So here’s a G+ question

It seems cir­cles are curat­ed only by their cre­ator. What is some cir­cles were pub­licly list­ed with an opt-in but­ton for recip­i­ents (with an option­al approval step by the cir­cle creator). 

Here’s the exam­ple: a lot of my pho­to stream is end­less pic­tures of cute kids. Face­book friends who have friend­ed me for oth­er top­ics have to wade through that col­lec­tion. Some actu­al­ly like them – our friend­ships aren’t sin­gle issue and they appre­ci­ate glimpses of the rest of my life. But with G+ it’s my job to fig­ure out which issue friends might want to be kid pic­ture friends. I don’t want to put them on a list they don’t like and essen­tial­ly spam them. Is there any G+ fea­tures I might use?

Google+: View post on Google+

Reach up high, clear off the dust, time to get started

It’s been a fas­ci­nat­ing edu­ca­tion learn­ing about insti­tu­tion­al Catholi­cism these past few weeks. I won’t reveal how and what I know, but I think I have a good pic­ture of the cul­ture inside the bishop’s inner cir­cle and I’m pret­ty sure I under­stand his long-term agen­da. The cur­rent lightening-fast clo­sure of sixty-some church­es is the first step of an ambi­tious plan; man­u­fac­tured priest short­ages and soon-to-be over­crowd­ed church­es will be used to jus­ti­fy even more rad­i­cal changes. In about twen­ty years time, the 125 church­es that exist today will have been sold off. What’s left of a half mil­lion faith­ful will be herd­ed into a dozen or so mega-churches, with the­ol­o­gy bor­rowed from gener­ic lib­er­al­ism, style from feel-good evan­gel­i­cal­ism, and orga­ni­za­tion from con­sul­tant culture.

When dioce­san offi­cials come by to read this blog (and they do now), they will smile at that last sen­tence and nod their heads approv­ing­ly. The con­spir­a­cy is real.

But I don’t want to talk about Catholi­cism again. Let’s talk Quak­ers instead, why not? I should be in some meet­ing for wor­ship right now any­way. Julie left Friends and returned to the faith of her upbring­ing after eleven years with us because she want­ed a reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty that shared a basic faith and that wasn’t afraid to talk about that faith as a cor­po­rate “we.” It seems that Catholi­cism won’t be able to offer that in a few years. Will she run then run off to the East­ern Ortho­dox church? For that mat­ter should I be run­ning off to the Men­non­ites? See though, the prob­lem is that the same issues will face us wher­ev­er we try to go. It’s mod­ernism, baby. No focused and authen­tic faith seems to be safe from the Forces of the Bland. Lord help us.

We can blog the ques­tions of course. Why would some­one who dis­likes Catholic cul­ture and wants to dis­man­tle its infra­struc­ture become a priest and a career bureau­crat? For that mat­ter why do so many peo­ple want to call them­selves Quak­ers when they can’t stand basic Quak­er the­ol­o­gy? If I want­ed lots of com­ments I could go on blah-blah-blah, but ulti­mate­ly the ques­tion is futile and beyond my figuring.

Anoth­er piece to this issue came in some ques­tions Wess Daniels sent around to me and a few oth­ers this past week in prepa­ra­tion for his upcom­ing pre­sen­ta­tion at Wood­brooke. He asked about how a par­tic­u­lar Quak­er insti­tu­tion did or did not rep­re­sent or might or might not be able to con­tain the so-called “Con­ver­gent” Friends move­ment. I don’t want to bust on any­one so I won’t name the orga­ni­za­tion. Let’s just say that like pret­ty much all Quak­er bureau­cra­cies it’s inward-focused, shal­low in its pub­lic state­ments, slow to take ini­tia­tive and more or less irrel­e­vant to any cam­paign to gath­er a great peo­ple. A more suc­cess­ful Quak­er bureau­cra­cy I could name seems to be doing well in fundrais­ing but is doing less and less with more and more staff and seems more inter­est­ed in donor-focused hype than long-term pro­gram implementation.

One ene­my of the faith is bureau­cra­cy. Real lead­er­ship has been replaced by con­sul­tants and fundrais­ers. Finan­cial and staffing crises – real and cre­at­ed – are used to jus­ti­fy a water­ing down of the mes­sage. Pro­grams are dri­ven by donor mon­ey rather than clear need and when real work might require con­tro­ver­sy, it’s tabled for the façade of feel-goodism. Quak­er read­ers who think I’m talk­ing about Quak­ers: no I’m talk­ing about Catholics. Catholic read­ers who think I’m talk­ing about Catholics: no, I’m talk­ing about Quak­ers. My point is that these forces are tear­ing down reli­gios­i­ty all over. Some cheer this devel­op­ment on. I think it’s evil at work, the Tempter using our leader’s desires for posi­tion and respect and our the desires of our laity’s (for lack of a bet­ter word) to trust and think the best of its leaders.

So where does that leave us? I’m tired of think­ing that maybe if I try one more Quak­er meet­ing I’ll find the com­mu­ni­ty where I can prac­tice and deep­en my faith as a Chris­t­ian Friend. I’m stumped. That first batch of Friends knew this feel­ing: Fox and the Pen­ing­tons and all the rest talked about iso­la­tion and about reli­gious pro­fes­sion­als who were in it for the career. I know from the blo­gos­phere and from count­less one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions that there are a lot of us – a lot – who either drift away or stay in meet­ings out of a sense of guilt.

