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.

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 Non​vi​o​lence​.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 Non​vi​o​lence​.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 Non​vi​o​lence​.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 Non​vi​o​lence​.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):


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


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!

— —  — -


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​.non​vi​o​lence​.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!


Uh-Oh: Beppe’s Doubts

I’ve occa­sion­ally thought of Beppeblog’s  Joe Guada as my blog­ging Quaker dopple­ganger. More than once he’s writ­ten the post I was about to write. And more than one impor­tant arti­cle of mine started as com­men­tary to one of his insight­ful arti­cles.

So I’m wor­ried that he’s writ­ten the first of a mul­ti­part arti­cle ask­ing Is it time to leave Quak­erism. I’m wor­ried not just that Quak­erism would lose a bright Light, etc., etc, but because I know that now I’m going to have to pub­licly mull over the ques­tion that’s a con­stant back­ground hum that I try not to think about.

Update: just to prove my point, my com­ment to Joe’s post was more inter­est­ing that my post point­ing to his post. Here’s the com­ment I just left there:

There was one day in wor­ship a few years ago right around the time when my wife Julie decided to leave Quak­erism when I had this odd vision. I imag­ined us as boul­ders the front edge of a water­fall. Thou­sands of gal­lons of water swept over us every day, erod­ing and scar­ring our sur­face and under­min­ing the frag­ile base we were on. When Boul­der Julie finally dis­lodged and fell off the precipice of Quak­erism, I real­ized that one of the rocks that had held me in place was now gone and now there was going to be even more water and pres­sure try­ing to push me off.
I say this because you’ve become one of my blog­ging rocks, some­one who con­firms that I’m not a total nut­case. If you went over the edge I’d have to reassess my sit­u­a­tion and at least take a peek down myself. At the very least I’m going to have to blog about why I’ve stayed so long. I’m sure this is only part one to my com­men­tary on these issues…

Of Theo, threats and selective press quoting

The Baby Theo blog got a men­tion in today’s Philadel­phia Inquirer, It’s almost as good as being there, by Kathy Boc­cella. They missed out on a huge rat­ings bonanza by not pick­ing Theo for their pic­tures. Stranger was that two inter­views pro­duced only one off-topic sub­stan­tive line: “Mar­tin Kelly [sic] expe­ri­enced the worst of it when some­one threat­ened his infant son on his Baby Theo Web page [via Archive​.org, as it appeared around the time this arti­cle was writ­ten].

Above: Theo on learn­ing he wasn’t going to be the fea­tured baby photo in the Inquirer piece… Real photo cap­tion: This week­end Julie Theo and I took a mini vaca­tion to the Penn­syl­va­nia coal regions. One of the stops was the beau­ti­fully restored Tamaqua train sta­tion, where Theo’s great great grand­fa­ther, the first Mar­tin John Kel­ley, worked as a Read­ing Rail­road con­duc­tor. We woke the lit­tle guy up from a car nap to see the sta­tion and snap this pic­ture, cruel par­ents that we are.

The Baby Theo site has been a lot of fun and it’s had great com­ments and emails of sup­port. It’s really a shame that the arti­cle only used it to strike that tired old refrain about the pos­si­ble dan­ger lurk­ing on the inter­net.

The threat had noth­ing to do with Theo or with the baby blog. I’ve run a promi­nent anti­war web­site (closed, was at non​vi​o​lence​.org) through two wars now, and in the nine years of its exis­tence I’ve amassed quite a col­lec­tion of abu­sive emails. I try not to take them too seri­ously: most come from sol­diers or from the fam­i­lies of solid­ers, peo­ple desparately afraid of the future and surely torn by the acts they’re being asked to com­mit. The inter­net pro­vides the psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tance for oth­er­wise good peo­ple to demo­nize the “com­mie Saddam-loving peacenik cow­ard.” You could get mad at a Pres­i­dent that actively mis­leads the coun­try into war but it’s eas­ier to turn your anger on some schmuck who runs an anti­war web­site in his spare time. Send­ing threat­en­ing emails is itself cow­ardly and anti-democratic, of course, and as I’ve writ­ten on Non​vi​o​lence​.org, it’s ter­ri­bly inap­pro­pri­ate for “mil­i­tary per­son­nel to use gov­ern­ment com­put­ers to threaten the free speech” of a dis­sent­ing Amer­i­can cit­i­zen. But it hap­pens. And because it hap­pens and because South Jer­sey has its share of pro-war hot­heads, you won’t see our speci­fic town men­tioned any­where on the site. When I asked the Inquirer reporter if they could not men­tion our town, she asked why, which led to the threat­en­ing emails, which led to the ques­tion whether Theo specif­i­cally had been threat­ened.

