The QuakerRanter Top-Five

Outreach, Family, Pacifism, and Blog Culture

At year’s end it’s always inter­est­ing to look back and see which arti­cles got the most vis­its. Here are the top-five Quak​er​Ran​ter​.org blog posts of 2013.

1. Outreach gets people to your meetinghouse / Hospitality keeps people returning

This grew out of a inter­est­ing lit­tle tweet about search engine opti­miza­tion that got me think­ing about how Friends Meet­ings can retain the curi­ous one-time visitors.

2. Tom Heiland

My father-in-law died in Jan­u­ary. These are few pic­tures I put togeth­er while Julie was still at the fam­i­ly home with the close rel­a­tives. Thanks to our friends for shar­ing a bit of our life by read­ing this one. He’s missed.

3. Expanding Concepts of Pacifism

A look at Friends tes­ti­monies and the dif­fi­cul­ties of being a fair-trade paci­fist in our hyper-connected world today. I think George Fox and the ear­ly Friends were faced with sim­i­lar chal­lenges and that our guide can be the same as theirs.

4. Rethinking Blogs

A num­ber of new ser­vices are try­ing to update the cul­ture of blog­ging. This post looked at com­ments; a sub­se­quent one con­sid­ered how we might reor­ga­nize our blogs into more of a struc­tured Wiki.

5. Iraq Ten Years Later: Some of Us Weren’t Wrong

This year saw a lot of hang wring­ing by main­stream jour­nal­ists on the anniver­sary of the Iraq War. I didn’t have much patience and looked at how dis­sent­ing voic­es were reg­u­lar­ly locked out of debate ten years ago – and are still locked out with the talk that “all of us” were wrong then.

I should give the caveat that these are the top-five most-read arti­cles that were writ­ten this year. Many of the clas­sics still out­per­form these. The most read con­tin­ues to be my post on unpop­u­lar baby names (just today I over­heard an expec­tant moth­er approv­ing­ly going through a list of over-trendy names; I won­dered if I should send her the link). My post on how to order men’s plain cloth­ing from Gohn’s Broth­ers con­tin­ues to be pop­u­lar, as does a report about a trip to a leg­endary water hole deep in the South Jer­sey pines.

Wikifying Our Blogging

Con­tin­u­ing my recent post in reimag­in­ing blogs, I’m going to go into some con­tex­tu­al details lift­ed from the Quak­er pub­li­ca­tions with which I’m either direct­ly asso­ci­at­ed or that have some claim to my identity.

My blog at Quak­er Ranter dates back to the proto-blog I began in 1997 as an new home­page for my two year old “Non­vi­o­lence Web” project. The new fea­ture was updat­ed week­ly with excerpt­ed mate­r­i­al from mem­ber projects on Non​vi​o​lence​.org and relat­ed orga­ni­za­tions that already had inde­pen­dent web­sites. We didn’t have RSS or Twit­ter then but I would man­u­al­ly send out emails to a list; we didn’t have com­ments but I would pub­lish inter­est­ing respons­es that came by email. The work was relaunched with blog­ging soft­ware in 2003 and the voice became more indi­vid­ual and my focus became more Quak­er and tech.

The arti­cles then were like they are now: reverse­ly chrono­log­i­cal, with cat­e­gories, tag­ging, and site search­ing that allow old­er mate­r­i­al to be accessed. The most impor­tant source of archive vis­i­bil­i­ty is exter­nal: Google. Peo­ple can eas­i­ly find mate­r­i­al that is direct­ly rel­e­vant to a ques­tion they’re address­ing right now. In many instances, they’ll nev­er even click through to the site home­page, much less cat­e­gories, tags, etc. As I said in my last post, these first-time vis­i­tors are often try­ing to under­stand some­thing new; the great major­i­ty bounce off the page and fol­low anoth­er search result on a mat­ter of a few sec­onds, but some small but impor­tant per­cent­age will be ripe for new ideas and con­nec­tions and might be will­ing to try new associations.

But it’s ran­dom. I’m a bit of a nerd in my cho­sen inter­ests and have been blog­ging long enough that I gen­er­al­ly have at least a few inter­est­ing posts on any par­tic­u­lar sub-topic. Most of these have been inspired by col­leagues, friends, my wife, and ran­dom con­ver­sa­tions I’ve found myself in.

