religion isn't like driving a fancy sportscar instead of an old clunker (I am very much the old clunker type) but in walking, in riding a bike, in simplifying.

Also, a question: idnetifying leaders to what end??? To reward them? praise them? know who to turn to?

Because certainly we have leaders in our meetings, and certainly we turn to them for various needs or projects - from re-roofing the building, to how to live in the light, to relationship advice, But I think it's always changing, and that sometimes we find ourselves caught in a trap of looking to those we have designated leaders, rather than seeing what we can do together, or always seeking anew the gifts of those in whom we have failed to see any previously.


Thee, Hannah! said...

Also, a question: idnetifying leaders to what end??? To reward them? praise them? know who to turn to?

The feeling I got was that those who seek "leaders" are doing so out of a need for guidance.

There are several specific people at my meeting to whom I know I could turn for spiritual guidance, activist guidance, etc. Maybe some people don't feel they have that in their own meetings?

earthfreak said...


I know that Robin has written (okay, well I think that she has written ) about being ministers ourselves, rather than looking to each other for ministry first - a sort of, "if you see something missing, provide it!"

I framed this post this way because I have seen in my work in collectives what I feel I'm currently seeing in quakerism - a frustration that it's hard to "get things done" and "be efficient, or effective" - with all this giving eveyrone input and relying on the gifts of everyone, except just those that have been proven reliable, or useful, or good.

And I guess my feeling is, it's worth it. It's HARD to do, and most of the collectives that I know eventually either fail or hire and general manager. One of the hardest part is constantly trying to teach new folks to take themselves seriously (not to slack off) in a world where the opposite is genrally taught.

That said, I dont' do it in my work life anymore. I couldn't make enough money. Not that I make tons now, but more than minimum wage is really nice.

I have to say, I think I initially sought out quakers because I didnt' want a "boss" - not because I had a vision of being, myself a spiritual leader, of myself and others. I still value that highly.

I do think that it's mostly that people don't want to feel adrift, they want to feel stabilized, with someone to keep them steady. My concern is that we don't so much need someone else to hold us steady, we need to grow our own roots and/or learn how to ride the wind.

At least that's why ministers have never worked for me. I am beginning to suspect that other folks' experiences are really different from mine :)

Thee, Hannah! said...

I agree with you there. I think I saw Lorcan write something to that effect somewhere (dang--of course I can't remember where).

We moved a couple of times when I was a kid and meeting was always the place where we could predict what was expected of us, even if it was a new meeting. I always saw it as a sheltering place.

I never trusted having someone else "hold me steady" because so many times this can lead to fall-outs or disillusionment when we reach a "sticking place". I have to do this for myself if I am ever going to be comfortable and really know myself.

And yes, learning to draw out and rely on the gifts of everyone instead of leaning on the obvious few is hard-but-worth-it. We're making progress with that here. Although I guess that's another thing that renews itself all the time as new people come in and old ones change.

Robin M. said...

I just want to draw out the metaphor a little longer in that old clunker cars are very high maintenance. And the folks who buy them spend more time tinkering than most. This I know experimentally. Or at least from watching my father.

It's new Honda Accords (just for example) that are low maintenance. And a little boring, from my point of view. But sometimes, you just want your car to be boring so you don't have to think about it and you can spend your time tinkering with something else.

Hmm. More for me to think about before I write more.

Thee, Hannah! said...

Robin M.--Hee hee, my dad has a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle and a 1977 MGB convertible. They're both loads of fun when they're actually running . . .

I think I was more of a vintage British sports-car for a long time (MAJOR tinkering involved) but I'm probably more of a Ford now--steady and mostly reliable, but not yet top-notch. I'm aspiring to Toyota status but that takes a lot of engineering.

earthfreak said...

Perhaps part of my problem is that I value the "character" of old clunkers. You are right, Robin, they are very high maintenance, too, but not in the same way as new sportscars.

The one car I ever really owned was a 15 year old chevy nova, which was quite rusted and which I decorated with all the stickers I could find (and magnetic poetry on the top, which was great - I'd always come back to my parking space to find people playing with my car)

But, I dind't really know how to fix anything on it, and I didn't want to tinker with it.

