Blogging for the Kingdom

Warn­ing: this is a blog post about blogging.

It’s always fas­ci­nat­ing to watch the ebb and flow of my blog­ging. Quak­er­ran­ter, my “main” blog has been remark­ably qui­et. I’m still up to my eye­balls with blog­ging in gen­er­al: post­ing things to Quak­erQuak­er, giv­ing help­ful com­ments and tips, help­ing oth­ers set up blogs as part of my con­sult­ing busi­ness. My Tum­blr blog and Face­book and Twit­ter feeds all con­tin­ue to be rel­a­tive­ly active. But most of these is me giv­ing voice to oth­ers. For two decades now, I’ve zigzagged between writer and pub­lish­er; late­ly I’ve been focused on the latter.

When I start­ed blog­ging about Quak­er issues sev­en years ago, I was a low-level cler­i­cal employ­ee at an Quak­er orga­ni­za­tion. It was clear I was going nowhere career-wise, which gave me a cer­tain free­dom. More impor­tant­ly, blogs were a near­ly invis­i­ble medi­um, read by a self-selected group that also want­ed to talk open­ly and hon­est­ly about issues. I start­ed writ­ing about issues in among lib­er­al Friends and about missed out­reach oppor­tu­ni­ties. A lot of what I said was spot on and in hind­sight, the archives give me plen­ty of “told you so” cred­i­bil­i­ty. But where’s the joy in being right about what hasn’t worked?

Things have changed over the years. One is that I’ve resigned myself to those missed oppor­tu­ni­ties. Lots of Quak­er mon­ey and human­ly activ­i­ty is going into projects that don’t have God as a cen­ter. No amount of rant­i­ng is going to dis­suade good peo­ple from putting their faith into one more staff reor­ga­ni­za­tion, mis­sion rewrite or clever program.It’s a dis­trac­tion to spend much time wor­ry­ing about them.

But the biggest change is that my heart is square­ly with God. I’m most inter­est­ed in shar­ing Jesus’s good news. I’m not a cheer­leader for any par­tic­u­lar human insti­tu­tion, no mat­ter how noble its inten­tions. When I talk about the good news, it’s in the con­text of 350 years of Friends’ under­stand­ing of it. But I’m well aware that there’s lots of peo­ple in our meet­ing­hous­es that don’t under­stand it this way any­more. And also aware that the seek­er want­i­ng to pur­sue the Quak­er way might find it more close­ly mod­eled in alter­na­tive Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties. There are peo­ple all over lis­ten­ing for God and I see many attempts at rein­vent­ing Quak­erism hap­pen­ing among non-Friends.

I know this obser­va­tion excites some peo­ple to indig­na­tion, but so be it: I’m trust­ing God on this one. I’m not sure why He’sgiven us a world why the com­mu­ni­ties we bring togeth­er to wor­ship Him keep get­ting dis­tract­ed, but that’s what we’ve got (and it’s what we’ve had for a long time). Every per­son of faith of every gen­er­a­tion has to remem­ber, re-experience and revive the mes­sage. That hap­pens in church build­ings, on street cor­ners, in liv­ing rooms, lunch lines and nowa­days on blogs and inter­net forums.We can’t get too hung up on all the ways the mes­sage is get­ting blocked. And we can’t get hung up by insist­ing on only one chan­nel of shar­ing that mes­sage. We must share the good news and trust that God will show us how to man­i­fest this in our world: his king­dom come and will be done on earth.

But what would this look like?

When I first start­ed blog­ging there weren’t a lot of Quak­er blogs and I spent a lot more time read­ing oth­er reli­gious blogs. This was back before the emer­gent church move­ment became a wholly-owned sub­sidiary of Zon­der­van and wasn’t dom­i­nat­ed by hype artists (sor­ry, a lot of big names set off my slime-o-meter these days). There are still great blog­gers out there talk­ing about faith and read­ers want­i­ng to engage in this dis­cus­sion. I’ve been intrigued by the his­tor­i­cal exam­ple of Thomas Clark­son, the Angli­can who wrote about Friends from a non-Quaker per­spec­tive using non-Quaker lan­guage. And some­times I geek out and explain some Quak­er point on a Quak­er blog and get thanked by the author, who often is an expe­ri­enced Friend who had nev­er been pre­sent­ed with a clas­sic Quak­er expla­na­tion on the point in ques­tion. My track­ing log shows seek­ers con­tin­ue to be fas­ci­nat­ed and drawn to us for our tra­di­tion­al tes­ti­monies, espe­cial­ly plainness.

