How Do We Save Quakerism?

Are your Meeting’s numbers dwindling? Do you worry that there won’t be a “next” generation to pass Quakerism on to?

Are your Meeting’s numbers dwindling? Do you worry that there won’t be a “next” generation to pass Quakerism on to?
quaker-meeting-house
You aren’t alone. As I’ve traveled the country visiting different kinds of Quaker Meetings, I’ve noticed that many Quaker Meetings are holding a similar, underlying anxiety: what’s next?

Of course there are Meetings that don’t fit this categorization, but if you are one of those Friends who holds a concern for the future of the Religious Society of Friends, read on.

Step 1: Ask Ourselves, “What Are We Trying to Save?”

As someone who gets most excited about Quakerism when I think about the Early Friends, I believe that the litmus test for whether we have life is the fire and Spirit that motivated the emergence of the Quaker movement.
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Can Self-Promotion Be Spirit-Led?

When I first received the call to do this work, my core values were offended. Hadn’t I already rejected the part of myself that strives for public attention? I was so attached to my humbleness that I refused to “self-promote”. Ironically, it was my pride and self-will that got in the way of my calling to publicize this ministry.

Give over thine own willing; give over thine own running; give over thine own desiring to know, or to be any thing

-Isaac Pennington full quote

As Quakers, we make this fundamental, unshakeable distinction: God’s will. My will.

If we are to do the will of God, we must first let go of our own striving, our own willing. And if we are to give over our own willing, how could it ever be in good order for us to reach out for something as vain and creaturely as celebrity?

I wrote this post as a part of QVS’ synchroblog on Quakers and new media. See what other bloggers had to say here.

The Allure of Attention

I am familiar with the allure of acting out my void in public. I want the attention. I want to be seen. I want to be known. I am afraid of being passed over.
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12 Pieces of Advice for Quakers on the Internet

I recently said in an interview with Friends Journal that I would like to challenge Friends to get clear about our relationship with the internet.

Getting clear would look like one of these two things:

A. We come together as Friends and find unity to FULLY REJECT casual use of the internet.
(If the idea makes you snort in disbelief, consider the precedence of our previous outward testimonies: rejection of war, alcohol, slavery)
or
B. We EMBRACE the internet as a powerful tool with which Friends can spread the word about our ministries, as the Early Quakers did with the printing press.

We are at a mighty crossroads in history. There is no excuse for us to be doing this half-in/half-out thing.
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Are YOU Ready for the Quaker Revival?

I have a confession to make: sometimes when I look at the state of our religious society today, what I see is bleak.

I see a lot of white, middle class Americans passing off white, middle class culture as essentially Quaker.

I see us catering heavily to Friends in their twilight years and losing the interest of young people who are excited and ready for transformation.
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We Don’t Need A Holiday To Give Thanks!

As Quakers, we traditionally do not honor traditions such as Christmas, Halloween, the naming of weeks and months, swearing on the Bible.

Wait… what? Does anybody actually do this anymore?

Nobody that I know. The Quakers I know call the days of the week by their names, eat a giant turkey dinner on Thanksgiving and unwrap presents on Christmas morning.

The only difference between us and the rest of the culture is that we might participate in “Buy Nothing Day” rather than Black Friday (but then we go shopping all the same).

My question is: have we lost something?

By celebrating holidays (“holy” days?) with the rest of the culture, are we consolidating our worship of God? Are we trivializing it?

The answer, for me, is: absolutely.
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What is a Quaker Ministry? (What Isn’t?)

In 2006 I chose to turn to the model of Quaker ministry to inform my making music. Getting low. Being humble. Only writing songs that felt like a message from the Spirit. Knowing that the message is not my own. Attempting to be a vessel. Releasing my agenda, knowing my limited perspective. Letting go and letting God.

For the past 5 years, I have been writing songs about Quakers, blogging about Quakerism, making videos about Quakers, vlogging about Quakerism, and traveling amongst Friends, sharing my music and my thoughts.

