May 17, 2007

Guest Piece: Making our message accessible

Fellow blogger Wess Daniels of Gathering in Light responds to the questions raised at the end of the previous post with queries of his own.

Though Wess interpreted the original questions as defensive, in an online exchange with him I explained that I knew the hearts of each Friend who had attended the adult education program; and that I was moved by their curiosity and genuine amazement for how some Friends are able to dedicate the time to read and participate thoughtfully in the online conversation.

This guest piece is a reprint of Wess' original comment, and is posted here with his permission. The questions to which Wess refers start this post for easier reference. -Liz

Does the internet break down or undermine face-to-face interaction and genuine person-to-person contact?

If "all of us" are always blogging (or emailing or...), who's doing any listening?

What do we give up in our life in order to have time to use the internet for email, blogging, and so on?

What made us start to blog? Why do we continue blogging?

Is the quickness of the internet and the convenience of post-comment-respond a good thing?

Are traditional Quaker journals and magazines (e.g. Friends Journal) weakening in their content as a result of blogs?

I'm surprised how defensive the majority of those questions are - they all seem to come from a position of trying to protect something, a holding back, as opposed to a digging in, on the offense kind of approach.

I hope that Quakers can begin to lead the pack again in various ways of communicating, as we once did with the first Publishers of Truth, as well as other ways of engaging our world. We can't afford to be on the defensive for much longer, I am afraid that in many ways the world has already passed us by.

This isn't to say we adopt every new thing whole-heartedly and without reflection - but queries of discipline and discernment are different than self-preservation and defense. Maybe I've read the questions wrong, but I feel as though our questions reflect how we feel about our witness to the world and seems to assume God couldn't be in any of this.

Why not ask where is God working in this? What do these rising communities and online culture teach us about the Spirit of God? Or how is Gospel Order displayed within these new spheres? What does it look like, and mean, for one to be a Quaker blogger? Are there any virtues and characteristics that make our witness in this way to the world Christ-like? Or are we just like everybody else? And yes, what ways are these technologies oppressive and go against God's work in the world?

I am also curious as to how many people actually read our academic Journals? I personally read that stuff as much as possible, my world is surrounded by those things, and I certainly hope (even though I am a blogger) that a blog doesn't replace the work of the academy anytime soon!

But on the other hand, don't blogs make the message free for all, accessible to all, and again stress the importance of the "laity," to use a hierarchical term? I think lay-theology, if we dare call it that, is essential to the Quaker tradition.

Another question would be in what ways have our magazines, and academic periodicals put up false walls between us by only communicating the messages that suite the institutions which preside over those publications? Are there any convergent publications? (I do believe there are a couple) But, how much more have we discovered by hearing the voices and stories of those who are outside the walls of our various Quaker institutions by the free access to blogs which anyone, from any branch can write and read easily?

I hope we continue to forge ahead, and press into our calling to be a light to the world by engaging it in radical ways.

For me, I blog to share my own story and write theology that subverts the powers of both the world and the church in the Spirit and love of Christ.


MartinK said...

Hi Wess,
Thanks for reminding us that the questions start in asking where's God leading us to in all of this. Some random thoughts:

Blogs are giving us a way to interact in ways that our Quaker structures don't easily facilitate. More people are crossing the boundaries of Quaker traditions with more fluidity than in any time in recent memory.

We're also echoing early Friends' experience where individuals with concerns went traveling to preach with institutional approbation but not institutional infrastructure. Blogs haven't developed a kind of formal discernment process yet (and maybe never will) but the informal process of recognizing one another's ministry and strengthening it through interaction is definitely there.

For me personally, blogging these days is not primarily a process of giving up (as Liz implied) but rather it's a way to be engaged in a way that a parent with two small kids generally isn't able to be. Right now my connections to Quaker life would be much more tenuous and theoretical if not for blogs. It's worth noting that many Quaker bloggers are parents of young children or Friends in more geographically isolated communities.

The whole online/offline divide just isn't there. The blog friendships are spilling over into magazines and real-world meetings. This is just another tool.

