The August issue of Friends Journal looks at the physicality of the places where we live our our faith.
Continuing my recent post in reimagining blogs, I’m going to go into some contextual details lifted from the Quaker publications with which I’m either directly associated or that have some claim to my identity.
My blog at Quaker Ranter dates back to the proto-blog I began in 1997 as an new homepage for my two year old “Nonviolence Web” project. The new feature was updated weekly with excerpted material from member projects on Nonviolence.org and related organizations that already had independent websites. We didn’t have RSS or Twitter then but I would manually send out emails to a list; we didn’t have comments but I would publish interesting responses that came by email. The work was relaunched with blogging software in 2003 and the voice became more individual and my focus became more Quaker and tech.
The articles then were like they are now: reversely chronological, with categories, tagging, and site searching that allow older material to be accessed. The most important source of archive visibility is external: Google. People can easily find material that is directly relevant to a question they’re addressing right now. In many instances, they’ll never even click through to the site homepage, much less categories, tags, etc. As I said in my last post, these first-time visitors are often trying to understand something new; the great majority bounce off the page and follow another search result on a matter of a few seconds, but some small but important percentage will be ripe for new ideas and connections and might be willing to try new associations.
But it’s random. I’m a bit of a nerd in my chosen interests and have been blogging long enough that I generally have at least a few interesting posts on any particular sub-topic. Most of these have been inspired by colleagues, friends, my wife, and random conversations I’ve found myself in.
Some of the most meaningful blog posts – those with legs – have involved me integrating some new thinker or idea into my worldview. The process will have started months or sometimes years before when another spiritual nerd recommended a book or article. In the faith world there’s always books that are obscure to newcomers but essential for those trying to go deeper into their faith. You’ll be in a deep conversations with someone and they’ll ask (often with a twinkle in their eye) “have you read so-and-so?” (This culture if sharing is especially important for Friends, who traditionally have no clergy or seminaries).
A major role of my blog has been to bring these sorts of conversations into a public realm – one that can be Googled and followed. The internet has helped us scale-up this process and make it more available to those who can’t constantly travel.
When I have real-world conversations now, I often have recourse to cite some old blog post. I’m sharing the “have you read” conversation in a way that can be eavesdropped by hundreds.
But how are people who stumble in my site for the first time going to find this?
The issue isn’t just limited to an obscure faith blog. Yesterday I learned about a cool (to me) blog written by a dad who researches and travels to neat nature spots in the area with his kids and writes up a post about what-to-see and kid-issues-to-be-aware-of. But when it’s a nice Saturday afternoon and I find myself in a certain locale, how can I know if he’s been anywhere nearby unless I go through all the archives or hope the search works or hope his blog’s categorization taxonomy is complete?
What I’m thinking is that we could try to create meta indexes to our blogs in a wiki model. Have a whole collection of introductory pages where we list and summarize relevant articles with links.
In the heyday of SEO, I used to tag the heck out if posts and have the pages act as a sort of automated version of this, but again, this it was chronological. And it was work. Even remembering to tag is work. I would spend a couple of days ignoring clients to metatag each page on the site, only to redo the work a few months later with even more metadata complexity. Writing a whole shadow meta blog indexing the blog would be a major (and unending task). It wouldn’t garner the rush of immediate Facebook likes. But it would be supremely useful for someone wanting to explore an issue of particular interest to them at that moment.
And one more Quaker aside that I think will nevertheless be of interest to the more techie readers. I’ve described Quakerism as a wiki spirituality. Exhibit one is the religious movement’s initial lack of creeds or written instruction. Even our pacifism, for which we’re most well known, was an uncodified testimony in the earliest years.
As Friends gained more experience living in community, they would publish advices – short snippets of wisdom that were collectively-approved using consensus decision making. They were based on experience. For example, they might find that members who abused alcohol, say, or repeatedly tested the dress code might cause other sorts of problems for the community and they’d minute a warning against these practices.
These advices were written over time; as more were approved it became burdensome to find relevant advices when some issue started tearing up a congregation. So they were collected into books – unofficial at first, literally hand-copied from person to person. These eventually became official – published “books of disciplines,” collections of the collective wisdom organized by topic. Their purpose and scope (and even their name) has changed over the ensuing centuries but their impulse and early organization is one that I find useful when thinking about how we could rethink the categorization issues of our twenty first century blogs and commenting systems.
Came across an 2004-era page of mine (the Baby Theo homepage) via an Archive.org search today. Here was a description on the sidebar:
This website is part of a informal emerging network of Friends that are reaching across our institutional boundaries to engage with our faith and with each other. The “ministry of the written word” has often sparked generational renewal among Friends and there’s something afoot in all these comments and linkbacks. There are lots of potential projects that can be launched over the new few years (books, workshops, conferences, etc) so if you like the direction of this site and the questions it’s asking, please consider a donation to the nonviolence.org site.
Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has a page devoted to issues of faith and next year's presidential elections.
2012 Presidential Candidates Religious Backgrounds | Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Interested in how religion could affect the 2012 election? Learn about the 2012 presidential candidate's religious backgrounds in Pew Forum online biographies.
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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:
I’m still trying to figure out this idea I have of video interviews on practical faith. I’ll just do some and see how they go. Wess at Gatheringinlight.com was willing to be guinea pig #1 – thanks!