Now I have arrived at a turning point. The original call that I felt to commit to music was for five years. I knew that I would then stand back and re-evaluate, ask the hard questions, and change course if I felt called to.
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What Television (TV) Stations Are Shown at Planet Fitness?

So, like most folks, I wanted to schedule my visits to the gym around the TV Schedule. But when I googled “What TV Stations Play at Planet Fitness”, there was nothing! So I thought I’d be a gentleman and offer the photo that I snapped today.

This is going to be totally different than most of what I post. I usually blog about Quakers or my own music, but I recently joined a Planet Fitness gym, which has a row of televisions in front of the exercise machinery.
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Support a Minister. Sell Your Meetinghouse.

Vital ministry is essential to vitality. Vital ministry breaks us open, stirs us up, inspires conversations, exposes us, makes us uncomfortable, puts us through the refiners fire. Ministers activate people. In short, without vital ministry, we are lost.

Over the past month or so I have been engaging in a public clearness process about how I should move forward with my music and ministry. I have publicly revealed what is working well and what isn’t. (in short: broad spiritual life and success, financial shortfalls)

I think that my sharing this may be somewhat confusing to Friends. I have heard from many folks who are concerned about me, who wanted to offer emotional support through my tough times. And then there’s the opposite reaction to the same interpretation:

Buck up. Get a job. Quit whining about not getting to live your dream and passion, we all have to give that stuff up at some point and grow up.

“Following Passion” VS Servitude

While I’m grateful for such broad engagement, I find many of these responses to be fundamentally unhelpful.

I consider myself to be a servant and not a self-serving follower of my passion. My musical journey ceased to be my own when I committed to it as a ministry.
Continue reading “Support a Minister. Sell Your Meetinghouse.”

Is it Time to Strip Quakerism Naked?

Our spiritual forefathers and mothers spoke of a “Light” that was an intense spotlight, something distinctly uncomfortable, that would shine on the the dark places inside of ourselves and reveal the things that we are trying to hide. This “Light”, honestly, sounds horrifying. It is no wonder they also called it the “refiner’s fire”.

“The Light”

Growing up in Liberal FGC Quakerism, I would often hear reference to “the light” as something warm and comforting. I felt comforted when someone said that they were going to hold me in the Light, and I felt comforted when I heard Friends profess to honor the Light within everyone.

After reading Early Quaker writings though, I wonder if I didn’t grow up with a Disney-esque version of “the Light”.

Our spiritual forefathers and mothers spoke of a “Light” that was more like a spotlight, intense and uncomfortable, that would shine on the the dark places inside of ourselves and reveal the things that we are trying to hide. This “Light”, honestly, sounds horrifying. It is no wonder they also called it the “refiner’s fire”.

The Early Friends believed that we must all go through the refiner’s fire before we are healed, before we are whole and before we step back from our greed, our oppression, our brokenness. We must let go of the ways that we are hiding, the things that we are using to shield ourselves. We must become naked.
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Stop Robbing Us of Your Gifts.

But here is my point: we spend too much of our lives feeling insignificant, feeling not-powerful, waiting for someone to tell us that its okay to use our voice now.
Stop waiting for cultural credentials to write your book. Write it now. Stop holding back from singing in the streets. Stop waiting for an “appropriate” message to stand up with in Meeting for Worship. Stop robbing us of your gifts.

Back in the 17th century, our ancestors risked a great deal to try to prove the point that God didn’t speak more or more clearly to educated clergy, that every person had equal access to Truth. In an age where church and state were the same, it was a dangerous idea. A radical idea. A revolutionary idea.

Some might say that a lot has changed since then.

I would argue that the 17th century concept of “educated clergy” is still alive and well, but has been internalized and manifests in different manners.

  • Culturally, we give more potence to someone with letters behind their name, if they are wealthy, or speak in an educated manner.
  • We relegate our gifts into one professional specialty that then becomes so strongly linked with our identity that we cease to experiment with other forms of expression.
  • We as Quakers often present ourselves based on “Quaker credentials” (what committees we’ve clerked, where we have membership, etc).

