Friday, July 27, 2007

A Poem... Sort of

I would not harm thee
for the world
but thee is standing
where I am about to
shoot," says the Friendly
farmer in the old Quaker
joke. Today's joke
is, harm or no, that
the world is standing
where we are

-- Brent Bill

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More on As Way Opens

As I wrote on my other blog (, Nancy and I hosted the second gathering of our new worship sharing group last Sunday evening. Much of our talk centered around the topic of spiritual discernment. Besides the personal searching of this topic, it's also of interest because I'm writing a book on the topic.

We spent time talking about how you know a leading is from God -- and not your own ego. Are the voices we hear from the Divine or from Legion inside us? And why are we so fearful at times that we distrust our leadings -- testing them over and over again, afraid to act. One Friend suggested that it was time to put away false modesty and lay claim boldly to the leadings God gives us. To say, ala' Luther, I guess, "Here I stand, I can do no other."

We also talked about whether leadings were always personally rewarding -- or could a true leading take us to dangerous places emotionally or soulfully. As we talked about that I thought of what writer/theologian Frederick Buechner says, “The vocation for you is the one in which your deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet -- something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done” and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s dictum that “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” Perhaps both overstate sides of leadings. Or perhaps both are true -- ultimately. Perhaps the idea that we are called to die somehow leads us into deep happiness -- as we die to self and live for God.

One of the few things I do know (how's that for boldly proclaiming a leading!) is that discernment is a lifelong process. And as one Friend mentioned the other night, it takes the ability to long backward over life more than it does to look forward. In the case of spiritual discernment, hindsight being twenty-twenty is a very good thing.
-- Brent Bill

Friday, July 20, 2007

Matters of Life and Death

As a writer I often hear that matters of life and death are essential for good drama. Well, I haven't gotten much writing done this weekend as I've been dealing with matters of life and death and that was more than enough drama for me.

On tap for this week was the hip replacement surgery for my friend and boss, Tim. What wasn't (or at least on my schedule) was heart surgery for my dad. On Tuesday, Tim underwent surgery and, as a relatively young man in his late 40s, did very well. As a matter of medical fact, he's now home and hopping around with the assistance of crutches. He's well enough and bored enough that he's emailing us in the office. Isn't he supposed to be resting?!

As soon as I heard Tim's surgery went well, I headed for Ohio to be with my mom and dad. Dad had chest pains a couple of weeks ago after visiting Nancy and me. We worked outside all weekend and early Tuesday morning (1 a.m.) he started having chest pains. The good doctors couldn't fin anything wrong and released him with an appointment for a stress test. That test revealed what appeared to be a minor blockage and so they scheduled Dad for a heart catheterization on this Wednesday. The plan was to use a balloon to open this blockage. If that didn't work, then they'd use a stent. So off I went to Columbus, where we had a nice dinner with some of their friends and spent the evening chatting about when he was coming over to run electricity to the barn.

After waiting a couple of hours on Wednesday morning, the surgeon came out. The catheterization didn't work. And a stent wouldn't either. That's because instead of one minor blockage there were multiple big ones. The one they worried about and wanted to fix was the least of their problems. Others were 90-95% blocked. It was as serious as a heart attack, literally.

The cardiologist recommended bypass surgery. So he and we had a true life and death decision to make. Dad is an adventurer, so he, scared as he was by the prospect of having his heart "turned off" for a while, went for it. And instead of waiting a week (one option) he had it done the next morning, yesterday. It turned out he needed five bypasses. It also turned out that he sailed through heart surgery as easily as anybody can sail through heart surgery -- tossed and turned by the storms of being cut open and sliced and diced and heavy hands squeezing your heart. But today he was up sitting in a chair, eating oatmeal (he is a good Quaker!), and flirting with the nurse -- which was even okay with Mom. He may go home as soon as Monday. And by mid-October be helping me wire the barn.

One of the hardest parts for me was sitting in the waiting room. The waiting was hard. Partly because of the great cloud of unknowing that surrounded us. But it was also hard because of another party in their, their kids running wild, the parents (or whoever they were) chatting loudly on their cellphones and walkie-talkies and the general mayhem they caused. My Quakerism was sorely tried. I did try to see that of God in them, but was not always successful.

As the day wore down, and it became obvious that Dad would be in great shape eventually, the room quieted some. I heard more snippets of the annoying people's conversation. They were there because the person they were concerned about had been shot over an argument about a dog.

Driving home later I reflected on that and how the choices we make sometimes make all the differences. The surgeon said Dad did so well partly because of healthy life choices -- no smoking, no drinking, and being physically active. The other fellow, from what I overheard, had made less wise choices -- he was drunk, so was someone else, there was a gun and an argument. I thought of Deuteronomy 30:19 "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life ..."

Dad did and has. He chose even to have the surgery, with its risks, in hope for life. His choices have served him, and our family well.

