Conferences and videos

Church­es Retool Mis­sion Trips — wash​ing​ton​post​.com

A grow­ing body of research ques­tions the val­ue of the trips abroad, which are sup­posed to bring hope and Chris­tian­i­ty to the needy of the world, while offer­ing Amer­i­can par­tic­i­pants an oppor­tu­ni­ty to work in dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties, devel­op rela­tion­ships and charge up their faith. Crit­ics scorn­ful­ly call such trips “reli­gious tourism” under­tak­en by “vaca­tion­ar­ies.”

My brand of reli­gious don’t do this kind of mis­sion work but we are more and more enchant­ed with long-distance con­fer­ences. We now address every issue with a con­fer­ence but do we ask any “research ques­tions” about their effec­tive­ness? The web is a great tool to extend the con­fer­ence out­ward and yet, despite all the con­tent that could be eas­i­ly port­ed to the web, most con­fer­ences, con­sul­ta­tions and gath­er­ings bare­ly exist online. 

I know that real life has it’s own val­ue – I was hap­py to have a vis­it from indi­vid­u­al trav­el­er Mic­ah Bales this week­end, a Friend with a great tal­ent for the good ques­tion that stays with you long after his bus departs. I just wish I saw more media com­ing out of the­se big events, more ways to boot­strap the vol­umes of con­tent pro­duced at the­se events into some­thing we can use for out­reach.

If anec­do­tal evi­dence is an indi­ca­tion, most of the peo­ple who have come to Friends in the last half-decade first encoun­tered us on Beliefnet, a for-profit dot-com with no con­nec­tion to any Friends body. It’s def­i­n­i­tions of “Lib­er­al Quak­ers” and “Ortho­dox Quak­ers” have become more impor­tant (de fac­to) than all of our books of Faith and Prac­tice. Beliefnet, Wikipedia and a site called Reli­gious Tol­er­ance have become the defin­ers of our faith to mil­lions of seek­ers. Noth­ing we’re doing comes close to Beliefnet.

And this is part fo the rea­son I’ve been fas­ci­nat­ed by a Youtube video that was made this week­end. It’s an intro­duc­tion to “lib­er­al Quak­ers” by some­one who’s nev­er been to Quak­er wor­ship. While this might sound pre­sump­tu­ous, the real crime is that hers is the only Amer­i­can lib­er­al Quak­er intro­duc­tion on Youtube. What the hell are we doing, Friends? I’ve been cor­re­spond­ing with the Youtu­ber. She’s 22, a spir­i­tu­al seek­er who cob­bled togeth­er a spir­i­tu­al­i­ty after fol­low­ing a cou­ple of dead-end spir­i­tu­al paths. She came across the Beliefnet quiz, came out a “lib­er­al Quak­er” and start­ed look­ing for real world Friends. She tried the meet­ing in her home town but it looked desert­ed (!) and so start­ed an email cor­re­spon­dence with a Friend she found on anoth­er meeting’s web­site. She did the Youtube video because she couldn’t find any Amer­i­can intro­duc­tions and want­ed to give back, espe­cial­ly to younger seek­ers that might not respond to a British Youtube series. Yes her video is awk­ward and a lit­tle sketchy on some points of lib­er­al Quak­er the­ol­o­gy, but it’s hon­est and doesn’t con­tain any view­points you won’t hear around most meet­ing­hous­es.

PS: Since writ­ing this I’ve come across the first video from the just-concluded FGC Gath­er­ing. I don’t know if it’ll help with out­reach but it is real­ly fun­ny. Thanks Skip, I feel like I was there! 

  • There’s no sub­sti­tute for face-to-face meet­ings — I was pleased recent­ly to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet an Amer­i­can Quak­er blog­ger in per­son while he was stay­ing at Wood­brooke.
    But it’s becom­ing increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to jus­ti­fy all this trav­el­ling about, espe­cial­ly by plane, in the face of the threat from glob­al cli­mate change.

  • Jean­ne B

    The most inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion I had at Gath­er­ing includ­ed Mic­ah Bales (and Eric Evans and Rex Sprouse).
    So we’re most­ly veg­e­tar­i­ans? We’re hav­ing indi­vid­u­al spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences?
    Some of the expe­ri­ence I’ve had around out­reach include a young Friend on face­book who wrote a pro­found note about her expe­ri­ence as a daugh­ter of a trans­gen­dered par­ent. Her non-Quaker friends who saw it were amazed at how open Quak­ers are about those issues.
    On Oprah’s web­site, I’ve been fol­low­ing a dis­cus­sion of Eck­hart Tolle’s book “A New Earth” and peo­ple were say­ing things like “I think Quak­ers do this stuff,” and I’ve post­ed some more accu­rate infor­ma­tion. From that, sev­er­al peo­ple have checked out Month­ly Meet­ings and one per­son ordered sev­er­al Quak­er books from Quak­er Books of FGC.
    I think a lot of what we do in the blog world is talk to one anoth­er. Nec­es­sar­i­ly. And some of that chat­ter is being heard by those who are not Quak­er. But I also can’t help but won­der, like you, where’s our Light into the world?
    Some say it’s the ser­vice work we do, that we don’t evan­ge­lize. But as long as we refuse to evan­ge­lize, we’ll have oth­ers say­ing for us what we’re about!

