The Quaker Ecosystem

An upcoming theme of Friends Journal is one I’m particularly interested in. It’s called “Reimagining the Quaker Ecosystem” and addresses countless conversations I think many of us have had over the years. Here’s the description:

Many of our traditional decision-making structures are under tremendous stress these days. There are few nominating committees that don’t bemoan the difficulties finding volunteer leadership. In the face of this, a wave of questioning and creativity is emerging as Friends reinvent and regenerate Quaker structures. Previously unasked questions about power and decision-making models are on the agenda again.

I think this begs the question of the whole why and how of our organizing as a religious society. One of the most read posts on my blog in 2003 was a based on a review of a book by Robert E. Webber called The Younger Evangelicals. Webber was talking about mainstream Evangelicals, who he divided into three generational phases,

  • Traditional Evangelicals 1950-1975
  • Pragmatic Evangelicals 1975-2000
  • Younger Evangelicals 2000-

I was working at Friends General Conference back in 2003 and Webber’s descriptions felt surprisingly familiar despite the very different context of liberal Quakerism.

Take for example youth ministry: Webber says Pragmatic Evangelicals tend to prefer “outreach programs and weekend fun retreats,” which is what the eventual FGC Youth Ministries Program mostly morphed into (before going into permanent hiatus). Webber suggests that the Younger Evangelicals cohort sought “prayer, Bible study, worship, social action” and sure enough many progressive spiritual types in Philly left meetinghouses for the alternative Circle of Hope church. Quakerism lost a lot of momentum at that time (Betsy Blake see also: Betsy Blake's account). It took the creation of a whole new organization, Quaker Voluntary Service, to get a lively and sustainable youth ministries running (you can read QVS’s Ross Hennesy’s journey from the 2013 FJ to see Webber’s chart come to life).

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think many Quaker orgs are stuck in a rut trying everything they can to make the Pragmatic Evangelical model work. There’s a hope that just one more reorganization will solve their systemic longterm problems—new people will come into committee service, meetinghouses will start filling, etc. But the more we try to hold onto the old framework, the more creative energy dissipates and Friends get lost or leave.

My personal hunch is that structure (almost) doesn’t matter. What we need is a shift in attention. How can we back up and ask the big questions: Why are we here? What is our prophetic role and how do we encourage and support that in our members? How do we care for our church community and still reach beyond the meetinghouse walls to serve as healers in the world?

A few years ago I dropped in on part of my yearly meeting sessions. In one room, mostly-older members were revising some arcane subsection of Faith and Practice while across the hall mostly-younger members were expressing heartbreak about a badly-decided policy on trans youth. The disconnect between the spirit in the rooms was beyond obvious.

I think we need to be able to stop and give attention to direct leadings of needed ministry. I often return to the Good Samaritan story. In my mind's eye the Levite is the Friend who can’t stop because they’re late for a committee meeting. If we could figure out a way to get more Friends to pivot into Good Samaritan mode, I suspect we’d find new life in our religious society. Perennial questions would transform.

Signs of new life are abundant but unevenly distributed. How do you imagine the ecosystem in 10, 20, or 50 years? Submission due date 3/6 officially though we may have a chance to review later pieces.

Listening: Hidden Brain episode 53, “Embrace the Chaos”

From the NPR descrip­tion:

Many of us spend lots of time and ener­gy try­ing to get orga­nized. We Kon­Mari our clos­ets, we strive for inbox zero, we tell our kids to clean their rooms, and our politi­cians to clean up Wash­ing­ton. But Econ­o­mist Tim Har­ford says, maybe we should embrace the chaos. His new book is Messy: The Pow­er of Dis­or­der to Trans­form Our Lives.

gregorycityUh-oh, should we stop being so fussy about cleaned-up rooms. Just last night I spent 45 min­utes cajol­ing and threat­en­ing and beg­ging my five year old to clean an amaz­ing block city he had con­struct­ed in the liv­ing room. Curi­ous­ly, the link to the pod­cast was sent to me by my wife.

