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?
there’s a disconnect between deep worship as a mark of health, and outreach as the most important thing to do. We try as people to make things happen that are beyond our control. If we really attended to deep worship, if we attended to rooting our communies in a sense of discipleship and discipline, then outreach and care for community, and leading by example would come from that. Those things are fruits; their root is living in the presence, living in gospel order. I’m concerned that in the hustle and bustle of outreach and making things work we might miss that still small voice. [Loose transcript, lightly edited]
There is much we can do to promote community awareness of Friends (aka “outreach”), but I suspect the greatest effect of our efforts is internal – raising our own consciousness about how to be visible and welcoming. Friends are always getting free publicity (just this morning I finished Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, whose final pages are practically an ad for our religious society, and there’s the seeker-producing mill of the Belief-o-Matic Quiz). What if visibility isn’t our biggest problem? Callid’s post reminds me of something that Robin Mohr said when I interviewed her “Eight Questions on Convergent Friends” for Friends Journal:
Though it may be different in other places, San Francisco always had people visiting; there was no shortage of new visitors. The key was getting them to come back… I don’t think the Convergent Friends movement is necessarily going to solve our outreach issues, but it can absolutely change the retention rate.
What if we thought of outreach as a retention issue? How would it relate to the “deep worship” the survey-takers lifted up?
Over on Tape Flags and First Thoughts, Su Penn has a great post called “Still Thinking About My Quaker Meeting & Me.” She writes about a process of self-identity that her meeting recently went through it and the difficulties she had with the process.
I wondered whether this difficulty has become one of our modern-day stages of developing in the ministry. Both Samuel Bownas (read/buy) and Howard Brinton (buy) identified typical stages that Friends growing in the ministry typically go through. Not everyone experiences Su’s rift between their meeting’s identity and a desire for a God-grounded meeting community, but enough of us have that I don’t think it’s the foibles of particular individuals or monthly meetings. Let me tease out one piece: that of individual and group identities. Much of the discussion in the comments of Su’s post have swirled around radically different conceptions of this.
Many modern Friends have become pretty strict individualists. We spend a lot of time talking about “community” but we aren’t practicing it in the way that Friends have understood it – as a “religious society.” The individualism of our age sees it as rude to state a vision of Friends that leaves out any of our members – even the most heterodox. We are only as united as our most far-flung believer (and every decade the sweep gets larger). The myth of our age is that all religious experiences are equal, both within and outside of particular religious societies, and that it’s intolerant to think of differences as anything more than language.
This is why I cast Su’s issues as being those of a minister. There has always been the need for someone to call us back to the faith. Contrary to modern-day popular opinion, this can be done with great love. It is in fact great love (Quaker Jane) to share the good news of the directly-accessible loving Christ, who loves us so much He wants to show us the way to righteous living. This Quaker idea of righteousness has nothing to do with who you sleep with, the gas mileage of your car or even the “correctness” of your theology. Jesus boiled faithfulness down into two commands: love God with all your might (however much that might be) and love your neighbor as yourself.
A “religious society” is not just a “community.” As a religious society we are called to have a vision that is stronger and bolder than the language or understanding of individual members. We are not a perfect community, but we can be made more perfect if we return to God to the fullness we’ve been given. That is why we’ve come together into a religious society.
“What makes us Friends?” Just following the modern testimonies doesn’t put us very squarely in the Friends tradition – SPICE is just a recipe for respectful living. “What makes us Friends?” Just setting the stopwatch to an hour and sitting quietly doesn’t do it – a worship style is a container at best and false idol at worst. “How do we love God?” “How do we love our neighbor?” “What makes us Friends?” These are the questions of ministry. These are the building blocks of outreach.
I’ve seen nascent ministers (“infant ministers” in the phrasing of Samual Bownas) start asking these questions, flare up on inspired blog posts and then taildive as they meet up with the cold-water reality of a local meeting that is unsupportive or inattentive. Many of them have left our religious society. How do we support them? How do we keep them? Our answers will determine whether our meeting are religious societies or communities.
