Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Last night I made my local television debut. Our local PBS station (WFYI, channel 20) sent a crew to tape an event Phil Gulley, Carrie Newcomer, Scott Russell Sanders and I did last November for Indianapolis' "Spirit and Place" festival. The one hour special that aired last night featured highlights of the concert interspersed with scenes shot at each of our homes and us together at an old Quaker meetinghouse. Judging from my emails today, "Festival of Friends" was a hit.

I know that I was feeling pretty good about it. Thanks to good photography, fine sound, and excellent editing, I didn't come across as a major doofus on screen. In fact, I looked and sounded fairly confident and at time downright articulate and a little bit deep. It felt good. Real good. And I headed to bed last night feeling pretty darn fine about myself and wondering if this television show would lead to even more readings and book sales.

And then my dog barked. In the garage for the night, she didn't care if I'd been on television or not. Has that major doofus forgotten to give me water? was what she was thinking. Likewise, the cats curled up on the screen porch were not impressed with my wit and charm in HD 1080. Where's the Purina Cat Chow? And when I showed up at work, I sat and authorized expenditures the same as I do every Wednesday morning. "Fame, I'm going to live forever!" Not.

Which is a good thing for me. It would be far too easy for me to fall into the trap of acclamation. Pride has been a spiritual struggle for me my entire life. And I have, for the past fifteen years, really been trying to say I don't care about that. I don't need the acclaim. And I occasionally get it right.

Last night, Princess' bark reminded me that I write, I read, I muse on television occasionally for the glory of God. At least that's what I try to do. Last night's show reflected a little bit of that glory on me, reminding me of what a great gift I've been given -- the gift of sharing a bit of light, a bit of hope, in an often dark and hopeless world. And that should be enough for anybody.

Now the television star needs to go walk his dog.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Power of Words

I received an email this morning that really shook me. Fifteen years ago I wrote a piece about my best friend Greg committing suicide at my house. I was the one who found him. I wrote that piece twenty years after it happened -- it took that long to be able to write about it. That piece has been updated for various audiences (teenagers, young adults, parents, youth workers) and has appeared various places. It's now available on the Internet.

The email I received was from someone who'd found that article -- while looking for methods of committing suicide. He went on to relate how reading the piece "changed a direction I was heading in" and why. The why is not important to this blog -- though it obviously is to the email writer and me.

What is important to this blog is that those of us who write as a form of ministry often never know what difference, if any, our words make. Unlike preaching or speaking, where the congregation's reaction can be seen, we writers cast our words like bread upon the water hoping they find those who need sustenance. That seems to have happened in a most miraculous way with this piece. I sit here this morning awed and humbled.

It reminded me of the truth of my friend Scott Russell Sander's words -- “James (the biblical epistle writer) knew the risk and responsibility that come with the power of speech. ‘And the tongue is fire,’ he wrote. ‘With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God.’ Whether breathed into the air or inscribed on paper or broadcast into the depths of space, our words may curse or bless. The work of language deserves our greatest care, for the tongue’s fire may devour the world, or may light the way.”

That my words may light the way in some small way is my prayer, along with a prayer for my new friend who sent me that email.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Judged by Their Poorest Representatives

I've written before about my friend who bag's groceries at the supermarket next to our office. He's one of those people that I used to try to ignore -- he's odd, he bags groceries, almost always wears a ball cap, rarely acknowledges me on the street (I'm often visible only in the supermarket), and he often seems distracted. But somehow, and I really can't remember how, we began talking as I'd got through the line with my lunch on those days I ate in at the office. I do remember it started with theology and most of our conversations today remain on that subject -- though occasionally they veer over into politics (on which we agree -- a left-leaning bag boy!) and astronomy and math -- about which I can barely converse intelligently. He takes great delight in my being a Quaker and thinks I'm some sort of theologian so calls me "Robert Barclay's much younger cousin." The other day, while in the store, he asked me if I knew Daniel Defoe's very short story "The Hams and the Quaker." I had not, so my friend said he'd get me a copy.

Today, true to his word, I received that copy -- hand printed in very fine lettering, with an accompanying page of annotations that he thought would help me appreciate the story. Included in those thoughts was information on the what the monetary figure spoken of in the story would be in today's currency (considering inflation and the fact that a dollar did not exist when the story was written) and Biblical allusions that I should know, but might miss. His last note was about how "blackguard," which "originally meant the lowest servants of a large household, in charge of pots and pans" came to mean scoundrel or villian. His final comment was "this seems another instance where a whole class of people are judged by their poorest representatives."

His insight, and whimy, are helping me learn how to judge a "whole class of people" -- in this case downtown grocery baggers -- by their best representative. Thanks, Roger.

-- Brent

Thursday, February 08, 2007

And When I Die...

I've been thinking about death a lot lately. Not so much because I'm old (though the reality that I'm not 20 with my whole life ahead of me has been hitting me in the face a lot lately), but because of a book I just finished reading. I picked up A Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier after the holidays and have been recommending it to folks since I finished it.

In Brockmeier's book, the dead populate "the city," a Dali-esque sort of place where they "live" almost normal lives (eat out, make friends, but never age) so long as, well so long as what? The dead come up with the hypothesis that they live their so long as someone on really alive remembers them. When they are no longer remembered, they vanish from the city and go to ... Well, we don't know. What we do learn is that a wildlife specialist in Antarctica named Laura may be the last person alive on Earth. Which is of grave consequence to "the city's" populace. It's a good book, disturbing, affirming, and raises lots of questions -- not least of which is "so what happens after, after all."

So what happens after, after all is a question that has occupied humankind since the first fella or gal passed on and the those left behind realized that someday they'd be joining their companion. My wife Nancy tends to hold with the great theologian Iris DeMent who sings:

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.
(from the song "Let the Mystery Be" on "Infamous Angel")

Me, I'm a bit more orthodox -- the resurrection of the dead, Heaven, the whole thing. Still, what comes after, after all? The Brief History of the Dead helps me think about that question which I'll be facing more and more each day.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Nice Guys Finish First

The city of Indianapolis and its environs are deep in the grip of icy cold weather and Colts fever. Blue and white (some provided by Mother Nature) is in evidence everywhere. Colts flags whip in the wind as cars sprout them from clip on flagholders. Downtown buildings leave specific office lights on so giant horseshoes appear in the night. One of my rural neighbors has festooned his front yard trees and house with blue and white lights. And even conservative dressing me has dumped my button-down and tie for long-sleeved white Colts t-shirt -- at the office even. The game is taking on almost mythic status for our little town.

Much has been made, regarding this Superbowl, that the two head coaches are African-American. And rightly so. This is an historic moment and it's wonderful that Dungy and Smith are the ones to crack that racial barrier. But what pleases me even more is that these are two men of faith. They speak of their faith openly. More than that they live their faith -- it's more than words. They let their lives speak, as we Quakers say, putting their faith into practice in daily life. They don't confuse their belief in God with being some kind of mandate from God -- to either win the Superbowl or, like some politicians, start a war in a far off country.

So, it appears that no matter which team winds up victorious , contrary to Leo Duroucher's famous dictum, a nice guy will finish first. Which is great. But, truth be told, I hope it's our nice guy -- Tony Dungy of the Colts.

So to that end, I share with you this prayer, offered by my little Jewish brother, Rabbi Aaron Spiegel, which was given on-air this morning on a local station --

"Our God and God of our ancestors – we give thanks to You for all miracles in our lives. While we are not so presumptuous to think you were on OUR side in the AFC Championship, the Colts’ defeat of the Patriots was a miracle, and we’ll take the win!

Dear God, we come to you again to ask your favors for our Indianapolis Colts. God, this is the Superbowl. This is it – the show – all the marbles – Peyton’s chance at redemption. For us humble, mortal citizens of Indianapolis – this is a big deal!

Dear God, my last appeal included requests for wisdom for Coach Dungy and his staff, fleetness of foot and sureness of hand for Marvin, Reggie, Ben and Dallas, superhuman strength for Tarik, Raheem, Antoine, Bugar, and Dwight, and the depths of passionate play for Nick and Bob. God, forgive me for repeating myself – but we need all these again, and more! And I know I said Manning only needed to get Viniteiri in field goal range – but they both need Your favors to beat the Bears.

Lord – this is the Superbowl (did I say that already?). Chicago is a wonderful city and their fans deserve our admiration and praise. But this is the Superbowl – and they are now our enemy (at least until Sunday). Frustrate the hopes and designs of those who plot against us. Be merciful to the righteous people of Indianapolis – and let our Colts pound those Bears.

Let all the players stay safe and healthy. Let all those who travel to the game do so safely and return home in peace. May it be Your will our God and God of our ancestors to bring our Colts home victorious. Amen, Go Colts!"