Blogging for the Kingdom

Warn­ing: this is a blog post about blog­ging.

It’s always fas­ci­nat­ing to watch the ebb and flow of my blog­ging. Quak­er­ran­ter, my “main” blog has been remark­ably qui­et. I’m still up to my eye­balls with blog­ging in gen­er­al: post­ing things to Quak­erQuak­er, giv­ing help­ful com­ments and tips, help­ing oth­ers set up blogs as part of my con­sult­ing busi­ness. My Tum­blr blog and Face­book and Twit­ter feeds all con­tin­ue to be rel­a­tive­ly active. But most of the­se is me giv­ing voice to oth­ers. For two decades now, I’ve zigzagged between writer and pub­lish­er; late­ly I’ve been focused on the lat­ter.

When I start­ed blog­ging about Quak­er issues sev­en years ago, I was a low-level cler­i­cal employ­ee at an Quak­er orga­ni­za­tion. It was clear I was going nowhere career-wise, which gave me a cer­tain free­dom. More impor­tant­ly, blogs were a near­ly invis­i­ble medi­um, read by a self-selected group that also want­ed to talk open­ly and hon­est­ly about issues. I start­ed writ­ing about issues in among lib­er­al Friends and about missed out­reach oppor­tu­ni­ties. A lot of what I said was spot on and in hind­sight, the archives give me plen­ty of “told you so” cred­i­bil­i­ty. But where’s the joy in being right about what hasn’t worked?

Things have changed over the years. One is that I’ve resigned myself to those missed oppor­tu­ni­ties. Lots of Quak­er mon­ey and human­ly activ­i­ty is going into projects that don’t have God as a cen­ter. No amount of rant­i­ng is going to dis­suade good peo­ple from putting their faith into one more staff reor­ga­ni­za­tion, mis­sion rewrite or clev­er program.It’s a dis­trac­tion to spend much time wor­ry­ing about them.

But the biggest change is that my heart is square­ly with God. I’m most inter­est­ed in shar­ing Jesus’s good news. I’m not a cheer­lead­er for any par­tic­u­lar human insti­tu­tion, no mat­ter how noble its inten­tions. When I talk about the good news, it’s in the con­text of 350 years of Friends’ under­stand­ing of it. But I’m well aware that there’s lots of peo­ple in our meet­ing­hous­es that don’t under­stand it this way any­more. And also aware that the seek­er want­i­ng to pur­sue the Quak­er way might find it more close­ly mod­eled in alter­na­tive Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties. There are peo­ple all over lis­ten­ing for God and I see many attempts at rein­vent­ing Quak­erism hap­pen­ing among non-Friends.

I know this obser­va­tion excites some peo­ple to indig­na­tion, but so be it: I’m trust­ing God on this one. I’m not sure why He’sgiven us a world why the com­mu­ni­ties we bring togeth­er to wor­ship Him keep get­ting dis­tract­ed, but that’s what we’ve got (and it’s what we’ve had for a long time). Every per­son of faith of every gen­er­a­tion has to remem­ber, re-experience and revive the mes­sage. That hap­pens in church build­ings, on street cor­ners, in liv­ing rooms, lunch lines and nowa­days on blogs and inter­net forums.We can’t get too hung up on all the ways the mes­sage is get­ting blocked. And we can’t get hung up by insist­ing on only one chan­nel of shar­ing that mes­sage. We must share the good news and trust that God will show us how to man­i­fest this in our world: his king­dom come and will be done on earth.

But what would this look like?

When I first start­ed blog­ging there weren’t a lot of Quak­er blogs and I spent a lot more time read­ing oth­er reli­gious blogs. This was back before the emer­gent church move­ment became a wholly-owned sub­sidiary of Zon­der­van and wasn’t dom­i­nat­ed by hype artists (sor­ry, a lot of big names set off my slime-o-meter the­se days). There are still great blog­gers out there talk­ing about faith and read­ers want­i­ng to engage in this dis­cus­sion. I’ve been intrigued by the his­tor­i­cal exam­ple of Thomas Clark­son, the Angli­can who wrote about Friends from a non-Quaker per­spec­tive using non-Quaker lan­guage. And some­times I geek out and explain some Quak­er point on a Quak­er blog and get thanked by the author, who often is an expe­ri­enced Friend who had nev­er been pre­sent­ed with a clas­sic Quak­er expla­na­tion on the point in ques­tion. My track­ing log shows seek­ers con­tin­ue to be fas­ci­nat­ed and drawn to us for our tra­di­tion­al tes­ti­monies, espe­cial­ly plain­ness.

