Nostalgia comes early

One of the most famous scenes in the AMC show Mad Men comes near the end of sea­son one. Kodak has asked the adver­tis­ing firm to cre­ate a cam­paign around a new slide pro­jec­tor that has a cir­cu­lar tray. Don Drap­er presents the Carousel and gives a nostalgia-steeped pre­sen­ta­tion that use his per­son­al pho­tographs to move both the Kodak execs and the view­ers at home, who know that these semi-focused pic­tures will soon be all that left of his dis­in­te­grat­ing family.

No falling apart fam­i­ly for me, but I find myself already feel­ing nos­tal­gic for a fam­i­ly vaca­tion to Dis­ney World that doesn’t start for anoth­er six days. I’ve recent­ly been look­ing through our Flickr archive of past trips (four for me) and real­ize that they are our Carousel. The start with my fiancée tak­ing a cyn­i­cal me on my first trip. Lat­er vis­its bring kids to the pho­to­graph­ic line­up: newly-found legs to run, the joys of messy ice cream, the scare of not-very-scary rides and the big eyes of parades all run through the sets.

In less than a week we’ll start a new set. There will be two new chil­dren in this one. “The babies” are both walk­ing and tod­dling and are at their peak of baby pho­to­genic cute­ness. The old­er two are real kids now and the eldest is start­ing to show ear­ly glimpses of teenage-hood: eye-rolling, exha­la­tion of air (“uh!”) to show dis­ap­proval of incon­ve­nient parental instructions.

Icon­ic fam­i­ly pic­tures will hap­pen. Since our last vis­it five years ago, my wife’s lost her father to can­cer and my mother’s been slip­ping into the for­get­ful­ness of Alzheimer’s. As the wheel of life turns it some­how becomes more pos­si­ble to see our­selves as part of the turn­ing Carousel. Some decades from now I can imag­ine myself going through these pic­tures sur­round­ed by indulging chil­dren and antsy grand­chil­dren, exclaim­ing “look how young every­one looks!”

Theo and Francis, Dec 2008
Theo (then 5) and Fran­cis (3) zonked out after a long day in 2008. Hard to believe they were ever this cuddly.

 

Update post-trip:

There are 104 pic­tures from this trip in our pub­lic Flickr set, with one of our four kids hold­ing hands as they walk to the pool a stand­out icon­ic shot of their child­hood together:
11208956395_863d0ebfb0_k

Quaker Folkways and Being Patterns on the Interwebs

Last Sun­day I have a pre­sen­ta­tion to Had­don­field (N.J.) Meeting’s adult First-day school class about “Shar­ing the Good News with Social Media.” As I pre­pared I found I was less and less inter­est­ed in the tech­niques of Face­book, etc., than I was in how out­reach has his­tor­i­cal­ly worked for Friends.

For an ear­ly, short, peri­od Quak­ers were so in-your-face and noto­ri­ous that they could draw a crowd just by walk­ing a few miles up the road to the next town. More recent­ly, we’ve attract­ed new­com­ers as much by the exam­ple of our lives than by any out­reach cam­paign. When I talk to adult new­com­ers, they often cite some Quak­er exam­ple in their lives – a favorite teacher or delight­ful­ly eccen­tric aunt.

Peo­ple can sense when there’s some­thing of greater life in the way we approach our work, friend­ships, and fam­i­lies. Let me be the first in line to say I’m hor­ri­bly imper­fect. But there are Quak­er tech­niques and val­ues and folk­ways that are guides to gen­uine­ly good ways to live in the world. There’s noth­ing exclu­sive­ly Quak­er about them (indeed, most come from care­ful read­ing of the Gospels and Paul’s let­ters), but they are tools our reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty has empha­sized and into which we’ve helped each oth­er live more fully.

In the last fif­teen years, the ways Friends are known has under­gone a rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion. The Inter­net has made us incred­i­bly easy to find and research. This is a mixed bless­ing as it means oth­ers are defin­ing who we are. Care­ful cor­po­rate dis­cern­ment con­duct­ed through long-developed tech­niques of Quak­er process are no match for the “edit” but­ton in Wikipedia or some com­mer­cial site with good page rank.

