Places like St Mary’s

I’m writ­ing this from the back of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, a small church built in the 1920s in the small cross­roads town of Malaga New Jer­sey. It was closed this past Novem­ber, sup­pos­edly because of a bro­ken boiler but really because the Dio­cese of Cam­den is try­ing to sell off its smaller churches–or any church with prime real estate along a high­way. It was reopened by parish­ioners in early Jan­u­ary, while we were still in the hos­pi­tal with baby num­ber three, a.k.a. Gregory.

We’ve spent a lot of time here since then. It’s a 24 hour vigil and has been and will con­tinue to be. In Boston there are vig­ils that have been going seven years. I try to imag­ine Gre­gory as a seven year old, hav­ing spent his child­hood grow­ing up here in this lit­tle church. It’s not an impos­si­ble scenario.

I also spend a lot of time talk­ing with the faith­ful Catholics who have come here to pro­tect the church. It’s a cacoph­ony of voices right now–conversations about the church, sure, but that’s only one of the many top­ics that come up. Peo­ple are shar­ing their lives–stories about grow­ing up, about peo­ple that are know, about cur­rent events… It’s a real com­mu­nity. We’ve been attend­ing this church for years but it’s now that I’m really get­ting to know everyone.

I some­times pon­der how I, the self-dubbed “Quaker Ranter,” got involved in all of this. Through my wife, of course–she grew up Catholic, became a Friend for eleven years and then “returned to the Church” a years after our mar­riage. But there’s more than that, rea­sons why I spend my own time here. Part is my love of the small and quirky. St Mary’s parish­ioners are stand­ing up for churches where peo­ple know each other. Mem­bers of St Marys tend their own rosary gar­den and clean their own base­ment and toi­lets. They spend time pray­ing the rosary.

The powers-that-be that want St Mary’s closed so badly want a large inper­sonal church with lots of pro­fes­sion­al­ized ser­vices and a least-common-denominator faith where peo­ple come, go and donate their money to a dio­cese run like a busi­ness. There’s his­tory here. This is a hub of a town, an ancient cross­roads, but the bishop wants big churches in the splurge of sub­ur­ban sprawl. Even we Friends need places like St Mary’s in the world.

Lessons in Social Media from Egyptian Protesters

A few days ago the NYTimes ran a fas­ci­nat­ing early look-back at the rela­tion­ship between social media and the largely-nonviolent rev­o­lu­tion in Egypt writ­ten by David D Kirk­patrick and David E Sanger. I doubt we’ve seen the last twist and turn of this tumul­tuous time but as I write this, the world sighs relief that long­time auto­crat Hosni Mubarak is finally out. Most of the quotes and inside knowl­ege came via Ahmed Maher, a 30-year-old civil engi­neer and a lead­ing orga­nizer of the April 6 Youth Move­ment, who became an activist in 2005.

Les­son One: Years in the Making

The Times starts off by point­ing out that the “blog­gers lead the way” and that the “Egypt­ian revolt was years in the mak­ing.” It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that these things don’t come out of nowhere. Blog­gers have been active for years: lead­ing, learn­ing, mak­ing mis­takes and col­lect­ing knowl­edge. Many of the first round of blog­gers were ignored and repressed. Some of them were effec­tively neu­tral­ized when they were co-opted into what the Times calls “the timid, legally rec­og­nized oppo­si­tion par­ties.” “What destroyed the move­ment was the old par­ties,” said one blog­ger. A les­son we might draw for that is that blog­ging isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a step­ping stone to “real activism” but is instead it’s own kind of activism. The cul­ture of blogs and main­stream move­ments are not always compatible.

Les­son Two: Share Your Experiences

The Egypt­ian protests began after ones in Tunisia. The con­text was not the same: “The Tunisians faced a more per­va­sive police state than the Egyp­tians, with less lat­i­tude for blog­ging or press free­dom, but their trade unions were stronger and more inde­pen­dent.” Still, it was impor­tant to share tips: “We shared our expe­ri­ence with strikes and blog­ging,” a blog­ger recalled. Some of the tips were exceed­ingly prac­ti­cal (how to avert tear gas–brought lemons, onions and vine­gar, appar­ently) and oth­ers more social (shar­ing tor­ture expe­ri­ences). Les­son: we all have many things to learn. It’s best to be ready for counter-tactics.

