Wikifying Our Blogging

Con­tin­u­ing my recent post in reimag­in­ing blogs, I’m going to go into some con­tex­tu­al details lift­ed from the Quak­er pub­li­ca­tions with which I’m either direct­ly asso­ci­at­ed or that have some claim to my identity.

My blog at Quak­er Ranter dates back to the proto-blog I began in 1997 as an new home­page for my two year old “Non­vi­o­lence Web” project. The new fea­ture was updat­ed week­ly with excerpt­ed mate­r­i­al from mem­ber projects on Non​vi​o​lence​.org and relat­ed orga­ni­za­tions that already had inde­pen­dent web­sites. We didn’t have RSS or Twit­ter then but I would man­u­al­ly send out emails to a list; we didn’t have com­ments but I would pub­lish inter­est­ing respons­es that came by email. The work was relaunched with blog­ging soft­ware in 2003 and the voice became more indi­vid­ual and my focus became more Quak­er and tech.

The arti­cles then were like they are now: reverse­ly chrono­log­i­cal, with cat­e­gories, tag­ging, and site search­ing that allow old­er mate­r­i­al to be accessed. The most impor­tant source of archive vis­i­bil­i­ty is exter­nal: Google. Peo­ple can eas­i­ly find mate­r­i­al that is direct­ly rel­e­vant to a ques­tion they’re address­ing right now. In many instances, they’ll nev­er even click through to the site home­page, much less cat­e­gories, tags, etc. As I said in my last post, these first-time vis­i­tors are often try­ing to under­stand some­thing new; the great major­i­ty bounce off the page and fol­low anoth­er search result on a mat­ter of a few sec­onds, but some small but impor­tant per­cent­age will be ripe for new ideas and con­nec­tions and might be will­ing to try new associations.

But it’s ran­dom. I’m a bit of a nerd in my cho­sen inter­ests and have been blog­ging long enough that I gen­er­al­ly have at least a few inter­est­ing posts on any par­tic­u­lar sub-topic. Most of these have been inspired by col­leagues, friends, my wife, and ran­dom con­ver­sa­tions I’ve found myself in.

Some of the most mean­ing­ful blog posts – those with legs – have involved me inte­grat­ing some new thinker or idea into my world­view. The process will have start­ed months or some­times years before when anoth­er spir­i­tu­al nerd rec­om­mend­ed a book or arti­cle. In the faith world there’s always books that are obscure to new­com­ers but essen­tial for those try­ing to go deep­er into their faith. You’ll be in a deep con­ver­sa­tions with some­one and they’ll ask (often with a twin­kle in their eye) “have you read so-and-so?” (This cul­ture if shar­ing is espe­cial­ly impor­tant for Friends, who tra­di­tion­al­ly have no cler­gy or seminaries).

A major role of my blog has been to bring these sorts of con­ver­sa­tions into a pub­lic realm – one that can be Googled and fol­lowed. The inter­net has helped us scale-up this process and make it more avail­able to those who can’t con­stant­ly travel.

When I have real-world con­ver­sa­tions now, I often have recourse to cite some old blog post. I’m shar­ing the “have you read” con­ver­sa­tion in a way that can be eaves­dropped by hundreds.

But how are peo­ple who stum­ble in my site for the first time going to find this?

The issue isn’t just lim­it­ed to an obscure faith blog. Yes­ter­day I learned about a cool (to me) blog writ­ten by a dad who research­es and trav­els to neat nature spots in the area with his kids and writes up a post about what-to-see and kid-issues-to-be-aware-of. But when it’s a nice Sat­ur­day after­noon and I find myself in a cer­tain locale, how can I know if he’s been any­where near­by unless I go through all the archives or hope the search works or hope his blog’s cat­e­go­riza­tion tax­on­o­my is complete?

What I’m think­ing is that we could try to cre­ate meta index­es to our blogs in a wiki mod­el. Have a whole col­lec­tion of intro­duc­to­ry pages where we list and sum­ma­rize rel­e­vant arti­cles with links.

In the hey­day of SEO, I used to tag the heck out if posts and have the pages act as a sort of auto­mat­ed ver­sion of this, but again, this it was chrono­log­i­cal. And it was work. Even remem­ber­ing to tag is work. I would spend a cou­ple of days ignor­ing clients to metatag each page on the site, only to redo the work a few months lat­er with even more meta­da­ta com­plex­i­ty. Writ­ing a whole shad­ow meta blog index­ing the blog would be a major (and unend­ing task). It wouldn’t gar­ner the rush of imme­di­ate Face­book likes. But it would be supreme­ly use­ful for some­one want­i­ng to explore an issue of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to them at that moment.

