Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Poem for Christmas Morning

A Child in Starlight -- by Elmer Diktonius

There is a child,
A new-born child --
A rosy, new-born child.

The child whimpers --
All children do.
And the mother takes the child to her breast.
Then it is quiet.
So is every child.

The roof is not over tight --
Not all roofs are.
And the star puts
Its silver muzzle through the chink,
And steals up to the little one's head.
Stars like children.

And the mother looks up at the star
And understands --
All mothers understand.
And presses her frightened baby
To her breast --
But the child sucks quietly in starlight:
All children suck in starlight.

It knows nothing yet about the cross:
No child does.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Do You Hear What I Hear

“Do you hear what I hear?” the Harry Simeone Chorale asks in a popular Christmas carol.

I hear a lot of things. Carols come from my car radio, television advertisers me warn that there are only so many shopping days left, phone calls invite me to holiday gatherings – or inform me that the church is one shepherd short for Friday night’s live nativity and I need to be there at five sharp to don our costume. There’s shopping to be done, meals to be made, cards to be addressed and sent. Yes, it’s Christmastime … and it’s busy.

What about Jesus? Is there room for Him in the Advent Inn’s schedule, or is it full up? Taking time for moments of holy silence can clear some space for this Savior King who comes clothed in baby’s flesh. That’s because silence is where Quakers believe we encounter the real presence of Christ. Jesus comes to us in the peace of the silence, a silence which is an active going toward God, seeking a glimpse of the One whose coming we celebrate. If we take some space for silence this season, we will hear the Voice that speaks not only in words, but also in gentle tugs on our hearts and in the beauty our eyes behold in the lights, the sights, sounds, and people surrounding us this season. So stop. Relax your body and mind. Breathe deeply; slowly and gently. Savor the silence. And listen.

“Do you hear what I hear?”

-- Brent

Monday, December 15, 2008

'Tis the Season to be Jolly -- or Not...

"Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la, la la la la. ..."
Oh yeah? Well, not for everybody. I ws thinking about that while getting ready for Meeting for Worship yesterday. I was thinking about some of my best friends and how they and I might be considered by some an emotionally/mentally motley crew. I have friends who are bi-polar, depressive, in therapy, attending 12 step programs, etc. And I'm prone to depression and panic attacks -- thank Heaven (literally) for a good doctor and Paxil. We're a walking, talking illustration (it sometimes seems) of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

I used to think this was a bad thing -- as in I should be ashamed (especially of my own "abnormalities"). But another thing I realized as I looked over my friends (and me) is that we are, by and large, sensitive folks, caring people, and very creative. Many of us are writers, musicians, artists, and the like. And not second rate either -- well, present company excluded. Some have had books on the New York Times bestseller list. Others sell every piece of art they create. I mean, I'm blessed with a rather amazing bunch of people who are my friends.

Most of my friends are also deeply spiritual people. Very spiritually aware. And this is sometimes a very tough season for us. For some reason, while everyone else is "Merry-ing" it up, I'm often more in a "Bah Humbug" mood -- or worse. Part of it, for me anyhow, is the disconnect between the festive and celebratory that often ignores the deeply spiritual aspects of the season -- the coming of the Christ. The coming of Light into this time of extreme physical (and sometimes spiritual) darkness of these shortening days. It's Light I need. And I'm not the only one. As one friend said to me recently, "A scary and dark season in some ways....need more Light."

As I thought about bi-polar, panic attacks, depressives, seizures, et al, I also wondered which Bible characters had those traits. Or saints. Others have thought a lot about this, but it was new to me. Which made me wonder not if encounters with the Spirit were symptomatic (i.e., which DSMIII classification does this fit in?), but rather if my friends and mine "abnormalities" were actually doorways into a deeper life of the Spirit.

Of course, since I think too much, other questions came to mind. One was, "Am I more spiritually aware as a person prone to panic attacks/depression than those who are not?"

Well, I thought, that's more than a little a bit spiritually arrogant.

But I did begin to wonder if Jesus was preaching today on the hills of Galilee, would He do a beatitude for us today? Perhaps something along the lines of "Blessed are the emotionally challenged, for they shall feel and see God's presence in amazing and scary and hopeful ways?"

All I know for sure is that I am grateful for my friends, my encounters with God, and my relatively panic-free life. That I am at a place where I feel that, while this might be a good day to die, it's an even better day to live. And that my friends share their joys and sorrows and ups and downs with me -- helping me to realize that Jesus laughs and cries in hearts and souls throughout time and eternity and that God will keep me safe though all of life. Even if it kills me.

-- Brent

Two resources I've found helpful are Therese Borchard's "Beyond Blue: A Spiritual Journey to Mental Health" on ( She writes with honesty and wry humor -- and I loved her "12 Bi-Polar Days of Christmas." And Dancing With God Through the Storm: Mysticism and Mentall Illness by Jennifer Elam.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mary -- Drenched in the Speech of God

This is that special season when we sing carols, hear scripture, and say “excuse me” and “pardon me” as we elbow the other shoppers aside. In spite of that, we sometimes lose sight of one of the major miracles of Christmas. And that is that the central figures of the Christ event were people just like us.

Not that you would know that by the different depictions that pass our way this season. We see it portrayed serenely on Christmas cards, in Christmas plays and songs, and in living and plaster Nativities all around town. In them , the Christmas scene is idyllic. It’s the very picture of a 1st century nuclear family – mommy and daddy and new baby.

But the fact of the matter is that the first Christmas was far from idyllic. Because it wasn’t being staged by arranging paper mache figurines, it was being acted out by real people on the stage of life. Joseph, the Shepherds, the Magi and all the rest, even mean old Herod, were real folks in real time living real lives and trying to make sense of it all. And into their lives comes the miracle of God’s Son – Emmanuel, God with us, come to lead us back to God. And one of those characters of Christmas was Mary – a real, flesh and blood, teenaged girl.
Hildegard of Bingen’s “Antiphon for the Virgin” reminds of this --

Pierced by the light of God
Mary Virgin
drenched in the speech of God,
your body bloomed,
swelling with the breath of God.

For the Spirit purged you
of the poison Eve took.
She soiled all freshness when she caught
that infection
from the devil’s suggestion.

But in wonder within you
you hid an untainted
child of God’s mind
and God’s Son blossomed in your body.

The Holy One was his midwife;
his birth broke the laws
of flesh that Eve made. He was coupled
to wholeness
in the seedbed of holiness.

This poem takes us out of the Christmas we’ve created it in our image and reminds us of the miraculous nature of the coming of Jesus. We often confine our understanding of the miraculous to that of God becoming a baby – which is indeed a miracle. But there is more. There is something, I believe, miraculous about the boldness and obedience behind Mary’s “Yes” to God.
This was no easy “Yes.” This was hard and carried a societal stigma that makes the one we used to force on unwed mothers easy to bear by comparison. What God asked of this young woman was about the most difficult thing she could accede to.

To be sure, as the Bible reports, when Gabriel comes and says “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you,” Mary “was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” Who wouldn’t?

Gabriel continues “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Her response to this is remarkable, or maybe miraculous. Where in almost every other instance of encounters with heavenly messengers the receiver of the message asks for a sign to verify that it is from God, Mary simply asks, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” She doesn’t try to talk her way out of it. She doesn’t explain her unworthiness. She doesn’t ask “Why me?”

Mary, a simple (in a positive sense) trusting young woman simply looks into the face of the eternal and said “Yes.” How can she do that? Hildegard’s poem gives us a clue how – and I believe it is found in the line “drenched in the speech of God.”

What a powerful image.

“Drenched in the speech of God.” It’s a phenomenon with which we should all be acquainted, yet I fear too few of us are. Mary can say “Yes” because she has heard the voice of the Divine, felt it rain over her, and knew in her heart that it was God speaking. It reminds me of a more modern parallel in the Quaker tradition – George Fox’s hearing of a voice saying “There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition,” and whose heart, upon hearing it, he says “leapt for joy.”

