Last Sunday I have a presentation to Haddonfield (N.J.) Meeting’s adult First-day school class about “Sharing the Good News with Social Media.” As I prepared I found I was less and less interested in the techniques of Facebook, etc., than I was in how outreach has historically worked for Friends.
For an early, short, period Quakers were so in-your-face and notorious that they could draw a crowd just by walking a few miles up the road to the next town. More recently, we’ve attracted newcomers as much by the example of our lives than by any outreach campaign. When I talk to adult newcomers, they often cite some Quaker example in their lives–a favorite teacher or delightfully eccentric aunt.
People can sense when there’s something of greater life in the way we approach our work, friendships, and families. Let me be the first in line to say I’m horribly imperfect. But there are Quaker techniques and values and folkways that are guides to genuinely good ways to live in the world. There’s nothing exclusively Quaker about them (indeed, most come from careful reading of the Gospels and Paul’s letters), but they are tools our religious community has emphasized and into which we’ve helped each other live more fully.
In the last fifteen years, the ways Friends are known has undergone a radical transformation. The Internet has made us incredibly easy to find and research. This is a mixed blessing as it means others are defining who we are. Careful corporate discernment conducted through long-developed techniques of Quaker process are no match for the “edit” button in Wikipedia or some commercial site with good page rank.
That said, I think people still are discovering Friends through personal examples. George Fox told us to be patterns and examples in the world and to answer that of God in everyone. A lot of our exampling and answering today is going to be on the threaded comments of Facebook and Twitter. What will they find? Do we use Facebook like everyone else, trolling, spamming, engaging in flame wars, focusing on ourselves? Or do Quaker folkways still apply. Here are some questions that I regularly wrestle with:
- When I use social media, am I being open, public, and transparent?
- Am I careful to share that which is good and eternal rather than titillating for its own sake?
- Do I remember that the Good News is simply something we borrow to share and that the Inward Christ needs to do the final delivery into hearts?
- Do I pray for those I disagree with? Do I practice holding my tongue when my motivation is anger or jealousy?
What struggles do others face? What might be our online folkways?