One of the inter­est­ing side­lights was how the teach­ings of Amer­i­can non­vi­o­lence strate­gist Gene Sharp made it to Cairo. A Ser­bian youth move­ment had based their rebel­lion on his tac­tics and the Egyp­tians fol­lowed their lead, with exiled orga­niz­ers set­ting up a web­site (warn­ing: annoy­ing sound) com­pil­ing Sharp’s strategies:

For their part, Mr. Maher and his col­leagues began read­ing about non­vi­o­lent strug­gles. They were espe­cially drawn to a Ser­bian youth move­ment called Otpor, which had helped top­ple the dic­ta­tor Slo­bo­dan Milo­se­vic by draw­ing on the ideas of an Amer­i­can polit­i­cal thinker, Gene Sharp. The hall­mark of Mr. Sharp’s work is well-tailored to Mr. Mubark’s Egypt: He argues that non­vi­o­lence is a sin­gu­larly effec­tive way to under­mine police states that might cite vio­lent resis­tance to jus­tify repres­sion in the name of stability.

As an aside, I have to say that as a longterm peace activist, it tick­les me no end to see Gene Sharp’s ideas at the heart of the Egypt­ian protests. Amer­ica really can export democ­racy sometimes!

Les­son Three: Be Relent­less in Con­fronting Lies

The Times reports that Maher “took spe­cial aim at the dis­tor­tions of the offi­cial media.” He told them that when peo­ple “dis­trust the media then you know you are not going to lose them. When the press is full of lies, social media takes on the fact check­ing role. Peo­ple turn to inde­pen­dent sources when they sense a pro­pa­ganda machine. The cre­ator of a Face­book site was a Google mar­ket­ing exec­u­tive work­ing on his own. He filled the site We Are all Khaled Said “with video clips and news­pa­per arti­cles [and] repeat­edly ham­mered home a sim­ple message.”

Les­son Four: Don’t Wait for Those Sup­posed To Do This Work

Most of this social media was cre­ated by stu­dents for good­ness sake and it all relied on essentially-free ser­vices. Everyone’s always thought that if Egypt were to explode it would be the dreaded-but-popular Mus­lim Broth­er­hood that would lead the charge. But they didn’t. They scram­bled not know­ing what to do as protests erupted in the major cities. Even­tu­ally the Brotherhood’s youth wing joined the protests and the full orga­ni­za­tion fol­lowed suit but it was not the lead­ers in any of this.

When we’re talk­ing about pop­u­lar orga­ni­zat­ing, money and estab­lished cre­den­tials aren’t always an advan­tage. What’s inter­est­ing to learn with the Egypt protests is that the gen­er­a­tion lead­ing it doesn’t seem to have as strict a reli­gious world­view as its par­ents. This came out most dra­mat­i­cally in the images of Chris­t­ian Egyp­tians pro­tect­ing their Mus­lim broth­ers in Tahir Square dur­ing times of prayer. This is hav­ing ram­i­fi­ca­tion in copy­cat protests in Tehran. Iran­ian lead­ers tried to paint the Egypt­ian stu­dents as heirs to their own Islamic rev­o­lu­tion but it seems prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions are more impor­tant than set­ting up an Islamist state (stay tuned on this one–protests have begun in Tehran on one hand and the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood might well take over from Egypt pro­test­ers now that Mubarak is out).

On a per­sonal note…

It’s inter­est­ing to watch how the three-year old Save St Mary’s cam­paign has mim­ic­ked some of the fea­tures of the Egypt­ian protests. Their blog has been pretty relent­less in expos­ing the lies. It’s attracted far more media atten­tion than the professionally-staffed Dioce­san press office has been able to muster. There’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes talk­ing with churches in other regions to com­pare tac­tics and antic­i­pate counter-moves. As far as I know it’s one of seven churches nation­wide with round-the-clock vig­ils but it’s the only one with a strong social media com­po­nent. It’s aver­age age is prob­a­bly a gen­er­a­tion or two younger than the other vig­ils which gives it a cer­tain frank style that’s not found else­where. The Philadel­phia Arch­dio­cese is explod­ing now with arrests of recent Dioce­san offi­cials and rev­e­la­tions from the Dis­trict Attoreny that dozens of priests with “cred­i­ble accu­sa­tions” of pedophilia are still min­is­ter­ing around kids and while church clos­ings and the pedophilia scan­dals are not offi­cially con­nected, as a non-Catholic I’m fine admit­ting that they arise from a shared Dioce­san cul­ture of money and cover-ups. Again, “repeat­ingly ham­mer­ing home a sim­ple mes­sage” is a good strategy.

