April 29, 2010

QUIP Conference 2010

A number of months ago, I saw on Facebook an announcement about the annual QUIP conference (Quakers Uniting In Publications). I noticed that the theme of this particular conference was "Journals to Blogosphere," and despite already having two Quaker-related events penned in my calendar for that particular weekend, I could not deny the familiar pull in my gut that indicated God was speaking to me:

    You need to be here.
According to its website, QUIP is "an international network of Quaker booksellers - authors - publishers concerned with the ministry of the written word."

I found that to be true.

(It would have had a more international flavor had a certain volcano not interrupted flights out of Europe during the week. QUIP still managed to provide a bit of internationality: There was at least one Friend each from Canada, Bolivia, and Kenya, plus a State-side transplanted Brit.)

Among the people and presenters there, I was especially delighted by Tom Hamm's presentation on the history of Quakers and publishing; Brent Bill's remarks about the "trajectory of Truth-telling" in the age of blogs, e-books, and online presses; and Wess Daniels' interest group on Convergent Friends.

There was also an evening panel of three bloggers, including Yours Truly, Martin Kelley (the Friend behind QuakerQuaker), and Sarah Hoggatt.

(You know you've been around for a while as a blogger when another blogger tells you, yes she knows about QuakerQuaker but no, she doesn't know who Martin Kelley is.)

Another major accomplishment that held my attention throughout the four-and-a-half-day conference was the release of the amazing international youth book project, Spirit Rising. Since this QUIP Conference marked the book's release, there was a tremendous presence of young adult Friends there, including the entire 10-member editorial board, plus a few contributors to the book.

Below are my own reflections and record of some of what happened at this year's QUIP Conference.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

It's been a few weeks since I've been among Quakers in a Quaker setting. I've not even been able to attend a weekly Meeting for Worship for the past four or five weeks. I went to the Midyear Meeting of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) in late March, got sick at the very end of the weekend, and fell too far behind to write anything about Bill Deutsch's remarks on living with gratitude. Maybe that theme is enough for Friends to consider and doesn't require a blog post of personal reflections...?

About a week later, a handful of Friends attended the White Privilege Conference in southwestern Wisconsin, but even then we struggled to find a time and place to allow for worship and fellowship together.

So when I saw five familiar Quaker faces in the small Dayton, Ohio airport last Wednesday afternoon on my way to QUIP directly from my grandmother's funeral, I felt as if I was taking a good long drink at the well. It was a drink that was to be the first of many that I experienced at my inaugural QUIP Conference.

In the filled-to-capacity 8-person van that would take us to the Quaker Hill Conference Center in Richmond, Indiana, I spoke with Nancy Haines of Vintage Quaker Books and another Friend from Wellesley Friends Meeting in Massachusetts. We talked easily of the writing we're each doing, which led to tangents about family, early Quakers, and challenges in our meetings.

"I like this crowd already," I thought to myself. "We're talking about our Quaker lives, our struggles, our calls to ministry..."

Thomas Hamm

That first night, immediately after a homemade dinner for 40, we carpooled over to Earlham School of Religion for a presentation by noted Quaker historian and scholar Thomas Hamm. His presentation focused on how Quaker publications have changed--thematically and structurally--over the course of our history as Friends.

What could have been a very dry and protracted lecture was instead a session filled with humor, warmth, and a deep love for the subject.*

Tom began by acknowledging that the history of Quakers and publishing "is in large part the history of Friends' writing and distribution of the Truth as they perceived it, with the sincerity and the conviction as they were led by the Light."

Then he expanded on three major themes that presented themselves as a form of narrative arc for Quaker publications:
  • Pre-1660s. Proclaiming and articulating Quaker beliefs to the world, whether as individuals or on behalf of the Religious Society of Friends. These writings and publications included materials related to doctrine; epistles; and letters of advice.
  • 1660s-early 1900s. Engaging in controversy and actively confronting "the enemies of the Truth"--that is, those religious groups and other institutions that took issue with Friends. As Tom put it, "No attack should go unanswered," and Quakers back then made sure no attack did. Tom then added that Friends' answer to an attack was "often in the most vituperative way possible."

    During this period of growth, there was a span of eight years when Quakers published 300 books and tracts, averaging about a book a month--mostly written by George Fox. In addition to responding to attacks, Tom explained, the letters, books, and tracts put out by Friends were also distributed to advise, exhort, uplift, and inspire those who received the writings.

    The written act of "engaging in controversy" expands into the historic separations among Friends. Tom described how the start of of the information revolution and industrialization allowed for Friends to increase the volume of pages printed and distributed, due to the invention of the steam-powered printing press. Printing jumped from 200 pages per hour to 4,000-5,000 pages per hour.

