Lady Grantham would not be amused

Pentatomidae01At work today we had those lovely inter­nal head-scratching ques­tions on whether the com­mon name of the insects of the pen­tato­mi­dae fam­ily is one word (stinkbugs) or two (stink bugs). Yes, yes, some­times even Quaker thought and life today includes these horrors.

Our house dic­tio­nary (the Amer­i­can Her­itage Col­lege Dic­tio­nary, 4th edi­tion) unam­bigu­ously declares it a sin­gle word, which would nor­mally end the con­ver­sa­tion, but pretty much every other source says two. The proscriptively-correct response is to clutch for dear life to that book and delete the space. But when Wikipedia and state ag col­lege exten­sion offices alike seem to pre­fer the two words, insist­ing on the dic­tio­nary seems unnec­es­sar­ily pendantic.

I half-wondered if this might in ret­ro­spect be seen as another step on the road to offi­cially endors­ing Wikipedia as our house dic­tio­nary. If I were the Dowa­ger Count­ess of Grantham, I’d come up with a quippy line about this being how civ­i­liza­tions crumble.

NYTimes video remembers the 1965 Selma James Reeb attack

One of the white min­is­ters with James Reeb in the 1965 attack that helped pro­pel the Vot­ing Rights Act remem­bers the night.

He also reflects on the value of white lives vs. black lives for national atten­tion in the Civil Rights Move­ment. While the actual Selma march was protest­ing the killing of black civil rights activist Jim­mie Lee Jack­son by a state trooper, national out­rage focused on the vis­it­ing white minister.

In 1967, Dr. King noted, “The fail­ure to men­tion Jimmy [sic] Jack­son only rein­forced the impres­sion that to white Amer­i­cans the life of a Negro is insignif­i­cant and meaningless.”

Don’t miss Gail Whif­fen Coyle’s overview of con­tem­po­rary Friends Jour­nal cov­er­age of Selma on our website.

Bayard Rustin’s letter to the Draft Board

Bayard Rustin’s let­ter to the Draft Board:

> I admit my share of guilt for hav­ing par­tic­i­pated in the insti­tu­tions and ways of life which helped bring fas­cism and war. Nonethe­less, guilty as I am, I now see as did the Prodi­gal Son that it is never too late to refuse longer to remain in a non-creative sit­u­a­tion. It is always timely and vir­tu­ous to change—to take in all humil­ity a new path.

Normcore and the new-old Quaker plain

In the last few weeks, the fash­ion seg­ment of the Inter­net has gone all a-buzz over new term “Norm­core.” Nor­mal, every­day, cloth­ing is appar­ently show­ing up in down­town Manhattan—gasp! Like many trendy terms, it’s not really so new: back in the nineties and early oughts, Gap ruled the retail world with posters show­ing celebri­ties and artists wear­ing t-shirts and jeans avail­able at the local mall store. “Norm­core” is just the lead­ing edge of the utterly-predicable 20-year fash­ion indus­try pen­du­lum swing.

It also per­haps sig­nals a cul­tural shift away from snob­bery and into embrac­ing roots. One of the most pop­u­lar posts on the New York Times’s web­site last year cel­e­brated regional accents (appar­ently Philadel­phi­ans are allowed to talk like Philadel­phi­ans again).

An ana­logue to this fash­ion trend has been occur­ing among Friends for a lit­tle while now. The “New Plain” dis­cus­sion have revolved around reclaim­ing an atti­tude, not a uniform.

If you read the old Quaker guide books (called “Books of Dis­ci­pline” then, now more often called “Faith and Prac­tice”), you’ll see that unlike other plain-dressing Amer­i­can groups like the Amish, Quak­ers didn’t intend their clothes to be a uni­form show­ing group con­for­mity. Instead, plain­ness is framed in terms of inte­rior moti­va­tions. Avoid­ing fash­ion trends helped Friends remem­ber that they were all equal before God. It also spoke to our con­tin­u­ing tes­ti­mony of integrity, in that Friends were to dress the same way in dif­fer­ent con­texts and so vouch­safe for a sin­gle identity.

When I began feel­ing the tug of a lead­ing toward plain­ness it was for what I began call­ing “Sears Plain,” indi­cat­ing that I wore clothes that I could find in any box store or mall. I devel­oped a low-maintenance approach to fash­ion that freed up my time from shop­ping and the morn­ing dress­ing rit­ual. Mod­ern plain­ness can les­son the temp­ta­tion to show off in in clothes and it can reduce the over­all wardrobe size and thus reduce our impact on the envi­ron­ment and with exploited labor. But all this is noth­ing new and it never really dis­ap­peared. If you looked around a room of mod­ern Quak­ers you’ll often see a trend of sar­to­r­ial bor­ing­ness; I was sim­ply nam­ing this and putting it in the con­text of our tradition.