That said, I think peo­ple still are dis­cov­er­ing Friends through per­son­al exam­ples. George Fox told us to be pat­terns and exam­ples in the world and to answer that of God in every­one. A lot of our exam­pling and answer­ing today is going to be on the thread­ed com­ments of Face­book and Twit­ter. What will they find? Do we use Face­book like every­one else, trolling, spam­ming, engag­ing in flame wars, focus­ing on our­selves? Or do Quak­er folk­ways still apply. Here are some ques­tions that I reg­u­lar­ly wres­tle with:

  • When I use social media, am I being open, pub­lic, and transparent?
  • Am I care­ful to share that which is good and eter­nal rather than tit­il­lat­ing for its own sake?
  • Do I remem­ber that the Good News is sim­ply some­thing we bor­row to share and that the Inward Christ needs to do the final deliv­ery into hearts?
  • Do I pray for those I dis­agree with? Do I prac­tice hold­ing my tongue when my moti­va­tion is anger or jealousy?

What strug­gles do oth­ers face? What might be our online folkways?

Railroad & farm weekend in Lancaster

Our only full-group shot, outside Strasburg RR
This week­end we took off for a fam­i­ly trip to Lan­cast­er Coun­ty, Penn­syl­va­nia – Julie and me, the kids and my moth­er Liz. I won’t have time to do a long blog post, but high­lights were the Ver­dant View farm B&B (link) where we stayed; the Stras­burg Rail­road (link) whose line runs through the farm’s back­yard, the Choo Barn mod­el rail­way (link); and the amaz­ing Cher­ry Crest Farm (link) with its corn maze and its sim­ple games for kids of all ages (who knew you could have so much fun with a hill and a piece of burlap?!).

See the See the pho­to set on Flickr for more pic­tures and sto­ries. Every shot is mapped, with links.

Large pho­to: Fam­i­ly at Stras­burg RR: Mar­tin, Liz, Theo, Julie, Fran­cis. Below: Julie and the kids walk­ing through fields at farm, Fran­cis play­ing kung-fu with the farm dog, Theo run­ning in ter­ror from said dog, Engine 90 ready to pull out.
Verdant View's verdant views
Verdant View Farm dogs
Verdant View Farm dogs
Locomotion

Friends and theology and geek pick-up hotspots

Wess Daniels posts about Quak­er the­ol­o­gy on his blog. I respond­ed there but got to think­ing of Swarth­more pro­fes­sor Jer­ry Frost’s 2000 Gath­er­ing talk about FGC Quak­erism. Aca­d­e­m­ic, theologically-minded Friends helped forge lib­er­al Quak­erism but their influ­enced wained after that first gen­er­a­tion. Here’s a snippet:

“[T]he first gen­er­a­tions of Eng­lish and Amer­i­ca Quak­er lib­er­als like Jones and Cad­bury were all birthright and they wrote books as well as pam­phlets. Before uni­fi­ca­tion, PYM Ortho­dox and the oth­er Ortho­dox meet­ings pro­duced philoso­phers, the­olo­gians, and Bible schol­ars, but now the com­bined year­ly meet­ings in FGC pro­duce weighty Friends, social activists, and earnest seekers.”

“The lib­er­als who cre­at­ed the FGC had a thirst for knowl­edge, for link­ing the best in reli­gion with the best in sci­ence, for draw­ing upon both to make eth­i­cal judg­ments. Today by becom­ing anti-intellectual in reli­gion when we are well-educated we have jet­ti­soned the impulse that cre­at­ed FGC, reunit­ed year­ly meet­ings, rede­fined our role in wider soci­ety, and cre­at­ed the mod­ern peace tes­ti­mo­ny. The kinds of ener­gy we now devote to med­i­ta­tion tech­niques and inner spir­i­tu­al­i­ty needs to be spent on phi­los­o­phy, sci­ence, and Chris­t­ian religion.”

