TriSpiralCreating a Better Community

By Xan Hall

Building a community is hard work; it is often also thankless, exasperating, and overwhelming. But the dividends of that work – a community of people who support each other, who do thingsthat are mutually beneficial, who make sacrifices for each other – that’ s worthwhile. 

We all know the stories about the ‘ bad old days’  at the farm. But in case you don’ t, here’s a  recap. There was that time Orren had to fight in court so we could access the land at all, because there was a legal injunction against setting foot on the land from October until April one winter. There was that time Stones Rising happened during a hurricane, and the hardy brave souls who stayed out in the rain raised those Stones anyways, and got soaking wet and weren’ t done before dark. There was that time a car got irretrievably stuck in front of faerie camp, necessitating a bypass (that’ s why the faeries have a parking lane). There was that time a flood took away the lower shower house and many campsites in the Soggy Bottoms. There was that time the woods caught on fire, nearly ending in disaster. There was that time in the kitchen without proper refrigeration, when veggies were stacked in the corner with ice bags and tarps, and two people cooked for a thousand. There was that time...

The only reason these things did not cause havoc is because of the strength of the community. We are a community literally built on the actions of others.  Those who came before you? They helped build the Stone Circle, they helped build the shower houses and pavilions and the camp roads. And the nice thing about such a small community is that we can point to them personally. We can say, for example, that the dining pavilion addition was built by: Orren Whiddon, Mike McConnell, Jon Pees, Nic Blackburn, Jared Kay, Alex Griffith, Ross McLean, Jenny Grimm, Kathy Ellison, Xan Hall, John McIlroy, Jessie Taylor, Amiel Hardin Evans, Jeff Fox, and others whose work I did not personally witness so cannot attest to. And with all of the work that happens on the entire property, the names would list into the hundreds.

prothro baby and stone croppedWe are, collectively, the sum total of the actions of others; and it’ s why I am so disappointed when people act in ways that jeopardize that community. I know that no one is perfect, but sometimes I think we could do better.  So – you don’ t like someone? This happens to everyone; in fact, there’ s the real possibility that the person you don’ t like, doesn’ t like you either! It’ s a truism in life that sometimes people just don’ t get along. Assuming this is one of the cases where there is no logical reason to dislike someone – they aren’ t evil, or destructive, they haven’ t poisoned your pet pterodactyl – there are a couple of things to keep in mind.  One, they’ re probably not going anywhere based on your dislike of them. People rarely make life choices based on who likes them in their community group. It does happen though, which I think is sad. And I think it would behoove us all to not be the sort of person who chases others out of our community. 

Two, given that they’ re likely to be around for a while, you should try to be civil with them. Being civil doesn’ t cost you much, and the benefits are tangible. Maybe you might even discover some common interest that you can talk about, like the weather, or llamas or, um,  fly fishing. I, personally, find the loss of civility in the common culture to be the most distressing thing about our current political climate. We are only as strong as our community, and our community is stronger together.

Three, if you can’ t be civil or contain your dislike, don’ t do it in a place they can hear. Or their friends can hear. Gossip is always best avoided, as it not only hurts feelings, it is destructive to community building. In the strictest sense, gossip is talking about anyone who isn’ t present. However, when we say “avoid gossip,” we mean the malicious sort, sharing our low opinion of someone. If, in someone’ s absence, you want to praise them and tell everyone how fantastic they are, that’ s usually okay. So – you actively hate someone? That’ s, sadly, also common. See above: being civil, not gossiping.

Some people just aren’ t compatible, and being part of a community sometimes necessitates gritting your teeth and saying hello. It’ s something I’ ve had to do myself (and then we go might back to ignoring the other person’ s existence. Ah, community!) So – you got in a fight with someone? See above: being civil, not gossiping. I remember when I had a disagreement with someone a couple years back over a moral issue that neither side would back down on; we solved it by, um, ignoring each other for over a year. Hey, I never said I was perfect. But there are those cases where you have moral disagreements with someone. These are harder.

ThouShaltAs an interfaith sanctuary, we don’ t have a liturgy to fall back upon for moral disputes – no “Thou shalt...” or “Thou shalt not...” We don’ t have priests, pastors, imams or rabbis to ask for advice. That means it’ s up to us to determine many moral questions, and to interpret the
statements that are contained in the handbook, which is vague on moral certitudes.  However, there are a couple of core values I would say that Four Quarters has made its position clear on. 

One: the reverence of nature and the cycle of the Land. In this sense, dropping that cigarette butt on the ground is not just rude, it’ s morally wrong. Ditto for not picking up trash when you see it;we’ re a hands-on sort of place, and if you see it, pick it up. If it’ s too big, too gross, or too high in a tree, ask someone for help.

