Friday, November 30, 2007

The Deer Hunter

"He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD." -- Genesis 10:9

Yesterday morning, while getting dressed for work I looked out our bedroom window and spotted a large, brown animal about 1/3 mile away in the field next to our house. I couldn't make out what it was so called for Nancy to come. She couldn't see it clearly enough either and fetched the binoculars. Well, between our old binoculars and older eyes, we finally deduced that it was a deer that had been hit by a car or been shot and had fallen in the field. It was close to the ground, thrashing around, but clearly not standing up.

What to do? I decided to get out my rifle -- an old Marlin .22 that my dad gave me when I was 12 or so. In the 44 years since that gift, it's probably been fired 10 times (mostly at tin cans) and mostly 20+ years ago. For years it sat in the corner of our television room with an artificial flower stuck in the barrel. When we moved to the farm, I had it cleaned and put it in the corner of my closet.

Of course, a gun is no good without ammunition, so off I went to find my bullet. Yes, bullet. Singular. I only have one, making me, I guess, the Barney Fife of farmers. It was left over from the time I fired the rifle 20+ years ago and is usually in one of my dresser drawers or old cuff link boxes. As I searched for it I girded up my psychic loins so I could shoot this poor dear and put it out of its obvious misery. My physical loins had their own problems at that time -- the thought of actually killing a living being was wreaking havoc with my guts.

Thus armed -- an old man with an old gun and an old bullet (safe in my pants pocket), I set out. I asked Nancy if she wanted to go, but she hurriedly declined. I climbed in the car and started the drive out to the road closest to the downed deer. I knew I had one chance -- a shot to the head was required. Could I get close enough without it going wilder in pain and kicking me? Was it rabid? Was there even such a thing as a rabid deer?! That's when I noticed I had my work clothes on -- dress slacks, penny loafers, necktie. Quite the hunting outfit.

I pulled out on the road, found the spot where I thought the deer would be (there a slight risings and fallings that hide things even on our flat land), put on the hazards, grabbed my rifle and headed out. I couldn't see it at first. Had it moved? Was it writhing in pain? I spotted dark brown movement and went that way. After picking my way across the ditch, carefully since I was carrying a rifle (even though the bullet was safe in my pocket, I didn't want to trip and end up with the rifle barrel in my nose or something), I looked up and saw the deer. Except it wasn't. A deer, that is. It was brown and writhing. It was an extra large garbage bag. Snagged on a piece of corn stubble, it alternately filled and emptied as the wind whistled across the field, snapping it around. The piece of corn stalk was what I had mistaken through the binoculars for the deer's tail.

It being trash day, I snagged the garbage in one head, pointed my rifle downward, and headed back to the car. Back at home, I stuffed the deer/bag in with the rest of the refuse as Nancy asked, "And exactly how many shots did it take to put down the garbage bag?"

Quoth Bugs Bunny, "You poor little Nimrod."

-- Brent

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanks for a Bounty of People, Redux

This is the time of year that I love living in the Midwest -- more than summer, spring or winter, which each has its own charm. But fall has a particular beauty. The landscape is alive with wonderful color, and I don’t just mean the trees in places like Brown County. I mean the fields and woods that adorn the countryside.

The sunlight is softer at this time of year, which of course brings a chill to the air most of the time. And this softer light is golden, transforming the ordinary into extraordinary, helping me see the richness of life around me.

That’s why I love driving around Indiana highways and backroads at this time of year. I drive and watch the light play across the countryside – field stubble casting shadows along the dirt, bare black tree limbs silhouetted against a royal blue sky, clouds puffy and white floating serenely along. .

I feel a sense of connectedness with the land and that sense grows stronger every year. Yes, I was born and raised in the city and I often proclaimed the wonders of that existence compared to that of my country cousins when I was a kid. But the fact is I loved visiting the farms of our rural families’. And my father was, and still, is a tramper of fields and forests. We often were out and about.

That’s one reason I am happy about our new house. Just four years ago, the home site was a tangle of briars, thorn trees, and poison ivy all tangled in old fences. My two sons-in-law, my dad, and I began clearing all that out on Thanksgiving weekend, getting ready for building. We worked in the rain and mud and cold and snow. We cut, we sawed, we pulled bushes out with the tractor. I drove the tractor -- a first since I was about twenty, although now I own one. All through that work, I smelled the scents of farm and field – clumps of mud clinging to boots, wood smoke from burning limbs.

Then, as the house was being built, I’d hike back and work, watching the seasons move through – budding spring, humid summer. After we moved in, we enjoyed watching fall ebb and being safe and warm in winter’s blast.

I love living in the country now. And more than that, this move and this time of year helps me remember that I am connected to God’s good earth all the time – from witnessing its visual beauty to partaking of its sustenance with every mouthful of food I eat.

God's faithfulness, to me, is evident in the changing seasons. Crops are planted, grown, and harvested. The soil rests over winter. Though the face of the earth changes, God does not. God watches over it all, and has for eons, and is faithful.

We question that. Sometimes when life is good, we imagine that it is good solely from the sweat of our brow or our own efforts. I cut those trees and mowed the field for the view – not God after all – forgetting that all I have comes by the grace of God in the first place.

Sometimes we question it, out of our troubles, like Job. We wonder if it is true and try to understand the mind of God. We would do well to remember the questions of God to Job – “Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone -- while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”

“What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? … Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? … Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens?”

“Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind?”