Sightings: Elevator Pitches, the Economics of Jesus and the Gospel in Spain

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sightings: Quaker Families, Friends Leadership and In-Group Dynamics

  • Young fam­i­lies need Quak­erism, and Quak­erism needs young fam­i­lies. Where does the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends stand in rela­tion to today’s “belea­guered moms and dads”? To the extent that Quaker cul­ture has not inten­tion­ally orga­nized itself around the needs of young fam­i­lies, many peo­ple of my life stage have opted out of par­tic­i­pa­tion in orga­nized Quak­erism. We know this from research as well as expe­ri­en­tially, as many Friends’ own adult children–and there­fore their grand­chil­dren –are not active in a meet­ing community.

    tags: quaker quaker.youth quaker.community quaker.parenting quaker.philadelphia

  • For myself, I have found that I lost inter­est in or dis­liked many things over the years. I avoid a lot of enter­tain­ments because I find them over­stim­u­lat­ing, they are too loud, too fran­tic and too full of events designed to pro­voke phys­i­o­log­i­cal arousal. More recently I find the amount of rude­ness, vio­lence and sex­u­al­ity dis­turb­ing. I am left feel­ing exhausted but restless

    tags: quaker

  • The kids who remained part of the Meeting’s youth group tended to be ones who strug­gled to find their place in other areas of their lives. Through a set of shared rit­u­als — jazz hands, cud­dle pud­dles, and wink — and shared cul­tural assump­tions and behav­iors, the pri­mary pur­pose of the Quaker youth com­mu­nity becomes about sup­port­ing “peo­ple like us”… This in-group dynamic is not lim­ited to the youth.

    tags: quaker quaker.youth quaker.liberal quaker.baltimore quaker.community

  • While it is true that lead­er­ship can be a trou­bling con­cept for Friends, I have come to believe that we should move beyond our old hes­i­ta­tions. We would ben­e­fit from fuss­ing less about the things that can go wrong, instead invest­ing time reflect­ing upon the topic and devel­op­ing an under­stand­ing of lead­er­ship that can func­tion well in our context.

    tags: quaker quaker.community quaker.indiana

  • My par­ents acci­den­tally sent me to a lib­eral Friends sum­mer camp not expect­ing me to come back hun­gry for faith. I missed hav­ing meet­ing every day. I missed the peace I felt in the meet­ing cir­cle and the con­nec­tion to God I found there. I used to go dur­ing free time to re-center myself and to seek a feel­ing I got dur­ing meet­ing. The best way to describe it to another per­son is that I was get­ting a hug from the Holy Spirit.

    tags: quaker quaker.youth quaker.liberal quaker.plain quaker.newyork

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Opening Doors and Moving on Up

Friends Gen­eral Con­fer­ence has announced that Barry Crossno will be their new incom­ing Gen­eral Sec­re­tary. Old time blog­gers will remem­ber him as the blog­ger behind The Quaker Dharma. FGC’s just pub­lished an inter­view with him and one of the ques­tions is about his blog­ging past. Here’s part of the answer:

Blog­ging among Friends is very impor­tant.  There are not a lot of Quak­ers.  We’re spread out across the world.  Blog­ging opens up dia­logues that just wouldn’t hap­pen oth­er­wise.  While I laid down my blog, “The Quaker Dharma,” a few years ago, and my think­ing on some issues has evolved since then, I’m clear that blog­ging is what allowed me to give voice to my call.  It helped open some of the doors that led me to work for Pen­dle Hill and, now by exten­sion, FGC.  A lot of cut­ting edge Quaker thought is being shared through blogs.

I thought it might be use­ful to fill in a lit­tle bit of this story. If you go read­ing through the back com­ments on Barry’s blog you’ll see it’s a time machine into the early Quaker blog­ging com­mu­nity. I first posted about his blog in Feb­ru­ary of 2005 with Quaker Dharma: Let the Light Shine and I high­lighted him reg­u­larly (March, April, June) until the proto-QuakerQuaker “Blog Watch” started run­ning. There I fea­tured him twice that June and twice more in August, the most active period of his blogging.

