Without vision, the people perish. Mostly because they get eaten by tigers they didn't see coming.
Isn't that a joke from Calvin & Hobbes?

I've been thinking a lot about vision lately. Mostly because I just got glasses. I have developed astigmatism and nearsightedness in my mid-forties. I was prepared at this point in life to go to the drugstore and get a pair of reading glasses. Instead I need prescription corrective lenses to be able to read the clock from across my kitchen.

So I've spent a lot of the last two months taking them off and putting them on again, testing my vision. Looking at things under and over and around my glasses, as I become aware of what they do better and where they don't work in my range of vision. Pretty soon I'm going to need bifocals to be able to adjust, because now that the astigmatism is fixed, I'm noticing that I do have to hold my paper at arm's length to be able to see what I'm writing more clearly. The doctor warned me that as my eyes stop straining so hard to focus all the time it would seem like my vision was getting worse. Really, it's just that my eyes aren't trying as hard to make up for their defects. So I don't see as well but I'm not making my brain as tired as it would have been either. And these days, my brain is getting plenty tired working on the other kind of vision anyway.

Part of my job as the new Executive Secretary of the Friends World Committee for Consultation - Section of the Americas is to articulate a new and compelling vision of the purpose and function of FWCC. One of the first set of tasks was to establish more clarity around our financial situation. Another set of tasks is preparing for the World Conference, including envisioning what will come out of the 6WC and how can we at FWCC be supportive of the movement of the Holy Spirit among Friends in the coming year?

I'm reminded of the place in Paul's letter to the Corinthians where he says, now we see as in a mirror, dimly, but then [in God's kingdom] we will see clearly. And if you think about the quality of mirrors in Paul's day, which were just polished metal, you'll better understand how dim he thinks we are.

Some days, I too feel like I'm surrounded by fog and molasses. Can't see far, can't move fast. John Woolman has a story about being in a swamp and having to stand still until he can find the next stepping stone. I know that feeling.

But it's not always like that. Sometimes, I have flashes of clarity and insight and farsightedness and I know where I'm going and how to get there. Those are the stepping stones I cling to and my sense of God's guidance is palpable. I believe God sends the vision, and it's my job to use my practical gifts (like math and planning and listening skills) to move along the path.

I'm realizing that when I see clearly, in a prophetic sense, not just with my glasses on, I am already in the Kingdom. It's not just for after we die. The Kingdom is among us. Some people see more clearly, more often, already. All of us see that clearly sometimes. Quakers everywhere need to pay attention to those moments of clear seeing and use them to inform our plain speaking.

I'm working on paying more attention when I'm seeing clearly and then being more bold in speaking my truth, in claiming the force of my vision, in inviting people to see things my way. The head of another Quaker organization put it this way: when you are the executive director, you have been given the opportunity to see things from a different perspective, in all directions.  The key is learning how to communicate to others how, if they were in your seat, they'd see these things and that would help them understand why you're suggesting this action.

I'm still learning how to balance my vision with committee process. That's probably a lifetime's work, and I won't pretend that I've got it right yet. But I also worry whether Quakers are ready for leaders with vision. Will we continue to cut them down, like Tall Poppies? Is there room for someone like me to make mistakes without failing completely?

I would love to hear a) any stories of Quaker leaders & committees/organizations that have functioned well together past or present or b) advice on how you or someone you know have successfully navigated this pathway and what tools (spiritual or practical) you think are useful.

Because the world is hungry for what Friends have to offer. All the Friends, together. At our best, we live and work out of a dynamic tension, a paradox of faith and practice, of contemplation and action, of usefulness today and for the future, and I want to be part of bringing that forth, being the best we can be and giving the world what it needs. That is what FWCC is for. I am honored to be part of it. It needs the best I can give it. I need all the help I can get.

[In the comments, I don't really want to hear all the stories of how badly leaders have been treated in the past or currently, thank you very much. I know enough of those already. I will delete whiny comments, at my sole discretion and with no apologies.]

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Blogger Bill Samuel said...

I don't believe the objections are to the vision. Most see a need for vision.

It is key how it is presented and how the need to absorb the vision is handled. It needs to be presented humbly (which is not necessarily in conflict with boldly), as how you perceive the Spirit as leading.

It is absolutely vital to allow people time to absorb the vision and integrate it into their thinking. And here, Friends practice is of immense help. For example, at a meeting you can present the vision as you see it, and then the body can wait quietly on the Lord together to let the Spirit expand their understanding of it. Then others need to be involved in implementing the vision.

So don't be afraid to offer the vision. Root yourself firmly in the Inward Teacher, and serve as led. Friends may be more willing to receive vision than you think.

2/18/2012 11:21 AM  
Blogger Brerarnold said...

First, let me say how much I have enjoyed your blog and how grateful I am that they picked someone with your qualities for the executive position you now hold.

The Quaker leader I knew best was John Looney, head of the Akron area AFSC office in the late 60s-early 70s. Now, this was not a huge operation. I gathered at the time that he was the sole paid person, while many others volunteered to help the office do its work. Not so huge, in the grand scheme of things, but it was important to those of us in the area.

I was a student at The College of Wooster from 71-75. We had many students who were active on peace and freedom issues. Some came from a political POV; some were spiritually motivated. John managed to work with both, and never wavered from who he was or what he stood for in any setting. I think that was key to his success. I was one of a few with both the spiritual and the political viewpoint, and was often amazed by how he managed to bridge those waters. That's the first lesson, I think: know who you are and where your strength lies -- personally, as well as in the grander, God-centered sort of way -- and you can't go badly wrong unless you yourself are badly flawed.

