In praise of an editor past

Frances William Browin from the September 15, 1968 Friends Journal.
When I became an editor at Friends Journal in 2011, I inherited an institution with some very strong opinions. Some of them are sourced from predictable wellsprings: William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White’s foundational mid-century style guide and the editorial offices of the Chicago Manual of Style. But some is all our own, logically tested for consistency with Chicago but adapted to Quaker idiosyncrasies.

One of our most invariable (and contested) formats comes from the way we list congregations. Quick aside for non-Quakers: you will often see a Quaker meeting listed as  Town Monthly Meeting, Town Friends Meeting, Town Quaker Meeting, etc. People often have strong opinions about the correct ways to write them out. Sometimes an author will insist to me that their meeting has an official name that is use consistently but I can usually find this isn't true within a few minutes with the help of Google.

To cut through this, Friends Journal uses “Town (State) Meeting” everywhere and always, with specific exceptions only for cases where that doesn’t work. Town, state abbreviation in parentheses, capital-M meeting. This formatting is unique to Friends Journal--other Philadelphia-based Quaker style sheets don't follow it. We’ve been doing it this distinctively and consistently for as long as I can remember.

Fortunately we have digital archives going back to the mid-1950s thanks to Haverford College's Quaker and Special Collections. So a few months ago I dug into our archives and used keyword searches to see how far back the format goes. Traveling the years back it time it's held remarkably steady as "Town (State) Meeting" until we scroll back into the fall of 1962. The October 15 issue doesn’t have consistent meeting listings. But it does announce that longtime Friends Journal editor William Hubben is going on a six-month sabbatical, with Frances Williams Browin filling in as acting editor.

It didn't take her long. The next issue sees a few parentheses unevenly applied. But by the November 15th issue, nineteen meetings are referenced using our familiar format! There’s the “member of Berkeley (Calif.) Meeting” who had just published a pamphlet of Christmas songs for children, an FCNL event featuring skits and a covered-dish supper at “Swarthmore (Pa.) Meeting” and the announcement of a prominent article by “Kenneth E. Boulding, a member of Ann Arbor (Michigan) Meeting.”

I've tried to imagine the scene... Browin situated in her new temporary office... going back and forth, forth and back on some listing... then finally surprising herself by shouting "enough!" so loudly she had to apologize to nearby colleagues. At the end of the six months, Hubben came back but only as a contributing editor, and Browin was named editor. Friends Journal board member Elizabeth B Wells wrote a profile of her upon her retirement in 1968:

Her remarks usually made sparks, whether she was expressing an opinion (always positive), exerting pressure (not always gentle), or making a humorous aside (often disturbing). For in her amiable way she can be tart, unexpected, even prejudiced (in the right direction), then as suddenly disarmingly warm and sensitive.

This sounds like the kind of person who would standardize a format with such resolve it would be going strong 55 years later:

She was so entirely committed to putting out the best possible magazine, such a perfectionist, even such a driver, that her closest colleagues often felt that we knew the spirited editor far better than the Quaker lady.

It’s a neat profile. And today, every time an author rewrites their meeting’s name on a copyedited manuscript, I say a quiet thanks to the driven perfectionist who gives me permission to be prejudiced in the right direction. Wells's profile is a fascinating glimpse into a smart woman of a different era and well worth a read.

Remembering Christine Greenland

Over email, the news that Christine Manville Green­land has passed. In recent times I worked with Christine most­ly through the Tract Asso­ci­a­tion of Friends but I’ve known her for so long I don’t know when I first met her.

When­ev­er she said some­thing it was well worth lis­ten­ing to. On online forums from Soc.religion.quaker to Face­book she was always encour­ag­ing to what Samuel Bow­nas had called “infant min­is­ters.” She had the rare abil­i­ty to slice through thorny Quak­er issues with unex­pect­ed obser­va­tion and wis­dom. She had a long view of recent Quak­er his­to­ry that put things in con­text and she would pull metaphors from her train­ing as a botanist to explain mys­ti­fy­ing behav­iors in our core­li­gion­ists.

