A Quaker Conversation on YouTube

Quaker info on the Internet is sorely lacking. There are videos of gatherings, picnics, beautiful slideshows of meeting houses and many videos of English conservative unprogrammed Quakers and within the last month, an odd stream of consciousness, buffet description of Quakerism by an obviously well-intentioned, but ill-informed woman who admits she hasn't ever been to Meeting! For a denomination that tends to attract the well educated and plugged in as members, there really are no good outreach video to explain what it means to be Quaker in the 21st Century. To explain the various divisions, jargon and even regions where Quakerism still flourishes (Indiana being one of those).

Yesterday, The Quaker Ranter, Martin Kelley, and Gather in Light's, C. Wes Daniels, skyped about some of the difficulties with insider Quaker lingo and the problems that presents for “outsiders.” Martin Kelley posted the conversation on his YouTube channel. They also discussed using YouTube as a way to get the word out, and how to go about doing it. The conversation is the first (trial) run of a series Martin Kelly plans to conduct. It's a good start.

If I may chime in. I'm a convinced Quaker coming to it through Southern Baptism as a child, Methodism, then for the last ten years, the Disciples of Christ. My Meeting is the only Meeting I've spent any good amount of time in and going on-line to find information about Quakers, I find few that match my Meeting. Some blogs have been very helpful and informative, but most, IMHO are just a lot of "Inside Baseball" blogs and websites. How can we attract new and curious seekers into Quakerism if we make it seem so difficult and dense, at least online? One really has to work and dig to find answers to the jargon and the differences a seeker is exposed to online. How a movement, based in part on simplicity became so complicated and divided, I haven't a clue. If the Internet is any example, it seems to have dissolved into feuding tribes between Models, Trends or Movements. It's frustrating and discouraging to read blogs and get the feeling that if your not a certain type of East Coast or West Coast Quaker, your not sitting at the Cool Quaker Table (or in some Friend's opinions, apparently not a Quaker at all). Each Internet search I do, each new blog I find often leads to the unspoken wish to have remained ignorant among my fellow Indianapolis Friends. I don't have many theological conversations with my minister. The few I've had, plus reading his books have helped. Personally I and most of my fellow Church Friends extend a hand of felowship to any Quaker/Friend, church/Meeting. Whether it's Christ centered, agnostic, zen or old school-one chromosome away from menonite. We are all in this together.

I'm not a poorly-educated man. I hold two degrees (five years apart) from Indiana University; History and Graphic Design. I minored in International Relations and Comparative Religions. Though I admit, even my most recent was long ago now. I'm a voracious reader of both fiction and non-fiction and try my best to keep up with fields and trends I'm interested in. Why then does the jargon and inconsistencies in the very definition of the word Quaker seem to escape me?

My Indianapolis Friends Church Meeting is: quite small; our members are mostly late 30's and up, well-educated, articulate, socially conscious and curious; minister guided (Programmed); Christ centered - sometimes stressing His non-conformist aspects (very similar to the Liberal Protestantism of The Disciples); politically and theologically liberal with a strong Peace and Local Activism Outreach; most in our Meeting believe in Christian Universalism. We have announcements of those we should Hold in the Light, a hymn with no accompanist, tithe collection, a short message of guidance by our Minister, James Mulholland then twenty to thirty minutes of silent worship. If so moved by the Light, a vocal ministry by a member Friend.

So what 'type' of Quaker does that make me/us? What movement, Trend or Model am I/we? If I slip and use a word that's common in Indiana but not commonly used, will I be looked down upon online? I don't, as a rule, use jargon, I learned a long time ago that it tends to put up a wall between my clients and myself and made me sound as if I'm putting on airs or as my grand-dad Brown would have said, "high-falutin''. We Hoosiers generally try not to do that, especially we Hoosier Quakers. I'm sincerely curious. I'm inviting other Quaker bloggers, activists, leaders, etc. to let me know by email (see my profile page) or via comment. Peace.


  1. Great reflection, thanks for bringing it to my attention. First, I don't think anyone will look down on you if you get any terminology wrong (at least not the Friends I "run with"). I can imagine them saying, "I think you mean, this or that," but that's all right - I get that all the time not just with Friends stuff but with just about everything!

    So -- write away, and people will help out if needed. I've found the Quaker blogging community to be by-and-large a nice place to hang.

    Second, In terms of what you are - the insider lingo would be "Semi-programmed" and then another way to connect you to the larger body of Friends would be to look and see what yearly meeting you are a part of. I was thinking your meeting must be a part of "Friends United Meeting" am I right about that?

    Other than that it sounds like your description is right on.

    Is that at all helpful?

  2. Hi Seeker65: Amen to a lot of this. I know I can be as guilty of "Insider Baseball" talk as anyone else but I find it annoying even when I'm the one doing it.

