When I was growing up we’d make the trip from Philadelphia to my grandmother’s house a couple of times a year. As we headed north, the highway threaded across farm fields and through rock cuts in the hills. About an hour in, we’d start noticing the thin blue band on the horizon. It would slowly get larger and larger until Blue Mountain loomed in front of us and we whooshed into Lehigh Tunnel.
My Nana lived on the other side of that mountain. On this side the mountainside was red. The forests that carpeted the rest of the thousand-mile ridge had been ripped up by the decades of chemicals pouring out if the smokestacks of the giant zinc processing factories that bookended the town of Palmerton.
When conversation turned to adult matters, I’d wander to the back porch and count the dirt bike trails going up the barren mountain. When I tired of that I’d play in the stones of my grandmother’s backyard. Even grass didn’t grow in this town. Ambitious homeowners would sometimes make rock gardens for the space in front of each house that had been designed for marigolds, but most of the town had gotten used to the absence of green. When the EPA finally got around to declaring the mountain a superfund site we all snorted dismissively. My grandmother was actually offended, having long ago convinced herself that the factory effusions must be healthy.
The Palmerton factories were funded by New York bankers. Princeton University got multiple multimillion-dollar bequests in the wills of the founders of the zinc company. I’m sure there are still a few residual trust funds paying out dividends.
Today we have Philadelphia and Pittsburgh bankers orchestrating the removal of the mountaintops in West Virginia. As our technology has improved so has our capacity for ill-considered mass destruction of our natural surroundings.
All living creatures have an impact on their surroundings. My comforts rely on the coal, oil, and natural gas that are brought into our cities and towns. But I do know we can do better. I’m optimistic enough to can find ways to live together on this Earth that don’t break our mountains or poison our neighbors.
Local geo geeks will recognize that the sharp line of the most recent map almost completely coincides with the divide between coastal plain and piedmont. #geography #blog
Shrinking Middle as Income Inequality Rises
The share of American families living in middle-income neighborhoods has decreased, while the share in affluent or poor neighborhoods has increased.
Another slice of lost Philadelphia profiled on HiddenCity, this time my grandmother's childhood neighborhood.
Flash of Discovery | Hidden City Philadelphia
The first English speaking Lutheran church in the world, located on Philadelphia's Franklin Square, was part of an entire neighborhood demolished to make way for the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.
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Friends General Conference has announced that Barry Crossno will be their new incoming General Secretary. Old time bloggers will remember him as the blogger behind The Quaker Dharma. FGC’s just published an interview with him and one of the questions is about his blogging past. Here’s part of the answer:
Blogging among Friends is very important. There are not a lot of Quakers. We’re spread out across the world. Blogging opens up dialogues that just wouldn’t happen otherwise. While I laid down my blog, “The Quaker Dharma,” a few years ago, and my thinking on some issues has evolved since then, I’m clear that blogging is what allowed me to give voice to my call. It helped open some of the doors that led me to work for Pendle Hill and, now by extension, FGC. A lot of cutting edge Quaker thought is being shared through blogs.
I thought it might be useful to fill in a little bit of this story. If you go reading through the back comments on Barry’s blog you’ll see it’s a time machine into the early Quaker blogging community. I first posted about his blog in February of 2005 with Quaker Dharma: Let the Light Shine and I highlighted him regularly (March, April, June) until the proto-QuakerQuaker “Blog Watch” started running. There I featured him twice that June and twice more in August, the most active period of his blogging.
It’s nostalgic to look through the commenters: Joe G., Peterson Toscano, Mitchell Santine Gould, Dave Carl, Barbara Q, Robin M, Brandice (Quaker Monkey), Eric Muhr, Nancy A… There were some good discussions. Barry’s most exuberant post was Let’s Begin, and LizOpp and I especially labored with him to ground what was a very clear and obvious leading by hooking up with other Friends locally and nationally who were interested in these efforts. I offered my help in hooking him up with FGC and he wrote back “If you know people at other Quaker organizations that you wish me to speak to and coördinate with or possibly work for, I will.”
