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

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

The Not-Quite-So Young Quakers

It was five years ago this week that I sat down and wrote about a cool new move­ment I had been read­ing about. It would have been Jor­dan Coop­er’s blog that turned me onto Robert E Web­ber’s The Younger Evan­gel­i­cals, a look at gen­er­a­tional shifts among Amer­i­can Evan­gel­i­cals. I found it simul­ta­ne­ous­ly dis­ori­ent­ing and shock­ing that I actu­al­ly iden­ti­fied with most of the trends Web­ber out­lined. Here I was, still a young’ish Friend attend­ing one of the most lib­er­al Friends meet­ings in the coun­try (Cen­tral Philadel­phia) and work­ing for the very orga­ni­za­tion whose ini­tials (FGC) are inter­na­tion­al short­hand for hippy-dippy lib­er­al Quak­erism, yet I was nod­ding my head and laugh­ing out loud at just about every­thing Web­ber said. Although he most like­ly nev­er walked into a meet­ing­house, he clear­ly explained the gen­er­a­tional dynam­ics run­ning through Quak­er cul­ture and I fin­ished the book with a bet­ter under­stand­ing of why so much of our youth orga­niz­ing and out­reach was floun­der­ing on issues of tokenism and feel-good-ism.

My post, orig­i­nal­ly titled  “The Younger Evan­gel­i­cals and the Younger Quak­ers,”  (here it is in its orig­i­nal con­text) start­ed off as a book review but quick­ly became a Quak­er vision man­i­festo. The sec­tion heads alone ticked off the work to be done:

  • A re-examination of our roots, as Chris­tians and as Friends
  • A desire to grow
  • A more personally-involved, time-consuming com­mit­ment
  • A renewal of dis­ci­pline and over­sight
  • A con­fronta­tion of our eth­nic and cul­tur­al big­otries

When I wrote this, there wasn’t much you could call Quak­er blog­ging (Lynn Gazis-Sachs was an excep­tion), and when I googled vari­a­tions on “quak­ers” and “emerg­ing church” noth­ing much came up. It’s not sur­pris­ing that there wasn’t much of an ini­tial respon­se.

It took about two years for the post to find its audi­ence and respons­es start­ed com­ing from both lib­er­al and evan­gel­i­cal Quak­er cir­cles. In ret­ro­spect, it’s fair to say that the Quak­erQuak­er com­mu­ni­ty gath­ered around this essay (here’s Robin M’s account of first read­ing it) and it’s follow-up We’re All Ranters Now (Wess talk­ing about it). Five years after I postd it, we have a cadre of blog­gers and read­ers who reg­u­lar­ly gath­er around the Quak­erQuak­er water cool­er to talk about Quak­er vision. We’re get­ting pieces pub­lished in all the major Quak­er pub­li­ca­tions, we’re asked to lead wor­ships and we’ve got a catchy name in “Con­ver­gent Friends.”

And yet?

All of this is still a small demo­graph­ic scat­tered all around. If I want­ed to have a good two-hour caffeine-fueled bull ses­sion about the future of Friends at some local cof­feeshop this after­noon, I can’t think of any­one even vague­ly local who I could call up. A few years ago I start­ed com­mut­ing pret­ty reg­u­lar­ly to a meet­ing that did a good job at the Christian/Friends-awareness/roots stuff but not the discipline/oversight or desire-to-grow end of things. I’ve drift­ed away the last few months because I real­ized I didn’t have any per­son­al friends there and it was most­ly an hour-drive, hour-worship, hour-drive back home kind of expe­ri­ence.

