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.”
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 coordinated 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!
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.
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.
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 “Nonviolence.org Board”:http://www.nonviolence.org/comment/viewtopic.php?t=2663 (though much of it lame name-calling, sigh…)
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.