This talk was huge­ly influ­en­tial to my wife Julie and myself. We had just met two days before and while I had devel­oped an instant crush, Frost’s talk was the first time we sat next to one anoth­er. I real­ized that this might become some­thing seri­ous when we both laughed out loud at Jerry’s wry asides and the­ol­o­gy jokes. We end­ed up walk­ing around the cam­pus late into the ear­ly hours talk­ing talk­ing talking.

But the talk wasn’t just the reli­gion geek equiv­a­lent of a pick-up bar. We both respond­ed to Frost’s call for a new gen­er­a­tion of seri­ous Quak­er thinkers. Julie enrolled in a Reli­gion PhD pro­gram, study­ing Quak­er the­ol­o­gy under Frost him­self for a semes­ter. I dove into his­to­ri­ans like Thomas Hamm and mod­ern thinkers like Lloyd Lee Wil­son as a way to under­stand and artic­u­late the implic­it the­ol­o­gy of “FGC Friends” and took inde­pen­dent ini­tia­tives to fill the gaps in FGC ser­vices, tak­ing lead­er­ship in young adult pro­gram and co-leading work­shops and inter­est groups.

Things didn’t turn out as we expect­ed. I hes­i­tate speak­ing for Julie but I think it’s fair enough to say that she came to the con­clu­sion that Friends ideals and prac­tices were unbridgable and she left Friends. I’ve doc­u­ment­ed my own set­backs and right now I’m pret­ty detached from for­mal Quak­er bodies.

Maybe enough time hasn’t gone by yet. I’ve heard that the per­son sit­ting on Julie’s oth­er side for that talk is now study­ing the­ol­o­gy up in New Eng­land; anoth­er Friend who I sus­pect was near­by just start­ed at Earl­ham School of Reli­gion. I’ve called this the Lost Quak­er Gen­er­a­tion but at least some of its mem­bers have just been lying low. It’s hard to know whether any of these historically-informed Friends will ever help shape FGC pop­u­lar cul­ture in the way that Quak­er acad­e­mia influ­enced lib­er­al Friends did before the 1970s.

Reread­ing Frost’s speech this after­noon it’s clear to see it as an impor­tant inspi­ra­tion for Quak­erQuak­er. Parts of it act well as a good lib­er­al Quak­er vision for what the blo­gos­phere has since tak­en to call­ing con­ver­gent Friends. I hope more peo­ple will stum­ble on Frost’s speech and be inspired, though I hope they will be care­ful not to tie this vision too close­ly with any exist­ing insti­tu­tion and to remem­ber the true source of that dai­ly bread. Here’s a few more inspi­ra­tional lines from Jerry:

We should remem­ber that the­ol­o­gy can pro­vide a foun­da­tion for uni­ty. We ought to be smart enough to real­ize that any for­mu­la­tion of what we believe or link­ing faith to mod­ern thought is a sec­ondary activ­i­ty; to para­phrase Robert Bar­clay, words are descrip­tion of the foun­tain and not the stream of liv­ing water. Those who cre­at­ed the FGC and reunit­ed meet­ings knew the pos­si­bil­i­ties and dan­gers of the­ol­o­gy, but they had a con­fi­dence that truth increased possibilities.

Reading John Woolman 3: The Isolated Saint

Read­ing John Wool­man: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 (miss­ing)

It’s said that John Wool­man re-wrote his Jour­nal three times in an effort to excise it of as many “I” ref­er­ences as pos­si­ble. As David Sox writes in Johh Wool­man Quin­tes­sen­tial Quak­er, “only on lim­it­ed occa­sion do we glimpse Wool­man as a son, a father and a hus­band.” Wool­man wouldn’t have been a very good blog­ger. Quot­ing myself from my intro­duc­tion to Quak­er blogs:

blogs give us a unique way of shar­ing our lives — how our Quak­erism inter­sects with the day-to-day deci­sions that make up faith­ful liv­ing. Quak­er blogs give us a chance to get to know like-minded Friends that are sep­a­rat­ed by geog­ra­phy or arti­fi­cial the­o­log­i­cal bound­aries and they give us a way of talk­ing to and with the insti­tu­tions that make up our faith community.

