Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

 

Examining Traditions in the Light

This is the sixth 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 #6: Valuing traditions over the needs of living Friends

Why is this a barrier to multiage inclusion?

First off, props to my good F(f)riend Callie Janoff, who works with aging Friends. When I showed her my list of cultural barriers, it had nine points on it, not ten, and I asked her, “What’s missing from this list that’s important to the older end of the age spectrum?”

The conversation we had then led to the addition of this particular point.

The first thing Callie pointed out related to amplification. She reminded me how many meetings don’t use microphones, often “because this is an historic meetinghouse and we’ve never used them in the past two hundred years.” To which my personal response is, so what? I strongly suspect that, had George Fox had access to microphones (not to mention Twitter and Facebook and cable television), he would have used all means accessible to him to amplify the prophetic message he carried. If some members of the meeting can’t hear the ministry because the rest of us have something against using electricity (?), then what are we doing even claiming to be the beloved community?

Valuing tradition over the needs of living Friends is tough on the other end of the age spectrum, too. If a wheelchair can’t access your meetinghouse, neither can a stroller. If there’s no diaper-changing facility or space for mothers to nurse (or pump), then your meetinghouse is actively inhospitable to young families. And it’s not just about physical facilities. Is there some reason we can’t have a stretch break every thirty minutes in business meeting? That would make a big difference for both young and aging bodies.

 

Culture Flip #6: 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)

What does this look like in a monthly meeting?

I’ve talked a little bit before about how you might assess the difference between Spirit and culture in your meeting, but here’s an exercise to try that gives more detail…

First, take about two minutes to list everything you can think of that happens in the course of a typical Sunday at your meeting. An incomplete list (for an unprogrammed meeting) might look like this:

– A member of Ministry and Counsel greets people at the door and shakes their hands

– We wear nametags

– We stop talking when we go into the meeting room

– We sit still

– We sit on benches

– We open ourselves to the Light

– If somebody has vocal ministry, they stand

– Children go to First Day School

– The kids come in for the last fifteen minutes of meeting

– At the end of meeting, the clerk stands up and says “thank you, Friends”

– We all introduce ourselves after the meeting

– We have coffee hour in the fellowship room

Again, your list could probably be a lot longer, though it might not need to be long the first time you try this activity.

Once you have a list written, take another five minutes and see if you can rewrite the bullet points in two columns.

What Spirit Requires of Us What We Do Because It’s Part of our Culture

(we’ve always done it this way, it’s easy, etc.)

– We open ourselves to the Light

 

– A member of Ministry and Counsel greets people at the door and shakes their hands

– We wear nametags

– We stop talking when we go into the meeting room

– We sit still

– We sit on benches

– If somebody has vocal ministry, they stand

– Children go to First Day School

– The kids come in for the last fifteen minutes of meeting

– At the end of meeting, the clerk stands up and says “thank you, Friends”

– We all introduce ourselves after the meeting

– We have coffee hour in the fellowship room

You might discover, as in this example, that almost everything falls into the “culture” column. But maybe you’ll notice that you need to add a few things to the “Spirit” side – things that motivate the things you do on the “culture” side, like this:

What Spirit Requires Us to Do What We Do Because It’s Part of our Culture

(we’ve always done it this way, it’s easy, etc.)

– We open ourselves to the Light
– We show that we are happy to see one another – A member of Ministry and Counsel greets people at the door and shakes their hands

– We wear nametags

– We respect the worship space and those worshipping within it – We stop talking when we go into the meeting room
– We ensure that everyone can see and hear the vocal ministry – If somebody has vocal ministry, they stand
– We care for our children – Children go to First Day School

– The kids come in for the last fifteen minutes of meeting

– We spend time enjoying one another’s company – We all introduce ourselves after the meeting

– We have coffee hour in the fellowship room

 

 

 

 

– We sit still

– We sit on benches

– At the end of meeting, the clerk stands up and says “thank you, Friends”

There’s good reason to identify the difference between what Spirit requires of us and what we go along with due to cultural norms. In fact, there are two good reasons.

#1 – If we intend to fully welcome those who don’t share our meeting’s existing culture, we must be willing to allow the meeting’s culture to change.

#2 – If we intend to be fully faithful to God, we must cling unwaveringly to what Spirit requires of us.

