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 NJPines​land​sand​Down​Jer​sey​.com 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.

Scenes from a birthdays party: Theo (4) & Francis (2)

Scenes from a birthdays party: Theo (4) & Francis (2)

Pho­tos clock­wise: Theo blows out the birth­day ice cream cake’s “4” can­dle; kids hud­dle around when box opens to reveal Thomas the Tank Engine related toy; inde­pen­dent Fran­cis sur­veys the scene; cousin M. plays pat­ty­cake with Pop­pop while her mom looks on.

Scenes from a birthdays party: Theo (4) & Francis (2)
Scenes from birthdays party

Pictures from Birthdays Party