    And so with the ease and lowered cost of printing, the newer printing press facilitated in some way the theological separations that had already begun to emerge among Friends.

    It was not lost on me how this new "information revolution" that we are currently involved in is also allowing for increased distribution of writings via blogs, online presses, and the like. Not to mention video, podcasts, Twitter, etc. And I also find it fascinating to consider that these increased communications today may be helping mend the original schisms that were accelerated by what was then cutting-edge technology...
I think a number of us wanted Tom to comment on and speculate about the 21st century, but he left that for Brent Bill to address later in the week.

Panel of Bloggers

The next night, after a full day of workshops, interest groups, and meeting for worship for business, QUIP gathered again, this time to hear from three Quaker bloggers about that particular form of publishing.

The exciting thing for me, as one of the panelists, was that one of the main conference planners, Stephen Dotson, had set up equipment to arrange for Martin Kelley to be "web-cammed" into the panel. So Martin was projected onto the wall behind where the other panelists were--the other panelists being Sarah Hoggatt (from Walking the Sea) and myself. At the same time, there was a computer in front of the panel, so Sarah and I could view Martin directly in front of us, and vice versa. The one minor setback was that Martin couldn't see the audience unless the computer with the webcam was made to do a 360--which it was, at one point.

Based on a few questions that Stephen had given us ahead of time, we introduced ourselves. Here were some of the talking points:
  • Why should Friends care about blogging or the blogosphere?
  • How do you sift through the massive amounts of information and find the gold amidst the noise and overload of the blogosphere?
  • How do you relate your blogging to your spiritual life and practice?
The discussion is pretty much a blur for me, much like any of us feel sometimes after we've spoken out of the silence during Meeting for Worship: it's hard to recall the particulars!

Some themes did come up, either through our own back-and-forth or drawn out by the questions that Friends asked. They included blogs as outreach and ministry; walking the line between sharing openly about an experience and keeping that experience strictly private--along with considering the privacy of others; the individuality of the internet; the anonymity of the internet and the interpersonal connections that blogging and social media can foster, especially in light of a yearning and willingness to be Known by one another; the growth of the Quaker blogosphere and how such growth has changed that sense of interconnectedness; the impact of Facebook on blogging...

I particularly liked a few of the questions that gave me something to think about more deeply.

One was about whether or not bloggers "fact checked" their posts, or how such fact-checking might happen. I was pleased to have remarked about the presence of at least two Friends with experience in blogging who seem very capable in helping in that arena!

Another question was about the extent we considered the privacy of another person before we would start writing about an event or interaction in which that person (or persons) might be involved. That was the question that led us as a panel to talk a bit more about being "public Friends," being modern-day publishers of the Truth, anonymity on the internet, and being transparent both in our meetings and online.

What I didn't say at the time but I'm thinking about now is that what we were talking about, in a way, was the concept of spiritual maturity: As we grow into our Quakerism, we may likely become less concerned about being asked permission to quote us or write about one another in our blogs, because we are becoming more concerned about being faithful to God's leadings and acting out of Love as much as possible.

The last question that caught most of us off-guard, I think, was about the change in how we might experience Spirit--or if we actually do experience the Spirit--when we are communicating through disembodied means, when we are physically removed from one another and the message is conveyed electronically and instantly, rather than through handwritten letters, voice-to-voice calls, person-to-person meet-ups over a meal.

The answer to that particular question will likely have to be lived out, just as early Friends had to find their way to stay in touch with one another--to exhort, advise, uplift, and inspire--as they left their homes to travel in the ministry, or were jailed for their bearing witness to the Truth.

Black Fire

A new anthology of writings by Friends and friends of Friends who are African American is due out in February 2011. It's called BLACK FIRE: Black Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights. The book is being edited by Hal Weaver, Stephen Angell, and Paul Kriese.

Black Fire includes the poetry, essays, and other writings of U.S. Black Quakers, and Black friends of Quakers, from colonial times forward, though not quite into current times. The writings address Friends and race, Friends and religion, and Friends and human rights. The idea behind the book was to highlight those voices that went missing, even though "silence should liberate, not oppress," as Paul explained during the workshop.

Here is a list of who is likely to be included in the anthology:

Benjamin Banneker
William Boen
Paul Cuffe
Sojourner Truth
Sarah Mapps Douglass
Robert Purvis
Jean Toomer
Howard Thurman
Ira DeAugustine Reid
Barrington Dunbar
Helen Morgan Brooks
Bayard Rustin
Mahala Ashley Dickerson
Bill Sutherland
Charles Nichols
George Sawyer
Vera Green

The hope is that Black Fire will both stand on its own as an anthology as well as be a companion book to Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship. As one of the editors mentioned during QUIP, "This book tells a story that needs to be told by those who need to tell it."