And one more Quak­er aside that I think will nev­er­the­less be of inter­est to the more techie read­ers. I’ve described Quak­erism as a wiki spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Exhib­it one is the reli­gious movement’s ini­tial lack of creeds or writ­ten instruc­tion. Even our paci­fism, for which we’re most well known, was an uncod­i­fied tes­ti­mo­ny in the ear­li­est years.

As Friends gained more expe­ri­ence liv­ing in com­mu­ni­ty, they would pub­lish advices – short snip­pets of wis­dom that were collectively-approved using con­sen­sus deci­sion mak­ing. They were based on expe­ri­ence. For exam­ple, they might find that mem­bers who abused alco­hol, say, or repeat­ed­ly test­ed the dress code might cause oth­er sorts of prob­lems for the com­mu­ni­ty and they’d minute a warn­ing against these practices.

These advices were writ­ten over time; as more were approved it became bur­den­some to find rel­e­vant advices when some issue start­ed tear­ing up a con­gre­ga­tion. So they were col­lect­ed into books – unof­fi­cial at first, lit­er­al­ly hand-copied from per­son to per­son. These even­tu­al­ly became offi­cial – pub­lished “books of dis­ci­plines,” col­lec­tions of the col­lec­tive wis­dom orga­nized by top­ic. Their pur­pose and scope (and even their name) has changed over the ensu­ing cen­turies but their impulse and ear­ly orga­ni­za­tion is one that I find use­ful when think­ing about how we could rethink the cat­e­go­riza­tion issues of our twen­ty first cen­tu­ry blogs and com­ment­ing systems.

The Quaker testimonies as our collective wisdom wiki


My sort-of response to Callid's great Youtube piece on the Quaker testimonies, I compare the classic testimonies to a wiki: the collective knowledge of Friends distilled into specific cautions and guides. "We as Friends have found that...." I do talk about how the recent "SPICE" simplification (simplicity, integrity, integrity, community and equality) has robbed our notion of testimonies of some of their power.

For other uses, see Light (disambiguation)

Even though my last post was a five minute quick­ie, it gen­er­at­ed a num­ber of com­ments. One ques­tion that came up was how aware indi­vid­ual Friends are about the spe­cif­ic Quak­er mean­ings of some of the com­mon Eng­lish words we use — “Light,” “Spir­it,” etc.(dis­am­bigua­tion in Wiki-speak). Mar­shall Massey expressed sad­ness that the terms were used uncom­pre­hend­ing­ly and I sug­gest­ed that some Friends know­ing­ly con­fuse the gener­ic and spe­cif­ic mean­ings. Mar­shall replied that if this were so it might be a cul­tur­al dif­fer­ence based on geography.

If it’s a cul­tur­al dif­fer­ence, I sus­pect it’s less geo­graph­ic than func­tion­al. I was speak­ing of the class of pro­fes­sion­al Friends (heavy in my parts) who pur­pose­ful­ly obscure their lan­guage. We’re very good at talk­ing in a way that sounds Quak­er to those who do know our spe­cif­ic lan­guage but that sounds gener­i­cal­ly spir­i­tu­al to those who don’t. Some­times this obscu­ran­tism is used by peo­ple who are repelled by tra­di­tion­al Quak­erism but want to advance their ideas in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends, but more often (and more dan­ger­ous­ly) it’s used by Friends who know and love what we are but are loathe to say any­thing that might sound controversial.

I’ve told the sto­ry before of a Friend and friend who said that every­time he uses the word com­mu­ni­ty he’s mean­ing the body of Christ. New­com­ers hear­ing him and read­ing his arti­cles could be for­giv­en for think­ing that com­mu­ni­ty is our reason-for-being, indeed: what we wor­ship. The prob­lem is that ten years lat­er, they’ll have signed up and built up an iden­ti­ty as a Friend and will get all offend­ed when some­one sug­gests that this com­mu­ni­ty they know and love is real­ly the body of Christ.

