What is the sacred in decision-making? This came up in a lunch over quiche and espresso, after a walk in Moscow’s Gorki Park. We walked past an autumn bed of flowers that Monet would have envied, and found a cafe.
But it’s just two days before the Friends House Moscow board meeting. So the clerk and I talk for hours. She’s British, and I, American—and very good co-workers. She is good with process, and has a cutting mind that can unravel the gordian knots I languish in. She can write grants that could convince the wind to still, if that were her purpose. When I write a grant application, I come across with all the finesse of a Soviet-era retail clerk. If I can’t tell a story, I can’t write at all, and foundation trustees don’t have time to read stories. So in a grant application my words glum together like soggy rice. In frustration I write and re-write, and after days I notice that my gummy bowl of rice begins to ferment. And stink. Not appetizing, I’m afraid. So instead of writing I help the staff to work together well and plan and create and dream, and then she puts it all together in a grant. Yes!
But in any good working relationship, as in every good marriage, there are conflicts and tensions. What I cherish most about my friend and clerk is that she will stay in the game, even if my American nature gets more earnest and enthusiastic and emotional than her English sense is accustomed to. She will prod and question and finally get to the heart of it all.
And over a long lunch, there it was, the heart of the issue: Is Quaker business practice important in itself? In a complex situation, with boardmembers from four coutnries, and a staff in Moscow, and a part-time volunteer line manager (me), how will we go about making decisions? The stakes are high—for only $5,000 for example, we can fully fund a pilot project to help 15 sets of parents who have termporarily lost custody of their children. These 15 families would receive psychological, educational, even legal help to see if they could regain their children and the children’s trust. Mostly the other option isn’t foster care: it’s orphanages, and then an adulthood of discrimination from being raised in an orphanage. The future for thse 15 families is bleak, unless we find can the $5,000.
I had advocated over lunch for the staff in Moscow having more latitude in every-day decisions, leaving the board time and energy for policy and fundraising and being a “panel of experts.” But I don’t think that is the essence of the discussion. I stick to results like a child’s tongue on a flagpole in winter; she relishes the process of getting to the decision. I’m not sure I want to talk her out of it, though; her attentiveness to process gets us through a long agenda each year. Perhaps it is one reason why we work so well together.
But I do yearn to hear the Holy Spirit speak in this group, facing so many challenges that could affect people’s lives forever. I ache to search to the bottom of our souls and find the creative spark that the Holy Spirit has struck in us. If Quaker process gets us there, then it is well and good. But what if it stands in our way? What if we are so concerned that we do it RIGHT, that we do not hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit? What if the Spirit choose to speak through someone who is not behaving at all well? Would we catch it? I don’t have an answer. I only yearn.
Contributed by Judy Maurer, Reedwood Friends