Here’s another installation of mom stories, originally written for a longer obituary than the one running in today’s paper.
A single parent, she earned an associates degree at Rider College in Trenton and worked as a secretary at a number of Philadelphia-area based, include Women’s Medical College and the Presbyterian Board of Publications. In the mid-1960s she became an executive secretary at the newly-formed Colonial Penn Life Insurance Company. An office feminist, she liked recounting the story of the day in the 1970s when the women of the office united to break the dress code by all wearing pant suits. A senior vice president was on the phone when she walked into his office and is said to have told his caller “My secretary just walked in wearing pants.… and she looks terrific!”
When Colonial Penn later started an in-house computer programmer training program, she signed up immediately and started a second career. She approached programs as puzzles and was especially proud of her ability to take other programmers’ poorly-written code and turn it into efficient, bug-free software.
In the early 1990s, she moved into her own apartment in Jenkintown, Pa. She reclaimed a shortened form of her maiden name and swapped “Betsy” for “Liz.” During this time she became a committed attender at Abington Friends Meeting. As clerk of its peace and justice committee, she worked to build the consensus needed for the meeting to produce a landmark statement on reproductive rights. As soon as it was passed she said, “next up, a minute on same-sex marriage!” In the late 90s, that was still controversial even with LGBTQ circles and I imagine that even the progressive folks at Abington were dreading the thought she might put this on the agenda!
In her late 60s, she bought her first house, in Philadelphia’s Mount Airy neighborhood. She loved fixing it up and babysitting her grandchildren. She never made any strong connections with any of the nearby Quaker Meetings only attending worship sporadically after the move. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2010, she took the news with dignity. She moved into an independent living apartment in Atco, N.J. and continued an active lifestyle as long as possible.
In economics, there’s a concept known as Pareto efficiency. It means that you ought to be able to eliminate any choice if another one dominates it along every dimension. The remaining choices sit along what’s called the Pareto frontier.
Silver then followed up with a real world example that speaks to my interest in food:
Imagine that in addition to White Castle and The French Laundry, there are two Italian restaurants in your neighborhood. One is the chain restaurant Olive Garden. You actually like Olive Garden perfectly well. But down the block is a local red-sauce joint called Giovanni’s. The food is a little better there than at Olive Garden (although not as good as at The French Laundry), and it’s a little cheaper than Olive Garden (although not as cheap as White Castle). So you can eliminate Olive Garden from your repertoire; it’s dominated along both dimensions by Giovanni’s.
These days we choose more than our dinner destinations. Spirituality has become a marketplace. While there have always been converts, it feels as if the pace of religious lane-changing has steadily quickened in recent times. Many people are choosing their religious affiliation rather than sticking with the faith traditions of their parents. For Quakers, this has been a net positive, as many of our meetinghouses are full of “convinced” Friends who came in to our religious society as adults.
Quakers are somewhat unique in our market potential. I would argue that we fall on two spots of the religious “pareto curve”:
The first is a kind of mass-market entry point for the “spiritual but not religious” set that wants to dip its toe into an organized religion that’s neither very organized nor religious. Liberal Friends don’t have ministers or creeds, we don’t feel or sound too churchy, and we’re not particularly concerned about what new seekers believe. It’s a perfect fit for do-it-yourself seekers that are looking for non-judgmental spiritually-minded progressives.
Our second pareto frontier beachhead is more grad-school level: we’re a good spot for people who have a strong religious convictions but seek a community with less restrictions. They’ve memorized whole sections of the Bible and might have theological training. They’re burned out by judgmentalism and spirit-less routine and are seeking out a more authentic religious community of religious peers open to discussion and growth.
It seems we often reach out to one or the other type of “pareto” seeker. I see that as part of the discussion around Micah Bales’s recent piece on Quaker church planting–do we focus on new, unaffiliated seekers or serious religious disciples looking for a different type of community. I’d be curious to hear if any Quaker outreach programs have tried to reach out to both simultaneously. Is it even possible to sucessfully market that kind of dual message?
The two-touch pareto nature of Friends and pop spiritual culture suggests that meetings could focus their internal work on being the bridge from what we might call the “pareto entrances.” Newcomers who have walked through the door because we’re not outwardly churchy could be welcomed into Quakerism 101 courses to be introduced to Quaker techniques for spiritual grounding and growth – and so they can determine whether formal membership is a good fit. Those who have come for the deep spiritual grounding can join as well, but also be given the opportunities for smaller-scale religious conversations and practice, through Bible study groups, regional extended worships and trips to regional opportunities.
To translate, SEO is “search engine optimization,” the often-huckersterish art of tricking Google to display your website higher than your competitors in search results. “Usability” is the catch-all term for making your website easy to navigate and inviting to visitors. Companies with deep pockets often want to spend a lot of money on SEO, when most of the time the most viable long-term solution to ranking high with search engines is to provide visitors with good reasons to visit your site. What if we applied these principles to our churches and meetinghouses and swapped the terms?
Outreach gets people to your meetinghouse / Hospitality keeps people returning.
A lot of Quaker meetinghouses have pretty good “natural SEO.” Here in the U.S. East Coast, they’re often near a major road in the middle of town. If they’re lucky there are a few historical markers of notable Quakers and if they are really lucky there’s a highly-respected Friends school nearby. All these meetings really have to do is put a nice sign out front and table a few town events every year. The rest is covered. Although we do get the occasional “aren’t you all Amish?” comments, we have a much wider reputation that our numbers would necessarily warrant. We rank pretty high.