While Mary’s words from God came from the mouth of the angel Gabriel standing beside her, and Fox’s came from inside his soul, both were unmistakably from God to the ears of these listeners. And joy was the result.

Who can imagine what Mary felt when she first stood in the face of the mystery of the eternal? What might her thoughts have been? Surely she knew she was risking society’s, family’s and Joseph’s disapproval. But did she also know the supreme joy she would have cradling the baby in her arms? Could she even begin to dream of shepherds abandoning their flocks or wise men bringing gifts from afar to come and worship the baby king? Was there even a slight shuddering premonition of the cross that awaited her beloved baby boy?

We can not know Mary’s feelings, other than what we read in the scripture passage today. When the angel speaks she stands in reverence and awe and says “Let it be to me according to your word.”

For Mary, drenched in the speech of God, once her “yes” was said, she moved forward joyously with it. Her obedience and willingness to serve is something she embraced with a joy and serenity. This obedience and willingness came because she heard God’s voice, something that we would do well to prepare ourselves for in this season and year round.

Fox heard God’s voice because he prepared for it – reading scripture, talking with people of faith, praying. We don’t know what Mary did – the Bible doesn’t tell us. But we can guess that she was a person of deep spirit and prayer. When the angel comes, she’s not afraid or doubtful but only “was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”

And then, “drenched in the speech of God
“… in wonder within you
you hid an untainted
child of God’s mind
and God’s Son blossomed in your body.”

It is then that the wonder of the incarnation, God come down in human form to live among and bring his people back to him, begins – with the simple “yes” of Mary – a yes made possible by being “drenched in the speech of God.”

-- Brent

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Live Again from The Great Emergence

The Great Emergence is winding down -- the event that is, not the movement that Phyllis says is underway in American Christianity (and Judaism).

Phyllis is posing 3 questions --
  1. How, in a religiously pluralistic society, do we maintain our particular faith witness without causing civil unrest or compromising/watering down our particular faith to nothingness?
  2. What does it mean to be human? (This, she maintains, is one of the eternal questions and is especially pressing today, especially as the current generation seems especially self-aware or at least self-absorbed)?
  3. What is the nature of the atonement?

Phyllis says that these are the questions that must be answered and how they are answered will determine the future of the Great Emergence.

Well, my battery is running low (and so is the one on my laptop), so more later...

-- Brent

Live (sort of) from the Great Emergence

It's the second morning of the Great Emergence and I'm looking forward to another great day. Phyllis Tickle has given some absolutely stunning presentations on why/how she has identified what is going on in American Christianity as "The Great Emergence." She has tied all sorts of ideas (sola scriptura, quantum physics) and people together (David Farraday, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin) together, showing how a great emergence is moving through all of society -- not just faith.

As you might expect, most of her presentation is based on her book The Great Emergence. You can find her thoughts there, so I'm not going to recap what she's said here. You need to read the book -- spend some time with it and wrestle with its ideas. I, for one, have found her "story" persuasive -- as well as a cogent, concise description of what is going on in congregational life and the prime tensions of this time.

I will say that Quakers come off pretty well -- especially as she uses us as an example of how to deal faithfully and creatively with the question of authority. Just who/what is in charge? Scripture? Church structure? The Spirit of God? Of course, as those of us who are Friends know, we have been dancing with and around this question for 350 years and sometimes we get the steps right. The getting them right -- holding them in creative tension and allow them each to speak (the community of faith/Spirit/Scripture) -- is never easy, but is ultimately our goal and is spiritually fulfilling and rewarding.

On a personal note, I have been approached by a number of folks at this event who want to talk about Quaker spirituality and practice. Which confirms my long term belief that people are spiritually hungry for the best of Quaker faith. The question then, that I struggle with, is how do we come to live -- to model -- the best of Quaker faith and practice? How do our Meetings reach a place where they could seriously deal with what I consider the most pressing questions facing us -- What has God called us to do
  • With this people?
  • In this place?
  • At this time?

Notice that none of these have anything to do with how do we attract more people? Rather they deal with the question of faithfulness to the call of Christ -- both individually and corporately. Does it really matter if we attract 20, 50, 150 people? Of course it does -- especially if our concern is staffing committees, finding Sunday school teachers, paying staff, heating the building, etc?

But numbers do not matter if we dare forget those things and get back to the initial call of Christ to follow him and his command to feed his sheep. What does that mean for you with your community of faith in your particular place at this particular time? That, I think, is one of the prime questions that the Great Emergence is posing.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Quakers at the Great Emergence

Well, it's hard to believe, but the Great Emergence is almost here. I hope those of you who are attending are looking forward to it as much as I am.

Regarding a Convergent get together, there has not been a lot of interest expressed, but let's try this -- let's meet at 12 noon at St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral on the front steps. It's supposed to be in the high 40s, so shouldn't be too unpleasant to meet outside. Then we'll go grab lunch someplace close and chat. How does that sound? I'll have a car if we need to drive somewhere.

Hope to see you soon.

-- Brent

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Great Emergence -- Is Emerging

Well, it's drawing nigh, a least. Based on Phyllis Tickle's book of the same name, The Great Emergence will be a time of worship, discussion, dreaming, interaction, and thinking about the current state of and future possibilities for Christianity.

Tickle's thesis that the Great Emergence that is upon us is a once in a five hundred year event should, by itself, lead to lots of lively discussion and debate. After all, that's a pretty audacious assertion, to compare what it is happening in the Emergent movement to the Great Schism, the Great Reformation, and other "Great" motions and seismic changes throughout Christian history.

And so is her statement that "It is not unreasonable to assume that by the time the Great Emergence has reached maturity, about 60% of practicing American Christians will be emergent or some clear variant thereof."

That's a pretty heady prediction. And one that has huge ramifications for those of us who gather in congregations, work with congregations, and teach leaders of congregations. What does the Great Emergence mean for us?

I invite you to join the discussion by attending the Great Emergence. And, if you're a Friend, to come early and join in a discussion of what it means for Friends. I propose meeting at noon on Thursday the 4th, (I'll look for a place) for lunch and discussion.

If you're going, and interested in such a meeting, please let me know asap!


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Denver Quaker Saves a Life

That was the headline I got on GoogleNews. So I checked it out and here's what I found --

It seems that a Quaker parrot in the Denver, CO area saved the life of a choking toddler when it began screaming and repeated the words "mama baby" over and over. The toddler's caregiver was able to respond to the warning and save the the 2-year-old's life.

The article goes one to say, "A babysitter's worst fear was brought to reality last week when 2-year-old Hannah, the little girl she was watching, began choking on her pop tart. However, the babysitter wasn't the one to notice the choking toddler. It was the family pet, Willie the Quaker parrot.

"While I was in the bathroom, Willie (the parrot) started screaming like I'd never heard him scream before and he started flapping his wings," said Meagan, the sitter who owns the bird.

"Then he started saying 'mama baby' over and over and over again until I came out and looked at Hannah and Hannah's face was turning blue because she was choking on her pop tart.

" The babysitter, Meagan, was able to perform the Heimlich and save the little girl. Hannah's mom, Samantha Kuusk, was reportedly very relieved and stated in an interview "I'm very grateful for the both of them because they both saved her."

Had it not been for the normally talkative bird's squawking and then yelling "mama baby" repeatedly, Meagan believes she might not have come out of the restroom in time to save Hannah who had already turned blue. "

One of the best instances of vocal ministry by a Quaker that I've ever heard of.