 

Self-promotion and ministry temptations

Jon Watts looks at the ironies of fame-seeking and avoid­ance:

But this striv­ing for per­fect hum­ble­ness can eas­i­ly become dog­mat­ic. We can come to reject any­thing that looks remote­ly like attention-seeking, and we miss God’s mes­sage in it.

Jon weighs in with some good, juicy ques­tions. Where is self-promotion a way to pro­mote some­thing big­ger? And when is it ego-driven? t’s not just a inter­net ques­tion, of course. This is also at the heart of our Quak­er vocal min­istry: some­one just stands up in wor­ship with an implic­it claim they’re speak­ing for God.

Samuel Bow­nas is a good go-to per­son for these sort of dilem­mas. He was a second-generation Friend who shared a lot of the inside dirt about Quak­ers in min­istry. He wrote down the tri­als and temp­ta­tions he faced and that he saw in oth­ers in their “infant minstry” as a con­scious men­tor­ship of future Friends.

One of Bownas’s themes is the dan­ger of ape­ing oth­ers. It’s tempt­ing to get so enam­ored of someone’s beau­ti­ful words that we start con­scious­ly try­ing to mim­ic them. We stop say­ing what we’ve been giv­en to say so as to sound like the (seem­ing­ly) more-articulate per­son whose style we envy. Most cre­ative artists walk this ten­sion between copy­ing and cre­at­ing and as Wess will tell you, the idea of remix has become of more impor­tance in the era of dig­i­tal arts. But with min­istry there’s anoth­er ele­ment: God. Many Quak­ers have been pret­ty insis­tent that the mes­sage has to be giv­en “in the Spir­it” and come from direct prompts. Unpro­grammed Friends (those of us with­out pas­tors or pre-written ser­mons) are excep­tion­al­ly aller­gic to vocal min­istry that sounds too prac­ticed. It’s not enough that the teach­ing is cor­rect or well-crafted: we insist that it be giv­en it at the right time.

When think­ing the pit­falls about min­istry I find it use­ful to think about “The Tempter.” I don’t per­son­i­fy this; I don’t insist that it’s cen­tral to Quak­er the­ol­o­gy. But it is a thread of our the­ol­o­gy, one that has explained my sit­u­a­tion, so I share it. For me, it’s the idea that there’s a force that knows our weak­ness­es and will use them to con­fuse us. If we’re not care­ful, impuls­es that are seem­ing­ly pos­i­tive will pro­voke actions that are seem­ing­ly good but out of right order – giv­en at the wrong time.

So, if like Jon, I start wor­ry­ing I’m too self-promotional, the Tempter might tell me “that’s true, it’s all in your head, you should shut up already.” If I work myself through that temp­ta­tion and start pro­mot­ing myself, the Tempter can switch gears: “yes you’re bril­liant, and while you’re at it while don’t you set­tle some scores with your next post and take some of those fak­ers down a notch.” There’s nev­er an objec­tive “cor­rect” course of action, because right action is about strip­ping your­self of self-delusion and nav­i­gat­ing the shoals of con­tra­dic­to­ry impuls­es. The right action now may be the wrong action lat­er. We all need to grow and stay vig­i­lant and hon­est with our­selves.

Unpresenting workshop style

Non­prof­it blog­ger Beth Kan­tor often finds gems about pre­sen­ta­tion. Yes­ter­day she shared a “unpre­sent­ing” style of work­shop. She writes:

I do a lot of pre­sent­ing and am spend­ing to much time writ­ing bul­let points, cre­at­ing slides, and prac­tic­ing what I’m going to say. I think that this puts a stop to cre­at­ing con­ver­sa­tion in the room. I want­ed to learn some con­ver­sa­tion­al mechan­ics — so I could stop talk­ing at peo­ple and begin talk­ing with them.

Beth’s main link is to a Google Tech Talk “unpre­sen­ta­tion” by Heather Gold. Might be good back­ground lis­ten­ing today. I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in this for two rea­sons: first, obvi­ous­ly, is that pre­sen­ta­tions are often very bor­ing and it’s nice to think about more inter­ac­tive ways of engag­ing with an audi­ence.