Some of the most mean­ing­ful blog posts – those with legs – have involved me inte­grat­ing some new thinker or idea into my world­view. The process will have start­ed months or some­times years before when anoth­er spir­i­tu­al nerd rec­om­mend­ed a book or arti­cle. In the faith world there’s always books that are obscure to new­com­ers but essen­tial for those try­ing to go deep­er into their faith. You’ll be in a deep con­ver­sa­tions with some­one and they’ll ask (often with a twin­kle in their eye) “have you read so-and-so?” (This cul­ture if shar­ing is espe­cial­ly impor­tant for Friends, who tra­di­tion­al­ly have no cler­gy or seminaries).

A major role of my blog has been to bring these sorts of con­ver­sa­tions into a pub­lic realm – one that can be Googled and fol­lowed. The inter­net has helped us scale-up this process and make it more avail­able to those who can’t con­stant­ly travel.

When I have real-world con­ver­sa­tions now, I often have recourse to cite some old blog post. I’m shar­ing the “have you read” con­ver­sa­tion in a way that can be eaves­dropped by hundreds.

But how are peo­ple who stum­ble in my site for the first time going to find this?

The issue isn’t just lim­it­ed to an obscure faith blog. Yes­ter­day I learned about a cool (to me) blog writ­ten by a dad who research­es and trav­els to neat nature spots in the area with his kids and writes up a post about what-to-see and kid-issues-to-be-aware-of. But when it’s a nice Sat­ur­day after­noon and I find myself in a cer­tain locale, how can I know if he’s been any­where near­by unless I go through all the archives or hope the search works or hope his blog’s cat­e­go­riza­tion tax­on­o­my is complete?

What I’m think­ing is that we could try to cre­ate meta index­es to our blogs in a wiki mod­el. Have a whole col­lec­tion of intro­duc­to­ry pages where we list and sum­ma­rize rel­e­vant arti­cles with links.

In the hey­day of SEO, I used to tag the heck out if posts and have the pages act as a sort of auto­mat­ed ver­sion of this, but again, this it was chrono­log­i­cal. And it was work. Even remem­ber­ing to tag is work. I would spend a cou­ple of days ignor­ing clients to metatag each page on the site, only to redo the work a few months lat­er with even more meta­da­ta com­plex­i­ty. Writ­ing a whole shad­ow meta blog index­ing the blog would be a major (and unend­ing task). It wouldn’t gar­ner the rush of imme­di­ate Face­book likes. But it would be supreme­ly use­ful for some­one want­i­ng to explore an issue of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to them at that moment.

And one more Quak­er aside that I think will nev­er­the­less be of inter­est to the more techie read­ers. I’ve described Quak­erism as a wiki spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Exhib­it one is the reli­gious movement’s ini­tial lack of creeds or writ­ten instruc­tion. Even our paci­fism, for which we’re most well known, was an uncod­i­fied tes­ti­mo­ny in the ear­li­est years.

As Friends gained more expe­ri­ence liv­ing in com­mu­ni­ty, they would pub­lish advices – short snip­pets of wis­dom that were collectively-approved using con­sen­sus deci­sion mak­ing. They were based on expe­ri­ence. For exam­ple, they might find that mem­bers who abused alco­hol, say, or repeat­ed­ly test­ed the dress code might cause oth­er sorts of prob­lems for the com­mu­ni­ty and they’d minute a warn­ing against these practices.

These advices were writ­ten over time; as more were approved it became bur­den­some to find rel­e­vant advices when some issue start­ed tear­ing up a con­gre­ga­tion. So they were col­lect­ed into books – unof­fi­cial at first, lit­er­al­ly hand-copied from per­son to per­son. These even­tu­al­ly became offi­cial – pub­lished “books of dis­ci­plines,” col­lec­tions of the col­lec­tive wis­dom orga­nized by top­ic. Their pur­pose and scope (and even their name) has changed over the ensu­ing cen­turies but their impulse and ear­ly orga­ni­za­tion is one that I find use­ful when think­ing about how we could rethink the cat­e­go­riza­tion issues of our twen­ty first cen­tu­ry blogs and com­ment­ing systems.

Gregory Gets Baptized

Depend­ing on your the­o­log­i­cal ten­den­cies, Gre­go­ry was bap­tized or sprin­kled this past week­end. It was a very mov­ing cer­e­mo­ny, though an emer­gency trip to the pot­ty for the 4yo meant I missed the best part. Appar­ent­ly the priest raised him over the altar and made the sign of cross with him. This is at St Nicholas’ Ukrain­ian Catholic Church in Mil­lville NJ. We all went across the street to a Pol­ka dance after­wards and then had some cake and snacks at the lib­er­at­ed St Mary’s in Malaga.

Godparents holding the baby

And for new read­ers, I long ago explained why the Quak­er Ranter’s kid was get­ting bap­tized. Sor­ry for the weird for­mat­ting, I haven’t cleaned up all the back articles.