I’ve put togeth­er top­ic lists and plans before but it’s a bit of work, maybe too much to put on top of what I do with Quak­erQuak­er (plus work, plus fam­i­ly). There’s also ques­tions about where to blog and whether to sim­pli­fy my blog­ging life a bit by com­bin­ing some of my blogs but that’s more logis­tics rather than vision.

Inter­est­ing stuff I’m read­ing that’s mak­ing me think about this:

Invisible Quaker Misfits

This week I received an email from a young seek­er in the Philadel­phia area who found my 2005 arti­cle “Wit­ness of Our Lost Twenty-Somethings” pub­lished in FGCon­nec­tions. She’s a for­mer youth min­istries leader from a Pen­te­costal tra­di­tion, strong­ly attract­ed to Friends beliefs but not quite fit­ting in with the local meet­ings she’s been try­ing. Some­where she found my arti­cle and asks if I have any insights. 

The 2005 arti­cle was large­ly pes­simistic, focused on the “com­mit­ted, inter­est­ing and bold twenty-something Friends
I knew ten years ago” who had left Friends and blam­ing “an insti­tu­tion­al Quak­erism that neglect­ed them and
its own future” but my hope para­graph was optimistic:

There is hope… A great peo­ple might pos­si­bly be gath­ered from
the emer­gent church move­ment and the inter­net is full of amaz­ing conversations
from new Friends and seek­ers. There are pock­ets in our branch of Quakerism
where old­er Friends have con­tin­ued to men­tor and encour­age mean­ing­ful and
inte­grat­ed youth lead­er­ship, and some of my peers have hung on with me. Most
hope­ful­ly, there’s a whole new gen­er­a­tion of twenty- some­thing Friends
on the scene with strong gifts that could be nur­tured and harnessed. 

Hard to imag­ine that only three years ago I was an iso­lat­ed FGC staffer left to pur­sue out­reach and youth min­istry work on my own time by an insti­tu­tion indif­fer­ent to either pur­suit. Both func­tions have become major staff pro­grams, but I’m no longer involved, which is prob­a­bly just as well, as nei­ther pro­gram has decid­ed to focus on the kind of work I had hoped it might. The more things change the more they stay the same, right? The most inter­est­ing work is still large­ly invisible. 

Some of this work has been tak­en up by the new blog­gers and by some sort of alt-network that seems to be con­geal­ing around all the blogs, Twit­ter net­works, Face­book friend­ships, inter­vis­i­ta­tions and IM chats. Many of us asso­ci­at­ed with Quak​erQuak​er​.org have some sort of reg­u­lar cor­re­spon­dence or par­tic­i­pa­tion with the Emerg­ing Church move­ment, we reg­u­lar­ly high­light “amaz­ing con­ver­sa­tions” from new Friends and seek­ers and there’s a lot of inter-generational work going on. We’ve got a name for it in Con­ver­gent Friends, which reflects in part that “we” aren’t just the lib­er­al Friends I imag­ined in 2005, but a wide swath of Friends from all the Quak­er flavors.

But we end up with a prob­lem that’s become the cen­tral one for me and a lot of oth­ers: what can we tell a new seek­er who should be able to find a home in real-world Friends but doesn’t fit? I could point this week’s cor­re­spon­dent to meet­ings and church­es hun­dreds of miles from her house, or encour­age her to start a blog, or com­pile a list of work­shops or gath­er­ings she might attend. But none of these are real­ly sat­is­fac­to­ry answers. 


Gath­er­ing in Light Wess sent an email around last night about a book review done by his PhD advi­sor Ryan Bol­ger that talks about tribe-style lead­er­ship and a new kind of church iden­ti­ty that uses the instant com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools of the inter­net to forge a com­mu­ni­ty that’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly lim­it­ed to local­i­ty. Bolger’s and his research part­ner report that they see “emerg­ing ini­tia­tives with­in tra­di­tion­al church­es as the next
hori­zon for the spread of emerg­ing church prac­tices in the Unit­ed States
.” More links from Wess’ arti­cle on emerg­ing church­es and denom­i­na­tions.

Aggregating our Webs

On Beppe­blog, Joe talks about start­ing a clear­ness com­mit­tee [link long gone]to assist him with his strug­gles with Friends. But he also touch­es on some­thing I’ve cer­tain­ly also expe­ri­enced: the impor­tant role this elec­tron­ic fel­low­ship has been playing:

Just the oth­er day I real­ized that I felt more com­fort­able being a Friend since not attend­ing Meet­ing on an ongo­ing basis. My ongo­ing “e-relationships” via the blo­gos­phere has helped me stay “con­nect­ed”. Observe how pleased I respond­ed to Liz’s recent post (the one that I quot­ed in the post before this one). It’s as if I’m starv­ing for good fel­low­ship of some kind or another.