Spirit Rising

This book is impressive.

It leaves an impression on your hands as you hold it.

It leaves an impression in your mind, in your heart, and in your soul as you turn its pages and imagine the young African Friend, the distant Norwegian Friend, the GLBT Friend, the evangelical Friend...

At QUIP, the editorial board shared a bit of their challenges to work together, across cultures, continents, and theological differences. In some places around the world, there were no computers or typewriters. Others had to travel hundreds of miles to gather a few young Friends together for a writing workshop that maybe produced a few paragraphs...

The board members talked about the tenderness they experienced during their face-to-face gatherings: tenderness around words, beliefs, practice, and faith. Yet all of these Friends nodded their heads when one Friend noted in the report how the bond of Love transcended the tension... That and how a good run on the beach could work its own form of miracle.

I was also impressed to learn that each board member had a support person or support committee "back home"--wherever home was for each of them--and that each person was willing to engage in the hard questions that they asked one another and that were brought out in the hundreds of submissions they were considering.

In essence, these Friends were living the Convergent Conversation. They were living examples of the inner and communal work that is needed in order to mend our schisms and live and worship as one family: the Religious Society of Friends.

Brent Bill

Brent was the speaker on the last night of the QUIP Conference.** He spoke about the "trajectory of Truth-telling" and began his remarks by quoting George Fox:
    I spent much time in writing for Truth's service.
Then Brent moved onto facts and figures, including:
  • In their first 50 years, 650 Friends (of which 82 were women) produced 3,100 titles.
  • Currently, Amazon.com has more than 2,000 titles about Quakers and Quakerism.
  • Of the top 10 Quaker titles on Amazon.com, 7 of them are by Philip Gulley.
  • Currently there are 137 Quaker titles on Kindle.
Brent also lifted up questions around What should we write? and How should we write?

What should we write?
1. What am I called to write? What matters most to me?
2. What's needed? What do people need to hear?
3. What's wanted?
4. What do I have to offer?

How should we write?
1. Grounded in ordinary experience.
2. Grounded in personal experience.
3. Honest.
4. Revelatory of the writer: self-disclosure and specific to the writer.
5. Hospitable; providing a form of hospitality.
6. Accessible to many people, not just a few--the writing invites people in.
7. Invitational to stories and experience, to have readers think through things on their own.

In closing, Brent raised a couple of important points:

Quakers aren't doing enough to get involved in the new trend of e-commerce. We're not ramping up our book selection for Kindle, the iPad, or other book readers, so we're not keeping pace with the original call to write and publish "for Truth's service."


QUIP has to look at whether it is in the book business or is it in the message business. If it's in the book business--and Brent didn't say this explicitly--then QUIP probably doesn't have many years of service left. On the other hand, if QUIP is in the get-out-the-message business, then there are many opportunities that await QUIP.

I was glad to have attended these four days with Quakers who work in publishing, who write about Quakerism, who are published authors. As I resign myself to missing all sorts of wonderful workshops in California, New England, and the Philadelphia area, I was pleased to be able to participate in an event that was a bit closer to the "breadbasket" of the U.S.


*The quotes I offer here are not intended to be verbatim, though I took careful notes.

**Brent has posted most of the slides from his Powerpoint presentation as a video, but be sure to have your cursor floating over the Pause button: you'll need time to read through everything.


Sarah Hoggatt has a number of photos on her blog Walking the Sea.

Martin Kelley writes about his experience at the 2004 QUIP Conference. His post includes a number of photos too.

Liz Yeats has added a few photos and reflections on her blog One Friend Among Friends.

Nancy Thomas has written up her thoughts on her blog Mil Gracias.

April 20, 2010

Goodbye Baltimore at One Hundred and Four

My grandmother Sara Lichtenstein Goldberg died Friday morning, April 16. She was 104. When my mom, her daughter, asked me if I wanted to say anything during the funeral, I quietly said Yes, I do.

I felt immediately as if God had given me something to say. It went something like this:

After a conversation with my brother Alan, I understood more deeply how we all have our different experiences with Grandma. And we need all our stories about Grandma in order to make her whole. What I'm about to share is my story about her, and there'll be other stories we'll tell.

My story isn't so much about the woman who was my grandmother as much as it is about the lessons I learned from her about forgiveness and reconciliation in God.

As a child who visited Grandma and Grandpa a few times a year, I watched as Grandma argued--some might say they were spirited discussions--with her brothers, my mother, my uncle Saul. I watched and I understood: this is how she creates connections to people in the family, through arguments and fighting.

As a young adult, I saw how my mother Helene persevered through all those arguments, staying connected to Grandma by regular visits to Baltimore and through daily phone calls. The older my grandmother got, the more frequent the calls, sometimes two, three, or more times during the day. I watched how my mother chose to stay connected, despite the anger and bitterness my grandmother expressed.

Also as Grandma got older, my two brothers and I started calling her at least once a month.

About three years ago, Grandma stopped taking my calls.

I didn't know why, and Grandma didn't say. But each time I called, imaging that her anger toward me had passed, her caregiver Sandra would answer the phone, say to my grandmother, "It's your granddaughter Elizabeth..." And I would hear her say, "No, I don't want to talk to her. I'm angry with her, I'm not going to talk with her."

And that would be that, until the next month when I would call again.

I never did find out directly from Grandma what angered her so, and my calls because less frequent.

During that time, I understood how other family members, relatives, and friends were cast off by Grandma. I think most people just gave up. But for me, because I had witnessed my mother's perseverance, I wanted to be reconciled somehow with Grandma.

I changed my strategy, and I asked my two brothers and my mother to start inserting into their conversations with her that I was seeking forgiveness from her. I also called Grandma as Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, was approaching in 2008. I think on that day, she took my call:

Grandma, it's Yom Kippur and I'm calling to ask you to forgive me. I know I've angered you and upset you, and I'm sorry for that. I'm asking for forgivness...

She said she would think about it.

From time to time, my mom would tell me, "She's still thinking about it but she's not ready yet."


Here are the lessons I've learned through my relationship with Grandma.

1. God does not command us to be unhappy.

2. When I detach in anger, and when I stay disconnected, I lose the opportunity to reconcile with the other person.

3. When I stay emotionally connected--despite the anger, hurt, bitterness, and pain--I allow God the chance to work through us, to work through me. God has the chance to help us be reconciled to one another.

4. We can be leaven to one another, helping lift up the Spirit of God in each other and lighten one another's burdens.

5. We can choose love when there is pain. Difficult as that is at times, we can choose love.


April 13, 2010

Excerpt from a letter about racism

Over the past few months, some of my first cousins and I have reconnected over Facebook. We weren't close growing up, maybe because the few times a year when we saw each other, our parents fought bitterly with each other. As a family, connection happened through arguments, raised voices, and mutually inflicted hurt feelings. As a child, to resist the impulse to take on the same behavior was a challenge, and having no other alternative modeled for me, I stayed fairly disconnected from that side of the family.

My maternal grandmother is still alive, at 104. I think it's her anger, bitterness, and resentment that keeps her blood pumping, but she's incredibly lonely...

Last week I returned from the White Privilege Conference, a four-day event where white people and people of color learn about the dynamics of internalized and institutionalized white privilege. And two days after returning, I saw something one of my cousins posted on Facebook, a joke about "rednecks."

If anything was reinforced for me during the Conference, it was that I have been protected too long by my white owning-class privilege.

And because one of the new behaviors I am consciously working on since the Conference is to see all women and men as my sisters and brothers in a world that needs healing, I took a stand.

I sent my cousin a message, letting him know my response to his words.

My very socially liberal, politically progressive cousin wrote back a longer response, which included a few sentiments all too familiar in our supposedly well-intentioned predominantly white middle-class society:

  • You're too sensitive.
  • I was just being funny.
  • These sorts of comments are out in the world, on TV, on the radio all the time. No one complains about those programs and no one has yanked them off the air.
  • All of us are poked fun at...
I took a lot of deep breaths and ended up writing an even longer reply.

But the part of my own reply that I hope he'll respond to with an open heart is this:
As a Quaker, I understand the value of "laboring" with each other. It's different from the sort of arguing that I grew up with in the Oppenheimer/Goldberg households, though.

Laboring involves listening for the truth and authenticity that each person is wanting to express, and being less willing to take an aggressive or defensive position. Through laboring together, each person usually comes away changed a little bit, while also willing to stay engaged in the relationship--in the moment as well as over time.

Arguing was, for me, more about working hard to get my own point across and not caring for whatever point it is that the other person wants to make. Arguing was more saying whatever came to mind, with a willingness to hurt the other person and with less regard for the nurture or even survival of the relationship.

Our grandmother, I think, has argued far more than she has labored.

You and I, I think, are a bit closer to laboring with each other but we're not quite there. Or at least, that's how I see it.
As I reflect on my exchange with my cousin, and while I await his next response, I'm remembering that laboring with one another starts with and is grounded in the motion of love.

Thanks for reading me.


UPDATE, 26 Fourth Month 2010: My grandmother passed away less than a week after I posted this piece.