Delayed readership

A Quaker edu­ca­tor recently told me he had appre­ci­ated some­thing I wrote about the way Quaker cul­ture plays out in Quaker schools. It was a 2012 blog post, Were Friends part of Obama’s Evo­lu­tion?

It was a bit of a ran­dom post at the time. I had read a widely shared inter­view that after­noon and was mulling over the pos­si­bil­i­ties of a behind-the-scenes Quaker influ­ence. This sort of ran­dom­ness hap­pens fre­quently but in the rush of work and fam­ily I don’t always take the time to blog it. That day I did and a few years later it influ­ence spline on some small way. 

It reminds me of an old obser­va­tion: the imme­di­ate boost we get when friends com­ment in our blog posts or like a Face­book update is an imme­di­ate hit of dopamine — excit­ing and ego grat­i­fy­ing. But the greater effect often comes months and years later when some­one finds some­thing of yours that they’re search­ing for. This delayed read­er­ship may be one of the great­est dif­fer­ences between blog­ging and Face­book­ing. 

Baby name popularity trendsetters?

The most pop­u­lar post on my blog, year after year (and now decade after decade), is a 2005 piece on baby names: Unpop­u­lar Baby Names: Avoid­ing the Jacobs, Emilys and Madis­ons. We used the tech­niques listed to aid in our attempt to give our own kids clas­sic names that wouldn’t be overused among their peers. The 2015 num­bers are out from the Social Secu­rity Admin­is­tra­tion. How did we do? The charts below shows the respec­tive rank­ings from 2015 to the year they were born.





The names of our two “babies” — Gre­gory, 5, and Laura, 4, are both less pop­u­lar now than they were the year we named them. Yea! They’re both in the low 300s – viable names but far from overused.

Fran­cis, now 10, was drop­ping in pop­u­lar­ity and drop­ping into the low 600s. With that trend, we actu­ally wor­ried about the name becom­ing too unpop­u­lar. But an uptick started in 2010 and became pro­nounced in 2013 when an Argen­tin­ian named Jorge Mario Bergoglio decided to start call­ing him­self Fran­cis. The name is now in the high 400s.

The pop­u­lar­ity of our eldest son’s name, Theodore (“I’m Theo!, don’t call me Theodore!”), started off in the low 300s was hold­ing steady within a 20-point range for years until around 2009. In 2015 it cracked the top 100. It’s only at 99 but clearly something’s hap­pen­ing. Equally dis­turb­ing, “Theo” wasn’t even on the top 1000 until 2010, when it snuck in at posi­tion 918. Since then it’s leap 100 spots a year. It’s cur­rently at 408 with no sign of slow­ing.

And for those of you look­ing to spot trends: did we just call our names early? Maybe “Fran­cis” isn’t a slow climb but is about the go shoot­ing for the top 100 in two years time. Maybe “Gre­gory” and “Laura” will be all the rage for moth­ers come 2020. Yikes!

Mothers Day 2016 L-O-V-E

IMG_0370Last year, the kids and I made a framed hand­print collage-like present for Julie and Moth­ers Day (right). This year I fol­lowed it up with a folksy photo of each of the kids hold­ing up hand-drawn let­ters spelling out “LOVE.” This was inspired by this 2009 post on a blog called The Inad­ver­tent Farmer.

The first step was get­ting pic­tures of each kid with a let­ter. It wasn’t too bad as I just had to take enough to get each one look­ing cute.

File May 09, 2 26 32 PM

A trick­ier task was find­ing a frame to dis­play four pic­tures. It took the third store before I lucked out. Because of the tim­ing, I had actu­ally printed the pic­tures before I had the frame and so had fin­gers crossed that the size would work.

IMG_0030 IMG_0031

Once made, the absolute hard­est was get­ting a group shot of the kids with Julie hold­ing it!


What do you love about your Quaker space?

We’re extend­ing the dead­line for the August issue on Quaker Spaces. We’ve got  some really inter­est arti­cles com­ing in – espe­cially geeky things in archi­tec­ture and the the­ol­ogy of our clas­sic meet­ing­houses. 

So far our prospec­tive pieces are  weighted toward East Coast and clas­sic meet­ing­house archi­tec­ture. I’d love to see pieces on non-traditional wor­ship spaces. I know there newly purpose-built meet­ing­houses, adap­ta­tions of pre-existing struc­tures, and new takes on the Quaker impulse to not be churchy. And wor­ship is where we’re gath­ered, not nec­es­sar­ily where we’re mort­gaged: tell us about your the rented library room, the chairs set up on the beach, the room in the prison wor­ship group… 

Sub­mis­sion guide­lines are at friend​sjour​nal​.org/​s​u​b​m​i​s​s​i​ons. The new dead­line is Mon­day, May 16. My last post about this issue is here

Joan Baez cites Quaker upbringing in presidential endorsement

From the musician’s Face­book page:

My choice, from an early age, has been to engage in social change from the ground up, using the power of orga­nized non­vi­o­lence. A dis­trust of the polit­i­cal process was firmly in place by the time I was 15. As a daugh­ter of Quak­ers I pledged my alle­giance not to a flag or a nation state but to humankind, the two often hav­ing lit­tle to do with each other.

Upcoming FJ submission: “Quaker Spaces”

I’ve been mean­ing to get more into the habit of shar­ing upcom­ing Friends Jour­nal issue themes. We started focus­ing on themed issues back around 2012 as a way to bring some diver­sity to our sub­ject mat­ter and help encour­age Friends to talk about top­ics that weren’t as regularly-covered.

