AMA: Conservative and Liberal Friends?

Marlborough (Pa.) Friends meetinghouse at dusk. c. 2006.
A few weeks ago, reader James F. used my seldom-visited “Ask me anything!” page to wonder about two types of Friends:

I've read a little and watched various videos about the Friends. My questions are , is there a gulf between "conservative" friends and liberal? As well as what defines the two generally? I'm in Maryland near D.C. Do Quakers who define themselves as essentially Christian worship with those who don't identify as such?

Hi James, what a great question! I think many of us don’t fully appreciate the confusion we sow when we casually use these terms in our online discussions. They can be useful rhetorical shortcuts but sometimes I think we give them more weight than they deserve. I worry that Friends sometimes come off as more divided along these lines than we really are. Over the years I've noticed a certain kind of rigid online seeker who dissects theological discussions with such conviction that they'll refused to even visit their nearest meeting because it's not the right type. That’s so tragic.

What the terms don't mean

The first and most common problem is that people don’t realize we’re using these terms in a specifically Quaker context. “Liberal” and “Conservative” don't refer to political ideologies. One can be a Conservative Friend and vote for liberal or socialist politicians, for example.

Adding to the complications is that these can be imprecise terms. Quaker bodies themselves typically do not identify as either Liberal or Conservative. While local congregations often have their own unique characteristics, culture, and style, nothing goes on the sign out front. Our regional bodies, called yearly meetings, are the highest authority in Quakerism but I can't think of any that doesn't span some diversity of theologies.

Historically (and currently) we've had the situation where a yearly meeting will split into two separate bodies. The causes can be complex; theology is a piece, but demographics and mainstream cultural shifts also play a huge role. In centuries past (and kind of ridiculously, today still), both of the newly reorganized yearly meetings were obsessed with keeping the name as a way to claim their legitimacy. To tell them apart we'd append awkward and incomplete labels, so in the past we had Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Hicksite) and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Orthodox).

In the United States, we have two places where yearly meetings compete names and one side's labelled appendage is "Conservative," giving us Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Over time, both of these yearly meetings have diversified to the point where they contain outwardly Liberal monthly meetings. The name Conservative in the yearly meeting title has become partly administrative.

A third yearly meeting is usually also included in the list of Conservative bodies. Present-day Ohio Yearly Meeting once competed with two other Ohio Yearly Meetings for the name but is the only one using it today. The name “Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative)” is still sometimes seen, but it’s unnecessary, not technically correct, and not used in the yearly meeting’s formal correspondence. (You want to know more? The yearly meeting's clerk maintains a website that goes amazingly deep into the history of Ohio Friends).

All that said, these three yearly meetings have more than their share of traditionalist Christian Quaker members. Ohio's gatherings have the highest percentage of plain dressing- and speaking- Friends around (though even there, they are a minority). But other yearly meetings will have individual members and sometimes whole monthly meetings that could be accurately described as Conservative Quaker.

I might have upset some folks with these observations. In all aspects of life you'll find people who are very attached to labels. That's what the comment section is for.

The meanings of the terms

Formal identities aside, there are good reasons we use the concept of Liberal and Conservative Quakerism. They denote a general approach to the world and a way of incorporating our history, our Christian heritage, our understanding of the role of Christ in our discernment, and the format and pace of our group decision making.

But at the same time there’s all sorts of diversity and personal and local histories involved. It’s hard to talk about any of this in concrete terms without dissolving into footnotes and qualifications and long discourses about the differences between various historical sub-movements within Friends (queue awesome 16000-word history).

Many of us comfortably span both worlds. In writing, I sometimes try to escape the weight of the most overused labels by substituting more generic terms, like traditional Friends or Christ-centered Friends. These terms also get problematic if you scratch at them too hard. Reminder: God is the Word and our language is by definition limiting.

If you like the sociology of such things, Isabel Penraeth wrote a fascinating article in Friends Journal a few years ago, Understanding Ourselves, Respecting the Differences. More recently in FJ a Philadelphia Friend, John Andrew Gallery, visited Ohio Friends and talked about the spiritual refreshment of Conservative Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting Gathering and Quaker Spring. Much of the discussion around the modern phrase Convergent Friends and the threads on QuakerQuaker has focused on those who span a Liberal and Conservative Quaker worldview.

The distinction between Conservatives and Liberals can become quite evident when you observe how Friends conduct a business meeting or how they present themselves. It's all too easy to veer into caricature here but Liberal Friends are prone to reinventions and the use of imprecise secular language, whileConservative Friends are attached to established processes and can be unwelcoming to change that might disrupt internal unity.

But even these brief observations are imprecise and can mask surprisingly similar talents and stumbling blocks. We all of us are humans, after all. The Inward Christ is always available to instruct and comfort, just as we are all broken and prone to act impulsively against that advice.


Finally, pretty much all Friends will worship with anyone. Most local congregations have their own distinct flavor. There are some in which the ministry is largely Christian, with a Quaker-infused explanation of a parable or gospel, while there are others where you’ll rarely hear Christ mentioned. You should try out different meetings and see which ones feed your soul. Be ready to find nurturance in unexpected places. God may instruct us to serve anywhere with no notice, as he did the Good Samaritan. Christ isn't bound by any of our silly words.

Thanks to James for the question!

Do you have a question on another Quaker topic? Check out the Ask Me Anything! page.

Recovering the past through photos

2015 looks like it’s shap­ing up to be the year that online cloud pho­to ser­vices all take a giant leapt for­ward. Just in the last few months alone, I’ve gone and dug up my ten-plus year pho­to archive from a rarely accessed back­up dri­ve (some 72 GB of files) and uploaded it to three dif­fer­ent pho­to services.

First it was Drop­box, whose Carousel app promised to change every­thing. For $10/month, I can have all of the dig­i­tized pho­tos I’ve ever tak­en all togeth­er. It changed how I access past events. Back in the day I might have tak­en 20 pic­tures and post­ed 2 to Flickr. The oth­er 18 were for all intents inac­ces­si­ble to me — on the back­up dri­ve that sits in a dusty draw­er in my desk. Now I could look up some event on my pub­lic Flickr, remem­ber the date, then head to Dropbox/Carousel to look through every­thing I took that day — all on my phone. Some­times I’d even share the whole roll from that event to folks who were there.

But this was a two-step process. Flickr itself had boost­ed its stor­age space last year but it wasn’t until recent­ly that they revealed a new Cam­era Roll and uploader that made this all work more seam­less­ly. So all my pho­tos again went up there. Now I didn’t have to jug­gle between two apps.

Last week, Google final­ly (final­ly!) broke its pho­tos from Google+ and the rem­nants of Picasa to give them their own home. It’s even more fab­u­lous than Flickr and Drop­box, in that its search is so good as to feel like mag­ic. Peo­ple, places, and image sub­jects all can be accessed with the search speed that Google is known for. And this ser­vice is free and uploads old videos.

Theo (identified by his baby nickname, "Skoochie") in a backpack as we scout for Christmas trees, December 2003.
Screen­shot of Theo (iden­ti­fied by his baby nick­name, “Skoochie”) and Julie, Decem­ber 2003.

I’m con­stant­ly sur­prised how just how emo­tion­al­ly pow­er­ful an old pho­to or video can be (I waxed lyri­cal­ly about this in Nos­tal­gia Comes Ear­ly, writ­ten just before our last fam­i­ly vaca­tion). This week­end I found a short clip from 2003 of my wife car­ry­ing our new­born in a back­pack and cit­ing how many times he had wok­en us up the night before. At the end she joked that she could guilt trip him in years to come by show­ing this video to him. Now the clip is some­thing I can find, load, and play in a few sec­onds right from my ever-present phone.

So what I’ve noticed is this quick access to unshared pho­tos is chang­ing the nature of my cell­phone photo-taking. I’m tak­ing pic­tures that I nev­er intend to share but that give me an estab­lish­ing shot for a par­tic­u­lar event: signs, dri­ve­way entrances, maps. Now that I have unlim­it­ed stor­age and a cam­era always with­in reach, I can use it as a quick log of even the most quo­tid­i­an life events (MG Siegler recent­ly wrote about The Pow­er of the Screen­shot, which is anoth­er way that quick and ubiq­ui­tous pho­to access is chang­ing how and what we save.) With GPS coor­di­nates and pre­cise times, it’s espe­cial­ly use­ful. But the most pro­found effect is not the activ­i­ty log­ging, but still the emo­tions release unlock­ing all-but-lost mem­o­ries: remem­ber­ing long-ago day trips and vis­its with old friends.

Visual storytelling through animated gifs and Vine

NPR’s Plan­et Mon­ey recent­ly ran an arti­cle on glass recy­cling, How A Used Bot­tle Becomes A New Bot­tle, In 6 Gifs. The Gif part is what intrigued me. A “gif” is a tightly-compressed image for­mat file that web design­ers leaned on a lot back in the days of low band­width. It’s espe­cial­ly good for designs with a few dis­creet col­ors, such as cor­po­rate logos or sim­ple car­toons. It also sup­ports a kind of prim­i­tive ani­ma­tion that was com­plete­ly overused in the late 90s to give web­pages fly­ing uni­corns and spin­ning globes.

