Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Just make sure that you have something to say...

To Be of Use...

In my youth, and for my sins, I trained as a Deaconess of the Church of Scotland. Hard to believe now, but I did.

It was an experience given to me when I was too young to really appreciate it. I was an earnest, bible believing, conservative evangelical Christian. I actually fancied myself as a bit of a martyr as I, armed only with the sword of truth, cut a swathe through the heinous wishy washy liberalism that beset the Church. I revelled in the good wishes of the people in my home congregation who prayed earnestly for me as I battled Satan on a daily basis to defend the faith.

I wanted to become a Deaconess because I didn't believe that women should be preachers. To my extreme embarrassment now, I saw the Diaconate as a way of 'freeing up' the minister to get on with the important work of praying and preparation for preaching the Word while the humble Deaconess mopped up the mess of the Parish.

Anyway...all of that is ancient history and probably best discussed over several bottles of wine. For a long time I was tempted to just write it off as a major disaster in my life but as time has passed I can see that I learned some major lesson there. 

On a practical level, the course was quite asked the questions posed by Eric Schumacher in 'Small is Beautiful'; wondering what would be the future of our planet. We pondered what technological and medical advances would mean for the population in the 21st century. We thought about liberation theology and we welcomed Robert Mugabe. 

Lots of the issues I rudely dismissed have come home to roost in the past 10-15 years. But at that time I was utterly convinced that it was all rubbish...what a clown I was. If ever I needed someone to tell me to wind my neck in it was then...

One of the great things was the teaching method...I thought it was rubbish at the time...

Every Monday morning we would have a briefing session where the topic for the week was introduced. We would then be divvied up into groups and each group would have an area of the topic to explore for the remainder of the week and to present back on the Friday morning, as creatively as we liked. Each group would meet, decide on a course of action, divvy up the tasks and then meet again on Thursday to put our presentation together. Invariably, I would have thought that the question was rubbish or would have found some narrow theological area to object to...'can't do that because it will require you to eat oranges on a Wednesday and it is expressly forbidden to eat citrus fruit on a day that has a 'w' in it...and so essentially I would do nothing and then wing it on the Friday morning with the little bit I did know. I really thought that I was getting away with it until one of the tutors, after a particularly vacuous presentation said, ' You're a good communicator, just make sure you have something to say...'

OOps...rumbled...found out as a fraud and a charlatan...all smoke and mirrors.

A yawning chasm of an integrity gap...

When what she's said really dawned on me I was gutted. All that stuff from my childhood...being called a hypocrite...'empty vessels make most noise'...clanging cymbals...all of that... It has had a profound effect on me and I sort of laugh at it but I do feel deeply embarrassed.
I am terrified of just entertaining people and having nothing to say. Telling me that you thought I was great or funny means absolutely nothing to me. It just means that I've entertained you for an hour. What I really want to ask you is to tell me what you've learned...what made you think...what do you disagree with and why...and can we work it out?

I've spent the day today talking. I've spent the past 20 years talking and I wonder what anyone has learned. They probably know lots about me and how I like my washing to be hung out but what has anyone learned that has made a single bit of difference to how they work? How has anything that I've said improved the experience or the conditions of anyone who uses services?

Tomorrow I'm going to spend the day talking to people about how they should talk to other people and I can't quite believe I'm doing it. I cannot help but worry that some little kid somewhere is going to announce that we are all naked and that the work we've done up until now has really only served to blind up to our true predicament. Because, really...what has changed?

I'm asking the question not because I want people to rush to reassure me. I'd like to talk to other people who share the question.

I want to find work that is useful. Work that makes a day to day difference to the people in our communities who are excluded and marginalised. Whose difference means that they are less than the rest of us.
It's hard to come by because most of our efforts seem to be directed at organisations in  the hope that it will 'trickle down'...and we've all seen the cartoons about what really trickles down.

To be of use...What a joy!

 To be of use 

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge 
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest 
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Marge Piercy