When is the last time that Friends in your meeting reassessed your traditions in the light of the needs of living Friends? Are you faithfully expressing your testimonies in your behaviors, or are you reenacting the behaviors of some Friends from the past who were expressing their testimonies? If your community has discerned that Spirit calls you to ensure that everyone can see and hear the vocal ministry, why wouldn’t you be using microphones? If your community has discerned that Spirit calls you to care for your children, why wouldn’t you prioritize the needs of breastfeeding mothers?

Tradition is an important teacher, but only when we remember to ask why. Otherwise, we are not following our spiritual ancestors’ examples of faithfulness. Instead, we are simply following our spiritual ancestors, rather than following God.

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

 

Building a Permission-Giving Culture

This is the fifth 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 #5: Idolatry of Quaker process

Why is this a barrier to multiage inclusion?

I talked a lot about this in A Conversation About Delay. Essentially, when someone’s led to new work on behalf of the body, it often takes weeks, or months, or years to get the pieces into place, not because it actually takes that much time to do the discernment but because the such-and-such committee only meets on second Thursdays, and the other-relevant-committee just met last Monday and won’t meet again for two months…this kind of delay wears on people. Eventually, we decide that the bar is too high. We might not even be conscious of it, but we begin to weigh leadings differently—is this spark that I’m carrying really worth the amount of institutional work it will take? When institutional delay snuffs out one spark, that’s sad. When it snuffs out sparks routinely—and it does—that’s a spiritual crisis.

Like many of our cultural tendencies, idolatry of Quaker process disproportionately affects the young (and, of course, anyone who is new.) If you’ve been around for many years, you’re likely to know exactly which committees do what and which committees meet when and which clerks are semi-non-functional and when you should cc other people in the meeting and when you shouldn’t and, especially, the right combination of words to phrase something in such a way that a committee will actually take it on. And if you don’t know all these things, an attempt to get anything through our process will generally be thwarted by our process, not by discernment in the Light of the Spirit of God.

That’s an important difference. Sometimes it’s right to say no, but more often, we sort of wind up saying no by default because our Quaker process, rather than being used to support Spirit-led discernment, winds up being used to replace it. We say no for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with Spirit. The request came in after the deadline; it hasn’t been seasoned by the right committee; we had to push it to next month’s agenda three times because we ran out of time.

Our younger Friends are absolutely right when they look at these patterns of behavior and declare them absurd, and many times, instead of sticking around and pushing through it, they (and the Light they are carrying) either leave our communities entirely or, at the very least, put the majority of what is often deeply-grounded, well-led energy into some other organization, somewhere else.

 

Culture Flip #5: 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)

What does this look like in a monthly meeting?

It’s important to cultivate a culture that is supportive and permission-giving, in which new ideas and initiatives are met as openly and helpfully as possible. In other words, the default answer is “Yes, and how can I help?,” unless there is a strong, Spirit-led reason to hesitate.

For example, suppose that at social hour, someone in your meeting says, “What if we sat around one day after meeting and talked about our spiritual journeys?”

Permission-giving and supportive… You say: “Great idea! How can I help?”
Permission-giving but not supportive… You say: “Okay. Go ahead.”
Permission-begrudging but supportive… You say: “That’s a good idea. I’ll help you run it past Ministry and Counsel, which is our committee that oversees things related to spiritual discussions.   They meet on second Tuesdays at 7:00pm. Does that work for you? Can I give you a ride to the meeting?”
Permission-begrudging and not supportive… You say: “You need to take that to Ministry and Counsel.”
Permission-denying but supportive… You say: “That’s not something that works very well here, but I’m glad that you’re thinking about spiritual deepening.”
Permission-denying and not supportive… You say: “We’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.”

A permission-giving culture helps everyone feel that their ideas are valued, and a supportive culture helps everyone feel that they themselves are valued. Both are important.

Obviously, there are times when, “Great idea! How can I help?” is not an adequate or appropriate response . . . for example, if someone has just proposed doing business by majority vote. But even then, there are more and less supportive ways to respond. You could try, “I’m so glad that you came to business meeting and you’re interested in our process. Has anyone given you a chance to ask questions about why Quakers do business the way we do?”

And sometimes, of course, it’s more complicated than that. Sometimes a new spark arises that could mean serious change or a new commitment for the meeting, and it’s not immediately clear what the next steps should be. That’s the time to respectfully guide someone through Quaker process, which we’ve put in place over the years so that we have an institutional path by which to carefully discern significant matters as a community. If this in-depth process is a response to certain types of situations, rather than a default response to every suggestion, then using it becomes a symbol that something is being taken seriously, rather than something that we laugh about that often becomes a blockade. Suddenly we find ourselves saying to someone, “Friend, what I hear you saying is a message for the whole community and, if well led, may bring us all into something new and spiritually significant. May I help you know who to bring this to so that the entire community may hear it?”