I’ve put togeth­er top­ic lists and plans before but it’s a bit of work, may­be too much to put on top of what I do with Quak­erQuak­er (plus work, plus fam­i­ly). There’s also ques­tions about where to blog and whether to sim­pli­fy my blog­ging life a bit by com­bin­ing some of my blogs but that’s more logis­tics rather than vision.

Inter­est­ing stuff I’m read­ing that’s mak­ing me think about this:

Focused blogs and side trips

Over on Eileen Flanagan’s Imper­fect Seren­i­ty, there’s an inter­est­ing post on blog pub­lic­i­ty, “Blog­ging dilem­mas,” inspired in part by Robin M”‘s recent “How did you get here?” post. Both bring up inter­est­ing ques­tions about the role of blogs in com­mu­ni­ty build­ing and the loca­tion of that line that sep­a­rates good blog­ging from mere self-promotion and pan­der­ing.

Read­ers will prob­a­bly be unsur­prised to learn that I use Tech­no­rati, Google Blog Search, etc., every day to keep track of the Quak­er blo­gos­phere. I act as a kind of com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er and my search­es are for inter­est­ing posts talk­ing about Quak­ers (until read­ing Eileen’s post I hadn’t check my Tech­no­rati “rank” in months). Many people’s first intro­duc­tion to Quak​erQuak​er​.org is get­ting linked from it, and I sus­pect I’ve acci­den­tal­ly out­ed a few begin­ning blog­gers who hadn’t told any­one of their new blog!

I have a pro­fes­sion­al blog on web design and ana­lyt­ics (with a some­what off-topic but sat­is­fy­ing post on top at the moment) and sep­a­rat­ing that out has allowed me to use this per­son­al blog, Quak­er­Ran­ter, for what­ev­er I like. Most reg­u­lar­ly read­ers would say it focus­es on Quak­erism and cute kid pic­tures and while those are the most com­mon posts, the most read posts are the minor fas­ci­na­tions I indul­ge myself with occa­sion­al­ly. Quak­er plain dress is some­thing I prac­tice but don’t think about most of the time (806 read­ers in past mon­th). My wife and I love to bust on bad baby names and unfair­ly unpop­u­lar baby names (627 vis­its). I’ve also detailed some out­ings to semi-legendary South Jer­sey haunts (317) and score high on search­es to them.

The con­ven­tion­al wis­dom of the blog-as-publicity tool crowd would prob­a­bly say the­se off-topic posts are dis­tract­ing my core audi­ence. Per­haps, but they’re infre­quent on the blog and long-lived on Google. Besides, I think it helps peo­ple to know I’m not just obsessed with one top­ic. Being a part of a real com­mu­ni­ty means know­ing each oth­er in all of our quirks. I’m more ten­der and for­giv­ing of oth­er Quak­er blog­gers when I know more of their sto­ry: it puts what they say into a con­text that makes it sound more lived, less ide­o­log­i­cal. There’s cer­tain­ly good rea­sons for tightly-focused pro­fes­sion­al blogs (I’d drop Techcrunch from my blogroll if they start­ed post­ing kids pic­tures!), but as more peo­ple read posts through feeds and aggre­ga­tors I won­der if there’s going to be as much pres­sure for per­son­al, community-oriented blogs to be as single-minded in their focus. 

We all have diverse, quirky inter­ests so why not indul­ge them? I have seen blogs that try too hard to pan­der to par­tic­u­lar audi­ences and boy, are they bor­ing! A cer­tain degree of idio­syn­crasy and sub­jec­tive orner­i­ness is prob­a­bly essen­tial. Per­son­al­i­ty is at least as impor­tant as focus.

