A recipe for “going viral” with the Quaker message
Urban dictionary defines “viral” as a simple type of marketing message. A viral marketing campaign is often simple, amusing, and relevant to current events. Its message encourages people to share it with others. How do we share the eternal message of Quakers in modern times? I see this Internet marketing formula as prescriptive for how we might frame our invitation of others to our spiritual practices. I believe this definition of viral marketing might serve as touchstones for how we share in both digital and brick-and-mortar spaces.
We the Quakers seek simplicity. In a cluttered world with much competing for our time, creating space for listening, being together, and quietly seeking guidance in our hearts is a radical shift. It was when Friends simply listened to the Inner Teacher directly, outside the complicated structure of the formal church that Quakerism began. While I am wary of reducing the Quaker way to a mere checklist of one-word testimonies, a message that is brief and clear can often cut through much of the noise we encounter each day. The message of “Simple faith. Radical witness” might invite others into our practice and seeking together. Four words. Not an end, but a starting invitation. How do you sum up your experience and share it in five words or less?
There was a time when Friends separated themselves from non-Friends in their communities, seeking to be apart and faithful without worldly influence and distraction. The message of Friends speaks directly to our times, to our place in the world, and our being in community made up of folks of many different backgrounds and experiences. I am often in ecumencial witnesses with people of many faith traditions. I am there as a Friend, bringing my understanding of how my faith calls me to show up and act as God has called me. How do I let my life speak every day, in all spaces? Am I just adding to the chatter and uncivil discourse, or am I speaking from that deeper place of eternal knowing? Our message should have an authenticity and relevance that can cut through the confusion and despair of our time. It extends an invitation to a faith that asks us to live in the moment, to act as if the Kingdom of Love is here.
How do we embody joy? The Quaker way is deep and comforting and challenging. I find it to be joyful, lighthearted, and embracing of the humanity in others. In the current time of despair and need, encouraging joy and creating a space for it seems a good fit for many Friends. “Walking cheerfully” can happen in many kinds of places. It is easier for me to be cheerful when I make a conscious effort to see that of God in everyone. I can take myself less seriously this way, and trust that while I am given important and hard work in the world, it is not all mine to do alone: I can trust in the One that accompanies us all. That is joyful indeed!
I see bits of these elements in the stories I share online. Here’s a few examples of my own viral sharing, and why I think they might have been shared so widely. I also hope, in some small way, they have helped to spread the message of a relevant, vital Quaker way that is able to speak to us today.
Quaker Kathleen’s top “viral” Quaker shares
Every year I share a picture of Boston-area Quakers marching in the Boston Pride Parade, walking right by the statue of Mary Dyer. She was hanged for her religious beliefs on the Boston Common. Over 300 years later, Quakers are still witnessing for love in Boston. A nod to history, but relevant now. How might we faithfully speak and risk in public witness to the needs of all?
I love sharing bits of Quaker history, referring to plain-speaking Quaker tradition while reminding folks of current events. Yes, I could just say “remember to turn your clocks ahead and show up on time Sunday morning,” but how much more fun it is to ask thee to remember not to be late for continuing revelation on First-day morning! Religious jargon? Maybe. But often folks are intrigued. I get questions about Quaker faith and how we listen each week and why we call it First Day. I make sure I am available to answer those questions.
There are so many variations on this popular meme. The opportunity to share a bit of Quaker faith using modern movie and popular culture themes can be very fun. Sometimes these posts get shared widely among non-Quakers, and I get to introduce folks to modern Quakers. Yes, we watch movies.
Maybe the Spirit requires we wear a bonnet and plain dress, or maybe that we go drag and put on heels. The message in this? That we listen to the Spirit to tell us in the moment what to do. That is a very serious charge, with some risk. In the case of clothing, the reason behind the Spiritual motivation for each of us in our hearts is more important than historical precedent. Also, it helps to have a colleague who takes himself lightly (while he takes his work seriously) whether in plain dress or a giant crab suit.
5. What do Doctor Who and modern Quakers have in common? (blog post)
Sometimes change is hard. The latest incarnation of the Doctor, the central character in the long-running, popular sci-fi series Doctor Who, has created controversy. The character will reappear for the first time as a woman! Is that allowed? What if God asks us to risk our safety and comfort in that way also? How do we Friends know how and when to take risks and act and change? The decision by the Doctor Who producers is an example of a pop culture news item with direct theological questions. Holy risk and change are deeply uncomfortable. How do Quakers handle it (any better than Doctor Who fans)? I was thrilled when British Quakers shared this “viral” post widely. It spoke to many aspects of their condition.
This was a popular meme last year. It can be challenging to explain what a Quaker is (and even more what a Quaker social media manager is!). This was a playful way to examine different views. We Friends hold the paradox of representing many things to many people. How do we distill a clear message, and still accept that we are seen through varied lenses?
Politics is already viral. Sharing a Quaker view of current events is popular. Last year, there was great debate on women being “allowed” to speak in the U.S. government. I saw a way to highlight an aspect of the Quaker faith that applies to me personally: women can minister to all as equally as any others called in this way. Quaker women have been ministering since 1660—why not publicize that we are an old religion ahead of its time?
Quakers traditionally did not keep days—every day was an opening for the Holy breaking in among us. Many Friends do now mark the days of various traditions. I call these posts “the day the world calls …” as a nod to the Quaker path. But what about a day that celebrates love and joy? That seems quite Quaker to me. Thus, a Quaker valentine might have a Friendly quotation about the eternal love we seek in our hearts every day (and some candy hearts too).
Quakerism supports radical witness, risk and challenge, and deep listening. This path can be joy filled and playful and fun. To be in the world and relevant is a calling still worthy of sharing. We may have different communication platforms available to us than we did in 1650, but our message of radical witness and deep listening is timeless and still very much needed.