Oh please pic.twitter.com/H6fjUrx8iz
— Martin Kelley (@martin_kelley) May 31, 2016
Last night a huge thunderstorm front with a phenomenon called a derecho swept across South Jersey. Where I live in Hammonton the strangest part of it was a strobe-light effect caused by dozens of cloud-to-cloud lightning flashes per minute, punctuated by lightning strikes. Further east into Atlantic County winds took down incredible amounts of trees.
This morning traveled to Mays Landing, which was scheduled to host a street festival today. A few brave merchants like Brownies Squared opened without power and made the best of it, selling refrigerated goods at half-price. But most of the town was dealing with trees across downed power lines. According to NBC40 Weather 162,000 households are without power – considerably more than were out in last year’s hurricane.
I’m part of a discussion at the Pendle Hill conference center outside Philadelphia next month. Everyone’s invited. It’s a rare chance to really bring a lot of different readers and media producers (official and DIY) together into the same room to map out where Quaker media is headed. If you’re a passionate reader or think that Quaker publications are vital to our spiritual movement, then do try to make it out.
Youtube, Twitter, podcasts, blogs, books. Where’s it all going and who’s doing it? How does it tie back to Quakerism? What does it mean for Friends and our institutions? Join panelists Charles Martin, Gabriel Ehri and Martin Kelley, along with Quaker publishers and writers from around the world, and readers and media enthusiasts, for a wide-ranging discussion about the future of Quaker media.
We will begin with some worship at 7.00pm If you’d like a delicious Pendle Hill dinner beforehand please reply to the Facebook event wall (see http://on.fb.me/quakermedia). Dinner is at 6.00pm and will cost $12.50
This is part of this year’s Quakers Uniting in Publications conference. QUIP has been having to re-imagine its role over the last ten years as so many of its anchor publishers and bookstores have closed. I have a big concern that a lot of online Quaker material is being produced by non-Quakers and/or in ways that aren’t really rooted in typical Quaker processes. Maybe we can talk about that some at Pendle Hill.
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.
A lot of people, include Jeanne Burns over on Quakerquaker, are talking about Malcolm Gladwell’s latest New Yorker article, “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted“.
Malcolm Gladwell’s modus operandi is to make outrageously counter-intuitive claims that people will talk about enough that they’ll buy his boss’s magazine, books and bobble-head likenesses. I find him likable and diverting but don’t take his claims very seriously. He’s a lot like Wired Magazine’s Chris Anderson, his sometimes sparring partner, which isn’t surprising as they work for the same magazine empire, Conde Nast Publications.
In his article, Gladwell takes a lot of potshots at social media. It’s easy to do. He picks Clay Shirky, another New York “Big Idea” guy as his rhetorical strawman now, claiming Shirky’s book “Here Comes Everybody” is the “bible of social-media movement.” Reading Gladwell, you kind of wish he’d get out of the echo box of circle-jerk New York Big Talkers (just getting out of the Conde Nast building’s cafeteria would be a good start).
Gladwell’s certainly right in that most of what passes for activism on Twitter and Facebook is ridiculous. Clicking a “Like” button or changing your profile image green doesn’t do much. He makes an important distinction between “weak ties” (Facebook “friends” who aren’t friends; Twitter campaigns that are risk-free) and “strong ties.” He cites the Civil Rights movement as a strong-tie phenomenon: the people who put themselves on the line tended to be those with close friends also putting themselves on the line.
What Gladwell misses is strong-tie organizing going on in social media. A lot of what’s happening over on QuakerQuaker is pretty strong-tie – it’s translating to workshops, articles, and is just one of a number of important networks that are forming. People are finding each other and making real connections that spill out into the real world. It’s not that online organizes creates real world changes, or even the reverse. Instead, under the right circumstances they can feed into each other, with each component magnifying the other’s reach.
One example of non-hierarchical involved social media is how Quaker bloggers came together to explain Tom Fox’s motives after his kidnapping. It didn’t have any effect on the kidnappers, obviously, but we did reach a lot of people who were curious why a Friend might choose such a personally dangerous form of Christian witness. This was all done by inter-related groups of people with no budget and no organizational chart. But these things don’t have to be quite so life-and-death.
A more recent example I’ve been able to see up close is the way my wife’s church has organized against diocesan attempts to shut it down: a core group of leaders have emerged; they share power, divide up roles and have been waging an organized campaign for about 2.5 years now. One element of this work has been the Savestmarys.org blog. The website’s only important because it’s been part of a real-world social network but it’s had an influence that’s gone far beyond the handful of people who write for it. One of the more surprising audiences have been the many staff at the Diocesan headquarters who visit every day – a small group has taken over quite a bit of mental space over there!
It’s been interesting for me to compare QuakerQuaker with an earlier peace project of mine, Nonviolence.org, which ran for thirteen years starting in 1995. In many ways it was the bigger site: a larger audience, with a wider base of interest. It was a popular site, with many visits and a fairly active bulletin board for much of it’s life. But it didn’t spawn workshop or conferences. There’s no “movement” associated with it. Donations were minimal and I never felt the support structure that I have now with my Quaker work.