Lib­er­al Friends in the pub­lic eye need to be more hon­est in their con­ver­sa­tion about the Bib­li­cal and Chris­t­ian roots of our reli­gious fel­low­ship. That will scare off poten­tial mem­bers who have been scarred by the acts of those who have false­ly claimed Christ. I’m sor­ry about that and we need to be as gen­tle and hum­ble about this as we can. But hope­ful­ly they’ll see the fruits of the true spir­it in our open­ness, our warmth and our giv­ing and will real­ize that Chris­t­ian fel­low­ship is not about tel­e­van­ge­lists and Pres­i­den­tial hyp­ocrites. Maybe they’ll even­tu­al­ly join or maybe not, but if they do at least they won’t be sur­prised by our iden­ti­ty. Before some­one com­ments back, I’m not say­ing that Chris­tian­i­ty needs to be a test for indi­vid­ual mem­ber­ship but new mem­bers should know that every­thing from our name (“Friends of Christ”) on down are root­ed in that tra­di­tion and that that for­mal mem­ber­ship does not include veto pow­er over our pub­lic identity.

There is room out there for spiritual-but-not-religious com­mu­ni­ties that aren’t built around a col­lec­tive wor­ship of God, don’t wor­ry about any par­tic­u­lar tra­di­tion and focus their ener­gies and group iden­ti­ty on lib­er­al social caus­es. But I guess part of what I won­der is why this doesn’t col­lect under the UUA ban­ner, whose Prin­ci­ples and Pur­pos­es state­ment is already much more syn­cretis­tic and post-religious than even the most lib­er­al year­ly meet­ing. Evolv­ing into the “oth­er UUA” would mean aban­don­ing most of the valu­able spir­i­tu­al wis­dom we have as a people.

I think there’s a need for the kind of strong lib­er­al Chris­tian­i­ty that Friends have prac­ticed for 350 years. There must be mil­lions of peo­ple parked on church bench­es every Sun­day morn­ing look­ing up at the pul­pit and think­ing to them­selves, “sure­ly this isn’t what Jesus was talk­ing about.” Look, we have Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians com­ing out against the war! And let’s face it, it’s only a mat­ter of time before “Emer­gent Chris­tians” real­ize how lame all that post-post can­dle wor­ship is and look for some­thing a lit­tle deep­er. The times are ripe for “Oppor­tu­ni­ties,” Friends. We have impor­tant knowl­edge to share about all this. It would be a shame if we kept quiet.

Call off the search parties

The retreat at the Carmelite Monastery was nice. Here's some pictures, the first of those "long-remembered":/if_i_dont_make_it_back.php tall stone walls and the rest of the beautiful chapel:
Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia
It was a silent retreat--for us at least. There were three talks about "Teresa of Avila":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_of_Avila given by Father Tim Byerley, who also works with the "Collegium Center":http://www.collegiumcenter.org/about.php, a kind of religious education outreach project for young adult Catholics in South Jersey (I mentioned it "a few months ago":http://www.quakerranter.org/teaching_quakerism_again.php as a model of young adult youth outreach that Friends might want to consider). Much of what Teresa has to say about prayer is universal and very applicable to Friends, though I have to admit I started spacing out by around the fourth mansion of the "Interior Castle":http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa/castle2.toc.html (I've never been good with numbered religious steps!).
I'm in no danger of following my wife Julie's journey from Friends to Catholicism, though as always I very much enjoyed being in the midst of a gathered group committed to a spirituality. The idea of religious life as self-abnegation is an important one for all Christians in an age where "me-ism":http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScWdek6_Ids&eurl has become the "secular state religion":http://www.walmart.com/ and I hope to return to it in the near future.

Pete Seeger gets YouTubed

pete seeger album coverThis morning I'm working on the "Pete Seeger":http://www.quakersong.org/pete_seeger/ section of Quakersong.org, the website of Annie Paterson and Peter Blood (I'm their webmaster). Parts of their site are amazing--the "Quakers and Music":http://www.quakersong.org/quakers_and_music/ page has become a directory of sorts for all the many Quaker musicians out there (who knew there were so many!). But the Pete Seeger is still mostly a collection of CDs that Peter & Annie have for sale.
So I was wondering what a good Pete Seeger page might look like and starting surfing around. There's a great "fan page":http://www.peteseeger.net/ which is regularly updated but has bravely decided to maintain its original design since it was founded eleven years ago. And "Wikipedia":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pete_seeger does its usual fine job at a biography. But the "gold mine is YouTube":http://youtube.com/results?search_query=pete+seeger&search=Search.
A year ago a user uploaded three clips from _Rainbow Quest_, a short-lived TV program Pete put together for a low-wattage UHF station out of Newark in the mid-60s (it's now a Telemundo affiliate broadcasting recycled Mexican soaps for its prime time schedule). I don't know what kind of copyright issues there are on something like this but it's great fun to see these old clips. Making this material widely available is one of the joys of YouTube (well, that and watching "recapturing the innocence of our over-commercialized youth":http://ofthebest.blogspot.com/2007/02/how-to-shed-20-years-in-20-seconds.html). I'll leave you with this, a clip of Pete singing with June Carter and Johnny "I'm soooo stoooned" Cash a few years before they married.