Ani­mat­ed gifs have grown up. They make up half the posts on Tum­blr. They are often derived from fun­ny scenes in movies and come with humor­ous cap­tions. The Plan­et Mon­ey piece uses them for sto­ry­telling: text is illus­trat­ed by six gifs show­ing dif­fer­ent parts of the recy­cling process. The move­ment helps tell the sto­ry – indeed most of the shots would be visu­al­ly unin­ter­est­ing if they were static.

The short loops reminds me of Vine, the six-second video ser­vice from Twit­ter which I’ve used a lot for sil­ly kid antics. They can also tell a sim­ple sto­ry (they’re par­tic­u­lar­ly well suit­ed to repet­i­tive kid antics: up the steps, down the slide, up the steps, down the slide, up…).

In my work with Friends Jour­nal I’ve done some 7 – 12 minute video inter­views with off-site authors using Google Hang­outs, which essen­tial­ly just records the video con­ver­sa­tion. It’s fine for what we use it for, but the qual­i­ty depends a lot on the equip­ment on the oth­er end. If the band­width is low or the web­cam poor qual­i­ty, it will show, and there are few options for post-production edit­ing. But hon­est­ly, this is why I use Hang­outs: a short web-only inter­view won’t turn into a week­long project.

Pro­duc­ing high-quality video requires con­trol­ling all of the equip­ment, shoot­ing ten times more footage than you think you’ll need, and then hours of work con­dens­ing and edit­ing it down to a sto­ry. And after all this it’s pos­si­ble you’ll end up with some­thing that doesn’t get many views. Few Youtube users actu­al­ly watch videos all the way through to the end, drift­ing away to oth­er inter­net dis­trac­tions in the first few minutes.

I like the com­bi­na­tion of the sim­ple short video clips (whether Vine or ani­mat­ed gif) wed­ded to words. My last post here was the very light-weight sto­ry about a sum­mer after­noon project. Yes­ter­day, I tried again, shoot­ing a short ani­mat­ed gif of Tibetan monks vis­it­ing a local meet­ing­house. I don’t think it real­ly worked. They’re con­struct­ing a sand man­dala grain-by-grain. The small move­ments of their fun­nel sticks as sand drops is so small that a reg­u­lar sta­t­ic pho­to would suf­fice. But I’ll keep exper­i­ment­ing with the form.

Slim Goodbody Facebook Fan Page

Facebook Branding: Slim GoodbodyPopular children's entertainer/educator Slim Goodbody is one busy guy: most weekdays of the school year find him spreading the message of good health in his trademark body suit ("When a Body needs somebody there's nobody like Goodbody!").

He's been doing this work for decades now and has a vast storehouse of videos, products and fans.
Slim came to me to build a branded Facebook presence.

A typical workload for a Facebook branding project is:

  • Set up the Page;
  • Coordinate with the client for a good profile graphic;
  • Adding a number of photos and videos;
  • Help set up a posting strategy;
  • Provide phone support to answer questions on best practices;
  • Give feedback on campaign (like Facebook's "Insights" stats)

For Slim, we decided to rely on Facebook's native apps as much as possible. This became especially important when Facebook shifted it's feed layout (yet again) to focus less on user streams and more on an algorithmically-determined best posts. The more integrated your site is with Facebook, the better chance your pieces will have of showing up on Fan's user streams.

We used Facebook Markup Language (FBML) to create custom Page tabs for integration with his existing online store and listing of tour dates. We would have liked to use FB's Events application but it doesn't allow for the volume of tour dates necessary to cover a busy entertainer like Slim Goodbody!

See it live:

Nonprofits and Social Media

I’d like to talk today about social media and non­prof­its. I’ve had a cou­ple of inter­est­ing projects late­ly help­ing non­prof­its put togeth­er Face­book Pages, LinkedIn Groups and Twit­ter sites. I think this is an excit­ing way to reach out to audi­ence members. 

Today: Email Lists

Over the last few years we’ve focused on email lists. We all have big email lists – tens of thou­sands of users, seg­ment­ed all sorts of dif­fer­ent ways. We send out dozens of emails a week and they end up seem­ing not spam.

Face­book Pages

A new era is com­ing with social media. A big change is Face­book Pages. These are geared toward adver­tis­ers although you don’t need to have a Face­book adver­tis­ing cam­paign to use them. In March 2009, Face­book redesigned Pages to act much more like typ­i­cal user pro­files: there’s a wall, there’s an activ­i­ty stream, and you can asso­ciate dif­fer­ent appli­ca­tions with them. 