My main cadre five years ago were fel­low staffers at FGC. A few years ago FGC com­mis­sioned sur­veys indi­cat­ed that poten­tial donors would respond favor­ably to talk about youth, out­reach and race stereo­typ­ing and even though the­se were some of the con­cerns I had been awk­ward­ly rais­ing for years, it was very clear I wasn’t wel­come in quickly-changing staff struc­ture and I found myself out of a job. The most excit­ing out­reach pro­grams I had worked on was a data­base that would col­lect the names and address­es of iso­lat­ed Friends, but It was qui­et­ly dropped a few months after I left. The new muchly-hyped $100,000 pro­gram for out­reach has this for its seek­ers page and fol­lows the typ­i­cal FGC pat­tern, which is to sprin­kle a few rotat­ing tokens in with a retreat cen­ter full of poten­tial donors to talk about Impor­tant Top­ics. (For those who care, I would have con­tin­ued build­ing the iso­lat­ed Friends data­base, mapped it for hot spots and coör­di­nat­ed with the youth min­istry com­mit­tee to send teams for extend­ed stays to help plant wor­ship groups. How cool would that be? Anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty lost.)

So where do we go?

I’m real­ly sad to say we’re still large­ly on our own. Accord­ing to actu­ar­i­al tables, I’ve recent­ly crossed my life’s halfway point and here I am still ref­er­enc­ing gen­er­a­tional change.

How I wish I could hon­est­ly say that I could get involved with any com­mit­tee in my year­ly meet­ing and get to work on the issues raised in “Younger Evan­gel­i­cals and Younger Quak­ers.” Some­one recent­ly sent me an email thread between mem­bers of an out­reach com­mit­tee for anoth­er large East Coast year­ly meet­ing and they were debat­ing whether the inter­net was an appro­pri­ate place to do out­reach work – in 2008?!? Britain Year­ly Meet­ing has a beau­ti­ful­ly pro­duced new out­reach web­site but I don’t see one con­vinced young Friend pro­filed and it’s post-faith empha­sis is down­right depress­ing (an involved youngish Amer­i­can Friend looked at it and remind­ed me that despite occa­sion­al atten­tion, smart young seek­ers seri­ous about Quak­erism aren’t anyone’s tar­get audi­ence, here in the US or appar­ent­ly in Britain).

A num­ber of inter­est­ing “Cov­er­gent” mind­ed Friends have an insider/outsider rela­tion­ship with insti­tu­tion­al Quak­erism. Inde­pen­dent wor­ship groups pop­ping up and more are being talked about (I won’t blow your cov­er guys!). I’ve seen Friends try to be more offi­cial­ly involved and it’s not always good: a bunch of younger Quak­er blog­gers have dis­ap­peared after get­ting named onto Impor­tant Com­mit­tees, their online pres­ence reduced to inside jokes on Face­book with their oth­er newly-insider pals.

What do we need to do:

  • We need to be pub­lic fig­ures;
  • We need to reach real peo­ple and con­nect our­selves;
  • We need to stress the whole pack­age: Quak­er roots, out­reach, per­son­al involve­ment and not let our­selves get too dis­tract­ed by hyped projects that only promise one piece of the puz­zle.

Here’s my to-do list:

  • CONVERGENT OCTOBER: Wess Daniels has talked about every­one doing some out­reach and net­work­ing around the “con­ver­gent” the­me next mon­th. I’ll try to arrange some Philly area meet-up and talk about some prac­ti­cal orga­niz­ing issues on my blog.
  • LOCAL MEETUPS: I still think that FGC’s iso­lat­ed Friends reg­istry was one of its bet­ter ideas. Screw them, we’ll start one our­selves. I com­mit to mak­ing one. Email me if you’re inter­est­ed;
  • LOCAL FRIENDS: I com­mit to find­ing half a dozen seri­ous Quak­er bud­dies in the dri­vable area to ground myself enough to be able to tip my toe back into the insti­tu­tion­al mias­ma when led (thanks to Mic­ah B who stressed some of this in a recent vis­it).
  • PUBLIC FIGURES: I’ve let my blog dete­ri­o­rate into too much of a “life stream,” all the pic­tures and twit­ter mes­sages all clog­ging up the more Quak­er mate­ri­al. You’ll notice it’s been redesigned. The right bar has the “life stream” stuff, which can be bet­tered viewed and com­ment­ed on on my Tum­bler page, Tum­bld Rants. I’ll try to keep the main blog (and its RSS feed) more seri­ous­ly mind­ed.

