A Gathered People

A Gath­ered Peo­ple. Craig Bar­nett on com­mu­nity in the mod­ern world:

A gath­ered peo­ple is not just an asso­ci­a­tion of indi­vid­u­als who hap­pen to share over­lap­ping val­ues or inter­ests. It is formed by the rais­ing and quick­en­ing of a new spir­i­tual life and power within each per­son.

The refuge of community

The refuge of com­mu­nity. The Malachut blog­ger gives a mod­ern response to the early Quaker let­ter from Balby:

The Elders end this advice with“Lest the Truth Suffer“this to me means that we can­not have onne form of the com­mu­nity with­out the oth​ers​.Com​mu​nity itself can­not exist with­out being some­thing with­out com­pas­sion just as much not being a place that goes far beyond it’s bor­ders.

Reflections on the 2014 Swarthmore LectuBeing honest about the stories we tell

Reflec­tions on the 2014 Swarth­more Lec­tuBe­ing hon­est about the sto­ries we tell:

Mark Russ on the sto­ries in our Quaker the­olo­gies: > We need good the­ol­ogy, because there’s a lot of bad the­ol­ogy out there. I believe that the­ol­ogy in its sim­plest form is the story we tell as a reli­gious com­mu­nity, about our begin­nings, how we got here and where we’re going.

A story incomplete: Virginia Alexander’s life among Friends

A story incom­plete: Vir­ginia Alexander’s life among Friends:

In the AFSC blog, the story of pio­neer­ing Friend: 

Even though Dr. Alexan­der grad­u­ated from two élite uni­ver­si­ties, cared for Quak­ers in her med­ical prac­tice, and was very active in Quaker cir­cles, she was still not wel­comed by all into a reli­gious com­mu­nity that she claimed as her own.

The Atlantic City history of Monopoly

The Atlantic City his­tory of Monopoly:

Because of a new book by Mary Pilon, the not-so-secret his­tory of Monopoly is once more get­ting a lot of atten­tion. This excerpt from Pilon’s The Monop­o­lists shares the A.C. his­tory.

On one side were the mas­ters of vice and those who tol­er­ated that vice because of the wealth pour­ing into the town. On the other side were the reformists, includ­ing the Quak­ers, who wanted Atlantic City to be a clean, middle-class get­away, not a sor­did play­ground.

And in case you thought A.C. has changed so much, it’s not a coin­ci­dence that the com­mu­nity col­lege cam­pus where my wife often teaches is on Baltic Avenue,  that dirty-orange, low-price strip Baltic Avenue.

Know your audience

Some good tips about polling your website’s audi­ence to learn what they’re look­ing for. The author +Daniel Tread­well the devel­oper of the Google+Blog plug-in for Word­Press that lets you sync between the two.

Know your Audi­ence
Last year with the release of Google+ it was made very obvi­ous that a large amount of peo­ple have been look­ing for a new com­mu­nity that allows them to share their time, their art and their opin­ions with oth­ers in a way that was not pre­vi­ously avail­able.

Once you have gained a sig­nif­i­cant amount of fol­low­ers (and this amount is sub­jec­tive and per­sonal, what is a large num­ber to one may not be to another) most peo­ple will start to won­der exactly what it is that their audi­ence is most inter­ested in

Google+: View post on Google+

Are We More Than Our Demographics?

One of the things that is intrigu­ing me lately is the nature of Quaker debate.  There are half a dozen seemingly-perennial polit­i­cal issues around which Friends in my cir­cles have very strong opin­ions (these include abor­tion, nuclear power, and the role of Friends in the trou­bles of Israel/Palestine) . We often jus­tify our posi­tions with appeals to our Quaker faith, but I won­der how often our opin­ions could be more accu­rately pre­dicted by our demo­graphic pro­file?


How many of your polit­i­cal posi­tions and social atti­tudes could be accu­rately guessed by a savvy demog­ra­pher who knew your date of birth,  postal code,  edu­ca­tion and fam­ily income? I’d guess each of us are far more pre­dictable than we’d like to think.If true,  then what role does our reli­gious life actu­ally play?

Reli­gious beliefs are also a demo­graphic cat­e­gory,  granted, but if they only con­firm posi­tions that could be just as actu­ally pre­dicted by non-spiritual data, then doesn’t that imply that we’ve sim­ply found (or remained in) a reli­gious com­mu­nity that con­firms our pre-existing biases? Have we cre­ated a faith in our own image? And if true, is it really fair to jus­tify our­selves based on appeals to Quaker val­ues?

The “polit­i­cal” Quaker writ­ings I’m find­ing most inter­est­ing (because they’re least pre­dictable) are the ones that stop to ask how Quaker dis­cern­ment fits into the debate. Dis­cern­ment: one could eas­ily argue that Quaker open­ings and tools around it are one of our great­est gifts to human spir­i­tu­al­ity.  When we build a wor­ship com­mu­nity based on strict adher­ence to the imme­di­ate prompt­ing of the Holy Spirit, the first ques­tion becomes fig­ur­ing out what is of-God and what is not.  Is James Nayler, rid­ing Jesus-like into Bris­tol, a prophet or a nut?

When we go deep into the ques­tions,  we may find that the answers are less impor­tant than the care we take to reach them.  Wait­ing for one another,  hold­ing one another’s hand in love despite dif­fer­ences of opin­ion, can be more impor­tant than being the right-answer early adopter. How do you step back from easy answers to the thorny ques­tions? How do you poll your­self and that-of-God in your­self to open your eyes and ears for the poten­tial of sur­prise?

