Internal Memorandum (NPYM IT Committee)

npym-it-discuss content may be forwarded by any subscriber.  I'm sharing a recent memo (by me) here to give a snapshot of a regional body of Beanite branch Friends taking care of IT / business.

From: kirby urner <>
Date: Mon, 29 Aug 2016 12:26:43 -0700
Subject: update on Regional Directory design (future plans)
To: npym-it-discuss <>

Given all this working out with the role-based emails at NPYM, I see the need for our database to keep start and stop dates with every role.

Even requests for timely updates from an announcements list, could eventually time out, and need to be renewed, free of charge.

People lose interest or move on.

We've likely all had to mess with mailing lists that gradually fill up with undeliverables, if not actively maintained.

The design for the regional database I'm behind, proactively maintains just about everything, short of membership, in terms of start and stop dates.

In the case of members, we normally consider that relationship ongoing, unless actively laid down, yet in principle laying down and picking up again is doable, and so should be recordable.

Regarding membership, our NPYM data schema should allow for "being a member" off and on, independently of "through which Meeting". I've already suggested some possible scenarios wherein that might occur. So there's a need for datetime fields there as well.

We need start and stop times for all our clerking and committee positions. Sometimes we'll use NULL and leave it empty. We don't know the future.

This addition of a strong timeline dimension was my primary innovation in the mock-up, which actually gives realistic snapshot output for some Multnomah Meeting committees, during a specific time window:

With such records, you could easily reconstruct who was serving on what committee when.  That's pie-in-the-sky in today's IT-poor era, but someday we might have more interest in IT. As a clerk of the IT Committee, I'm not out of character in hoping that might come to pass.

Having our myriad slates auto-generate from the database such that any smartphone with the right URL could browse the current (or a past) slate, for NPYM at least, if not each Monthly Meeting, is the worthy end goal. If smartphones can do it, big screen TVs can do it.  They're all just differently aspect-ratioed and scaled versions of the same generic device.

We'd need a front end for HTML views (more cosmetic), and "back door" URLs for pure JSON, for those needing bulk data for their spreadsheets or whatever.

Does that all sound like gobbledy-gook?

Check out this example of a Python Flask application and follow links to learn more.

(at this time a "teaching application" I use with my on-line classes, new course starting Sept 20, already full I think, plus you need to be from California for that one).

Apigee does a good job explaining the importance of APIs as a kind of contract with the general public. Things break when it changes, so best to define it and stick to it, maybe changing the implementation.

As Quakers, I don't think we're immune from making binding commitments from time to time, as led by our testimonies, and ultimately the Spirit.

Having our Directory available on any smartphone would illuminate "who are the NPYM Friends" in the area.  That's the kind of information NPYM should be up for sharing. That'd be "being the Quakers the world needs us to be."


Views: 283

Comment by Howard Brod on 8th mo. 30, 2016 at 7:47pm

Seeing this makes me long for the days of the very earliest Friends when a local group of seekers simply met weekly (or more) to encounter God together; and occasionally brought their leadings back to that local group of Friends for group discernment for potential action.

All of this structural upkeep your yearly meeting is trying to manage is the result of the overgrown permanent committee rotational arrangement first introduced by Progressive and Hicksite Friends a century and a half ago.  And in the years since we have created a monster!  Feeding this structure has become our idol, and it is devouring liberal Friends.

However, a number of liberal meetings are now dismantling this burdensome outward structural form and we are experiencing that we can do without it.  What are we then left with as a group of local Quakers?  Answer: Simplicity, community, and most importantly - the unfettered Spirit operating freely among us as individuals and as a community.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 8th mo. 30, 2016 at 8:02pm

I think with computers and smartphones, we're experiencing a Renaissance in this more elaborate form of Quakerism, or "Quakerism at scale" as we say in industry.  Having these skyscrapers join us doesn't preclude the "old wood stove" Quakers continuing in their humble ways.  Contrast sharpens.  Lets celebrate our diversity.