Visiting a Quaker School

I had an inter­est­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty last Thurs­day. I skipped work to be talk with two Quak­erism class­es at Philadelphia’s William Penn Char­ter School (thanks for the invite Michael and Thomas!). I was asked to talk about Quak­er blogs, of all things. Sim­ple, right? Well, on the pre­vi­ous Tues­day I hap­pened upon this pas­sage from Bri­an Drayton’s new book, On Liv­ing with a Con­cern for Gospel Min­istry:

I think that your work will have the great­est good effect if you wait to find whether and where the springs of love and divine life con­nect with this open­ing before you appear in the work. This is even true when you have had an invi­ta­tion to come and speak on a top­ic to a work­shop or some oth­er forum. It is wise to be sus­pi­cious of what is very easy, draws on your prac­ticed strengths and accom­plish­ments, and can be treat­ed as an every­day trans­ac­tion. (p. 149).

Good advice. Of course the role of min­istry is even more com­pli­cat­ed in that I wasn’t address­ing a Quak­er audi­ence: like the major­i­ty of Friends schools, few Penn Char­ter stu­dents actu­al­ly are Quak­er. I’m a pub­lic school kid, but it from the out­side it seems like Friends schools stress the ethos of Quak­erism (“here’s Penn Charter’s state­ment”). Again Dray­ton helped me think beyond nor­mal ideas of pros­e­ly­tiz­ing and out­reach when he talked about “pub­lic meetings”:

We are also called, I feel to invite oth­ers to share Christ direct­ly, not pri­mar­i­ly in order to intro­duce them to Quak­erism and bring them into our meet­ings, but to encour­age them to turn to the light and fol­low it” (p. 147).

What I shared with the stu­dents was some of the ways my inter­ac­tion with the Spir­it and my faith com­mu­ni­ty shapes my life. When we keep it real, this is a pro­found­ly uni­ver­sal­ist and wel­com­ing message.

I talked about the per­son­al aspect of blog­ging: in my opin­ion we’re at our best when we weave our the­ol­o­gy with with per­son­al sto­ries and tes­ti­monies of spe­cif­ic spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences. The stu­dents remind­ed me that this is also real world les­son: their great­est excite­ment and ques­tion­ing came when we start­ed talk­ing about my father (I used to tell the sto­ry of my com­plete­ly messed-up child­hood fam­i­ly life a lot but have been out of the habit late­ly as it’s reced­ed into the past). The stu­dents real­ly want­ed to under­stand not just my sto­ry but how it’s shaped my Quak­erism and influ­enced my com­ing to Friends. They asked some hard ques­tions and I was stuck hav­ing to give them hard answers (in that they were non-sentimental). When we share of our­selves, we present a wit­ness that can reach out to others.

Lat­er on, one of the teach­ers pro­ject­ed my blogroll on a screen and asked me about the peo­ple on it. I start­ed telling sto­ries, relat­ing cool blog posts that had stuck out in my mind. Wow: this is a pret­ty amaz­ing group, with diver­si­ty of ages and Quak­erism. Review­ing the list real­ly remind­ed me of the amaz­ing com­mu­ni­ty that’s come togeth­er over the last few years.

One inter­est­ing lit­tle snip­pet for the Quak­er cul­tur­al his­to­ri­ans out there: Penn Char­ter was the Gur­neyite school back in the day. When I got Michael’s email I was ini­tial­ly sur­prised they even had class­es on Quak­erism as it’s often thought of as one of the least Quak­er of the Philadelphia-area Quak­er schools. But think­ing on it, it made per­fect sense: the Gur­neyites loved edu­ca­tion; they brought Sun­day School (sor­ry, First Day School) into Quak­erism, along with Bible study and high­er edu­ca­tion. Of course the school that bears their lega­cy would teach Quak­erism. Inter­est­ing­ly enough, the his­tor­i­cal Ortho­dox school down the road aways recent­ly approached Penn Char­ter ask­ing about their Quak­er class­es; in true Wilbu­rite fash­ion, they’ve nev­er both­ered try­ing to teach Quak­erism. The offi­cial Philadel­phia Quak­er sto­ry is that branch­es were all fixed up nice and tidy back in 1955 but scratch the sur­face just about any­where and you’ll find Nine­teenth Cen­tu­ry atti­tudes still shap­ing our insti­tu­tion­al cul­ture. It’s pret­ty fas­ci­nat­ing really.