Friday, April 24, 2015

The eradication of gratitude

This week I participated in two online Quaker board meetings. Online meetings—conference calls or skyping—make it possible for people widely separated geographically to get together and do business, Quaker style. I’ve discovered that we can even sit together in silence over the phone, although the time is usually brief and something in the quality of the experience goes missing. Even so—it can be done.
The first meeting involved a board I’ve just become a part of, and this was my introduction to the group. We span yearly meeting lines (as well as theological perspectives) but are united in a common task, one I highly value. I also value these wider Quaker connections.
As a newcomer I was ready to listen. The first item of business was a reading of the minutes. This included mention that one of the members had just completed a task, and the minute expressed appreciation and gratitude. Another member reminded the group that they had previously decided not to express gratitude in the minutes because if they thanked one person, they would need to thank each person for each task completed, and someone was bound to be left out. The minutes were then corrected and approved.
I can see the logic behind this. Minutes should be to the point, not flowery. Good recording clerks do not gush. Formality dictates style, in this case. Even so, it felt a little strange.
Then one day later, I participated in another conference call, this one of a board within our own yearly meeting and among people I know. We opened and closed the meeting in verbal prayer, without any telephone silence. And our excellent recording clerk does not gush, at least in the minutes. So far, so good. But this time, it was me who reported on a completed task and was, appropriately enough, not thanked, either verbally or in the minutes.
I represented a team who had been working together in a very difficult situation, and we had definitely experienced God at work. Our work had come to a good conclusion. I was hoping this would be a cause of rejoicing for the whole board. And maybe it was, beneath the surface.
I guess this is a confession. I should be mature enough by now not to want or expect expressions of gratitude. As I talked over my disappointment with Hal, he encouraged me to remember who I was serving. That helps.
Later this week, I have another digital Quaker meeting. I clerk a committee under the NWYM Board of Global Outreach that has oversight over our Friends Serving Abroad in Russia. This time we will skype, complete with video images. We will gather from around the Pacific Northwest and Russia. We are close friends and this meeting will be more informal. We’ll probably even joke and laugh out loud. Seeing the changing expressions on faces encourages this.
Someone may even say, “Thank you.”


  1. Thank you for your thoughtful clerking. Is it not a sign of maturity to rejoice if another is praised and thanked even if you're not? Is it not a sign of maturity to express gratitude? Why is it a sign of maturity to stop expressing gratitude for any reason?

  2. Excellent questions. I share them.

  3. Since the words "thank you" are the main way I "pray without ceasing," I'm not sure I am as worried about the risks involved in routine thanking as those who decided to eliminate thank-yous from minutes. Anyway, it's a worthwhile discussion.

  4. My parents were hesitant to praise or affirm any one of the 10 of us, their children, because they feared comparison among us. . Alas, the result was the insidious growth of what they feared, pride and insecurity. My parents came to recognize this lack and made up for the lack of affirmation in their latter years. A beautiful gift to all of us. Can a denominational culture change like my parents did?

  5. It seems that deep cultural change. whether in an ethnic group or a faith community, comes slowly at best. But I have to believe it can happen.

  6. Did I ever tell you that as my mother's experience of Alzheimer's led to decreasing ability to remember details, her chosen responses was affirmation? She simply recalled something special about, or a particularly warm memory of, the person she was talking with and named that--always with a big smile on her face. It was delightful for her family and caregivers right to the end. What a blessed ending of life. She had cultivated affirmation and gratitude, particularly in the last few decades of her life.

  7. That's a wonderful legacy and one we share. My mom died years ago when she was 57 and I was in my 20s. She had been disabled for years with arthritis, and the last two weeks of her life, she went into a strange verbal coma. She wasn't conscious of anything around her, but she talked a lot, all apparently from her sub-conscious and all of it positive, including large memorized passages from Scripture and Shakespeare. It was an amazing testimony to a pure spirit, something I treasure and long to emulate.

  8. I am so happy to have this picture of your mother. Your life flows in the same direction.