Generally speaking, a supportive and permission-giving culture gives our young people a fighting chance. We all grow by way of opportunities to experience and follow leadings, and it’s unfaithful for the community to make even small proposals so difficult that they don’t seem worth making. By flipping our culture from default no to default yes, we commit to a new and adventurous relationship with each other and with the Holy Spirit.

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

 

A Meaningful Presence on Social Media

This is the fourth 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 #4: Communicating solely through paper publications and websites

Why is this a barrier to multiage inclusion?

We have now reached an era in which most of the world (and definitely the United States) is organized around social media. Many people under the age of forty use social media as their exclusive source of information and communications. If we do not engage meaningfully with social media, the younger generations will never know we exist. Even our own younger generations—those who have grown up as Friends—often have no idea what’s happening in our monthly and yearly meetings; we simply aren’t communicating information in a way that will reach them. You can’t be meaningfully included in a thing if you don’t even know the thing is happening.

 

Culture Flip #4: Developing a meaningful presence on social media 

What does this look like in a monthly meeting?

I hear all kinds of arguments about why we should or should not, as Friends, engage with social media. Some of the points made are really good ones. I, too, carry very real concerns about social media, particularly the ways in which the algorithms are contributing to a country that is more sharply divided than ever. And more generally, the misuse of mathematical algorithms and computer programming are a significant threat to social justice throughout the world.

But we can’t allow ourselves to make this decision less than what it really is. For a group of Friends, collectively, to decline to use social media is akin to the same group of Friends declining to use cars. Just as we live in a world organized around cars, we now live in a world organized around social media. To decline to be engaged in this is to reject being full participants in what’s happening in the world.

If we decide not to use social media, we should understand the gravity of the decision we’re making.  If we decide to use social media, we should learn how to do so meaningfully.

But what does a meaningful social media presence look like?  I’m going to offer here some basic practical tips, because that’s what I hear most Friends asking for.

First of all, when developing a social media presence for your church or meeting, start with Facebook. This has the broadest reach (68% of people living in the U.S.), is the most user-friendly, and serves Friends’ multiple purposes well. Once you are doing solid work on Facebook (this will take several months at a minimum), then you can consider adding Instagram, then maybe Twitter or Pinterest or SnapChat. It’s not necessary to be on all of these platforms. Beyond Facebook, use additional platforms if you have the time and ability to use them well; otherwise, don’t make the attempt.

In the same way that printed materials and websites can be used for multiple purposes, social media can be used for multiple purposes–specifically, as a vehicle for information, communications, pastoral care, and outreach. I recommend that meetings set up a Facebook page with up to four separate co-admins, though it’s just as reasonable for a single person to serve all four functions.

Your Information Admin, possibly the same person who publishes your newsletter or webpage, posts upcoming events and announcements. For events, the information admin should invite individual Friends and consider paying to boost the event if the public is invited. For announcements, relevant individuals should be tagged. This person should also share relevant events and announcements from other Quaker groups and other groups in the local community.  (If you’re feeling iffy about the definitions of words like ‘boost’ and ‘tag,’ just go over to Google and ask.  You can type into the search box a question like, “What does it mean to boost an event on Facebook?”

Your Communications Admin, possibly the same person who answers email inquiries that come to your meeting, should check the page at least three times a week and should answer all private messages, respond to comments on posts and ads, and ‘like’ and ‘share’ posts that other co-admins have created.

Your Pastoral Care Admin, possibly a member of your ministry and counsel, is specifically responsible for posting in times of general distress. When an upsetting event occurs—natural, social, or political, whether it’s local, national, or global—the pastoral care admin posts relevant, grounding, and empowering messages. These messages are not news articles. They are blogs, videos, images, quotations, and pre-existing Quaker statements relevant to the event that has occurred—messages about grieving or peaceful resistance or earthcare or loving our neighbors, etc., as seems appropriate.

Your Outreach Admin, possibly a member of your outreach committee, is responsible for posting a consistent stream of content (at least three posts per week, year-round) that is grounded in Quaker Faith and Practice and also comprehensible to non-Quakers who may find your Facebook page. These posts might include QuakerSpeak videos, quotations and queries from Faith and Practice (if possible, superimposed over images), epistles from various Quaker gatherings, Scripture or quotations from historic Friends, and simple blog posts from Quakers around the world. If your meeting is using Facebook ads, this person is also responsible for maintaining those.