Quakers and Christmas aka the annual Scrooge post

It’s that sea­son again, the time when unpro­grammed Friends talk about Christ­mas. Click Ric has posted about the seem­ing incon­gruity of his meeting’s Christ­mas tree and LizOpp has reprinted a still-timely let­ter from about five years ago about the meeting’s chil­dren Christ­mas pageant.

Scrooge McDuckFriends tra­di­tion­ally have lumped Christ­mas in with all of the other rit­u­al­is­tic boo-ha that main­stream Chris­tians prac­tice. These are out­ward ele­ments that should be aban­doned now that we know Christ has come to teach the peo­ple him­self and is present and avail­able to all of us at all times. Out­ward bap­tism, com­mu­nion, planned ser­mons, paid min­is­ters, Christ­mas and Easter: all dis­trac­tions from true Chris­tian reli­gion, from prim­i­tive Chri­tian­ity revived.

One con­fu­sion that arises in lib­eral meet­ings this time of year is that it’s assumed it’s the Chris­tian Friends who want the Christ­mas tree. Argu­ments some­time break out with “hyphen­ated” Friends who feel uncom­fort­able with the tree: folks who con­sider them­selves Friends but also Pagan, Non­the­is­tic, or Jew­ish and won­der why they’re hav­ing Chris­tian­ity forced on them. But those of us who fol­low what we might call the “Chris­tian tra­di­tion as under­stood by Friends” should be just as put out by a Christ­mas tree and party. We know that sym­bolic rit­u­als like these spark dis­unity and dis­tract us from the real pur­pose of our com­mu­nity: befriend­ing Christ and lis­ten­ing for His guid­ance.

I was shocked and star­tled when I first learned that Quaker schools used to meet on Christ­mas day. My first response was “oh come on, that’s tak­ing it all too far.” But it kept bug­ging me and I kept try­ing to under­stand it. This was one of the pieces that helped me under­stand the Quaker way bet­ter and I finally grew to under­stand the ratio­nale. If Friends were more con­sis­tent with more-or-less sym­bolic stuff like Christ­mas, it would be eas­ier to teach Quak­erism.

Theo and the Christmas treeI don’t mind Christ­mas trees, per se. I have one in my liv­ing room (right). In my extended fam­ily Christ­mas has served as one of the manda­tory times of year we all have to show up together for din­ner. It’s never been very reli­gious, so I never felt I needed to stop the prac­tice when I became involved with Friends. But as a Friend I’m care­ful not to pre­tend that the con­sumerism and social rit­u­als have much to do with Christ. Christ­mas trees are pretty. The lights make me feel good in the dol­drums of mid-winter. That’s rea­son enough to put one up.

Unpro­grammed lib­eral Friends could use the ten­sions between tra­di­tional Quak­erly sto­icism and main­stream Chris­tian nos­tal­gia as a teach­ing moment, and we could use dis­com­fort around the rit­ual of Christ­mas as a point of unity and dialog with Pagan, Jew­ish and Non-theistic Friends. Chris­tian Friends are always hav­ing to explain how we’re not the kind of Chris­tians oth­ers assume we are (oth­ers both within and out­side the Soci­ety). Being prin­ci­pled about Christ­mas is one way of show­ing that dif­fer­ence. Peo­ple will surely say “oh come on,” but so what? A lot of spir­i­tual seek­ers are crit­i­cal of the kind of crazy com­mer­cial spend­ing sprees that marked Christmas’s past and I don’t see why a group say­ing Christ­mas isn’t about Christ would be at a par­tic­u­lar dis­ad­van­tage dur­ing this first Christ­mas sea­son of the next Great Depres­sion.

I’ve been talk­ing about lib­eral unpro­grammed Friends. For the record, I under­stand Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tions among “pas­toral” and/or “pro­grammed” Friends. They’ve made a con­scious deci­sion to adopt a more main­stream Chris­tian approach to reli­gious edu­ca­tion and min­istry. That’s fine. It’s not the kind of Quaker I prac­tice, but they’re open about their approach and Christ­mas makes sense in that con­text.

When­ever I post this kind of stuff on my blog I get com­ments how I’m being too Scroogey. Well I guess I am. Bah Hum­bug. Hon­estly though, I’ve always like Quaker Christ­mas par­ties. They’re a way of mix­ing things up, a way of com­ing together as a com­mu­nity in a warmer way that we usu­ally do. Peo­ple stop con­fab­bing about com­mit­tee ques­tions and actu­ally enjoy one another’s com­pany. One time I asked my meet­ing to call it the Day the World Calls Christ­mas Party, which I thought was kind of clever (every­one else surely thought “there goes Mar­tin again”). The joy of real com­mu­nity that is filled once a year at our Christ­mas par­ties might be symp­tom of a hunger to be a dif­fer­ent kind of com­mu­nity every week, even every day.

The Quaker testimonies as our collective wisdom wiki


My sort-of response to Callid’s great Youtube piece on the Quaker tes­ti­monies, I com­pare the clas­sic tes­ti­monies to a wiki: the col­lec­tive knowl­edge of Friends dis­tilled into speci­fic cau­tions and guides. “We as Friends have found that.…” I do talk about how the recent “SPICE” sim­pli­fi­ca­tion (sim­plic­ity, integrity, integrity, com­mu­nity and equal­ity) has robbed our notion of tes­ti­monies of some of their power.

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.