God asked Job these questions because it was important for Job to remember that God was not his enemy as he was coming to believe. This encounter with the Lord was not to say why Job was suffering, but to learn, by faith, that God was his Creator, Sustainer, and Friend.
This is something we forget, but the Psalmist reminds us that the earth does not. “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;” the psalmist sings, “let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!’ Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them! Then the trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

Singing trees, jubilant fields – these things we take as poetic language. Things that don’t really happen. Or do they? Could it be that the golden light that transforms field trash into something of beauty is a way the fields are being jubilant, reflecting God’s light back to him? Could the graceful, waving naked limbs of trees be hands uplifted in praise to God? Maybe that’s all bit a mystical, yet we each could use a bit of the mystery in our lives, for true encounters with God are more than slightly mysterious.

Of course, what makes the countryside beautiful and rich are the memories it evokes. And inevitably entwined in those memories are people. The people whose woods I walked in. The families whose haylofts I played in. The folks, past and present, who molded my life. I remember Grandpa and Grandma Bill, Uncle Johnny, Uncle Burt, Aunt Orie, cousin Ernie, and on and on. A parade of Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders, and pastors also march past. As do people from the present. While not much of a farmer myself (I only raise trees and prairie grass), the seasons of my life have been blessed by a rich bounty of people, not crops. And I am richer for them all. They have been the jubilant fields and singing trees, singing “for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” They planted the seeds of faith in my life and watered them and watched them grow. Some of them have sung the song of harvest home. Some I get to see daily. Regardless, they continue to bless me.

God’s land and God’s people are intricately interwoven. Even those of us who rarely venture outside the city limits are tied to the earth by strong bonds and a bounty of people. And this season is about giving thanks for that bounty to the gracious God who loves us more than we can imagine.

I love a Thanksgiving poem by Max Coots that says:

Let us give thanks for a bounty of people.
For children who are our second planting, and, though they grow like weeds and wind too soon blows them away, may they forgive us our cultivation and fondly remember where their roots are.
Let us give thanks; For generous friends ... with hearts ... and smiles as bright as their blossoms; For feisty friends as tart as apples;
For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we've had them;
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;
For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the others, as plain as potatoes and as good for you;
For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;
For friends as unpretentious as cabbage, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you throughout the winter;
For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;
For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts, and witherings;
And, finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, and who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;
For all these we give thanks.

Let us give thanks, this holiday time, for golden light, good friends, and God’s graciousness. May we open our eyes to jubilant fields and singing trees. Soaring clouds, be they white or gray with rain. Winds warm or chilled by the north. People who are made in God’s own image. Let us give thanks and “sing for joy before the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”


Monday, November 19, 2007

Love Books? Then Consider Yourself Invited!

Once again I'll be participating in the Holiday Author Fair sponsored by the Indiana Historical Society.

Here's what the Historical Society says about it...

Book lovers, Hoosiers fans and holiday gift-givers come together for a one-of-a-kind annual event at the Indiana History Center , featuring more than 90 authors, photographers and illustrators . . . all with Indiana ties.

The fifth annual Holiday Author Fair, the largest gathering of its kind, features works of fiction, non-fiction, history, travel, children’s, gardening, poetry and more. Authors include inspirational authors BRENT BILL (okay I added that part of the "blurb"), Gloria Gaither and Phil Gulley, award-winning author James Alexander Thom, Hoosiers screenwriter Angelo Pizzo, local TV personality Dick Wolfsie and many more who will meet-and-greet and sign copies of their books for fans.

Click here for a complete list of authors attending this year's event.

The Indiana Historical Society is located at 450 West Ohio Street in Indianapolis.

I hope to see you there!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Some Thoughts on Prayer

Prayer is an invitation to hear God’s voice in the still places of our lives. One of the things Quakers have long been known for is feeling that silence is good preparation for hearing God’s voice – sensing His leadings, knowing His will, and preparing to obey His call.

But our society values busy-ness, not stillness. Silence, we often think, means doing nothing. Thomas Merton challenges that thought. “The contemplative,” says Merton, “is not merely a man who likes to sit and think.” The purpose of contemplation, he continues, is “to entertain silence in my heart and listen for the voice of God.”

Prayer and listening to God’s voices have no point and no reality unless they are firmly rooted in life. Listening silences created by prayer are filled with God’s presence and wonder that lead us out into the world.

Merton reminds us, “Contemplation is … the response to a call: a call from Him Who has no voice, and yet Who speaks in everything that is, and Who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our being: for we ourselves are words of His.”

-- Brent

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Resting In the Everlasting Arms?

“True silence is the rest of the mind; and is to the spirit, what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” That’s what William Penn said centuries ago. Many Americans think that the picture on the Quaker Oats box is a portrait of William Penn, for whom Pennsylvania was named. Except it’s not and it wasn’t. Pennsylvania was named for William’s father and nobody know who the man on the oats box is.

William Penn was one of the first Friends. There are times that I think that he wrote the above quotation after seeing Friends snoring softly in Meeting. If, so, he’s not the only one. Benjamin Franklin (who many people think was a Quaker because he dressed funny) writes about this happening on his first visit to Philadelphia. “…[I] walked again up the street, which by this time had many clean-dressed people in it, who were all walking the same way. I joined them, and thereby was led into the great meeting-house of the Quakers near the market. I sat down among them, and, after looking round awhile and hearing nothing said, being very drowsy thro’ labor and want of rest the preceding night, I fell fast asleep, and continued so till the meeting broke up, when one was kind enough to rouse me. This was, therefore, the first house I was in, or slept in, in Philadelphia.”

In spite of that occurrence, which was not unique to Franklin, Penn probably had Jesus’ statement in mind – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Who among us – mother, father, co-worker, boss – is not weary and burdened? Whose soul doesn’t need nourishment and refreshment? Words and phrases like burnout, chronic fatigue syndrome, stressed out, fill our conversations. Silence invites us to rest in God’s loving care, a loving care so restful that some fall asleep.

Need some rest?

-- Brent