Re: adopting new things. One thing that has struck me when reading old Quaker journals is the ability for a traveling minister to walk into a town and easily attract a large non-Quaker audience. Granted, they were often there hoping to see the minister get arrested by the authorities (a seventeenth century version of COPS?), but still how often does a Quaker minister get to do that kind of outreach nowadays? QuakerRanter and QuakerQuaker are both topping 7000 page views a month. I'm constantly meeting people who came to Friends through the Beliefnet quiz: the internet is a gift to Quakerism and a way for us to get out of the meetinghouse and onto the market square once again.

Martin @ QuakerRanter

C. Wess Daniels said...

Hey Martin,
Great points of reflection. I think the two that really grabbed me were the point about there being a tenuous Quaker community without blogs for some of us, I am included in that mix. I have considered you, and a number of other Quakers to be my official connection to the Friends world, and have gained great insight from all of you.

Secondly, I am not much for numbers, but the point that both your sites have so much traffic does show that it's happening, people are online, and people want to know what Quakers think about all kinds of contemporary issues (I know this from the searches that bring people to my own site). So that leaves the questions as to whether we want to have a voice and presence on the web, and what nature will that presence provide?

Anonymous said...

As with anything else, there can be too much blogging. I find though that since RichardM, my husband, has begun blogging, I am sitting in on various conversations about topics of interest to Friends. Since this usually only happens 5 or 6 times a year face to face, blogs makes it possible for me be aware of what is on the hearts of many friends, not just my own small meeting.


piotr said...

Why to say that the internet break down or undermine face-to-face interaction and genuine person-to-person contact ?

Face-to-face is the first way to meet people but how to meet people around the world and through the problem of language ?

Blogging is also necessary that to speak to people.

What’s the place of traditional journal and magazines in our world with the web ?

How is it possible to teach young generations ?

Blogging is the only solution for us, which are living in Europe.

How is it possible to stay in relation for european french speaking community ?


Liz Opp said...

Martin -

Just a quick clarification that the question about "What do we give up in order to have time to blog?" was lifted up by attenders of that particular adult ed session, not by me.

Like you and Wess, my own connection to a vibrant and rigorous Quakerism would be "much more tenuous... if not for blogs." During the session, I explained that blogs have actually opened doors to cross-branch intervisitation and dialogue that otherwise would probably not have occurred.

MaryM -

Thanks for adding your comment! Like you, my own partner occasionally "pokes her head in" to see what sort of conversations are happening on The Good Raised Up and elsewhere. I don't expect her to read everything I post but it's nice to know that she's not put off by the blogosphere, either. And I think she, like myself, appreciates the presence of Conservative Friends, who add a dimension to the online conversation that we otherwise would not have easy access to in the upper-midwestern United States.

Piotr -

Comment ca va? How wonderful to see you here.

...I remember when I was new to blogs: I worried that I would lose touch with my face-to-face friends; I wondered how authentic, caring communication would occur over email and the internet.

But I also trusted that I would learn what was or wasn't possible only by having the experience of writing blogs. Many Americans and many American Quakers rely on what we think and not on what we experience.

I don't know what the future holds for traditional journals and magazines, but I still believe in paying attention to what and how we teach younger generations about our faith. Quakerism is an active, interactive, and introspective/contemplative faith tradition: we cannot learn to be Quaker simply by reading about it, just as we cannot learn to swim simply by reading about it. We will need to use in our life what we learn in our home and in our houses of worship.

And as for staying in touch with Quakers whose first language is not English and who don't live in the United States...? Well, yes: we Americans have to do a better job of learning languages like French, Spanish, Chinese if we are going to bring about God's kin[g]dom on Earth.

I hope you will feel free to comment more frequently on English-language blogs to remind me and stretch me and call me out of my own teeny tiny worldview. I have appreciated the British Friends and Australian Friends and others who write, because they remind me that American Quakers are not the only Quakers in the world.

Merci bien, Piotr!