The political folks I worked with could be pretty sarcastic about folks that didn't measure up to their standards. There were some professors who thought they were quite the leader of turbulent youth, who had no idea how much they were laughed at behind their backs. I never heard John Looney laughed at, even though he was to all appearances a fairly stodgy middle-aged guy. But he had humor and humility, and treated all comers with respect. Perhaps -- I never asked -- he really saw the Light within each one of us. But there's a lesson there, too: humor, humility, respect. Valuing all those who come your way.

Finally, John did not try to be all things to all people. He participated in activities that fit the mission of AFSC at that time. He could be very supportive and yet decline to take part in activities that did not. So having that sense of mission, and integrity within it, is the 3rd thing I want to mention. It reminds me of someone else, a professor at WVU, who I once approached for a donation to run a full-page ad in the local paper about the Nuclear Freeze (1983 I reckon.) While endorsing our efforts, she begged to be excused from contributing. "I only give money to causes in which I am also actively engaged. There are so many good causes, one has to decide somehow, and this is how I do it." Not only was I not offended, I adopted that as my own criterion. Integrity within mission.

Nuff said, as Stan Lee used to declare. God bless you and your efforts on behalf of our wider Society.

2/18/2012 12:48 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thank you, Bill, and BrerArnold, for your helpful comments. Those are useful reminders. So often what we need, or I need anyway, is not new knowledge, but frequent reminders and encouragement that a better way, a better world is possible.

2/19/2012 1:06 PM  
Anonymous Catherine Vanderwaart said...

This post has kept resurfacing in my thoughts over the last day or two. My thoughts may not speak to exactly what you're struggling with in terms of vision, but I keep coming back to the power and leadership inherent in being the person who sets the agenda. "Having an agenda" is generally a negative thing, and when one's own perspective overwhelms the ability to listen, it is. On the other hand, someone will determine what topics are covered in a meeting, and it's better for someone to do that with care than haphazardly.

Is the finance committee meeting once this quarter, or every month? Is the report on plans for the world conference presented to the larger group as a quick update, or as a topic for seasoning and reflection? Is there time somewhere for worship sharing on queries about the larger questions facing the organization? Is the question before the group on a given topic broad or specific? Does a new committee need to be formed, or one laid down?

There is much good Quaker leadership that is relatively invisible, as it consists in large part of addressing these sorts of questions with faithfulness and care. I'm not familiar with the organizational structure of FWCC, but I imagine that in your position you are one of the people asking and answering these types of questions. Your answers cannot help but reflect your vision, whether it is articulated to those around you or not.

2/20/2012 9:28 PM  
Blogger Robert Lae Wild said...

I long to have a leadership position like yours, however few people would like to place a 21 year old college student in an administrative position just right away (one of these days though). Since I can't save the world in my special Friendly way right now, I've took to making a change at my university.

So, I started an organization at the University of Oklahoma with a goal to promote simplicity, truth, equality, peace and stewardship. Now, as much as I would like to say the Oklahoma is flowing with the Quaker light, I can't. I'm one of two undergrad Quakers at my university of over 10 thousand students (not many Friends in Frontier Country).

I have, however managed to get about 16 likeminded students from a wide array of faith and philosophical backgrounds to establish an organization and work towards our goal. A big issue that arose in our organization was a drastic misunderstanding of Quaker business practice and a problem meshing a group of people that follow seven different belief systems.

What has been our solution? Well we started weekly meetings in which we meet at our local non-profit coffee shop and discuss our beliefs and figure out ways to apply certain aspects of our beliefs to further the change that we want to see in our community.

This has been amazingly successful and actually turned into a weekly meeting that is attended by people outside of our organization to discuss everything from the inner light to the view of homosexuality by the Abrahamic faiths. We have seen people actually speak to a Muslim for the first time and leave the meeting with a new friendship. It has really turned into something that absolutely furthers our goals.

As far as the understanding of Quaker business practices we still have people trying to vote and make movements, but we are getting much better at the unanimous agreement.

I think that bringing very diverse groups together for a common goal has been difficult, but it has really helped us to just sit down and talk about what we believe and what we want to see change in our community. So, hold us in the light and hopefully we can continue to make the change we want to see and further our Quaker principles.

2/27/2012 8:32 AM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Nice to take a break from my current work and read this piece, Robin.

One piece of Light I have been given lately is that there is a time and a place to remind Friends that we aren't called only to wait continually until we sense God's leading. We have other options when it comes to discerning how to get involved.

More often, we simply have to ask "Is the Way open or shut?" Then we might be able to see a number of opportunities open to us that otherwise didn't exist in our awareness because we were waiting for that lightning bolt or whack on the side of the head that is an unmistakeable sign of God's leading.

More specific to your question, Robin, I agree with Bill's comments, about allowing people to absorb what you put forward--keeping in mind it hopefully isn't your vision per se, but God's vision that has been planted in you.

And there are times to ask for comments--publicly or privately--about which are the pieces of the vision that Friends are easy with pursuing; and which are more difficult and why.

Also, continue looking for teachable moments in which to insert yourself, given that you are having national and international experiences among Friends that most of us will never have.

Find ways to ask questions to draw people out, rather than impose your experience as an expert.

Remind Friends that discomfort can be a sign of where the growth is. And that discomfort can also be like a weather vane, pointing to where additional support, reflection, or study is needed.

(Why am I being reminded that we teach what we most need to learn? ...sigh)

I recognize I've been very detached from the Quakersphere, and so my tone feels a little off, even to me. I hope my intention comes across and you feel supported. But if my words land with you in a disconcerting way, do let me know.

Liz Opp, formerly of The Good Raised Up

2/27/2012 6:06 PM  

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