The ascent of Apple Pie Hill

Yesterday the kids and I took a road trip to Apple Pie Hill, a summit of loose gravel that towers over the South Jersey pinelands from a dizzying height of 209 feet above sea level. A fire watch tower on the summit adds another few dozen feet, enough to get a visitor over the treetops. On a clear day it's said you can see the skylines of Atlantic City and Philadelphia. Fortunately for me it was an quintessentially beautifully fall day--clear and crisp. It was easy to spot the cities, both thirty-two miles away (mostly to the south and mostly to the west respectively) and here's blowups of the two resultant photos:
Trip to Pine Barren's famous Apple Pie Hill
Sand road to Apple Pie Hill Trip to Pine Barren's famous Apple Pie Hill Trip to Pine Barren's famous Apple Pie Hill Trip to Pine Barren's famous Apple Pie Hill
More pictures, from left: Sand road to the hill, the fire tower, the view down through the steps of the tower (the kids were left in the car), two year old Francis eager but thwarted attempt to repeat Papa's climb up tower. Click individual photos for enlarged and geotagged versions. More photos of this and out stopover at Atsion later in the day on yesterday's Flickr page.

For those interested in repeating our journey, here's a map showing our route up and back. I was mostly winging it, depending on these directions from starting from nearby Chatsworth NJ, self-styled "Capital of the Pine Barrens."

Other map views: View Larger Map | Satellite with Route Map

Banking on reputations

I was referred to a web­site the oth­er day that bare­ly exists, at least
in the way that I see sites. It’s home­page was built entire­ly in Flash, was com­plete­ly invis­i­ble to search engines and bare­ly func­tioned in Fire­fox. Domain​tools​.com gave it an SEO score of zero (out of a scale of one hun­dred). It’s Google PageR­ank was three out of ten, mak­ing it less vis­i­ble that my kid pages.
But this was a web­site for a high-flying web devel­op­ment house, a
com­pa­ny that works with some of Philadelphia’s most promi­nent and
well-endowed cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions. Their client work isn’t quite as
invis­i­ble, but their web­site for Philadelphia’s relative-new $265
mil­lion per­for­mance arts cen­ter has a PageR­ank equiv­a­lent to my
per­son­al blog – youch!

I think there’s a les­son here. Promi­nent cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions don’t look at Google (and SEO-friend­ly
devel­op­ers) because they’re big enough and well-known enough that they
assume peo­ple will find them any­way. They’re right, of course, but how
many more peo­ple would find them if they had well-built web­sites? And
what’s the long-term vision if they’re rely­ing on their established
rep­u­ta­tion to do their web marketing? 

It’s per­haps impossible
for a net-centric start-up to repli­cate a hugely-endowed cul­tur­al icon
like an orches­tra or bal­let, giv­ing some degree of insu­la­tion to these
insti­tu­tions from direct inter­net com­pe­ti­tion. But if these nonprofits
saw them­selves in the enter­tain­ment busi­ness, com­pet­ing for the limited
atten­tion and mon­ey of an audi­ence that has many evening-time
pos­si­bil­i­ties, then you’d think they’d want to lever­age the inter­net as
much as they could: to use the web to reach out not only to their
exist­ing audi­ence but to nur­ture and devel­op future audiences. 

Are the audi­ences of high brow insti­tu­tions so full of hip young audi­ences that they can steer clear of web-centric marketing?

Talking like a Quaker: does anyone really care about schism anymore?

Over on my design blog I’ve just post­ed an arti­cle, Bank­ing on rep­u­ta­tions, which looks at how the web­sites for high-profile cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions are often built with­out regard to nat­ur­al web pub­lic­i­ty – there’s no focus on net cul­ture or search engine vis­i­bil­i­ty. The sites do get vis­it­ed, but only because of the rep­u­ta­tion of the insti­tu­tion itself. My guess is that peo­ple go to them for very spe­cif­ic func­tions (look­ing up a phone num­ber, order­ing tick­ets, etc.). I fin­ish by ask­ing the ques­tion, “Are the audi­ences of high brow insti­tu­tions so full of hip young audi­ences that they can steer clear of web-centric marketing?”