    There's a role for it, maybe, but I'm suspecting that the seekers dropping by the blogs to figure out what we're all about far outnumber all the Quaker boards and conferences and gatherings. The best blog exchanges have been friendly conversations, people just sharing what they've been led to understand about faith without getting too hung up on the language and without having to declare one way or another who's in and who's out. This being the internet, we've also got cranks and campaigners, neither of whom make good conversationalists and I've just learned to tune them out.

    A Quaker who shares his faith freely without jargon would be a---flipping through the categories--a---flipping some more--hmm, that would make him a---throwing hands up--well, that would make him a Friend, wouldn't it?

    Go figure!
    Your Friend,
    Martin @ QuakerRanter

  3. Hi there,

    I'm not sure if my youtube vid fits the bill for an understandable intro to Liberal Quakerism in the US, but I did intend it to be that. Check it out here, and let me know if it is in line with your vision.

    In the Light,

    Callid Keefe-Perry

  4. Well, maybe this is jargon, but I would call that a semi-programmed meeting.

    I am part of an unprogrammed meeting in California and I have enjoyed and learned from some of your pastor's books too.

  5. Thank you all for your comments! They were very helpful and appreciated. @ Wes, yes your right and I'll check that out. @ Martin, thank's for your gracious acknowlegement of my comments. @ Robin, LOVE your site!! @ Callid, I'll check it out. Thanks for sharing.

    It's funny and a bit ironic that when I wrote, "some blogs are very helpful..." I was specifically talking about Quaker Ranter, Gather in Light, Quaker Agitator and What Canst Thou Say?, along with a couple others. They are all in my Netvibes and I enjoy and learn from them. So there ya go! ;) Peace and Light.

  6. Just watched Callid's YouTube take (link above in his comment). Very well done and good take! I also want to quote what he posted there as a reply to a question about all the differences in Quaker beliefs. Callid replied: "this is only my viewpoint, but my experience is that there is room for kindness and compassion... I believe that if Meetings made more room for emotional, holistic, and religious dialogue and didn't spend as much time in a rationalistic, intellectual head-space we would find more of what unites us. We do struggle at times, and from what I've seen, the way forward is not always through thinking. Divine guidance is greater than any single member's thinking."

    Well said!!

  7. Seeker, you asked: "So what 'type' of Quaker does that make me/us? What movement, Trend or Model am I/we?"

    A very good question. Often I see or hear people say "Friends from both ends of the Quaker spectrum," and it seems that they forget that a spectrum is always going to have a middle and lots of points along the way from one end to the other.

    Of course, sometimes it's easier to frame conversations in an either/or way, but that does tend to leave out people like yourself who wonder if they will be accepted and understood if they happen to be somewhere along the spectrum and not at an end.

    Although jargon can be difficult, especially if it has outlived it's usefulness, I don't think inconsistencies are necessarily bad. IMO, they keep us asking questions.

    Perhaps the idea of community comes into play here. Each Meeting is a community, and at its best, each community will take on the characteristics of the collective spiritual journey of its members and attenders. We know that this does not always happen, but when it does, it results in a lot of diversity. That's something I value about the Friends' way.

    Your pastor has co-authored a couple of good books that I habitually lend to folks and then tell them to keep. Some good stuff there.


  8. An afterthought....

    My computer is a bit sluggish tonight, so I will have to wait until I'm on another computer tomorrow to hear the YouTube conversation.

    I think it's a great idea.

    My impression is that--in general--the Society of Friends is going through a renewal that involes not just a renewal of thought or practice, but also of outreach. The blogs, Quaker Quest in England, now YouTube--and other strategies.

    When people become excited about something, they want to share. I think it's a good thing that some of us are no longer bound to the idea that the Spirit will lead people to us without any help from us at all.

    Martin's remark that flipping through categories just leads us to the word "Friend" is spot on--but I also can understand your desire to tease the defitions out a bit.


  9. Hi there,

    I originally typed up some comments that I never posted... Then Martin, Wess and Robin responded. So this may be beside the point. I wanted to mention the following Quaker bloggers as well:
    Brent Bill and Micah Bales are Midwestern convergent friends. Brent is solidly in the pastoral tradition as a recorded minister. Micah is a member of Mid-America Yearly Meeting (I think) which he describes as being the original "convergent" Yearly Meeting because even though it's small it has several types of meetings and churches.

    I was going to mention Wess Daniels. He is an evangelical Friend from Ohio going to evangelical seminary in SoCal, and he is totally open to many types of seeking, Quaker and not.

    And in the end, remember that James Mulholland reaches millions of people compared to all of us bloggers!

    Do feel free to tell us where we are not transparent or not meaningful to anyone but ourselves.