Two Years of the Quaker Ranter and Quaker Blogs

An amaz­ing thing has hap­pened in the last two years: we’ve got Friends from the cor­ners of Quak­erism shar­ing our sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences, our frus­tra­tions and dreams through Quak­er blogs. Dis­en­chant­ed Friends who have longed for deep­er con­ver­sa­tion and con­so­la­tion when things are hard at their local meet­ing have built a net­work of Friends who under­stand. When our gen­er­a­tion is set­tling down to write our mem­oirs — our Quak­er jour­nals — a lot of us will have to have at least one chap­ter about becom­ing involved in the Quak­er blog­ging community.

Image4
My per­son­al site before and after it became “Quak­er Ranter.”

When I signed off on my last post, I promised I would con­tin­ue with some­thing on “blogs, min­istry and lib­er­al Quak­er out­reach.” Here’s the first of the follow-ups.

As I set­tle in to my sec­ond week at my new (and newly-defined) jobs at FGC, I won­der if I be here with­out help of the Quak­er Ranter? I start­ed this blog two sum­mers ago. It was a time when I felt like I might be head­ed toward mem­ber­ship in the lost Quak­er gen­er­a­tion that was the focus of one of my ear­li­est posts. There were a lot of dead-ends in my life. A cou­ple of appli­ca­tions for more seri­ous, respon­si­ble employ­ment with Friends had recent­ly gone nowhere. Life at my month­ly meet­ing was odd (we’ll keep it at that). I felt I was com­ing into a deep­er expe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge of my Quak­erism and per­haps inch­ing toward more overt min­istry but there was no out­let, no sense of how this inward trans­for­ma­tion might fit into any sort of out­ward social form or forum.

Every­where I looked I saw Friends short­com­ing them­selves and our reli­gious soci­ety with a don’t-rock-the-boat timid­i­ty that wasn’t serv­ing God’s pur­pose for us. I saw pre­cious lit­tle prophet­ic min­istry. I knew of few Friends who were ask­ing chal­leng­ing ques­tions about our wor­ship life. Our lan­guage about God was becom­ing ever more cod­ed and ster­il­ized. Most of the twenty-somethings I knew gen­er­al­ly approached Quak­erism pri­mar­i­ly as a series of cul­tur­al norms with only dif­fer­ent stan­dards from one year­ly meet­ing to anoth­er (and one Quak­er branch to anoth­er, I suspect) .
With all this as back­drop, I start­ed the Quak­er Ranter with a nothing-left-to-lose men­tal­i­ty. I was ner­vous about push­ing bound­aries and about broach­ing things pub­licly that most Friends only say in hushed tones of two or three on meet­ing­house steps. I was also dou­bly ner­vous about being a Quak­er employ­ee talk­ing about this stuff (liveli­hood and all that!). The few Quak­er blogs that were out there were gen­er­al­ly blogs by Quak­ers but about any­thing but Quak­erism, pol­i­tics being the most com­mon topic.

Now sure, a lot of this hasn’t changed over these few years. But one thing has: we now have a vibrant com­mu­ni­ty of Quak­er blog­gers. We’ve got folks from the cor­ners of Quak­erism get­ting to know one anoth­er and hash out not just our sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences, but our frus­tra­tions and dreams. It’s so cool. There’s some­thing hap­pen­ing in all this! Dis­en­chant­ed Friends who have longed for deep­er con­ver­sa­tion and con­so­la­tion when things are hard at their local meet­ing are find­ing Friends who understand.

Through the blog and the com­mu­ni­ty that formed around it I’ve found a voice. I’m evolv­ing, cer­tain­ly, through read­ing, life, blog con­ver­sa­tions and most impor­tant­ly (I hope!) the act­ing of the Holy Spir­it on my ever-resistant ego. But because of my blog I’m some­one who now feels com­fort­able talk­ing about what it means to be a Quak­er in a pub­lic set­ting. It almost seems quaint to think back to the ear­ly blog con­ver­sa­tions about whether we can call this a kind of min­istry. When we’re all set­tling down to write our mem­oirs — our Quak­er jour­nals — a lot of us will have to have at least one chap­ter about becom­ing involved in the Quak­er blog­ging com­mu­ni­ty. In Howard Brinton’s Quak­er Jour­nals he enu­mer­at­ed the steps toward growth in the min­istry that most of the writ­ers seemed to go through; I sus­pect the jour­nals of our gen­er­a­tion will add self-published elec­tron­ic media to it’s list of clas­sic steps.