I won’t bela­bor the point, but I won­der if some­thing sim­i­lar is hap­pen­ing with­in Friends. It’s kind of weird that only two peo­ple have com­ment­ed on Johan Maurer’s blog post about Bal­ti­more Year­ly Meeting’s report on Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing. Johan’s post may well be the only place where online dis­cus­sion about this par­tic­u­lar report is avail­able. I gave a plug for it and it was the most pop­u­lar link from Quak­erQuak­er, so I know peo­ple are see­ing it. The larg­er issue is dealt with else­where (Bill Samuel has a par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful resource page) but Johan’s piece seems to be get­ting a big yawn.

It’s been super­seded as the most pop­u­lar Quak­erQuak­er link by a light­heart­ed call for an Inter­na­tion­al Talk Like a Quak­er Day put up by a Live­jour­nal blog­ger. It’s fun but it’s about as seri­ous as you might expect. It’s get­ting picked up on a num­ber of blogs, has more links than Johan’s piece and at cur­rent count has thir­teen com­menters. I think it’s a great way to poke a lit­tle fun of our­selves and think about out­reach and I’m hap­py to link to it but I have to think there’s a les­son in its pop­u­lar­i­ty vis-a-vis Johan’s post.

Here’s the inevitable ques­tion: do most Quak­ers just not care about Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing or Bal­ti­more Year­ly Meet­ing, about a mod­ern day cul­ture clash that is but a few degrees from boil­ing over into full-scale insti­tu­tion­al schism? For all my brava­do I’m as much an insti­tu­tion­al Quak­er as any­one else. I care about our denom­i­na­tion­al pol­i­tics but do oth­ers, and do they really?

Year­ly meet­ing ses­sions and more entertainment-focused Quak­er gath­er­ings are lucky if they get three to five per­cent atten­dance. The gov­ern­ing body of my year­ly meet­ing is made up of about one per­cent of its mem­ber­ship; add a per­cent or two or three and you have how many peo­ple actu­al­ly pay any kind of atten­tion to it or to year­ly meet­ing pol­i­tics. A few years ago a Quak­er pub­lish­er com­mis­sioned a promi­nent Friend to write an update to lib­er­al Friends’ most wide­ly read intro­duc­to­ry book and she man­gled the whole thing (down to a total­ly made-up acronym for FWCC) and no one noticed till after pub­li­ca­tion – even insid­ers don’t care about most of this!

Are the bulk of most con­tem­po­rary Friends post-institutional? The per­cent­age of Friends involved in the work of our reli­gious bod­ies has per­haps always been small, but the divide seems more strik­ing now that the inter­net is pro­vid­ing com­pe­ti­tion. The big Quak­er insti­tu­tions skate on being rec­og­nized as offi­cial bod­ies but if their par­tic­i­pa­tion rate is low, their recog­ni­tion fac­tor small, and their abil­i­ty to influ­ence the Quak­er cul­ture there­fore min­i­mal, then are they real­ly so impor­tant? After six years of mar­riage I can hear my wife’s ques­tion as a Quaker-turned-Catholic: where does the reli­gious author­i­ty of these bod­ies come from? As some­one who sees the world through a sociological/historical per­spec­tive, my ques­tion is com­ple­men­tary but some­what dif­fer­ent: if so few peo­ple care, then is there author­i­ty? The only time I see Friends close to tears over any of this is when
a schism might mean the loss of con­trol over a beloved school or camp­ground – fac­tor out
the sen­ti­men­tal fac­tor and what’s left?

I don’t think a dimin­ish­ing influ­ence is a pos­i­tive trend, but it won’t go away if we bury our heads in the sand (or in com­mit­tees). How are today’s gen­er­a­tion of Friends going to deal with chang­ing cul­tur­al forces that are threat­en­ing to under­mine our cur­rent prac­tices? And how might we use the new oppor­tu­ni­ties to advance the Quak­er mes­sage and Christ’s agenda?