But sec­ond, many mod­ern Friends have default­ed to a lec­ture style in their reli­gious edu­ca­tion. I’m not sure it works. I’ve met peo­ple who have par­tic­i­pat­ed in mul­ti­ple Quak­erism 101 class­es and still don’t know basic facts. I myself have rebelled against pow­er point pre­sen­ta­tions and pre-set cur­ric­u­la to be more engag­ing but I’m not con­vinced that this has made me a great pre­sen­ter. It’s always worth find­ing new ways to present in a clear and direct and engages them with the issues they expe­ri­ence day to day.

I imag­ine this would be of inter­est not only to lib­er­al Friends who give work­shops, but pas­toral Friends with a con­cern to stay open to imme­di­ate rev­e­la­tion dur­ing wor­ship–Cherice B has a great post about this yes­ter­day , a response to part four of Brent Bill’s Mod­est Pro­pos­al series.

Some inter­est­ing points from Heather Gold’s pre­sen­ta­tion on “tumm­ling”

  • The best way to tumm­le is to be a very big ver­sion of your­self. Tumm­le means to make noise.
  • If you’re hap­py, i’m hap­py. The num­ber one way to do that is to care and to notice them — espe­cial­ly the peo­ple who don’t seem that involved.
  • I’m notic­ing [the dis­en­gaged per­son in the back]. if i can involve him a lit­tle bit i’m much more like­ly to involve more of you faster than if i pick the per­son in the front row with their arm up. a tech­nique to pull every­one in is to go to the fringes. go to the peo­ple who seem on the end, who seem like they have low­er sta­tus in what­ev­er com­mu­ni­ty you’re in (speak less, more nervi­ous, know few­er peo­ple) and go up to them.
  • Some peo­ple will be mad at you. Some peo­ple will be schmucks. Some peo­ple will want to talk a lot. You have to let all that be okay. Tools and rules will nev­er ever do as good a job as your con­fi­dence that you can han­dle any­thing. It’s time con­sum­ing to run through fifty rules in your mind; it’s not so time con­sum­ing to just be there.

Philadelphia Metropolis

Metropolis - Philadelphia News and Journalism

Metrop­o­lis is a “news, analy­sis and com­men­tary” site from vet­er­an Philadel­phia reporter Tom Fer­rick (Wikipedia). An alum of The Philadel­phia Inquir­er, Tom’s spent the last half-dozen years talk­ing to every­one who will lis­ten about the future of print and Philly news. He’s done talk­ing and is show­ing what can be done on a bud­get bud­get. From “This is Metrop­o­lis,” the lead arti­cle:

Local news­pa­pers, TV and radio sta­tions are retreat­ing from in-depth cov­er­age of region­al news either due to eco­nom­ic or audi­ence con­sid­er­a­tions.

The retreat has been grad­ual, but no one expects it to stop. The com­pa­ny that owns the region’s largest news­pa­pers — the Inquir­er and Dai­ly News — is in bank­rupt­cy. The size of the edi­to­r­i­al staffs at the papers con­tin­ues to shrink. The prog­no­sis for metro dailies here and else­where is not good. The jour­nal­ism prac­ticed by these papers is still robust, but the eco­nom­ic mod­el that has sus­tained it is erod­ing. If these tra­di­tion­al sources of news fal­ter or fail what will take their place?

The site was built in Mov­able Type. The most promi­nent fea­ture is the slideshow dis­play of fea­tured arti­cles. Tom has seen a sim­i­lar effect on anoth­er jour­nal­ism site and a search found the “Slid­ing Hor­i­zon­tal Ban­ner Rota­tor” at Active Den, a great site to pur­chase pre-built Flash files. Mov­able Type entries are out­fit­ted with cus­tom fields to enter images and links. Mov­able Type then cre­ates a cus­tom XML file for the “Main Sto­ries” feed, which is then picked up and dis­played by the Flash ban­ner. In addi­tion, the site uses Google Adsense to pro­vide income.

Vis­it: Philadel­phia Metrop­o­lis

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