PS: I’m also inter­est­ed in mak­ing sure I don’t loose the core audi­ence with all my side trips, hence the “lat­est Quak­er posts” at the top of the page. I have at least one request for a Quaker-only RSS feed and will even­tu­al­ly get that going.
PPS: As if on queue, the next post in Google Read­er after Eileen’s is Avin­ish Kaushik’s Blog Met­rics: Six rec­om­men­da­tions for mea­sur­ing your suc­cess. Parts of it are prob­a­bly a bit tech­ni­cal for most QR read­ers but it’s use­ful for think­ing about blogs as out­reach.

On job hunting and the blogging future in Metro Philadelphia

I’ve been qui­et on the blogs late­ly, focus­ing on job search­es rather than rant­i­ng. I thought I’d take a lit­tle time off to talk about my lit­tle cor­ner of the career mar­ket. I’ve been apply­ing for a lot of web design and edit­ing jobs but the most inter­est­ing ones have com­bined the­se togeth­er in cre­ative ways. My qual­i­fi­ca­tions for the­se jobs are more the inde­pen­dent sites I’ve put togeth­er — notably Quak​erQuak​er​.org—than my paid work for Friends.

For exam­ple: one inter­est­ing job gets repost­ed every few weeks on Craigslist. It’s geared toward adding next-generation inter­ac­tive con­tent to the web­site of a con­sor­tium of sub­ur­ban news­pa­pers (appli­cants are asked to be “com­fort­able with terms like blog, vlog, CSS, YourHub, MySpace, YouTube…,” etc.). The qual­i­fi­ca­tions and vision are right up my alley but I’m still wait­ing to hear any­thing about the appli­ca­tion I sent by email and snail mail a week ago. Despite this, they’re con­tin­u­ing to post revised descrip­tions to Craigslist. Yesterday’s ver­sion dropped the “con­ver­gence” lin­go and also dropped the pro­ject­ed salary by about ten grand.

About two months ago I actu­al­ly got through to an inter­view for a fab­u­lous job that con­sist­ed of putting togeth­er a blog­ging com­mu­ni­ty site to fea­ture the lesser-known and quirky busi­ness­es of Philadel­phia. I had a great inter­view, thought I had a good chance at the job and then heard noth­ing. Days turned to weeks as my follow-up com­mu­ni­ca­tions went unan­swered. 11/30 Update: a friend just guessed the group I was talk­ing about and emailed that the site did launch, just qui­et­ly. It looks good.

Cor­po­rate blog­ging is said to be the wave of the future and in only a few years polit­i­cal cam­paigns have come to con­sid­er blog­gers as an essen­tial tool in get­ting their mes­sage out. User-generated con­tent has become essen­tial feed­back and pub­lic­i­ty mech­a­nisms. My expe­ri­ence from the Quak­er world is that blog­gers are con­sti­tut­ing a new kind of lead­er­ship, one that’s both more out­go­ing but also thought­ful and vision­ary (I should post about this some­time soon). Blogs encour­age open­ness and trans­paren­cy and will sure­ly affect orga­ni­za­tion­al pol­i­tics more and more in the near future. Smart com­pa­nies and non­prof­its that want to grow in size and influ­ence will have to learn to play well with blogs.

But the future is lit­tle suc­cor to the present. In the Philadel­phia met­ro­pol­i­tan area it seems that the rare employ­er that’s think­ing in the­se terms have have a lot of back and forths try­ing to work out the job descrip­tion. Well, I only need one enlight­ened employ­er! It’s time now to put the boys to bed, then check the job boards again. Keep us in your prayers.

Visiting a Quaker School

I had an inter­est­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty last Thurs­day. I skipped work to be talk with two Quak­erism class­es at Philadelphia’s William Penn Char­ter School (thanks for the invite Michael and Thomas!). I was asked to talk about Quak­er blogs, of all things. Sim­ple, right? Well, on the pre­vi­ous Tues­day I hap­pened upon this pas­sage from Bri­an Drayton’s new book, On Liv­ing with a Con­cern for Gospel Min­istry:

I think that your work will have the great­est good effect if you wait to find whether and where the springs of love and divine life con­nect with this open­ing before you appear in the work. This is even true when you have had an invi­ta­tion to come and speak on a top­ic to a work­shop or some oth­er forum. It is wise to be sus­pi­cious of what is very easy, draws on your prac­ticed strengths and accom­plish­ments, and can be treat­ed as an every­day trans­ac­tion. (p. 149).