Two: we recognize the importance of history – both what has come from the actions of those before us, and what will come from our actions. Acting with honor and a sense of place is thus important, because our decisions matter. In the long run, our community is only as strong as the bonds that hold the people in it together. The fanciest shower house and dorm don’ t matter at all, if there is no one to fill them, tend to them, love them.

Three: no one faith overshadows another here; all faiths are welcome in this interfaith sanctuary. For example, if you don’ t like a particular path and decline to go to rituals based around it, that’ s okay. It’ s okay to dislike it. It is not okay to treat it like it is the leper religion if the group, it is not okay to actively discourage its expression at a Four Quarters event, and it is rude, generally, to make your dislike apparent. I’ m seen this last problem more than once, with regards to Santeria, Christianity, and Asatru, and sometimes other faiths and practices. People say and do appalling things in the name of their discomfort, and it is a slap in the face to these religions. If they or their practitioners don’ t feel comfortable here, we have done something wrong as a community. 

Four: The importance of sharing. Community meals are an important part of our faith tradition, and we have had regular moon service suppers and feasts since the beginning. We do this in the spirit of old cultures, where the act of sharing bread was akin to saying “I’ ve got your back”. In ages of food scarcity, sharing in this manner cements bonds, because it is literally saying, I care enough about you to help you not die. And in these cultures, there was an expectation of reciprocity – that those you help, will later help you. 

Five: “But,” you say, “nothing in the handbook says you shouldn’ t lie, cheat or steal!” You’ re right. It doesn’ t. However, that doesn’ t make it a morally sound idea. Stealing, for example, is the antithesis of sharing. It contradicts the notion that you will help each other in times of need. Lying fractures the bonds of friends, and cheating does as well. So for morals that are not clearly laid out, use your discernment to get at the base of the matter – does this action help or hurt the community? Act accordingly.

So – you think a thing should be done and isn’ t getting done? Great! We love people with insight about how to make things work better. First, ask someone in a position to know whether this solution has been thought of, and if it has, why it hasn’ t been implemented. Sometimes the answer will be that no one has had the time to do it, at which point you can volunteer! Yay volunteers!  Sometimes the issue will be that it isn’ t practical, or financially feasible, or a solution to the problem. Suggesting that in order to reduce trash on the land, we get rid of music festivals is not a practical solution, no matter how much you dislike “Thump, Thump, Thump” for many hours in the night, both because revenue is important for that fancy new shower house, and because I can personally attest that there is trash on the land after Four Quarters members events too, trash that was not there before the event. We’ re not perfect.

So – the internet. The internet was barely a thing when Four Quarters first started, and we’ ve had to adapt and evolve our policies as things unfold. But currently, we have Facebook groups and events, we have our own web page of information and a forum where people can share ideas. And being a far-flung group of parishioners, the internet has been instrumental in keeping in contact when we aren’ t physically there. But there are some guidelines we should follow, so that potential harm is minimized. 

One: Don’ t hold event planning discussions on anything that isn’ t the forum. The internet isn’ t secure. Look at the number of leaked data incidents over the past year, especially in political life. And while nothing we do is scandalous or inappropriate, there are those who will judge us or hate us based on our religions. Minimizing that chance is in the best interests of all farm members.

DirtyLaundryTwo: It is exceptionally poor judgment to air dirty laundry publicly online. This includes social media posts after an event saying that you’ re ill and you think you got it at Four Quarters. If you believe that you contracted an illness, see your doctor. If you believe that you became ill at Four Quarters, call the church office so they can compile and track evidence. Our kitchen is held to the same inspections and standards as any fine restaurant. I can personally attest to the fact we follow the food safety guidelines as required for a certified kitchen, and that our water system is checked daily, and sent to a lab quarterly to ensure it meets federal standards for a public water system. In addition to being Green, we’ re also Clean!  Despite this, the sheer amount of human traffic means there will occasionally be campers who aren’ t well, and bring their symptoms to share with their friends. This is not what I meant above by the value of sharing! Please adjust your behavior accordingly if you feel unwell, both here and in general life.

Three: Before posting pictures of people online, please ask if they are okay with it. Some people aren’ t. Or they might be okay with it being posted, but don’ t want you to tag them in it. These are valid reactions, and should be accommodated. “I don’ t want bad pictures of myself online” is also a valid reason.

There was, in some of the more Wiccan themed books I read in high school, the phrase “perfect love and perfect trust.” I don’ t have any illusions that perfect love or perfect trust is going to exist between all members of this community. But our imperfect love, and our imperfect trust? That’ s got to be a good start. We have to treat each other with compassion and come from a perspective of seeing the best in each other, or what’ s the point of being part of a community?

PS – Go read your Four Quarters handbook! It’ s interesting.