The Messy Work Begins

One of the take­aways of this elec­tion this is that we’ve all siloed our­selves away in our self-selected Face­book feeds. We lis­ten to most our news and hang out pri­mar­i­ly with those who think and talk like us. One piece of any heal­ing will be open­ing up those feeds and doing the messy work of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with peo­ple who have strong­ly dif­fer­ent opin­ions. That means real­ly respect­ing the world­view peo­ple are shar­ing (and that’s as hard for me as for any­one) and lis­ten­ing through to emo­tions and life expe­ri­ences that have brought peo­ple into our lives. Basic lis­ten­ing tips apply: try not to judge or accuse or name call. If some­one with less priv­i­lege tells you they’re scared, con­sid­er they might have a valid con­cern and don’t inter­rupt or tell them they’re being alarmist. 

But all this also means apol­o­giz­ing and for­giv­ing each oth­er and being okay with a high lev­el of messi­ness. It’s not easy and it won’t always work. We will not always have our opin­ion pre­vail and that’s okay. We are all in this togeth­er.

From concern to action in a few short months

rooftop3A grow­ing list of sto­ries is sug­gest­ing that black church­es in the South are being tar­get­ed for arson once again (although one of the more pub­li­cized cas­es seems to be lightning-related). This was a big con­cern in the mid-1990s, a time when a Quak­er pro­gram stepped up to give Friends the chance to trav­el to the South to help rebuild. From a 1996 Friends Jour­nal edi­to­ri­al:

Some­times a news arti­cle touch­es the heart and moves peo­ple to reach out to one anoth­er in unex­pect­ed ways. So it was this win­ter when the Wash­ing­ton Post pub­lished a piece on the rash of fires that have destroyed black church­es in the South in recent months… When Friend Harold B. Con­fer, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Wash­ing­ton Quak­er Work­camps, saw the arti­cle, he decid­ed to do some­thing about it. After a series of phone calls, he and two col­leagues accept­ed an invi­ta­tion to trav­el to west­ern Alaba­ma and see the fire dam­age for them­selves. They were warm­ly received by the pas­tors and con­gre­ga­tions of the three Greene Coun­ty church­es. Upon their return, they set to work on a plan.

I’m not sure whether Confer’s plan is the right tem­plate to fol­low this time, but it’s a great sto­ry because it shows the impor­tance of hav­ing a strong grass­roots Quak­er ecosys­tem. I don’t believe the Wash­ing­ton Quak­er Work­camps were ever a par­tic­u­lar­ly well-funded project. But by 1996 they had been run­ning for ten years and had built up cred­i­bil­i­ty, a fol­low­ing, and the abil­i­ty to cross cul­tur­al lines in the name of ser­vice. The small­er orga­ni­za­tion­al size meant that a news­pa­per arti­cle could prompt a flur­ry of phone calls and vis­its and a fully-realized pro­gram oppor­tu­ni­ty in a remark­ably short amount of time.

A first-hand account of the work­camps by Kim Roberts was pub­lished lat­er than year, Rebuild­ing Church­es in Rural Alaba­ma: One Volunteer’s Expe­ri­ence. The D.C.-based work­camp pro­gram con­tin­ues in mod­i­fied form to this day as the William Penn Quak­er Work­camps.

Update: anoth­er pic­ture from 1996 Alaba­ma, this time from one of my wife Julie’s old pho­to books. She’s sec­ond from the left at the bot­tom, part of the longer-stay con­tin­gent that Roberts men­tions.

WQW

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Interim Meeting: Getting a horse to drink

This past week­end I gave a talk at the Arch Street Meet­ing­house after the Inter­im Meet­ing ses­sions of Phi­ladle­phia Year­ly Meet­ing. Inter­im Meet­ing is the group that meets sort-of month­ly between year­ly meet­ing busi­ness sess­sions. In an ear­lier blog post I called it “the estab­lish­ment” and I looked for­ward to shar­ing the new life of the blog­ging world and Con­ver­gent Friends with this group. I had been asked by the most excel­lent Stephen Dot­son to talk about “Find­ing Fel­low­ship Between Friends Thru The Inter­net.”