There’s even more talk about internet-mediated discernment/fellowship in the “com­ments to his followup.

Giv­en all this, I’m not sure if I’ve ever high­light­ed a “vision for an expand­ed Quak­er Ranter site” that I put togeth­er for a “youth lead­er­ship” grant in Third Month:

I’ve been blessed to meet many of my [age] peers with a clear call to inspired min­istry. Most of these Friends have since left the Soci­ety, frus­trat­ed both by month­ly meet­ings and Quak­er bod­ies that didn’t know what to do with a bold min­istry and by a lack of men­tor­ing elder­ship that could help sea­son these young min­is­ters and deep­en their under­stand­ing of gospel order. I would like to put togeth­er an inde­pen­dent online pub­li­ca­tion… This would explic­it­ly reach out across the dif­fer­ent braches of Friends and even to var­i­ous seek­er move­ments like the so-called “Emer­gent Church Movement.”

As I’ve writ­ten I was select­ed for one of their fel­low­ships (yea!!) but for an amount that was point­ed­ly too low to actu­al­ly fund much (huh??). There’s some­thing in the air how­ev­er. “Quak­er Dhar­ma” is ask­ing sim­i­lar ques­tions and Russ Nelson’s “Plan­etQuak­er” is a sometimes-awkward auto­mat­ed answer (do its read­ers real­ly want to see the ultra­sounds?). I’m not sure any of these com­bo sites could actu­al­ly work bet­ter than their con­stituent parts. I find myself unin­ter­est­ed in most group blogs, aggre­ga­tors, and for­mal web­sites. The invi­did­ual voice is so important.

And don’t we already have a group project going with all the cross-reading and cross-linking we’re doing. Is that what Joe was talk­ing about? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found some new inter­est­ing blog­ger and went to post a wel­come in their com­ments only to have found that Joe or LizOpp had beat­en me to it. (Some of us are to the point of read­ing each other’s minds. I think I could prob­a­bly write a great Beppe or LizOpp post and vice-versa.) Is this impulse to for­mal­ize these rela­tion­ships just a throw­back to old ideas of publishing?

Maybe the web’s form of hyper­link­ing is actu­al­ly supe­ri­or to Old Media pub­lish­ing. I love how I can put for­ward a strong vision of Quak­erism with­out offend­ing any­one – any put-off read­ers can hit the “back” but­ton. And if a blog I read posts some­thing I don’t agree with, I can sim­ply choose not to com­ment. If life’s just too busy then I just miss a few weeks of posts. With my “Sub­jec­tive Guide to Quak­er Blogs” and my “On the Web” posts I high­light the blog­gers I find par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing, even when I’m not in per­fect the­o­log­i­cal uni­ty. I like that I can have dis­cus­sions back and forth with Friends who I don’t exact­ly agree with.

I have noth­ing to announce, no clear plan for­ward and no mon­ey to do any­thing any­way. But I thought it’d be inter­est­ing to hear what oth­ers have been think­ing along these lines.

Vision for an online magazine

In ear­ly 2005, I was nom­i­nat­ed to apply for the Clarence and Lil­ly Pick­ett Endow­ment for Quak­er Lead­er­ship. I decid­ed to dream up the best project I could under the restraints of the lim­it­ed Pick­ett grant sizes. While the endowe­ment was approved their bud­get was lim­it­ed that year (lots of Quak­er youth trav­el to a World Gath­er­ing) and I got a small frac­tion of what I had hoped for. I made an online appeal and con­tri­bu­tions from dozens of Friends dou­bled the Pick­ett Fund grant size!

Here then is an edit­ed ver­sion of the pro­pos­al I pre­sent­ed to the Pick­ett Fund in Third Month 2005; it has sub­se­quent­ly been approved by the Over­seers of my meet­ing, Atlantic City Area Month­ly Meeting.

What involvement have you had in Quaker-related activities/service projects for the betterment of your community/world?

Ten years ago I found­ed Non​vi​o​lence​.org, a cut­ting edge “New Media” web­site that now reach­es over a mil­lion vis­i­tors a year. I have been involved with a num­ber of Philadel­phia peace groups (e.g.,Food Not Bombs, the Philadel­phia Inde­pen­dent Media Cen­ter, Act for Peace in the Mid­dle East). I have served my month­ly meet­ing as co-clerk and as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive to year­ly meet­ing bod­ies. I recent­ly led a well-received “Quak­erism 101” course at Med­ford (NJ) Month­ly Meet­ing and will co-lead a work­shop called “Strangers to the Covenant” at this year’s FGC Gath­er­ing. I have orga­nized Young Adult Friends at the year­ly and nation­al lev­els, serv­ing for­mal­ly and infor­mal­ly in var­i­ous capac­i­ties. I am quite involved with Quak­ers Unit­ing in Pub­li­ca­tions, an inter­na­tion­al asso­ci­a­tion of Quak­er pub­lish­ers, authors and book­sellers. Eigh­teen months ago I start­ed a small Quak­er min­istry web­site that has inspired a num­ber of younger Friends inter­est­ed in explor­ing min­istry and wit­ness. For the past six years I have worked for Friends Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence; for two of those years I was con­cur­rent­ly also work­ing for Friends Jour­nal.

