Two Years of the Quaker Ranter and Quaker Blogs

An amaz­ing thing has hap­pened in the last two years: we’ve got Friends from the cor­ners of Quak­erism shar­ing our sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences, our frus­tra­tions and dreams through Quak­er blogs. Dis­en­chant­ed Friends who have longed for deep­er con­ver­sa­tion and con­so­la­tion when things are hard at their local meet­ing have built a net­work of Friends who under­stand. When our gen­er­a­tion is set­tling down to write our mem­oirs — our Quak­er jour­nals — a lot of us will have to have at least one chap­ter about becom­ing involved in the Quak­er blog­ging community.

My per­son­al site before and after it became “Quak­er Ranter.”

When I signed off on my last post, I promised I would con­tin­ue with some­thing on “blogs, min­istry and lib­er­al Quak­er out­reach.” Here’s the first of the follow-ups.

As I set­tle in to my sec­ond week at my new (and newly-defined) jobs at FGC, I won­der if I be here with­out help of the Quak­er Ranter? I start­ed this blog two sum­mers ago. It was a time when I felt like I might be head­ed toward mem­ber­ship in the lost Quak­er gen­er­a­tion that was the focus of one of my ear­li­est posts. There were a lot of dead-ends in my life. A cou­ple of appli­ca­tions for more seri­ous, respon­si­ble employ­ment with Friends had recent­ly gone nowhere. Life at my month­ly meet­ing was odd (we’ll keep it at that). I felt I was com­ing into a deep­er expe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge of my Quak­erism and per­haps inch­ing toward more overt min­istry but there was no out­let, no sense of how this inward trans­for­ma­tion might fit into any sort of out­ward social form or forum.

Every­where I looked I saw Friends short­com­ing them­selves and our reli­gious soci­ety with a don’t-rock-the-boat timid­i­ty that wasn’t serv­ing God’s pur­pose for us. I saw pre­cious lit­tle prophet­ic min­istry. I knew of few Friends who were ask­ing chal­leng­ing ques­tions about our wor­ship life. Our lan­guage about God was becom­ing ever more cod­ed and ster­il­ized. Most of the twenty-somethings I knew gen­er­al­ly approached Quak­erism pri­mar­i­ly as a series of cul­tur­al norms with only dif­fer­ent stan­dards from one year­ly meet­ing to anoth­er (and one Quak­er branch to anoth­er, I suspect) .
With all this as back­drop, I start­ed the Quak­er Ranter with a nothing-left-to-lose men­tal­i­ty. I was ner­vous about push­ing bound­aries and about broach­ing things pub­licly that most Friends only say in hushed tones of two or three on meet­ing­house steps. I was also dou­bly ner­vous about being a Quak­er employ­ee talk­ing about this stuff (liveli­hood and all that!). The few Quak­er blogs that were out there were gen­er­al­ly blogs by Quak­ers but about any­thing but Quak­erism, pol­i­tics being the most com­mon topic.

Now sure, a lot of this hasn’t changed over these few years. But one thing has: we now have a vibrant com­mu­ni­ty of Quak­er blog­gers. We’ve got folks from the cor­ners of Quak­erism get­ting to know one anoth­er and hash out not just our sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences, but our frus­tra­tions and dreams. It’s so cool. There’s some­thing hap­pen­ing in all this! Dis­en­chant­ed Friends who have longed for deep­er con­ver­sa­tion and con­so­la­tion when things are hard at their local meet­ing are find­ing Friends who understand.

Through the blog and the com­mu­ni­ty that formed around it I’ve found a voice. I’m evolv­ing, cer­tain­ly, through read­ing, life, blog con­ver­sa­tions and most impor­tant­ly (I hope!) the act­ing of the Holy Spir­it on my ever-resistant ego. But because of my blog I’m some­one who now feels com­fort­able talk­ing about what it means to be a Quak­er in a pub­lic set­ting. It almost seems quaint to think back to the ear­ly blog con­ver­sa­tions about whether we can call this a kind of min­istry. When we’re all set­tling down to write our mem­oirs — our Quak­er jour­nals — a lot of us will have to have at least one chap­ter about becom­ing involved in the Quak­er blog­ging com­mu­ni­ty. In Howard Brinton’s Quak­er Jour­nals he enu­mer­at­ed the steps toward growth in the min­istry that most of the writ­ers seemed to go through; I sus­pect the jour­nals of our gen­er­a­tion will add self-published elec­tron­ic media to it’s list of clas­sic steps.

When I start­ed Quak­er Ranter I did have to won­der if this might be a quick­est way to get fired. Not to cast asper­sions on the powers-that-be at FGC but the web is full of cau­tion­ary tales of peo­ple being canned because of too-public blogs. My only con­so­la­tion was the sense that no one that mat­tered real­ly read the thing. But as it became more promi­nent a curi­ous phe­nom­e­non hap­pened: even Quak­er staff and über-insiders seemed to be relat­ing to this con­ver­sa­tion and want­ed a place to com­plain and dream about Quak­erism. My per­son­al rep­u­ta­tion has cer­tain­ly gone up because of this site, direct­ly and indi­rect­ly because of the blog. This brings with it the snares of pop­u­lar praise (itself a well-worn theme in Quak­er jour­nals) but it also made it more like­ly I would be con­sid­ered for my new out­reach job. It’s fun­ny how life works.
Okay, that’s enough for a post. I’ll have to keep out­reach till next time. But bear with me: it’s about form too and how form con­tributes to ministry.

PS: Talk­ing of two years of Quak­er blog­ging… My “Non​vi​o​lence​.org turns ten years old this Thurs­day!! I thought about mak­ing a big deal about it but alas there’s so lit­tle time.

  • Hey there, Mar­tin. Your faith­ful­ness to the lead­ing to start a blog and be open with your ques­tions and ideas about Quak­erism has cer­tain­ly borne fruit, I’d say. I find my heart glad­dened to read your reflec­tions of the last two years.
    I won­der if I hadn’t talked with you at the Gath­er­ing store two years ago when you men­tioned your blog and I men­tioned that I see myself as a Conservative-leaning Friend, how things might be for me…
    I am a believ­er in “dis­cern­ing and doing the very next thing that’s right in front of me” and the rest will take care of itself. I sense that for you, “the rest” is now tak­en care of. Or at least the “very next thing” is!
    And con­grat­u­la­tions for the 10 years for Non​vi​o​lence​.org too.
    Liz, The Good Raised Up

  • I’ve real­ly appre­ci­at­ed what you’ve done in call­ing atten­tion to Quak­er blogs. For a while there, I was the only Quak­er blog I knew about, and I wasn’t blog­ging a whole lot about Quak­erism. It’s good to know there’s a whole horde of others.

  • Kent

    Thank you, Mar­tin, for pro­vid­ing this ser­vice. I checked out Quak­er sites on the Web two or three years ago, and found — as you indi­cat­ed — very lit­tle blog­ging deal­ing with real issues of faith.
    And so I didn’t both­er look­ing again until this sum­mer, when I dis­cov­ered Quak­er Blog Watch — which has sur­prised me by putting me in touch with a world of oth­ers who seem to have sim­i­lar con­cerns to mine and be seek­ing sim­i­lar things in their faith jour­neys. In fact, I’ve been fair­ly astound­ed that so many Quak­ers from so many dif­fer­ent Quak­er­ly back­grounds have thoughts and ques­tions so sim­i­lar to my own.
    I too am at the lib­er­al end of the Con­ser­v­a­tive tra­di­tion, or pos­si­bly at the con­ser­v­a­tive end of the lib­er­al tra­di­tion or some­thing like that. More impor­tant­ly, I too seek to walk with the Liv­ing God, and see that as more impor­tant than labels like “lib­er­al” and “con­ser­v­a­tive” — but also see much to learn from all of our Quak­er his­to­ry, even the dis­putes. Know­ing that oth­ers have sim­i­lar hopes and con­cerns, and being able to see their ideas unfold in dia­logue across blogs, is incred­i­bly valu­able. I appre­ci­ate the very sup­port­ive com­mu­ni­ty at my own Month­ly Meet­ing, but this very inter­ac­tive, vibrant online com­mu­ni­ty makes me feel con­nect­ed to a Quak­er body and tra­di­tion and con­ver­sa­tion which is even larg­er. (With the result that I now real­ize I need to be more involved with my Year­ly Meet­ing as well.)
    So far, I’ve most­ly been sit­ting back and lis­ten­ing to what oth­ers have to say in this great con­ver­sa­tion, since I am learn­ing so much. But I’ve been great­ly com­fort­ed by all the answers and spec­u­la­tions and encour­age­ments flow­ing back and forth. And I think it is at least par­ty enabled by Quak­er Blog Watch.
    So thank you, Martin!

  • Mar­tin,
    Con­grat­u­la­tions on the mile­stones! And many thanks to you for your online min­istry. Pri­or to dis­cov­er­ing QR, I was begin­ning to feel spir­i­tu­al­ly dry and out-of-place in my rela­tion­ship to my month­ly meet­ing and Friends in gen­er­al. As I cast about in frus­tra­tion for Quak­er spir­i­tu­al sus­te­nance of the kind that wasn’t writ­ten down 300 years ago, I came across this site — and through it, the vibrant Quak­er blog­ging com­mu­ni­ty you mention.
    The result­ing change in my per­son­al spir­i­tu­al prac­tice, and in my feel­ings of con­nect­ed­ness to Quak­erism, has been deep, qui­et, and pro­found­ly refresh­ing. Thank you for hold­ing open this vir­tu­al door through which I was able to dis­cov­er Friends in the Light whom I had nev­er met before.

  • Hi Liz: Oh yes, the Gath­er­ing book­store is a great place for con­ver­sa­tions like that!
    Lynn: that’s right, yours was one of the few blogs when I started.
    It’s inter­est­ing to see how the tone of blogs have dif­fered from the Quak­er news­groups that pre­ced­ed them (and that con­tin­ue of course). I nev­er could stand too much of the news­groups: the over-intellectualized hol­low­ness and mean-spiritedness of too many of the con­ver­sa­tions. It didn’t seem like many of the reg­u­lars were (or could be) involved in the human­ness of a month­ly meet­ing. The aver­age Quak­er blog­ger might not be the con­su­mate committee-Friend but at least we’re in the meet­ing­house. So many of us have a hard time feel­ing ful­ly engaged in the meet­ing life and I won­der if it’s because Friends today have so de-emphasized the kind of roles we might nat­ur­al play in our meet­ings. I’m read­ing 18th Cen­tu­ry min­is­ter “Samuel Bow­nas”:http://​www​.quaker​books​.org/​g​e​t/0 – 87574-911 – 9 now and I’m won­der­ing if today he’d be anoth­er vague­ly dis­en­chant­ed back­bencher won­der­ing if he real­ly fit it.
    Kent and Kevin: you both speak to being nour­ished by a con­ver­sa­tion you weren’t hav­ing before. It’s inter­est­ing to see how the inter­net is pulling us out past our meet­ing­house doors into fel­low­ship with the larg­er Quak­er church. This is a kind of trav­el­ing min­istry some­times, isn’t it?

  • Mar­tin,
    Heaps of bless­ings upon you for this min­istry! I’ve been an enthu­si­ast ever since find­ing your site through Lynn’s last spring.
    Man, I know what you mean about the news­groups and list­servs. I signed up for Quaker-L before Quaker-P split off and end­ed up sign­ing off after a year or so.
    I haven’t had as much time to fol­low blogs or post as I’d like, in small part because I am blessed to be ful­ly engaged in my month­ly, quar­ter­ly, and year­ly meet­ings, in con­trast to the expe­ri­ence Mar­tin and oth­ers have had.
    I hope to have more to say about how I found Quak­er blogs soon on my OWN new blog, Chris M.: Tables, Chairs and Oak­en Chests. How­ev­er, I’m start­ing off with a sil­ly top­ic that means a great deal to me, because it’s been on my mind for months now.
    Real­ly, Mar­tin, thank you for your service.

  • Gee, Mar­tin, I went from a woman with a full life and a ful­fill­ing rela­tion­ship with my Quak­er Meet­ing, to a woman with the same life who real­ly just wants to sit around and read Quak­er blogs. Some­times I’m not sure this was a good thing…
    On the oth­er hand, my rela­tion­ship with my Month­ly, Quar­ter­ly and Year­ly Meet­ing has tak­en on new per­spec­tive since I first start­ed read­ing the Quak­er Ranter about eight months ago. I appre­ci­ate what I have here more.
    I have trav­eled more wide­ly among Quak­er cir­cles than I ever would have with­out the Inter­net con­nec­tion: evan­gel­i­cal Friends’ blogs, reports on FGC, FUM, North­west YM, North­ern YM, Iowa YM©.
    I’ve read some won­der­ful books because they were rec­om­mend­ed by blog­gers: Howard Brinton’s Quak­er Jour­nals, for one.
    And I find that I am not just mak­ing new friends, but I am meet­ing friends of friends — not that I per­son­al­ly have ever met many blog­gers, but many of the blog­gers I read are known in real life by some­body I do know. Does that make sense? The Quak­er world is not that big, maybe we’re all with­in three or four degrees of sep­a­ra­tion. And I think that strength­en­ing these bonds is good for all of us. The few friend­ly con­ver­sa­tions I’ve had by phone and email and in per­son! with oth­er blog­gers are a sup­port and a joy.
    So thank you. Really.