I was curi­ous to return to Inter­im Meet­ing, a group I served on about half a decade ago. As I sat in the meet­ing, I kept see­ing glimpses of issues that I planned to address after­wards in my talk: how to talk afresh about faith; how to pub­li­cize our activ­i­ty and com­mu­ni­cate both among our­selves and with the out­side world; how to engage new and younger mem­bers in our work.

Turns out I didn’t get the chance. Only half a dozen or so mem­bers of Inter­im Meet­ing stuck around for my pre­sen­ta­tion. No announce­ment was made at the end of ses­sions. None of the senior staff were there and no one from the long table full of clerks, alter­nate clerks and alter­nate alter­nate clerks came. Eleven peo­ple were at the talk (includ­ing some who hadn’t been at Inter­im Meet­ing). The inti­ma­cy was nice but it was hard­ly the “take it to the estabish­ment” kind of event I had imag­ined.

The talk itself went well, despite or may­be because of its inti­ma­cy. I had asked Seth H (aka Chron­i­cler) along for spir­i­tu­al sup­port and he wrote a nice review on Quak­erQuak­er. Steve T, an old friend of mine from Cen­tral Philly days, took some pic­tures which I’ve includ­ed here. I videoed the event, though it will need some work to tight­en it down to some­thing any­one would want to watch online. The peo­ple who attend­ed want­ed to attend and asked great ques­tions. It was good work­ing with Stephen Dot­son again in the plan­ning. I would wish that more Philadel­phia Friends had more inter­est in the­se issues but as indi­vid­u­als, all we can do is lead a horse to water. In the end, the year­ly meet­ing is in God’s hands.


Below are obser­va­tions from Inter­im Meet­ing and how the Con­ver­gent Friends move­ment might address some of the issues raised. Let me stress that I offer the­se in love and in the hope that some hon­est talk might help. I’ve served on Inter­im Meet­ing and have given a lot of time toward PYM over the last twen­ty years. This list was for­ward­ed by email to senior staff and I present them here for oth­ers who might be con­cerned about the­se dynam­ics.

 

GENERATIONAL FAIL:

There were about seventy-five peo­ple in the room for Inter­im Meet­ing ses­sions. I was prob­a­bly the third or fourth youngest. By U.S. cen­sus def­i­n­i­tions I’m in my eighth year of mid­dle age, so that’s real­ly sad. That’s two whole gen­er­a­tions that are large­ly miss­ing from PYM lead­er­ship. I know I shouldn’t be sur­prised; it’s not a new phe­nom­e­non. But if you had told me twen­ty years ago that I’d be able to walk into Inter­im Meet­ing in 2010 and still be among the youngest, well… Well, frankly I would have uttered a choice epi­thet and kicked the Quak­er dust from my shoes (most of my friends did). I know many Friends bod­ies strug­gle with age diver­si­ty but this is par­tic­u­lar­ly extreme.

WHAT I WANTED TO TELL INTERIM MEETING: About 33% of QuakerQuaker’s audi­ence is GenX and 22% are Mil­lenials. If Inter­im Meet­ing were as diverse as Quak­erQuak­er there would have been 16 YAFs (18 – 35 year olds) and 25 Friends 35 and 49 years of age. I would have been about the 29th youngest in the room – mid­dle aged, just where I should be! Quak­erQuak­er has an age diver­si­ty that most East Coast Friends Meet­ings would die for. If you want to know the inter­ests and pas­sions of younger Friends, Quak­er blogs are an excel­lent place to learn. There are some very dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tion­al and style dif­fer­ences at play (my post sev­en years ago, a post from Mic­ah Bales this past week).


DECISION-MAKING

 

The first part of the ses­sions was run with what’s called a “Con­sent Agen­da,” a leg­isla­tive mea­sure where mul­ti­ple agen­da items are approved en masse. It rests on the ide­al­is­tic notion that all seventy-five atten­dees has come to ses­sions hav­ing read every­thing in the quarter-inch pack­et mailed to them (I’ll wait till you stop laugh­ing). Inter­im Meet­ing lumped thir­teen items togeth­er in this man­ner. I sus­pect most Friends left the meet­ing hav­ing for­got­ten what they had approved. Most edu­ca­tors would say you have to rein­force read­ing with live inter­ac­tion but we bypassed all of that in the name of effi­cien­cy.