Comment by David McKay on 8th mo. 30, 2016 at 8:49pm

Howard Brod. Back in the mid-80s a Canadian Friend suggested we dismantle the committee structure and only form ad hoc committees and only when an emergent need for it arose -- so restructuring could occur organically and in response to actual need. The proposal was never seriously considered. Instead multiple study groups and "working groups" were formed with intent to simplify structures -- each produced reports that were received with thanks... 

I've been out of the loop the last decade or so. My (somewhat cynical) suspicion is that things are not much changed -- just some of the faces.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 8th mo. 31, 2016 at 12:07pm

What's so awful about having committees I wonder?  People sound so retreating around here, as if "no structure" were somehow more virtuous.  God is all about outward forms, just look around.

From my angle, Quakerism provides like a playground and sandbox for adults and not-yet-adults to do more than mix and mingle or listen to sermons like on the telly: they get to do business together, based in values.  What an opportunity!

The structures and processes may be unfamiliar, not quite like what's at work, not Robert's Rules, no board meetings, and they tend to be filled with volunteers....

Kids spend hundreds of hours voluntarily playing computer games (simulations) in which the goal is to build civilizations.  But yeah, computers feel a lot safer than other human beings sometimes.  

I understand how adults decide it's just not worth the effort and their Quakerism becomes languid and lazy. Watch simulated adult behavior on TV (screenwriters supply the reality).

I'd like Quaker roles to have some weight in the community as well, more like that mattered (even if they really don't).  When you're on the Peace and Social Concerns Committee, word gets around, people know.  You might get interviewed for a Youtube.  

Role playing matters, as many diplomats will attest, and takes on a life of its own after awhile. Quakerism is a motherboard, just waiting to be plugged in (right now, it's just running off the CMOS battery, enough to keep track of time).  Could be better than in Lord of the Flies at least.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 8th mo. 31, 2016 at 4:58pm
"What's so awful about having committees I wonder? People sound so retreating around here, as if "no structure" were somehow more virtuous. God is all about outward forms, just look around."

Hello Kirby,

I have a response to this that I would like to share. Are you open to working through it with me?
Comment by Kirby Urner on 8th mo. 31, 2016 at 6:55pm

Yes Keith, if you're willing to put up with my sometimes slow response times as I cycle back through QQ, approving posts.

Picture me in a bar somewhere, not over-drinking, thumbing around in my smartphone, getting lost in outward forms sometimes. :-D

Comment by Howard Brod on 8th mo. 31, 2016 at 8:34pm


There is nothing "awful" about having long-lasting ("permanent") committees per se.  What is "awful" and crossing a line (in my opinion) is believing it is necessary to have committees in order to be a Quaker meeting - when my experience has demonstrated the 'deadness' of an entrenched committee arrangement. 

When my meeting first began dismantling some committees and re-forming the purpose of other committees, many of us (including me) did this with great fear that we were abandoning what it means to be a Quaker.  Yet, we had a wonderful clerk of meeting at that time who was a long-time Quaker, so we went ahead and proceeded to see what would happen.  And guess what - the meeting grew in spirituality every step of the way.  We let go of control the way the world controls, and started truly discerning as a whole spiritual community every step of the way.  We eliminated all the corporate-like "busy" work of our Meeting for Business, and replaced it with only things that are meaningful and needed our discernment as a community - so we could become more responsive to the Presence of the Spirit within us.  With each busy procedure we removed, it took lots of discernment as a community to eliminate it.  It wasn't easy and took years to remake our Meetings for Business to be our time only for discernment on our community's path forward spiritually.

The first gatherings of Quakers were formed due to the realization that a direct reliance on the same Spirit that Jesus relied on, is present for each of us at any time.  A life (and a meeting) operating fully under this realization is still a viable option in the modern world.  I encourage any meeting to take this journey together to reclaim the deep spiritual life that is available.

