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:

Salem County Special Services School District

Daretown School Home - Daretown SchoolThe mis­sion of the Salem Coun­ty Spe­cial Ser­vices School Dis­trict, a region­al edu­ca­tion­al ser­vice agency, is to pro­vide high qual­i­ty, cost-effective pro­grams and ser­vices to the schools and dis­tricts of Salem Coun­ty and Cum­ber­land Coun­ty, New Jer­sey. This site built with what are for me fair­ly gener­ic tools: Mov­able Type as CMS, with Flickr inter­gra­tion. The design style sheet was built from scratch using CSS.

Vis­it: Scsssd​.org

Conferences and videos

Church­es Retool Mis­sion Trips — wash​ing​ton​post​.com

A grow­ing body of research ques­tions the val­ue of the trips abroad, which are sup­posed to bring hope and Chris­tian­i­ty to the needy of the world, while offer­ing Amer­i­can par­tic­i­pants an oppor­tu­ni­ty to work in dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties, devel­op rela­tion­ships and charge up their faith. Crit­ics scorn­ful­ly call such trips “reli­gious tourism” under­tak­en by “vaca­tion­ar­ies.”

My brand of reli­gious don’t do this kind of mis­sion work but we are more and more enchant­ed with long-distance con­fer­ences. We now address every issue with a con­fer­ence but do we ask any “research ques­tions” about their effec­tive­ness? The web is a great tool to extend the con­fer­ence out­ward and yet, despite all the con­tent that could be eas­i­ly port­ed to the web, most con­fer­ences, con­sul­ta­tions and gath­er­ings bare­ly exist online. 

I know that real life has it’s own val­ue – I was hap­py to have a vis­it from indi­vid­ual trav­el­er Mic­ah Bales this week­end, a Friend with a great tal­ent for the good ques­tion that stays with you long after his bus departs. I just wish I saw more media com­ing out of these big events, more ways to boot­strap the vol­umes of con­tent pro­duced at these events into some­thing we can use for outreach. 

If anec­do­tal evi­dence is an indi­ca­tion, most of the peo­ple who have come to Friends in the last half-decade first encoun­tered us on Beliefnet, a for-profit dot-com with no con­nec­tion to any Friends body. It’s def­i­n­i­tions of “Lib­er­al Quak­ers” and “Ortho­dox Quak­ers” have become more impor­tant (de fac­to) than all of our books of Faith and Prac­tice. Beliefnet, Wikipedia and a site called Reli­gious Tol­er­ance have become the defin­ers of our faith to mil­lions of seek­ers. Noth­ing we’re doing comes close to Beliefnet.

And this is part fo the rea­son I’ve been fas­ci­nat­ed by a Youtube video that was made this week­end. It’s an intro­duc­tion to “lib­er­al Quak­ers” by some­one who’s nev­er been to Quak­er wor­ship. While this might sound pre­sump­tu­ous, the real crime is that hers is the only Amer­i­can lib­er­al Quak­er intro­duc­tion on Youtube. What the hell are we doing, Friends? I’ve been cor­re­spond­ing with the Youtu­ber. She’s 22, a spir­i­tu­al seek­er who cob­bled togeth­er a spir­i­tu­al­i­ty after fol­low­ing a cou­ple of dead-end spir­i­tu­al paths. She came across the Beliefnet quiz, came out a “lib­er­al Quak­er” and start­ed look­ing for real world Friends. She tried the meet­ing in her home town but it looked desert­ed (!) and so start­ed an email cor­re­spon­dence with a Friend she found on anoth­er meeting’s web­site. She did the Youtube video because she couldn’t find any Amer­i­can intro­duc­tions and want­ed to give back, espe­cial­ly to younger seek­ers that might not respond to a British Youtube series. Yes her video is awk­ward and a lit­tle sketchy on some points of lib­er­al Quak­er the­ol­o­gy, but it’s hon­est and doesn’t con­tain any view­points you won’t hear around most meetinghouses.

PS: Since writ­ing this I’ve come across the first video from the just-concluded FGC Gath­er­ing. I don’t know if it’ll help with out­reach but it is real­ly fun­ny. Thanks Skip, I feel like I was there!