Baltimore and FUM from sessions to the static web to interactive discussion.

One thing I love about the inter­net and blogs is that they’re open­ing up dis­cus­sions in the Quak­er world. Infor­ma­tion and dia­log that was once con­fined to a small group of insid­ers is opened up to what we might only-half jok­ing­ly label “the laity.” The lat­est few entries to Quak­erQuak­er show this in operation. 

Last month’s annu­al ses­sions of Bal­ti­more Year­ly Meet­ing (the region­al body for Friends those parts) were marked by an impor­tant report from its rep­re­sen­ta­tives to Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing, an inter­na­tion­al body of Friends that Bal­ti­more belongs to but has a com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ship with. Atten­dees at the year­ly meet­ing ses­sion heard the report, of course, and news trick­led out in var­i­ous ways (one vis­i­tor IM’ed me that day with the briefest sketch). 

Enter the inter­net. At some point Bal­ti­more put the report up on their web­site. The infor­ma­tion was there but there’s no oppor­tu­ni­ty for dis­cus­sion as the BYM web­site has no com­ment­ing fea­ture. I post­ed the report up to Quak­erQuak­er and with­in a few hours, Johan Mau­r­er was on top of it. Johan used to be the chief exec­u­tive of Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing and a wide expe­ri­ence with Friends from across the Quak­er the­o­log­i­cal and cul­tur­al spec­trum. He’s also an active blog­ger and he post­ed a reply, What is real­ly wrong with FUM, part two: the Bal­ti­more YM report, that I find par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful. His blog has com­ments. I’ve put Johan’s post up on Quak­erQuak­er and we now have a forum to try to tease apart the range of issues in the Bal­ti­more report: lead­er­ship, the­ol­o­gy, inter­na­tion­al rela­tions, etc. How cool is that?

PS: I linked to the Wikipedia arti­cles on Bal­ti­more and Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing. Has any­one else noticed Wikipedia makes a much more acces­si­ble intro­duc­tion to Quak­er bod­ies than their own websites?

Spontaneous trip to Longwood Gardens

Spontaneous trip to Longwood Gardens
Last week we left Julie’s church to find a beau­ti­ful late Sum­mer after­noon so we took an unplanned road trip over to Pennsylvania’s Long­wood Gar­dens. It’s not par­tic­u­lar­ly close but it’s beau­ti­ful and its car-free acreage makes it very kid-friendly so we have mem­ber­ships there (thanks to Martin’s Mom these last two years!). Below: scenes from Longwood’s Fall mod­el train exhib­it, orchid room and waterfall.

Longwood Gardens trip Longwood Gardens trip Spontaneous trip to Longwood Gardens

The Quaker time capsule

I’m read­ing Bill Taber’s fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry of Ohio Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends called The Eye of Faith. Like any good his­to­ry there’s a lot of the present in there. There’s a strong feel­ing of deja-vu to the scenes of Friends in con­flict and var­i­ous char­ac­ters come to life as much for their foibles as their strength of char­ac­ter (there’s more than a few blog­gers echoed there). I’m now a few years into the sec­ond great sep­a­ra­tion, the Wilburite/Gurneyite split that brewed for years before erupt­ing in 1854.

I’m not one of those Friends who bemoan the var­i­ous schisms. The diver­si­ty of those call­ing them­selves Friends today is so great that it’s hard to imag­ine them ever hav­ing stayed part of the same body. Only a strong author­i­tar­i­an con­trol could have pre­vent­ed the sep­a­ra­tions and even then, large mass­es of the “los­ing” par­ty would have sim­ply left and regrouped else­where: the only real dif­fer­ence is that one par­ty stops using the Quak­er name. Here in South Jer­sey, where the only Gur­neyite meet­ing wasn’t rec­og­nized by either Philadel­phia year­ly meet­ing for almost a hun­dred years, we’ve got dozens of Methodist “meet­ing hous­es” with grave­yards full of old Quak­er fam­i­ly names. Fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ries could be writ­ten of Friends who didn’t both­er to squab­ble over meet­ing­house deeds and sim­ply decid­ed to con­gre­gate under anoth­er banner.

