Sunday, August 19, 2007

Judgment Day, II

Once again, heading to Meeting on Sunday morning, Garrison Keillor spoke to my condition. Especially after the discussion with the ATV'ers (see the earlier post, if you're interested).

This time it was via a skit brought to listeners by the Ketchup Advisory Board. Jim and Barb are talking and she's fretting and she says, "Well, anyway I was just sitting here thinking, what if I die right now, and I get up to heaven, or wherever it is I'm going, and God wants a report, huh? Like, what have you been doing all this time down there?"

I flashed back to the ATV'ers and our conversation. Then she says, "I wouldn't know what to say, Jim. What-I got up and did the laundry, and grocery shopping and then came home and took a nap? I mean, that's not what God wants to hear, does he? ... I mean, where is all my charity work? I never volunteered at a hospital, or adopted a strip of highway-I mean, I couldn't even take in that stray raccoon who wandered into the garage?"

Me, neither, I thought. And while Nancy and I laughed as the skit unwound and became more absurd, after I reached Meeting, plopped in the pew, sang a couple of hymns, and then settled into the silence, I thought, "Yes, that is what God wants to hear, doesn't he?" "How'd you do?"

"Oh," comes my reply, "some good, some bad. Some outstanding, some quotidian."

"Well, done, thou good trying and faithful as best you can be servant."
Maybe I do need some ketchup. Maybe then Judgment Day wouldn't seem so fearful.

Judgment Day

I had just finished putting away the big mower when I heard the abominable sound -- ATV's heading down the creek. As I rushed to the hillside and looked down, I witnessed them blowing by all my "Posted! No Trespassing" signs. Angry, not an emotion I'm proud to admit, I shook with rage as I scooted and slipped down the hill, over the steep bank, and into the creek, alternately waving my arms to get their attention and reaching behind me to make sure I didn't somersault into the creek and drown. To no avail -- well, except for the somersaulting part. I tramped up the creek, following their tracks across the sand bars and rock piles exposed by the unrainy summer. They had neatly skirted each sign. I was as steamy as the Indiana weather. I tracked them for a while, but an old, tired Quaker trudging through sand and stream in cowboy boots was no match for this unholy trinity of four-wheelers. I gave up and turned back.

Climbing the bank through the weeds, headed for the cleared trail, I heard them returning. I ran back to the tracks. The first guy blew right by me. I spread my legs, waved my hands, and the second guy stopped. "Is there a problem?" he asked. "Yes," I said. "You're on private land." "Didn't know that he mumbled." I pointed to the sign -- "Guess I didn't see it," sheepish. The third rider pulled up. "What's the problem?" I repeated, heatedly, the problem -- and pointed out the signs up and down the creek. "Calm down, man," he said. "You're way too excited." That didn't calm me down. I went on about the ten signs that were posted and that I wasn't buying that they didn't see them, since their tracks swerved around the signs. Then he started shouting that there was no need for me to talking to them like they were a bunch of "little kids" -- with a few interesting adjectives inserted. He began using one of those adjectives, as the conversation continued, as both a noun and a verb -- and he and his friend roared off, running over my foot, and throwing gravel.

It was not one of my finest moments. I knew it even as I stood there fuming. It's not that I didn't feel like yelling -- I did. And, even though I was within my property rights -- and trying to protect the creek bed and all the critters that live along and within it -- I sure didn't handle things right. I remembered the early Friends declaration to the king of England that:

"Our principle is, and our practices have always been, to seek peace and ensue it; to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God; seeking the good and welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of all."

Well, I wasn't in the least "doing that which tends to the peace of all." And my own words -- though they did lack that word which above all words can be used in a variety of ways -- condemned me. Yes, I did talk to them like children -- the third guy was right. The scolding voice, whilst it did lead them to vacate the premises, condemned me for my trespasses much more than it did them for their trespass.

After standing and staring down the creek for awhile, I made my way up to the woods and toward the house. Nancy came running down the trail, alarm on her face. "I heard ATV's -- and shouting. I was scared." Still shaking, with embarrassment instead of rage, I told her what happened. She said I was being too hard on myself. They were wrong. I was within my rights -- and protecting the deer, bald eagles, snakes (ick!), et al who had no voice. Perhaps. Perhaps not. All I could think was, here I am a Quaker who professes peace and what kind of witness for Jesus did I make to these guys? Again, I thought about the early Quakers' words:

"O, Friends! offend not the Lord and his little ones, neither afflict his people; but consider and be moderate. Do not run on hastily, but consider mercy, justice, and judgment; that is the way for you to prosper, and obtain favor of the Lord."

Would that I had remembered them sooner, walked the creek in silence, and approached the three with the concern for the earth and her inhabitants that I held as the reason for my rage. May God -- and the riders -- forgive.
-- Brent

Monday, August 13, 2007

Open Source Religious Publishing -- The New Movable Type?

I attended a gathering about open-source (sometimes known as crowd-sourcing) publishing this past weekend in Ann Arbor, MI. It was convened by David Crumm who is the lead religion writer of the Detroit Free Press. David, and a group of like-minded folks, have had a web presence titled Spirit Scholars for about a year -- you can visit it at That effort led them to arrange a gathering last Saturday of publishers (Zondervan, Paraclete, Skylight Paths, and others), writers, web folks, and others (around 65 total) to talk about new ways to connect in a post-modern world where newspapers are dropping their religion specific coverage (i.e. the Dallas Morning News, once one of the leaders in this area now has no specific religion department) and book review sections (or farming them out to AP wire reviews, etc).

Some things that we found out (though they aren't, upon reflection, all that surprising) are that readership of Google News now surpasses the readership of the New York Times and USA Today combined. And that YouTube viewership far surpasses Google News. Beliefnet, according the statistics presented Saturday, has a declining number of viewers and the same is true for the online version of Christianity Today and Publishers' websites do not seem to be losing ground -- but they're not gaining much either. The top religious sites are by Muslims (4 in the top ten), the LDS (Mormons), and Bible Gateway.

David and his cohorts are going to be setting up a new way for readers and writers to connect called Read The Spirit (visit it at The event Saturday outlined their vision for this site and the connections and explored 10 principles behind this movement. Since the 10 are available on their website, I won't enumerate them here, other than the first one, which I thought was intriguing -- "It's about the VOICE, not the book..."

One thing their site will do that I find exciting is electronically publish Top Ten lists -- for example, their recommendations of the top ten spirituality books, the top ten inspirational books, etc. There will also be moderated discussion pages about the books.

All of this is, as I understood from the presentation, geared toward cutting through the clutter surrounding getting spiritual wisdom to people.

I had some questions, of course -- coming from my almost always skeptical little brain. And one was -- so, what? So what that You Tube outdraws the New York Times? What is the implication for us as writers and readers? I don't know what other people go to You Tube for, but I know in my case it's usually for silliness such as Will Ferrell parodying George W Bush and the like. I don't go there for book reviews or serious reflective pieces. Not that they aren't there -- it's just that I don't use You Tube for those things and I would like to know who does and how many of them are there? Is this an area writers and publishers ought to be using -- and if so, how do we do it?

Also, if places like are in decline, do we know why, considering we hear much about the hunger for spirituality and links to religion in this rather rootless age? What sites are growing and why? What can we, who write so that people will read what we have to say, do to get our words out to people outside of the "traditional" means? I was hoping for more of this sort of thing -- practical advice or thoughtful reflection on these questions -- from the gathering.

Crumm, et al see this new venture as the 21st century version of movable type. That's an intriguing idea and Read the Spirit will be something to watch.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"I Know Ohio ...

... like the back of my hand." So sang "Over The Rhine" last Saturday evening in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I wasn't surprised. I had asked if they might as we had breakfast together at the Glen that morning. As fellow Buckeye natives and Malone College alums (I attended there one year), I was happy to make their formal acquaintance at this arts and faith festival sponsored by Image. Still, I was surprised at how affected I was by "Ohio" -- my eyes teared up and I was nineteen again and back in my home state. I wasn't the only one affected by the haunting rendition of one of the band's signature songs. The room of 200+ was still as the last note from Karin's piano hung and hummed in the high desert air.

Over The Rhine, in case you don't know, is the songwriting-singing-playing duo of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist. Though they've been around for fifteen years, I first encountered them through their release of the 2 CD set "Ohio." Yes, I'm a sucker for anything Buckeye related (though I've lived in Hoosierland longer than I did in Ohio), but I found this a simply stunning set of CDs. “... a deeply moving, maddening, and redemptive work of art, and necessary, ambitious pop,” All Music Guide’s Thom Jurek called it in a 4.5-star review. And I've bought everything released since and many from before (including Linford's solo piano efforts).

If you're a fan of literate lyrics, moving melodies, and heartfelt harmonies, you'll want to check out "Over the Rhine." Their new album, "The Trumpet Child," is set for release on August 21. Don't miss it.
-- Brent

More from "The Glen" in future posts...