So if a spirit-led Quaker meeting is led by the spirit to form a committee to accomplish something (whether the committee is long-lasting or temporary), that committee should not be a decision maker or "leader" in spiritual and pastoral matters for the meeting.  These committees should only be tools of the entire meeting after said meeting has been led by the Spirit to undertake something and proceed in a discerned manner.  Simply put - if there is indeed 'that of God' in everyone who is part of that meeting, then they are fully qualified to act in a communal manner to lead the meeting spiritually and pastorally. And such active participation in the core discernment of the meeting will help each member of that spiritual community to grow in the Spirit.

Once the originally discerned need for a given committee has been fulfilled, said committee should disband.  However, the liberal Quaker trend for centuries now, has been for committees to "make up work" for themselves; and most of this made-up work has resulted in committees to become the surrogate pastor, minister, or activist for the meeting.  These committees end up thinking up things for the meeting (or regulating the spirituality, care, and activism of the meeting) and sometimes bringing these ideas back to the whole meeting for just tacit approval (without the meeting going through the deep and time-consuming process of discernment).  Things should really be working the other way around: the whole meeting should be acting on leadings of individual Friends (who are not attached to a committee necessarily) to discern if a divine prompting is occurring.  If that whole meeting discernment process leads to a path forward, then (and only then) is it appropriate - if needed - to establish a long-lasting or temporary committee for the whole meeting to use as a tool.  But along the way, the whole meeting should be directing that committee at each step through the whole meeting discernment process.  No committee should be directing the meeting in what to do next.  This is especially true in liberal Quaker meetings where committees are comprised of rotating Friends who are no more qualified than anyone else in the meeting. 

The reason the right-order approach is not done in many meetings is because their Meetings for Business are similar in structure to corporate business meetings.  So, there is little time to discern anything meaningful; much of that important 'work' is relegated to committees.  Yet, the hard work of discerning the "meaningful" is what grows our spirituality.  Long gone are the days when a Quaker Meeting for Business was entirely an opportunity for the whole community to discern the way forward spiritually.  Today, the Meeting for Business time is gobbled up with committee reports, announcements, and petty updates on everything from how the cleaning of the bathrooms is going to the schedule for an upcoming event.  These are the types of things covered in corporate Business Meetings.  Quakers of old spent Meeting for Business time together to tend to the spiritual life of the meeting and the spiritual well-being of Friends within the meeting.  I know this because our grandparent meeting's Business Meeting minutes from the 1700's are in our library.  And they represent meaningful spiritual discernment by that Quaker community. They weren't a club or in a business together.  They were entirely supporting each other in a relationship with the divine.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 8th mo. 31, 2016 at 9:23pm

My theory is Quaker Meetings are a lot like stars of the astronomical kind.  They have life cycles, and they're not all the same species of star to begin with, some destined to become brown dwarfs, others supernovae, others black holes.  They have different life patterns, just as people do.

On that theory, some meetings go through a phase wherein an elaborate committee structure makes sense.  Such meetings may not exist in the present day.  The "skyscraper meetings" I'm imagining live in science fiction only, along with my NPYM smartphone applications.  These templates come down to us from a time when Quakers had banks, railroads and shipyards, even a city-state.  We're just Hobbits today, on the fringes of Middle Earth.

For me personally, serving on Quarterly Meeting Planning, Oversight, P&SC, some others, has been illuminating and a source of growth opportunities.  

Our Multnomah meeting is big enough, that making all business everyone's business is somewhat impractical, but if willing to sift through the minutes (not in real time) one may develop a clear rear view mirror picture of business being done [ "bubbles in the wake of a ship" image ].  I've also participated in the genesis of a smaller Monthly Meeting (Bridge City), too small for as much structure.  In Rome, we met in homes and I don't remember if we had committees (I was on the MAD magazine committee).

My theory is our on-the-books committee structures feel confining because we're too small to fill our own shoes these days.  I'm thinking of much bigger meetings perhaps, the like of which we maybe don't have yet, or any more.  

Or maybe I'm thinking of a much smaller meeting, but organized enough to "flash mob" itself wherever needed around town, like in those superhero movies.  Computers again play a role.  I want high tech to mix with homespun.  I'm not a Luddite.  Fun fantasies, as legit as the next Friend's, right?

My sense then is we have no need to even agree to disagree.  You're describing a meeting wherein the committee structure was too pro forma, hampering the meeting's growth. I'm hardly in a position to second-guess your story, and would have no reason to do so.

Comment by Howard Brod on 8th mo. 31, 2016 at 10:01pm

Your assumption:

Our Multnomah meeting is big enough, that making all business everyone's business is somewhat impractical . . .

was just what we thought.  And indeed it was true because our Meetings for Business were filled with the mundane reporting, announcements, petty details about our physical premises, and many of us just talking to hear ourselves talking.  Nothing meaningful on a deep spiritual level was really going on.  All the time was consumed with the mundane - no time left for what a Quaker spiritual community should be focusing on for an enhanced relationship with the divine.

I believe that because we were willing to go with the Spirit step by step, he/she/it led us to new perceptions, new attitudes, new inspirations.  Once we eliminated all the junk, and limited our Meetings for Business to the major things that needed discernment (major things that our committees used to flesh out first - and then bring us their "answers" for approval); only then did we have plenty of time at Meeting for Business to truly discern deep spiritual matters that the Spirit was leading us to.  And we now had plenty of time in Meeting for Business to do that just as our committees used to do for us.  And our Meetings for Business increased from just 4 or 6 Friends to often 30 or 40 Friends.  Why so many now? Because we are not wasting their time.  They now view what is happening at Meeting for Business as important to their spiritual life. 

Comment by Kirby Urner on 8th mo. 31, 2016 at 10:55pm

Let me add it's a blessing to not have every turning wheel make it to the Monthly Business Meeting agenda. Committees actually do relieve bottlenecking in some workflow designs, completely outside of Quakers.

So-and-so wants to explore an opportunity in Bolivia, a marriage clearness committee needs to start up, a basement server rack needs installing...

Well, maybe that last one needs the full Meeting's attention, led by Property, and the marriage will eventually come before the whole group if the committee (Oversight) so recommends, but we can do the clearness committee around so-and-so's the Bolivia leading without concerning all Friends.

If you feel led to consult, jump on the committee.  Not all business is your business, praise Allah.

Think of a busy hospital (one of my frequent haunts).  The busy heart surgeon won't have time to participate in every design decision. One learns to trust the work will get done.  Things happen all around one, and one doesn't freak out about it.  

Those hankering to know more about the nitty gritty Finance or Property Management, should let Nominating know.

Only some Friends helped make the two dove puppets (a joint project), only one of which made it to Hiroshima-Nagasaki Day memorial service this year.[1] Multnomah's P&SC was able to carry off all that without needing higher level approval.  Bridge City isn't led to have a P&SC at this time.

From an engineering standpoint, it's a matter of some processes running concurrently, others in sequence.  More happens when allowed to happen concurrently.

When I wanted to use the Meeting's kitchen for Food Not Bombs, the Social Committee said "go for it, report back in a year" without saying anything to Business Meeting, as my project was by extension one of theirs (the kitchen is their turf).  The Hearthkeeper had Thursdays open, or whatever day it was.  FNB paid no rent. We were hosted. Our work expressed Quaker values. [2]

How many Monthly Meetings have a Twitter account and tweet upwards of 20 times a day? Approximately zero NPYM meetings do that.  

I created @npym_it in case our committee wanted to trailblaze.  I'm finding Mennonites ahead of Quakers in the Twitter department.  

Given I judge a Meeting almost entirely by its presence in Cyberia (just kidding, but I am biased), I'm looking at a lot of deficiencies a Communications Committee might someday deal with.

Quakers have unlimited opportunities for growth, in my book.  We could do so much more with video, as shown by the many positive contributions already in inventory.


[2] RadFem was never offered those terms, part of the confusion when the announcement first went public on Facebook, which claimed Multnomah was "hosting" (in the end the event moved to the public library, given Business Meeting overruled Oversight, with input from NPYM's P&SC).


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