-- Brent

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Connecitng the Dots

I've been cheating. I admit it. I'm not proud of it, but there it is. I am a diabetic. I doubt that's news to any readers since if you've ever met me in person, I usually try to work it into conversation within the first few sentences. Philip Gulley, my good friend the FAMOUS writer (unlike me, the author of rare books -- rarely sold), says he's never heard me go three sentences without working it it.
Unlike many diabetics though, I rarely cheat. I follow my diet carefully, watch my blood sugars, and have weighed within 5 pounds of the same weight for the past 10 years. But then came Hallowe'en. And the dreaded candy.

I was gone when it came. In Cincinnati for the wonderful "Books by the Banks" celebration (if you live close, don't miss it next year. It's great.). When I came home though, there were all the left-over candies -- Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Milky Ways, and... the dreaded "Dots."

I can easily take a pass on Reese's and Milky Ways. But not "Dots." They are so tiny and so yummy -- how much harm could they be? And so, slowly, ever so slowly, the teeny boxes have been disappearing from the basket and into my hot little hands. Each brightly colored Dot savored -- chewed into tiny pieces. I can make one of those tiny boxes (5 pieces) last for an hour.
Which made me think some about the nature of temptation. It's easy for me to avoid the big chocolate bars. The pieces of pie or cake. A package of cookies. But a Dot or two? What harm is there? A minor flirtation with sugar. How deadly could that be?

I am happy to report, that it's not been deadly at 'tall. I'm not writing this from intensive care or anything. My blood glucose levels are barely out of their ordinary range. Still, are Dots the beginning of a slippery slope? Especially for a compulsive personality like mine?

I hope not.

I pray not.

"Deliver us from temptation."

Well, only one more box left anyhoo. So deliver me from temptation -- tomorrow.

-- Brent

Monday, November 03, 2008


There was a quarter moon outside our ten cent town two evenings ago when I arrived home. A good portion of the family had assembled for a bonfire -- and then they wanted to go on a hayride. So being the really good guy I am, I went to the barn, dropped the log-splitter off the tractor, and fire Mr. Deere up to go get the hay wagon. The sun was starting to set and it was a nice bouncy ride over the recently picked bean field and across the road back to Nancy's nephew's house where the wagon was. In a stroke of luck (not driving skill), actually backed the tractor perfectly to the wagon so that I all I had to do was pick up the tongue, slide it over the draw bar, drop the pin in and... viola' (as the French farmers say), I was good to go.

Arriving back at the bonfire, the sun had set, the embers were glowing, and hot dogs were roasting. After a truly unhealthy meal, it was time to set out on the hayride. To be lit or not lit (the tractor -- not me) was the question. Not much moon, some starlight, but there's just something about warning lights that takes the fun out of a hayride. So, I thought I'd try doing it in the dark -- steering my way around the field (and keeping out of the woods) by what little light God had provided.

It was enough. In fact, I was amazed how much light there was once we pulled away from the fire and my eyes adjusted to the night. I could easily pick out the woods from the field and indeed saw variations of soil in the field that I had never noticed before in the daylight. The sandier soil shone different in the starlight than did the more clay-laden and the loamy (all words that didn't mean much to me just a few years ago). It was even easy to pick out Zeus the big black dog running back and forth in front of the tractor or zipping off into the woods in pursuit of Ebony our black cat.

It reminded me, that when things seem pretty dark, we often are given more light than we realize at first glance. We -- I -- tend to curse the darkness instead of stepping out into the light that is there. Driving that night in the dark reminded me that God gives me the light I need to make my way. Regardless of my life being in the daytime or feeling beset by nighttime. The secret to successfully navigating by the little light the other night was to give my eyes time to adjust to their perceived lack of light -- and to go slow. I geared the tractor down and moved along at a speed appropriate to the conditions.

It was a reminder I needed.

-- Brent

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Final Thought for Convergent Friends October

About a year ago, on another of my blogs, Jay Marshall of Earlham School of Religion posted this remark -- "any chance Friends have of cooperating with God's transforming power will come most easily through building relationships rather than by arguing points."

I agree. And therein is my hope for the future of the Convergent Friends movement. I see it as a place -- a holding vessel -- for important conversations about the future of Friends. I hope it's a place where, regardless of position -- Evangelical, liberal, moderate -- Friends will be able to answer the question "What canst thou say" with openness and be affirmed.

I see it as a new place to talk about the vitality among Friends that can lead to transformation in the 21st century that is theologically hospitable to those who are seeking a vital experience of the Living Christ.

I see it as a place where we can be encouraged to think about what it means to be a Friends congregation in a particular place at this particular time.

What energizes us for ministry? Outreach? Christian social witnesses?

As many of my blog readers know, my spirituality books emphasize Christian Quaker spirituality. As I travel the country schlepping books or leading spirituality workshops, I find a lot of interest in Quakerism.

Then come the inevitable questions about where to find a Quaker congregation in that area. I have to admit that I don't, even as smart as I am, know where every Meeting is and I'm also a bit hesitant to just tell people to look online for Quakers closest to them.

I'd like to be able -- in my wildest Quaker dreams -- to be able to point to some sort of resource that could guide them to a place where they would experience the kind of Quaker spirituality that I write about. Perhaps that's self-serving or naive -- or both.

But I do know some Meetings in that fit that wish -- and I'd like to know about more.

I think a place for theological hospitality among Friends is important. I hear from too many Friends whose meetings feel like exiles in their yearly meetings or are actually contemplating leaving. Likewise, some pastoral leaders.

Can the Convergent movement be a place where thoughtful, caring dialogue can continue? I hope so!

-- Brent

Monday, October 13, 2008

Alone... Amazing

My friend Alan Garinger is the most amazing inventor I've ever met. He's come up with toys (the Infinity Warp), art material (SandArt), a label affixer, and ... well, I could go on about Alan (and often do). I can't decide whether I love him or hate him -- he's just so blamed creative.

Professional jealousy.

In addition to no-so-run of the mill inventions, he also invents books and characters. And his last one is just amazing. Alone: The Journey of the Boy Sims.

Another friend of his sent Alan this tiny description found in a journal int he Fulton County, Indiana courthouse -- Monday, October 28, 1833, Journal Entry Of The Michigan Road Survey Party. ... The boy Sims, in charge of general items, was sent to Detroit today to secure ink to replenish our supply lost in a recent but minor accident during the crossing of the Tippecanoe River. We expect him back in 28 to 31 days. Being a youthful and resourceful as well as an agile lad, he should make the trek in less time and in case he does not return in the allotted period, we shall send for a search party."

From that meager entry, Alan created a wonderful work of young adult fiction. Alone is the story of this young boy and his adventures in the Indiana wilderness. Oh, the places he goes and the people he meets -- and the trials he endures. All vividly brought to life by this master story-teller.

I won't say anymore here -- other than get this book and read it. You won't put it down -- and neither will any young readers you know.


Friday, October 10, 2008

is home for the weekend and enjoying the golden autumn sunlight.
Brent is home for the weekend and enjoying the golden autumn sunlight...
Brent is enjoying this great autumn Hoosier day -- blue skies and coloring leaves.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Let's Get Rid of Church

Our pastor gave a sermon recently centered around some reading he'd done about why the younger generation (from my viewpoint, almost everybody younger than me fits into that!) like Jesus but hates the church.

If the research he read is true -- then Gen Y, Gen X -- are fine with the Gospel (as they understand it) but not too happy with the institution of the church.

This struck me as a wonderful "marketing" opportunity for us Convergent Quakers. Except, we (all Quakers not just the Convergent types) if not adverse to advertising our existence, are not very good at it.

Which is understandable at one level -- how do you capture on a billboard or bumper sticker a spiritual experience as deep as Quakerism offers?

This made me think that one small step might be by undoing a name change that many Friends adopted in the 19th and early 20th century -- the name "Church." As in Podunk Friends Church.

If Gen Y et al like Jesus but don't like the church -- let's get rid of the "church."

