A movable feast: Quakers in a mobile society

The network of Friends meetings is still limited.  Based on this map, (and this one) Quaker meetings are mainly in North and South America and Africa, followed by fewer in Europe, Asia, the Middle East.  According to a Friends General Conference map from 2002, even Friends in the U.S. are spread out, leaving a lot of room between meetings for Friends to live.

In this modern world, as people begin to marry and move due to work or calling, I find it compelling to look at how Quakerism is working with those less geographically rooted members in terms of membership to local meetings; members who join a local meeting but find a calling beyond the geographic reach of either their local meeting or even the reach of Friends meetings currently serving local communities around the world.  These are the Quaker middle-ground: neither fully participatory in the life of the meeting, nor missionaries for the spread of Quaker community.

mobile phones

However, as Quakers find themselves more and more mobile, it seems that Meetings are still central to their lives–friendships, spiritual affinity, and participation in the life of the Meeting remain an important part of being members of Quaker communities. I would posit that as this group of mobile Quakers joins meetings and then spend more time away from them than in them there is a certain strain on the meeting.  More members mean more care is needed by the localized Quaker community with mobile Quakers now being a part.

In my limited knowledge of Quaker history, it seems that in the past, when Quakers moved beyond their local meetings, they would set up a similar system at their new location–meetings based on locality–which drew in new members.  A new localized community of Quakers would grow up.  However, today, Quakers may live half the year in another part of the country, with another meeting, or even live abroad for several years, with no local meeting, before returning to their home meeting.  Setting up a new meeting is a long endeavor and, with mobile Quakers being mobile, probably twice as challenging due to the geographic restlessness they are a part of.

Personally, I’m feeling the strain of a Friends community which is localized and in need of care, while committee membership dwindles, and those members who are beyond the immediate community who need support for their callings and leadings.  I’m sure this is not uncommon in today’s world–many demands are placed on us for service to our communities and others.  But how should we, as Quakers, respond to these changes?  I offer some queries:

  • What roles do meetings play for the more mobile Quakers?  What does membership mean to them?  What does their membership mean to the Quaker community they are joining?
  • What roles to Quakers who are more mobile play in their home meetings?  What are the responsibilities they can hold?
  • What are a meeting’s responsibility to maintain community with members who do not live in their geographic area?  How can meetings support their members living abroad for an indefinite time if there are no Quaker meetings available to them?
  • How do new technologies promote community among disparate members of Friends meetings?
  • How does the new global economy impact local membership in Friends meetings?  How can meetings respond to this change by supporting members who are mobile, while maintaining responsibilities to localized members?


It`s been a dazzling week of travel and culture–a Chinese-Thai wedding, a visit to my godfather for an Italian dinner, the purchase and custom-fitting of a suit, learning about the Thai cats with two colors of eyes (who were in the process of moving to a new location), and now on to Japan (and having seen the cool Ghibli Museum), we`ve been in a lot of beautiful places and enjoying a lot of family time.

Traveling summer

As I set up for international travel this summer (lots of it), I’m debating how to trim down the load to lug around. Thankfully, we bought a Mac Air last summer, so toting the computer will be a breeze, plus photo processing will be simpler with transferring the pics onto the web for sharing (very important for family relations). Gear-wise, everything is much smaller than ever. Nice.

What I’ll miss the most is the Internet access from the phone. It’s back to paper–maps, directions, checking prices and schedules–and no cell phone calls when you’re lost. Ugh. What would be great is if there were free wifi, which would solve a lot of this. I doubt it will be there, though.

And lots of quiet time, just plain not speaking to people and reading a lot–yeah! Thanks to my language deficiency, I’ll be talking on an as-needed basis–fine by me!

Thailand’s struggle for democracy–the message is?

It may not be international news for most Americans, but with reports of over 100,000 tourists stranded in Thailand due to protests at Bangkok’s international airport, the point is being made that Thais are tired of corruption at the national level to the international community.

Unfortunately for the protesters, it seems like their message is not getting out in a cohesive way.  Lots of issues are at stake in these protests (which have actually been going on since August)–country versus city dwellers, rich versus poor, corrupt autocracy versus fractured democracy versus benevolent rule.  Actually, these are not all mutually exclusive (i.e. “versus”) but are trying to be rectified by a peaceful revolution by the people.

So what is the message?  Who are the leaders to speak with inside the PAD?  Symbolism is in the yellow shirts, to represent the benevolence of and loyalty to the King who has done only good for the country but has not directly intervened in the day-to-day politics of running the country.  In place has been the ruling-class political populism of former PM Thaksin whose ouster has led to his brother-in-law to become the current PM.  Unfortunately, the middle-class in Thailand is so diminished that, without it, this may become a class war between the poor who are supported by the current corrupt government and the middle and upper classes who have different power centers and ideas of democratic rule.

The changing face of biking (and the media)

I love my community, especially when the local public radio station does a story on biking around my favorite city. I still remember the days when biking was considered not only perilous, but was considered to be a renegade group by our own mayor.

Now that gas prices are up, the sun is out, and there are over 4,000 members of the SF Bike Coalition, biking is making more headway than ever! Families are joining up and getting bike skills for their kids, road improvements are on the rise (thanks to Prop K) , custom-built bikes are where the top execs are now conducting business instead of the golf course (at least in Silicon Valley), and even cops are getting to understand cyclists better: