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