One con­cept I’m chew­ing on is that of the “rem­nant.” As I under­stand it, the doc­trine comes large­ly from Rev­e­la­tion 12 and is used by small theologically-conservative Chris­t­ian sects to explain why their small size isn’t a prob­lem; it’s kind of like Mom say­ing it’s bet­ter to do the right thing than to be pop­u­lar. When the rem­nant com­mu­ni­ty is a rel­a­tive­ly iso­lat­ed locale like Bar­nesville, there’s also the image of the Land That Time For­got, the place where the old time ways has come down to us most ful­ly intact. There’s truth to the pre­serv­ing pow­er of iso­la­tion: lin­guists claim the Ozark hill­bil­ly accent most clear­ly mir­rors Shakespeare’s. But Ohio Friends aren’t sim­ply Jed Clampett’s Quak­er cousins.

Like most rur­al Quak­er year­ly meet­ings, Ohio Year­ly Meet­ing Con­ser­v­a­tive has lost much of its mem­ber­ship over the last hun­dred years. I don’t have sta­tis­tics but it seems as if a good per­cent­age of the active mem­bers of the year­ly meet­ing hail from out­side south­east­ern Ohio and a great many are con­vinced Friends. This echoes the most sig­nif­i­cant change in U.S. Quak­erism in the past fifty years: the shift from a self-perpetuating com­mu­ni­ty with strong local cus­toms and an almost eth­nic sense of self, to a soci­ety of con­vinced believers.

The keen sense of self-sufficiency and iso­la­tion that held togeth­er tight-knit Quak­er com­mu­ni­ties over the cen­turies are large­ly non-sustainable now. In our media-saturated lives even Bar­nesville teens can get the lat­est Hol­ly­wood gos­sip and New York fash­ions in real time. Yes it’s pos­si­ble to ban the TV and live as a media her­mit in a com­mune some­where, but even that only gets you so far. Once upon a time, not so long ago, a Friend could sit­u­ate them­selves in the wider Quak­er uni­verse sim­ply by com­par­ing fam­i­ly trees and school ties but that’s becom­ing less impor­tant all the time. For those of us who enter into the Soci­ety of Friends as adults – majori­ties in many year­ly meet­ings now – there’s a sense of choice, of don­ning the clothes. We play at being Quak­er until voila!, some mys­ti­cal alchem­i­cal process hap­pens and we iden­ti­fy as Quak­er – even if we’re not always quite so made-over into Quak­er­ness as we imag­ine ourselves. 

At the Ohio ses­sions a few Friends real­ly loved Wess Daniel’s state­ment that “A tra­di­tion that los­es the abil­i­ty to explain itself becomes an emp­ty form” (see his wrap-up post here). One Ohio Friend said he had heard it pos­tu­lat­ed that iso­lat­ed and inward-focused com­mu­ni­ties like Ohio Con­ser­v­a­tive were God’s method of pre­serv­ing the old ways against the onslaught of the mod­ernist age (with its mock­ing dis­be­lief) until they could be rein­tro­duced to the wider world in a more for­giv­ing post-modernist era. Looked at that way, Quak­erism isn’t a quaint rel­ic in need of the same botox/bleach blond “NOW!” makeover every oth­er spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tion is get­ting. Think of it instead as a time cap­sule ready to be opened. An inter­est­ing the­o­ry. Are we ready to look at this pecu­liar thing we’ve dug up and reverse-engineer it back into meaningfulness?


Kirk W. over at Street Cor­ner Soci­ety emailed me that he had recent­ly put the Jour­nal of Ann Bran­son online. She fea­tures heav­i­ly in the mid­dle part of Taber’s book, which is the sto­ry of Con­ser­v­a­tive Ohio find­ing its own iden­ti­ty. Kirk sug­gests, and I agree, that her jour­nal might be con­sid­ered one of the arti­facts of the Ohio time cap­sule. I hope to find some time to read this in the not-too-distant future.