Pushed or Pulled?
Not all leadings feel the same. I suppose one could even claim that each one is unique, but it is not much help to people to say that. So being a philosopher I will find a distinction. I find that I experience two general classes of leadings: pushes and pulls. Judging both from my own experience and from the writings of other Friends pushes seem to be more common. Pushes are felt as imperatives to do something that may or may not make rational sense. One feels impelled to do this thing come what may. There is a restless uncomfortable feeling that comes from not doing it and a sense of ease and relief from being obedient. The internal drive gives one the strength to go forward in the face of obstacles and to speak with conviction in urging others to join in with carrying out the mission.
My wife has frequent push experiences and I’ve learned to just go along with them even when they don’t seem to make much sense. I remember once taking a van full of teenagers to the state chess championship. We had arrived at the outskirts of Charlotte but were still pretty far from the hotel when we got caught in rush hour traffic. I was pretty glazed after a four hour drive from the eastern part of the state where we live. Suddenly my wife urgently told me to pull off the highway and take the next exit. We found ourselves in a seedy section of town. I was totally lost but she was still telling me where to go. We found ourselves at a dingy Ethiopian restaurant/pizzeria and stopped for dinner. My wife struck up a conversation with the owner who had emigrated from Ethiopia a few years ago. He lamented that he knew he had a cousin in North Carolina somewhere but he hadn’t been able to find him. My wife mentioned that her boss was Ethiopian. The coincidence turned a little amazing when it gradually became clear that her boss was his cousin’s wife. My wife quickly gave him his cousin’s phone number much to his joy and amazement. And I could finally see the reason why I had to get off the highway at just that point in time.
Recently I had one of the pull type experiences. Perhaps you heard on NPR about the controversy which took place in our town over the renaming of Martin Luther King Boulevard. The west side of Greenville is mostly black and the east side is mostly white. A few years back the city council had named the western half of 5th Street “Martin Luther King Boulevard.” Some local activists thought that the eastern half of 5th Street should be renamed as well, but the white community living along 5th Street objected. The city council responded by rescinding the name “Martin Luther King Boulevard” from west 5th Street and instead naming a stretch of highway outside of the city as the new “Martin Luther King Boulevard.” This decision was much resented by the black community and the controversy got bitter and generally worsened race relations in Greenville.
Since we are about to elect a new city council I arranged a lunch meeting with the councilman from my district to discuss what could be done to improve racial relations when a new city council is seated this Fall. Larry mentioned that the city had just purchased a large property over on the west side of town and was planning to develop it into a place to serve the needs of the community there. I said that it would be a good idea not to stereotype black teens and assume they are only interested in activities like basketball. I suggested a chess program.
I didn’t feel any inner push to bring the topic up. I play chess every Wednesday night with a racially mixed group at the Barnes and Noble. I also coach chess at one of the local high schools, so the idea just naturally occurred to me. I felt no push to bring it up and didn’t speak with any real conviction. I was very casual about it. But Larry’s enthusiastic reaction both surprised me and pulled me in. I had no previous knowledge that the city had purchased the property in question and was looking for programs to fill it, so I had given no prior thought to what a chess program there would look like. But as Larry encouraged me to talk I found myself filling out reasonable sounding details off the cuff. In the end Larry promised that the city would come up with some money for such a program and told me he would put me in touch with the assistant city manager to develop more detailed plans. I’ve since talked to several other people about the idea.
In this case the leading has been overwhelmingly a pull type experience. As I mention the idea to people I can see “that of God” in them responding positively to it. I see a light in their eyes and a note of optimism in their voices as they offer encouragement and promise to help make this happen. This has definitely not been something I planned. As a matter of fact I felt like I already had plenty to do right now and have no time to take on any new projects. But this plan, not of my making, is pulling me forward despite all that. It is a leading and I need to obey it though the leading seems to be centered outside of me in external events and not welling up from inside of me as an internal push. But no matter. Whether pushed or pulled a leading is a leading and obedience is the only thing required. So for now I can report that I have been faithful.
What of other Friends? I believe push experiences are pretty common but how many of you have had leading of the pull variety. I would like to hear other Friends’ stories.