What is the nature of the internship, creative activity or service project for which you seek funding?

I’ve served with var­i­ous Young Adult Friends group­ings and com­mit­tees for ten years. In that time I’ve been blessed to meet many of my peers with a clear call to inspired min­istry. Most of these Friends have since left the Soci­ety, frus­trat­ed both by month­ly meet­ings and Quak­er bod­ies that didn’t know what to do with a bold min­istry and by a lack of men­tor­ing elder­ship that could help sea­son and steady these young min­is­ters and deep­en their under­stand­ing of gospel order.

I would like to put togeth­er an inde­pen­dent online pub­li­ca­tion. This would address the iso­la­tion that most seri­ous young Friends feel and would give a focus to our work togeth­er. The pub­li­ca­tion would also have a quar­ter­ly print edition.

It’s impor­tant to build face-to-face rela­tion­ships too, to build an advi­so­ry board but also a base of con­trib­u­tors and to give extra encour­age­ment to fledg­ling min­istries. I would like to trav­el to dif­fer­ent young adult com­mu­ni­ties to share sto­ries and inspi­ra­tion. This would explic­it reach out across the dif­fer­ent braches of Friends and even to var­i­ous seek­er move­ments like the so-called “Emer­gent Church Movement.”

What amount are you requesting and how will it be used in the project? What other financial resources for your project are you considering?

$7800. Web host­ing: $900 for 18 months. Soft­ware: $300. Print pub­li­ca­tion: $3000 for 6 quar­ter­ly issues at $500 per issue. Trav­el: $1600 for four trips aver­ag­ing $400 each. $2000 for mini-sabbatical time set­ting up site.

The Pick­ett Fund would be a val­i­da­tion of sorts for this vision. I would also turn to oth­er youth fel­low­ship and year­ly meet­ing trav­el funds that sup­port the work.

What is the time frame for your project? 18 months, to be reviewed/revisioned then.

When did/will it begin? This sum­mer. When will it end? Decem­ber 2006.

In what specific ways will the project further your leadership potential in Quaker service?

It’s time that I for­mal­ize some of the work I’ve been doing and make it more of a col­lec­tive effort. It will be good to see for­mal month­ly meet­ing recog­ni­tion of this min­istry and to have insti­tu­tion­al Quak­er sup­port. I hope to learn much by being involved with so many won­der­ful Friends and hope to help pull togeth­er more of a sense of mis­sion among a num­ber of younger Friends.

Quaker Ranter Reader

A recent email cor­re­spon­dence con­firmed that all of our won­der­ful web­sites aren’t always reach­ing the peo­ple who should be hear­ing this mes­sage. Self pub­lish­ing a book is almost as easy as start­ing a blog so why not put togeth­er a book­let of a website’s essays? You can order the first edi­tion of the “Quak­er Ranter Reader”: for $12.00 through Cafe­press (a few dol­lars of each sale comes back to me to sup­port the web­site). The Read­er is also avail­able from “Quaker­books of FGC”: – 99-01749 – 3.

Con­tin­ue read­ing

Quaker Emergent Church Planting

Over on the Evangelical side of Friends is "Simple Churches", a movement of "organic" church planting. It's a project of Harold and Wendy Behr, recorded by Northwest Yearly Meeting and now working with Evangelical Friends Church Southwest. The core values are ones I could certainly sign off on: Leadership over Location, Ministry over Money, Converts over Christians, Disciples over Decisions, People over Property, Spirit over Self, His Kingdom over Ours. I particularly like their site's disclaimer:
bq. As your peruse the links from this site please recognize that the Truth reflected in essays are often written with a "prophetic edge", that is sharp, non compromising and sometimes radical perspective. We believe Truth can be received without "cursing the darkness" and encourage you to reflect upon finding the "candle" to light, personally, as you apply what you hear the Lord speaking to you. In Body life, often the most powerful opponent of the "best" is the "good".
They're leading a conference next month in Richmond, Indiana, with members of Friends United Meeting. How tempting is this?

h3. See also:
* "Emergent Church Movement: The Younger Evangelicals and Quaker Renewal":/Quaker/emerging_church.php