When I start­ed Quak­er Ranter I did have to won­der if this might be a quick­est way to get fired. Not to cast asper­sions on the powers-that-be at FGC but the web is full of cau­tion­ary tales of peo­ple being canned because of too-public blogs. My only con­so­la­tion was the sense that no one that mat­tered real­ly read the thing. But as it became more promi­nent a curi­ous phe­nom­e­non hap­pened: even Quak­er staff and über-insiders seemed to be relat­ing to this con­ver­sa­tion and want­ed a place to com­plain and dream about Quak­erism. My per­son­al rep­u­ta­tion has cer­tain­ly gone up because of this site, direct­ly and indi­rect­ly because of the blog. This brings with it the snares of pop­u­lar praise (itself a well-worn theme in Quak­er jour­nals) but it also made it more like­ly I would be con­sid­ered for my new out­reach job. It’s fun­ny how life works.
Okay, that’s enough for a post. I’ll have to keep out­reach till next time. But bear with me: it’s about form too and how form con­tributes to ministry.

PS: Talk­ing of two years of Quak­er blog­ging… My “Non​vi​o​lence​.org turns ten years old this Thurs­day!! I thought about mak­ing a big deal about it but alas there’s so lit­tle time.

Strangers to the Covenant

A workshop led by Zachary Moon and Martin Kelley at the 2005 FGC Gathering of Friends.

 

This is for Young Friends who want to break into the pow­er of Quak­erism: it’s the stuff you didn’t get in First Day School. Con­nect­ing with his­tor­i­cal Quak­ers whose pow­er­ful min­istry came in their teens and twen­ties, we’ll look at how Friends wove God, covenants and gospel order togeth­er to build a move­ment that rocked the world. We’ll mine Quak­er his­to­ry to reclaim the pow­er of our tra­di­tion, to explore the liv­ing tes­ti­monies and our wit­ness in the world. (P/T)

Per­cent­age of time: Wor­ship 20 / Lec­ture 30 / Dis­cus­sion 50

 

Extended Description

We hope to encour­age Friends to imag­ine them­selves as min­is­ters and elders and to be bold enough to chal­lenge the insti­tu­tions of Quak­erism as need­ed. We want to build a com­mu­ni­ty, a cohort, of Friends who aren’t afraid to bust us out of our own lim­it­ed expec­ta­tions and give them space to grow into the aware­ness that their long­ing for deep­er spir­i­tu­al con­nec­tion with shared wide­ly among oth­ers their age. Our task as work­shop con­ven­ers is to mod­el as both bold and hum­ble seek­ers after truth, who can stay real to the spir­it with­out tak­ing our­selves either too seri­ous­ly or too lightly.

Mar­tin and Zachary have dis­cov­ered a Quak­er tra­di­tion more defined, more coher­ent and far rich­er than the Quak­erism we were offered in First Day School. In integri­ty to that dis­cov­ery, we intend to cre­ate a space for fel­low­ship that would fur­ther open these glimpses of what’s out there and what pos­si­bil­i­ties exist to step out bold­ly in this Light.

Sun­day: Introductions
The most impor­tant task for today is mod­el­ing the ground­ed wor­ship and spirit-led min­istry that will be our true cur­ricu­lum this week. In a wor­ship shar­ing for­mat we will con­sid­er these questions:

  • What brought me to this workshop?
  • What did they fail to teach me in First Day School that I still want to know?

Mon­day: What is this Quakerism?
Today will be about enter­ing this ground­ed space togeth­er as Friends, begin­ning to ask some ques­tions that reveal and open. How do I artic­u­late what Quak­erism is all about? What ideas, lan­guage, and words (e.g. “God”, “Jesus” “Light”) do use to describe this tra­di­tion? Today we start that dia­logue. At the end of ses­sion we will ask par­tic­i­pants to seek out an old­er Friend and ask them for their answers on these queries and bring back that expe­ri­ence to our next gathering.

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nal and Bible
  • Present ques­tion: When some­one asks me “what is Quak­erism?” how do I respond.
  • Mar­tin and Zachary will share some thoughts on this ques­tion from oth­er Friends
  • Jour­nal­ing on Query
  • Dis­cus­sion of ideas and language.

Tues­day: The Mys­ti­cal Tra­di­tion and Gospel Order
We enter into the lan­guage and fab­ric of our Tra­di­tion at its mys­ti­cal roots. Ask­ing the ques­tions: What does God feel like? Intro­duce ear­ly Quaker’s talk about God. What does it feel like to be with God? What is Gospel Order?