And that’s what I did. My supervisor, FGC Development head Michael Wajda, was planning a trip to Texas and I started talking up Barry Crossno. I had a hunch they’d like each other. I told Michael that Barry had a lot of experience and a very clear leading but needed to spend some time growing as a Quaker – an incubation period, if you will, among grounded Friends. In the first part of the FGC interview he movingly talks about the grounding his time at Pendle Hill has given him.
In October 2006 he announced he was closing a blog that had become largely dormant. It’s worth quoting that first formal goodbye:
I want to thank those of you who chose to actively participate. I learned a lot through our exchanges and I think there were many people who benefited from many of the posts you left. On a purely personal note, I learned that it’s good to temper my need to GO DO NOW. Some of you really helped mentor me concerning effectively listening to guidance and helping me understand that acting locally may be better than trying to take on the whole world at once.
I also want to share that I met some people and made contacts through this process that have opened tremendous doors for me and my ability to put myself in service to others. For this I am deeply grateful. I feel sure that some of these ties will live on past the closing of the Quaker Dharma.
Those of you familiar with pieces like The Lost Quaker Generation and Passing the Faith, Planet of the Quakers Style know I’ve long been worried that we’ve not doing a good job identifying, supporting and retaining visionary new Friends. Around 2004 I stopped complaining (mostly) and just started looking for others who also held this concern. The online organizing has spilled over into real world conferences and workshops and is much bigger than one website or small group. Now we see “graduates” of this network starting to take on real-world responsibilities.
Barry’s a bright guy with a strong leading and a healthy ambition. He would have certainly made something of himself without the blogs and the “doors” opened up by myself and others. But it would have certainly taken him longer to crack the Philadelphia scene and I think it very likely that FGC would have announced a different General Secretary this week if it weren’t for the blogs.
QuakerQuaker almost certainly has more future General Secretaries in its membership rolls. But it would be a shame to focus on that or to imply that the pinnacle of a Quaker leading is moving to Philadelphia. Many parts of the Quaker world are already too enthralled by it’s staff lists. What we need is to extend a culture of everyday Friends ready to boldly exclaim the Good News – to love God and their neighbor and to leap with joy by the presence of the Inward Christ. Friends’ culture shouldn’t focus on staffing, flashy programs or fundraising hype. At the end of the day, spiritual outreach is a one-on-one activity. It’s people spending the time to find one another, share their spiritual journey and share opportunities to grow in their faith.
QuakerQuaker has evolved a lot since 2005. It now has a team of editors, discussion boards, Facebook and Twitter streams, and the site itself reaches over 100,000 readers a year. But it’s still about finding each other and encouraging each other. I think we’ve proven that these overlapping, distributed, largely-unfunded online initiatives can play a critical outreach role for the Society of Friends. What would it look like for the “old style” Quaker organizations to start supporting independent Quaker social media? And how could our networks reinvigorate cash-strapped Quaker organizations with fresh faces and new models of communication? Those are questions for another post.
I’ve been lucky enough to have two houseguests this week: Micah Bales and Faith Kelley (no relation). They’ve come up to the Philadelphia area to help publicize a gathering of young adult Friends that will take place in Wichita in a few months. Before they left, I got them to share their excitement for the conference in front of my webcam.
Interview with Faith Kelley & Micah Bales, two of the organizers of the upcoming young adult Friends conference in Wichita Kansas.
FAITH: This is an invitation for a gathering for young adult Friends ages 18 – 35 from all the branches of the Religious Society of Friends from all across the continent. It’s going to be in Wichita Kansas from May 28 – 31. It’s a time to get together and learn about each other, to hear each other’s stories and worship together. We’re really excited by this opportunity to have people who have never been to these before and to have people who have been to other gatherings to come back.
MICAH: A lot of the advance material is already up online so you can get a good idea what this conference is going to be about and to get a sense of how to prepare yourself for a gathering like this. We’ll be getting together with folks from all over the country, Canada and Mexico – we’re hoping a lot of Hispanic Friends show up and we’ve already translated the website into Spanish. Registration is set up already; early registration goes until April 15. Airfare to Wichita is looking pretty good at the moment; if you register early you’re likely to get a fairly decent plane ticket out.
FAITH: We’re hoping people will choose to carpool together. So get organized, register early and look at the advance materials online.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
2010 Young Adult Friends Conference