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.