Quaker Folkways and Being Patterns on the Interwebs

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?

Outreach as Retention

From Cal­lid Keefe-Perry, a vlog entry on the appar­ent dis­crep­ancy between what Friends think they want to be doing (out­reach) ver­sus what they think makes for a healthy meet­ing (deep wor­ship), as indi­cat­ed by a just-released sur­vey from Friends Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence, the umbrel­la orga­ni­za­tion for many of North America’s Lib­er­al Friends.


Cal­lid says:

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?

Communities vs Religious Societies

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.

communitysocietyI 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.

New Monastics & Convergent Friends update

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
leading a
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!

Read the full post on Wess's blog

Quakermaps: DIY Friends FTW!

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 Quak​erfind​er​.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 Quak​ermaps​.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, Quak​ermaps​.com proves that Quak​erQuak​er​.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!
Read more:

Online Quaker classes

I’ve just signed up for Bea­con Hill’s Friends House’s Quak­er Stud­ies class on “Moo­dle, Tech­nique / Tech­nol­o­gy” that begins First Month 12.

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?

We’ll
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
own.

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.