By that I mean the name on the front of many a Friend's congregational edifice. Let's drop Podunk Friends Church and go by Podunk Friends Meeting -- and alert the local media to why we're changing our names.

Name changes are all the rage in mega-congregations and those who want to be -- just in our county alone we've got things like Connection Pointe, LifeWay, and all sorts of things that used to Podunk Christian Church or Southern Baptist of Podunk or ...

So let's go back to Meeting and invite folks to Meeting. For one it sounds a bit more hospitable than church. We could emphasize that what we mean by meeting is "gathering" -- we're getting together for worship.

And then we invite people to the second meaning of meeting -- encounter. We come to meet other like-hearted people. People searching for the sacred. Some having found more than others, some of us just learning the way or beginning to think about the Divine seriously.

I say like-hearted, notice, and not like-minded. We don't all have to think alike -- which is a good thing, since few of us do. Sometimes I'm of two minds about things all on my own!

Besides meeting other like-hearted people, we come to meet God. To encounter the Divine. Not just to be told about the divine through story, sermon, song, and silence, but to actually gaze into the face of our loving God and listen for God's words to our souls. What more winsome invitation could there be than, "If you like Jesus, but not the church, then come with us -- come to Meeting and meeting."


Monday, October 06, 2008

Emergent, Convergent, or Divergent -- What About Quakers?

Nancy and I attended a meeting a few months ago with about 60 other Friends from three yearly meetings. I thought we had gathered to discuss the desire of forming an association of progressive Friends -- primarily for sharing worship and discussion.

Instead it became largely a time to talk about various issues that various Friends were interested in -- prison ministry, being open and affirming of gays, national legislation, and so on. All things, it seemed to me, that were already being undertaken and accomplished by other active Friends organizations.

I understand that the group is still meeting and still sorting out what it is called to be. And hooray for them -- taking time to let a leading season seems to be perfectly in keeping with our testimonies concerning discernment.

But as I thought about that meeting today, I came to the conclusion, based on what I heard at that meeting, my work as a congregational consultant, a writer of Quaker spirituality, and our own little experiment with the Friends in Fellowship group, is that much of what I would hope from such a group is underway in the convergent Friends movement.

While I may not be strictly Convergent (I'm still not certain that I fit (or understand) the definition exactly), the convergent Friends movement is, it seems to me, the Quaker version of the emergent church movement. I find a lot of vitality in the Emergent movement – a group, according to their own words, “is a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” (Emergent Village). They also say that they are about

  • “Growing”: which indicates our desire to develop as the dreams of God for the healing, redemption, and reconciliation of the world develop.
  • “Generative”: which means that we expect our friendship to generate new ideas, connections, opportunities, and works of beauty.
  • “Friendship”: Because we firmly hold that living in reconciled friendship trumps traditional orthodoxies – indeed, orthodoxy requires reconciliation as a prerequisite.
  • Missional”: Because we believe that the call of the gospel is an outward, apostolic call into the world.

Why I think the convergent Friends movement (and indeed much of vital Quakerism outside of the convergent movement) has much to offer is that it embraces the above all within the context of the rich diversity of Quaker faith and practice.

I like the idea behind the word “convergent” – one definition of which is ”tending to come together from different directions.” I am concerned that there be places for theological hospitality and deep discussion about Friends testimonies and their applicability in today’s world.

I don’t think that developing another group of “like-minded” Friends is going to be very helpful to us. That would seem to me to be “divergent.” I know what I cherish are rich times of worship across “lines.” What feeds my soul is when whatever dialogue growing out of that worship is done with respect and caring – me listening and learning from my Evangelical brothers and sisters, my more mystical brothers and sisters, my liberal brothers and sisters and letting Christ teach me through all of them.I don’t think convergent Friends is the final answer for all Friends in all circumstances.

I do think it has a lot to offer to those of us inside Friends who long for places of deep spiritual engagement (and all that means) and those outside of Friends who hear about us and wonder where to connect with a people who seek to be known as the Friends of God in an open and welcoming way.


PS I"m still willing to try an organize a "Convergent Friends" conversation at "The Great Emergence" if there's any interest.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Convergent Friends -- And the Great Emergence

A group of us Quaker blogger types have taken up the idea that this October is Convergent Month 2008. What it means is we’re inviting Convergent Friends -- and Friends interested in the Convergent movement -- to make a concentrated effort to dream, discuss, and have loads of fun thinking about where Friends are and what the Future of Friends might be.

Since there are all sorts of things planned specifically for Friends, (check the Convergent Friends site at for blog rolls and activities), I want to announce one that is open to a wider audience, but still has a lot of interest for Convergent Friends. It is "The Great Emergence" in Memphis on December 5-6, 2008.

The title comes from Phyllis Tickle's new book. She says, "The Great Emergence' refers to a monumental phenomenon in our world, and this book asks three questions about it. Or looked at the other way around, this book is about a monumental phenomenon considered from the perspective of three very basic questions: What is this thing? How did it come to be? Where is it going?”

Phyllis's important new book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why. focuses her encyclopedic knowledge of American religion on the current shifts in the Christian landscape. Paired with her Southern wit and charm, The Great Emergence promises to be the bellwether book in emerging Christianity.

The Great Emergence National Event is a unique and freshly designed event built on innovative adult learning techniques including interaction, participation, and inspiring content on the current state of and future possibilities for Christianity.

Around the four main sessions with Phyllis Tickle, participants will also enjoy the daily office—thrice daily times of prayer—based on Phyllis Tickle’s bestselling book, The Divine Hours, in the majestic and historic Cathedral of St. Mary in Memphis, Tennessee, which will be bedecked with Advent greenery.

Workshops will be offered with some of the best practitioners of emerging Christianity, including Tony Jones,
and more (including me -- but that's not why I'm "plugging" this event. I'd go anyhoo.).

On the day before "The Great Emergence" (the 4th) various hypen-emergent groups are meeting (Presby-mergents, etc). If there are enough Convergents or other interested Friends going, we could set up our own gathering that day. I'd be happy to try to pull something together -- a time of dialogue -- if there's enough interest.

Check out "The Great Emergence" at And be sure to read The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle. She says some interesting things about the role of Quakers in this new movement.

Hope to see you there.

-- Brent

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"We're not in Indiana anymore, Toto..."

My apologies to Dorothy. But that's how I felt when I woke up to the sound of shotguns going off this morning. Not that I don't hear shotguns in Hoosierland. I do. Fairly frequently at this time of year. But I live on 50 acres of land surrounded by lots of other acres of land -- cropland, woods, lakes, creeks. This morning in Texas I awoke to the sound of shotguns going off while ensconced in bed in my sister's house in a subdivision in Frisco. Surrounded by houses.

"Dove hunting," my brother-in-law reported. Hmmm, at least it wasn't Texas justice gone amok -- posses of cowboys gunning down rustlers.

Actually, haven't seen any cowboys yet. Lots and lots of houses and shopping malls and the like. But no cowboys. Must have moved from Dallas.

The best thing I've seen so far is the sign above. That was at the new Frisco Senior Center. A lovely facility open to people my age (55+) though I do not consider myself a senior. And old boomer, but not a senior! My sister and her husband gave us a tour and it is really quite nice. But I had to chuckle when I saw the sign advertising "Senior Kick-boxing."

Now this is probably a nice form of exercise, but all I could think of was a bunch of grey haired or bald old geezers like me flailing the legs around an panting like a winded cow pony just off the range trying to defend themselves. "Watch out, young 'un. I'm a certified senior kick boxer and these spindly limbs are deadly weapons." Yeah, to me! I'd try to kick box something, break a hip, fall down and die.

What's next I wondered? "Senior Cage Fighting?" Would give "A Grudge Match to the Death" a whole new meaning....


