Monday, April 28, 2008

Sacred Compass: Our Lives Speak Through Our Bodies

We don’t often think of our bodies as carriers of spiritual truth, but an essential part of learning to let our lives speak is listening to what our bodies say about the situations life presents and the directions we feel led to go. Here's a reading from chapter two of Sacred Compass.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Down on the Farm -- A Bit about our Place

I handed Nancy the Sunday paper this morning and she opened it to the "Homes" section as she always does -- and there we were. Ploughshares was this week's featured home. We had been interviewed (and photographed) a while back for a feature in our county magazine and the article made it's way to the "big city" paper as this Sunday's feature as part of their eco/Earth Day emphasis. I thought I'd link to it because folks often ask about our place (after reading about it my books or on my blog) and John Hughey (the reporter) did a nice job presenting it. And the pictures are great. I told Nancy, when I saw it, that the place looked so good I thought I'd like to move there. ;-)

At any rate, if you're interested in eco-friendly homes, wildlife restoration, and such, you might find this article to your liking.

And here's just a bit more information about our efforts. We started erecting the home on April 1, 2004. We planted the first part of the prairie (9 acres) in spring 2006, along with 4 acres of trees (all native Indiana hardwoods, nut trees, and fruit trees). We'll plant another 17 acres of prairie and native Indiana hardwoods next spring. We have all sorts of wildlife now -- rabbits, deer, raccoons (who sit on the back deck and eat our cats' food --becoming the masked bandits they look like), coyotes, wood ducks, heron, and nesting bald eagles.

Who'd a thunk a city boy like me would have ever ended up here? Or that praire grass and trees and tractors and chain saws would be such a part of my life. I guess the only one is God -- who works in mysterious ways indeed!

Sunday blessings!
-- Brent

Friday, April 25, 2008


I've been thinking a lot about atonement lately. That probably has something to do with a book and a movie I've experienced this week. The book is Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brook. It's a novel about the plague coming to an English village in the 1660s. Not to give too much away (in case you want to enjoy it yourself), but the idea of atonement runs throughout the book and is especially strongest in one scene toward the end when one of the main characters goes on a rant about how a person can ask for and receive forgiveness, but still needs to atone for sin.

The movie was "Atonement," based on Ian McEwan's excellent novel. It's a really fine flick, filled with nuance. It's not as good as the McEwan's novel, but then that would be an impossible task, I think. Once again, as the title none to subtly suggests, atonement is the theme. The ending is wonderful though -- and completely unexpected.

So, atonement. Which one dictionary defines as "reparation for an offense or injury." As I watched the film and read the book, I kept coming up with the question, can we offer reparation for an offense or injury? I mean really? Can we ever make it right? Certainly courts try to set ideas of what reparations ought to be in civil suits and the Bible (and other scriptures) set other standards ("an eye for an eye," etc.). Still none of them really seem to work -- they never bring about what we really want most -- restoration of that which was lost, be it a relationship, a loved one, or an eye.

When I was a younger know-it-all (as opposed to being an older know-a-little-bit), atonement seemed like a pretty good idea. A person ought to make up for his or her offenses or injuries or sins. That was only right. Except I think it was only wrong. It led me to rely too much on my efforts and not enough reliance on God's grace. The fact is that I have too many offenses, injuries, and sins to atone for. And, as I age and reflect on my life, I come up with even more -- things from my past that haunt me like Hamlet's ghost.

It seems to me then that, should I ever be in the place of having been offended, injured, or sinned against, that I need to be graceful. I need to extend my grace, my forgiveness if you will, to those who have sinned against me. I need to let go of the idea of needing them to atone. And hopefully, as I live in a spirit of a contrite heart and soul and ask forgiveness, much needed, undeserved grace will be extended to me.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Sacred Compass Blogger Contest -- First Interviews

The blogger contest for Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment is off and running. The first three to post their interviews are C. Wess Daniels at Gathering in Light, Liz Wine at Lovin' Life Liz, and Shawna Roberts at Mystics, Poets, Fools. I hope you'll give them a visit.

Another person had interview questions but doesn't blog any longer. So I asked her if it would okay to post her questions and my answers on my blog. She said okay, First, though a little background. The interviewer is Jo Morgan of Joywise Heart-to-Heart. Jo lives in Madison, WI and she and her husband and I all went to high school together. Jo and I met in art class at Columbus, Ohio West High School -- under the tutelage of Mr. Robert McLinn. So we're long-time friends, even though Jo looks as even better as she did in high school (as does her husband Rick) and I look ... well, you know how I look. So here goes.