Nonviolence.org was a good idea, but it was a “weak tie” network. QuakerQuaker’s network is stronger for two reasons that I can identify. The obvious one is that it’s built atop the organizing identity of a social group (Friends). But it also speaks more directly to its participants, asking them to share their lives and offering real-world opportunities for interaction. So much of my blogging on Nonviolence.org was Big Idea thoughts pieces about the situation in Bosnia – that just doesn’t provide the same kind of immediate personal entre.
Malcolm Gladwell minimizes the leadership structure of activist organizations, where leadership and power is in constant flux. He likewise minimizes the leadership of social media networks. Yes, anyone can publish but we all have different levels of visibility and influence and there is a filtering effect. I have twenty-five years of organized activism under my belt and fifteen years of online organizing and while the technology is very different, a lot of the social dynamics are remarkably similar.
Gladwell is an hired employee in one of the largest media companies in the world. It’s a very structured life: he’s got editors, publishers, copyeditors, proofreaders. He’s a cog in a company with $5 billion in annual revenue. It’s not really surprising that he doesn’t have much direct experience with effective social networks. It’s hard to see how social media is complementing real world grassroots networks from the 40th floor of a mid-town Manhattan skyscraper.
- What Malcolm Gladwell Doesn’t Understand About Activism and Social Networks over on StudentActivism.net, via @public_historian.
- Friends and Hierarchy and Social Change. Jeanne Burns on QuakerQuaker.
- Make the Revolution from Anil Dash: “People who want to see marches in the streets are often unwilling to admit that those marches just don’t produce much in the way of results in America in 2010.”
- Social Media for Good and Evil, Strong and Weak Ties, Online/Offline,and Orgs and Networks from Beth Kantor
Warning: this is a blog post about blogging.
It’s always fascinating to watch the ebb and flow of my blogging. Quakerranter, my “main” blog has been remarkably quiet. I’m still up to my eyeballs with blogging in general: posting things to QuakerQuaker, giving helpful comments and tips, helping others set up blogs as part of my consulting business. My Tumblr blog and Facebook and Twitter feeds all continue to be relatively active. But most of these is me giving voice to others. For two decades now, I’ve zigzagged between writer and publisher; lately I’ve been focused on the latter.
When I started blogging about Quaker issues seven years ago, I was a low-level clerical employee at an Quaker organization. It was clear I was going nowhere career-wise, which gave me a certain freedom. More importantly, blogs were a nearly invisible medium, read by a self-selected group that also wanted to talk openly and honestly about issues. I started writing about issues in among liberal Friends and about missed outreach opportunities. A lot of what I said was spot on and in hindsight, the archives give me plenty of “told you so” credibility. But where’s the joy in being right about what hasn’t worked?
Things have changed over the years. One is that I’ve resigned myself to those missed opportunities. Lots of Quaker money and humanly activity is going into projects that don’t have God as a center. No amount of ranting is going to dissuade good people from putting their faith into one more staff reorganization, mission rewrite or clever program.It’s a distraction to spend much time worrying about them.
But the biggest change is that my heart is squarely with God. I’m most interested in sharing Jesus’s good news. I’m not a cheerleader for any particular human institution, no matter how noble its intentions. When I talk about the good news, it’s in the context of 350 years of Friends’ understanding of it. But I’m well aware that there’s lots of people in our meetinghouses that don’t understand it this way anymore. And also aware that the seeker wanting to pursue the Quaker way might find it more closely modeled in alternative Christian communities. There are people all over listening for God and I see many attempts at reinventing Quakerism happening among non-Friends.
I know this observation excites some people to indignation, but so be it: I’m trusting God on this one. I’m not sure why He’sgiven us a world why the communities we bring together to worship Him keep getting distracted, but that’s what we’ve got (and it’s what we’ve had for a long time). Every person of faith of every generation has to remember, re-experience and revive the message. That happens in church buildings, on street corners, in living rooms, lunch lines and nowadays on blogs and internet forums.We can’t get too hung up on all the ways the message is getting blocked. And we can’t get hung up by insisting on only one channel of sharing that message. We must share the good news and trust that God will show us how to manifest this in our world: his kingdom come and will be done on earth.
But what would this look like?
When I first started blogging there weren’t a lot of Quaker blogs and I spent a lot more time reading other religious blogs. This was back before the emergent church movement became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Zondervan and wasn’t dominated by hype artists (sorry, a lot of big names set off my slime-o-meter these days). There are still great bloggers out there talking about faith and readers wanting to engage in this discussion. I’ve been intrigued by the historical example of Thomas Clarkson, the Anglican who wrote about Friends from a non-Quaker perspective using non-Quaker language. And sometimes I geek out and explain some Quaker point on a Quaker blog and get thanked by the author, who often is an experienced Friend who had never been presented with a classic Quaker explanation on the point in question. My tracking log shows seekers continue to be fascinated and drawn to us for our traditional testimonies, especially plainness.
I’ve put together topic lists and plans before but it’s a bit of work, maybe too much to put on top of what I do with QuakerQuaker (plus work, plus family). There’s also questions about where to blog and whether to simplify my blogging life a bit by combining some of my blogs but that’s more logistics rather than vision.
Interesting stuff I’m reading that’s making me think about this: