Monday, April 23, 2007

Books, Books, and More Books

I just got back from the Southern Kentucky Book Fest ( Held in April in Bowling Green, Kentucky, it's a great festival. I mean, what's better than being surrounded by books and the people who write them and read them? It was a good time to meet new friends and renew acquaintances with old ones. And to buy books.

Since Nancy and I are boarding a train shortly for a week of travel and relaxation, I stocked up on reading material. Here are just some of the eclectic titles (by some of my writer friends, I must admit) I picked up (mostly at the book fest) that you might want to look at.

Sufficient Grace by Darnell Arnoult. One quiet spring day, Gracie Hollaman hears voices in her head that tell her to get in her car and leave her entire life behind -- her home, her husband, her daughter, her very identity. Gracie's subsequent journey releases her genius for painting and effects profound changes in the lives of everyone around her. Ultimately, her quest leads her into the home of Mama Toot and Mattie, two strong, accomplished women going through life changes of their own. As the bonds between these women grow stronger, and the family Gracie left behind come to terms with their own loss, both worlds slowly and inevitably collide, revealing a long-buried secret that they share.

Savannah Comes Undone by Denise Hildreth. Book two of the Savannah series, Savannah's mother has chained herself to a monument of the Ten Commandments in front of a federal courthouse in this lighthearted but lackluster follow-up to Savannah from Savannah. Savannah spends most of her time trying to avoid both her mother and the TV cameras aimed in her mother's direction. The standoff between mom, the courts and the ACLU becomes the subject of two newspaper articles in fulfillment of Savannah's new role as human-interest columnist at the Savannah Chronicle. Nancy a fan of Savannah - the town and the heroine.

Grave Intent by Deborah LeBlanc. During a chaotic gypsy burial service at the funeral parlor of Michael and Janet Savoy, a ritual gold coin is stolen from the corpse of the teenage daughter of an egomaniacal Roma gypsy chief. The theft unleashes a curse on the Savoys, unwitting unbelievers who come to realize their own five-year-old child is doomed to a gruesome death if they can't unravel a foreign culture's arcane mysteries.

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez with Kristin Ohlson. the story of one Michigan woman's quest to help women in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban the best way she knows how: by opening a beauty school. Indeed, when beautician Rodriguez opens her salon and school, she doesn't realize how desperately Kabul, especially the women of Kabul, need her.

How's that for a potpourri? And what are you reading?


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Slaughter of the Innocence...

I've been reminded these past few sadness filled days following the shootings at Virginia Tech of the early Quaker George Fox's phrase, "I saw... that there was an ocean of darkness and death...." It certainly feels like that's true. The sheer horror of watching the aftereffects of desperate acts by a desperate man destroying life indiscriminately has been sad, sickening, and a host of other emotions all blended together in a bewildering mass of confusion. While the Indiana sky is clear blue and sunlight streams down, the world seems darker -- the joy of living and the goodness of creation somehow dimmed.

Which brings me to the second part of George Fox's quote -- "but [I also saw] an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God..."

This is a time to stand for this "infinite love of God" and remember Jesus' beatitude, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God." (Matthew 9:5). How can we bring peace -- to countries, to cities, to troubled young men and women? We need to be active in the cause of peace -- mourning without diminishment those students and faculty whose lives were tragically and unjustly cut short, but also praying for those whose desperation would cause them to commit such acts. Let us stand with people of faith and goodwill while praying and working actively for peace in the world and our own relationships.

It is time to remember that the God of all creation sustains our souls in the depths of tragedies and calls us his children as we work to bring peace -- that God is the source of an "infinite ocean of light and love" which will overcome the ocean of darkness.


Friday, April 13, 2007

What a Friend We Have in Jesus?

Our local Friends Meeting has a problem. We’re always looking for new members, but one application came in recently that has us a bit concerned. His answers to our membership application are the ones in parentheses.

· He might be homeless. (Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.)
· He seems to be a pan-handler who exists on handouts. (At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck ears of grain and to eat.)
· He might be substance abuser. (The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold a glutton and a drunkard...”)
· He has the wrong kind of friends – probably not the kind of people we’d want hanging around here on a regular basis. (Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”)
· He speaks in service. I don’t mean occasionally, but any time he’s in worship he has to talk. And it’s usually very pointed or ego-centric. (And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set a liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ And he closed the book, and gave it back to attendant, and sat down, and the yes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ ... When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city...”)
· He might be schizophrenic. (“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’”)
· He hears voices. (And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice spoke from heaven “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”
· He disregards those testimonies of the faith that he feels don’t apply to him (But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful on the sabbath.’...’I tell you...the Son of man is lord of the sabbath.’)
· He doesn’t have a very high view of family values. (For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law...He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.)
· He is a fanatic. His demands for how Christians should live are impossible to meet. (You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.)

These are just the things a cursory examination about this person turned up. They weren’t hard to find, they’re a matter of public record. As I said at the beginning, I am very concerned about this matter.

So I ask you: “What kind of Friend would we have in Jesus?”

-- Brent

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Pounding Nails -- A Good Friday Meditation

Silence, especially in life’s busyness, leads us through the whitewater of life to gentle pools of stillness and calm. 400 years of Quaker silence have pointed us back to the center within. Interior silence takes us to a place where we are living St. Paul’s injunction to pray without ceasing, even when we are not consciously aware that we are doing so. That happened to me on a recent Good Friday. I spent the day hammering the nails out of pieces of wood that made up the pallets that the outside walls of our new house had come on. Our home is made of timbers recycled from old factories and exterior walls constructed on jigs on the factory floor. These were then put on pallets and shipped on semis from New Hampshire to our Indiana home site. “The wood we use in the pallets is better than most builders use in their homes,” said one of the people building our house. “You’ll want to salvage as much of it as you can. Don’t let the framers burn it up.”

Quakers are strong on grace and redemption. If something can be saved and used again, it is. I hoped to see these used 2x4’s born-again as a woodshed or workshop. So, the sun blazed and I pounded nails out instead of in. A few yards away, four framers worked at pounding nails in, hanging the walls and roof panels. While I drove 16 commons out of 2x4s, they drove 10 and 12-inch spikes through 2x6 walls into 6” posts and beams with 3 pound sledges. The sound of hammers on nails rang through the Good Friday afternoon. That ringing was accompanied by the church bells from St. Thomas More Catholic Church just a couple of miles away, drifting on the spring breeze.

This symmetry with the holy day was not lost on me, even though Friends, being non-liturgical, don’t celebrate holy days or seasons. Still it was easy to recall other nails driven long ago – not through walls into posts, but through outstretched hands into rough wood. Even while carpenters yelled to each other, rough voices calling out measurements and grunting and cursing to set panels in place, I found silence in my soul. I was not sitting in a congregation listening to the last words of Jesus. Nor was I following the Stations of the Cross. But I was, in my soul, remembering, alongside those congregants. My arms grew weary of pounding and pulling nails. In, but at the same time apart from, the noise I pondered Jesus’ tiring journey that day. In spite of the noise, silence swathed my soul. Here I am, I thought, spending Good Friday in the company of carpenters. How fitting. I prayed for them. I prayed for me. I prayed for the world.

I heard a car pull up our long lane. It was my friend Aaron. A rabbi. My soul laughed – how right, how good. Carpenters and a rabbi on Good Friday. I thanked God for the silence of my soul that helped me see that day that was holy because God breathed life into it.
I was led into the holy that day, while hammering out nails and visiting with rabbis and framers. Arms weary, back bent from stacking reclaimed wood, it was a Good Friday.

I hope yours is, too.

Blessed Easter -- Brent

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Of Chocolate Crosses

My friend Nancy Armstrong, knowing my affinity for really tacky religious stuff (my collection contains "Wash Away Your Sins" soap, "Seeds of Samson" seeds and nut bar -- Kosher and "inspired by Scripture," and other, even tackier things) bought me something seasonal the other day -- a chocolate cross. To me this was beyond tacky -- almost sacrilegious. I mean, I'm a guy who grew up singing songs like "The Old Rugged Cross."
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

The scandal of the cross still has a strong hold on me and I don't really see any room in it for chocolate crosses. To hand out chocolate eggs on Easter gives me no pause. That's about the Easter Bunny, who is eventually exposed to be Mom or Dad or Grandma or Grandpa. But the story of the Cross of Calvary is more than some Springtime myth and the thought of handing it to a kid and saying "Take, and eat" seems both a sorry parody of holy communion and a mockery of the sacrifice we remember this season.

So I accepted the chocolate cross in the spirit of smart-assness in which it was given -- and then gave it to someone else, who I'm certain threw it away. It was too much even for my twisted humour, because --
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?