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sin Boldly: A Field Guide to Grace

I just finished a book that I found simply stunning. It was well written, thoughtful, helpful, encouraging, challenging, and hopeful. It's Cathleen Falsani's Sin Boldly: A Field Guide To Grace.

I had a feeling it would be a good read. After all, Falsani authored another book I really enjoyed (The God Factor: Inside the Private Lives of Public People). So even though I got my copy of Sin Boldly a while ago, I put it aside until I had time to really read it with the attention it deserved. And I'm happy I did.

This "field guide to grace" is exactly that -- a pilgrim's guide to see God's grace in and around us and others and our world. There were many little gems that I highlighted - her thoughts, the epigrams, and quotations. It was a book that became a friend and one which I highly recommend to those who aren't afraid of finding God in all the right places.


Monday, September 08, 2008

Of Sunflowers and Souls

Light. Without it we die. Physically. Spiritually. Our very lives depend light for photosynthesis -- energy from sunlight that converts into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the fuel used by all living things. That’s why sunflowers track the sun across the sky, sea otters bask while floating in the ocean, and I look for an excuse to go to Florida in January. All God’s creatures move toward the light – flowers, trees, people. Light is constant and ever present. At least that’s what we assume. Then the power goes out or a month of clouds rolls in. We grumble and moan and whine until the light comes back. Here's a reading on that subject from Mind the Light: Learning to See with Spiritual Eyes.

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Happiness & The Good Life

Happiness -- I've been thinking about it a lot lately. The political season probably has a lot to do with it -- since each party is promising me I'll be happy and better off if I vote for its candidates. Yeah, and my teeth will be brighter and shirts whiter, too.

Then there's news from a recent survey. It revealed that the United States was out-happied by Nigeria. That despite our per capita income being seventh in the world and Nigerians making an average of $520. Per year.

Besides Nigeria, we’re beat out by Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Puerto Rico. Hardly a group we consumerists would even think of as our competition.

The good news is we beat out Romania.

We may be proving that the old joke “Money can’t buy happiness, but it allows you to be miserable in style,” is more than a joke. It’s the truth. For all the material things we have, many of us sense that we are lacking something. Something important. Something inside. The upside is that this sense of a deep interior helps us realize that the good life is more than having things. The good life is one of soul satisfaction.

But how do we find it?

One way is, I think, by doing some reordering of our lives around four basic ideas.

The first is that the good life is about following God. While this may seem obvious, it one of those things that is so obvious that we often forget it. We need to ignore the artificial division between sacred and secular move through life while inviting God to be involved in every part of it.

Second, we need to remember that God’s will can be known and obeyed. As we learn God’s will, and obey it, we soon learn that we are participating, with other people of faith, in God’s work in this world. The good life calls us to partner with God in doing Divine work in this world.

A third idea is that following God leads to a life that is balanced and deeply satisfying. This is not to say that life is always happy and filled with all sorts of good things and pleasant experiences. Rather it means that following God in the daily divine dance of life provides a soul satisfaction and sense of rightness. This rightness brings balance to our lives.

The fourth thing is that the good life is also about being good. About being honest, care-full of others, actually behaving in ways we know would be pleasing to God. Much of the good life, they found, comes about by asking God to worth with them in thinking about and going those things that are true, noble, right, pure, and lovely. The actions that come easily, drawn as they are from a heart of love for God and God’s people. Actions that come from the desire to please the Great Lover of Our Souls, in the same way we delight to please the people we love here on earth.

All of these lead us to the good life -- a life of true happiness. Beyond party and polls, beyond things and into some thing deep and rich and life-giving. The hard part is putting them into practice daily. Which leads to a fifth lesson I guess -- the good life is about total dependence on God, without whose strength we can do nothing.

-- Brent

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Clark Rockefeller -- Model Quaker?

Well, they say there's not such thing as bad publicity, but... when I heard that "Clark Rockefeller" claimed to be a Quaker, that, to me, proved that cliche' false. This is the guy that abducted his 7 year old daughter off a Boston street and then eluded a massive manhunt while hiding out in the Baltimore area.

Sounds very Quakerly to me. Kidnapping. Hiding. Lying. I don't' think those exactly fit the Quaker testimonies of peace-making, truth-telling, or much of anything else, for that matter.

But then, of course (because I do think too much), I began wondering about other bad Quaker apples -- John Dillinger and Richard Nixon come to mind. And some of the "good" ones were odd ducks, too. Like James Nayler -- led into Bristol astride an ass with women shouting "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." Or George Fox with his reputation of confronting Puritan preachers. Or Brent Bill who often doesn't live up to the testimonies as he should.

So I guess I should cut old Clark a break. After all, there's only been one person who lived up to our ideals -- "What a Friend we have in Jesus."

-- Brent

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jesus Laughed

Jesus, Moses, and Confucius walk into a bar...

Well, maybe that's not a real good way to start a blog about the redemptive power of humor. Or a good way to start a book about it either. Which, to his literary credit, Robert Darden didn't in his new book Jesus Laughed: The Redemptive Power of Humor. But it might have made for a better book if he had.

I really wanted to like Jesus Laughed. After all, religious humor in its many forms is one of my favorite things. I worked with Stan Banker on the two QuakerLite books, wrote a whole series of light humor and devotions for kids (Lunch is My Favorite Subject, et al), and regularly visit Ship of Fools, Lark News, and, of course, The Wittenburg Door (where Darden is senior editor). And I did like the book. I just didn't love it.

The parts I liked -- not unexpectedly -- were the funny/ironic asides that he called "Digressions," the Quaker joke that appears early on (though it doesn't have the "complete" punch line I've always heard), and references to well known Quaker funny man, Elton Trueblood. Okay, so Elton's not really known as a funny man, but he did write the The Humor of Christ, which Darden notes and uses well.

Darden's exposition on humor and religion -- including in the Bible -- is first rate, but... well, writing humor is hard work and writing about humor is even harder. Examining humor just isn't very funny. I read this book with a more serious expression on my face than usual. I know that because Nancy asked me one time what I was reading and I told her it was a book on humor and religion. "Can't tell from your face," she said. "Where's the humor?" Indeed. There just wasn't a lot of joy in this book, from my standpoint. I much prefer Howard Macy's Laughing Pilgrims or Tom Mullen's Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences.

So, would I recommend Jesus Laughed? Yes, it has much good thinking. Just don't get it expecting to burst out laughing as you make your way through it. This book, I think would be best for folks who see little humor in faith, rather than those of us know that Jesus did indeed laugh.

-- Brent

Monday, August 11, 2008

To The Left of Elias Hicks

... that's what I found out I was whilst "e-talking" to my friend Haven Kimmel (who's new novel Iodine is a must read). She pointed out that while looking up Jessamyn West's entry on Wikipedia she was led to "American Quakers" and said laughing, "Look! In this column is my buddy Brent, and right across from him is Elias Hicks!"

Of course I wanted to know if I was on the right or left of Hicks and Haven kindly pointed out that I was on the left. I loved it (though I doubt that Elias or my Evangelical Quaker grandmother do) -- a "pastorized" Quaker (as my college prof T. Canby Jones called me) to the left of the namesake of the liberal Friends movement.

Of course, that set me to wonderin' (I often go a'wonderin') where I was in relation to other folks? To the right of Jesus ... or left? To the left of Moses or the right? To the right of Teddy Roosevelt ... wait, that couldn't be!

Then I got to thinking how unhelpful those designations were. Left, right, liberal, conservative -- compared to what? What's the standard? And who gets to set it? I have a sneaky suspicion that the standard-setters are not people I'd find particularly trustworthy -- using their biases to set the "norm" (as if I wouldn't!).
So I finally decided, I am neither left nor right of anybody. I am just who I am -- someone who's trying to follow the way of Jesus the best he knows how to. That's about all I can manage.