  • Friend Mar­tin,
    I’m hap­py to read that the world­ly con­cerns of life have set­tled for you, and even pro­vide an open door to pur­sue some of the con­erns that, I believe, God has laid on your heart. Hurray!
    I always look for­ward to posts on your blog. You are a sort of “sheep herder” for the rest of us, if only by pro­vid­ing a per­son and site where dif­fer­ent wan­der­ing, search­ing, hun­ger­ing, and curi­ous “back-benchers”, pas­tors, and church mem­bers can stop by and meet each oth­er. I am very thank­ful for your work here and how it’s impact­ed myself and oth­ers in the Quak­er blogosphere.
    By the way, I was frankly sur­prised, when I first searched for Quak­er blogs, how lit­tle they had to write about Quak­erism. Noth­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly wrong with that, but hon­est­ly it was rare or noth­ing. And you are com­plete­ly accu­rate about the Quak­er news groups. I par­tic­i­pat­ed in that for about six months in the late 1990’s. Can you say, “let’s argue about pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics ad nau­se­um”, any­one? Ahhh!
    The Quak­er blog com­mu­ni­ty, in all its spec­trums, is a much more nur­tur­ing, help­ful, and engag­ing expe­ri­ence. Praise God! And you have been a big part of that. Verily!
    So thanks again, you, Friend, you! And con­grats on the 10 year anniver­sary of Non​vi​o​lence​.org.

  • Hi Mar­tin:
    Like the oth­ers, I’m glad you took the risk to do the QR. It was an inspi­ra­tion for me to open about my own bumpy jour­ney towards out­reach or min­istry. It’s also been a cat­a­lyst for a broad­er com­mu­ni­ty to devel­op. I’m very excit­ed about your new post with FGC and I beleive it’s the begin­ning of good things. You know you can call on me to sup­port your efforts.
    All the best,

  • Mar­tin,
    I’ve been fol­low­ing your blog for about a year now. It intro­duced me to the entire Quak­er blog­ging uni­verse and has giv­en me a lot of food for thought and reflec­tion (and most recent­ly led to open­ing my own blog-shop). I haven’t always agreed with your posts: in my case you have both “com­fort­ed the afflict­ed” and “afflict­ed the com­fort­able.” While I often can’t “me-too” with you the­o­log­i­cal­ly, your writ­ing has helped sharp­en my own com­mit­ment to a Quak­erism that is cen­tered on “that which does not pro­ceed from my own imag­in­ings” — one way in which I most inel­e­gant­ly define “God.”
    So I’m grate­ful for your blog­ging min­istry and am grat­i­fied as well that you will be involved in out­reach with FGC. Out­reach is a thing that has most con­cerned me here in the sparsely-Quakered envi­rons of SCYM!

  • Mar­tin: I have so much enjoyed get­ting lost in your blog and oth­ers today.
    I’m hop­ing you might point me in the direc­tion I was hop­ing to go when I started.
    I am look­ing for wis­dom, queries, dis­cus­sion about work­ing with the old style of Quak­er Jour­nal­ing, in the con­text of blogs. I have been shar­ing a blog about my Call to teach­ing the con­tem­pla­tive prac­tice of QiGong inside pris­ons for a year now. As I just reread the year, I was dis­ap­point­ed in myself for my lack of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and absorp­tion with the dai­ly goings on, vers­es the spir­i­tu­al con­text, strug­gles and chal­lenges that I have been through this year… Oth­ers may not be so hard on me as I am with myself, but I want to move in a deep­er direction.
    Can you point me to blogs of oth­er social activists work­ing out their Call­ings and talk­ing about them in a spir­i­tu­al con­text, maybe even as fel­low Quakers?
    I am ready to trans­form this blog of mine and seek­ing eldering.
    I am con­cerned about pit­falls of pride held up with demon­strat­ing the con­fi­dence that allows our life to preach espe­cial­ly in the con­text of writ­ing about spir­i­tu­al experiences.
    Judy Tretheway
    Pieces I cliped out of places I’ve been today:
    (it is so much of a cliché of old Quak­er jour­nals that lit­er­ary types clas­si­fy it as part of the essen­tial struc­ture of the journals
    What is the essen­tial struc­ture of a Quak­er Journal?
    For me, it is impor­tant to be ready to be trans­formed, ready to yield to the lead­ings of the Spir­it, wher­ev­er the Spir­it may take us. Mak­ing a deci­sion based on rea­son has sel­dom had the last­ing effect for me as mak­ing a deci­sion based on readi­ness and faithfulness.
    We are but sim­ple human crea­tures and it is hard for us not to secret­ly ten­der some sort of pride with­in for what we’ve done — this of course is kin­dling for the Tempter. But if we trust in that which is eter­nal, and wait upon that proof, we can hold true.