A few other quick tips: Not every post you make on the page is seen by everyone who follows the page.  Sadly, Facebook’s standard algorithm shows your posts to only 10-15% of your page’s followers.  But there are some ways to increase the viewership.  First, publish in the “sweet spot” for your community, meaning the time when lots of your viewers are likely to be on Facebook–for my meeting, this is the after dinner hour, but experiment a little to find yours.  Second, make the posts as visual as possible, always including pictures or videos–text alone doesn’t get shown very much.  Third, empower members of your community by asking them to volunteer to visit the page two or three times a week, liking and sharing the posts that they find there.

Lastly–social media demands agility and adaptation. For now, Facebook is the dominant social media platform and arguably the most useful social media platform in which to invest resources. That will not always be the case. We need to reassess at least yearly—is Facebook still the best platform for our meeting’s purposes?

A note about trust. Social media moves fast. It will be necessary for the meeting to choose Friends to this work and then say, “We trust you. We trust that you will not post in a way that is inconsistent with our Faith and Practice, and knowing that, we do not have the need to approve the placement of every comma.” If a post is questionable—by which I mean not that some Friends disagree with some part of it, but that one or more Friends believe it should not have been posted at all—then I recommend a conversation offline, according to gospel order.

 

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

 

Cutting the Code

This is the third 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 #3: Frequent use of Quaker terminology without context

Why is this a barrier to multiage inclusion?

Two years ago, I sat in a room with a group of twelve Quakers between the ages of twenty and forty. We had gathered to talk about Quaker terminology, and someone started our period of worship by saying, “All right, Friends. Let’s settle.”

There was a moment of silence followed by increasingly loud giggling before we finally realized the irony. In spontaneously sharing our experiences with that particular phrase, four of us said we had no idea what it meant when somebody said “let’s settle.” One said he had never heard this before. The remaining seven each had a different definition. None of us had ever heard it explicitly defined.

This is crazy. At least in the case of “let’s settle,” there are some clear context clues that give an idea of what such a thing might mean. The person saying it usually closes their eyes and gets quiet immediately afterwards. That’s a good cue that we should do the same, and many of us would interpret that as being some kind of transition into worship, though it’s unclear why the person would choose that particular phrase. A child might easily associate it with the phrase “settle down” and assume it’s a disciplinary comment meaning, “You’re being too loud. Stop talking now.”

And we use Quaker terminology without context all the time. Below, you’ll see an actual announcement, word-for-word, from my own yearly meeting’s website…

(And by the way, when we say “yearly meeting” to people, do we stop to explain what that means?  Just to practice what I preach – a “yearly meeting” is a geographical division of a group of local meetings/churches, in my case sixty-some of them across three states.  We call is a yearly meeting because the whole group used to meet for business exactly once per year.)

Here’s the announcement:

This year’s Summer Sessions theme is “Bringing the Peaceable Kingdom to a Turbulent World” — in keeping with the fifth priority in the Statement of Leadings and Priorities approved by NYYM in 2014: “We Envision a Yearly Meeting That Supports and Amplifies Our Witness.”

Words and phrases in this sentence that newcomers, younger generations, and Friends not frequently participating in yearly meeting activities are unlikely to understand: summer sessions, peaceable kingdom, statement of leadings and priorities, NYYM, and witness. Mathematically, this announcement is 26% incomprehensible, except it’s really much more than that, since most of the words everyone will understand are words like “the” and “in.” From a practical point of view, no one who’s not already part of the club will ever read past it.

I use the phrase “part of the club” intentionally.  This kind of lingo is exactly the sort of code that a group of kids might set up for a treehouse club or a secret society.  We haven’t done it on purpose, but we’ve set things up so that there are insiders and outsiders.  Does that feel right?

The text that I quoted above does get better in the following sentences and is followed up by several pages’ worth of information on how to participate in summer sessions. Unfortunately, most people who were completely lost in the first sentence will just close the window.

 

Culture Flip #3: Practicing brief, clear explanations and contextualization of all terms and references to institutional structure, every time, in the moment, as we go

What does this look like in a monthly meeting?