But what are the lessons of hospitality we could work on? Do we provide places where spiritual seekers can both grow personally and engage in the important questions of the faith in the modern world? Are we invitational, bringing people into our homes and into our lives for shared meals and conversations?
In my freelance days when I was hired to work on SEO I ran through a series of statistical reports and redesigned some underperforming pages, but then turned my attention to the client’s content. It was in this realm that my greatest quantifiable successes occurred. At the heart of the content work was asking how could the site could more fully engage with first-time visitors. The “usability considerations” on the Wikipedia page on usability could be easily adapted as queries:
Who are the users, what do they know, what can they learn? What do users want or need to do? What is the users’ general background? What is the users’ context for working? What must be left to the machine? Can users easily accomplish intended tasks at their desired speed? How much training do users need? What documentation or other supporting materials are available to help the user?
I’d love to see Friends consider this more. FGC’s “New Meetings Toolbox” has a section on welcoming newcomers. But I’d love to hear more stories about how we’re working on the “usability” of our spiritual communities.
This is just so depressing: the Facebook gorilla has bought its second mobile photo sharing app in recent weeks. Lightbox was a great app. It auto-posted to everything I cared about (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Foursquare, Flickr) but also had its own beautiful website that kept it above the fray. Lightbox (my account is/was at http://martinkelley.lightbox.com/) was what Flickr should have and could have become and it let me enjoy the fantasy while also dual-posting to Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/martin_kelley), which has stored my photos since Mark Zuckerberg was in training diapers. For more on the Flickr that never was, see today’s piece in Gizmodo, “How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet.”
Lightbox is joining Facebook!
We started Lightbox because we were excited about creating new services built primarily for mobile, especially for the Android and HTML5 platforms, and we’re honored that millions of you have…
ReconRabbi is a social network for rabbis associated with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. It is designed to provide ongoing education and networking for far-flung alumni. It’s a highly customized, member-only site built on the Ning platform. The typical Ning features are here: video, podcasts and member profiles. Expanded areas include extensive training material for members. We recorded and I edited a series of eight screencasts of approximately five minutes each for their Help section using Screenflow for Mac; topics include signing up, adding discussions, using the customized training material. Member-only Site: http://www.reconrabbi.net/.
Here’s my working theory: I think Liberal Friends have a good claim to inventing the “new monastic” movement thirty years ago in the form of Movement for a New Society, a network of peace and anti-nuclear activists based in Philadelphia that codified a kind of “secular Quaker” decision-making process and trained thousands of people from around the world in a kind of engaged drop-out lifestyle that featured low-cost communal living arrangements in poor neighborhoods with part-time jobs that gave them flexibility to work as full-time community activists. There are few activist campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s that weren’t touched by the MNS style and a less-ideological, more lived-in MNS culture survives today in borderline neighborhoods in Philadelphia and other cities. The high-profile new monastics rarely seem to give any props to Quakers or MNS, but I’d be willing to bet if you sat in on any of their meetings the process would be much more inspired by MNS than Robert’s Rules of Order or any fifteen century monastic rule that might be cited.
For a decade I lived in West Philly in what I called “the ruins of the Movement for a New Society.” The formal structure of MNS had disbanded but many of its institutions carried on in a kind of lived-in way. I worked at the remaining publishing house, New Society Publishers, lived in a land-trusted West Philly coop house, and was fed from the old neighborhood food coop and occasionally dropped in or helped out with Training for Change, a revived training center started by MNS-co-founder (and Central Philadelphia Meeting-member) George Lakey It was a tight neighborhood, with strong cross-connections, and it was able to absorb related movements with different styles (e.g., a strong anarchist scene that grew in the late 1980s). I don’t think it’s coincidence that some of the Philly emergent church projects started in West Philly and is strong in the neighborhoods that have become the new ersatz West Philly as the actual neighborhood has gentrified.
So some questions I’ll be wrestling with over the next six months and will bring to Pendle Hill:
Why haven’t more of us in the Religious Society of Friends adopted this engaged lifestyle?
Why haven’t we been good at articulating it all this time?
Why did the formal structure of the Quaker-ish “new monasticism” not survive the 1980s?
Why don’t we have any younger leaders of the Quaker monasticism? Why do we need others to remind us of our own recent tradition?
In what ways are some Friends (and some fellow travelers) still living out the “Old New Monastic” experience, just without the hype and without the buzz?
It’s entirely possible that the “new monasticism” isn’t sustainable. At the very least Friends’ experiences with it should be studied to see what happened. Is West Philly what the new monasticism looks like thirty years later? The biggest differences between now and the heyday of the Movement for a New Society is 1) the Internet’s ability to organize and stay in touch in completely different ways; and 2) the power of the major Evangelical publishing houses that are hyping the new kids.
I’ll be looking at myself as well. After ten years, I felt I needed a change. I’m now in the “real world” – semi suburban freestanding house, nuclear family. The old new West Philly monasticism, like the “new monasticism” seems optimized for hip twenty-something suburban kids who romanticized the gritty city. People of other demographics often fit in, but still it was never very scalable and for many not very sustainable. How do we bring these concerns out to a world where there are suburbs, families, etc?
RELATED READING: I first wrote about the similarity between MNS and the Philadelphia “New Monastic” movement six years ago in Peace and Twenty-Somethings, where I argued that Pendle Hill should take a serious look at this new movement.