Flashbacks: Aging Youth, Vanity Googling, War Fatigue

I occa­sion­al­ly go back to my blog­ging archives to pick out inter­est­ing arti­cles from one, five and ten years ago.

ONE YEAR AGO: The Not-Quite-So Young Quakers

It was five years ago this week that I sat down and wrote about a cool
new move­ment I had been read­ing about. It would have been Jor­dan Coop­er’s blog that turned me onto Robert E Web­ber’s The Younger Evan­gel­i­cals, a look at gen­er­a­tional shifts among Amer­i­can Evan­gel­i­cals. In ret­ro­spect, it’s fair to say that the Quak­erQuak­er com­mu­ni­ty gath­ered around this essay (here’s Robin M’s account of first read­ing it) and it’s follow-up We’re All Ranters Now (Wess talk­ing about it).

And yet? All of this is still a small demo­graph­ic scat­tered all around. If I want­ed to have a good two-hour caffeine-fueled bull ses­sion about the future of Friends at some local cof­feeshop this after­noon, I can’t think of any­one even vague­ly local who I could call up. I’m real­ly sad to say we’re still large­ly on our own. Accord­ing to actu­ar­i­al tables, I’ve recent­ly crossed my life’s halfway point and here I am still ref­er­enc­ing gen­er­a­tional change. How I wish I could hon­est­ly say that I could get involved with any com­mit­tee in my year­ly meet­ing and get to work on the issues raised in “Younger Evan­gel­i­cals and Younger Quak­ers”. Some­one recent­ly sent me an email thread between mem­bers of an out­reach com­mit­tee for anoth­er large East Coast year­ly meet­ing and they were debat­ing whether the inter­net was an appro­pri­ate place to do out­reach work – in 2008?!?

Pub­lished 9/14/2008.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Van­i­ty Googling of Causes

A poster to an obscure dis­cus­sion board recent­ly described typ­ing a par­tic­u­lar search phrase into Google and find­ing noth­ing but bad infor­ma­tion. Repro­duc­ing the search I deter­mined two things: 1) that my site topped the list and 2) that the results were actu­al­ly quite accu­rate. I’ve been hear­ing an increas­ing num­ber of sto­ries like this. “Cause Googling,” a vari­a­tion on “van­i­ty googling,” is sud­den­ly becom­ing quite pop­u­lar. But the inter­est­ing thing is that these new searchers don’t actu­al­ly seem curi­ous about the results. Has Google become our new proof text?

Pub­lished 10/2/2004 in The Quak­er Ranter.

TEN’ISH YEARS AGO: War Time Again
This piece is about the NATO bomb­ing cam­paign in Ser­bia (Wikipedia). It’s strange to see I was feel­ing war fatigue even before 9/11 and the “real” wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

There’s a great dan­ger in all this. A dan­ger to the soul of Amer­i­ca. This is the fourth coun­try the U.S. has gone to war against in the last six months. War is becom­ing rou­tine. It is sand­wiched between the soap operas and the sit­coms, between the traf­fic and weath­er reports. Intense cruise mis­sile bom­bard­ments are car­ried out but have no effect on the psy­che or even imag­i­na­tion of the U.S. citizens.

It’s as if war itself has become anoth­er con­sumer good. Anoth­er event to be pack­aged for com­mer­cial tele­vi­sion. Giv­en a theme song. We’re at war with a coun­try we don’t know over a region we don’t real­ly care about. I’m not be face­tious, I’m sim­ply stat­ing a fact. The Unit­ed States can and should play an active peace­mak­ing role in the region, but only after we’ve done our home­work and have basic knowl­edge of the play­ers and sit­u­a­tion. Iso­la­tion­ism is dan­ger­ous, yes, but not near­ly as dan­ger­ous as the emerg­ing cul­ture of these dilet­tante made-for-TV wars.

Pub­lished March 25, 1999, Non​vi​o​lence​.org

Conflict in meeting and the role of heartbreak and testing

A few weeks ago a newslet­ter brought writ­ten reports about the lat­est round of con­flict at a local meet­ing that’s been fight­ing for the past 180 years or so. As my wife and I read through it we were a bit under­whelmed by the accounts of the newest con­flict res­o­lu­tion attempts. The medi­a­tors seemed more wor­ried about alien­at­ing a few long-term dis­rup­tive char­ac­ters than about pre­serv­ing the spir­i­tu­al vital­i­ty of the meet­ing. It’s a phe­nom­e­na I’ve seen in a lot of Quak­er meetings. 

