Monthly Archives: August 2017

Being Visible

When we look at outreach from the seeker’s perspective, the first step is, “I know that Quakers exist.” This is no small thing. A fair portion of the world genuinely believes that we are extinct; this includes a number of history teachers and, apparently, Snapple. (A few years ago, Snapple printed a “fact” on their bottle caps that read, By 1900, there were no more Quakers, a once dominant group on Nantucket.)

One of our problems is that there aren’t very many of us. Estimates indicate that there are around 400,000 Quakers in the world today. (We’re not so good at standing still to be counted.) In a world of eight billion people, that’s .005% of the world’s population. For every person in the world to personally know a Quaker, we’d each have to go make 20,000 friends. That might be ever-so-slightly out of reach.

But here’s what we can do: we can be visible. Unlike some other religions, Quakers are not instantly recognizable. (Well, most Quakers aren’t—there are still a few of us who dress Plain.) This isn’t about public evangelism; it’s just about public visibility. It’s about showing a human being (ourselves), labeled “Quaker” in some way.

I do it with a bracelet. I wear a black rubber bracelet that says Quaker every time I leave the house. Never yet has anyone asked me about it, but occasionally I catch people staring at it in the grocery store line or on the subway. And I figure that once they’ve seen it, that’s enough—that’s the goal. Now this person knows that there are people today who call themselves Quakers.

These bracelets aren’t sold anywhere, as far as I know. I ordered two hundred of them last August, and I’ve been giving them away to other Quakers, everywhere I go, for a year. I recently ran out—hooray! More are coming.

If a bracelet’s not your style, there are other ways to make this happen. Last spring, my friend Jennifer Swann and I co-facilitated an outreach workshop, and we asked participants to come up with a list of ways to be visibly Quaker. Here’s some of what they suggested:

– Quaker swag (bracelets, hats, T-shirts)

– Bumper stickers

– Social media posts and Quaker memes shared on your personal social media accounts

– A Quaker quotation in the signature of your emails

– Quaker yard sign

– Quaker books on your bookshelves at your office

– Not avoiding the word “Quaker” when it comes up naturally in conversations

That last one deserves a little explanation. What we meant was a scenario like this:

NEIGHBOR: Hey, how you doing?

QUAKER: Good. How are you?

NEIGHBOR: Oh, great. You got plans for the weekend?

QUAKER: Yeah. I’m going to a conference.

NEIGHBOR: Cool. Have a great time.

Now, let’s add one extra word:

NEIGHBOR: Hey, how you doing?

QUAKER: Good. How are you?

NEIGHBOR: Oh, great. You got plans for the weekend?

QUAKER: Yeah. I’m going to a Quaker conference.

NEIGHBOR: Cool. Have a great time.

Did you see it? Chances are good that adding that one word isn’t actually going to change the flow of the conversation—although it could, if the person was curious and decided to follow up, and that might not be a bad thing. But really, the only difference is, the neighbor now knows you’re a Quaker. Before, the neighbor might not have known that. It’s not about evangelizing. It’s just about making sure the neighbor knows that Quakers are a thing.

In what other ways can we be visible as Quakers?

From Seeker to Quaker

I started seeking a faith community when I was ten years old. I knew exactly what I was looking for. I knew because I knew God; I knew God as a loving being who was beyond requiring specific ceremonies, who spoke to all His children directly, and who grieved when He saw any of His children in pain. (I was also pretty sure that God wasn’t literally male, but it helped me to think of Him with a gender, and I didn’t think He’d mind.)

It took me seventeen years to find Quakers.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know Quakers existed. It’s just that I thought they were something like the Amish. Quakers aren’t out there in theological circles—or, for that matter, in popular culture. We’re out there in the peace activism world, but I wasn’t a peace activist, so I didn’t find us. I can remember many times, especially once I’d graduated from college and become a full-fledged adult, when I wept because I was convinced that I would never find my faith community, that I would simply be alone in my journey with God.

When I finally did come to Quakers, it was a matter of desperation. I’d tried everything else! So even if Quakers did turn out to be Amish, what did I have to lose?

The first meeting I went to was entirely silent, which frankly annoyed me because I didn’t know anything more after the first meeting than I did before it. In the second meeting, someone stood up and quoted George Fox: “There is that of God in everyone.” And that was it. I knew I was home.

In time, what started as overwhelming gratitude (I’ve found you!) turned into serious anger (Where the heck have you been?) and, now, hope (We can do better. We can make sure nobody else ever has to search for us for seventeen years.)

Now, here’s the thing about outreach:

It is everybody’s job.

That’s the kind of statement that always gets some resistance, mostly because we recognize as Friends that we all have different gifts and that not all of us all called to the same things. And this is most certainly true. But outreach isn’t about a single thing. When we try to pull it out—make it the work of a particular committee or define it as a short list of tasks—we end up talking about a small piece of outreach but not actually the entire picture.

Let’s see what happens if turn the question inside out, so it’s not “How do we do outreach?” but instead, “What is the path of the seeker?” What has to happen for the seeker in order to get from person looking for a faith community to integrated member of a Quaker meeting with a strong sense of belonging and purpose?

I think there are six basic steps:

1) I know that Quakers exist.

2) I have found a Quaker meeting in my area.

3) I have decided to visit the meeting.

4) I have visited the meeting and have decided to come back.

5) I have developed a sense of belonging in the first few months of attending.

6) I am experiencing long-term spiritual nurture, and I’m providing this nurture to others as well.

Now the questions for Friends become:

1) How can we make sure that seekers know Quakers exist?

2) How can we help seekers find our local Quaker meeting?

3) How can we make it easy for seekers to decide to visit the meeting?

4) How can we make sure that the first visit helps seekers decide to come back?

5) How can we help new attenders to develop a sense of belonging?

6) How can we provide long-term spiritual nurture to all of our members/attenders and create opportunities for each Friend to provide that long-term spiritual nurture to others?

This is why outreach is everybody’s job. All of us have gifts directly related to at least one of those six steps.

In the next few weeks, my intention is to write about each of these six steps and the various tasks associated with them, as well as to emphasize the ways in which each of us plays a part in this work.

Can you immediately see where your own gifts are in this sequence?

Does it raise up other thoughts or questions?

The Unconditional Yes: A Conversation with God in Many, Many Parts

[Scene One]

Do you trust Me?

Yes.

Do you trust Me?

Of course.

Do you really trust Me?

Okay, I said yes, but now You’re starting to make me nervous.

Will you follow Me?

Where?

Will you follow Me?

Where?

Will you follow Me?

Seriously, I could use some more information.

Okay. I’ll wait. I love you.

 

[Scene Two]

Do you trust Me?

We’ve had this conversation before.

Do you trust Me?

Why do you keep asking me this?

Do you trust Me?

This is freaking me out.

Do you trust Me?

…Yes.

Good. I love you.

 

[Scene Three]

Do you trust Me?

I do. I really do.

Will you follow Me?

Yes. I will.

I love you.

 

[Scene Four]

I need you to do a thing.

What thing?

This thing…

Wait. What?

I know you heard Me.

You’ve made a mistake.

I don’t think so.

I’m not ready for that.

Okay. I’ll wait. I love you.

 

[Scene Five]

Are you doing the thing?

Shhh. I’m pretending You never said anything.

Okay. I love you.

 

[Scene Six]

Are you doing the thing?

No.

Huh. That’s interesting.

I’m not doing the thing.

I know. You just said that.

I’m not doing the thing.

I know. I’m listening.

I can’t do the thing.

…Really?

I can’t do the thing.

Are you sure?

I’m scared to do the thing.

There you go.

Help.

I’m right here. I love you.

 

[Scene Seven]

Hey, look at you! You’re doing the thing!

I know.

How’s it going?

It’s somewhat less horrible than I thought it would be.

I’m proud of you.

Thanks.

I love you.

 

[Scene Eight]

Um…

I’m here.

I screwed up the thing.

I know. I still love you every bit as much.

 

[Scene Nine]

I did the thing!

I know! I saw you!

I did the thing!

Yes, you did! Good job!

That was incredible! That was amazing! I mean, it was really hard, but You helped, and I did it, and now I see that—

I need you to do another thing.

What?

I said I need you to do another thing.

What thing? I just did a thing.

Yes, and now I need you to do another thing.

Well, that’s no fair.

We never talked about “fair.”

…what’s the thing?

This thing…

You’ve got to be kidding!

No, seriously.

I can’t do that thing!

You’re right.

No, I’m literally incapable of doing that thing.

That’s true.

You’re not making very much sense.

I’m going to change you.

Change me?

I’m going to change you, so you can do the thing.

Well…holy crap. That’s not what I expected you to say.

I love you so much.

I love you, too.

 

[Scene Ten]

Hey, just checking in.

Hi.

I love you.

Love you, too.

 

[Scene Eleven]

This is scary! This is so scary! What the heck is happening? Everything’s falling apart! Where are you? Stop stop stop stop stop stop stop! Too much! Too much! Say something! Say something!

I’m changing you. So you can do the thing.

Well, I don’t like it! This is the worst experience of my life!

(weeping)

Please stop it?

I love you.

You’re not acting like it.

 

[Scene Twelve]

I love you.

I’m not speaking to You right now.

Okay.

 

[Scene Thirteen]

Are You still there?

Yes. And I love you.

Okay.

 

[Scene Fourteen]

Wow. That’s a pretty tree.

Thanks.

I’m still mad at you.

Okay.

Is the changing me part over yet?

Not yet.

It’s taking too long.

I know. I love you.

 

[Scene Fifteen]

You’re ready to do the thing.

I know. That happened fast.

You’re going to have to change more later.

I’m going to pretend You didn’t say that, okay?

Have you noticed you’re already doing the thing?

I’m not doing the—oh, wait! You’re right! I already started!

Also, while you’re working on that, I need you to do these other six things.

Is this all written down someplace? Could you send me an email with a Power Point?

I love you so much.

I love you, too.

 

[Scene Sixteen]

Hey, this is fun!

I love to hear you say that.

 

[Scene Seventeen]

Something awful just happened.

I know. I saw.

Is this another changing part?

Sometimes awful things just happen.

Will you make it go away, please?

I’m so sorry. Not this time.

But it tears me apart when people I love are hurting.

Me too. And I really love you.

 

[Scene Eighteen]

How are you doing?

That’s a hard question to answer. I’m inside out and upside down…and I’ve been through things that are harder than I ever thought I’d face…and I’ve done things I never thought I’d ever be able to do…and miracles have happened…and I’m tired but I’m also totally exhilarated. And I’m trying to explain what happened to other people but a lot of them don’t seem to understand.

What do you think happened?

…I’m not sure.

You said you would follow Me.

I barely remember that. Didn’t I say that back in Scene Three?

You said you would follow Me.

I didn’t know you meant all THIS!

I couldn’t tell you everything. You wouldn’t have understood.

You barely told me anything.

I told you as much as I could.

This is the weirdest journey ever.

That’s definitely true.

Also the best.

I’m so glad you think so.

It’s not over, is it?

Not even close. Will you do another thing for me?

Yes.

Getting Ourselves Together

This is the tenth of a series of ten blogs about ten cultural flips for multiage inclusion. It’s not enough to shift our culture. We really have to flip it.

 

Cultural Barrier #10: Consistent physical separation of age groups

Why is this a barrier to multiage inclusion?

When I wonder aloud about the physical separation of age groups among Friends—why our children are almost always in one space, our teens in another, our young adults in a third, and everyone else in a fourth—I tend to get one of two answers.

The first answer I get is, “Young people don’t want to be with the adults.” I’d say that this is partly true. Children and teens especially, though sometimes young adults as well, often don’t want to be in the traditionally adult spaces, but I’m not sure it’s because the people in those spaces are adults. I suspect it has a lot more to do with the culture we perpetuate there, a culture that leaves younger people out (because there’s very little play, a bunch of Quaker terms and other words that they don’t understand, a complicated set of rules that’s difficult to figure out, and a failure to rethink how we do things).

It’s worth noting that I almost never hear, “Older people don’t want the younger kids to be with them” or “Older people don’t want to go into the traditionally young-person spaces.” Both of these statements are often true, but we almost never say them out loud. Everything about the way that we age-segregate implies that the space for older adults is the “normal” space, and the spaces for younger people are the special spaces that we create because we are tolerant of the special needs of younger people. This attitude shows up in the way our schedules are written (with stuff for older adults in the main schedule, and notes or addendums being used to show where the younger people will be) and in the way we talk about and organize ourselves (with special committees and working groups for the programs for younger people, but no corresponding special committee or working group for the programs for older people, since that part of the work is done by whatever group is in charge of the program as a whole).

The second common answer to the question, “Why do we physically separate our age groups?” is considerably more meaty and, in my opinion, more meaningful. It has to do with the argument that setting up gatherings for young people only allows young people’s voices to be heard and their concerns addressed.  This is a lot like the separate women’s business meetings in the early days of Quakerism. Back then, segregating women allowed women to have a voice in a way that they could not have if men and women met together, simply because both men and women were trained by the culture they lived in to believe that, and behave as though, women’s voices were less important than men’s. Physically separating the women allowed the women to speak without being squished, intentionally or unintentionally, by either the men or by the women’s own hesitation to speak up in mixed-gender groups.

There’s a lot of value in this argument. A number of times, teens have actually told me, “You can’t have that meeting with all the ages together…none of the teens will talk because it’s too intimidating.” And when teens tell me this, I try to listen and respond accordingly.

With young adults, though, my usual reaction is to try to push them—“You are as much a part of this body as the older Friends are, and your voice should be present in exactly the same way.” Is it genuinely harder for younger adults to speak up in mixed age groups because of the cultural barriers we have to overcome? Yes. Are we speaking through a veil of others’ assumptions about our groundedness, our level of experience, and our ability to understand the situation at hand? Absolutely. But that’s never going to change if we don’t show up in mixed-age groups and keep speaking.

What I try to bear in mind about the women’s meetings analogy is three-fold.

First, the women’s meetings would never have been necessary if Friends’ perspectives weren’t influenced by the culture around them—a culture that said that women were “less than.” Friends might have recognized and stated that Christ could speak through women as readily as through men, but they also recognized their own limitations in being able to reflect that truth in their behavior. Similarly, we must recognize and state that Christ can speak through young people as readily as through older people, and we must recognize our own limitations in being able to reflect that truth in our behavior.

Second, the women’s meetings didn’t last forever. At a certain point in our history, we collectively recognized that we were ready to desegregate our women and our men, and we did so. This did not actually mean that we had all fully gotten to the point of recognizing women and men as absolute equals despite the culture in which we lived (although we sometimes pretend that we’re there, and we’re not). But it did mean that we recognized that we had gotten to the point where segregating the women and the men was causing more harm than good for the body as a whole.

Because—and this is the third point—being segregated in any fashion does cause all of us harm. Sometimes segregation is temporarily necessary for the sake of moving toward genuine equality, but I don’t believe it’s ever the best permanent state. When we are not physically in the same spaces, we don’t know each other. We miss opportunities to hear each other. We miss opportunities to love each other.

Being segregated also means that we have to provide some kind of way for each group to have an official voice in the whole. In the days of the women’s and men’s meetings—and this is just one example—women wrote and approved travel minutes and then sent them to the men’s meetings for final approval. In one yearly meeting I know, the adult yearly meeting recognizes the young adult group, the high school group, and the middle school group as other yearly meetings that are gathered at the same time, and those yearly meetings can send minutes to the gathered adult body.

In one way, that approach is great. Younger Friends have actual, official channels by which to be heard. In many other yearly meetings, no such official channels exist (or, if they do, they are little-known), so younger Friends either have no way to be heard or don’t know that they have a way to be heard. But in another way, we have to acknowledge that as long as the younger groups have to submit minutes to the older groups—and not the other way around—we are reinforcing the idea that the older group is dominant and the younger groups are “less than.”

Just to recap, because this has gotten long: although age segregation sometimes has real benefits, there are also a number of ways in which physical segregation of age groups is a barrier to multiage inclusion. It reinforces patterns in which older Friends make the decisions for all Friends without input from the younger age groups; it allows us to tell ourselves that by segregating the age groups we’re doing our younger people a favor; it prevents us from knowing one another across the generations; and it perpetuates the idea among all age groups that young people are “less than.” Age segregation also leads to siloing, which leads to younger Friends struggling to gain the necessary knowledge base to participate fully in the adult body when they come of age.

 

Culture Flip #10: Aiming for multi-age inclusion around 50% of the time, including integration both ways (younger Friends in traditionally older Friends spaces/activities, older Friends in traditionally younger Friends spaces/activities); providing meaningful support to make full participation possible in both directions

What does this look like in a monthly meeting?

I’m not prepared to advocate for an end to all age segregation among Friends. We aren’t ready for that. We don’t have the skills—not the younger Friends, and not the older Friends. Trying to be together across all ages all the time immediately would, I suspect, lead to resentment on all sides.

However, I suspect we’re ready to take some steps in that direction. What would happen if we set a goal to be completely age-integrated 50% of the time? Individual monthly meetings could figure out which 50% that would be. Age-ages worship two Sundays per month? All-ages Meeting for Business every other month? Monthly post-meeting child-led all-ages playtime? Monthly teen-led all-ages worship sharing or discussion? Could half of the meeting’s committees be completely age-integrated?

We have to do this skillfully, though. Age integration without support is symbolic at best and harmful at worst.

In a recent gathering, I asked the question, “What would a seven-year-old need to be present in business meeting and to be able to be a full participant?”

We made the following list:

– Snacks

– Coloring book

– Pillows on the floor

– Permission to move around

– Periodic breaks

– A whisper buddy (somebody to explain things as the meeting went along)

– Priority calling-on (so that, if five people were wanting to speak, the seven-year-old could go first so that she didn’t forget what she needed to say)

This does not strike me as insurmountable. And frankly, I’d be grateful as a thirty-four-year-old for a few of those accommodations myself.

Then I asked the question, “What would a seventy-year-old need to be present in a finger-painting activity and to be able to be a full participant?” Because we don’t tend to ask this question, and really, it’s no less relevant to multiage inclusion. Failing to ask it implies that older people are fully capable of functioning in younger-person spaces, which is not always true, and this leads to a lot of hesitation on the part of many older Friends to even try to enter traditionally-younger-person spaces. It also implies that age integration only needs to go one way, which places a considerable burden on the already-less-empowered younger people.

This is the list we made, in terms of support for the older Friend in the finger-painting space:

– Clear instructions or ideas on what to paint (because many adults are uncomfortable with being asked to create art without specific guidance)

– A chair and table that is comfortable for an adult body

– A room that isn’t too loud or chaotic

– An assigned young person “buddy” (so that it’s easier to know how to connect with the younger Friends in the room)

– Permission to use a brush or sponge if that is easier than finger-painting

And these accommodations, too, do not strike me as insurmountable. Our young people can understand things like, “It’s hard for some older Friends when everybody talks at once, so it will be very helpful if we take turns talking.” We might have to repeat this a number of times, but we can get there.

To reemphasize something I’ve already hinted at—age integration does not and cannot mean just younger people moving into traditionally-older-person spaces, even if we’re prepared to adapt and provide support. Doing it that way implies that “normal” is what the older people do and that we make special allowances and adaptations for younger people because they aren’t capable of what’s “normal.” And this is the whole point of flipping our culture; it’s about redefining “normal” as something that’s inclusive, not exclusive. When we age-integrate our spaces in both directions, meaning older-in-younger as well as younger-in-older, we redefine “normal” as what all of us do, and we define age integration as all of us learning how to participate in all the parts of normal, and all of us learning how to help each other do that.

We can reflect this attitude in many different ways. A good starting point—something that’s relevant to many meetings—is the reporting back that we do after times when we are age-segregated. Why do we ask for a report of what First Day School has been doing but then fail to have an adult person stand up and report on what happened in Meeting for Worship? Why do we ask our young people to write separate epistles and read them to the body when the epistle of the older people is represented as being from the entire body to the entire world?

This is the last of the multiage inclusion series on this blog. Starting with the next post, I’ll be moving back into more general engagement with how Friends function as the beloved community. What are you left wondering about? What have I missed?

 

The Cultural Barrier The Flip!
Perception that Friends’ meetings are internally focused and irrelevant Doing frequent work and service in neighborhood communities outside the meetinghouse walls
Equating seriousness with sacredness Behaving as though joy and gratitude are as holy as struggle and lamentation, including 50/50 time division for the whole meeting between play together and work together
Frequent use of Quaker terminology without context Practicing brief, clear explanations and contextualization of all terms and references to institutional structure, every time, in the moment, as we go
Communicating solely through paper publications and websites Developing a meaningful presence on social media (for internal communications and outreach)
Idolatry of Quaker process Building a permission-giving culture (the default answer is ‘yes, and how can I help?’ unless there is a strong, Spirit-led reason to hesitate)
Valuing traditions over the needs of living Friends Regularly reexamining physical facilities, procedures, and practices in the light of how they are working for our communities today; recognizing the difference between our Spirit-led testimonies (which are eternal) and how we express those testimonies (which may need to change as circumstances change)
High financial cost of participation in gatherings Shifting to pay-as-led pricing; changing locations and structures of gatherings so the actual cost is lower
High reading level (high school and above) of almost all of Friends’ written materials Using shorter sentences and simpler vocabulary in all documents
Isolation of parents (among Friends and in society in general) Providing childcare at all meeting events without exception; prioritizing spiritual and practical nurture of parents
Consistent physical separation of age groups Aiming for multi-age inclusion around 50% of the time, including integration both ways (younger Friends in traditionally older Friends spaces/activities, older Friends in traditionally younger Friends spaces/activities); providing meaningful support to make full participation possible in both directions

 

Nurturing Parents

This is the ninth of a series of ten blogs about ten cultural flips for multiage inclusion. It’s not enough to shift our culture. We really have to flip it.

 

Cultural Barrier #9: Isolation of parents (among Friends and in society in general)

Why is this a barrier to multiage inclusion?

I’m not a parent, but many people my age are, and I try to make a habit of listening to them. One of the things I hear most often is regret about isolation. In today’s society—at least, in the United States—parents and their young children (or teens) live in houses that usually hold only two generations, and in these houses, the parents and children are physically separated from their neighbors. It’s a far cry from how we lived a few thousand years ago, when we lived in caves with our neighbors just one fire over—or even a few hundred years ago, when children, parents, and grandparents often shared a single home. Parents are pretty much on their own. They might be connected to other parents by social media, by phone, and by story hour at the local library, but when the baby’s screaming at two o’clock in the morning—or when the teenager comes home after midnight and has been drinking—there’s no grandparent or neighbor physically present to lend a hand.

This is not significantly different when we look at the Religious Society of Friends. During Meeting for Worship, parents of young children often find themselves teaching First Day School or spending the time in childcare. In many meetings, parents of young children can’t participate in the business of the meeting, in committee work, or in adult religious education groups because childcare isn’t available. There are few or no opportunities for Quaker parents to talk about parenting with other Quaker parents. So in a way, the Quaker meeting becomes—rather than a source of spiritual nourishment and support—just one more thing for busy parents to try to fit into their schedules, either for the sake of their children’s spiritual nurture or simply because they have “always been Quakers.”

Parenting may be the single most difficult and most vital ministry to which a person can be called. Why don’t we treat it that way?

I often hear people say things like “if we nurture the parents, we nurture the kids.” That’s absolutely true, and it is a multi-age inclusion argument. I’m on board with that. But I’d also like us to remember that parents are not only extensions of their children. They themselves are valuable and whole presences in our communities, and they themselves deserve particular attention and nurture during the years when they’re doing the extremely difficult work – the ministry – of raising kids.

 

Culture Flip #9: Providing childcare at all meeting events without exception; prioritizing spiritual and practical nurture of parents

What does this look like in a monthly meeting?

I’d like to start with childcare. To me, we should never be asking the question, “Are we going to provide childcare?” Instead, I’d suggest the question, “How are we going to provide childcare?” Do we need to step up our donations so that we can hire a paid person to take on this role? Or do we need to set up some kind of rotation-based system so that we all provide childcare, so that parents do not have to fill this role themselves instead of participating in meeting activities? Or do we need to find a third option?

Sometimes Friends say: Childcare isn’t enough. There should be meaningful programming for children. Well, yes. Ideally, there should, and many meetings are working on this. But to me, using this statement as an argument against childcare is akin to saying, “The roof really needs to be replaced entirely, so we shouldn’t put a bucket under the leak.” Let’s start with doing everything we can right now, and we’ll move forward from there.

Sometimes Friends say: When I was young, I hired my own baby-sitter for my kids when I went to meeting functions, and that was fine. I’m genuinely grateful that these Friends were able to do that. For many, financially or logistically, it is not an option. It’s akin to saying, “There are buckets around someplace. If the roof is leaking on you, find a bucket. That’s what I’ve always done.” Possibly true, but not very welcoming or loving.

Sometimes Friends say: It’s just part of the natural cycle that parents can’t do as much when they have young children. We need to understand that people will sort of disappear from most meeting activities for awhile. They’ll come back when they can. There’s nothing we can do about the fact that parents are busy and tired. It’s true that parents are busy and tired.  But there’s a difference between the parent who can’t come to a meeting function because she’s busy and tired and the parent who can’t come to a meeting function because there’s no one to care for her kids.  One of those is out of our control; the other is not.  It’s a cop-out to say that because we can’t solve every problem in its entirety, we can just sit back and accept the fact that things are hard. It’s like saying, “We can’t stop the rain, so we might as well not worry about the roof.”

So here’s my point – childcare should be assumed. No parent should ever have to ask, before coming to a Quaker function, “What will I do with my kids?” In those rare cases when childcare is not provided, Friends should expect to welcome the presence of young children in the room while the meeting or activity is happening, and we should be prepared for whatever noise or physical disruption that may come with that. Having soft toys, coloring books, snacks, and a few pillows in the room will probably help.

Childcare alone, though, isn’t enough. As I said earlier, parenting is a ministry—a vital and difficult one—and should be supported in the same ways that Friends ideally support other ministries. Parents need regular spiritual care. They need someone looking out for their temporal needs. And they need the opportunity to have time with their peers.

Spiritual care . . . do we provide interactive religious education opportunities for parents so that they may learn and grow? Do we pray for the parents in our meetings? Do we have and use queries about parenting as a ministry?

Temporal needs . . . do we check with parents and ask them how they are doing? Do we provide snacks at meeting events that are healthy and tasty for those who might be coming straight from dropping kids off at afternoon or weekend activities? Do we offer to watch someone’s children for a few hours so that they can take a nap? Do we notice and offer assistance when a parent seems to be struggling?

Time with their peers . . . do we give parents lots of opportunities to speak with other parents, either those currently raising children or those who have done so in the past? Are we open to parents expressing their frustrations? Do we listen, or are we quick to start giving advice? In my own yearly meeting, we’ve started establishing Quaker Family Meet-ups for clusters of several meetings. It’s a simple recipe—worship sharing for parents (who can attend with or without their kids), childcare in another space, and snacks for everybody.  We’re also working on a series of evening conversations for parents through video conferencing.

How else can we Friends prioritize the nurture of parents?

 

The Cultural Barrier The Flip!
Perception that Friends’ meetings are internally focused and irrelevant Doing frequent work and service in neighborhood communities outside the meetinghouse walls
Equating seriousness with sacredness Behaving as though joy and gratitude are as holy as struggle and lamentation, including 50/50 time division for the whole meeting between play together and work together
Frequent use of Quaker terminology without context Practicing brief, clear explanations and contextualization of all terms and references to institutional structure, every time, in the moment, as we go
Communicating solely through paper publications and websites Developing a meaningful presence on social media (for internal communications and outreach)
Idolatry of Quaker process Building a permission-giving culture (the default answer is ‘yes, and how can I help?’ unless there is a strong, Spirit-led reason to hesitate)
Valuing traditions over the needs of living Friends Regularly reexamining physical facilities, procedures, and practices in the light of how they are working for our communities today; recognizing the difference between our Spirit-led testimonies (which are eternal) and how we express those testimonies (which may need to change as circumstances change)
High financial cost of participation in gatherings Shifting to pay-as-led pricing; changing locations and structures of gatherings so the actual cost is lower
High reading level (high school and above) of almost all of Friends’ written materials Using shorter sentences and simpler vocabulary in all documents
Isolation of parents (among Friends and in society in general) Providing childcare at all meeting events without exception; prioritizing spiritual and practical nurture of parents
Consistent physical separation of age groups Aiming for multi-age inclusion around 50% of the time, including integration both ways (younger Friends in traditionally older Friends spaces/activities, older Friends in traditionally younger Friends spaces/activities); providing meaningful support to make full participation possible in both directions

 

Writing for All Readers

This is the eighth of a series of ten blogs about ten cultural flips for multiage inclusion. It’s not enough to shift our culture. We really have to flip it.

 

Cultural Barrier #8: High reading level (high school and above) of almost all of Friends’ written materials

Why is this a barrier to multiage inclusion?

Not too long ago, I took some documents from my own yearly meeting and ran them through a readability analysis tool online. Here’s how they scored:

Report from Twice-Yearly Extended Worship: 11.3 (high school level)

Explanation of Budget for Aging Resources Program: 13.7 (college level)

Report from Yearly Meeting Retreat Center: 12.0 (high school level)

New Section of Faith and Practice, Use of Technology in the Conduct of Business: 16.4 (graduate level)

There’s no doubt in my mind – this is crazy. Does Spirit really give us things to say that can only be expressed at a graduate school reading level? That doesn’t strike me as the God I know.

Some Friends, upon hearing these statistics, have argued, “Well, this readability analysis of yours is just an Internet tool. Surely it’s not really that hard for young people to understand.”

My experience tells me otherwise. A couple of years ago, I worked with my meeting’s First Day School to develop a Quaker Jeopardy game. Our middle- and high-school students looked through our handbook, yearbook, and Faith and Practice to find questions they could ask the adults of our meetings. And they couldn’t comprehend them. Over and over again, I had to translate.

And this kind of writing doesn’t only exclude our children and youth.  It also makes life difficult for people who never went to college, people who are still learning English, and people living with a learning disability.

 

Culture Flip #8: Using shorter sentences and simpler vocabulary in all documents

What does this look like in a monthly meeting and beyond?

Although it’s important to translate Quaker jargon, that’s not the particular problem that I’m referencing here. Readability is about using simpler words and shorter sentences. To show what I mean, I’m going to try a little translation.

Here’s a paragraph from my yearly meeting’s Faith and Practice, the section called “Use of Technology in the Conduct of Business,” with a readability score of 11.8:

The use of digital communication systems in the conduct of Friends’ business has great benefits and has also created challenges for Quaker business process. The use of technologies such as video conferencing and electronic mail makes it possible to reduce the need for travel, and thereby expands participation by distant Friends. Our business can be responsive to the fast pace of developments in the world. Many Friends expect to use these technologies as they engage in the life of the Society. At the same time, we must be mindful that among us are Friends who cannot or choose not to use these technologies freely.

And here’s a translation, with a readability score of 8.1:

Sometimes using computers and other technology is helpful. Sometimes it makes things harder for some people. Video conferences and email help us communicate without traveling. That means more Friends can participate. Using technology also means we can do things faster. Many Friends use this kind of technology. Still, we have to remember that some Friends don’t use it.

Second paragraph, the original, readability score 20.5 (no, that’s not a typo, this is actually PhD-level writing):

When use of these technologies replaces or augments face-to-face meetings, we must maintain discipline so that corporate worship, spiritual discernment, and the presence of the Spirit in our meetings and assemblies is retained. Each Yearly Meeting body that uses these technologies should establish agreements and protocols to ensure inclusivity and full participation, protect privacy and confidentiality, maintain collegiality, and support openness to Spirit.

And here’s a translation, with a readability score of 7.7:

Sometimes we use technology instead of face-to-face meetings. We have to be careful to remember that worship, discernment, and Spirit are still important. That might change how we use technology. Also, we should use technology in ways that help make sure everyone can participate. We need to be careful of people’s privacy and be kind to each other. Remember that the Spirit’s guidance is most important.

Last original paragraph, with a readability score of 17.5:

Committees and other Yearly Meeting bodies seeking to conduct business by ways other than physical meetings should do so only upon formal approval at a face-to-face meeting. While they may choose to use e-mail or other asynchronous digital communication for scheduling meetings or distributing documents, they are advised not to use it to share ministry, respond to proposals, or engage in substantive discussions. These activities are best suited to synchronous communication such as physical meetings or telephone or video conferencing.

And a translation, with a readability score of 8.0:

Some committees will want to use technology instead of meeting in person. All members need to agree that that’s okay before they do it. It’s good to have some special rules about email. Email is useful for scheduling meetings and sending out documents. But it’s not very useful for sharing ministry or having long discussions. Ministry and discussion work better when people can talk and listen together. Meetings in person, phone calls, and video conferences are good for that.

The translated writing is certainly less elegant, but as in the conversation about money, I have to ask myself which is more important—that the writing is elegant, or that it’s understandable? If we hope that all people will be able to make their voices heard, then we have to make sure that our reports and our Faith and Practice can be understood by people of all ages (and levels of education and linguistic backgrounds). You can’t participate meaningfully if you’re left out of understanding what’s going on.

In preparing these translations, I used an online readability analysis to repeatedly calculate the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of the selections. For each, I had to rewrite and further break down the sentences at least four times before reaching middle school level writing. I recommend you give it a try; find a selection from a recent committee report or your own Faith and Practice and see what happens when you translate.

Some key tips:

1) Make shorter sentences.

2) Use no more than five sentences in a paragraph.

3) Be careful of words with more than two syllables. You can use them, but try to use as few of them as possible.

4) Use active voice. Never say that something will happen without identifying who will do it. Instead of, “the decision regarding schedule will be made…” try, “the committee will decide the schedule.”

Like explaining Quaker jargon and process, this is a skill that takes practice. But it’s worth learning. Give it a try.

 

The Cultural Barrier The Flip!
Perception that Friends’ meetings are internally focused and irrelevant Doing frequent work and service in neighborhood communities outside the meetinghouse walls
Equating seriousness with sacredness Behaving as though joy and gratitude are as holy as struggle and lamentation, including 50/50 time division for the whole meeting between play together and work together
Frequent use of Quaker terminology without context Practicing brief, clear explanations and contextualization of all terms and references to institutional structure, every time, in the moment, as we go
Communicating solely through paper publications and websites Developing a meaningful presence on social media (for internal communications and outreach)
Idolatry of Quaker process Building a permission-giving culture (the default answer is ‘yes, and how can I help?’ unless there is a strong, Spirit-led reason to hesitate)
Valuing traditions over the needs of living Friends Regularly reexamining physical facilities, procedures, and practices in the light of how they are working for our communities today; recognizing the difference between our Spirit-led testimonies (which are eternal) and how we express those testimonies (which may need to change as circumstances change)
High financial cost of participation in gatherings Shifting to pay-as-led pricing; changing locations and structures of gatherings so the actual cost is lower
High reading level (high school and above) of almost all of Friends’ written materials Using shorter sentences and simpler vocabulary in all documents
Isolation of parents (among Friends and in society in general) Providing childcare at all meeting events without exception; prioritizing spiritual and practical nurture of parents
Consistent physical separation of age groups Aiming for multi-age inclusion around 50% of the time, including integration both ways (younger Friends in traditionally older Friends spaces/activities, older Friends in traditionally younger Friends spaces/activities); providing meaningful support to make full participation possible in both directions

 

Money, Money

This is the seventh of a series of ten blogs about ten cultural flips for multiage inclusion. It’s not enough to shift our culture. We really have to flip it.

 

Cultural Barrier #7: High financial cost of participation in gatherings

Why is this a barrier to multiage inclusion?

Like most of the barriers we’ve been exploring, this one’s not only a barrier to multiage inclusion. It’s really about income-based exclusion, and that’s an element that affects a variety of groups disproportionately—but young people are among these groups, being significantly more likely to struggle financially.

Within a monthly meeting, finances usually aren’t a direct barrier to participation. There are a few exceptions, such as potlucks and community-building activities that involve going out to restaurants together, but usually, the barrier comes into play when Friends start to travel outside of their own monthly meetings—to regional/quarterly meetings, yearly meetings, conference centers, Friends General Conference gatherings, Friends United Meeting events, Friends World Committee for Consultation meetings, and so forth. That’s the point when finances really become a significant barrier.

Oftentimes, we use the phrase “financial aid is available” as if this were some sort of magical cure-all. It’s not. Those of us who have asked for financial aid know this to be the case. But for the sake of those who might not have had this experience, here’s what it’s like (at least for me):

I open up the registration form for a large Quaker gathering. I go through the whole registration process. I choose the cheapest housing option. I mark the box that says “reduced registration rate for Young Adult Friends” (though I’ll only be able to get away with that for another year). And then I get to the final page—payment information. And I owe hundreds of dollars.

Okay. There are three boxes. The first one says “amount you are contributing.” I’m immediately stuck. If I pay out of my savings, I can cover it all. But I do that a lot. My savings are whittling down. So how much do I pay? Maybe half? Is that fair? I’ve cut a lot of costs from my personal life in the last few years—given up my apartment and moved in with roommates, purchased fewer luxuries, changed the way I shop for groceries. I’ve done all this specifically so that I can afford to participate more fully in my Quaker community. But then, last month I paid $40 for a rush ticket to a Broadway show. If I can afford that, doesn’t that mean I shouldn’t be asking for financial assistance? Aren’t there people who need the money a lot more than I do?

I put down a number that’s about 60% of the total.

The next box says, “amount you are asking for from your monthly meeting.” I hate this blank. My monthly meeting does have some funds available, but not a lot, and only for specific types of gatherings. And a few years ago, one financial aid form from my meeting said, “priority given to families with children.” I don’t have children. But I trust my meeting’s discernment, so—am I not a priority? Also, if I ask for help from my meeting, the money I use is money somebody else can’t use. And I know those somebody elses. They may genuinely need more help than I do. And asking for help from my meeting is kind of hard. I’ve done it before. It takes weeks before a decision comes, and the discernment is done by two committees, so as many as eight people know exactly how much money everybody’s asking for. It might be a moral failing on my part, but I find that embarrassing.  (And incidentally, when I tell people that, they accuse me of pride.  Which may be the case, but it’s not a helpful response.)

I put down $0.

The last box says, “amount you are asking for from the Equalization Fund.” The first time I did this, I didn’t know what that meant and therefore didn’t ask for anything. Now I know that it’s a fund that some Friends pay extra money to so that others can pay less. If there’s not enough money to go around, my request will probably still be granted, but reduced. That feels okay to me.

I put down the remaining balance.

A week later, I’m in the organization’s office for unrelated reasons when somebody says to me, “We need to talk about your registration. You can’t request money from the Equalization Fund unless you also ask for money from your meeting. And we can’t grant you as much as you put down.”

Immediately, there are tears in my eyes. Figuring out how to fill out all those blanks was hard in the first place. Now I’m being told, in no uncertain terms, and in a moment when I was not prepared to have this conversation, that I screwed it up. It’s humiliating. I’m expected to say, “Oh, I’ll ask for money from my meeting, then.” But I won’t, for the reasons I already said.

So I blurt, “Never mind. I’ll pay for it myself.”

The person pushes. Why not ask? The meeting has funds. No problem.

“No. Never mind. I’ll pay out of savings. Forget it.”

It’s hard to do this once. But I go through processes like this again and again and again and again. For international organizations. For my local conference center. For travel when I facilitate things for other meetings. Every time, the blanks are different, but every time, I stare at them hopelessly—how much money do I ask for here? What’s enough for me to sacrifice?

And I have it so much easier than most people my age. For one thing, I do have savings—that alone is an incredible privilege. For another, I don’t have kids. How much harder would all this be if I were trying to balance the amount of money I put in the blank with the odds that one of my kids will get sick over the weekend, and I’ll have to pay for a trip to urgent care?

The majority of Friends my age don’t even try. If they can’t afford it out of pocket, they just don’t go. Which means that the major institutional decisions, plus our broader institutional culture, continue to be controlled by the Quakers who happen to have money. Good people, absolutely—but not representative of the whole.

 

Culture Flip #7: Shifting to pay-as-led pricing; changing locations and structures of gatherings so the actual cost is lower 

What does this look like in the Religious Society of Friends?

If we were fully living our testimonies, cost to participate would never be an issue. And by never, I mean never. Ever.

New England Yearly Meeting took an enormous step in the right direction when they shifted their annual sessions to pay-as-led. In their registration process, they list the actual full cost of sessions per person, the traditional rate charged (which doesn’t cover staff time and overhead), and the traditional reduced rate (what Friends applying for financial assistance would have paid before the change to pay-as-led). Then there’s a blank: how much are you led to pay? And that’s the end of the story. One blank, no follow-up, no need to prove that you really need help, no agonizing over whether you’re going to get the financial assistance or have to stay home.

Of course, this still doesn’t account for factors like the amount of work missed (independent contactors, like me, and Friends who don’t get vacation pay lose a full week’s income when we go to something like annual sessions, and that’s the difference between making enough to pay the rent that month – or not).

We live in a time when remote access by Internet is possible for almost everybody. Not quite everybody—there are certainly those who don’t have Internet in their homes—but even then, there’s the possibility of a group of Friends gathering at their local meetinghouse and participating in a conference or retreat remotely. I have some questions about how web-based connection would work in terms of depth of worship and full participation. But I don’t think my doubts are worth rejecting the possibility out of hand. Are we experimenting with this as fully as we might?

It’s also time to focus on models where one facilitator travels to a group of Friends, rather than a group of Friends traveling from many places to a retreat center to meet with the one facilitator. Again, especially for the younger age groups, you’re talking about not only the cost of registration but the cost of travel, the cost of work lost, and often the cost of childcare.

I love getting together with big groups of Friends in beautiful places, turning off all the technology and experiencing a peaceful respite. I wonder if significant change would eventually mean giving up some of the things I really like. But ultimately, I have to ask myself the question—what’s more important? My personal enjoyment of the way things are, or full inclusion in the Religious Society of Friends?

I find that when I frame it that way, I only have one answer.

 

The Cultural Barrier The Flip!
Perception that Friends’ meetings are internally focused and irrelevant Doing frequent work and service in neighborhood communities outside the meetinghouse walls
Equating seriousness with sacredness Behaving as though joy and gratitude are as holy as struggle and lamentation, including 50/50 time division for the whole meeting between play together and work together
Frequent use of Quaker terminology without context Practicing brief, clear explanations and contextualization of all terms and references to institutional structure, every time, in the moment, as we go
Communicating solely through paper publications and websites Developing a meaningful presence on social media (for internal communications and outreach)
Idolatry of Quaker process Building a permission-giving culture (the default answer is ‘yes, and how can I help?’ unless there is a strong, Spirit-led reason to hesitate)
Valuing traditions over the needs of living Friends Regularly reexamining physical facilities, procedures, and practices in the light of how they are working for our communities today; recognizing the difference between our Spirit-led testimonies (which are eternal) and how we express those testimonies (which may need to change as circumstances change)
High financial cost of participation in gatherings Shifting to pay-as-led pricing; changing locations and structures of gatherings so the actual cost is lower
High reading level (high school and above) of almost all of Friends’ written materials Using shorter sentences and simpler vocabulary in all documents
Isolation of parents (among Friends and in society in general) Providing childcare at all meeting events without exception; prioritizing spiritual and practical nurture of parents
Consistent physical separation of age groups Aiming for multi-age inclusion around 50% of the time, including integration both ways (younger Friends in traditionally older Friends spaces/activities, older Friends in traditionally younger Friends spaces/activities); providing meaningful support to make full participation possible in both directions