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.
Continue reading “What is a Quaker Ministry? (What Isn’t?)”

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.
Continue reading “Is it Time to Strip Quakerism Naked?”

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.
Continue reading “Stop Robbing Us of Your Gifts.”

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?
Continue reading “Why Being Told I Wasn’t a Quaker Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me”

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.
Continue reading “Video Songs: An Emerging Genre of Internet Art”

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.
Continue reading “How to Heal from 9/11”

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

Bicycling into New York City part II: Biking into Manhattan on the George Washington Bridge

This is the second in a 3 part series on biking into Manhattan.
read Part One

Richmond to Boston on a bicycle

Me with all my gear loaded on my Xtracycle.
Me with all my gear loaded on my Xtracycle.

I recently completed a 1,000 mile bike tour in which I lugged all of my musical equipment from Richmond to Boston and then on to Buffalo.

Continue reading “Bicycling into New York City part II: Biking into Manhattan on the George Washington Bridge”

Xtracycle Radish Tour Vlog

For the past three months I have been touring on an Xtracycle Radish. Every week for ten weeks, I recorded and uploaded a vlog. Now, for the first time, each of those vlogs is combined into one window. You can watch all the way through or find the most interesting episodes, all from here!

Xtracycle Radish Tour

For the past three months I have been touring on an Xtracycle Radish. From Richmond to Boston and then on to Buffalo, NY, I ended up riding about 1,000 miles with all of my gear, which turned out to be about 120 Lbs. (!)

Click here to find out how I fit all of

that equipment onto my bike.


Two Wheel Tour Vlog

For ten weeks, I recorded and uploaded a vlog every week, which included footage from my performances and from the ride… and revealed some of the secrets of how I made my trip happen!

Now, for the first time, all of that footage is combined into one window. You can watch all the way through or find the most interesting episodes, all from this page!

Letters of Support and Recommendation

Promise Partner, Olney Friends School

Promise Partner, of Olney Friends School
“One student commented, ‘I hadn’t written that way before. It opened me up, made it easier to write, and I produced things I love.’ Another student, who was already a writer, said that her poetry has changed because of Jon’s workshops: ‘Now I can get out of my head and let the spirit in.’

Read the rest of Promise’s letter…


John W. Baird, Head of School, Westtown School

john-baird-westtown-head-school“Friend Jon connected well with students from both Quaker and other backgrounds. His vibrant spoken word messages touched on themes of environmental stewardship, peace, equality, justice and other quaker testimonies with an authenticity and immediacy that expanded the vocabulary of worship for all of us.”

Read the rest of John’s letter…


Tom Hoopes, Religious Studies Teacher at George School

“Jon Watts brings people together across boundaries of age, theology and musical taste. After Jon’s recent performance at George School, I heard a wide range of affirmative responses from various people. A spiritually-seeking teacher in his late twenties remarked, “Wow. Jon Watts is the real deal. He’s got it.” A very savvy girl of 18 said, “He is SO hot! I have all of his CDs.” A colleague in her 50’s noted, “I love his stuff. And my kids and their friends all have his music on their iPods.”

Read the rest of Tom’s letter…


Walter Hjelt-Sullivan, Academic Dean of Pendle Hill

walter-hjelt-sullivan-pendle-hill“Jon Watts is a skillful and perceptive performer. His performances take on the flavor of a Meeting for Worship. It is clear to me that Jon both prepares the play list to create that atmosphere and listens carefully to follow the leadings of the Spirit in the moment. What I appreciate most about Jon and his ministry is the honesty, sincerity, and transparency of his journey. He continuously seeks to be faithful – to find the true message that has been given to him.”

Read the rest of Walter’s letter…


Max Carter, Director of Friends Center at Guilford College

Max Carter“After witnessing the profoundly positive impact Jon’s work has had on the Quaker community at Guilford, I have felt moved to share the fruits of his labor with the wider Quaker world. I hope that Jon’s music will inspire others to dig deep into the experience of early Friends and discover, as Jon did, deep resources for our lives today.”

Read the rest of Max’s letter…


Bicycling into New York City Part I: How (not) to Bike into Manhattan

This is the first in a 3 part series on biking into Manhattan.
read Part Two

Richmond to Boston on a Bike

Me with all my gear loaded on my Xtracycle.
Me with all my gear loaded on my Xtracycle.

When I first announced that I was going to ride my bike from Richmond to Boston, one of the first questions that most people asked was: “How are you going to get into Manhattan?”
Continue reading “Bicycling into New York City Part I: How (not) to Bike into Manhattan”

How to Carry a Guitar on a Bike

Trailer vs. Cargo Bike

When I first had the idea of doing my East Coast tour on bicycle, I looked into bike trailers. I couldn’t imagine any way to fit my guitar and amplifier onto the back of a bike without towing something behind. (not to mention my box of CDs, t-shirts, posters, tent, food, clothing, sleeping bag, stove, etc!)

But towing a trailer would have felt bulky… two wheels of extra friction on the road? And where would I leave the trailer when I wanted to ride around without all of my stuff?
Continue reading “How to Carry a Guitar on a Bike”