One of the Greenwich, N.J., Meetinghouses.

One of the Green­wich, N.J., meet­ing­houses, Sept 2009

The next issue we’re look­ing to fill is a topic I find inter­est­ing: Quaker Spaces. I’ve joked inter­nally that we could call it “Meet­ing­house Porn,” and while we already have some beau­ti­ful illus­tra­tions lined up, I think there’s a real chance at juicy Quaker the­ol­ogy in this issue as well.

One of my pet the­o­ries is that since we down­play creeds, we talk the­ol­ogy in the minu­tia of our meet­ing­houses. Not offi­cially of course — our wor­ship spaces are neu­tral, uncon­se­crated, empty build­ings. But as Helen Kobek wrote in our March issue on “Dis­abil­i­ties and Inclu­sion,” we all need phys­i­cal accom­mo­da­tions and these pro­vide tem­plates to express our val­ues. Ear­lier Friends expressed a the­ol­ogy that dis­trusted forms by devel­op­ing an archi­tec­tural style devoid of crosses, steeples. The clas­sic meet­ing­house looks like a barn, the most down-to-early hum­ble archi­tec­tural form a north­ern Eng­lish sheep­herders could imag­ine.

But the­olo­gies shift. As Friends assim­i­lated, some started tak­ing on other forms and Methodist-like meet­ing­house (even some­times dar­ingly called churches) started pop­ping up. Mod­ern meet­ing­houses might have big plate glass win­dows look­ing out over a for­est, a nod to our con­tem­po­rary wor­ship of nature or they might be in a con­verted house in a down-and-out neigh­bor­hood to show our love of social jus­tice.

Top photo is a framed picture of the Lancaster U.K. Meetinghouse from the early 20th century--long benches lined up end to end, balcony. By the time of my visit, there were cushioned independent chairs arranged in a circle.
Top photo is of a framed pic­ture of the Lan­caster UK Meet­ing­house from the early 20th cen­tury – long benches lined up the length of the space. By the time of my visit in 2003, the bal­cony was gone and the few remain­ing benches were rel­e­gated to an outer ring out­side of cush­ioned chairs arranged in a cir­cle sur­round­ing a round table with flow­ers and copies of Faith and Prac­tice.

But it’s not just the out­sides where the­ol­ogy shows up. All of the clas­sic North­east­ern U.S. meet­ing­houses had rows of benches fac­ing for­ward, with ele­vated fenc­ing benches reserved for the Quaker elders. A theologically-infused dis­trust of this model has led many a meet­ing to rearrange the pews into a more cir­cu­lar arrange­ment. Some­times some­one will sneak some­thing into the mid­dle of the space — flow­ers, or a Bible or hym­nal — as if in recog­ni­tion that they don’t find the empti­ness of the Quaker form suf­fi­cient. If asked, most of these deci­sions will be explained away in a light-hearted man­ner but it’s hard for me to believe there isn’t at least an uncon­scious nod to the­ol­ogy in some of the choices.

I’d love to hear sto­ries of Friends nego­ti­at­ing the meet­ing space. Has the desire to build or move a meet­ing­house solid­i­fied or divided your meet­ing? Do you share the space with other groups, or rent it out dur­ing the week? If so, how have you decided on the groups that can use it? Have you bick­ered over the details of a space. Here in the North­east, there are many tales of meet­ings com­ing close to schism over the ques­tion of replac­ing ancient horse­hair bench cush­ions, but I’m sure there are con­sid­er­a­tions and debates to be had over the form of fold­ing chairs.

You can find out more about sub­mit­ting to this or any other upcom­ing issue our the Friends Jour­nal Sub­mis­sions page. Other upcom­ing issues are “Cross­ing Cul­tures” and “Social Media and Tech­nol­ogy.”

Aug 2016: Quaker Spaces

What do our archi­tec­ture, inte­rior design, and meet­ing­house loca­tions say about our the­ol­ogy and our work in the world? Quak­ers don’t con­se­crate our wor­ship spaces but there’s a strong pull of nos­tal­gia that brings peo­ple into our his­toric build­ings and an unde­ni­able energy to inno­v­a­tive Quaker spaces. How do our phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions keep us grounded or keep us from shar­ing the “Quaker gospel” more widely? Sub­mis­sions due 5/2/2016.

Remembering it’s an honor just to be read

Strange moment this morn­ing when I checked my blog stats and real­ized that I get a fair amount of traf­fic for a movie review I wrote last year. I was check­ing the stats to see if any of the Quaker-related search terms might give clues for future con­tent on Friends Jour­nal or Quak­er­S­peak and for that pur­pose the review’s pop­u­lar­ity with Google (and read­ers) isn’t that use­ful.

But this blog is just my life spun out. I don’t aim for key­words and I don’t want to dom­i­nate a thought-sphere. If I see a movie and jot down some impres­sions that attract a small audi­ence, then my blog post is a suc­cess. A dozen or so ran­dom peo­ple a month Google in to spend a cou­ple of min­utes read­ing my thoughts on a fifty-year-old movie. That’s cool. That’s enough. In all the talk of tar­get­ing and SEO we some­times for­get that it’s an honor to sim­ply be read.

The other night stayed up late to cud­dled with my wife and watch good-natured but flawed Rom-Com. I read some reviews on IMDB and pon­dered the cliches in the shower the next morn­ing. Boil­ing these impres­sions down into 500 words on a train com­mute would be easy enough. I should do it more.