Monthly Archives: October 2018

Fun with Google

I found that I didn’t have a whole lot very profound to say this afternoon, but I thought it might be fun to play with Google’s autocomplete function. So I gave Google some question starters and figured I would answer whatever it came up with. And then, so that it wouldn’t become a totally academic exercise, I set myself a thirty minute time limit to answer all of the questions below. Also access to the Internet, so I could fact check myself.

How do

How do Quakers dress? Quakers dress all kinds of ways. A few Quakers are still Plain, which means they will dress in unadorned pants, dresses, suspenders, hats, etc., sort of like the Amish but not exactly like the Amish. Most Quakers dress a lot like the people around them. For those of us in North America or Europe, this might mean jeans or skirts or suits or whatever. But actually, there are tons of Quakers in South America and Africa (and some in Asia and the West Pacific), and there are more Quakers in Kenya than anywhere else in the world. So if you asked us to all line up in a row and look at what we were wearing, my best guess is that over half of us would be in traditional Kenyan clothing. Also it would take a very long time to get us all to line up in a row. We don’t follow directions very well.

How do Quakers worship? The more traditional form of Quaker worship is waiting worship, which means waiting in expectant silence for the guidance of Holy Spirit. When we experience that guidance, we might rise and speak a message that we’ve been given. But the majority of Quakers now worship in other forms. Many sing, pray, read Scripture, and/or dance as part of their worship. 

How do Quakers pray? The same way as many other faith traditions, though we tend to emphasize listening really carefully God to answer.

How do Quakers sleep? On our backs, sides, stomachs, whatever. Hopefully someplace other than meeting for worship.

How do Quakers marry? Again, traditionally, Quakers marry in an expectant-silence-meeting-for-worship with no clergyperson. At the moment that feels right, the marrying couple stands and says something like vows, though not necessarily some particular text, and then they marry each other in the eyes of God and in the care of those gathered; no human authority marries them to each other. In the United States, Quakers have a special exception to the marriage law in all fifty states to accommodate this. That said, there are Quaker pastors in many branches of Quakerism, and such pastors do officiate marriages.

How do Quakers mate? That is absolutely none of your business.

How do Quakers speak? As truthfully as possible. There’s a story—probably apocryphal—about somebody speaking to an old Quaker. The somebody points to a bunch of sheep on the side of a hill and asks, “Are those sheep shorn?” The old Quaker looks at the sheep very carefully and then says, “I can certainly tell you that the side of the sheep that I’m looking at has been shorn. I can’t say anything about the other side.”

How do Quakers vote? In political elections, most of us vote like anybody else—by going to the polls. Among ourselves, we don’t vote. Our meetings for business are held in expectant worship, and we search for something called “sense of the meeting.” The question at hand is presented. We wait for different people to feel inspired and speak to the question. Then, after a little while, it becomes clear how God is leading the group as a whole in response to the question. We name that and call that “sense of the meeting.” It doesn’t mean that everybody agrees on the answer to the question. It means that everybody agrees that the group as a whole seems to be led to that particular answer.

How do Quakers celebrate Christmas? We used to not celebrate Christmas or any other holiday because we said we were “not keepers of days” and that every day is equally holy. Officially, I suppose we still don’t celebrate Christmas, or at least certain branches still don’t, but most of us do. We tend to keep it simple. At my own Quaker meeting, the kids put on a little Nativity play, which is very sweet. Then they serve nuts to everybody. They also have a little Christmas party in December with the guests at a homeless shelter.

How do Quakers dress today? Almost exactly the same way that we dressed yesterday.

How many

How many Quakers are there? Luckily, there’s an organization called Friends World Committee for Consultation that counts everybody! Or at least, they try to. They say there are 400,000 Quakers in the world, half living in Africa.

How many Quakers in the US? Around 80,000, it would appear.

How many Quakers are there in the US? I said, around 80,000.

How many Quakers are there today? Not as many as there were yesterday. We’re an aging population, and generally speaking, our numbers are shrinking. But then again, in Africa, we’re growing.  So I don’t know.

How many Quakers are there in the UK? Somewhere around 17,000, or at least that’s what Quakers in the UK say.

How many Quakers are there in America? See, this gets complicated, because it depends on how you define “America,” and there is no standard definition. Did you know that people the world over don’t even agree on how many continents there are? I was talking with a group of people from Central America once, and it turns out that in school, they learn there are eight continents because Central America is its own. But if we’re counting Quakers in North America, Central America, and South America, the answer might be 160,000. Maybe. I had to do math because some websites refer to actual numbers and others refer to percentages of the 400,000. 

How many Quakers in Australia? Some say 1,000. Some say 2,000. Probably make sure there’s enough ice cream for 2,000. Most Quakers really like ice cream.

How many Quakers in UK? I’m still going with 17,000, but look, it’s complicated. Because some Friends are members who attend regularly, and some Friends are regular attenders who aren’t members, and some Friends are members who don’t attend regularly, so who counts and who doesn’t? Also we don’t have an official authority that defines who’s a Quaker and who’s not and who demands a regular census. (Like I said, Friends World Committee for Consultation tries, but you really can’t get much better than an estimate.)

How many Quakers in Ireland? Ireland and Northern Ireland count themselves together, and they report 1,600 people.

How many Quakers in Pennsylvania? That information doesn’t seem to be readily available. We don’t organize ourselves according to state lines. The best I can tell you is that there are about eighty meetings/congregations in Pennsylvania.

 How long do

How long do Quakers live? I’m guessing we line up fairly well with the average life expectancy. Maybe higher or lower depending on what country we’re talking about.

How long do green Quakers live? I don’t know, but probably not as long as the non-green ones, because turning green cannot be a good sign.

At the Assembly





At the Assembly

Hey—I know you!

the wriggly one

the curious one

the one who needs glasses

the tiptoer


You probably don’t remember me. This is your first time through here.

(It’s my ninety-seventh, I think.)


hello, clumsy one with shoes untied

and charming one

and deflector


I’m excited to see what you learn today.

Often, this is not what I teach.


hello, not-speaker

and first volunteer

and mischief-sassy

and scarred-over-sassy

and little one without enough sleep


You are absolutely, invaluably special

and at the same time so laughingly the same

that I’ve met you

in the Bronx

and Kenya

and Palestine

and I imagine you’re in Siberia too

and also every stage of time


Someday you’ll grow up.

I kind of wish you wouldn’t do that

Because once you do, there’s this sheen of

armor stuff

on your skin

This is a loss.


But then again

You never do grow up

because you always show up again—

So, there’s that.


I’m awfully lucky to know you, friend.


September-October 2018

Here’s the third in a series of updates on travel and projects.


Where I’ve Been (September)

The first week or so of September was pretty quiet—mostly at-home work, keeping up with emails and letter-writing and Quaker Open Book and Holy Experiments. I also started working with a group of 50 Friends from a total of 19 meetings on the FGC Digital Outreach project. This project includes training for participants in using Facebook as an outreach tool while simultaneously running ads in the local meetings’ areas. (As of the end of September, these ads have reached a total of almost 98,000 people. I don’t want to go into the other results/data quite yet, though I might at the end of next month when the project is officially over.)

Mid-September, I spent an evening at Westbury Friends Meeting, first talking with their ministry and counsel committee about social media presence and then—after a lovely potluck dinner—doing some storytelling to the meeting in general about the world of Friends and 1 Corinthians 12. That same week, I did a Saturday workshop on building a healthy multiage meeting community at Monadnock meeting in New Hampshire. They are an hospitable, friendly crew, and I was so glad to get to know them.

Later in September, I did a little consulting with some Friends on how to market a new retreat series they’re planning to offer, and then I headed to Maine for a gathering of recipients of the Lyman grant. This grant is provided for the purpose of helping people to pursue whatever they are Spirit-led to do, and though the monetary amount isn’t huge, the affirmation of receiving it was very helpful to me—and the gathering for recipients was relaxing and warm and full of opportunities to connect and hear stories of how God is moving in each person’s life. Oh—and I had some super fun, very geeky conversation with a couple of Baha’i about systems analysis and organizational effectiveness. (The gathering was hosted by a Baha’i retreat center.)


Where I’m Going (October)

It’s a big month—exciting and a little intimidating. In the first week of October, I’ll serve as a facilitator for a community period at Friends Seminary lower school on the topic of “being a bridge.” This basically means speaking to a group of kids, teachers, and parents, the kids falling between the ages of 5 and 12. The next day, I’ll head to New Jersey, where a small group of Friends is gathering to create a strategic plan for how New York Yearly Meeting can support local meetings and Friends in outreach in the next few years.

In the second week of October, I’ll fly first to Dallas to spend a couple of days with some extended family and then to Indiana for a Friends United Meeting general board meeting. From Indiana, I’ll fly to Chicago and Amman and Tel Aviv—in that order—on my way to Palestine, where I’ll settle in to spend a couple of months at Ramallah Friends School. RFS, for those who don’t know, is located in the West Bank. It’s a ministry of Friends United Meeting and educates Palestinian girls and boys from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. This school year is their 150th. I’ll be working in their special education department through the first week of December, though I’m told I’ll still have excellent and consistent access to Wi-Fi, so I won’t be disappearing from the world online.