Before I begin, I want to say that I always feel squeamish raising topics like this. I do not want to come across as a complainer seeking sympathy and validation. I have known too many people who trouble the waters for their own ends. Let it be said here that I'm not seeking to be right, but I am trying to tell my side of the story. This is a courtesy that was not granted to me, one which I am seeking to reconcile with both my readers and an online audience.
A mentally ill person from my Meeting has had a consistent habit of invading my personal space and my privacy. Initially, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, but he has consistently violated my boundaries. He regularly gets up in my face to argue about some quibbling point of theology that I raised during Worship. I frequently give vocal ministry during Worship, and do not mind whatever message I gave to be a topic of conversation. Yet, I must say that I do not know how to respond to his passionate, but mostly incomprehensible banter.
I do not intend, nor do I tolerate being hit between the eyes by someone who feels that I am somehow mistaken and in need of being taken down a peg. Or at least that's how I interpret his approach. I have had my own struggles with mental illness, of course, but I have not accosted someone with whom I Worship. I have not implied that someone's interpretation and spiritual condition is wrong. Trying to be a good Quaker and a good Christian, I wait patiently for him to make an argument that doesn't zigzag all over creation, but rarely do I ever receive it. More recently, I've sought to avoid him, but it hasn't worked.
Wishing only to be left along, I made a formal complaint. With many Quaker Meetings, disagreements between individual Friends are handled by the Healing and Reconciliation committee. Yesterday, before Meeting for Worship commenced, five of us met for breakfast. The man and myself, in addition to three committee members, were present. I didn't intend to make some sort of resounding slam dunk in my own defense, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was right. This was not a trial.
But I did want to underscore where I came from and how his behavior made me feel. As it turns out, I was placed on the defensive from the outset. Committee members even placed arms around the man, their body language revealing that, in their eyes, he was the wronged party. That did upset me quite a lot.
I had earlier written to the man's long-time partner with my concern, because it was my informed judgment that his partner was incapable of understanding me from a purely cognitive standpoint. During the morning meeting, this decision of mine, written in the form of an e-mail, was turned against me. My words were proclaimed to be insulting, and while I can understand why some might reach that conclusion without all the facts being present, all I was doing was questioning the lucidity of the offending party.
Were we wasting our time? My worry in the beginning is that he was simply too impaired to be able to iron out our differences. And, be it known, the man's husband was surprisingly understanding and supportive about my action, though he did rightly direct me to the appropriate channels. He acted the most rational and reasonable of everyone involved, which is a kind of special irony that became more and more prominent as the meeting progressed.
Because I have written about this in other venues quite extensively, there is no need to bring the matter up in detail. Suffice it to say that because of childhood abuse, I am often fearful of other men. Any man who gets up in my face with some nonsensical grievance becomes, in my hyper-vigilant mind, a threat. I concede my boundaries are likely higher than others, but it is difficult to undo my defenses. I do not get triggered easily, but when I do, my thoughts and conduct rush immediately to irrational places. When this feeling of abject panic lifts, I am often embarrassed with my behavior and frustrated with where it has taken me.
This is to say, I think I understand him, at least on one level. And I don't want to focus too much time and effort here. Suffice it to say, I didn't feel that committee members fully understood how much emotional anguish I experience when someone ambushes me, especially another man. Returning to the meeting, the Friend in question appeared to be on his best behavior and most of his conversation made sense. I can understand why someone might see his perceived lucidity as an opportunity to discount my grievances. Maybe he decided to take his medication that day. Maybe he wasn't flying high on caffeine, which was what his partner suggested might have been the problem from the beginning.
Houses of worship often end up being hierarchical, even when they're not intended to be. Quakerism is supposed to avoid hierarchy at all cost, but it often shows up when one considers the idea of seniority. Those who have been around longer often believe that their voices should hold additional heft. Friends call those who have seasoned views "weighty". I would sincerely hope that age and proper discernment would make weighty Friends of all of us. Age is a number and God calls each of us, regardless of how old we are and whatever disabilities we have, to service on his behalf.
It's easy to adopt tunnel vision, especially when a he said/he said situation arises, one with two differing perspectives. It's difficult to know who to believe, so as a result, many come down on one side or the other. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. I suspect that some members of the committee might have felt that I needed to learn a lesson. To some, I am probably still a something of a young upstart with heretical ideas for making changes. I am not ashamed of this identity, feeling it to be a Divine leading of a sort.
I write about many of the problems and challenges I encounter, which has caused friction and concern with some. They think I'm airing dirty laundry, or they do not understand generational differences. I straddle the gap between Gen X and Gen Y, both of which are far more open with personal details than their more reticent baby boomer parents. Many don't want to be called out or held accountable for their deeds and words. This goes well beyond blabbing away on the Internet.
What I have found in sharing stories is a kind of universality. The issues raised do not pertain only to my Meeting, rather they are commonplace everywhere. Personal narrative is one of the most powerful means of expression ever devised. Others can easily see themselves in the stories of those who, in the end, really aren't that different from them. Though I disagree with the way our talk proceeded, I have a greater comprehension now of the man who earlier caused me such discomfort. For Meetings like my own, we might do well to have frequent grievances with others, as that might be the only we can truly know each other as we are.