She also had a wealth of insti­tu­tion­al mem­o­ry. There’s incred­i­ble val­ue in this. Friends, like most humans, give a lot of val­ue to the ways we’re doing things right now. It only takes a few years before a process feels time­less and essen­tial. We for­get that things once worked dif­fer­ent­ly or that oth­er Friends have a dif­fer­ent meth­ods. By being involved with Friends in dif­fer­ent areas — Canada and Col­orado — Christine brought geo­graph­ic aware­ness and by being involved in Philadel­phia so long she brought a mod­ern his­tor­i­cal aware­ness. That dys­func­tion­al meet­ing everyone’s talk­ing about? She’ll remem­ber that every­one was talk­ing about it thir­ty years ago for anoth­er con­tro­ver­sy and point out the sim­i­lar­i­ties. That doubt you’ll have about a path? Christine will tell you how oth­ers have felt the lead­ing and assure you that it’s gen­uine.

She did all this with such gen­tle­ness and mod­esty that it’s only now that she’s gone that I’m real­iz­ing the debt I owe her. More than any­thing per­haps, she showed how to live a life as a Friend of integri­ty through the pol­i­tics and foibles of our Reli­gious Soci­ety.

I used Google to find pre­cious gems of wis­dom she left on com­ment threads. It’s a long trail. She was active on soc.religion.quaker back in the day, com­ment­ed on most Con­ver­gent Friends blogs and was active on Face­book. She took the time to write many enlight­en­ing and warm com­men­tary. Here is a ran­dom sam­ple.

Com­ment on my post “Vision and Lead­er­ship”

Yes­ter­day, I  clerked a small quar­ter­ly meet­ing work­ing group — I’m co-clerk, since it  isn’t my quar­ter… and the oth­er co-clerk is, which works well. We keep ask­ing the ques­tions and see­ing the poten­tials … but when it comes down to being faith­ful (a term I use instead of “account­able”) that needs con­sis­tent test­ing. It is impor­tant to cen­ter in wor­ship, no mat­ter what we are doing.

I had the expe­ri­ence of being chair of a group of biol­o­gists, and found that, even then, I con­duct­ed busi­ness in the same way… one of seek­ing guid­ance from oth­er mem­bers of the group — even though the group of which we were a small part used Robert’s rules of order. I felt our group was too small to make that approach work­able… Occa­sion­al­ly, I for­got I wasn’t among Friends until anoth­er mem­ber of the group (a Unit­ed Church grad­u­ate of Swarth­more Col­lege) remind­ed me… Church of the Brethren folks just grinned and allowed as how they pre­ferred the approach; we were, after all, both friends and biol­o­gists.  For most of us, the work had both a sci­en­tific and a spir­i­tu­al basis.

To Mic­ah Bales’s “Is It Time to Get Rid of Year­ly Meet­ings?”

I checked in with Friends at our Quar­ter­ly Meet­ing pic­nic yes­ter­day; respons­es were mixed for a vari­ety of rea­sons, some hav­ing to do with resis­tance to chang­ing the ways in which we are Friends, and oth­er respons­es that I can only describe as “insti­tu­tion­al cheer-leading”.

Some of this has to do with expect­ed ten­sions as we grap­ple with mat­ters of both race and class; still oth­er mat­ters have to do with the fact that our struc­tures have changed at least twice in 30 years, as has the out­line of our faith and prac­tice. The ques­tion I have (of myself and oth­ers) is “How do we — indi­vid­u­al­ly and cor­po­rate­ly — show that we tru­ly love one anoth­er as Christ has loved us?” By that, I mean all oth­ers.

The most hope­ful exchange was speak­ing with a dear Friend in my for­mer meet­ing who had gone for the first time in decades, and feels strong­ly led to encour­age her meet­ing to assist in work going on at both the quar­ter and year­ly meet­ing lev­el; this will cross bound­aries. I was hope­ful in part because this Friend exudes con­sis­tent love. … and has in the 25 years I’ve known her. Love of God/neighbor are insep­a­ra­ble. She lives that bet­ter than I do.

It seems I have much to learn.