Call it the FDR Prin­ci­ple after Franklin D Roo­sevelt, who sup­pos­ed­ly defend­ed his sup­port of one of Nicaragua’s most bru­tal dic­ta­tors by say­ing “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” Even casu­al his­to­ri­ans of Latin Amer­i­can his­to­ry will know this only led to fifty years of wars with rever­ber­a­tions across the world with the Iran/Contra scan­dal. The FDR Prin­ci­ple didn’t make for good U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy and, if I may, I’d sug­gest it doesn’t make for good Quak­er pol­i­cy either. Any dis­cus­sion board mod­er­a­tor or pop­u­lar blog­ger knows that to keep an online discussion’s integri­ty you need to know when to cut a dis­rup­tive trouble-maker off – polite­ly and suc­cint­ly, but also firm­ly. If you don’t, the peo­ple there to actu­al­ly dis­cuss your issues – the peo­ple you want – will leave.

I didn’t know how to talk about this until a post called Con­flict in Meet­ing came through Live­jour­nal this past First Day. The poster, jan­drewm, wrote in part:

Yet my recog­ni­tion of all that doesn’t negate the painful feel­ings that arise when hos­til­i­ty enters the meet­ing room, when long-held grudges boil over and harsh words are spo­ken.  After a few months of reg­u­lar atten­dance at my meet­ing, I came close to aban­don­ing this “exper­i­ment” with Quak­erism because some Friends were so con­sis­tent­ly ran­corous, divi­sive, dis­rup­tive.  I had to ask myself: “Do I need this neg­a­tiv­i­ty in my life right now?”

I com­ment­ed about the need to take the tes­ti­monies seriously:

I’ve been in that sit­u­a­tion. A lot of Friends aren’t very good at putting their foot down on fla­grant­ly dis­rup­tive behav­ior. I wish I could buy the “it even­tu­al­ly sorts out” argu­ment but it often doesn’t. I’ve seen meet­ings where all the sane peo­ple are dri­ven out, leav­ing the dis­rup­tive folks and arm­chair ther­a­pists. It’s a sym­bi­ot­ic rela­tion­ship, per­haps, but doesn’t make for a healthy spir­i­tu­al community.

The unpop­u­lar solu­tion is for us to take our tes­ti­monies seri­ous­ly. And I mean those more spe­cif­ic tes­ti­monies buried deep in copies in Faith & Prac­tice that act as a kind of col­lec­tive wis­dom for Quak­er com­mu­ni­ty life. Tes­ti­monies against detrac­tion and for right­ly ordered deci­sion mak­ing, etc. If someone’s actions tear apart the meet­ing they should be coun­seled; if they con­tin­ue to dis­rupt then their decision-making input should be dis­re­gard­ed. This is the real effect of the old much-maligned Quak­er process of dis­own­ing (which allowed con­tin­ued atten­dance at wor­ship and life in the com­mu­ni­ty but stopped busi­ness par­tic­i­pa­tion). Lim­it­ing input like this makes sense to me.

The trou­ble that if your meet­ing is in this kind of spi­ral there might not be much you can do by your­self. Peo­ple take some sort of weird com­fort in these pre­dictable fights and if you start talk­ing tes­ti­monies you might become very unpop­u­lar very quick­ly. Par­tic­i­pat­ing in the bick­er­ing isn’t help­ful (of course) and just eats away your own self. Dis­tanc­ing your­self for a time might be help­ful. Get­ting involved in oth­er Quak­er venues. It’s a shame. Month­ly meet­ing is sup­posed to be the cen­ter of our Quak­er spir­i­tu­al life. But some­times it can’t be. I try to draw lessons from these cir­cum­stances. I cer­tain­ly under­stand the val­ue and need for the Quak­er tes­ti­monies bet­ter sim­ply because I’ve seen the prob­lems meet­ings face when they haven’t. But that doesn’t make it any eas­i­er for you.

But all of this begs an awk­ward ques­tion: are we real­ly build­ing Christ’s king­dom by drop­ping out? It’s an age-old ten­sion between puri­ty and par­tic­i­pa­tion at all costs. Tim­o­thy asked a sim­i­lar ques­tion of me in a com­ment to my last post. Before we answer, we should rec­og­nize that there are indeed many peo­ple who have “aban­doned” their “Quak­er exper­i­ment” because we’re not liv­ing up to our own ideals. 

Maybe I’m more aware of this drop-out class than oth­ers. It some­times seems like an email cor­re­spon­dence with the “Quak­er Ranter” has become the last step on the way out the door. But I also get mes­sages from seek­ers new­ly con­vinced of Quak­er prin­ci­ples but unable to con­nect local­ly because of the diver­gent prac­tices or juve­nile behav­ior of their local Friends meet­ing or church. A typ­i­cal email last week asked me why the plain Quak­ers weren’t evan­gel­i­cal and why evan­gel­i­cal Quak­ers weren’t con­ser­v­a­tive and asked “Is there a place in the quak­ers for a Plain Dress­ing, Bible Thump­ing, Gospel Preach­ing, Evan­gel­i­cal, Con­ser­v­a­tive, Spir­it Led, Charis­mat­ic fam­i­ly?” (Any­one want to sug­gest their local meet­ing?)