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nals and Bible
  • Follow-up on pre­vi­ous day’s discussion/homework what new came into the Light overnight?
  • Jour­nal­ing on Query: When have I felt the pres­ence of God? Describe it in five senses?
  • Ini­tial dis­cus­sion and shar­ing of thoughts and ideas.
  • Intro­duce some ideas from ear­ly Friends and oth­ers on this Query. How have oth­ers (Jesus, Isa­iah, Mer­ton, Fox, Day) spo­ken of this experience?
  • Intro­duce themes of Spir­i­tu­al Prac­tice: If Quak­erism is about ask­ing the right ques­tions, how do we get into the place to hear those ques­tions and respond faith­ful­ly? We have already been incor­po­rat­ing devo­tion­al read­ing into our time togeth­er each morn­ing but we will intro­duce into the Light of Dis­ci­pline as such here. Nam­ing of oth­er prac­tices, pre­vi­ous­ly acknowl­edged and oth­er­wise, with­in the group.
  • Intro­duce ‘Spir­i­tu­al Dis­cern­ment’ themes for the fol­low­ing day’s session.

Wednes­day: The Roots of Friends’ Dis­cern­ment Tra­di­tion and the Testimonies
We delve into the archives, the dusty stuff, the stuff First Day School didn’t get to: the preach­ing from the trees, the prison time, the age George Fox was when he was first incar­cer­at­ed for his beliefs, what the tes­ti­monies are real­ly about and where they came from. Today is about tak­ing the skele­tons out of the clos­et and clean­ing house.

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nals and Bible
  • ‘Let’s talk his­to­ry’: Ear­ly Friends, the Mak­ing of The Soci­ety, and the Dis­cern­ment Tra­di­tion. [Mar­tin and Zachary may cov­er this, or we may arrange to have anoth­er Friend come and share some thoughts and infuse a new voice into our dialogue]
  • There are lots of tes­ti­monies: what are ours? Name some. How to they facil­i­tate our rela­tion­ship with God?
  • What’s up with “Obe­di­ence”, “Plain­ness”, and “Dis­ci­pline”? How do we prac­tice them?

Thurs­day: Friends in a Covenant­ed Relationship
We grow into our roles as lead­ers in this com­mu­ni­ty by con­sid­er­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ties and the hur­dles in deep­en­ing our covenant rela­tion­ship. We begin with con­sid­er­ing spir­i­tu­al gifts, and then con­sid­er ques­tions around min­istry, its ori­gin and its dis­cern­ment. We will take up the task of con­sid­er­ing what our work, what piece of this respon­si­bil­i­ty is ours to carry.

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nals and Bible
  • Jour­nal­ing on the Queries: What is alive inside of me? How are my spir­i­tu­al gifts named and nurtured?
  • What are the tasks of ministry?
  • What are the tasks of eldering?
  • What are the struc­tures and prac­tices in our month­ly, quar­ter­ly and year­ly meet­ings that we can use to test out and sup­port lead­ings? How do these struc­tures work and not work. Clear­ness com­mit­tees? Trav­el­ing Friends? Spir­i­tu­al nurture/affinity groups?
  • What is hold­ing us back from liv­ing this deep­ened rela­tion­ship? What is our respon­si­bil­i­ty to this covenant and this covenant community?

Fri­day: The Future of Quakerism
We begin the work that will occu­py the rest of our lives. The par­tic­i­pants of this work­shop will be around for the next fifty or more years, so let’s start talk­ing about sys­tem­at­ic, long-term change. We have some­thing to con­tribute to this con­sid­er­a­tion right now.

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nals and Bible
  • Where do we go from here? Mar­tin will present on emer­gent church. Zachary will present some thoughts on ‘Beloved Community’.
    Many have talked about deep com­mu­nion with God and about covenant com­mu­ni­ty. Many have spo­ken our hearts and giv­en voice to the pas­sion we expe­ri­ence; now it’s on us what are we going to do about it? Where is it happening?
  • Dis­cus­sion (maybe as a fish­bowl) Where do we envi­sion Quak­erism 50 years from now? 100 years from now?

External Website: Quaker Ranter, Martin’s site.

“It’s light that makes me uncomfortable” and other Googlisms

I think it’s fair to say that inter­net search engines have changed how many of us explore social and reli­gious move­ments. There is now easy access to infor­ma­tion on won­der­ful­ly quirky sub­jects. Let the Super­bowl view­ers have their over­pro­duced com­mer­cials and cal­cu­lat­ed con­tro­ver­sy: the net gen­er­a­tion doesn’t need them. TV view­er­ship among young adults is drop­ping rapid­ly. Peo­ple with web­sites and blogs are shar­ing their sto­ries and the search engines are find­ing them. Here is a taste of the search phras­es peo­ple are using to find Mar­tin Kel­ley Quak­er Ranter.

Con­tin­ue read­ing