My workshop partner Wess Daniels just posted an update about the upcoming workshop at Pendle Hill. Here's the start. Click through to the full post to get a taste of what we're preparing.
Martin Kelley and I will be
weekend retreat at Pendle Hill in just a couple weeks (May 14-16)
and I'm starting to get really excited about it! Martin and I have been
collaborating a lot together over the past few months in preparation for
this weekend and I wanted to share a little more of what we have
planned for those of you who are interested in coming (or still on the
fence). During the weekend we will be encouraging conversations around
building communities, convergent Friends and how this looks in our local
meetings. I wanted to give the description of the weekend, some of the
queries we'll be touching on, and the outline for the weekend. And of
course, I want to invite all of you interested parties to join us!
A few weeks ago Micah Bales IM’ed me, as he often does, and asked for my feedback on a project he and Jon Watts were working on. They were building a map of all the Friends meetinghouses and churches in the country, sub-divided by geography, worship style, etc.
My first reaction was “huh?” I warily responded: “you do know about FGC’s Quakerfinder.org and FWCC’s Meeting Map, right?” I had helped to build both sites and attested to the amount of work they represent. I was thinking of a kind way of discouraging Micah from this herculean task when he told me he and Jon were half done. He sent me the link: a beautiful website, full of cool maps, which they’ve now publicly announced at Quakermaps.com. I tried to find more problems but he kept answering them: “well, you need to have each meeting have it’s own page,” “it does,” “well but to be really cool you’d have to let meetings update information directly” (an idea I suggested to FGC last month), “they will.” There’s still a lot of inputting to be done, but it’s already fabulous.
Two people working a series of long days inputting information and embedding it on WordPress have created the coolest Meeting directory going. There’s no six-figure grants from Quaker foundations, no certified programmers, no series of organizing consultations. No Salesforce account, Drupal installations, Vertical Response signups. No high paid consultants yakking in whatever consultant-speak is trendy this year.
Just two guys using open source and free, with the cost being time spent together sharing this project – time well spent building their friendship, I suspect.
I hope everyone’s noticing just how cool this is – and not just the maps, but the way it’s come together. Micah and Jon grew up in two different branches of Friends. As I understand they got to know each other largerly through Jon’s now-famous and much-debated video Dance Party Erupts during Quaker Meeting for Worship. They built a friendship (which you can hear in Micah’s recent interview of Jon) and then started a cool project to share with the world.
Convergent Friends isn’t a theology or a specific group of people, but a different way of relating and working together. The way I see it, Quakermaps.com proves that QuakerQuaker.org is not a fluke. The internet exposes us to people outside our natural comfort zones and provides us ways to meet, work together and publish collaborations with minimal investment. The quick response, flexibility and off-the-clock ethos can come up with truly innovated work. I think the Religious Society of Friends is entering a new era of DIY organizing and I’m very excited. Micah and Jon FTW!
An educator F/friend of mine has gushed on about Moodle, the open
source education system and I have to admit it’s always looked intriguing. I’ve taught a
number of real-world Quakerism classes
and I’ve wondered whether online courses could help connect Friends and
seekers isolated by distance or theology. I’ve been wanting to try out
one of Beacon Hill’s online classes for awhile.
From the description:
Is online teaching new to you?
Don’t know where to start?
begin with the simplest interactive course:
a “welcome to the class” section with a reading and one forum. We’ll
talk about technology: how settings change
the forum interface; but we’ll also discuss teaching technique: how
to present introductory material to students
who may have a wide range of experience and expectations.
Over the 10
weeks, we’ll cover: introducing the moodle environment; chats; forums;
choices and surveys; lessons; assignments; databases; wikis; quizzes.
You will have your own lesson space to explore all these tools and will
be expected to look at each other’s work and react to it. By March we
should all be ready to design and offer creative Moodle courses of our
Classes only cost $25. You can find out more about the Beacon Hill’s Moodle online class and all their Quaker Studies classes. If anyone would be interested in some sort of QuakerQuaker-sponsored classes, let me know. We’ve got a lot of well-qualified Quaker teachers in the network and a lot of isolated Friends wanting to learn more.