Good advice. Of course the role of min­istry is even more com­pli­cat­ed in that I wasn’t address­ing a Quak­er audi­ence: like the major­i­ty of Friends schools, few Penn Char­ter stu­dents actu­al­ly are Quak­er. I’m a pub­lic school kid, but it from the out­side it seems like Friends schools stress the ethos of Quak­erism (“here’s Penn Charter’s state­ment“). Again Dray­ton helped me think beyond nor­mal ideas of pros­e­ly­tiz­ing and out­reach when he talked about “pub­lic meet­ings”:

We are also called, I feel to invite oth­ers to share Christ direct­ly, not pri­mar­i­ly in order to intro­duce them to Quak­erism and bring them into our meet­ings, but to encour­age them to turn to the light and fol­low it” (p. 147).

What I shared with the stu­dents was some of the ways my inter­ac­tion with the Spir­it and my faith com­mu­ni­ty shapes my life. When we keep it real, this is a pro­found­ly uni­ver­sal­ist and wel­com­ing mes­sage.

I talked about the per­son­al aspect of blog­ging: in my opin­ion we’re at our best when we weave our the­ol­o­gy with with per­son­al sto­ries and tes­ti­monies of speci­fic spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences. The stu­dents remind­ed me that this is also real world lesson: their great­est excite­ment and ques­tion­ing came when we start­ed talk­ing about my father (I used to tell the sto­ry of my com­plete­ly messed-up child­hood fam­i­ly life a lot but have been out of the habit late­ly as it’s reced­ed into the past). The stu­dents real­ly want­ed to under­stand not just my sto­ry but how it’s shaped my Quak­erism and influ­enced my com­ing to Friends. They asked some hard ques­tions and I was stuck hav­ing to give them hard answers (in that they were non-sentimental). When we share of our­selves, we present a wit­ness that can reach out to oth­ers.

Lat­er on, one of the teach­ers pro­ject­ed my blogroll on a screen and asked me about the peo­ple on it. I start­ed telling sto­ries, relat­ing cool blog posts that had stuck out in my mind. Wow: this is a pret­ty amaz­ing group, with diver­si­ty of ages and Quak­erism. Review­ing the list real­ly remind­ed me of the amaz­ing com­mu­ni­ty that’s come togeth­er over the last few years.

One inter­est­ing lit­tle snip­pet for the Quak­er cul­tur­al his­to­ri­ans out there: Penn Char­ter was the Gur­neyite school back in the day. When I got Michael’s email I was ini­tial­ly sur­prised they even had class­es on Quak­erism as it’s often thought of as one of the least Quak­er of the Philadelphia-area Quak­er schools. But think­ing on it, it made per­fect sense: the Gur­neyites loved edu­ca­tion; they brought Sun­day School (sor­ry, First Day School) into Quak­erism, along with Bible study and high­er edu­ca­tion. Of course the school that bears their lega­cy would teach Quak­erism. Inter­est­ing­ly enough, the his­tor­i­cal Ortho­dox school down the road aways recent­ly approached Penn Char­ter ask­ing about their Quak­er class­es; in true Wilbu­rite fash­ion, they’ve nev­er both­ered try­ing to teach Quak­erism. The offi­cial Philadel­phia Quak­er sto­ry is that branch­es were all fixed up nice and tidy back in 1955 but scratch the sur­face just about any­where and you’ll find Nine­teen­th Cen­tu­ry atti­tudes still shap­ing our insti­tu­tion­al cul­ture. It’s pret­ty fas­ci­nat­ing real­ly.

Two Years of the Quaker Ranter and Quaker Blogs

An amaz­ing thing has hap­pened in the last two years: we’ve got Friends from the cor­ners of Quak­erism shar­ing our sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences, our frus­tra­tions and dreams through Quak­er blogs. Dis­en­chant­ed Friends who have longed for deep­er con­ver­sa­tion and con­so­la­tion when things are hard at their local meet­ing have built a net­work of Friends who under­stand. When our gen­er­a­tion is set­tling down to write our mem­oirs — our Quak­er jour­nals — a lot of us will have to have at least one chap­ter about becom­ing involved in the Quak­er blog­ging com­mu­ni­ty.

