Saturday, 26 May 2012

Rocky roads

If we are truly taking the path less travelled then we are likely to hit some rocky situations. We are likely to trip, become tired and irritable, become lost and bewildered or just plain fed up. Perhaps we want to go back and take the other path, we're fed up with the challenges and the uncertainties. Except, of course, we can't. Living a life of faith means going where and when the spirit moves us.

When we are attempting to do this within a faith community we have to work out for ourselves how we deal with our frustrations - personal and community-focused. We are all called to have faith. Faith in the road - not necessarily any particular direction - but in the imperative to keep putting one foot in front of the other on this road.

However we deal with our frustrations we need to do this in love - with compassion for ourselves and our beloved companions. And with gratitude - because these glitches, these stumblings, these times when we say,'Hold on am I really in the right place?' or 'Am I really with the right people?' are times of grace. If we can hold to our authentic selves - if we can accept that usually (but not always) at least half of the problems stem from us - and if we can give ourselves time to travel within, then my experience tells me that the hard times and how they are dealt with herald real personal growth. For this we should indeed offer sincere thanks.

So how, within any group or community, do we make it OK for people to express their unhappiness without those hearing the words feeling defensive, hurt or helpless? I think that there probably are no rules apart from the need to accept as a community that this is OK. I have seen people walk away because of a piece of behaviour or one approach or some words said in anger or frustration. There are times when I have felt like doing this myself. And in some instances I have walked away from people and groups. But never in haste, never in anger and never without being certain that I get more pain than joy from the situation.

It is very difficult to deal with internal problems for communities which maybe only meet weekly, fortnightly or monthly. The storming can seem to go on for years when if we saw each other every day the storming would be over much more quickly. When I work with voluntary organisations experiencing difficulties I often advise them to go back to basics - to look at their governing document and their aims. In developing spiritual community we often need to return to our purpose - what we collectively and individually are within this community for. And perhaps sometimes we need to re-find our purpose. It can so easily get lost in the need to do things like looking after the building and focusing on growth in numbers.

There are times when we feel that our needs are not being met - perhaps we have changed or other people have. At this point we need to faithfully take the next step on the road, with our communities or not, as the spirit leads us, or in some cases as the spirit pushes us.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Communities as families

Sometimes communities can become like families. To some this can be comforting, to some stifling and to some exhausting. Those of us who seem to find ourselves effortlessly taking on a mothering role can find ourselves experiencing similar emotions to being at home. We value the role but could do without the added responsibilities. We can endlessly moan or we can do something ourselves to adjust how people perceive us and what we do. 

Some things are just simple little irritations. A small task force for an organisation that I chair has produced some papers for us all to read - one person is not on email. Thankfully I was not asked to print them out and send them but I was asked for the person's address. I have been sending out contact updates for the past three years and the last one was sent in February. Is it just easier to ask me than to look (echoes of having a child at home!) or can't they be bothered to file what I send them? Another example was with a planning application that will affect another organisation - I sent out the details asking others to comment directly to the council. Someone sent me their views asking me to submit them. Why? 

Some things are slightly more significant. Having just spent a congregational weekend alone - many people having originally been excited about the prospect and then one by one people dropping out - I have had a sharp lesson in how not to work within community. How not to go forward thinking that everyone is with you, thinking that because many people say that they are with you that they will be there at the end. Despite our communities being built on trust sometimes we need to formalise that a bit more. To make a commitment something that we sign up to. And in some cases something we hand money over to secure.

On Facebook a week or so ago there was a conversation about membership and one person seemed to be talking about it as if it was just one way - as a member you got something from your community. But in our communities membership is a mutual relationship - we take and we give. But they are not like families - there is no mother, no father - no-one is a child unless they are children. We must attempt to grow our communities as adults together - each of us experience difficulties in our lives and need a bit of help at times. But no-one should feel that they are only there to give, no-one should feel that they are only there to receive - it is about finding balance. Only then will all the flowers bloom in our metaphorical garden.