Over time I found that these moti­va­tions were more preva­lent in the wider cul­ture, espe­cially in the min­i­mal­ist techie scene. Steve Jobs famously sported a uni­form of black turtle­neck, jeans, and New Bal­ance sneak­ers (explained in 2011). In a 2012 pro­file, Barack Obama talked about lim­it­ing his clothes to two col­ors of suits so that he could free up his decision-making ener­gies on more impor­tant issues (I wrote about his fash­ion in “Plain like Barack”).

Non-celebrities also seem inter­ested in work­ing out their rela­tion­ship with fash­ion. My arti­cles on mod­ern plain­ness have always been a big draw on my blog. While my fel­low Quak­ers are some­times mildly embar­rassed by our his­toric pecu­liar­i­ties, out­siders often eat this stuff up. They’re look­ing for what the techies would call “life hacks” that can help them pri­or­i­tize life essen­tials. If we can com­mu­ni­cate our val­ues in a real way that isn’t propped by appeals to the author­ity of tra­di­tion, then we can reach these seekers.

So now that “Norm­core” is appear­ing in places like Huff­in­g­ton Post , the New York Times and fash­ion mag­a­zines, will Friends be able to talk more about it? Do we still have a col­lec­tive wit­ness in regards to the mate­ri­al­ism and ego-centricity of fash­ion marketing?

The QuakerRanter Top-Five

Out­reach, Fam­ily, Paci­fism, and Blog Culture

At year’s end it’s always inter­est­ing to look back and see which arti­cles got the most vis­its. Here are the top-five Quak​er​Ran​ter​.org blog posts of 2013.

1. Out­reach gets peo­ple to your meet­ing­house / Hos­pi­tal­ity keeps peo­ple returning

This grew out of a inter­est­ing lit­tle tweet about search engine opti­miza­tion that got me think­ing about how Friends Meet­ings can retain the curi­ous one-time visitors.

2. Tom Hei­land

My father-in-law died in Jan­u­ary. These are few pic­tures I put together while Julie was still at the fam­ily home with the close rel­a­tives. Thanks to our friends for shar­ing a bit of our life by read­ing this one. He’s missed.

3. Expand­ing Con­cepts of Pacifism

A look at Friends tes­ti­monies and the dif­fi­cul­ties of being a fair-trade paci­fist in our hyper-connected world today. I think George Fox and the early Friends were faced with sim­i­lar chal­lenges and that our guide can be the same as theirs.

4. Rethink­ing Blogs

A num­ber of new ser­vices are try­ing to update the cul­ture of blog­ging. This post looked at com­ments; a sub­se­quent one con­sid­ered how we might reor­ga­nize our blogs into more of a struc­tured Wiki.

5. Iraq Ten Years Later: Some of Us Weren’t Wrong

This year saw a lot of hang wring­ing by main­stream jour­nal­ists on the anniver­sary of the Iraq War. I didn’t have much patience and looked at how dis­sent­ing voices were reg­u­larly locked out of debate ten years ago–and are still locked out with the talk that “all of us” were wrong then.

I should give the caveat that these are the top-five most-read arti­cles that were writ­ten this year. Many of the clas­sics still out­per­form these. The most read con­tin­ues to be my post on unpop­u­lar baby names (just today I over­heard an expec­tant mother approv­ingly going through a list of over-trendy names; I won­dered if I should send her the link). My post on how to order men’s plain cloth­ing from Gohn’s Broth­ers con­tin­ues to be pop­u­lar, as does a report about a trip to a leg­endary water hole deep in the South Jer­sey pines.

Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has a page devoted to issues of faith and next…

Pew Forum on Reli­gion and Pub­lic Life has a page devoted to issues of faith and next year’s pres­i­den­tial elections.

Embed­ded Link

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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I thought I’d try an experiment

My life is now such that I don’t have the time to do long-form, thought­ful blog­ging. When I have time to think about big ideas expressed in well-chosen words, it’s as edi­tor at Friends Jour­nal. I have a rather long com­mute but it’s bro­ken up with trans­fers, I often have to stand and I usu­ally don’t have a lap­top on me. What I do have is a smart phone, which I use to keep up with Quaker blogs, lis­ten to pod­casts and take pictures.