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My per­son­al site before and after it became “Quak­er Ranter.”

When I signed off on my last post, I promised I would con­tin­ue with some­thing on “blogs, min­istry and lib­er­al Quak­er out­reach.” Here’s the first of the follow-ups.

As I set­tle in to my sec­ond week at my new (and newly-defined) jobs at FGC, I won­der if I be here with­out help of the Quak­er Ranter? I start­ed this blog two sum­mers ago. It was a time when I felt like I might be head­ed toward mem­ber­ship in the lost Quak­er gen­er­a­tion that was the focus of one of my ear­li­est posts. There were a lot of dead-ends in my life. A cou­ple of appli­ca­tions for more seri­ous, respon­si­ble employ­ment with Friends had recent­ly gone nowhere. Life at my month­ly meet­ing was odd (we’ll keep it at that). I felt I was com­ing into a deep­er expe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge of my Quak­erism and per­haps inch­ing toward more overt min­istry but there was no out­let, no sense of how this inward trans­for­ma­tion might fit into any sort of out­ward social form or forum.

Every­where I looked I saw Friends short­com­ing them­selves and our reli­gious soci­ety with a don’t-rock-the-boat timid­i­ty that wasn’t serv­ing God’s pur­pose for us. I saw pre­cious lit­tle prophet­ic min­istry. I knew of few Friends who were ask­ing chal­leng­ing ques­tions about our wor­ship life. Our lan­guage about God was becom­ing ever more cod­ed and ster­il­ized. Most of the twenty-somethings I knew gen­er­al­ly approached Quak­erism pri­mar­i­ly as a series of cul­tur­al norms with only dif­fer­ent stan­dards from one year­ly meet­ing to anoth­er (and one Quak­er branch to anoth­er, I sus­pect) .
With all this as back­drop, I start­ed the Quak­er Ranter with a nothing-left-to-lose men­tal­i­ty. I was ner­vous about push­ing bound­aries and about broach­ing things pub­licly that most Friends only say in hushed tones of two or three on meet­ing­house steps. I was also dou­bly ner­vous about being a Quak­er employ­ee talk­ing about this stuff (liveli­hood and all that!). The few Quak­er blogs that were out there were gen­er­al­ly blogs by Quak­ers but about any­thing but Quak­erism, pol­i­tics being the most com­mon top­ic.

Now sure, a lot of this hasn’t changed over the­se few years. But one thing has: we now have a vibrant com­mu­ni­ty of Quak­er blog­gers. We’ve got folks from the cor­ners of Quak­erism get­ting to know one anoth­er and hash out not just our sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences, but our frus­tra­tions and dreams. It’s so cool. There’s some­thing hap­pen­ing in all this! Dis­en­chant­ed Friends who have longed for deep­er con­ver­sa­tion and con­so­la­tion when things are hard at their local meet­ing are find­ing Friends who under­stand.

Through the blog and the com­mu­ni­ty that formed around it I’ve found a voice. I’m evolv­ing, cer­tain­ly, through read­ing, life, blog con­ver­sa­tions and most impor­tant­ly (I hope!) the act­ing of the Holy Spir­it on my ever-resistant ego. But because of my blog I’m some­one who now feels com­fort­able talk­ing about what it means to be a Quak­er in a pub­lic set­ting. It almost seems quaint to think back to the ear­ly blog con­ver­sa­tions about whether we can call this a kind of min­istry. When we’re all set­tling down to write our mem­oirs — our Quak­er jour­nals — a lot of us will have to have at least one chap­ter about becom­ing involved in the Quak­er blog­ging com­mu­ni­ty. In Howard Brinton’s Quak­er Jour­nals he enu­mer­at­ed the steps toward growth in the min­istry that most of the writ­ers seemed to go through; I sus­pect the jour­nals of our gen­er­a­tion will add self-published elec­tron­ic media to it’s list of clas­sic steps.