Two things about Pages are excit­ing. One is the activ­i­ty stream. Peo­ple who sign up as “fans” of your Page see what you’re putting out in their indi­vid­ual stream. They’ll log into Face­book and see that mes­sages like “Jen just got engaged!” or “Joe is hav­ing a bad hair day” and that your orga­ni­za­tion is hav­ing some great event com­ing up this week­end. You’re seen in the asso­ci­a­tion of hap­py news from their friends. It’s dif­fer­ent from a spam­mish email because it’s com­ing in with the con­text of their friends, which is very pow­er­ful for publicity.

The oth­er nice thing about Face­book Pages is that they’re pub­lic. A lot of por­tions of Face­book aren’t but mak­ing Pages pub­lic means you can point to them from your web­site or oth­er social media campaigns.

I think Face­book fan groups are going to be the new email list. They are the way we’ll be able to reach out to peo­ple. I’m very excit­ed about this because there’s all sorts of easy mul­ti­me­dia pos­si­bil­i­ties. You can inte­grate with Youtube, with Twit­ter, with pod­casts, etc., embed­ded for fans of your Face­book page to see as it’s hap­pen­ing. This is much more excit­ing than some of the emails that we send out. They are also more inter­ac­tive because fans can post things on your fan walls so you can have con­ver­sa­tions on your sites.

Inti­mate, imme­di­ate, engaging

What the smart non­prof­its are going to be doing is a lot of post­ing in a style that’s authen­tic and inti­mate and less wor­ried about being slick than we’ve typ­i­cal­ly been.

What I would love to see non­prof­its doing is to get seri­ous about video. I’m not talk­ing about fan­cy video, haul­ing in video­g­ra­phers for six months shoot­ing a three minute slick com­mer­cial. Get an inex­pen­sitve video recorder and start doing five minute inter­views with the peo­ple your orga­ni­za­tion serves. This will dif­fer depend­ing on your organization’s focus. One advan­tage to sim­ple videos is that you can con­vince even the busiest of your inter­vie­wees to take out a few min­utes. You make these videos and post them to Youtube, Vimeo or direct­ly to Face­book video. It doesn’t mat­ter where they host­ed but you’ll have to make sure they’re embed­ded on your Face­book fan page. 

Build­ing our Face­book Fan Page

How to direct? You can direct in the emails you’re send­ing out or through oth­er sources. Twit­ter is a great way of direct­ing peo­ple to what’s hap­pen­ing: you send out a 140-character “tweet” with an inter­est­ing tease about the video you’ve pro­duced and a link to the Face­book fan page.

The whole goal is to get Face­book fans. Once you’re in as a fan, you show up in their activ­i­ty streams. All the fans get to see the events you’re orga­niz­ing, the videos. If you have extra tick­ets to an upcom­ing event, post about it because peo­ple will see it imme­di­ate­ly. It’s a won­der­ful way to reach peo­ple quick­ly in a way that’s not as intru­sive as email (I sus­pect a lot of younger users are actu­al­ly check­ing their Face­book home­page more often than their emails!).

The New Non­prof­it Outreach

I’d love to see a lot more of these inti­mate, almost home-made videos going up on Face­book fan pages and using fan pages as a way of con­nect­ing with peo­ple. We can think of these as the new email list.

I would strong­ly encour­age non­prof­its to use all of these these media to rein­force their mes­sage and to find new ways to reach their audi­ences in a much more engag­ing, inti­mate way. 

— —  —  — –

Mar­tin Kel­ley is a web devel­op­er and social media con­sul­tant spe­cial­iz­ing in non­prof­its. This post is a loose tran­scrip­tion of his video, Non­prof­its and Social Media. This essay is also avail­able on the Mar​tinKel​ley​.com Face­book fan page.

More coming in from this weekend’s workshop

Both of my work­shop co-leaders Wess and Robin have now checked in with pre­lim­i­nary reports. More mate­r­i­al is being col­lect­ed on the Quak­erQuak­er event page.

Wess and I have both been upload­ing lots of pho­tos to Flickr using the “quakerreclaiming2009″ tag. I’ve been upload­ing my video inter­views both on Youtube and Quak­erQuak­er. You can see them at the reclaiming2009 tag (I have the feel­ing we’ve just dou­bled the Quak­er con­tent on Youtube but it’s not that extreme). Any­one present with more pho­tos can either upload them to Flickr with the “quakerreclaiming2009” tag or send them direct­ly up to Quak­erQuak­er. Same with videos.