Sing with Me!!!

One aspect of my musical ministry is improvisation. I love to make music in the moment, using whatever is available. I find that it allows for a kind of playfulness and communication amongst Friends that silent worship or verbal dialogue does not.
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Why Being Told I Wasn’t a Quaker Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me

Yesterday my co-minister and partner in crime Maggie posted a blog entry entitled “YOU’RE NOT A QUAKER (so please stop calling yourself one)

The post has provoked some great discussion and obviously real feelings from some of the (many) visitors to the post in the past 24 hours. As you might imagine, some of the reaction is indignance at the suggestion that one Quaker can judge another’s Quaker-y-ness. Didn’t we do away with all those elders and the practice of writing Friends out of Meetings?
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Video Songs: An Emerging Genre of Internet Art

Rather than passively sitting back and being entertained, we now interact with whatever we are watching… we share it on facebook, we comment on it, and we even make response videos. It is definitely a new world of media, sharing and entertainment.

The Changing Face of Art

Listen! Can you hear it?

That’s the sound of people all over the world uploading videos to Youtube. 48 hours of footage every minute.

While that number represents an unwatchable (and perhaps unfathomable!) amount of video, what it says to me is that we are interacting online in a new way. Video has become a standard and casual medium.

Involving Ourselves in the Conversation

Rather than passively sitting back and being entertained, we now interact with whatever we are watching… we share it on facebook, we comment on it, and we even make response videos. It is definitely a new world of media, sharing and entertainment.
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How to Heal from 9/11

“What’s important is not your emotional reaction to something, but how you hold and interact with that emotion”

It will continue to become clear that 9/11 was a turning point for our country. Not because we were attacked. Because of the way we responded to being attacked, which was far more damaging (to us) than the attacks themselves.
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How My Ministry Ministers to Me (Or… How I’ve Been Called Into Nakedness)

Sometimes Friends approach me after performances, on the internet, after a Meeting for Worship, and praise me, noting how deeply my ministry affects them.

With all due respect (and thank you, truly), we might be going about this thing all wrong.

Invited Into Fully Being

When I take on a new project, I find that it is more often because there is something about the subject matter that I don’t know than because I do. That is to say – I receive a leading to go where I am blind, not where I am familiar.

When I lived at Pendle Hill in 2006-07 I named my project The Art of Fully Being. I saw that our shame and fear of judgment causes us to live limited lives in which we allow ourselves to experience openly only a narrow scope.

Rather than feeling that “I have figured out the way to live fully and now it is time to tell everyone else”, I felt that I was being invited into knowing that my own shame and fear of judgment limits my ability to love myself, to allow myself to be (which undoubtedly affects my ability to love others and allow them to be!).

To be specific, I tend to panic when emotions arise in me that I am not proud of or comfortable with: anger, jealousy, doubt, shame. My panic exacerbates the emotion that I am trying to avoid. What if, instead of hating and fearing these emotions, I allow them to rise in me and examine them lovingly…?

“Why don’t you try it and see what happens?”
-The leading to make The Art of Fully Being

What a gift is art. And what a challenge.

Invited to Clothe Myself in Righteousness

My current project is about nakedness. On a similar vein to TAoFB, I have found that our shame and fear of judgment hinders our authenticity in the world. We care deeply about being loved and being accepted, and we often will go to great lengths to prove our worthiness and hide aspects of ourselves that we perceive to make us unworthy.

I see that I wrap my perceived value up into my identity. My ability to be a clear and loving presence is hindered by my anxiety about how others perceive me and what I see as my value level in the social hierarchy. I have found myself clothing myself in my value as a musician or as a well known Friend. In this project I have been invited to dig past those layers, and it has caused a great deal of soul searching.

…and the project is not done. I am still in the final stages of recording (just posted this update on the CYiR website) and surely will continue to be ministered to by the project (often it is in the presentation and reaction to the project that I am the most stretched, as you might remember from my last music video).