I’ve read many great Wool­man sto­ries over the years and as I read the Jour­nal I eager­ly antic­i­pat­ed read­ing the orig­i­nal account. It’s that same excite­ment I get when walk­ing the streets of an icon­ic land­scape for the first time: walk­ing through Lon­don, say, know­ing that Big Ben is right around the next cor­ner. But Wool­man kept let­ting me down.

One of the AWOL sto­ries is his arrival in Lon­don. The Journal’s account:

On the 8th of Sixth Month, 1772, we land­ed at Lon­don, and I went straight­way to the Year­ly Meet­ing of min­is­ters and elders, which had been gath­ered, I sup­pose, about half an hour. In this meet­ing my mind was humbly contrite.

But set the scene. He had just spent five weeks cross­ing the Atlantic in steer­age among the pigs (he doesn’t actu­al­ly spec­i­fy his non-human bunk­mates). He famous­ly went out of his way to wear clothes that show dirt because they show dirt. He went straight­away: no record of a bath or change of clothes. Sto­ries abound about his recep­tion, and while are some of dubi­ous ori­gin, there are first hand accounts of his being shunned by the British min­is­ters and elders. The best and most dubi­ous sto­ry is the theme of anoth­er post.

I trust that Wool­man was hon­est­ly aim­ing for meek­ness when he omit­ted the most inter­est­ing sto­ries of his life. But with­out the con­text of a lived life he becomes an ahis­tor­i­cal fig­ure, an icon of good­ness divorced from the minu­ti­ae of the dai­ly grind. Two hun­dred and thir­ty years of Quak­er hagiog­ra­phy and latter-day appeals to Woolman’s author­i­ty have turned the tai­lor of Mount Hol­ly into the oth­er­world­ly Quak­er saint but the process start­ed at John’s hands himself.

Were his strug­gles mere­ly inte­ri­or? When I look to my own min­istry, I find the call to dis­cern­ment to be the clear­est part of the work. I need to work to be ever more recep­tive to even the most unex­pect­ed prompt­ing from the Inward Christ and I need to con­stant­ly prac­tice humil­i­ty, love and for­give­ness. But the prac­ti­cal lim­i­ta­tions are hard­er. For years respectibil­i­ty was an issue; rel­a­tive pover­ty con­tin­ues to be one. It is ask­ing a lot of my wife to leave respon­si­bil­i­ty for our two small boys for even a long weekend.

How did Wool­man bal­ance fam­i­ly life and min­istry? What did wife Sarah think? And just what was his role in the sea-change that was the the “Ref­or­ma­tion of Amer­i­can Quak­erism” (to use Jack Marietta’s phrase) that for­ev­er altered Amer­i­can Friends’ rela­tion­ship with the world and set the stage for the schisms of the next century.

We also lose the con­text of Woolman’s com­pa­tri­ots. Some are named as trav­el­ing com­pan­ions but the col­or­ful char­ac­ters go unmen­tioned. What did he think of the street-theater antics of Ben­jamin Lay, the Abbie Hoff­man of Philadel­phia Quak­ers. The most widely-told tale is of Lay walk­ing into Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing ses­sions, open­ing up a cloak to reveal mil­i­tary uni­form under­neath, and declar­ing that slave-made prod­ucts were prod­ucts of war, plunged a sword into a hollowed-out Bible full of pig’s blood, splat­ter­ing Friends sit­ting nearby.

What role did Wool­man play in the larg­er anti-slavery awak­en­ing hap­pen­ing at the time? It’s hard to tell just read­ing his Jour­nal. How can we find ways to repli­cate his kind of faith­ful­ness and wit­ness today? Again, his Jour­nal doesn’t give much clue.

Read­ing John Wool­man Series

  • Part One: “The Pub­lic Life of a Pri­vate Man”
  • Part Two: “The Last Safe Quaker
  • Part Three: The Iso­lat­ed Saint (this page)
  • Part Four: I Real­ly Do Like Woolman!

Picked up today in the Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing Library:

PYM Librar­i­an Rita Var­ley remind­ed me today they mail books any­where in the US for a mod­est fee and a $50/year sub­scrip­tion. It’s a great deal and a great ser­vice, espe­cial­ly for iso­lat­ed Friends. The PYM cat­a­log is online too!