What drew you to this particular topic? Were there specific experiences?
The idea of knowing God’s will for my life, to use the language we used when I was growing up, has always been important to me. From high school days onward I’d buy and/or read books on spiritual discernment. Most of them, while helpful in some ways, were more of the 1-2-3 steps to God’s plan for your life. My life never quite seemed to fit into that 1-2-3 pattern – especially when it came to the challenging times of life or the times when I thought I’d followed God’s direction and seemed to end up in the wrong place. So I began questioning and learning and realized that life is a pilgrimage to God and that all of our experiences are used by God to make us the people we are – and that is good. So I wanted to share those thoughts with others – especially other “strivers” like me who want to do good, seem to often fail, and then beat ourselves up about missing some direction.

How do you personally receive or discern Divine Direction?
There are lots of ways I sense Divine Direction at work in my life. Most are in what Quakers call nudgings – a gentle nudge in the soul to do something worthy. It can be something simple – helping someone whose groceries have tumbled out of his torn grocery sack – or something large – to go work with AIDs orphans in Africa. We all get these nudgings – the important thing is learning to pay attention to them. There are other ways, too, reading wise books, listening to wise people, paying attention in love to the world around me, and much more.

Can you describe a time when the direction was almost as clear as your GPS directions?
One of the clearest times of direction was the time Nancy and I stood in the checkout line at the local grocery store, our cart well loaded. Our three sons lived at home at the time and so food disappeared quickly. Standing in front of us was a member of our Friends meeting, who also had three sons. Her cart held a few essentials. A single mother, she was between jobs and doing her best to get by. I felt a prompting inside me. By almost any standards, you are rich, the voice said. What should you do? Then I remembered Jesus’ words, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” I looked at Nancy, she nodded, and I tapped our friend on the shoulder. “Nancy and I would like to buy your groceries, if you’ll allow us,” I said so only she could hear. A look of relief filled her eyes and she nodded yes. As we three left the grocery, she said “Thanks. I have a lead on a job and this will really help tide us over until it comes through.” That was the last thing ever said about this incident between us. That, for me, was a time when Divine direction was a clear as GPS.

What do you believe prevents us from "discerning" God's guidance more easily?
Oh, I think all sorts of things get in our way – our busy-ness, our rushing around, the buzz in our minds of thoughts coming and going and going and coming. Probably the biggest obstacle to discernment is the noise of living, especially when we fail to recognize how it is distracting us from the needs of our souls. When we take time to nurture our spirits, we find discernment much easier.

What recommendations do you give the reader for tapping in more directly to God's Positioning System?
God’s Positioning System! I love that. Well, to tap in more directly, if we’re going to think of GPS, we have to first turn it on, then we have to consult it. GPS doesn’t do any good if it’s just in the car or on our cellphone. It has to be turned on and ready to go – and we have to use it. So, ways of turning it on, I think, include taking time for nurturing the spirit – prayer, quietness, reading, music, art, walking. These things vary person to person. Then ask – “Am I hearing/sensing correctly? Is this the way to go?” And trust the answers your soul receives – especially when the answers lead toward things that bring life and love and light.

Thanks, Jo, for sending in the questions! And for those of you who are bloggers, it's not too late to do the virtual interview.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sacred Compass Blogger Contest

My new book, Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment, (published by Paraclete Press) is just now hitting bookstores. It's premise is that a compass makes a good metaphor for our spiritual lives and the work of discerning God’s will for them. God doesn’t speak as clearly and as obviously as Mapquest or GoogleMaps or GPS. Maybe that’s because we don’t navigate the life of faith via anything remotely resembling GPS. Instead, the divine compass points us the mind and love of God. Our sacred compass operates in our souls and calls us to life with God. As we move toward Divine guidance, we joyfully behold the face of a loving God gazing back at us.

To help get the word out about the message of this book (which Richard J. Foster of Celebration of Discipline calls "one of the finest books on discernment and divine guidance that I have seen in a very long time."), I'm sponsoring a contest. It's an open call to any blogger to send me 5-10 questions about Sacred Compass. I will answer each one individually -- a sort of virtual interview. The virtual interview judged best by an independent, non-biased judge (my wife Nancy who has never read a blog until now but knows good questions when she sees them) will win a signed copy of the book and a gourmet assortment of goodies from The Best Chocolate in Town (my favorite chocolate place!).

A picture of the book jacket, blurbs by others, and photos of me are available for the asking. Questions for the virtual interview will be accepted through April 19th and the virtual interview must be posted by May 1 on the blogger's blog (is that redundant?). Entries will be judged by May 11 (my birthday!) and the winner announced to great acclaim on May 12. Send interview questions (along w/ a link to your blog) to Visit for information about me.

Let the contest begin!

