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 elite 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 facade 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.

Working with Pipes #2: A DIY personalized community with Del.icio.us, Flickr and Google Blog Search

not necessary to develop your own Web 2.0 software infrastructure to
create an independent Web 2.0-powered community online. It’s far
simpler to set a standard for your community to use on exisiting
networks and then to use Yahoo Pipes to pull it together.

I decided on about a dozen categories to use with my DIY blog aggregator (QuakerQuaker).
I only want to pull in posts that are being generated for my site by
community members so we use a community identifier, a unique prefix
that isn’t likely to be used by others.

This post will show you how to pull in tagged feeds from three sources: the Del.icio.us social bookmarking system, the Flickr photo sharing site and Google Blog Search.

Step 1: Pick a community designator

I’ve been using the community name followed by a dot. The prefix
goes in front of category description to make a set of unique tags for
the aggregator. When someone wants to add something for the site they
tag it with this “community.category” tag. In my example, when someone
wants to list a new Quaker blog they use “quaker.blog”, “quaker” being
the community name, “blog” being the category name for the “New Blogs”

Step 2: Collect the community prefix and category name in Pipes

You begin by going into Pipes and pulling over two text inputs: one for
the community prefix, the other for the specific category.

Step 3: Construct these into tags

Now use the “String Concatenation” module to turn this into the
“community.category” model. The community input goes into the top slot,
a dot is the second slot and the category input goes into the last slot.

Now, when you have a tag in Flickr with a dot in it, Flickr automatically removes it in the resultant RSS feed.
So with Flickr you want your tag to be “communitycategory” without a
dot. Simple enough: just pull another “String Concatenation” module
onto your Pipes work space. It should look the same except that it
won’t have the middle slot with the dot.

Step 4: Turn these tags into RSS URLs

Pull three “URLBuilder” modules into Pipes, one for each of the
services we’re going to query. For the Base, use the non-tag specific
part of the URL that each service uses for its RSS feeds. Here they are:

Del.icio.us http://del.icio.us/rss/tag
Flickr http://api.flickr.com/services/feeds
Google Blog Search http://blogsearch.google.com

Under path elements, put the correct tag: for Del.icio.us and Google it should be the community.category tag, for Flickr the dot-less communitycategory tag.

Step 5: Fetch and Dedupe

Fetch is the Pipes module that pulls in URLs and outputs RSS feeds. It can also combine them. Send each URLBuilder output into the same Fetch routine.

Since it’s possible that you’ll might have duplicate posts, use the “Unique” module to deduplicate entries by URL.
Through a little trial and error I’ve determined that in cases of
duplicates, feeds lower in the Fetch list trump those higher. In the
actual Pipe powering my aggregator I pull a second Del.icio.us feed: my
own. I have that as the last entry in the Fetch list so that I can
personally override every other input.

Step 6: Sort by Date

With experimentation it seems like Pipes orders the output entries by
descending date, which is probably what you want. But I want to show
how Pipes can work with “dc” data, the “Dublin Core” model that allows
you to extend standard RSS feeds (see yesterday’s post for more on this).

Google Blog Search and Del.icio.us feeds use the “dc:date” field to
record the time when the post was made. Flickr uses “dc:date.Taken” to
pass on the photograph’s metadata about when it was taken. Pipes’
“Rename” module lets you copy both fields into one you create (I’ve
simply used “date”), which you can then run through its “Sort” module.
Again, it’s a moot point since Pipes seems to do this automatically.
But it’s good to know how to manipulate and rename “dc” data if only
because many PHP parsers have trouble laying it out on a webpage.

Update: it’s all moot: according to a ZDNet blog, “Pipes now automatically appends a pubDate tag to any RSS feed that has any of the other allowable date tags.” This is nice: no need to hack the date every time you want to make a Pipe!

Step 7: Output

The final step for any Pipe is the “Pipe Output” module.

In action

You can see this published Pipe here, and copy and play with it yourself. The result lets you build an RSS feed based on the two inputs.

Strangers to the Covenant

A workshop led by Zachary Moon and Martin Kelley at the 2005 FGC Gathering of Friends.


This is for Young Friends who want to break into the power of Quakerism: it’s the stuff you didn’t get in First Day School. Connecting with historical Quakers whose powerful ministry came in their teens and twenties, we’ll look at how Friends wove God, covenants and gospel order together to build a movement that rocked the world. We’ll mine Quaker history to reclaim the power of our tradition, to explore the living testimonies and our witness in the world. (P/T)

Percentage of time: Worship 20 / Lecture 30 / Discussion 50


Extended Description

We hope to encourage Friends to imagine themselves as ministers and elders and to be bold enough to challenge the institutions of Quakerism as needed. We want to build a community, a cohort, of Friends who aren’t afraid to bust us out of our own limited expectations and give them space to grow into the awareness that their longing for deeper spiritual connection with shared widely among others their age. Our task as workshop conveners is to model as both bold and humble seekers after truth, who can stay real to the spirit without taking ourselves either too seriously or too lightly.