It’s nos­tal­gic to look through the com­menters: Joe G., Peter­son Toscano, Mitchell San­tine Gould, Dave Carl, Bar­bara Q, Robin M, Brandice (Quaker Mon­key), Eric Muhr, Nancy A… There were some good dis­cus­sions. Barry’s most exu­ber­ant post was Let’s Begin, and LizOpp and I espe­cially labored with him to ground what was a very clear and obvi­ous lead­ing by hook­ing up with other Friends locally and nation­ally who were inter­ested in these efforts. I offered my help in hook­ing him up with FGC  and he wrote back “If you know peo­ple at other Quaker orga­ni­za­tions that you wish me to speak to and coor­di­nate with or pos­si­bly work for, I will.”

And that’s what I did. My super­vi­sor, FGC Devel­op­ment head Michael Wajda, was plan­ning a trip to Texas and I started talk­ing up Barry Crossno. I had a hunch they’d like each other. I told Michael that Barry had a lot of expe­ri­ence and a very clear lead­ing but needed to spend some time grow­ing as a Quaker–an incu­ba­tion period, if you will, among grounded Friends. In the first part of the FGC inter­view he mov­ingly talks about the ground­ing his time at Pen­dle Hill has given him.

The Quaker Dharma: Thank YouIn Octo­ber 2006 he announced he was clos­ing a blog that had become largely dor­mant. It’s worth quot­ing that first for­mal goodbye:

I want to thank those of you who chose to actively par­tic­i­pate. I learned a lot through our exchanges and I think there were many peo­ple who ben­e­fited from many of the posts you left. On a purely per­sonal note, I learned that it’s good to tem­per my need to GO DO NOW. Some of you really helped men­tor me con­cern­ing effec­tively lis­ten­ing to guid­ance and help­ing me under­stand that act­ing locally may be bet­ter than try­ing to take on the whole world at once.

I also want to share that I met some peo­ple and made con­tacts through this process that have opened tremen­dous doors for me and my abil­ity to put myself in ser­vice to oth­ers. For this I am deeply grate­ful. I feel sure that some of these ties will live on past the clos­ing of the Quaker Dharma.

Those of you famil­iar with pieces like The Lost Quaker Gen­er­a­tion and Pass­ing the Faith, Planet of the Quak­ers Style know I’ve long been wor­ried that we’ve not doing a good job iden­ti­fy­ing, sup­port­ing and retain­ing vision­ary new Friends. Around 2004 I stopped com­plain­ing (mostly) and just started look­ing for oth­ers who also held this con­cern. The online orga­niz­ing has spilled over into real world con­fer­ences and work­shops and is much big­ger than one web­site or small group. Now we see “grad­u­ates” of this net­work start­ing to take on real-world responsibilities.

Barry’s a bright guy with a strong lead­ing and a healthy ambi­tion. He would have cer­tainly made some­thing of him­self with­out the blogs and the “doors” opened up by myself and oth­ers. But it would have cer­tainly taken him longer to crack the Philadel­phia scene and I think it very likely that FGC would have announced a dif­fer­ent Gen­eral Sec­re­tary this week if it weren’t for the blogs.

Quak­erQuaker almost cer­tainly has more future Gen­eral Sec­re­taries in its mem­ber­ship rolls. But it would be a shame to focus on that or to imply that the pin­na­cle of a Quaker lead­ing is mov­ing to Philadel­phia. Many parts of the Quaker world are already too enthralled by it’s staff lists. What we need is to extend a cul­ture of every­day Friends ready to boldly exclaim the Good News–to love God and their neigh­bor and to leap with joy by the pres­ence of the Inward Christ. Friends’ cul­ture shouldn’t focus on staffing, flashy pro­grams or fundrais­ing hype.  At the end of the day, spir­i­tual out­reach is a one-on-one activ­ity. It’s peo­ple spend­ing the time to find one another, share their spir­i­tual jour­ney and share oppor­tu­ni­ties to grow in their faith.

Quak­erQuaker has evolved a lot since 2005. It now has a team of edi­tors, dis­cus­sion boards, Face­book and Twit­ter streams, and the site itself reaches over 100,000 read­ers a year. But it’s still about find­ing each other and encour­ag­ing each other. I think we’ve proven that these over­lap­ping, dis­trib­uted, largely-unfunded online ini­tia­tives can play a crit­i­cal out­reach role for the Soci­ety of Friends. What would it look like for the “old style” Quaker orga­ni­za­tions to start sup­port­ing inde­pen­dent Quaker social media? And how could our net­works rein­vig­o­rate cash-strapped Quaker orga­ni­za­tions with fresh faces and new mod­els of com­mu­ni­ca­tion? Those are ques­tions for another post.