I want to stress that I don’t want any­one to quit their meet­ing or any­thing. I’m just find­ing myself that I need a lot more than business-as-usual. I need peo­ple I can call lower-case friends, I need per­son­al account­abil­i­ty, I need peo­ple will­ing to real­ly look at what we need to do to be respon­sive to God’s call. Some day may­be there will be an estab­lished local meet­ing some­where where I can find all of that. Until then we need to build up our net­works.

Like a lot of my big idea vision essays, I see this one doesn’t talk much about God. Let me stress that com­ing under His direc­tion is what this is all about. Meet­ings don’t exist for us. They facil­i­ate our work in becom­ing a peo­ple of God. Most of the inward-focused work that make up most of Quak­er work is self-defeating. Jesus didn’t do much work in the tem­ple and didn’t spend much time at the rab­bi con­ven­tions. He was out on the street, hang­ing out with the “bad” ele­ments, shar­ing the good news one per­son at a time. We have to find ways to sup­port one anoth­er in a new wave of ground­ed evan­ge­lism. Let’s see where we can all get in the next five years!

Another Quaker bookstore bites the dust

Not real­ly news, but Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing recent­ly ded­i­cat­ed their new Wel­come Cen­ter in what was once the FUM book­store:

On Sep­tem­ber 15, 2007, FUM ded­i­cat­ed the space once used as the Quak­er Hill Book­store as the new FUM Wel­come Cen­ter. The Wel­come Cen­ter con­tains Quak­er books and resources for F/friends to stop by and make use of dur­ing busi­ness hours. Tables and chairs to com­fort­ably accom­mo­date 50 peo­ple make this a great space to rent for reunions, church groups, meet­ings, anniversary/birthday par­ties, etc. Reduced prices are avail­able for church­es.

Most Quak­er pub­lish­ers and book­sellers have closed or been great­ly reduced over the last ten years. Great changes have occurred in the Philadelphia-area Pendle Hill book­store and pub­lish­ing oper­a­tion, the AFSC Book­store in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Bar­clay Press in Ore­gon. The ver­i­ta­ble Friends Book­shop in Lon­don farmed out its mail order busi­ness a few years ago and has seen part of its space tak­en over by a cof­fee­bar: pop­u­lar and cool I’m sure, but does Lon­don real­ly needs anoth­er place to buy cof­fee? Rumor has it that Britain’s pub­li­ca­tions com­mit­tee has been laid down. The offi­cial spin is usu­al­ly that the work con­tin­ues in a dif­fer­ent form but only Bar­clay Press has been reborn as some­thing real­ly cool. One of the few remain­ing book­sellers is my old pals at FGC’s Quaker­Books: still sell­ing good books but I’m wor­ried that so much of Quak­er pub­lish­ing is now in one bas­ket and I’d be more con­fi­dent if their web­site showed more signs of activ­i­ty.

The boards mak­ing the­se deci­sions to scale back or close are prob­a­bly unaware that they’re part
of a larg­er trend. They prob­a­bly think they’re respond­ing to unique sit­u­a­tions (the peer group Quak­ers Unit­ing in Pub­li­ca­tions sends inter­nal emails around but hasn’t done much to pub­li­cize this sto­ry out­side of its mem­ber­ship). It’s sad to see that so many Quak­er decision-making bod­ies have inde­pen­dent­ly decid­ed that pub­lish­ing is not an essen­tial part of their mis­sion.

peace movement humanitarian among iraq abductees

The UK "News Telegraph is confirming":http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/11/29/nirq29.xml&sSheet=/news/2005/11/29/ixnewstop.html what many of us in the peace movement have been worrying about all day: that at least some of the four westerners abducted in iraq over the weekend were members of the "Christian peacemakers Teams":http://www.cpt.org/
bq. A British anti-war activist abducted in iraq was investigating human rights abuses with a group called the Christian peacemakers Team when he was held.
Norman Kember, 74, the only publicly-named abductee, is a former secretary of the Baptist peace Fellowship in England and a board member of the English Fellowship of Reconciliation. He's been an outspoken opponent of the war in iraq. In the "April/May 2005 edition of FOR's newsletter":http://www.for.org.uk/plinks0405.pdf (pdf) he talked about challenging himself to do more:
bq. Now personally it has always worried me that I am a ‘cheap’ peacemaker (by analogy with Bonhoeffer’s
concept of ‘cheap’ grace). Being a CO in Britain,talking, writing, demonstrating about peace is in no
way taking risks like young service men in iraq. I look for excuses why I should not become involved with
CPT or EAPPI. Perhaps the readers will supply mewithwith some?
Here at Nonviolence.org, I'm occassionally chatised for being more concerned about western victims of violence (indeed, how many iraqis were abducted or killed this weekend alone?). It's a fair charge and an important reminder. But perhaps it is only human nature to worry about those you know. I've probably met Norman in passing at one or another international peace gathering; I might well know the three unidentified abductees. I suspect a peace movement veteran like Kember would be the first to tell me that pacifists shouldn't sit contentedly in middle-class comfy armchairs simply souting slogans or dashing off emails (Quaker Johan Maurer, wrote an "impassioned blog post about this just last week":http://maurers.home.mindspring.com/2005/11/saturday-ps-nancys-questions.htm). Part of the reason folks put themselves on the lines for organizations like Christian peacemakers Teams is that they want to do their peace witness among those facing the violence. When the victims aren't just "them, over there" but to "us, and our friends, over there" it becomes more real. This is what the families of the American military casualties have been telling us. Now, with Kember and the three others missing, our worry is made more real. For better or worse, the peace movement is scanning the headlines from iraq with even more worry tonight.
Our prayers are with Kember, as they are with all the missing and all the victims of this horrible war.

FBI Cracking Down on Indymedia?

The “Indy­media” move­ment of inde­pen­dent media cen­ters has been one of the most hope­ful ini­tia­tives for democ­ra­cy over the past few years. The Indy­media sites post sto­ries from ama­teur reporters, in print, video and audio for­mats. The region­al Inde­pen­dent Media Cen­ters have been par­tic­u­lar­ly active dur­ing large scale protests, cov­er­ing them with a range and detail seen nowhere else.
Now there’s dis­turbing news that the U.S. Fed­er­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion has “seized Indymedia’s com­put­ers in Britain”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3732718.stm. Details are lack­ing, but it cer­tain­ly looks like yet anoth­er chill­ing vio­la­tion of free speech in the name of “home­land secu­ri­ty.” Here’s anoth­er arti­cle, from a “local Indy­media Center”:http://www.phillyimc.org/article.pl?sid=04/10/08/1818236. More as this fright­en­ing sto­ry devel­ops. As we get infor­ma­tion we will par­tic­i­pate in any and all protests of this seizure. You can also check out thread on the “Non​vi​o​lence​.org Board”:http://www.nonviolence.org/comment/viewtopic.php?t=2663 (though much of it lame name-calling, sigh…)

“Have you ever felt like the fall guy?”

In strange and sad news, the man who was prob­a­bly the unnamed “senior offi­cial” who first told the BBC that Britain “sexed up” its Iraq weapons dossier has turned up dead in the woods near his home. Dr. David Kel­ly gave evi­dence to the UK for­eign affairs com­mit­tee just days ago, where he asked the com­mit­tee “Have you ever felt like the fall guy?” One mem­ber of the com­mit­tee told the Guardian that “We thought he’d been put up quite delib­er­ate­ly to dis­tract us from the case of the government’s case for war.

David Kel­ly has been described as a “soft spo­ken” man not used to the pub­lic glare he’s been under. Reports haven’t even given the cause of death, so con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries will have to be put on hold. It’s quite pos­si­ble that this faith­ful civil ser­vant and sci­en­tist final­ly cracked under the pres­sure of the media onslaught and took his life. It is a tragedy for his fam­i­ly.