Com­ment on my “What Does it Mean to be a Quak­er?” (on an old site)

I cringe when I hear the word “Quak­erism” or “the Quak­er Way”… I find the two terms inter­change­able — both can lack sub­stance. It seems we have final­ly become the “bureau­crat­ic asso­ci­a­tion of dis­tant acquan­tances” rather than the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends. Some years ago, an expe­ri­enced Friend wrote that Integri­ty (say­ing what one means, mean­ing what one says) was at the heart of Quak­er Prac­tice — as a tes­ti­mony.

If we’re just going for PR, that lacks integri­ty.

The ques­tion — for me — becomes “How can I live as a Friend?”

Com­ment on Eric Moon’s “Cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly Not the Tes­ti­monies”

When I first came to Friends, it was the way of life — not the intel­lec­tu­al con­struct — that drew me to meet­ing week after week (a uni­ver­si­ty meet­ing in what lat­er became Inter­moun­tain Year­ly Meet­ing). When I applied for mem­ber­ship, my com­mit­tee of clear­ness ques­tioned more whether I could live into a way of life, into the com­mu­ni­ty of that par­tic­u­lar meet­ing. Friends felt that wrestling with the under­stand­ing of the faith tra­di­tion was a part of my edu­ca­tion. Only after I moved to Philadel­phia did I begin hear­ing of the “pars­ing” of the faith tra­di­tion. It seemed too pat.

Still, the over­lap­ping cat­e­gories are still as use­ful by way of expla­na­tion, but it isn’t the whole sto­ry.

As with many mat­ters of faith, for those who pos­sess it, no expla­na­tion is nec­es­sary; for those who do not, no expla­na­tion is pos­si­ble. Howard Brin­ton did his best by way of expla­na­tion, but faith-wrestling is a task we all have.

Com­ment on Ash­ley Wilcox’s The Cost of Trav­el­ing Min­istry

My ques­tion about younger Friends serv­ing as trav­el­ing min­is­ters is some­what more seri­ous: Are their meet­ings atten­tive to both the spir­i­tu­al gifts and the needs (cost of trav­el, etc.)as well as the spir­i­tu­al need for sup­port. If not, is the Friend with a con­cern for trav­el, teach­ing, or any oth­er min­istry) hum­ble enough to ask the ques­tions Jon is ask­ing. In my expe­ri­ence (as an old­er adult Friend)there is lit­tle com­mu­ni­ca­tion among age groups so that gifts of min­istry are ful­ly rec­og­nized… Young Friends are often left to their own devices. It may be that lack of spir­i­tu­al sup­port that is the “last door out.”

For instance, I would not trav­el with­out the full con­sent of my past com­mit­tee of care, all of whom know me well. They have gen­er­ous­ly sup­port­ed me this year (as well as my co-leader).

What con­cerns me is the ener­gy it takes (spir­i­tu­al and phys­i­cal), and that it most often takes an elder to attend to the mun­dane things — as well as to keep the min­is­ter on track.

She was also always one to think of the kids. Here she is com­ment­ing on Kath­leen Karhnak-Glasby’s “Bring­ing Chil­dren to Wor­ship: Trust­ing God to Take Over from There”

I recall one par­ent of a small meet­ing in Ontar­io at Cana­di­an Year­ly Meet­ing ses­sions try­ing to encour­age his daugh­ter to sit qui­et­ly dur­ing wor­ship… Her very rea­son­able respon­se was “but Dad­dy, I can pray stand­ing on my head!” Her min­istry caused me to reflect on whether I could indeed pray/worship in all cir­cum­stances, and from what­ev­er posi­tion I was in at the time. I still reflect on that…

At anoth­er meet­ing, when Friends noticed the pow­er strug­gles between chil­dren and their par­ents, we asked elder Friends to serve as “adop­tive” grand­par­ents, with whom the chil­dren could sit… That defused the pow­er strug­gles, and mem­bers of meet­ing who had no chil­dren of their own were very help­ful to par­ents in that meet­ing.