-- Brent

PS But I still love being left of Hicks!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Is a Meme as Annoying as a Mime?

I'm not sure. But I'm sure to find out. My friend and fellow blogger Shawna "meme'd" me and so I'm trying the same thing back at her -- and including you. I looked up “meme” in Wikipedia, and got completely and totally lost. So I reread Shawna's post and thought, well, maybe I can do this and so, here goes....

Meme "rules:"
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
5. Present an image of martial discord (as in "war," not as in "marriage") from whatever period or situation you’d like.

Just the Brently Facts
1. I do some of my writing (the thinking/plotting parts) while driving my John Deere and mowing
2. Brent is not my first name and Bill is not "short" for anything longer (like Billheimer or Billski), it's just plain Bill.
3. I went to five different colleges to get my four year degree and two seminaries to get my masters.
4. One of my pastoral predecessors at Friends Memorial Church was Daisy Douglas Barr, a recruiter for the women's division of the Ku Klux Klan. Her picture hangs right above mine in the FMC pastor's hall of shame (my name for it) -- reminding people that no matter how bad a pastor I was, at least I didn't belong to the KKK.
5. I appeared on television as a child with "Flippo, the King of the Clowns" (Columbus, Ohio, WBNS-TV, channel 10). Clowns have freaked me out ever since.
6. There is a guy named Bill Brent who writes gay/bi-erotica. I am not him!
7. I drive a 1955 MG TF1500 that I first drove in high school. It was owned by the fellow I was named for (Brent Stephens) and now has a whopping 25,000 miles on it.

I tag Haven, Peggy, Wess, Aaron, Doug, Leah, and Martin. If memes annoy you, blame Shawna!

Martial Discord:
My image of martial discord is by Picasso -- it still moves me after years of seeing it.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Of Pioneering Quakers

Western Yearly Meeting's annual sessions are wrapping up this afternoon. I've attended sporadically. I especially enjoyed Tom Hamm's "Quaker Lecture" and John Punshon's Firstday message, along with Max Carter's morning "Bible Hours."

In one of his Bible Hour talks, Max spoke of Alan Jay, a Hoosier Quaker of the 19th century, who once asked the question, "How can we save our young people for the Friends' church?" A worthy question then -- and now -- and one that sparked a good deal of speaking from the silence that morning. As one Friend noted, even if we wanted to keep them Friends, what do we do when they move to towns where there is no Friends church?

That's true for members of Nancy's and my family. As careers have moved them around the country, they have often lived in places where there was no Friends congregation.

Which set me to thinking -- as most things do these days. Perhaps, just perhaps, part of the answer to that lies in inculcating passions for the Friends understanding of the gospel and testimonies along with a pioneering spirit. After all, as we were frequently reminded this yearly meeting, 150 years ago when Friends came to this part of Indiana, there were no Friends churches -- until they established them.

Now we Gurneyite, Orthodox Friends have fallen into the trap of thinking of the "church" as being the building. Friends General Conference Quakers have been much more comfortable with the idea of people setting up Friends groups whereever they settled. They even have a book about how to do so. But we move, don't see a Friends church listed in the yellow pages, and look for some other church to join.

What would it be like to train and equip our young people (and some of us older ones!) to set up Friends worship groups wherever they move? On college campuses? In the towns of their first job? Or third job?

In this day of blogs, facebook, MySpace, et al it should be easy enough to connect with Friends in new areas. Is it time to put together a "How To ..." start your own Friends worship group for us more Orthodox Friends? Could we do it with out pastors? Or a building?

I think we can -- and that it would be a good thing.

What thinkest thee?

-- Brent

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Chick Magnet & Wildlife

I ran out of gas today. Well, not me, my mower. So I loaded up the gas cans in the Chick Magnet and headed to town. "The Chick Magnet" is the name of our old farm truck (tri-owned by me w/ two other guys). It's a 1990 Chevy S-10 with tinted windows, alarm system, chromed wheels, honkin' stereo and a bunch of other stuff. It's also got painting peeling off, rust everywhere, some major dents in the bed, and a host of bumper stickers holding the tailgate together ("You can no more win a war than you can an earthquake;" "Genuine VW Parts, Dude;" "I love Old Baldy," and more). You know it's a farm truck because you have know certain tricks about it -- like the keys aren't really necessary most of the time, the doors have to be closed a certain way if you want them to latch, the mud in the wheel wells is from 4 different fields, and stuff like that.

As a farm truck, it doesn't get driven all the time. Mostly to haul wood from a field after splitting or running to the hardware store for parts -- that sort of thing.

Anyhoo, I loaded it up and headed to town. When I got out at the gas station, I heard a strange buzzing. Loud. I started filling the gas cans and could still here the buzzing. Joined by a bird chirping at me from somewhere. I looked around the canopy over me for the bird and didn't see it. Then I decided to put some gas in the Chick Magnet. I opened the door covering the gas cap and the source of the buzzing was revealed -- a bunch of angry wasps swarmed out. As did I -- swarmed out of the neighborhood of the gas tank. After most of them dispersed, I went back and saw they had built a next right on top of the gas cap. No wonder they were buzzing -- they'd just taken a five mile trip in a beat up old truck. So I cleared them out, got gas and headed home.

When I got home and shut off the truck, I heard that bird again. Loud. Inside the truck. Remember what I said about shutting the doors just right? Well, somehow a birdie had built a nest inside the truck. Up inside the heater. Which explained why the air conditioning didn't seem to be putting out much air. So I opened the doors and I think the bird flew away whilst I finished mowing.

The oil needs changed in the Chick Magnet -- but I'll tell ya, I'm really a-scared to open the hood! Maybe a bobcat living in there.

I gotta drive that truck more often.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

On the Annoying Truth of True Believers

Nancy and I went to the mountain to hear Jesus yesterday. Well, not actually Jesus, but He's who I thought of by the end of the evening -- Him and one of His disciples.

We actually went to see Neil Diamond in concert last night. We spent all our American Express points (and a few bucks besides) to get good seats at the venue. As we settled into our seats and got ready for an evening of fine music and lyrics and energy from one our favorite musicians, along came the True Believer (Hmmm, maybe his favorite song is Diamond's "I'm a Believer."). Anyhoo, this yahoo and his female friend plopped down behind us (after being kicked out of another row for being in the wrong seats -- but that's a whole 'nother blog). He immediately began testifying. Loudly. And often. "Neil, I love Neil. He's the man. He's like Elvis only bigger. I think I'll cry when I see him." I am not making this up. Then the "Wooo-hooo's" began emanating from his constantly opened mouth. Then more "Neil, I love Neil. He's the MAN!"

Then the lights lowered and the band started cranking it up. And so did the True Believer. "Bring it on, Neil, bring it on. Lay it on us. He's awesome. He's the MMAANN!" It actually got worse when Diamond stepped on stage and began the opening number. Between his adulatory remarks, the True Believer sang along. Loudly. Off-beat. Pulling a harmonica out and playing along.

I'll tell you, it was almost more than this Quaker could bear. It seemed a good time to dump the peace testimony in favor of a slight tap up the side of the True Believer's head. But I grimaced and bore it. He can't keep it up, I reasoned. Bad reasoning. He could and did. Two songs. Three songs. Four songs.

On number four I gave him my most practiced "Lew Look" (a glare that my Uncle Lew the Ohio State Highway Patrolman practiced to great effect on us when we were kids). Nothing.

Then the lights went down and Diamond perched on a stool to sing a ballad, which he said came from his new album. The True Believer still shouted "Bring it on. You're the MMMMAAAANNN." I added the phrase, "Do you mind?!" to the "Lew Look." "What," I heard him ask his significant other, "is that guy's problem?" But he got a little quieter. Until Diamond got to the lyric that went "I looked for my truth."