-- Brent

Family of Brent Bill, employees of Brent Bill, Brent Bill's cats and dog are ineligible to participate in the contest. Prohibited where void. Side effects include dizziness, neuralgia, and innuendo.

Friday, April 04, 2008

MLK, Racism, and America Today

Today’s the anniversary of Martin Luther King , Jr’s assassination. King said, "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.Not the number of people who support the evil versus those who oppose, but especially note the number of those who choose to remain silent.”

As John Mellencamps sings,
"Oh, but ain't that America, for you and me
Ain't that America, we're somethin' to see,
Baby,ain't that America
The home of the free
Little pink houses for you and me"

Well, maybe little pink houses for you and me... but evidently not everybody here in this land where most of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants and we killed and kicked the only true Americans off the land.

What must Jesus think?
-- Brent

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Convergent Friends -- Discussion and Dinner

Convergent Friends: Reclaiming the Power of Primitive Quakerism in a Postmodern World.

"The winds of the Spirit are blowing across all the branches of Friends - blowing us in the same direction. Linguistically, "convergent" alludes to an affinity for both Conservative Friends and the Emergent Church. Convergent Friends are seeking a deeper understanding of our Quaker heritage and a more authentic life in the kingdom of God on Earth, radically inclusive of all who seek to live this life. It is a coming together of many strands of Quakerism, including, but not limited to, Friends from the politically liberal end of the evangelical branch, the Christian end of the unprogrammed branch, and the more outgoing end of the conservative branch. Metaphorically, convergent Friends are moving closer together towards a radical understanding of the Kingdom of God embodied in our postmodern culture."

That's from a presentation by Robin Mohr (a member of San Francisco Monthly Meeting and blogger at "What Canst Thou Say?" ) and Shawna Roberts (a member of Stillwater Monthly Meeting and blogger at “Mystics, Poets and Fools” ) . If talking about the ideas expressed in the paragraph above (and more) feels like something you're led to to do, you're invited to join us this coming Sunday afternoon at Ploughshares Farm for worship and discussion about the Convergent Friends Movement. We'll begin around 4 and have times of worship, discussion, and eating. Robin Mohr is leading the event and Nancy and I are hosting at the farm. Ploughshares is located at 6960 E. Hendricks County Rd, Mooresville, IN 46158. Googlemaps and Mapquest both accurately (surprisingly enough) portray how to get there. Just look for the "Welcome to Ploughshares Farm" sign at the end of our driveway (house numbers are few and far between -- as are the houses).

Anybody who is interested in this vital topic is welcome and encouraged to attend. RSVP at

-- Brent

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Theological Toys and the Beginning of Faith?

Okay, now I know I shouldn’t. I got some flak the last time I wrote about Jesus junk, holy hardware, whatever you want to call it. But today, not even looking for anything on that topic, I received a catalog from a company advertising its “75 years of fun & faith.”

Fun and faith sounds like a good combination to me, so I decided, in spite of the fake-smiling kids on the cover (the kids were real, just their smiles looked fake), to take a look. I found some things that were sweet and not too hokie, especially in the crafts for kids department – rainbow cross craft kits, religious sand art magnet kits, prayer box craft kits, prayer journal craft kits. All very nice stuff – the sort of stuff I would have loved as a kid – especially if working on them had meant less lecturing by my Sunday school teacher.

But going deeper into the catalog I found stuff that just plain gave me either the heebie-jeebies or a Pentecostal experience (I’m still trying to sort out which it was). Things like “God is awesome” temporary tattoos. I mean, I think I read somewhere that, “You shall not … tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.” Oh yeah, I guess it was in Leviticus 19:28. So what kind of believe the Bible example are we teaching kids if we ignore the Levitican injunction? Especially if we use an earlier one, Leviticus 18:22, to support the condemnation of homosexuality?
Then there are things like “Build With Jesus” footballs, tiny plastic race cars with crosses emblazoned on the windshield, Bible tins filled with cross shaped mints, and ”Walking with Jesus” flip flop accessories. Aren’t these somehow covered in by the biblical injunction “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain?” These things seem pretty much doing that to me.

If I was the purveyor of this stuff, I’d be pretty worried about the second part of that verse, “… for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”

The vain part, I think, comes in two very distinct ways – one, the commercialization of spiritual experience and two, the trivialization of spiritual experience. These are not satirical products – they are serious. The satirical I can take – for one they remind me not to bend my experience of faith into what is normative for all experiences of faith and to respect the experiences of others. But how can we teach our children Godly reverence by using “religious goldtone coin medals” embossed with praying hands or “mini-religious yo-yos”? Do we need such cheap “fun” things to introduce kids to the amazing experience of God? I guess I’ll go ask my “Magic Bible 8-Ball” for the answer.


PS I made the last one up…