We should be more wor­ried about the peo­ple of integri­ty we’re los­ing than about the grumpy trouble-makers embed­ded in some of our meet­ings. If some­one is con­sis­tent­ly dis­rup­tive, is clear­ly break­ing spe­cif­ic Quak­er tes­ti­monies we’ve lumped under com­mu­ni­ty and intergri­ty, and stub­born­ly immune to any coun­cil then read them out of busi­ness meet­ing. If the peo­ple you want in your meet­ing are leav­ing because of the peo­ple you real­ly don’t want, then it’s time to do some­thing. Our Quak­er tool­box pro­vides us tool for that action – ways to define, name and address the issues. Our tra­di­tion gives us access to hun­dreds of years of expe­ri­ence, both mis­takes and suc­cess­es, and can be a more use­ful guide than con­tem­po­rary pop psy­chol­o­gy or plain old head-burying.

Not all meet­ings have these prob­lems. But enough do that we’re los­ing peo­ple. And the dynam­ics get more acute when there’s a vision­ary project on the table and/or some­one younger is at the cen­ter of them. While our meet­ings sort out their issues, the inter­net is pro­vid­ing one type of sup­port lifeline.

Blog­ger jan­drewm was able to seek advice and con­so­la­tion on Live­jour­nal. Some of the folks I spoke about in the 2003 “Lost Quak­er Gen­er­a­tion” series of posts are now lurk­ing away on my Face­book friends list. Maybe we can stop the full depar­ture of some of these Friends. They can drop back but still be involved, still engag­ing their local meet­ing. They can be read­ing and dis­cussing tes­ti­monies (“detrac­tion” is a won­der­ful place to start) so they can spot and explain behav­ior. We can use the web to coör­di­nate work­shops, online dis­cus­sions, local meet-ups, new work­ship groups, etc., but even email from a Friend thou­sands of miles away can help give us clar­i­ty and strength.

I think (I hope) we’re help­ing to forge a group of Friends with a clear under­stand­ing of the work to be done and the tech­niques of Quak­er dis­cern­ment. It’s no won­der that Quak­er bod­ies some­times fail to live up to their ideals: the jour­nals of  olde tyme Quak­er min­is­ters are full of dis­ap­point­ing sto­ries and Chris­t­ian tra­di­tion is rich with tales of the road­blocks the Tempter puts up in our path. How can we learn to  cen­ter in the Lord when our meet­ings become too polit­i­cal or dis­func­tion­al (I think I should start look­ing hard­er at Anabap­tist non-resistance the­o­ry). This is the work, Friends, and it’s always been the work. Through what­ev­er comes we need to trust that any test­ing and heart­break has a pur­pose, that the Lord is using us through all, and that any suf­fer­ing will be pro­duc­tive to His pur­pose if we can keep low and lis­ten­ing for follow-up instructions.

Johan Maurer: More about boldness

Johan has a great post about “Quak­er evan­ge­liz­ing in Russia”:http://maurers.home.mindspring.com/2004/11/more-about-boldness.htm that real­ly applies to Quak­ers reach­ing out any­where. My favorite paragraph:
bq. I per­son­al­ly have a hard time with hob­by­ist Quak­erism, espe­cial­ly when defined in terms of ultra­finicky pre­scrip­tions of how “we” do things, “our” spe­cial pro­ce­dures and folk­ways, or any­thing else that detracts from Jesus being in the cen­ter of our com­mu­ni­ty life. How can we present some­thing so stilt­ed and crab­by and cul­tur­al­ly spe­cif­ic as an answer to spir­i­tu­al bondage? It is just anoth­er form of bondage!

Con­tin­ue read­ing

Vanity Googling of Causes

A poster to an obscure dis­cus­sion board recent­ly described typ­ing a par­tic­u­lar search phrase into Google and find­ing noth­ing but bad infor­ma­tion. Repro­duc­ing the search I deter­mined two things: 1) that my site topped the list and 2) that the results were actu­al­ly quite accu­rate. I’ve been hear­ing an increas­ing num­ber of sto­ries like this. “Cause Googling,” a vari­a­tion on “van­i­ty googling,” is sud­den­ly becom­ing quite pop­u­lar. But the inter­est­ing thing is that these new searchers don’t actu­al­ly seem curi­ous about the results. Has Google become our new proof text?