I'm not sure how that relates to faith. I think one thing that draws me to quakerism is simplicity, but that may just be because I dont' like makeup and high heels and complicated or unnecessary "stuff" I am not sure yet whether I seek simplicity in my day to day life so that I have more energy for rigorous spiritual seeking, or if I seek simplicity everywhere. BUt I think it's more the latter. I don't think that God is complicated, or hard to find, I think it's mostly about slowing down and being present to every moment.

I am excited about the thoughts percolating in your brain, Robin!

TH - I see what you mean about quaker meetings, even new ones, being sort of a safe harbor, and familiar. I think that's a good thing. and that there is something, some "stability" that we offer.

I was also thinking about my wind metaphor, and realizing that a tree in a grove has a steadiness that a lone tree does not. I can appreciate that sort of "support" I think - finding a community rooted in the same ground (which brings us back to the question - is that ground JESUS, or something else, harder to name, that has often been called Jesus?? I guess I really don't know. - I mean, I know it's not Jesus for me. sigh.)

Aj said...

My dad and I were having a conversation this weekend about modality versus sodality. Modality is more goal oriented: an example would be the people who came and went to listen to Christ while he talked. Sodality is more relationship oriented: an example would be the 12 apostles that followed Christ for three years. Christ had certain expectations that were well known for his sodal network: they were there to be in relationship to learn from Him so as to spread God's message. He didn't have the same expectations of those who came to hear him preach - those folks came and went as they pleased without a committment involved.

Dad put a new spin on the 'rich man' story for me. There's a story about a rich man who hung out with Christ a lot, enough to almost be part of the sodal network. He told Christ this, and Christ said, "There is one more thing. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor." The rich man couldn't/wouldn't do it and turned away. Christ was offering him the opportunity to be the 13th disciple. Did he chase after him and say, "Let's make a deal? Sell 10 percent, and we'll call it good"? No: it notes that Christ was saddened, but he let the man leave. Why? Because he had 12 men who had done what he said, including the last step of selling everything and leaving behind their lives to follow him. If he lowered the expectations for the rich man, it would bring down the expectations for the others.

I think there's a place for expectations in Quaker gatherings. I think God blesses us with gifts and talents - some teaching, some leading, some administrating, etc. Should we continue to cling to a system where those gifts and talents can't flourish? What if God calls someone to start leading? Should that call be rejected for fear of what could happen?

George Fox was a leader, but he led in such a way that people were pointed to God rather than to him (hence us being Quakers rather than Foxites). Fox also recognized that some organization must exist: to be fluid requires a firm foundation which he seemed to find in Scriptures, community, and personal revelation. If those three elements are equally weighed, then perhaps God would be free to move among us in ways that would astonish and floor us and draw more people to God than we can possibly imagine.

Thee, Hannah! said...

Wow--I love the tree metaphor!

I've always wanted to ask this: if the rich man sells everything he owns and give the money to the poor, does that put the people who buy his stuff in a bad place? Or are they contributors to his charity since they enabled him to exchange his extraneous material items for money to give away? Or neither, since it's unlikely that any one of them bought everything, so none of them ended up with an excess of material stuff?

Aj said...

Hmmm: good questions, TH! I guess I've always focused more on the fact that the selling of his materials was representative of following Christ to the fullest: fully committing. It could've been selling; it's could've been giving. I believe God gives and takes freely because that's God's nature: there's nothing I can do to make Him give or take any differently. We're all called to live a radical lifestyle, but it may manifest itself in different ways: for some, it's staying while with others it's going. I don't think that "stuff" in inheritently bad: it's more our idea that we "own" and "need" it more than we need to be with God. And that can be a bunch of different things: stuff, power, information, etc.

Thanks for the conversation: really enjoying and being challenged.

earthfreak said...

What if God calls someone to start leading? Should that call be rejected for fear of what could happen?

This is a really good question. I would say that no rightly discerned leading (call) should be rejected for fear of what could happen. The thing is, in a society it's a whole model. If God calls one person to lead and none to follow them, they may still be rightly led, but it may not be meant to "play out" the way that they thought.