The True Believer about had a heart attack. "Looked for your truth? Whaddya mean. You're 67 years old -- you should know your truth. Can you believe this? What's he saying?" I glared at him and Nancy even asked, "Would you please be quiet?" Then the True Believer bent down and started in on Nancy, "I just want to go on record as saying I disagree with this searching for truth. There is Truth. He should know it by now. This is stupid." At which point I finally told him to be quiet or I'd get the usher.

Still, I was struck by the fervency of the True Believer -- both for and against his buddy Neil in just a matter of minutes. All because of some words that didn't' fit the Neil he loved. Simon Peter updated, I thought. "I tell you I never knew that man (or his songs)." The True Believer denied his Lord of Lyrics and sat ashamed of his Song Savior.

Lord, I thought, please don't let me be a True Believer -- at least like this guy. Make me constant in faith. Teach me to be trustworthy -- even when your words are ones I'd rather not hear. Make me a believer who's true.

-- Brent

Monday, July 28, 2008

Old Age -- Officially

It's finally happened. I'm officially a geezer. No, I didn't have a birthday recently. No I did not reach any "milestone" this year. The only way I know it's official is because I have now been quoted on the AARP website in an article titled "50 Reasons to Love Being 50+." I'm #29 -- no, not my age (that's highly classified but is somewhere between 57 and 59), just after Paul Newman (not bad placement!).

I knew this was coming because earlier this summer Lynne Meredith Schreiber called and interviewed me about spirituality for people over 50 for Modern Maturity magazine's celebration of AARP's 50th anniversary. Still, for someone who still "sees" himself as 20ish with hair, this is quite a shock. And yet, after reading the other 49 reasons life at my age is good, I'm begin to relish my new elder status. While when younger I always hoped to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, to be quoted inside Modern Maturity is not all bad.

And I hope #43 is true (and that I can convince Nancy that #8 needs some testing to make sure it is true!).

-- Brent

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Of Yearly Meetings, Authority, and Disclaimers....

I just heard a rumor that there's a new idea floating around about how to neutralize a certain Friends pastor/author type that some people find really annoying. No, not me. I mean someone else whose books sell a few more copies than mine do (between us we've sold almost 2 million, five thousands books. He's sold 2 million and I've sold 5,000).

I've long known that there are some people in Western Yearly Meeting who are troubled by this fellow's theology -- especially his audacious assertion that God's love is so large that everyone will eventually find a safe haven in God's eternal presence. While that is pretty outrageous and hard for a good Christian to swallow (I mean, get serious, how could God really love someone like Hitler or the driver who cut me off this morning more than He loves me?!), this writer's theology is not the point of the post. Rather, the point is a proposed "solution" (hmmm, wasn't "solution" part of the phrase regarding how the Nazi's dealt with the Jewish "problem"?).

The solution I hear is being floated is to ask this vile offender to simply note in each of his books that the views expressed in them are his own and do not reflect the views of Friends or (especially) Western Yearly Meeting.

I think this is brilliant. It's a great idea. It helps move Friends one step further back toward the ecclesiasticism we have always embraced. It's a lot like the concordat cum originali in the front of approved Catholic books. According to the the US Council on Bishops:
The Committee on Divine Worship, a standing committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has the responsibility for all matters relating to the Liturgy. The Secretariat of Divine Worship carries out the work of the Committee on Divine Worship, by:
overseeing the preparation and approval of liturgical books and texts and granting the concordat cum originali for publications of liturgical texts in the United States.
I suppose we could insert "General Superintendents" for "Bishops" and we'd be one step closer to Rome.

Oh wait. I guess I got that backward somewhat. The early Quakers were against ecclesiastical hierarchies and instead stood for calling people to a living experience of God. They didn't have bishops. Or superintendents.

Still, I think the idea just might work. But only if we don't stop with this particular pastor/writer. We need to make every Friends pastor do the same thing with every sermon they preach, newsletter article they write, Sunday school class or Bible study they teach -- heck, let's just make it every public utterance. "Great dinner, darling -- of course, that's just my opinion and does not reflect the view of Friends or Western Yearly Meeting."

Perhaps we could get name tags made for each pastor. Something that says, "Hi. My name is XXX. Anything I say is just my opinion and does not reflect the view of Friends or Western Yearly Meeting."

Now that I think about it, why stop with pastors. Let's add clerks, assistant clerks, recording clerks, ushers, trustees, choir members, people in the pews. I mean surely this fellow can't be the only one in the Yearly Meeting who's spouting stuff that others don't agree with.

Why, I have to admit that I've heard one or two or twenty other pastors say things that I don't believe are true -- things so bad that my wife Nancy, who is as good hearted a person as I've ever known in my life, had to get up and leave with tears in her eyes because she was so offended. And these speakers were Friends pastors. And nobody has ever, so far as I know, ever eldered them about being so far right (as opposed to this other fellow's left) that George Fox would have been classified a liberal and soft on Jesus, the Bible, and atonement in comparison.

Or maybe the solution isn't any type of disclaimer. Instead it may be time to just shut-up about the whole thing, let God defend God's self, and proclaim a little good news to a world that could use some. Would to God that we truly trusted -- dare I say "believed in" -- God enough to let that happen.

I hope this disclaimer rumor is just that -- a rumor. But then Yearly Meeting's fast approaching and there's nothing we love so much as a good fight -- good Quakers that we are. What must Jesus think?

The views expressed in this blog are Brent's, Brent's alone, and do not reflect the views of Friends, Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends, any Yearly Meeting anywhere, the local Meeting he attends, the worship-sharing group that meets at his house, Princess the dog, and the cats known as Ebony, Coal, and Grace. Nancy Elizabeth Bill also had nothin' to do with this.
PS Don't read the above as endorsement of Phil Gulley's theology (or the "dis-endorsement" of anybody else's). The point, in case you missed it, is the absurdity of censoring one whilst the ninety-and nine get to speak and do anything they please without fear of losing their recording.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Good Friday

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. Silence moves us from difficult self-examination to healing to relaxing in God’s presence. 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. Here's a reading on that subject from Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Purgatory (Quaker Style)

Haven Kimmel the world famous memoirist and novelist originally from Mooreland, Indiana (better known in Indiana as the home of the Mooreland Free Fair and local newspaperman and celeb Darrel Radford -- one of the Midwest's nicest fellows -- who hosts the Talent Show at the fair) and I have been e-talking a bunch lately. In one of our e-conversations, she revealed how she had consigned someone that we both knew to her own version of Purgatory for offenses in shoddy theology and the omission of recognition of women's contributions in the Society of Friends. And, since it was her Purgatory, she got to decide when said person got out and what they could and could not do there (talking was okay, napping wasn't). I said I thought napping should be allowed, but not talking -- especially for this person who would likely never get out if allowed to talk, but that's about all I can say without revealing who was put there.

As we e-talked about Purgatory, who should be there, and whether they actually had to be dead to be sent there or just brain or soul dead, I remembered another Quaker I knew who, if you said or did something that half-bothered her, would say, "I consign you to Hell." Whenever I hear her say that, I get chills. Whilst I've been known to utter some pretty bad words (all in the interest of Quaker plain speech), including the "F" bomb ("Fi-Fi-Fo-F.U.M.), I have never, that I can recall, told someone to "Go to Hell." I may have thought it, but putting it into words uttered aloud seemed to take it to a place I wasn't ready to go. And still aren't. That sort of holds true, too, for me and the idea of me directing God to consign someone to the hot place. Hell still scares the Hell out of me -- mostly because, no matter what it's like figuratively or literally, I've had enough of it in this life that I don't care for an eternity of it elsewhere. Nor do I really wish it on even my worst of enemies -- or the enemies of humankind. Sure, I'd like them to get their just desserts -- just so long as that means I don't have to get mine, too. Eternity seems kind of like a pretty long time. So consignment there, I leave up to God. And/or Mr. Deity.

