“Into Unknown,” by Craig Freshley

Taken from a message given August 27, 2017 by Craig Freshley

I’m a pretty good skier, I love skiing fast. Very confident in my comfort zone, I’m experienced and when I’m on the ski slope I know what’s going to happen next. I know that I can handle it; it is so fun. Sometimes I get skiing a little too fast, a little on the edge of my comfort zone, that is when it turns from fun into a religious experience. Not a religious experience like “Oh God, Help Me!” , but a religious experience like “Oh God, this is awesome!”. I don’t know what’s going to happen next and I know I can handle it, because I have confidence in my ability and I have faith. It’s like this with lots of things, with music, theater, sports, where somebody knows well how to do something. Actors on the stage follow the script, they know it down pat. But it’s when they go off the script just a little, let the emotions get a little bit out of control, with true faith that it is going to be okay anyway – that’s when the magic happens.

Quakers have a history of going off the script a little bit. George Fox, many trail blazers, I might call it going from the comfort zone into the unknown zone. Don’t know what’s going to happen next, but if you have faith you know you can handle it anyway.

I’ve been doing an experiment in Maine… I want to tell you about that experiment. I want to tell you how I have gone into the unknown zone, how I’ve tried to bring people with me into the unknown zone. Before that, let me tell you a bit about my profession. I am a professional meeting facilitator. I have facilitated probably 3000 meetings over the past 15 or 20 years. Non-profit boards of directors, corporate groups, governments hire me. When there is contention, when there are high stakes decisions to be made, that’s typically when I’m contacted.

I first was called to do this by a Quaker woman. I’m a convinced Quaker and it was from a Quaker woman that I learned the principles of Quaker business practices and consensus decision making. I try to bring these practices into the main stream world. I worked in Augusta for many years and I sat through many bad meetings. I had the sense that we can do better. I set out to learn how to do things better. I really believe this, so I have written a book called The Wisdom of Group Decision. I’ve written many one-page tips. I have made over 100 videos. All of these are available on my website if you are interested. I’m not trying to be promotional, but there are resources available to you, you can Google my name and find that stuff.

At the last presidential election, I became deeply troubled at the magnitude of the political divide in our country, in our state, in many of our communities. I had a sense that the political divide was growing but the election results made that clearer to me. Like a lot of people, I wondered what I could do about that. What’s my part? Many people have activated in their own ways. My way was to try and bring people together. I had the idea to do this sitting one night in my Quaker Meetinghouse. Peter Blood and Annie Patterson – the folks who created the book Rise Up Singing – were there that night playing music and leading us in singing. I thought, if we are going to bring people together a good way to do that is to have arts or music or something. I invented the “Make Shift Coffeehouse”, rented space at the library, got the word out, made posters. I tried to bring Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives together with live music, food in a coffeehouse environment for some informal table chit chat and some formal dialogue where we simply try to understand each other.

I’ve had more than 6 of these so far in different parts of Maine and I have several more scheduled. There is a group that is very enthusiastic about this idea, they’ve formed the Friends of Make Shift Coffeehouse, trying to raise money and pushing me to take this further. They think this is really what the world needs.

It’s an opportunity for people to simply understand each other. Not persuade each other, not agree with each other, not find common ground. We are very clear about that. You are allowed to go to a Make Shift Coffeehouse and leave with exactly the same political views that you walked in with. The hope is that at least you shift a little bit of your understanding of where other people are coming from. Because I have learned from years of group dynamics experience that 90% of all conflicts are the result of misunderstanding. When we don’t understand our adversaries and where they are coming from, we make stuff up about them. We demonize them, we turn them into the bad guys, and it’s when we take the time to understand where each other is coming from, whether we agree or not, we have a much better chance of coming to a peaceful resolution.

Doing this, I’m outside my comfort zone. When I have one of these meetings, I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I know I’m going to be able to handle it, because I have faith, I have confidence in my ability and I have the tools I need on board with me. I’m asking other people to come with me into that unknown zone also. A lot of people are afraid to attend one of these makeshift coffeehouses. I went on a morning talk show and the guys were teasing me, “Oh are you going to need medical supplies on hand?” It’s that kind of thing. I organized one at a local library and the librarian called me that afternoon and asked if I thought we might need a police officer on hand, because she had heard from people and the public concerned about going to this meeting where there were going to be Democrats and Republicans in the same room talking to each other. There is some fear about this. But with faith on board we can walk through that fear, step into the unknown zone. I’m doing it, because I think it is what the world needs. I think it is what God wants me to do. And other people are doing it because they think it is what the world needs. It’s not like we don’t have any tools. Like I don’t have the tools for doing this. I’m not stepping into the unknown zone unequipped. In my Quaker meeting, someone brought this analogy… it’s like being in the dark, carrying a lantern. Imagine an oil lamp, it makes a ring of light beneath my feet and illuminates few steps ahead and after that it is dark and it’s scary to step into the dark. Here’s the thing, when I take a few steps the light moves with me.

I am here to inspire you to step outside your comfort zone a little into the unknown in the direction that you believe God wants you to step.

What is the direction that you will step in to the unknown zone with your lantern?