Despite this, I can usu­ally write a few para­graphs at a time. Kept at steadily those could amass into blog posts. But the finishing-up effort is hard. I have a 2/3rds com­pleted post lav­ish­ing high praise for +Jon Watts’s new album sit­ting on my phone but haven’t had the chance to fin­ish, pol­ish and pub­lish. So what if I seri­al­ized these? Write a few para­graphs at a time, invite com­men­tary, per­haps even alter things in a bit of crowd-sourcing?

Any feed­back I’d get would help keep up my enthu­si­asm for the topic. This infor­mal post-as-chat was actu­ally the dom­i­nant early model for blogs, one that fell away as they became more vis­i­ble. It’d be nice to get back to that. The medium seems obvi­ous to me: Google+, which allows for extended infor­mal posts. So I’ll try that. These will be beta thoughts-on-electron. If they seem to gell together, I might then pol­ish and pub­lish to Quak​er​Ran​ter​.org, but no promises. This is mostly a way to get some raw ideas out there.

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Are We More Than Our Demographics?

One of the things that is intrigu­ing me lately is the nature of Quaker debate.  There are half a dozen seemingly-perennial polit­i­cal issues around which Friends in my cir­cles have very strong opin­ions (these include abor­tion, nuclear power, and the role of Friends in the trou­bles of Israel/Palestine) . We often jus­tify our posi­tions with appeals to our Quaker faith, but I won­der how often our opin­ions could be more accu­rately pre­dicted by our demo­graphic profile?

How many of your polit­i­cal posi­tions and social atti­tudes could be accu­rately guessed by a savvy demog­ra­pher who knew your date of birth,  postal code,  edu­ca­tion and fam­ily income? I’d guess each of us are far more pre­dictable than we’d like to think.If true,  then what role does our reli­gious life actu­ally play?

Reli­gious beliefs are also a demo­graphic cat­e­gory,  granted, but if they only con­firm posi­tions that could be just as actu­ally pre­dicted by non-spiritual data, then doesn’t that imply that we’ve sim­ply found (or remained in) a reli­gious com­mu­nity that con­firms our pre-existing biases? Have we cre­ated a faith in our own image? And if true, is it really fair to jus­tify our­selves based on appeals to Quaker values?

The “polit­i­cal” Quaker writ­ings I’m find­ing most inter­est­ing (because they’re least pre­dictable) are the ones that stop to ask how Quaker dis­cern­ment fits into the debate. Dis­cern­ment: one could eas­ily argue that Quaker open­ings and tools around it are one of our great­est gifts to human spir­i­tu­al­ity.  When we build a wor­ship com­mu­nity based on strict adher­ence to the imme­di­ate prompt­ing of the Holy Spirit, the first ques­tion becomes fig­ur­ing out what is of-God and what is not.  Is James Nayler, rid­ing Jesus-like into Bris­tol, a prophet or a nut?

When we go deep into the ques­tions,  we may find that the answers are less impor­tant than the care we take to reach them.  Wait­ing for one another,  hold­ing one another’s hand in love despite dif­fer­ences of opin­ion, can be more impor­tant than being the right-answer early adopter. How do you step back from easy answers to the thorny ques­tions? How do you poll your­self and that-of-God in your­self to open your eyes and ears for the poten­tial of surprise?

Gladwell and strong tie social media networks

A lot of peo­ple, include Jeanne Burns over on Quak­erquaker, are talk­ing about Mal­colm Gladwell’s lat­est New Yorker arti­cle, “Small Change: Why the Rev­o­lu­tion Will Not Be Tweeted”.

Mal­colm Gladwell’s modus operandi is to make out­ra­geously counter-intuitive claims that peo­ple will talk about enough that they’ll buy his boss’s mag­a­zine, books and bobble-head like­nesses. I find him lik­able and divert­ing but don’t take his claims very seri­ously. He’s a lot like Wired Magazine’s Chris Ander­son, his some­times spar­ring part­ner, which isn’t sur­pris­ing as they work for the same mag­a­zine empire, Conde Nast Pub­li­ca­tions.

In his arti­cle, Glad­well takes a lot of pot­shots at social media. It’s easy to do. He picks Clay Shirky, another New York “Big Idea” guy as his rhetor­i­cal straw­man now, claim­ing Shirky’s book “Here Comes Every­body” is the “bible of social-media move­ment.” Read­ing Glad­well, you kind of wish he’d get out of the echo box of circle-jerk New York Big Talk­ers (just get­ting out of the Conde Nast building’s cafe­te­ria would be a good start).