When I start­ed Quak­er Ranter I did have to won­der if this might be a quick­est way to get fired. Not to cast asper­sions on the powers-that-be at FGC but the web is full of cau­tion­ary tales of peo­ple being canned because of too-public blogs. My only con­so­la­tion was the sense that no one that mat­tered real­ly read the thing. But as it became more promi­nent a curi­ous phe­nom­e­non hap­pened: even Quak­er staff and über-insiders seemed to be relat­ing to this con­ver­sa­tion and want­ed a place to com­plain and dream about Quak­erism. My per­son­al rep­u­ta­tion has cer­tain­ly gone up because of this site, direct­ly and indi­rect­ly because of the blog. This brings with it the snares of pop­u­lar praise (itself a well-worn the­me in Quak­er jour­nals) but it also made it more like­ly I would be con­sid­ered for my new out­reach job. It’s fun­ny how life works.
Okay, that’s enough for a post. I’ll have to keep out­reach till next time. But bear with me: it’s about form too and how form con­tributes to min­istry.

PS: Talk­ing of two years of Quak­er blog­ging… My “Non​vi​o​lence​.org turns ten years old this Thurs­day!! I thought about mak­ing a big deal about it but alas there’s so lit­tle time.

The Early Blogging Days

I started Nonviolence.org in late 1995 as a place to publicize the work of the US peace movement which was not getting out to a wide (or a young) audience. I built and maintained the websites of a few dozen hosted groups (including the War Resisters League, Fellowship of Reconciliation and Pax Christi USA) but I quickly realized that the Nonviolence.org homepage itself could be used for more than just as a place to put links to member groups. I could use it to highlight the articles I thought should get more publicity, whether on or off the Nonviolence.org domain.

The homepage adapted into what is now a recognizable blog format on November 13, 1997 when I re-named the homepage “Nonviolence Web Upfront” and started posting links to interesting articles from Nonviolence.org member groups. In response to a comment the other day I wondered how that fit in with the evolution of blogging. I was shocked to learn from Wikipedia’s that the term “weblog” wasn’t coined until December of that year. I think is less a coincidence than a confirmation that many of us were trying to figure out a format for sharing the web with others.

The earliest edition stored on Archive.org is from December 4, 1997. It focused on the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day. To give you an sense of the early independently-published articles, the January 2, 1998 edition included a guest piece by John Steitz, “Is the Nonviolence Web a Movement Half-Way House” that sounds eerily similar to recent discussions on Quaker Ranter.

Below is an excerpt from the email announcement for “Nonviolence Web Upfront” (typically for me, I sent it out after I had been running the new format for awhile):

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NONVIOLENCE WEB NEWS, by Martin Kelley Week of December 29, 1997

CONTENTS

Introducing “Nonviolence Web Upfront”

New Procedures
New Website #1: SERPAJ
New Website #2: Stop the Cassini Flyby
Two Awards
Numbers Available Upon Request
Weekly Visitor Counts

With my travelling and holiday schedule, it’s been hard to keep regular NVWeb News updates coming along, but it’s been a great month and there’s a lot. I’m especially proud of the continuing evolution of what I’m now calling “Nonviolence Web Upfront,” seen by 1800-2200 people a month!

———-

INTRODUCING “NONVIOLENCE WEB UPFRONT”

The new magazine format of the NVWeb’s homepage has been needing a name. It needed to mentioned the “Nonviolence Web” and I wanted it to imply that it was the site’s homepage (sometimes referred to as a “frontpage”) and that it contained material taken from the sites of the NVWeb.

So the name is “Nonviolence Web Upfront” and a trip to http://www.nonviolence.org will see that spelled out big on top of the weekly-updated articles.

There’s also an archive of the weekly installments found at the bottom of NVWeb Upfront. It’s quite a good collection already!

Now that this is moving forward, I encourage everyone to think about how they might contribute articles. If you write an interesting opinion piece, essay, or story that you think would fit, send it along to me. For example, “War Toys: Re-Action-ist Figures” FOR’s Vincent Romano’s piece from the Nov. 27 edition, was an essay he had already written and made a good complimentary piece for the YouthPeace Week special. But don’t worry about themes: NVWeb Upfront is meant not only to be timely but to show the breadth of the nonviolence movement, so send your pieces along!

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