WHAT I WANTED TO TELL INTERIM MEETING: Quak­er blogs are won­der­ful­ly rich sources of dis­cus­sion. Com­ments are often more inter­est­ing than the orig­i­nal posts. Many of us have writ­ten first drafts of pub­lished arti­cles on our blogs and then pol­ished them with feed­back received in the com­ments. This kind of com­mu­ni­ca­tion feed­back is pow­er­ful and doesn’t take away from live meeting-time. There’s a ton of pos­si­bil­i­ties for shar­ing infor­ma­tion in a mean­ing­ful way out­side of meet­ings.


MINUTES OF WITNESS

 

Two “min­utes” (a kind of Quak­er statement/press release) were brought to ses­sions. Both were vet­ted through a lengthy process where they were approved first by month­ly and then quar­ter­ly meet­ings before com­ing before Inter­im Meet­ing. A min­ute on Afghanistan was nine months old, a respon­se to a troop lev­el announce­ment made last Decem­ber; one again­st Mar­cel­lus Shale drilling in Penn­syl­va­nia was undat­ed but it’s a top­ic that peaked in main­stream media five months ago. I would have more appre­ci­a­tion of this cum­ber­some process if the min­utes were more “sea­soned” (well-written, with care tak­en in the dis­cern­ment behind them) but there was lit­tle in either that explained how the issue con­nect­ed with Quak­er faith and why we were lift­ing it up now as con­cern. A senior staffer in a small group I was part of lament­ed how the min­utes didn’t give him much guid­ance as to how he might explain our con­cern with the news media. So here we were, approv­ing two out-of-date, hard-to-communicate state­ments that many IM reps prob­a­bly nev­er read.

WHAT I WANTED TO TELL INTERIM MEETING: Blog­ging gives us prac­tice in talk­ing about spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Com­menters chal­lenge us when we take rhetor­i­cal short­cuts or make assump­tions or trade on stereo­types. Most Quak­er blog­gers would tell you they’re bet­ter writ­ers now than when they start­ed their blog. Spir­i­tu­al writ­ing is like a mus­cle which needs to be exer­cised. To be blunt­ly hon­est, two or three blog­gers could have got­ten onto Skype, opened a shared Google Doc and ham­mered out bet­ter state­ments in less than an hour. If we’re going to be approv­ing the­se kinds of thing we need to prac­tice and increase our spir­i­tu­al lit­er­a­cy.


THE ROLE OF COMMITTEES

 

The sec­ond part was Inter­im Meet­ing look­ing at itself. We broke into small groups and ask­ing three ques­tions: “What is the work of Inter­im Meet­ing,” “Are we sat­is­fied with how we do this now?” and “If we were to make changes, what would they be?.” I thought to myself that the rea­son I ever go to events like this is to see dear Friends and to see what sparks of life are hap­pen­ing in the year­ly meet­ing. As our small group went around, and as small groups shared after­wards, I real­ized that many of the peo­ple in the room seemed to agree: we were hun­gry for the all-to-brief moments where the Spir­it broke into the reg­i­ment­ed Quak­er process.

One star­tling tes­ti­mo­ni­al came from a mem­ber of the out­reach com­mit­tee. She explained that her com­mit­tee, like many in PYM, is an admin­is­tra­tive one that’s not sup­posed to do any out­reach itself – it’s all sup­posed to stay very “meta.” They recent­ly decid­ed to have a pic­nic with no busi­ness sched­uled and there found them­selves “going rogue” and talk­ing about out­reach. Her spir­it rose and voice quick­ened as she told us how they spent hours dream­ing up out­reach projects. Of course the out­reach com­mit­tee wants to do out­reach! And with state PYM is in, can we real­ly have a dozen peo­ple sequestered away talk­ing about talk­ing about out­reach. Shouldn’t we declare “All hands on deck!” and start doing work? It would have been time well spent to let her share their ideas for the next thir­ty min­utes but of course we had to keep mov­ing. She fin­ished quick­ly and the excite­ment leaked back out of the room.


FOLLOW-UP THOUGHTS AND THE FUTURE OF THE YEARLY MEETING

 

Now I need to stress some things. I had some great one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions in the breaks. A lot of peo­ple were very nice to me and gave me hugs and asked about fam­i­ly. The­se are a com­mit­ted, hope­ful group of peo­ple. There was a lot of faith in that room! Peo­ple work hard and serve faith­ful­ly. But it feels like we’re trapped by the sys­tem we our­selves cre­at­ed. I want­ed to share the excite­ment and direct­ness of the Quak­er blog­ging world. I want­ed to share the robust­ness of com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­niques we’re using and the pow­er of dis­trib­ut­ed pub­lish­ing. I want­ed to share the new spir­it of ecu­men­ti­cal­ism and cross-branch work that’s hap­pen­ing.

