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.

For other uses, see Light (dis­am­bigua­tion)

Even though my last post was a five minute quickie, it gen­er­ated a num­ber of com­ments. One ques­tion that came up was how aware indi­vid­ual Friends are about the spe­cific Quaker mean­ings of some of the com­mon Eng­lish words we use—“Light,” “Spirit,” etc.(dis­am­bigua­tion in Wiki-speak). Mar­shall Massey expressed sad­ness that the terms were used uncom­pre­hend­ingly and I sug­gested that some Friends know­ingly con­fuse the generic and spe­cific mean­ings. Mar­shall replied that if this were so it might be a cul­tural dif­fer­ence based on geog­ra­phy.

If it’s a cul­tural dif­fer­ence, I sus­pect it’s less geo­graphic than func­tional. I was speak­ing of the class of pro­fes­sional Friends (heavy in my parts) who pur­pose­fully obscure their lan­guage. We’re very good at talk­ing in a way that sounds Quaker to those who do know our spe­cific lan­guage but that sounds gener­i­cally spir­i­tual to those who don’t. Some­times this obscu­ran­tism is used by peo­ple who are repelled by tra­di­tional Quak­erism but want to advance their ideas in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends, but more often (and more dan­ger­ously) it’s used by Friends who know and love what we are but are loathe to say any­thing that might sound con­tro­ver­sial.

I’ve told the story before of a Friend and friend who said that every­time he uses the word com­mu­nity he’s mean­ing the body of Christ. New­com­ers hear­ing him and read­ing his arti­cles could be for­given for think­ing that com­mu­nity is our reason-for-being, indeed: what we wor­ship. The prob­lem is that ten years later, they’ll have signed up and built up an iden­tity as a Friend and will get all offended when some­one sug­gests that this com­mu­nity they know and love is really the body of Christ.

Lib­eral Friends in the pub­lic eye need to be more hon­est in their con­ver­sa­tion about the Bib­li­cal and Chris­t­ian roots of our reli­gious fel­low­ship. That will scare off poten­tial mem­bers who have been scarred by the acts of those who have falsely claimed Christ. I’m sorry about that and we need to be as gen­tle and hum­ble about this as we can. But hope­fully they’ll see the fruits of the true spirit in our open­ness, our warmth and our giv­ing and will real­ize that Chris­t­ian fel­low­ship is not about tel­e­van­ge­lists and Pres­i­den­tial hyp­ocrites. Maybe they’ll even­tu­ally join or maybe not, but if they do at least they won’t be sur­prised by our iden­tity. Before some­one com­ments back, I’m not say­ing that Chris­tian­ity needs to be a test for indi­vid­ual mem­ber­ship but new mem­bers should know that every­thing from our name (“Friends of Christ”) on down are rooted in that tra­di­tion and that that for­mal mem­ber­ship does not include veto power over our pub­lic iden­tity.

There is room out there for spiritual-but-not-religious com­mu­ni­ties that aren’t built around a col­lec­tive wor­ship of God, don’t worry about any par­tic­u­lar tra­di­tion and focus their ener­gies and group iden­tity on lib­eral social causes. But I guess part of what I won­der is why this doesn’t col­lect under the UUA ban­ner, whose Prin­ci­ples and Pur­poses state­ment is already much more syn­cretis­tic and post-religious than even the most lib­eral yearly meet­ing. Evolv­ing into the “other UUA” would mean aban­don­ing most of the valu­able spir­i­tual wis­dom we have as a peo­ple.

I think there’s a need for the kind of strong lib­eral Chris­tian­ity that Friends have prac­ticed for 350 years. There must be mil­lions of peo­ple parked on church benches every Sun­day morn­ing look­ing up at the pul­pit and think­ing to them­selves, “surely this isn’t what Jesus was talk­ing about.” Look, we have Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians com­ing out against the war! And let’s face it, it’s only a mat­ter of time before “Emer­gent Chris­tians” real­ize how lame all that post-post can­dle wor­ship is and look for some­thing a lit­tle deeper. The times are ripe for “Oppor­tu­ni­ties,” Friends. We have impor­tant knowl­edge to share about all this. It would be a shame if we kept quiet.