I also recall learn­ing to sink deeply into wor­ship — and hear­ing a younger Friend’s grand­moth­er gig­gle. I looked down and there was the 1 – 2 year old peer­ing up in won­der at why/how I could sit so qui­et­ly when he was busy crawl­ing under the bench­es. it was just fine. He became a part of my prayers that day, and still is a part of them.

And this one has to be the last I’ll share, from a Quak­erQuak­er dis­cus­sion start­ed by Richard B Miller and titled “Elders’ Cor­ner”

Like you, I learned about the role of elders from Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends (in Canada and Ohio).  In the con­text of my own meet­ing (and quar­ter), how­ev­er, there are Friends who can and do serve as guides and sound­ing boards — offer­ing cor­rec­tions as may be required.  Ide­al­ly, elders should arise from the month­ly meet­ings, and then be rec­og­nized in larg­er bod­ies of Friends, not nec­es­sar­i­ly being named by a year­ly meet­ing nom­i­nat­ing com­mit­tee.

I was asked to serve as an elder for Year­ly Meeting/Interim Meet­ing… but because I was also on the nom­i­nat­ing com­mit­tee, had a “stop” about whether that was right­ly ordered. I con­sult­ed some North Car­oli­na Friends, who agreed with the “stop”.

One dif­fi­cul­ty that you raised is that many of the con­ser­v­a­tive Friends who held that tra­di­tion are no longer avail­able as guides… One effect is that the role elders once played is dimin­ish­ing among con­ser­v­a­tive Friends.

I’m feel­ing pret­ty bro­ken up right now. And I’m feel­ing the weight of this loss. I’ve found myself more and more to be the one giv­ing out advice and giv­ing his­tor­i­cal con­text that new­er Friends might not have. It’s the kind of per­ch that Christine had. I’m only start­ing to appre­ci­ate that she formed a gen­tle men­tor­ing role for me — and I’m sure for many oth­ers.

A few years ago my wife and I lost our remain­ing par­ents (her dad, my mom) and we had the unescapable recog­ni­tion that we were now the old­est gen­er­a­tion. I know there are old­er Friends around still and some have bits of Christine’s wit and wis­dom. But one of our human guides have left us.

The demise of online subcultures?

An interesting profile of a niche community affected by the shift of attention from community-led sites to Facebook, “How Facebook – the Wal-Mart of the internet – dismantled online subcultures.”

Over time, these challenges to the BME community became increasingly problematic. Members deleted accounts or stopped posting. By 2015, the main community forum – which used to have hundreds of posts a day – went without a single comment for over six months.

Having predicted many of the web’s functions and features, BME failed to anticipate its own demise.

It’s definitely something I’ve seen in my niche world of Quakers. I started QuakerQuaker as an independent site in part because I didn’t want Google and Facebook and Beliefnet to determine who we are. There’s the obvious problems—Beliefnet hiring a programmer to make a “What Religion Are You?” test based on a few books picked up the library one afternoon.

But there’s also more subtle problems. On Facebook anyone can start or join a group and start talking authoritatively about Quakers without actually being an active community member. I can think of a number of online characters who had never even visiting a Friends meeting or church.

Our tradition built up ways of defining our spokespeople though the practices of recorded ministers and elders, and of clarifying shared beliefs though documents like Faith and Practice. I’ll be the first to argue that this process has produced mixed results. But if it is to be adapted or reformed, I’d like the work to be done by us in a thoughtful, inclusive manner. Instead, the form of our discussions are now invisibly imposed by an outside algorithm that is optimized for obsessive engagement and advertising delivery. Facebook process is not Quaker process, yet it is largely what we use when we talk about Quakers outside of Sunday morning.

I think Facebook has helped alternative communities form. I’m grateful for the pop-up communities of interest I’m part of. And there are sites with more user generated content like Wikipedia and Reddit that hold an interesting middle-ground and where information is generally more accurate. But there’s still a critical role for self-organized independent publications, a niche that I think is continuing to be overshadowed in our current attention ecosystem.