Some of our Quaker terminology is flat-out unnecessary. Why do we still say “monthly meeting” and “yearly meeting” when monthly meetings meet weekly and most yearly meetings meet more often than yearly? I think it’s a matter of benign neglect. We understand ourselves just fine, and having special lingo makes us feel kind of cool. My question is, why is that more important than being understood by new Friends, younger Friends, and seekers? When we can, I think we should substitute terminology that’s easier to understand. Not “monthly meeting,” but “local meeting.” (Britain’s already done that.) Not “yearly meeting,” but maybe “area” or “region” or something.

Then there’s the terminology that’s genuinely, specifically meaningful, like “discernment” or “being grounded” or “eldering.” These are words and phrases that have either been invented by Quakers or that have taken on some unusual definition among Friends, and although the terms aren’t widely understood (at least, in the same ways) outside of the Religious Society of Friends, they’re terms that can’t easily be replaced by some other, pre-existing word. These are the terms that are precious, and while they shouldn’t be abandoned, they must be explained.

The same goes for many of our practices. It’s pretty obvious, when you attend a business meeting, that you wait for the person sitting in the front to call on you before you speak. And most people pick up on other little cues, such as the fact that it’s frowned upon to whisper to your neighbor, or to pull out your phone, or to come right out and say that another speaker is wrong. But often, each person is left to figure out why these behaviors exist, either entirely on their own (by reading and asking questions) or in a context outside the event itself (in a religious education setting, for example). Why aren’t we teaching these things in the moment?

Linguists have discovered that parents all over the world exhibit a particular type of silly behavior when spending time with their babies, most likely due to a universal instinct. These formerly articulate adults suddenly start narrating everything that’s happening, and this despite the fact that the baby they’re talking to isn’t even capable of understanding. In the absence of other adults, and sometimes in the presence of other adults, parents will coo, “You’re putting your foot in your mouth. Yes, you are. Oh, there’s your sock. Look at your sock. Wet sock. Icky yucky. There it goes again. You’re putting your foot in your mouth…”

I’m not suggesting we be patronizing. There’s no need to talk to people like babies. But there’s something important to be learned from this approach, because the baby does eventually figure out what a foot is, and what a sock is, and how spit makes socks wet. And if we waited to speak to the baby until the baby knew how to speak—or if we explained things to the baby only at certain times, like some kind of baby school, explaining what a foot is at a moment when the baby had no interest in its feet—then our babies would never, ever learn to speak.

We should be explaining our terminology and our practices as they come up, every single time. This will be challenging for us to remember, and it’s tricky to do it quickly. But it’s possible, and it’s a skill worth learning.

At the beginning of a meeting for worship with a concern for business, why should a clerk not say, “My name is Margaret Woolman. I’m serving as clerk for this meeting, which means it’s my job to stay spiritually grounded, to listen carefully to everything that is said, and to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak. The person sitting next to me is John Fell. He’s the recording clerk, which means it’s his job to write down what happens today. You’ll have a chance to hear and approve of what he’s writing down as we go. We’re passing around a sign-in sheet. Please write your name there. It goes in our minutes so that other people in the future can look back and see who was here. On your chairs, you found a written agenda. At the top is a glossary of terms—what the different committees on the agenda do, what the acronyms stand for, that sort of thing. We’re going to settle into worship before we begin. This is just like the worship we do at eleven o’clock every week, when we find our spiritual center and it’s possible that someone might have ministry to share, except that it will only last about five minutes before I’ll start telling you about the first item on the agenda. When I do start speaking, we’ll try together to stay in a spirit of worship, connected to the Divine in the same way, even though we’re talking about the business of the meeting.”

And so forth. It doesn’t matter whether Margaret sees anyone new in the group or not; this only takes a minute, and in addition to educating newer or younger Friends, it serves as a refresher for others who have gathered and a chance for other Friends in the meeting to notice if their idea of the clerk’s job is different from Margaret’s, in which case they might follow up after the fact.

Written glossaries are important and can be included at the top of every document–not with every Quaker term in the universe, one would hope, but with the ones that are used on that specific piece of paper.

And the same thing can be done verbally when making announcements. “The Ministry and Counsel Committee (which is the group of people responsible for caring for the people of the meeting and our worship together) invites everyone to apply for scholarship assistance for summer sessions (which is the week-long meeting in July of Quakers from all over the state). If you want more information, you can talk with George. George, will you please wave?”

What else can we do to cut the code—to clarify what we’re talking about as we’re going along so that nobody is left behind just because they haven’t yet learned the lingo?