  • Paul L

    Mar­t­in — If you hadn’t told me that the young wom­an in the video was an authen­tic seek­er and that you’ve been cor­re­spond­ing with her, I would have thought you had cre­at­ed the fun­ni­est par­o­dy of what 21st Cen­tu­ry Lib­er­al Quak­erism has become.
    But your point is the right one: the big­ger prob­lem is that this is what peo­ple find when they look for Quak­ers on You Tube.
    And thanks for the Gath­er­ing meal­time video — among the many peo­ple I rec­og­nized were Robin M and my own Love­ly Wife.

  • mar​tinkel​ley​.com

    @Paul: I think part of the dis­con­nect is that she’s not speak­ing in Quak­ere­se. She’s using dif­fer­ent vocab­u­lar­ies to try to share her under­stand­ing of Friends. It sounds very for­eign to our over-trained ears. But that begs the ques­tion of whether we can learn talk about Quak­erism using mod­ern main­stream spir­i­tu­al lan­guage. And can we do so with­out los­ing some­thing of the core of belief? More soon.
    I missed Love­ly Wife and Robin in that video. I guess I was focused on the food!

  • Mar­t­in,
    Thank you for prompt­ing me into action. I have been think­ing about our New Media pres­ence (or lack there­of) for quite a while. Con­se­quent­ly, I found your post­ing to be the push I need­ed to move on some­thing that has pok­ing around in my head for some time. It feels right for me to have done it, and now hav­ing watched it sev­er­al times with hours between each, I still feel clear to post it.
    It isn’t any­thing amaz­ing, but it is my sense of things, and I can only hope that it prompts oth­ers into mak­ing there own respons­es. The more folks in the con­ver­sa­tion the bet­ter.
    You can see the video here:

    What is Lib­er­al Quak­erism?

    In the Light,

    Cal­lid Keefe-Perry
    Rochester Month­ly Meet­ing
    New York Year­ly Meet­ing


    PS Just a reminder that I am not speak­ing on behalf on my Meet­ing, but mere­ly as an indi­vid­u­al Friend try­ing his best to faith­ful­ly present his under­stand­ing.

    • Dave

      Hel­lo Jean­ne. It’s a small world. We’ve missed you over at the Tolle Mes­sage Boards on Oprah​.com. I haven’t read any recent posts from Bridge­builder late­ly either. May­be she has got­ten too involved in her Meet­ing.
      Yes…I’m the guy who bought quite a few books from Quaker­Books of FGC. And as you can see, I have also sub­scribed to Quak­erQuak­er. I am real­ly enjoy­ing those books (The Qui­et Rebels by Bacon, God Rais­ing Us by Flana­gan, God­less for God’s Sake by Boul­ton). Keep up the good work. You are an evan­ge­list of sorts.
      Wow!! I thought there were some heat­ed dis­cus­sions and dis­agree­ments on Oprah​.com over Tolle’s book but they are noth­ing com­pared to what I have seen here in the Quak­erQuak­er uni­verse: Heat­ed debates over Quak­er Sweat Lodges!?! Seem­ing­ly irrec­on­cil­able dif­fer­ences between “Christ-centered” and “Uni­ver­sal” Friends. And it seems to me there is so much over-intellectualizing (if that’s a word)… And more than just a tad of arro­gance – actu­al­ly– it seems to me– a whole lot of arro­gance. The post above from Paul L real­ly hurt my heart that some­one would talk about anoth­er human being in that way. I sure hope that young girl doesn’t decide to check out this site like I did. I have to be hon­est when I read stuff like that I think: Who would WANT to go to a meet­ing with peo­ple who talk like that around? I think your nor­mal, every­day work­ing guy or gal would feel VERY uncom­fort­able indeed around uppi­ty arro­gant peo­ple.
      I dunno…I guess I had hoped that kind­ness was the be-all and end-all of Quak­erism. That there was noth­ing else more impor­tant! But I am find­ing so lit­tle evi­dence of this on the Inter­net. This, of course, is my problem…I know. Quak­ers don’t have to be any dif­fer­ent from any­one else. But, I guess, I had hoped that they were.
      Adiós,
      Dave