Mixing it up

Back in Novem­ber I start­ed a blog post that ran out of umph and stayed in my drafts. At time time I was react­ing to the pro­gres­sive debates about safe­ty pins as a sym­bol but it seems we’re are in anoth­er round of self-questioning, this time around the Women’s March and oth­er ini­tia­tives. As I find myself fre­quent­ly say­ing, we need lots of dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple orga­niz­ing in lots of dif­fer­ent styles. So may­be this blog posts’s time has come again.

May­be this is just anoth­er stages of grief but I’ve been notic­ing a num­ber of online dis­cus­sions in which pro­gres­sives are shut­ting down oth­er pro­gres­sives for not being pro­gres­sive enough. Every time I see a pos­i­tive post, I can pre­dict there’s going to be about three enthu­si­as­tic “yes!” com­ments, fol­lowed by a 500-word com­ment explain­ing why the idea isn’t rad­i­cal enough.

Folks, we’ve got big­ger prob­lems than try­ing to fig­ure out who’s the most woke per­son on our Face­book feed.

Suc­cess­ful social change move­ments are always a spec­trum of more or less politically-correct and rad­i­cal voic­es. It’s like a chord in music: strings vibrat­ing on dif­fer­ent fre­quen­cies sound bet­ter togeth­er. Some­times in pol­i­tics you need the crazy rad­i­cals to stir things up and some­times you need the too-cautious lib­er­als to legit­imize the protest mes­sage.

Some years ago I was part of an cam­paign in Philly that tar­get­ed what many of us felt was a pro­pa­gan­da push around Colum­bus Day. An attempt by all of the con­cerned activists to come togeth­er pre­dictably went nowhere. There were too many dif­fer­ences in style and tac­tics and lan­guage and cul­ture. But that break­down in coör­di­na­tion allowed each sub­cul­ture to pick a tac­tic that worked best for them.

The Quak­ers did their vis­i­ble agit­prop lead­ing and got detained. The anar­chists made cre­ative posters and set off sur­rep­ti­tious stink devices. Some anony­mous pranksters sent out fake press releas­es to dis­rupt media cov­er­age. The resul­tant news cov­er­age focused on the sheer diver­si­ty of the protests.

If protest had indeed come from a sin­gle group fol­low­ing a sin­gle tac­tic, the dis­sent would have been buried in the fourth para­graph of the cov­er­age. But the cre­ativ­i­ty made it the focus of the cov­er­age. Diver­si­ty of tac­tics works. Mis­takes will be made. Some pro­gres­sives will be clue­less – may­be even some of the ones con­sid­er­ing them­selves the most woke. It’s okay. We’ll learn as we go along. We might laugh at how we used to think wear­ing safe­ty pins was effec­tive – or we might won­der why we ever thought it was mean­ing­less sym­bol. What­ev­er hap­pens, let’s just encour­age wit­ness wherever and when­ev­er it’s hap­pen­ing. Let’s be gen­tler on each oth­er.

New from Neil Young

And in all this crazi­ness I missed that Neil Young had just dropped a new tune on us.

And appar­ent­ly, this is just one of four new songs:

Famed rock­er Neil Young has played hun­dreds of towns and cities all over the world since start­ing his illus­tri­ous career in the ’60s, but last night marked his first per­for­mance in the beau­ti­ful moun­tain town of Tel­luride, Col­orado. Neil Young and Promise Of The Real treat­ed fans to a 21-song per­for­mance as part of their first of two con­sec­u­tive shows at Town Park in Tel­luride on Fri­day.

Wheat planting at Howell’s Living History Farm

We’ve got­ten into the habit of vis­it­ing Howell’s Liv­ing His­to­ry Farm up in Mer­cer Coun­ty, N.J., a few times a year as part of home­school­er group trips. In the past, we’ve cut ice, tapped trees for maple syrup, and seen the sheep shear­ing and card­ing. Today we saw the var­i­ous stages of wheat – from plant­i­ng, to har­vest­ing, thresh­ing, win­now­ing, grind­ing, and bak­ing. I love that there’s such a wide vocab­u­lary of speci­fic lan­guage for all this – words I bare­ly know out­side of bib­li­cal para­bles (“Oh wheat from chaff!”) and that there’s great vin­tage machin­ery (Howell’s oper­a­tions are set around the turn of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry).