The Madlib Society

Did you ever play Madlibs as a kid? You get a text with a lot of blanks in it, and each blank has under it a part of speech, such as “verb” or “adverb” or “proper noun.” You ask a friend or a team of friends to fill in the blanks without looking and without knowing the context, and then you read it out loud and laugh [verb] uproariously [adverb].

I got to thinking about madlibs this morning and decided to play a little bit with my computer. Starting from “The Religious Society of Friends,” I found a random adjective-noun generator and used it to complete the phrase “The [Adjective] Society of [Noun].”

Here are some of my favorites:

The Correct Society of Elbows

The Mysterious Society of Calories

The Medieval Society of Transitions

The Vacant Society of Commodities

The Constitutional Society of Experiments

The Continuing Society of Asylums

The Decent Society of Bars

The Productive Society of Records

Hmm…

This is not just silliness for silliness’ sake—though to make it clear, there is nothing wrong with silliness. It’s more about asking questions: who are we, and who are we perceived to be?

We have a hard enough time answering the question “who are we?,” though some branches of Friends do better answering that than others. And yet, deciding who we are isn’t enough. Sometimes, “who are we?” might even be the wrong question.

What if we asked the question, “What did our Quaker meeting do this week?” And not just on Sunday between the hours of 10am and 1pm. If the meeting did something on Thursday or Tuesday or Sunday night, count that too. “What did our Quaker meeting do this week?” Like my middle school creative writing teacher said, look for the active verbs.

Here’s a list of things my own Quaker meeting did in the last week. It’ll be incomplete because I’ve been traveling, so I don’t have my finger on the pulse of everything at home:

Worshipped twice on Sunday;

Announced things for twenty whole minutes after worship;

Ate cookies and sandwiches;

Held half a dozen committee meetings on various days;

Sent a lot of emails to each other;

Hosted a one-man play about a conscientious objector from World War One;

Posted about six times on our private Facebook group;

Protested gun violence;

Appeared tangentially in an article in the New York Times about controversy at a Quaker school;

Appeared tangentially in more articles about that same controversy in other publications;

Dyed Easter eggs;

Hosted a small shelter for the homeless every night.

There’s a lot of good in this list, and I’m not making the list to criticize the actions. I do want to ask how much of the list sounds like The Religious Society of Friends, how much like The Productive Society of Records, how much like The Continuing Society of Asylums, and how much like The Correct Society of Elbows. And so forth.

If we look at the entire list, you could probably say that it’s imperfect but fairly solid. However, most people never see this whole list. The people in our neighborhood don’t see this whole list. The people of New York City don’t see this whole list. Even our own children don’t see this whole list.

 

What did the people in our neighborhood see us do this week?

Walked into the building on Sunday;

Hosted a one-man play about a conscientious objector from World War One;

Appeared tangentially in an article in the New York Times about controversy at a Quaker school;

Appeared tangentially in more articles about that same controversy in other publications;

Hosted a small shelter for the homeless every night.

What sort of Society would you assume that we are, based on this list?

 

What did the people of New York City see us do this week?

Protested gun violence;

Appeared tangentially in an article in the New York Times about controversy at a Quaker school;

Appeared tangentially in more articles about that same controversy in other publications.

What sort of Society would you assume that we are, based on this list?

 

What did our own children see us do this week?

Worshipped on Sunday (though only the last ten minutes);

Announced things for twenty whole minutes after worship;

Ate cookies and sandwiches;

Protested gun violence;

Dyed Easter eggs;

Hosted a small shelter for the homeless every night.

What sort of Society would you assume that we are, based on this list?

 

The perception of what a group does directly affects who chooses to participate.

The perception of what a group does directly affects who chooses to participate.

Jesus said we should pray in closets and give money in secret, but He also said not to hide our lights under bushels. If we lived in a time when people spent their whole lives in the same small village, communicating only with their fellow villagers, then continuing as we are might be fine. After all, in that setting, everyone sort of sees everything, so what you do is pretty much what you’re perceived to be doing.

But we don’t live in that time. We live in a time when people are highly mobile and deeply individualized and bombarded by messaging through technology, and we can no longer assume that what we do is what we are perceived to be doing. If we truly believe that outreach matters—and I do believe that, because people are looking for us—then we have to start thinking about how we are perceived, because the perception of what a group does directly affects who chooses to participate.

What did the children and teens in our meeting see us do this week?

What did the people in our immediate neighborhood see us do this week?

What did the people in our wider geographical area see us do this week?

Because if we don’t ask, we might very well be projecting the image of The Correct Society of Elbows. And that’s not who we are–I hope.

2 thoughts on “The Madlib Society

  1. This post goes to the heart of my concerns regarding the world’s perceptions of the RSoF. The work we do in the world is not unique and does not differentiate us from other organizations, clubs or even faith communities. If we are to grow and be more effective in bringing about a better world (the Kingdom of God) then we had better be seen a ministers. Our work in the world is only ministry if we proclaim it as such. If we hide the Light that enables the the work, then we labor in darkness and obscurity. We may as well be the Correct Society of Elbows.

    1. Yes, but —— Our work in the world is ministry if we know it is ministry. If we proclaim our work as ministry too loudly, we can take away from the spirit of the work. We can let people know who we are without using a bull horn. (not that you suggested a bull horn.)

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