I’ve been vis­it­ing local Friends Meet­ings that have half the atten­dance they did ten years ago. Some have trou­ble break­ing into the double-digits for Sun­day morn­ing wor­ship and I’m often the youngest in the room, bring­ing the only small kids. I know there are a hand­ful of thriv­ing meet­ings, but I’m wor­ried that most are going to have close their doors in the next ten to twen­ty years.

I had hoped to show how new com­mu­ni­ca­tion struc­tures, the rise of Con­ver­gent Friends and the seek­ers of the Emerg­ing Church move­ment could sig­nal new pos­si­bil­i­ties for Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing. Toward the end of Inter­im Meet­ing, some Friends bemoaned our lack of resources and clerk Thomas Swain remind­ed them that with God there is no lim­i­ta­tion and noth­ing is impos­si­ble. Some of the things I’m see­ing online are the impos­si­ble come to life. Look at Quak­erQuak­er: an unstaffed online mag­a­zine run­ning off of a $50/month bud­get and get­ting 10,000 vis­its a mon­th. It’s not any­thing I’ve done, but this com­mu­ni­ty that God has brought togeth­er and the tech­no­log­i­cal infra­struc­ture that has allowed us to coör­di­nate so eas­i­ly. It’s far from the only neat project out there and there are a lot more on the draw­ing boad. Some year­ly meet­ings are engag­ing with the­se new pos­si­bilites. But mine appar­ent­ly can’t even stay around for a talk.

Lead-painted toys? Aye-Yeash!

Trains & MessesThe Times has a fas­ci­nat­ing arti­cle on the rise of recalls on Chinese-made toys over the last few years. Two of our kid’s “Thomas and Friends” wood­en trains are part of the lat­est recall because of lead paint. We’ve long pre­ferred the met­al Thomas trains since 21-month old Fran­cis chews on the wood­en ones and gnaws their paint off.

We learned about the lead paint­ed Thomas’s on the same day that our fam­i­ly doc­tor told us that it was offi­cial­ly time to become con­cerned with Francis’s slow speech devel­op­ment. When Theo was just a lit­tle old­er than Fran­cis is now we put togeth­er a dic­tio­nary of his vocab­u­lary. Fran­cis makes cute sounds and seems bright and curi­ous but he’s not even got­ten out a con­sis­tent mama or papa and we haven’t been able to fig­ure out a mean­ing for his most com­mon word (Aye – YEASH). He’s got an appoint­ment six months from now with spe­cial­ists at Wilmington’s Nemours (that’s how backed up they are!).

We’re not blam­ing the trains — the lead ones we had were rel­a­tive­ly unpop­u­lar and have few signs of wear. And we’re not pan­ick­ing. My moth­er brush­es off all con­cern with the assured dec­la­ra­tion that kids learn to talk at lots of dif­fer­ent ages. She could cer­tain­ly be right of course: our doc­tor sent us to Nemours for Theo with the wor­ry that he had a big head. If Fran­cis does turn out to be a lit­tle “slow,” well then we’ll just take that as anoth­er lesson plan God has for us.

Hey who am I to decide anything

Over on Non­the­ist Friends web­site, there’s an arti­cle look­ing back at ten years of FGC Gath­er­ing work­shops on their con­cern. There was also a post some­where on the blo­gos­phere (sor­ry I don’t remem­ber where) by a Pagan Friend excit­ed that this year’s Gath­er­ing would have a work­shop focused on their con­cerns.

It’s kind of inter­est­ing to look at the process by which new the­olo­gies are being added into Lib­er­al Quak­erism at an ever-increasing rate.

