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