And yes, there was a retired Lieu­tenant Colonel who sent a par­tic­u­larly creepy set of emails (more on him below). The first email didn’t men­tion Theo. It was just one of those every­day emails wish­ing that my fam­ily would be gang-raped, tor­tured and exe­cuted in front of me. I usu­ally ignore these but responded to him, upon which I received a sec­ond email explain­ing that he was mak­ing a point with his threat (“You, your orga­ni­za­tion and oth­ers like you rep­re­sent the ‘flabby soft white under­belly’ of our Nation. This is the tis­sue of an ani­mal that is the tar­get of preda­tors.” Etc., etc., blah, blah, blah). This time he searched the Non​vi​o​lence​.org site more thor­oughly and specif­i­cally men­tioned Theo in his what-if sce­nario. This was one email out of the thou­sands I receive every month. It was an inap­pro­pri­ate rhetor­i­cal argu­ment against a political/religious stance I’ve taken as a pub­lic wit­ness. It was not a cred­i­ble threat to my son.

Still, pre­cau­tion is in order. I men­tioned this story to the Inquirer reporter only to explain why I didn’t want the town listed. When I talked about the blog, I talked about old friends and dis­tant rel­a­tives keep­ing up with us and shar­ing our joys via the web­site. I talked about how the act of putting together entries helped Julie & I see Theo’s changes. I told Kathy how it was fun that friends who we had met via the inter­net were able to see some­thing beyond the Quaker essays or polit­i­cal essays. None of that made it through to the arti­cle, which is a shame. A request to not pub­lish our home town became a sen­sa­tion­al­ist cau­tion­ary tale that is now being repeated as a rea­son not to blog. How stu­pid.

The cau­tion­ary lesson is only applic­a­ble for those who both run a baby blog and a heav­ily used polit­i­cal web­site. When your web­site tops 50,000 vis­i­tors a day, you might want to switch to a P.O. Box. End of lesson.

For­tu­nately with the inter­net we don’t have to rely on the fil­ter of a main­stream press reporters. Vis­i­tors from the Inquirer arti­cle have been look­ing around the site and pre­sum­ably see­ing it’s not all about inter­net dan­gers. Since the Inquirer arti­cle went up I’ve had twice as many vis­its from Google as I have from Philly​.com. Viva the web!

For those inter­ested, the freaky retired Lieu­tenant Colonel is the chief exec­u­tive offi­cer of a pri­vate avi­a­tion com­pany based in Florida, with con­tracts in three African nations that just hap­pen to be of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to the U.S. State Depart­ment. Although the com­pany is named after him, his full name has been care­fully excised from his web­site. I don’t sus­pect that he really is retired from U.S.-sponsored mil­i­tary ser­vice, if you know what I mean… Here’s your tax dol­lars at work.

A few news­pa­per web­sites have repub­lished up the Inky arti­cle and two blog­ging news sites have picked up on it:

  • Yet Another Baby Blog­ging story uncov­ers dan­ger — but it’s not true ran in Blog​ging​Baby​.com: “When some­one threat­ened his son on his Baby Theo Web page, he took the site down; but left up a pic on his home page. Well, that is, accord­ing to the arti­cle, which some­how man­aged to not check its facts (maybe, ummm – go to the link you included in your arti­cle?) and dis­cover that, in fact, Baby Theo’s page is alive and well. We’re glad, Theo’s a cutie.”
  • Baby blog­gers ran in Net­fam­i­lynews. “The $64,000 question(s) is: Is this a shift of think­ing and behav­ior or, basi­cally, a mis­take?.. Mar­tin Kelly, whose baby was threat­ened by some­one who vis­ited his baby page, would lean toward the mis­take side of the ques­tion.” (No I wouldn’t, as I explained to the web­mas­ter later)

Non​vi​o​lence​.org syndicated

A lit­tle bit of house­keep­ing: There have been a few behind-the-scene changes on the Non​vi​o​lence​.org home­page this week­end. I’ve switched the blog­ging soft­ware over to Move­able­type.
The hard-core blog read­ers will appre­ci­ate that Non​vi​o​lence​.org now has an syn­di­cated news feed. That means that you can now read the home­page with soft­ware like Sharpreader, News­ga­tor, etc.
even the more-casual read­ers will appre­ci­ate that you can now com­ment directly on every arti­cle. There will be other sub­tler fea­tures added over time. Let me know if there are any prob­lems.