So what would a spir­i­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty for these out­sider Friends look like? If we had real vision rather than donor vision, what would our struc­tures look like? If we let the gener­ic church­es go off to out-compete one oth­er to see who can be the bland­est, what would be left for the rest of us to do?

20080608-xcjchpscnwekhsh85kg2hr7nbf.previewI guess this last para­graph is the new revised mis­sion state­ment for the Quak­er part of this blog. Okay kids, get a step stool, go to your meet­ing library, reach up high, clear away the dust and pull out vol­ume one of “A por­trai­ture of Quak­erism: Tak­en from a view of the edu­ca­tion and dis­ci­pline, social man­ners, civ­il and polit­i­cal econ­o­my, reli­gious prin­ci­ples and char­ac­ter, of the Soci­ety of Friends” by Thomas Clark­son. Yes the 1806 ver­sion, stop the grum­bling. Get out the ribbed pack­ing tape and put its cov­er back togeth­er – this isn’t the frig­ging Library of Con­gress and we’re actu­al­ly going to read this thing. Don’t even waste your time check­ing it out in the meeting’s log­book: no one’s pulled it down off the shelf in fifty years and no one’s going to miss it now. Real­ly stuck?, okay Google’s got it too. Class will start shortly.

Trip to the Blue Hole

A few days ago my two-year old Theo and I took a mean­der­ing bike trip that brought us to the charmingly-named Piney Hol­low Road (alas, not quite as rus­tic as it sounds). We stopped on the unas­sum­ing bridge over the Great Egg Har­bor Riv­er and I looked for a trail into the woods. We found one about a hun­dred feet north of the riv­er, hiked in anoth­er hun­dred feet and pic­nicked along the riv­er. When I got back home I start­ed Googling around and dis­cov­ered that our sand trail was the Blue Anchor Fire­line Road and that we were on one of the main paths in to the famed Blue Hole.

The best sto­ries on Winslow’s Blue Hole come from Hen­ry Charl­ton Beck, whose folk his­to­ries of South Jer­sey are must-haves for any local’s library. He wrote news­pa­per columns pro­fil­ing old-timey local char­ac­ters on the back roads and deep woods of the area and his accounts have been col­lect­ed in vol­umes such as For­got­ten Towns of South Jer­sey and Jer­sey Gen­e­sis: The Sto­ry of the Mul­li­ca Riv­er. He wrote about the Blue Hole leg­ends in More For­got­ten Towns of South Jer­sey and one help­ful fel­low has bro­ken copy­right laws to scan in the rel­e­vant pages.

Trip to Winslow's Blue HoleToday my two-year old and I set out again for the Blue Hole (well, I did: he actu­al­ly napped half the way there). We start­ed on Piney Hol­low Road in Winslow Town­ship. About 100 feet north of the very unas­sum­ing Great Egg Har­bor Riv­er bridge is what the maps call the Blue Anchor Fire­line Road. The pic­ture on the left show the trail­head from Piney Hol­low Road.

Trip to Winslow's Blue HoleWe went into the woods along this sandy road. It curves right, par­al­lels Piney Hol­low Road for awhile, then curves left back into the woods. There are weird met­al bunker open­ings marked “con­fined space entry” in day-glow orange every so often: some water-related thing I sup­pose (though the conspiracy-minded might beg to dif­fer). About a mile in there’s an inter­sec­tion with the equally-sandy Inskeep Road (those want­i­ng an alter­na­tive path could take Inskeep from Piney Hol­low: it’s entry is about a half-mile north of the Great Egg Har­bor Riv­er bridge).

Make a left onto Inskeep and go left when it forks. With­in a quar­ter mile you’ll see a creek with the remains of a bridge. This is the Great Egg Har­bor Riv­er. Some of the trip reports I’ve seen end here with the sad report that the washed-out bridge pre­vent­ed the creek from being ford­ed (“Since the stream was too deep and too fast mov­ing to ford, we were forced to retreat. The Devil’s Hole was only 100 yards away, but it might as well have been 100 miles.”). Bah: it’s three feet deep in Sep­tem­ber, quit yap­ping and get your feet wet, okay? Just up the path on the oth­er side is the famed Blue Hole itself.

It’s always fun to retrace Hen­ry Charl­ton Beck’s foot­steps but the Blue Hole itself isn’t all that excit­ing. Yes, the water is kind of blue, under­neath the pond scum. It does look deep and it’s cer­tain­ly not a nor­mal geo­log­i­cal fea­ture. Some have won­dered if it’s an aster­oid hit, which is as good a the­o­ry as any oth­er. Here’s a close-up of the hole in all its blue’ness:
Trip to Winslow's Blue Hole

No, I didn’t see the Jer­sey Dev­il (wasn’t real­ly look­ing folks) but some sort of giant heron or crane did cir­cle the hole over­head twice when I got there. One the­o­ry of the Jer­sey Dev­il leg­end is that it was inspired by sight­ings of the Sand­hill Crane so our companion’s pres­ence was appro­pri­ate. I didn’t swim into the hole to test out the Dev­il leg-pulling reports, bot­tom­less depth or remark­able cold. I’ll leave that to more intre­pid souls.

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Route Map:

View Blue Hole, Winslow NJ in a larg­er map