  • Mem­ber­ship of indi­vid­u­als in meet­ings. There are hun­dreds of meet­ings in lib­er­al Quak­erism that range all over the the­o­log­i­cal map. Add to that the wide­spread agree­ment that the­o­log­i­cal uni­ty with the meet­ing is not required and just about any­one believ­ing any­thing could be admit­ted some­where (or “grand­fa­thered in” as a birthright mem­ber).
  • A work­shop at the Friends Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence Gath­er­ing and espe­cial­ly a reg­u­lar work­shop at suc­ces­sive Gath­er­ings. Yet as the very informed com­ments on a post a few years ago showed, the­ol­o­gy is not some­thing the plan­ning work­shop com­mit­tee is allowed to look at and at least one pro­po­nent of a new the­ol­o­gy has got­ten them­selves on the decid­ing com­mit­tee. The Gath­er­ing is essen­tial­ly built on the non­de­nom­i­na­tion­al Chau­taqua mod­el and FGC is per­fect­ly hap­py to spon­sor work­shops that are in appar­ent con­flict with its own mis­sion state­ment.
  • An arti­cle pub­lished in Friends Jour­nal. When the the Quak­er Sweat Lodge was strug­gling to claim legit­i­ma­cy it all but changed its name to the “Quak­er Sweat Lodge as fea­tured in the Feb­ru­ary 2002 Friends Jour­nal.” It’s a good magazine’s job to pub­lish arti­cles that make peo­ple think and a smart mag­a­zine will know that arti­cles that pro­voke a lit­tle con­tro­ver­sy is good for cir­cu­la­tion. I very much doubt the edi­to­ri­al team at the Jour­nal con­sid­ers its agree­ment to pub­lish to be an inoc­u­la­tion again­st cri­tique.
  • A web­site and list­serv. Fif­teen dol­lars at GoDad​dy​.com and you’ve got the web address of your dreams. Yahoo Group is free.

There are prob­a­bly oth­er mech­a­nisms of legit­i­ma­cy. My point is not to give com­pre­hen­sive guide­li­nes to would-be cam­paign­ers. I sim­ply want to note that none of the actors in the­se deci­sions is con­scious­ly think­ing “hey, I think I’ll expand the def­i­n­i­tion of lib­er­al Quak­er the­ol­o­gy today.” In fact I expect they’re most­ly pass­ing the buck, think­ing “hey, who am I to decide any­thing like that.”

None of the­se decision-making process­es are meant to serve as tools to dis­miss oppo­si­tion. The orga­ni­za­tions involved are not hand­ing out Impri­maturs and would be quite hor­ri­fied if they real­ized their agree­ments were being seen that way. Amy Clark, a com­menter on my last post, on this summer’s reunion and camp for the once-young mem­bers of Young Friends North Amer­i­ca, had a very inter­est­ing com­ment:

I agree that YFNA has become FGC: those pre­vi­ous­ly involved in YFNA have tak­en lead­er­ship with FGC … with both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive results. Well … now we have a chance to look at the lega­cy we are cre­at­ing: do we like it?

I have the feel­ing that the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of lib­er­al Quak­er lead­er­ship doesn’t quite believe it’s lead­ing lib­er­al Quak­erism. By “lead­er­ship” I don’t mean the small skim of the pro­fes­sion­al Quak­er bureau­cra­cy (whose mem­bers can get _too_ self-inflated on the lead­er­ship issue) but the com­mit­tees, clerks and vol­un­teers that get most of the work done from the local to nation­al lev­els. We are the inher­i­tors of a proud and some­times fool­ish tra­di­tion and our actions are shap­ing its future but I don’t think we real­ly know that. I have no clev­er solu­tion to the issues I’ve out­lined here but I think becom­ing con­scious that we’re cre­at­ing our own lega­cy is an impor­tant first step.

Opening up the QuakerQuaker listings

Every­one can now add posts to the Quak­erQuak­er cat­e­go­ry list­ings. Sim­ply book­mark the post in Del​.icio​.us, list the QQ cat­e­gories and it will be added to the page.
For exam­ple, say you’ve seen just the coolest post on Con­ver­gent Friends. Go to the “Con­ver­gent Friends”:http://www.quakerquaker.org/convergent_quakers page to find the right “tag” – in this case “quaker.convergent”. Book­mark the post you like, write a title and descrip­tion and list “quaker.convergent” as its tag. An hour or so lat­er the post will show up on the Con­ver­gent Friends page. How cool is that? Here are “instruc­tion on how to use Del​.icio​.us and title pages”:http://www.quakerquaker.org/contributors_zone_how_to/.

Con­tin­ue read­ing