Martin and Zachary have discovered a Quaker tradition more defined, more coherent and far richer than the Quakerism we were offered in First Day School. In integrity to that discovery, we intend to create a space for fellowship that would further open these glimpses of what’s out there and what possibilities exist to step out boldly in this Light.

Sunday: Introductions
The most important task for today is modeling the grounded worship and spirit-led ministry that will be our true curriculum this week. In a worship sharing format we will consider these questions:

  • What brought me to this workshop?
  • What did they fail to teach me in First Day School that I still want to know?

Monday: What is this Quakerism?
Today will be about entering this grounded space together as Friends, beginning to ask some questions that reveal and open. How do I articulate what Quakerism is all about? What ideas, language, and words (e.g. “God”, “Jesus” “Light”) do use to describe this tradition? Today we start that dialogue. At the end of session we will ask participants to seek out an older Friend and ask them for their answers on these queries and bring back that experience to our next gathering.

  • Worship. Reading of selected texts from journal and Bible
  • Present question: When someone asks me “what is Quakerism?” how do I respond.
  • Martin and Zachary will share some thoughts on this question from other Friends
  • Journaling on Query
  • Discussion of ideas and language.

Tuesday: The Mystical Tradition and Gospel Order
We enter into the language and fabric of our Tradition at its mystical roots. Asking the questions: What does God feel like? Introduce early Quaker’s talk about God. What does it feel like to be with God? What is Gospel Order?

  • Worship. Reading of selected texts from journals and Bible
  • Follow-up on previous day’s discussion/homework what new came into the Light overnight?
  • Journaling on Query: When have I felt the presence of God? Describe it in five senses?
  • Initial discussion and sharing of thoughts and ideas.
  • Introduce some ideas from early Friends and others on this Query. How have others (Jesus, Isaiah, Merton, Fox, Day) spoken of this experience?
  • Introduce themes of Spiritual Practice: If Quakerism is about asking the right questions, how do we get into the place to hear those questions and respond faithfully? We have already been incorporating devotional reading into our time together each morning but we will introduce into the Light of Discipline as such here. Naming of other practices, previously acknowledged and otherwise, within the group.
  • Introduce ‘Spiritual Discernment’ themes for the following day’s session.

Wednesday: The Roots of Friends’ Discernment Tradition and the Testimonies
We delve into the archives, the dusty stuff, the stuff First Day School didn’t get to: the preaching from the trees, the prison time, the age George Fox was when he was first incarcerated for his beliefs, what the testimonies are really about and where they came from. Today is about taking the skeletons out of the closet and cleaning house.

  • Worship. Reading of selected texts from journals and Bible
  • ‘Let’s talk history’: Early Friends, the Making of The Society, and the Discernment Tradition. [Martin and Zachary may cover this, or we may arrange to have another Friend come and share some thoughts and infuse a new voice into our dialogue]
  • There are lots of testimonies: what are ours? Name some. How to they facilitate our relationship with God?
  • What’s up with “Obedience”, “Plainness”, and “Discipline”? How do we practice them?

Thursday: Friends in a Covenanted Relationship
We grow into our roles as leaders in this community by considering the opportunities and the hurdles in deepening our covenant relationship. We begin with considering spiritual gifts, and then consider questions around ministry, its origin and its discernment. We will take up the task of considering what our work, what piece of this responsibility is ours to carry.

  • Worship. Reading of selected texts from journals and Bible
  • Journaling on the Queries: What is alive inside of me? How are my spiritual gifts named and nurtured?
  • What are the tasks of ministry?
  • What are the tasks of eldering?
  • What are the structures and practices in our monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings that we can use to test out and support leadings? How do these structures work and not work. Clearness committees? Traveling Friends? Spiritual nurture/affinity groups?
  • What is holding us back from living this deepened relationship? What is our responsibility to this covenant and this covenant community?

Friday: The Future of Quakerism
We begin the work that will occupy the rest of our lives. The participants of this workshop will be around for the next fifty or more years, so let’s start talking about systematic, long-term change. We have something to contribute to this consideration right now.

  • Worship. Reading of selected texts from journals and Bible
  • Where do we go from here? Martin will present on emergent church. Zachary will present some thoughts on ‘Beloved Community’.
    Many have talked about deep communion with God and about covenant community. Many have spoken our hearts and given voice to the passion we experience; now it’s on us what are we going to do about it? Where is it happening?
  • Discussion (maybe as a fishbowl) Where do we envision Quakerism 50 years from now? 100 years from now?

External Website: Quaker Ranter, Martin’s site.