 

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

 

Sacred Joy

This is the second 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 #2: Equating seriousness with sacredness

Why is this a barrier to multiage inclusion?

I’m not at all convinced by the idea that younger people are naturally more cheerful than older people, but whether it’s a natural part of life or something we’re socialized into or some combination of the two, older generations do seem to spend a lot less time laughing and playing than the younger ones do.

Among (northeastern, liberal) Friends, I see a lot of equating seriousness with sacredness. Take a look around the room at the next meeting for worship; you don’t see a whole lot of smiles. And if your meeting laughs during business meeting, you’re lucky—that’s an unusual group. I’ve even heard this perspective articulated. A couple of years ago, we used a joy-based query for an extended meeting for worship, something like, “Tell us what in your meeting brings you joy.” Afterward, when we reflected on the day, several Friends said things like, “The worship wasn’t as deep as usual. I think it was because we focused on the lighter side of things; we lost the opportunity to explore the really deep questions that we usually hold.”

Like many other things, over time, equating seriousness with sacredness becomes a deeply entrenched part of our culture. But it isn’t necessary. And to those who are coming in from the outside—either because they are younger, or because they are exploring Quakerism having recently arrived from other traditions—a commitment to seriousness feels less like a commitment to sacredness and more like a commitment to being boring. In this type of culture, children check out pretty much immediately. Many other younger people and newcomers aren’t far behind.

It isn’t that our younger generations can’t handle serious.  They handle serious all the time–especially our teens.  Serious is a huge part of life.  But generally speaking, younger generations are less likely to be willing to participate in communities where the balance between work and play, struggle and joy, lamentation and celebration, is drastically skewed.

Their sense of balance isn’t off.  Ours is.

 

Culture Flip #2: Behaving as though joy and gratitude are as sacred as struggle and lamentation

What does this look like in a monthly meeting?

I’m not implying, when I suggest this, that we should start treating struggle and lamentation as less sacred than we currently do. I’ve heard some Christocentric Friends refer to this as “holding both the cross and the resurrection.” I think of it as honoring the suffering but also the joy of the promise of God. We can’t just dance across moments of genuine darkness and pretend that all is fine and dandy. To do so is to dishonor our sisters and brothers who are in pain.

However, to fail to celebrate what’s worth celebrating is to dishonor our sisters and brothers who are rejoicing. It’s also not what God seeks for us. Pollyanna claimed there were eight hundred “rejoicing texts” in the Bible—times when God commanded us to rejoice. I ran a quick search online and only found four hundred and thirteen. Still, as any parent knows, if you tell somebody to do something four hundred and thirteen times, it’s generally because you’re hoping they will do that thing.

I’d love to see meetings sit down and make a record of all the time the whole meeting spends together in the course of a month. This might include meeting for worship, business meeting, and other whole-meeting or most-of-the-meeting gatherings. Then divide it up. How much of this time was spent playing, laughing, rejoicing, or celebrating, and how much of this time was spent working, crying, lamenting, or grieving? When in doubt, think about people’s faces. If most people were wearing their “serious face,” it goes in the second column.

Then think about what you might do to ensure that next month, the columns are evenly split, 50/50. A two-hour business meeting about property should be balanced by a two-hour potluck and board games session. If there isn’t enough time for both, the business meeting clearly needs to be shorter.

Each microcosm of the meeting can repeat the exercise. Is our committee time 50/50? Is our First Day School time 50/50? Is our Bible study 50/50?

It’s not really about the 50/50 balance, of course, and it certainly isn’t solely about multiage inclusion.  Communities that celebrate together live more fully into God’s plan for us.  Or, if you’re searching for a more scientific reason to do it, laughter releases chemicals in our brains that lead directly to trust and group bonding.

Can you aim for the 50/50 balance for a month, as an experiment?  For two months?  For three?  Can you discover how prioritizing joy and play might shift your whole meeting’s understanding of what it is to be faithful?

Each committee might do some discernment: “What can we do this month to help members of the meeting rejoice and express gratitude?” Ministry and Counsel might add an opportunity during announcements for expressions of joys. Buildings and Grounds might make a celebration bulletin board for pictures of new babies, marriages, and graduations. As for Finance Committees—I leave that to you, but there must be something!

New York Yearly Meeting’s fifteenth query begins, “Do we partake of the joy of the love of God and make our lives a celebration of the sharing of this love?”

How does your meeting, as a whole, partake of the joy of the love of God?

How do you make your life together as a Beloved Community a celebration of the sharing of this love?

 

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