Con­tin­ue read­ing

History of Non​vi​o​lence​.org, 1995 – 2008

Non​vi​o​lence​.Org was found­ed by Mar­tin Kel­ley out of a home office way back in 1995. Over the 13 or so years of its exis­tence, it won acco­lades and atten­tion from the main­stream media and mil­lions of vis­i­tors. It’s arti­cles have been reprint­ed in count­less move­ment jour­nals and even in a fea­tured USAToday edi­to­r­i­al.

From 2006:

The past eleven years have seen count­less inter­net projects burst on the scene only to with­er away. Yet Non​vi​o​lence​.org con­tin­ues with­out any fund­ing, attract­ing a larg­er audi­ence every year. As the years have gone by and I’ve found the strength to con­tin­ue it, I’ve real­ized more and more that this is a min­istry. As a mem­ber of the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends I’m com­mit­ted to spread­ing the good news that war is unnec­es­sary. In my per­son­al life this is a mat­ter of faith in the “pow­er that takes away occas­sion for all war.” In my work with Non​vi​o​lence​.org I also draw on all the prac­ti­cal and prag­mat­ic rea­sons why war is wrong. For more per­son­al moti­va­tions you can see at Quak​er​Ran​ter​.org, my per­son­al blog.

A Non​vi​o​lence​.org Timeline

Screenshot from 1996 via Archive.org
Screen­shot from 1996 via Archive​.org

In 1995 I was edi­tor at an activist pub­lish­er strug­gling to adapt to a rapid­ly chang­ing book world. Many of the inde­pen­dent book­stores that had always sup­port­ed us were clos­ing just as print­ing costs were ris­ing. The need to re-invent activist orga­niz­ing and pub­lish­ing for the 1990’s became obvi­ous and I saw the inter­net as a place to do that. One of the ear­li­est man­i­festos and intro­duc­tions to the Non­vi­o­lence Web was an essay called The Rev­o­lu­tion Will be Online.

I began by approached lead­ing U.S. peace groups with a crazy pro­pos­al: if they gave me their mate­r­i­al I would put it up on the web for them for free. My goal was to live off of sav­ings until I could raise the oper­at­ing funds from foun­da­tions. “Free type­set­ting for the move­ment by the move­ment” was the ral­ly­ing cry and I quick­ly brought a who’s-who of Amer­i­can peace groups over to Non​vi​o​lence​.org. I knew that there was lots of great peace writ­ing that wasn’t get­ting the dis­tri­b­u­tion it deserved and with the inter­net I could get it out faster and more wide­ly then with any tra­di­tion­al media. For three years I lived off of sav­ings, very part-time jobs and occa­sion­al small grants.

Through 1998, Nonviolence.ommarg devel­oped into a web “por­tal” for non­vi­o­lence. We would fea­ture the most provoca­tive and time­ly pieces from the NVWeb mem­ber groups on the newly-redesigned home­page, dubbed “Non­vi­o­lence Web Upfront.” A online mag­a­zine for­mat loose­ly mod­eled on Slate and the now-defunct Feed Mag­a­zine, it also con­tained orig­i­nal mate­r­i­al and links to inter­est­ing threads on the inte­grat­ed dis­cus­sion board. With these pop­u­lar fea­tures, the Non​vi​o​lence​.Org became a “sticky” site, one which attract­ed reg­u­lar vis­i­tors. The com­bined vis­i­bil­i­ty for mem­ber groups was much greater than any­one could obtain alone and we earned plen­ty of awards and links. There was a New York Times tech pro­file (boy was that a weird pho­to shoot!) and I was invit­ed to write the guest Op/Ed in USA Today.

But this mod­el couldn’t last. A big prob­lem was mon­ey: there’s were too few phil­an­thropists for this sort of work, and estab­lished foun­da­tions didn’t even know the right ques­tions to ask in eval­u­at­ing an inter­net project. Non​vi​o​lence​.Org was kept afloat by my own dwin­dling per­son­al sav­ings, and I nev­er did find the sort of mon­ey that could pay even pover­ty wages. I took more and more part-time jobs till they became the full-time ones I have today. At the same time, inter­net pub­lish­ing was also chang­ing. With the advent of “Blogs” and open-source bul­letin board soft­ware, Non​vi​o​lence​.org has con­tin­ued to evolve and stay relevant.

2005

Non​vi​o​lence​.org con­tin­ued to be one of the most highly-visible and vis­it­ed peace web­sites, being high­ly ranked through the first Gulf War II, the biggest U.S. mil­i­tary action since the web began. This mod­el of inde­pen­dent activist web pub­lish­ing was still crit­i­cal. The Non​vi​o​lence​.org mis­sion of fea­tur­ing the best writ­ing and analy­sis con­tin­ued until 2008 when Mar­tin final­ly moth­balled the Non​vi​o​lence​.org project and sold the domain.