Friday, May 30, 2008

The Holy Ordinary

God is the God of the daily – and the daily reveals the deity. We best perceive this in times of holy hushes. Spiritual silence urges us to see God in a mustard seed and leaven and autumn leaves and smiling faces. It leads us into a new way of seeing – a way of seeing the invisible hand of God in all that we have been blessed with. Rufus Jones said, “We find Him when we enjoy beauty.” Here's a reading on that subject from Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Purple State of Mind -- A Must See

Today I watched a film that every person (especially Christians) in America should watch -- "Purple State of Mind." The synopsis says, "Welcome to a conversation between two old friends. Welcome to a real conversation about the things that divide and unite all of us: our memories, our identities, our beliefs, our choices.

"Craig Detweiler and John Marks have known each other for twenty-five years. When they roomed together as sophomores at Davidson College, they were devout Christians. It was Craig's first year in the faith, John's last. After college, they parted ways, and when they met again, years later, they never talked about what happened... until now...

"Their conversation starts as a bull session between pals and becomes a story about how people make friends, and how they lose them; how people change, how they grow, and how they deal with the big stuff: death, sex, the meaning of life, God. The conversation between Craig and John captures in all its intimacy and difficulty a one on one reckoning between two people who want to understand each other but won't compromise their beliefs.

"At a time when the country is ever more divided over questions of faith and doubt, welcome to a new way of talking... welcome to a new territory of the heart. Welcome to a Purple State of Mind."

As we Quakers might say, "This film speaks my mind." Indeed, I know it speaks to my condition -- and I wouldn't be surprised if it spoke to yours, too.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Readin', Writin' and Faith

I just returned from a two-day event at the Alban Institute. titled "Secular and Sacred Story: Finding Connections that Enrich Transformation and Ministry." Participating in the event were folks such as C. Michael Curtis (fiction editor of the Atlantic Monthly), Barbara Nicolosi (founder of ActOne), Heidi Christensen (National Cathedral’s Cathedral College), and Craig Detweiler(filmmaker of "Purple State of Mind") and others. It was a time of ideas and discussion of the power of story, especially as it intersects with congregational life.

I mostly listened (something which faithful reader will find hard to believe), but was asked to lead the "Writers' Fishbowl" -- a time of dialogue about writing as a person of faith. I had (if I do say so myself) some really great questions. They were so good that we only got to two of dozen or I had prepared before time was up. Which made me think -- perhaps others who see their writing as an act of ministry might like to think about them. And share their answers. So ... here they are.

1. Leland Rykins, of Calvin College, wrote that about “Reading and writing as a means of grace” – adding once wrote that, “A means of grace, as I use the phrase, is anything in our lives by which God makes his truth and beauty known to us, and correspondingly anything in our lives by which God's presence becomes a reality to us.”
a. Is it the role of writer to make God’s truth and beauty known to the reader?
2. I heard somebody (and I wish I could remember who… but I’m old) say that Gospel is a uniquely Christian form and so gives some support to the idea of novel as distinctively Christian in origin.
i. Characterization (Mark 1:6)
ii. Scene setting (John 3:1-2)
iii. Dialogue (Matthew 19:16-22)
iv. Shows, doesn’t just tell (Luke 22:39-44)
v. Lack of wasteful adjectives (Mark 1:43) (“strong used just 4 times in all of Mark)
vi. Tension & release cycles (Luke 8:22-26)
vii. Builds towards climax
viii. Resolution (Luke 24:50-53)
ix. Also has primary, secondary & tertiary characters
b. Have you ever thought of the art you’re creating as a sort of Gospel – a telling of good news? If so, in what ways do think of it that way? Likewise, if not, why not?
3. “If I understand the Gospel, it tells us that we are to spread the Good News to all four corners of the world, not limiting the giving of light to people who have already seen the light. If my stories are incomprehensible to Jews or Muslims or Taoists, then I have failed as a Christian writer. ….” Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water
a. Do you think this sort of comprehensibility is also important for writers of other faiths such as Michael Chabon, Dara Horn, Salman Rushdie,etc?
b. Is there any such thing as a Christian screenwriter or Jewish novelist? Or are we merely writers who are informed by a particular faith tradition?
c. What is the role of the audience in creation of art?
d. Does the idea of an audience – say, congregations or adult faith groups – ever enter in to your creative process?
e. How does the audience influence your idea about where a character/scene/idea is working?
4. “Creation is surpassingly wonderful, and God is greater than anyone can possibly imagine. I write about the things I do because I can’t help it. I think flowers bloom to the glory of God. I write stories to the glory of God, to celebrate the privilege and miracle of being alive.” Mary Ward Brown, novelist.
a. So why do you write?
b. What do you wish a congregation using your creation for whatever purpose would know about you?
c. What do you wish a congregation using your creation for whatever purpose would know about the piece they’re using?
5. “At its best, art transfigures the world around us for a brief time, strives to let the radiance of truth, goodness, and beauty flash out for an instant. Art wakes us up, trains our perceptions, and reminds us that when we try to build rigid structures around presence we inevitably lose what we attempt to keep. The purpose of art is not to strand us in an alternate world, but to return us to the realm of the ordinary, only with new eyes. After the light had dimmed and the cloud had dispersed, the disciples found Jesus alone. Seeing their bewilderment, he must have had compassion on them. He must also have known that, though the disciples were temporarily blinded by the light, an image had been imprinted on their hearts that would never be erased.” Gregory Wolfe, Image, #27
a. So how do you see art, in this case story, film, etc as transfiguring the world?
b. What are ways you could see this “awakening” as Wolfe calls it, work in congregational settings?

What sayest ... um, er, writest... thou?


Saturday, May 17, 2008

And the Winner is...

Faithful reader (whoever you are) will remember that a few weeks ago I instituted a blog contest. I did it to help get the word out about my new book, Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment. I offered to answer 5-10 questions sent in by bloggers for a virtual interview. My good wife Nancy was to be the judge. The winner would win a signed copy of the book and a gourmet assortment of goodies from The Best Chocolate in Town (my favorite chocolate place!). Family of Brent Bill, employees of Brent Bill, Brent Bill's cats and dog were ineligible to participate in the contest (though Princess, the nicest, dumbest Great Pyrenees who ever lived tried to). The contest was prohibited where void. Side effects include dizziness, neuralgia, and innuendo.

Blogging their way into the contest were C. Wess Daniels at Gathering in Light, Liz Wine at Lovin' Life Liz, Shawna Roberts at Mystics, Poets, Fools, Robin Mohr at What Canst Thou Say, and Liz Op at the Good Raised Up. I hope you'll check them out -- and buy and/or read the book.

And now ... drum roll, please ... the winner -- Liz Wine of Lovin' Life Liz. I pressed Nancy for the reason and she just said, "I liked it best" and then went out to plant herbs.

So, congratulations, Liz -- a book and chocolates are on their way to you.

Thanks to all the bloggers -- and readers!

-- Brent

Friday, May 16, 2008

Do We Know Where?

I've been thinking a lot lately about compasses and GPS (hmmm, wonder why?). This morning, navigating rush hour traffic on the way to work, I was struck by another difference between the two and why a compass is the best metaphor for our quest for God and spiritual discernment (besides my hanging my whole book on that metaphor!).

The main thing, it seems to me, is that GPS implies at least beginning with a fairly specific idea of where the end destination is. It's not like hopping in a cab, like in the old movies, and telling the system, "just drive." You enter where you are (specifically) and where you'd like to end up (specifically). I can't just enter "Brent's Farm" for example -- it needs a full address. Even with newer systems that allow you find stores, eateries, and the such, you have to add specifics -- city at least and the type of store -- food, book, etc.

What would we put in for God? Is God locatable in that sense? I don't think so.

That's why the compass fits better. We may not always know where God is ... or where we are ... but the compass unfailing points the way to God, our spiritual true north. The Holy Spirit, our ever present companion on our life's pilgrimage, shows the way. Who knows what we'll find along the way -- joyful, sad, helpful, scary. It's an adventure in spirituality -- not safe, but ultimately satisfying as we learn to rely on the tool God has planted in our soul.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sacred Compass -- Leadings Fit Our Teachability

Christ, our Inner Teacher, knows our teachability. The Spirit works with us where we are and within our own capacities for growth.Yes, God might stretch us. We will probably feel such spiritual stretching most when we’re lead in a way that others are not. But as the Psalmist says, “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go.” You. In your way. God will not teach anyone else in your way; everyone is taught differently. Here's a reading on that subject from Sacred Compass.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

A Sabbath for Silence

The last few weeks have been busier – and noisier – than usual. I’ve been (and will be) out promoting the release of Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment. That’s included leading workshops, doing interviews, recording podcasts, and doing book-signings and readings. Lots of words. All in addition to the “normal” flow of words out of my mouth as a congregational consultant, supervisor of a dozen staff members, attendee and convener of countless meetings, and my natural chatty personality. Way too many words. It’s time for some silence. So that’s what I’m going to do this morning. Take a Sabbath of silence. Shut-up. Turn the word tap off for a while. I need to re-center amid the hectic pace that goes through July. I need to quiet down and hear the voice of God – and maybe even reorient my soul a bit. Check what words I’m really going to need to say – and those which I need to lay aside.

Silence – not words – leads us aright. “I have never repented of silence,” said St. Arsenius. I know I have often mourned words that passed my lips. Often, in silence, I remember words I wish I could take back. I’ve said many things that I know, when I am silent, were not reflections of Jesus, but sprang from my need to best someone verbally or overwhelm them with my intellect. Spiritual silence reminds me that I need to be still and learn from the One who placed ego aside – even though it led to a cross. In the holy silence we come to know the living Word, as the gospel writer of John calls Jesus. This life and light of humankind still shines in the darkness. In the silence we come to the Living Word of God directly – the Word that writer of Hebrews tell us “… is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Silence takes us to a place in our souls where we stand naked in spirit before God – as guilty, then forgiven, and finally blameless. All our secrets are laid bare to God’s eyes and our own. God then gives us the power to see ourselves as we truly are. In the silence I often have to face the fact that I am not nearly so nice a guy as I usually think I am. I see when I’ve been mean spirited or apathetic. I remember the times I shot nasty looks at people who jumped in front of me at the grocery store checkout.

Silence doesn’t leave me there, though. In holy silence God begins giving me the power to live my faith. In silence I see God’s work in me being slowly realized. Any time any of us come into God’s presence we leave ready to live out the gospel with as much light as we have been given. If we take time – and not just a quick hit of silence – to be still.

-- Brent

Monday, May 05, 2008

Sacred Compass -- Seeing the Signs On the Way

Following our sacred compass is like hunting for a house down a country lane—we get the general direction, but need to learn to look for the signs. “Take heed of the promptings of Truth and Love, for those are the leadings of God,” urged the first Quaker, George Fox. Leadings is the word that Friends use to describe direction or guidance coming from the Spirit of God. Divine direction, God’s guidance, spiritual opportunity, and revelation are intimately tied into following the sacred compass. Here's a reading from chapter three of Sacred Compass.

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