Who is Jon Watts and Why is He a BFF Judge?

Jon is a self described "Quaker spoken word poet, guitarist, produce, and performer." A traveling minstrel, when he performs, some consider it a "public ministry."

"Ministry: Sharing or acting upon one's gifts, whether in service to individuals, to the meeting, or to the larger community."

Philadelphia Yearly MeetingFaith and Practice glossary

Jon is currently embarked on his 3rd annual one month Richmond to Boston tour. His preferred mode of transportation is a cargo style bicycle. Jon's music is "young and current, rap-inspired, deeply intimate and profoundly spiritual." He currently travels among Friends, sharing "stories of his spiritual journey and the accompanying songs." You can follow his adventures here on his vlog.

The Bridge Film Festival looks for judges that include filmmakers, social activists, teachers, and Quakers. Jon fits into all of those criteria and therefore makes a wonderful candidate for BFF Judge.

I learned of Jon Watts when he subscribed to the BFF YouTube Channel the day before he uploaded his breakout video sensation, Dance Party Erupts During Quaker Meeting for Worship, (now with over 30,000 views.) Once I saw the video, I contacted Jon and congratulated him on it and asked him to keep track of the ensuing feedback. Because of the varied thoughts and practices of the Religious Society of Friends, the video has created a bit of a stir in the small but very diverse community. Here is a post explanation about the video from Max Carter, Director of Friends Center at Guilford College.

Jon is currently on his tour--really a journey--in Washington D.C. and took time out to answer some questions.

BFF - Jon why have you decided to make this tour on bicycle?

JW- While it would be easy to give the run-of-the mill "save the planet" answer to that question, I've felt nudged to dig a little deeper. For one thing, I've felt inspired in my life to (as John Woolman suggested) let love be the first motion... that is, to make decisions based on what brings me joy rather than what I see as needing fixing. So while I have felt critical about our culture's dependence on fossil fuels and the violence that it has led to, that's not why I decided to make this trip on bicycle.

Strangely enough, it's not because I like riding bicycles either. I'm really not in shape for this; I'm not a cyclist and I've never done an extended trip like this before. It's actually quite uncomfortable. But the experiences I've had in this life that have been most powerful and I've felt most alive were the ones in which I was out of my comfort zone.

So the truth is: I'm having a new experience. I'm trying to be the change I wish to see in the world. I'm hoping to have a creative, adventurous life. And I like being a little different.
Read more about why I chose to bike in this blog entry.

BFF - What do you think about when you're riding? Do you work on your music?

JW - I just completed my first week of the trip - from Richmond to DC - and most of what I thought about was how much my legs and butt hurt. And how much I dislike hills. But I'm starting to get used to it. Yes, there is a rhythm to biking which, like hiking, is very conducive to writing. But it also helps if I'm not exhausted, which I'm sure will change when I'm in a little better shape for this.

BFF - What are some of the best reactions you received while on the road?

JW - People tend to treat my bicycle like it's some kind of an exotic animal. And it is really cool. You can see photos of it here.

BFF - What are some of the challenges you've had on the road?

JW - This week I ran into a military base. The route I was taking went 15 miles out of the way to avoid it. I decided to risk it and go straight through, and got stopped at the gate by some dudes with guns. I found an alternate way, though. I cover that whole story in the vlog entry from that day. I really hate retracing my steps.

BFF - Do you consider yourself a "minister?"

JW - I think that everyone is capable of ministry. I happen to be on a path that has me outwardly sharing a lot, so minister is a hat that I wear more than some, perhaps... but often I'm just a musician or performer. The sacred is there whether we name it or not and "ministry" is a term that might turn some people off. I had the great fortune to get involved in an undergrad program at Guilford College in which we dissected spiritual terms like "God", "ministry", "obedience" and started to unpack some of their meaning. Sometimes that's a longer conversation that I'm able to have with an audience, so I just settle for being a performer and try to nurture the group into inviting the sacred into the room.

BFF - What are you trying to say with your music?

JW - I think the more appropriate phrasing of that question is, "What is my music trying to say with me?" I often feel like the music is writing itself and I'm just the tool. That's coming from years of trying to write music in the dominant model of "I am the artist and now I will make a song" and having the results stink. I find that only the songs that are supposed to be written end up having momentum, and I am hardly in charge of that. There's something bigger than me at work here and I have to put my own will aside.

But to answer your question... these are songs about our culture's destruction of the natural world, reflections on the spiritual state of this society, growing up Quaker, etc.


BFF - What's the funniest or strangest thing to happen on this tour?

JW - The second day I had a guy in a Jeep slow down alongside me and proceed to drive slowly next to me for five miles, talking to me out of the passenger's side window about his days of touring and my technique and how I was doing it all wrong. He was obnoxious but we both needed the company, so I think we were glad for each other. The drivers behind him were probably not as grateful.


BFF - What do you hope to accomplish with this tour?

JW - I hope I make it to Boston!! I've got a lot of riding ahead of me!

For more information about Jon Watts you may visit his website@: http://www.jonwatts.com/home/

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