But Purgatory, hmmm, now that's another matter. I'd be happy to run that place and thanks to Haven have now set up my own version. I get to say who goes there and why and what they have to do to get out. Her's and mine will probably share some population overlap (like the person she's already got in her's -- me, too!), but I think that'll work out because souls probably aren't limited to being one place at one time like bodies are. So they could be in her's and mine at the same time. And they'd meet different people in both places which might help shorten their stay in soul rehab.

I still argue for including the souls of some folks who are still physically alive. Bad drivers, for example. A whole slew of them would in my Purgatory. Many of them sport "In God We Trust" Indiana license plates and drive like the Devil. They need a time out -- to think about getting out of the speed lane while going 45 or even merely the speed limit (what are they thinking?!), visualize using a turn signal (or turning it off after 15 miles), etc.

I'd also stick people who are hateful to others who disagree with them there. Let's put Pat Robertson and John Shelby Spong there. And Martin Luther and John Calvin and George Fox. My Purgatory would be sort of like the movie "Ground Hog Day." Here we go again, they'd wake up thinking (see, I'd allow napping, too) and maybe, after a few thousand years, begin to listen to each (and learn to play the piano, too).

Well, that's how I'd start. What about you?

-- Brent

Monday, July 07, 2008


Indiana Jones: There's a big snake in the plane, Jock.
Jock: Oh, that's just my pet snake Reggie.
Indiana Jones: I hate snakes, Jock. I hate 'em.

I concur. Nancy likes 'em and feels bad whenever we find one that got caught by one of the mowers or the the bushhog. Me? Well, I know I should feel bad for one of God's creatures (although I seem to recall some verses in Genesis that don't put them in too kindly of a light) that encountered a spinning blade, but... I'm with Indiana Jones on this one.

I thought of that when my dear sister July (actually her name is Julie -- but I call her July and she calls me... well, that's for another post) sent me the following story from the Salt Lake City Tribune. She knows my love of snakes -- and, at first, I thought that's why she sent it to me. Then I saw another connection...

Unpleasant surprise
Roy woman shocked to find snakes in parcel
By Erin Alberty The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 06/27/2008 06:09:58 AM

Gaye Hurst refuses to enter pet stores because of her fear of snakes.

If she sees a picture of a snake, she folds the page so she does not have to look at it. A Halloween haunted house once had to stop operations, turn on the lights and escort Hurst outside because she panicked when she saw a python among the attractions, she says.

Now the Roy woman is reeling from the discovery of two large snakes that apparently escaped a flooded farm in the Midwest by slithering into a package delivered to her home Wednesday.

Hurst, 55, had ordered an oxygen generator from an Indiana company for her glass-blowing hobby, she said. She took the parcel to her living room and was pulling bubble wrap out of the box when she noticed what appeared to be a hose attachment. Her cat took great interest. On closer examination, her husband, James, discovered the "hose" was a 4-foot snake. "Just leave it alone," Gaye Hurst told her husband. "We don't know what kind of snake it is. It's from Indiana."

Hurst said she called 911 and begged dispatchers to send police and the National Guard. "They probably thought I was kidding," she said.

State wildlife officers arrived to removed the snake when James Hurst noticed movement inside the base of the oxygen generator. A second snake was coiled in the appliance, Gayle Hurst said.

Scientists suspect the snakes are black rat snakes - nonvenomous snakes common in Indiana, said Mark Hadley, spokesman for the state Division of Wildlife Resources. It appears they fed on a piece of foam inside the machine, which was shipped from Unlimited Oxygen in Mooresville, Ind., on June 20, Hurst said.

Staff at the Unlimited Oxygen said a barn near the company's warehouse had become swamped during recent flooding in the Midwest. A company spokeswoman said the snakes likely were displaced and took refuge in the generator.

Biologists planned to bring the snakes to Salt Lake City today to confirm their species and decide whether they may be kept in Utah as pets, Hadley said. If not, they likely will be shipped and released in a state where the species is native.

Ah, it's so typical of us wily Hoosier to ship our snakes to other places to get 'em out of our hair (well, not mine personally -- having none). Dan Quayle and Dan Coats and a few other political types come to mind -- send them to the snakepit in DC.

But enough of the political wise-cracks. The story above just makes me proud to live close to Mooresville -- home of the Indiana state flag, John Dillinger, Zydeco's World Famous Cajun Restuarant, and inter-snake commerce department.

[Upon opening the Well of the Souls and peering down into it]
Sallah: Indy, why does the floor move?
Indiana Jones: Give me your torch. [Sallah does, and Indy drops it in] Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Sometimes Ya Just Gotta Dance...

... and thank Heaven (really) that Matt did. A true piece of joyful, smile-making mirth and art. Check out his site

And smile... for Heaven's and your own sakes...

-- Brent

Monday, June 30, 2008

God, Getting Lost, and A Hint of Irony...

Nancy and I have just returned from a relaxing time at Bald Head Island (I know -- very appropriate considering my hairlessness) North Carolina. The return drive took a bit longer than it should as we traveled home via bookstore visits and workshop presentation in Wilmington, NC and then Johnstown, PA -- not exactly a direct route from Southport to Indianapolis.

The trip from Johnstown took longer than it needed because I got lost. Completely turned around. Just after doing a reading from Sacred Compass. The reading went well, the audience seemed engaged, and then, after chit cat and signing some books, it was off in the car. Nancy read the Mapquest directions and I followed those well read directions. Well, I thought I did. I must have done something wrong because I couldn't find the road that we were looking for -- and thought we were on. After a mile or so, I pulled out our road atlas (having declared Mapquest worthless) map and looked -- as long as I continued south on the road we were on, we'd run into the road we were looking for.
So south we continued -- right into the heart of downtown Johnstown and "Thunder in the Valley," a huge annual motorcycle event. ("Thunder" explained why I couldn't get a motel room in Johnstown -- here I'd thought it was all the Friends General Conference Quakers taking them up! Which didn't fit with my mental image of FGCers being frugal types.)

Everywhere I looked was a motorcycle, motorcycler, vendor, streets not being where they were supposed to be, and no Route 219 heading toward the interstate. Time was a passin' -- and I was frustrated. Instead of being ahead of schedule and almost to Sommerset, we were still in Johnstown and home was 7 hours and 43 minutes (according to Mapquest -- which I was cursing at this point) away.

Finally, Nancy spotted a sign that said "To 219" and up the ramp we went. It didn't make any sense -- why would we go north to find the road going south? And why were none of the roads where they were supposed to be? Finally, 10 miles later, came an exit for Route 219 -- 1/2 a block from where I originally turned on to the road the led to 219. How can that be, I wondered? As I merged into the swiftly moving 219 traffic, I glanced up at the mirror and noticed the compass embedded in it by thoughtful Toyota engineers. I was, and had been since we got on the road that said "To 219", going south. My mistake earlier was that, when I made the first turn in Johnstown, instead of heading south (like I thought I was), I turned north -- and had been moving away from my destination the entire time. That's why MapQuest and the road atlas were worthless -- I was reading them "upside down." All I needed to do to get going right was to look up at the compass. I would have seen clearly that I was going north, not south, and turned around.

This all reminded me, after I calmed down and quit feeling quite like an idiot, that it is precisely when I think -- no, not think, rather am CERTAIN!!!! -- that I'm going the right direction that I need most to check my compass. And in this case, I'm not talking about the Toyota one. I'm thinking about my sacred compass; the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. I may have checked the maps, the weather, the road conditions, and my own sense of direction -- but that may not be enough.

The car's compass was there. I just needed to consult it. When I did what the maps told me began to make sense and 7 hours and 52 minutes later (we made up some lost time) we arrived safely back at Ploughshares Farm. I checked the compass when we turned north into our long driveway, though, just to make sure!

-- Brent