But I can already point to major shifts in the way that I approach art. Instead of comfortably nestling my voice into layers and layers of instruments, production, and backup vocals, I have felt called to “strip it down”, lift my voice out and place it, bare, out in the front of the mix. The guitar work, similarly, is bare, with few layers and other instruments to distract.

I am videotaping each part of each recording session and will post videos online. This is taking something that once was a very private, solitary process for me and exposing it.

I am putting the project (my baby!) into the hands of others for the mixing and mastering.

Each of these things is dramatically new and different, and oh, how naked I feel! I am certain that the songs will speak to people, but while I am glad that others can benefit as witnesses of my projects, I wonder if passive observation is an easy way out.

We are all able to listen to the ways in which we are called into radical experiments in being. It is fine to appreciate “my” ministry, but I would like to encourage us to see others’ ministries as a beginning, or as the inspiration to follow the leadings that would minister to us.

Where My Great Passion Meets the World’s Great Need, Or, How Music Became My Ministry

I couldn’t see devoting myself to an extremely risky line of work for the sake of nothing but my faith in my own talent. My studies at Guilford pinballed my professional future between subjects in which I have a peripheral interest: psychology, sociology, restorative justice, philosophy. Then I discovered Quakerism. I should say, I re-discovered Quakerism.

The Beginnings of My Vocational Discernment

During my senior year at Guilford (‘05-’06), there was an active discussion about vocation. “Where my great passion meets the world’s great need” was the phrase bouncing around in my head and the community’s collective consciousness.

I had been writing and recording songs as a hobby since my senior year of high school. By 2006 I had even released a few CDs and played some shows. Music was, without a doubt, my great passion. But there were several major barriers between me and committing to my journey as a musician: (1) It is incredibly unlikely that one will succeed in this line of work; (2) Success often comes at the abandonment of the passion or love that brought one to explore music in the first place; (3) The majority of successful musicians are doing no great service to anything but their own egos.

I couldn’t see devoting myself to an extremely risky line of work for the sake of nothing but my faith in my own talent. My studies at Guilford pinballed my professional future between subjects in which I have a peripheral interest: psychology, sociology, restorative justice, philosophy.

Then I discovered Quakerism.

I should say, I re-discovered Quakerism. Or: I was convinced (as Quakers like to say).

Examining My Roots – A Deeper Commitment

I grew up Quaker. I was well versed in the modern Quaker jargon, the institutional acronyms, the banter of Young Friends, the songs of the camping programs and the schedules and rhythms of the FGC Gatherings. I thought I was as Quaker as they come.

The Early Friends said that baptism comes inwardly and powerfully when we make ourselves open to the spirit of Christ. My senior project for the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program was such an opportunity. Tired of music being an isolated thread in my life, I was inspired to write and record a CD of songs about the Early Friends and the beginnings of the Quaker movement.

The experience was incredible, not just for the personal and moving stories that I uncovered about the Early Quakers, but for the way that the world seemed to rise up around me to supply the resources needed to make the project powerful, alive. In sharing that life with my immediate community of Guilford and the wider community of Quakerism, I‘ve seen its impact be deep, meaningful, transformational. I had found where my great passion meets the world’s great need.

Settling into Action

Today, four years later, I spend my time traveling among Friends, exploring art and ministry and our collective history. I see this as being sacred, and very important, work and I am well supported in doing it.

Certainly I would not have discovered such a perfect, unconventional way to use my specific set of gifts had I not been given the opportunity to explore vocation in the safe container of Guilford College. I think of it as threading a needle (or threading several at once), which takes a lot of trial and error, thought and space. It is invaluable that undergraduates be given the space and guidance to do this explorative work, and I am always glad to know that Guilford and QLSP are still out there, helping to shape our soon-to-be ministers, musicians and leaders.

-Jon Watts QLSP ‘06

Reposted from the Friends Center Fall 2010 Newsletter