Monday, June 25, 2007

A New Worship Group...

In a response to one of my posts on my other blog (, Martin Kelley notes the "recent phenomenon of small Christocentric worship groups coming out of the larger big city liberal meetings." As Midwestern Friends, some of us see the opposite need -- small theologically hospitable Christian worship groups coming out of fairly programmed, theologically conservative churches.

To that end, a few Friends in the central Indiana area are interested in exploring the idea of starting a new worship group. While it is still very much in the exploration/testing this leading stage, the idea is that it would meet twice a month (to begin with) and feature a sort of Quaker version of "blended worship" -- neither entirely programmed or unprogrammed. It would offer a chance for group singing, prayer, maybe a short planned meditation (10 minutes or less) by the day's clerk of worship, and then open worship.

If you live close to Indianapolis and would like to think with us and God about this, then you are invited to Nancy's and my place on July 8 at 6:30 p.m. for worship and discussion about this possibility. This is not about starting a new meeting or church or asking people to choose between this and their current meeting or church. This, too, would be like the groups Martin has observed -- "It's happened respectfully and ties, personal friendships and memberships continue."

For example, Nancy and I plan to continue to attend Plainfield Friends Meeting. What this is another opportunity for spiritual growth and vital worship with Friends. If you'd like to come, send me an email and I'll email you a map to our place. All are welcome -- Quaker or not!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

And the Survey Says...

As faithful readers (and what other kind could there be?) of this blog probably know, I'm writing a book on spiritual discernment. It's titled As Way Opens and is due for release next spring. I could use your help. I'm gathering stories and examples of how folks use various "tools" as they practice spiritual discernment. There are two ways to participate. Either reply to the questions I've asked below or take a brief online survey at

Have you ever used Bible reading, including lectio divina, as a spiritual discernment tool? If so, how?

Have you ever used writing (letter writing, spiritual autobiography, journaling) as a spiritual discernment tool? If so, how?

Have you ever used spiritual exercsies (i.e., Ignatian exercises) as a spiritual discernment tool? If so, how?

Have you ever used devotional reading (i.e., lives of the saints, the Desert Fathers, contemporary authors) as a spiritual discernment tool? If so, how?

Have you ever used spiritual friendship(s) as a spiritual discernment tool? If so, how?

Have you ever used the arts (poetry, music, painting, etc.) as a spiritual discernment tool? If so, how?

Are there other practices you've found helpful as spiritual discernment tools? If so, please describe them and how you've found them helpful.

Regardless of which you choose, I hope you'll feel led (as we Quakers say) to complete it. It should only take a few minutes and it'll be really be helpful to me. I'll post a summary of the answers and some of the stories in future blogs!


Friday, June 15, 2007

As Way Opens...

Where am I supposed to go with my life? That’s the question. “To be or not to be,” is profound and fine for a Shakespearean drama, but if we’re asking the “What am I supposed to do with my life” question, then “To be or not to be” is moot. We be. Now what? The “where” question is as universal and old as humankind. It is as personal and contemporary as each one of us alive today. It especially presses upon those of us who sense that we are not merely human trying to be spiritual, but rather that we are deeply spiritual endeavoring to live as fully human. We begin our days with that “what” question. We awaken every morning with a cavalcade of choices before us – beginning with whether to even get up or not. Things get more complicated from there. The very act of making a choice – any choice -- takes us deep into the concept that our lives are more than our own. We belong to ourselves, to be sure, but we also belong to others in our lives. And most of all we belong to God. And God has plans for us. At least that’s what faith and a good deal of religious training tells us.

When I was in college I encountered a group handing out little buff colored booklets titled “The Four Spiritual Laws.” The first spiritual law was "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." That’s not a novel concept. It’s firmly rooted in Christian scriptures. The Bible and the whole of Christian history is full of examples of people seeking to determine what God wants them to do. They cast lots, set out fleeces, prayed, fasted, learned to listen to donkeys, went on retreats, climbed up on cacti, and more. Bookstores are crammed full of titles about learning God’s will – Amazon alone offers more 38,000 books on the subject in its religion section.
While some of these books will offer you five easy steps for discerning what God’s directions are for you, this is not one of them. It is also not about taking charge of our lives in the accepted, self-help best-seller sense. It is not about twenty-one indispensable qualities of a leader or seven highly effective habits.

That’s because coming to an understanding of God’s direction for us is not that simple. It’s also amazingly countercultural – about learning to stop and pay attention rather than shouting and demanding attention. If we want to know what God wants, we have to go to a deeper place than a set number of habits or qualities and become men and women of spiritual quality and the habit of looking for God in every place our life takes us.

That deeper place takes us to the discovery that the act of deciding to seek God’s direction for our lives changes us. We find that such spiritual discernment is more about sensing the presence and call of God than it is about making the right decision. In a grace filled way, this process of discovery awakens us both to a life of constant creation and recreation. It shows us how we are less about being right or making the correct decisions than we are about the work of transforming ourselves. And in the process, we are also transforming the lives of the people around us and ultimately the world. When we pay attention, this is something our souls intuit, but it’s harder to get our minds around. What we do see is that nothing that involves transformation can be accomplished by a recipe found in The God’s Will Cookbook – take one dash of Bible, three tablespoons of prayer, and bake in the oven of God’s light.

Instead, at the heart of discovering God’s direction is contained in the wisdom of the Quaker saying “as way opens.”
Friends drop this tiny phrase into conversation as easily as other folks do “Hello” or “How’re you doing?” “Will you be coming for dinner tomorrow?” asks one. “I will, if way opens,” answers the other. In some ways, it’s our version, in daily conversation, of “Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.” It’s become almost a Quaker cliché.

But, as with all clichés, there’s powerful truth lurking in this quirky Quaker conversational pattern. That truth is the belief that God’s revelation, even in and integral to daily life, continues for those who seek God’s way. God is at work within and around us, leading, guiding, sometimes when we least expect or feel it.

“As way opens” comes from a bit larger phrase, “To Proceed as Way Opens.” This means “to wait for guidance, to avoid hasty judgment or action, to wait for future circumstances to help solve a problem. The spiritual guidance which may come in a time of seeking or entirely unexpectedly, bringing suggestion for previously unforeseen action.”

As way opens about more than one time spiritual discernment. While its lessons can be used to help us make major life decisions – careers, life partners – and minor ones, as way opens is about a form of Christian discernment that takes us to the heart of the Christian life as living in God's will. It’s about discovering a fresh and deeper way to live a God directed life – a life that eschews simple spiritual solutions and takes us to the deepest, most soulful parts of our being.

It is about learning from God in the daily and life long.

As way opens is how we can come to see our lives, with all their experiences good and bad, as God-directed.

-- Brent

Monday, June 04, 2007

More Good Books...

Ah, summertime and the reading is easy. Well, at least it seems like I have a bit more time to indulge my literary habit. I've found two recent reads worth sharing -- for completely different reasons.

The first is Philosophy Made Simple by Robert Hellenga. You've got to love any novel that mixes an Illini-Texan avocado grower with an Indian Ubermensch philosopher type afraid of commiting a social faux pas with an elephant named, sort of, after a movie star with Schopenhauer and the Upanishads with ... Well, you get the idea. It's both deep and light -- as in de-"light"-ful. While I didn't find it laugh out loud funny or tear-jerkingly sad, it truly earned the various emotions it generated. I loved it.

Now (as the Monty Pythoner's say) for something completely different -- Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings edited by Cindy Crosby and Thomas Oden. Its a devotional guide that combines excerpts from the writings of the church fathers for either daily or weekly reading and prayer. It follows cycle A of the Revised Common Lectionary or you can read them by thematic interest. Though as a Quaker-type, cycle for me usually is found on the Westinghouse and has the words wash, spin, or rinse associated with, I do treasure books that help my daily devotional life (way too weak, sad to say). Ancient Christian Devotional is now on my desk, right next to the Book of Common Prayer and Shorter Christian Prayer. You'll want to pick it up.

Happy Reading!

-- Brent

Friday, June 01, 2007

Questions for God

A friend of mine and I were talking the other day about the questions we plan on asking God when we cross over Jordan to that bright land where we'll never grow old (er). And while there were the fair share of big ones -- why war, why evil, etc -- the ones that have been buzzing around my mind have been the little ones. Part of that is, I am a sort of "creationist," but not in the usual sense as understood today. I'm not concerned about seven, twenty-four hours of creation or ten bazillion years of evolution. What I do believe is that God, in some ineffable way, called all this into being just like Genesis says. I don't care how much time it took or any of that other stuff -- mostly because I don't think I'd understand it if God patiently explained it to me. I can't get my head around quantum mechanics, let alone Divine mechanics.

So, since God will have to start small with me when we all get to Heaven, I'll start small with God. And here are the three things I'll start with...

What's up with mosquitoes? You made them, they must serve some purpose, but exactly what is it?

Likewise flies -- house and otherwise. Disease carrying pestilence. That's how they seem to me. And, like mosquitoes, the buzzing's really annoying. Some enlightenment please!

Then there's poison ivy. A truly noxious weed. I see lots of other noxious weeds that I can figure out some purpose for -- thistles, for example. The really hard to get rid six foot tall ones provide a roosting place for red wing blackbirds and seed that all the birds go wild for. But poison ivy vines -- inedible, nasty, blister and itch inducing. Is it the result somehow of original sin or did you come up with it, too?

Wanna add to my list? Write in...
-- Brent