This rant is not meant to cast aspersions on the other folks in the waiting room. They've been in my thoughts -- in good ways, too. Nor it is about good things happening to good people and bad to bad. We know that rarely works out the way we think it should for us.

I guess what it's about, from my stress strangled brain and sleepy mind, is that injunction from Deuteronomy is not a threat, but rather simply good advice that pays off in ways we may never know, but sometimes get a glimpse of, this side of eternity. And for John Bill's choosing life, I am grateful.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Left Behind?

Driving to Meeting on Sunday morning, Nancy and I participated in the Bill Family Liturgy -- listening to Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion." His tales of Lutherans and others in the Upper Midwest help prepare us for an hour with Quakers and others in the Lower Midwest. Listening to his stories reminds me that for all our theological and geographical distances, we're not so different after all.

On Sunday morning, he and his radio players did a sketch about geese flying to Canada and who witness THE RAPTURE. Thousands of naked Christians are floating skyward -- a bit disconcerting to the geese! They observe that some towns (those more liberal) have few folks soaring to Heaven, while entire flocks from more conservative towns are being swept to glory -- just as they expected to be.

Nancy and I chuckled, both at the craziness of geese witnessing the rapture and the certainty of those who know they'd be raptured. Perhaps the laughter had a tinge of nervousness on my part, having grown up with just enough second coming talk that I wasn't anxious to experience and had even more fear of being left behind. Pulling into the parking lot, at the end of Keillor's story, I remembered a poem titled "On the Day the Rapture Happened" that I'd downloaded awhile back --

On the day the Rapture happened,
The man in America
Who keeps a record
Of all the things happening in the world
So he knows when the Rapture will happen
Found that he’d got a hundred per cent;
A one hundred per cent chance of the end,
That Jesus would come and take him away.

So he went outside
And he waited.

And he waited.

And he waited a bit longer,
And he looked at his watch
And he made himself a cup of coffee,
And he went inside and he thought:
Back to the drawing board.

On the day the Rapture happened,
Nobody else noticed that anything had occurred,

But a family in Kerala wondered where
Grandad had wandered off to,
And nobody noticed or wondered where
The girl who slept in a cardboard box
In a shop doorway
On a street
In Buenos Aires
Had gone to at all.
("On the Day the Rapture Happened," by Wood,

What, I wondered, would Garrison's geese make of that?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Let Him Who Has Ears, Hear...

I had an absolutely stunning piece to post today. The insight it offered was profound, the thinking behind it crystalline, and it had a great piece of irony working, too. It came to me in the silence of open worship yesterday morning. It was so close to being perfect that I almost shared it in Meeting for Worship. But I wasn't quite sure it was a message for that place and time, so I stayed in my pew. And resolved to post it online today. You, loyal readers, would have experienced a life-changing event.

Except I can't remember what it was I was going to write. Not a shred of it. It's gone -- poof, like thistle down on a humid July wind. It was here, now it's who knows where. I've spent a good deal of time trying to reconstruct it, to no avail.

Which I'm taking as a good thing. At least I listened to the Spirit closely enough not to stand up and narrowcast the message to the assembled Friends yesterday. Now if I'd only been listening carefully enough to think, Well, that's a good idea, but should I post it on the blog? God, in God's wisdom, wiped my mental slate clean -- and so you've been spared my brilliance.

Learning to listen has been a lifelong lesson for me. I hope it's easier for you.

Monday, July 02, 2007

It's easier being green...

I joined the ranks of the hybrid-ists last week. I sold my Impala and bought a Camry Hybrid. It's roomy, quiet, has a great sound system, and enough other gee-gaws to keep me entertained for quite a while. And the mileage!!! So far I'm averaging over 37 mpg, which is about 15 more than the old car. Of course, gas prices have dropped here in Indiana since I got the car -- now down to "just" $2.75/gallon.

I did get the car partly to make to make a statement about my "greenness" -- but am feeling more than a bit guilty about it. I mean shouldn't I have had to give up something? How hard is to be green when it's much easier today? Where's the nobility of sacrifice for the cause?

I keep being reminded of when Nancy and I attended a mega-church in Texas one time and there was a special pitch for sacrificial giving. The pitch looked professionally filmed and edited and was given on three big screen televisions. One young couple talked about how they had prayed about giving sacrificially and so were dropping expanded cable and going back to basic and giving the difference to the project. This was their sacrificial offering -- and it was going to build the church a bigger multi-million dollar youth facility to replace the fairly new multi-million dollar youth facility already in place. Didn't really fit my idea of sacrificial giving. The widow's mite, it was not.

Now, in accord with God's timing and sense of humor, I've sacrificed my big car with satellite radio, heated seats, trip computer, and Bose stereo system for a slightly smaller car with (the potential of -- though I haven't subscribed) satellite radio, heated seats, multiple trip computers, and a 440 watt JBL stereo system. Oh yes, and 37 -40 mpg.

Jesus and the widow must be proud.