Gladwell’s cer­tainly right in that most of what passes for activism on Twit­ter and Face­book is ridicu­lous. Click­ing a “Like” but­ton or chang­ing your pro­file image green doesn’t do much. He makes an impor­tant dis­tinc­tion between “weak ties” (Face­book “friends” who aren’t friends; Twit­ter cam­paigns that are risk-free) and “strong ties.” He cites the Civil Rights move­ment as a strong-tie phe­nom­e­non: the peo­ple who put them­selves on the line tended to be those with close friends also putting them­selves on the line.

What Glad­well misses is strong-tie orga­niz­ing going on in social media. A lot of what’s hap­pen­ing over on Quak­erQuaker is pretty strong-tie–it’s trans­lat­ing to work­shops, arti­cles, and is just one of a num­ber of impor­tant net­works that are form­ing. Peo­ple are find­ing each other and mak­ing real con­nec­tions that spill out into the real world. It’s not that online orga­nizes cre­ates real world changes, or even the reverse. Instead, under the right cir­cum­stances they can feed into each other, with each com­po­nent mag­ni­fy­ing the other’s reach.

One exam­ple of non-hierarchical involved social media is how Quaker blog­gers came together to explain Tom Fox’s motives after his kid­nap­ping. It didn’t have any effect on the kid­nap­pers, obvi­ously, but we did reach a lot of peo­ple who were curi­ous why a Friend might choose such a per­son­ally dan­ger­ous form of Chris­t­ian wit­ness. This was all done by inter-related groups of peo­ple with no bud­get and no orga­ni­za­tional chart. But these things don’t have to be quite so life-and-death.

A more recent exam­ple I’ve been able to see up close is the way my wife’s church has orga­nized against dioce­san attempts to shut it down: a core group of lead­ers have emerged; they share power, divide up roles and have been wag­ing an orga­nized cam­paign for about 2.5 years now. One ele­ment of this work has been the Savest​marys​.org blog. The website’s only impor­tant because it’s been part of a real-world social net­work but it’s had an influ­ence that’s gone far beyond the hand­ful of peo­ple who write for it. One of the more sur­pris­ing audi­ences have been the many staff at the Dioce­san head­quar­ters who visit every day–a small group has taken over quite a bit of men­tal space over there!

It’s been inter­est­ing for me to com­pare Quak­erQuaker with an ear­lier peace project of mine, Non​vi​o​lence​.org, which ran for thir­teen years start­ing in 1995. In many ways it was the big­ger site: a larger audi­ence, with a wider base of inter­est. It was a pop­u­lar site, with many vis­its and a fairly active bul­letin board for much of it’s life. But it didn’t spawn work­shop or con­fer­ences. There’s no “move­ment” asso­ci­ated with it. Dona­tions were min­i­mal and I never felt the sup­port struc­ture that I have now with my Quaker work.

Non​vi​o​lence​.org was a good idea, but it was a “weak tie” net­work. QuakerQuaker’s net­work is stronger for two rea­sons that I can iden­tify. The obvi­ous one is that it’s built atop the orga­niz­ing iden­tity of a social group (Friends). But it also speaks more directly to its par­tic­i­pants, ask­ing them to share their lives and offer­ing real-world oppor­tu­ni­ties for inter­ac­tion. So much of my blog­ging on Non​vi​o​lence​.org was Big Idea thoughts pieces about the sit­u­a­tion in Bosnia–that just doesn’t pro­vide the same kind of imme­di­ate per­sonal entre.

Mal­colm Glad­well min­i­mizes the lead­er­ship struc­ture of activist orga­ni­za­tions, where lead­er­ship and power is in con­stant flux. He like­wise min­i­mizes the lead­er­ship of social media net­works. Yes, any­one can pub­lish but we all have dif­fer­ent lev­els of vis­i­bil­ity and influ­ence and there is a fil­ter­ing effect. I have twenty-five years of orga­nized activism under my belt and fif­teen years of online orga­niz­ing and while the tech­nol­ogy is very dif­fer­ent, a lot of the social dynam­ics are remark­ably similar.

Glad­well is an hired employee in one of the largest media com­pa­nies in the world. It’s a very struc­tured life: he’s got edi­tors, pub­lish­ers, copy­ed­i­tors, proof­read­ers. He’s a cog in a com­pany with $5 bil­lion in annual rev­enue. It’s not really sur­pris­ing that he doesn’t have much direct expe­ri­ence with effec­tive social net­works. It’s hard to see how social media is com­ple­ment­ing real world grass­roots net­works from the 40th floor of a mid-town Man­hat­tan skyscraper.

Related Read­ing: