Friday, December 25, 2009

Love Still Takes the Risk of Birth



This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a nova lighting the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour and truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by greed and pride the sky is torn
Love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine L’Engle’s “The Risk of Birth”
copyright 1974 Madeleine L'Engle

I am grateful that Love still takes the risk of birth -- this Christmas and every day -- in the heart of God and the hearts of women and men everywhere.
With love,
Brent

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Silence and God's Presence and Advent

Biblical parallels. I've been thinking about them a lot this season -- especially when it seems like all sorts of parallels are being made between the worlds in the Old Testament and the New -- to point to Jesus' coming. Still, I thought of a parallel that I don't think I've seen anybody else has drawn -- and that is between Jesus and Elijah and caves (hmmm, perhaps that's a tri-allel).

But it occurred to me, that Jesus was probably born in a cave (mangers in that day and place often put in caves) and Elijah hiding out in one. And how silence infused them both.

Yes, silence.

Silence speaks – yes, speaks, oddly enough – to a hunger evident in our culture. Just look at the rising interest in silent retreats and contemplative reading. Something in our souls tells us that getting quiet is a good way to meet God. That is something the prophet Elijah discovered. When he needed to hear God, the Lord told him:

“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”

Now Elijah was not a Quaker, though we would be happy to claim him (but only if he repented of killing the 800 prophets of Baal – hardly a Quaker act). Come to think of it, maybe Elijah was the first Friend. He learned that God was in “a gentle whisper.” What Elijah’s story teaches us lies at the heart of Friends silence. Quaker silence is about the real presence of Christ being with us in an intimate way. Quaker silence encourages us to relax so deeply in the love of God that we hear the Spirit’s voice whispering softly in our soul’s ear.

And that is "the silence of eternity" that Whittier spoke of -- a silence experienced by Elijah and those who stopped by the manger in the cave. At that manger they experienced a holiness that awed them into stillness and silence which is the only appropriate response to being in the presence of the Divine.

And in that silence, they heard in their souls the words echoing down eternity's way "`et in terra pax hominibus, bonae voluntatis." "On earth peace, good will toward all humankind."

It is my hope during this season that I put aside the rush of life and any expectation of hearing God amidst the busyness. I need to wait quietly by the cave of my soul for the Eternal presence.
-- Brent

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Let It Be To Me -- An Advent Meditation

One of my fondest memories of Christmastime is meeting at the church to go caroling. We’d gather around dusk in the black-topped parking lot and board the old school bus that now bore our church name. The engine would cough and sputter to life and off we’d go, bouncing along on springs worn out by school kids, out onto the main drag of our part of town.

One of my Dad’s friends always drove and if I cajoled and wheedled enough, my best friend and I got to sit on the steps beside the driver. We’d listen to the whine of the gears as he shifted up through them, hear the noisy little fan mounted on the ceiling above the driver’s head trying desperately to clear the windows fogging up from the combination of warm bodies and cold night air and watch the parked cars whiz by, seemingly inches from our noses. The bus would fill with the sounds of children’s laughter and adult story telling.

Down though the gears. A slow stop. We’d pull up in front of one of the homes of a shut-in from the church and pile out, forming ranks on the front lawn or porch. We weren’t very orderly. After all, we were Quakers and military precision was something we didn’t do well. A few carols, including some where we smart boys fractured the lyrics, a quick verse of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” and then it was back to the bus and on to the next victim’s house.

I always enjoyed those stops. The people we sang to, no matter how badly, enjoyed them too, their faces lighting up with the Christmas spirit at the mixed bag of families, singles, kids and adults singing to them.

But there was one stop that was different for me.

I didn’t look forward to it. In fact, I dreaded it.

Our last stop before heading back to the church for hot chocolate and cookies took us up a winding lane to a big house that had been left to the Yearly Meeting. We filed off the bus, but gathered more solemnly than at all the other. Adults seemed nervous and shuffled their feet. I really didn’t understand why there was so much unease, but picked up on it quickly. The door to the big house would open and we would file into the huge living room, which was filled with young women. I didn’t know all the particulars as a young boy, but my dad tried to explain to me when I asked him why they were at the Friends Rescue Home, that these girls had gotten “into trouble.”

What kind of trouble, I wondered. He mumbled a lot and said I was too young to understand and he’d explain it later. All I could pick up at the time was that it must have been bad trouble and something to be ashamed about. After the first visit there, I was always glad to beat a hasty retreat to the safety of the bus and head to the church. For a while I felt tainted with something inexplicably dark and brooding. This at a season of light and miracles.

Of course, I know now why the young women were there and what they were being rescued from. It was a much different time than today. A time when it was a matter of personal and family shame to be single, teen-age and pregnant. I’m not saying it was a better time than now, I’m just saying it was a different time. A time that called for drastic measures – sending your daughter away (“out of town visiting relatives” or “attending boarding school”) if she was unmarried and pregnant. That’s why the faces of the girls, even those who wanted to enjoy Christmas and the carols, didn’t look like those of the rest of the people we caroled to. They always looked apprehensive, downcast, sad – and to a young boy who picked up that something was wrong here – slightly sinister.

As I grew up, of course, so did my understanding and feelings. Now it just seems ineffably sad to have to live in shame daily away from the support of friends and family. It’s almost cruel. Yet it was the norm. It was something to be hidden away from the view of polite society. It wasn’t talked about. And it was a blot on the family.

As I think today of that time, I can’t help but think of the mother of our Lord – Mary. If anything, the time she was pregnant and unwed was even tougher than the 1950’s and 60’s in the Midwest. In the case of the young women at the Friends Rescue Home, many of them were sent away for a few months, until the time for the baby to be born and adopted (sight unseen) came and then they went home. In Mary’s case, the penalty was a whole lot more severe. Family shame was bad enough. Strict interpretation of the laws regarding sex before marriage called for severe punishment.

I think that’s important for us to remember. We have come to take the story so for granted and accept the wonder of the angelic announcement and ensuing miraculous birth, that we fail to recognize the boldness and obedience behind Mary’s “Yes” to God. This was no easy thing to ask of a young virgin girl betrothed to a man. This was hard and carried a societal stigma that makes the one we used to force on single mothers easy to bear by comparison. What God asked of this young woman was about the most difficult thing she could accede to. As the poet Luci Shaw writes:

it seemed too much to ask
of one small virgin
that she should stake shame
against the will of God.
all she had to hold to
were those soft, inward
flutterings
and the remembered sting
of a brief junction – spirit
with flesh.
Who would think it
more than a dream wish?
An implausible, laughable
defense.


A risky, unqualified yes. That’s what Mary said to God’s request. What would our response be ? I think that’s important for us to consider at this advent time. How do we respond when God calls us to service – even though our call does not make the demands upon our very lives and families that Mary’s did upon hers? Do we shrink from the tasks before us, the things God would want us to do, those things we know in our hearts are right and good, because they might cause us some embarrassment?

I’m afraid we worry way too much about what people think of us than we do about doing what we know needs to be done. And yet, even during this time of year when we celebrate the unselfishness of God and his handmaiden, we shrink from doing them. We close ourselves off from the possibility of wider service to God, claiming to be too busy (which we are), or unqualified (which we might be), or not the right person (even though God says we are). We ask to be excused from service, or at least excuse ourselves in our own minds, because of obligations we perceive as having a higher priority.

Mary, on the other hand, a simple (in a positive sense) trusting young woman looked into the face of the eternal and said “Yes.” And once the “yes” was said, moved forward joyously with it. I am sure there were times when she wondered if she had said “yes” wisely, especially in those early days when even her beloved Joseph felt bewildered and betrayed and was going to send her away. But overall, her obedience and willingness to serve is something she embraced with a joy and serenity that we would do well to be emulate in our own lives.

Who can imagine what Mary felt when she stood in the face of the mystery of the eternal? What could 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.” 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.
At this advent time, let that be our ideal as well. To say “yes” to God when called. Even as foolish as the call may seem. What is called for is not rational, self and community respecting reflection. What is asked for is obedience. Madeleine L’Engle, writing as Mary, says
An angel came to me
And I was unprepared
To be what God was using.
Mother I was to be.
A moment I despaired,
Thought briefly of refusing.
The angel knew I heard.
According to God’s Word
I bowed to this strange choosing.
A palace should have been
The birthplace of a king
(I had know way of knowing).
We went to Bethlehem;
It was so strange a thing.
The wind was cold, and blowing,
My cloak was old, and thin,
They turned us from the inn;
The town was overflowing.

God’s Word, a child so small,
Who still must learn to speak,
Lay in humiliation.
Joseph stood, strong and tall.
The beasts were warm and meek
And moved with hesitation.
The Child born in a stall?
I understood it: all.
Kings came in adoration.

Perhaps it was absurd.
A stable set apart.
The sleepy cattle lowing;
And the incarnate Word
Resting against my heart.
My joy was overflowing.
The shepherds came, adored
The folly of the Lord,
Wiser than all men’s knowing.

Let it be to me according to your Word.

-- Brent

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Caroling We Go ... Or Maybe Not...

For all my friends who are even thinking about, or have been invited to, participate in a Holiday Program over this season, I want to remind you of the guidelines in force regarding such festivities.

The Rocking Song
Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir;
We will lend a coat of fur
We will rock you, rock you, rock you,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you:

Fur is no longer appropriate wear for small infants, both due to risk of allergy to animal fur, and for ethical reasons.

Therefore faux fur, a nice cellular blanket or perhaps micro-fleece material should be considered a suitable alternative.

Please note, only persons who have been subject to a criminal background check and have enhanced clearance will be permitted to rock baby Jesus.

Persons must carry their criminal background check disclosure with them at all times and be prepared to provide three forms of identification before rocking commences.


Jingle Bells
Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all the way


A risk assessment must be submitted before an open sleigh is considered safe for members of the public to travel on. The risk assessment must also consider whether it is appropriate to use only one horse for such a venture, particularly if passengers are of larger proportions.

Please note, permission must be gained from landowners before entering their fields.

To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, we would request that laughter is moderate only and not loud enough to be considered a noise nuisance.


While Shepherds Watched
While shepherds watched
Their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around


Local #666 of the Associated Brotherhood of Shepherd's has complained that it breaches health and safety regulations to insist that shepherds watch their flocks without appropriate seating arrangements being provided, and so, to avoid job actions or reporting to the Labor Relations Board, benches, stools and orthopedic chairs must be made available.

Local #666 has also requested that due to the inclement weather conditions at this time of year that they should watch their flocks via closed circuit television cameras from centrally heated shepherd observation huts.

Please note, the Angel of the Lord (i.e. Management) is reminded that before shining his/her glory all around she/he must ascertain that all shepherds have been issued with glasses capable of filtering out the harmful effects of UVA, UVB, and Glory rays. Workplace safety must be paramount.


Little Donkey
Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road
Got to keep on plodding onwards with your precious load


The ASPCA has issued strict guidelines with regard to how heavy a load that a donkey of small stature is permitted to carry, Also included in these guidelines is guidance regarding how often to feed the donkey and how many rest breaks are required over a four hour plodding period. Please note that due to the increased risk of pollution from the dusty road Mary and Joseph are required to wear face masks to prevent inhalation of any airborne particles.

The donkey has expressed his discomfort at being labeled 'little' and would prefer just to be simply referred to as Mr. Donkey.

To comment upon his height or lack thereof may be considered an infringement of his equine rights.


We Three KingsWe three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

Whilst the gift of gold is still considered acceptable - as it may be redeemed at a later date through such organisations as 'cash for gold' etc, gifts of frankincense and myrrh are not appropriate due to the potential risk of oils and fragrances causing allergic reactions.

A suggested gift alternative would be to make a donation to a worthy cause in the Baby Jesus’ name or perhaps give a gift voucher. We would not advise that the traversing kings rely on navigation by stars in order to reach their destinations and suggest the use of GPS or Mapquest navigation, which will provide the quickest route and advice regarding fuel consumption.

Please note as per the guidelines from the ASPCA for Mr. Donkey, the camels carrying the three kings of Orient will require regular food and rest breaks. Facemasks for the three kings are also advisable due to the likelihood of dust from the camels’ hooves.


Rudolph the red nosed reindeer
Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw him,
you would even say it glows.


You are advised that under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 it is inappropriate for persons to make comment with regard to the ruddiness of any part of Mr. R. Reindeer.

Further to this, exclusion of Mr. R Reindeer from the Reindeer Games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty of this offence.

A full investigation will be implemented and sanctions - including suspension on full pay - will be considered whilst this investigation takes place.

Your thoughtful attention to these guidelines will be greatly appreciated, mitigate the need for any subsequent legal action, and ensure that we all have a safe and happy … um… celebration of … er… something.


-- Brent

adapted and revised from an email sent to me by Molly Robertson!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Silence as Spiritual Work

While no expert in the art of holy silence, I am a long time practitioner it. Sometimes I even wear a button that says, “I am a Quaker – in case of emergency, please be quiet.” That is more that a joke. Silence is a deep part of my faith life.

Even though the old Quaker gag is that we are called to, “Don’t just do something, sit there,” holy silence is more than just sitting there. If it isn’t something more, then we’ll end up like the Quakers described by some west England fishermen – “They Quakers just came here and sat and sat and nobody never said nothing, until at last they all died and so they gave it up.”

Silence is something we do, not something done to us. It is a participatory act. It engages our heart, mind, soul, and body. We actively listen for the voice of the Beloved. Quaker silence is not passive. After all, how could Holy Communion, which deepens our faith and fills us with passionate love for God, ever be inactive?

But this meeting, since it happens in our spirits and souls, may not seem so different to an outsider who sees us practicing it. She would not see any angels descending. He would not notice halos appearing over our heads. There is no physical evidence of the life changing activity that goes on inside us as we feed on Christ in our souls. “Outwardly,” says Friend Thomas Kelley, “all silences seem alike, as all minutes are alike by the clock. But inwardly the Divine Leader of worship directs us …”

That active listening for God’s direction is the very stuff that gives us Life – and life more abundantly.

-- Brent

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Silence and Spiritual Knowledge

Those of us who call ourselves Quakers today grew out of a rather rag-tag 16th century group known as the Seekers.  Today they would fit right in, since many churches offer “seeker” services.  But in the 1650s there wasn’t any such thing.  So these women and men from all religious groups came together and worshipped in silence.

That’s because they believed that the Spirit speaks loudest when we are silent.  George Fox taught them that, “Christ was the true teacher within;  and that God was come to teach His people himself.”  If they wanted to be taught by Christ, “the true teacher within,” then they reckoned that being silent was the best way to hear their teacher.

350 years of Friend-ly practice has shown us that the Holy Spirit grants us insight and guidance when we wait in expectant silence.  Quaker silence helps us learn God’s will. 

That’s important if we believe that faith and daily living should somehow reflect and have an impact on each other.  Holy silence infuses us with God’s power so that we can live faithfully in every part of life – even the normal, everyday stuff.  As English Friend William Littleboy wrote, “God is above all the God of the normal.  In the common facts and circumstances of life He draws near to us, quietly He teaches us in the routine of life’s trifles, gently, and unnoticed His guidance comes to us through the channels of ‘reason [and] judgment’… we have been taught by Him when we least suspected it; we have been guided … though the guiding hand rested upon us so lightly that we were unaware of its touch.” 

This “guiding hand” that rests lightly upon us is best felt when we are silent and still.   

So at this season of busy-ness and noise (even the holy noise of carols), let's take time for some silence and stillness in order that we might truly experience Christ's coming -- in our souls.

-- Brent

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Silence and Presence

“The less form in religion the better, since God is a Spirit; … the more silent, the more suitable to the language of a Spirit.” That’s what William Penn said over 300 years ago, urging Christians to embrace silence as a way to encounter God. Taking time to think about using silence as a religious practice extends Penn’s invitation to us today. That’s because Penn wasn’t talking not about stillness, as such, but rather about encountering God in a living and vital holy hush. This spiritual silence encourages us as we travel along our journey to a quiet inner place where God teaches us. It is a place where we can come “to receive freely from Him,” as George Fox said.

This deep silence of the soul can be our Eucharist. Rufus Jones said of sacramental silence that, “it may be an intensified pause, a vitalized hush, a creative quiet, an actual moment of mutual and reciprocal correspondence with God. The actual meeting of man with God and God with man is the very crown and culmination of what we can do with our human life here on earth.”

Holy silence invites us to an immediate personal encounter with God. Quaker silence is communion with God. As one group of Friends wrote, “In silence, without rite or symbol, we have known the Spirit of Christ so convincingly present … [that] this is our Eucharist and our Communion.”

That is the sort of communion my soul craves.

-- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Sometimes religion appears to be presented as offering easy cures for pain: have faith and God will mend your hurts; reach out to God and your woundedness will be healed. The Beatitude 'Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted' can be interpreted this way too, but the Latin root of the word 'comfort' means 'with strength' rather than 'at ease'. The Beatitude is not promising to take away our pain; indeed the inference is that the pain will remain with us. It does promise that God will cherish us and our wound, and help us draw a blessing from our distressed state."

--S Jocelyn Burnell

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"God the Lover, the accuser, the revealer of light and darkness presses within us. 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock.' And all our apparent initiative is already a response, a testimonial to His secret presence and working within us. The basic response of the soul to the Light is internal adoration and joy, thanksgiving and worship, self-surrender and listening."

-- Thomas R Kelly

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"For though our Saviour's passion is over, his compassion is not. That never fails his humble, sincere disciples."

-- William Penn

Monday, November 30, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Facing the future, even with a sure faith, is not easy. I am cautious at every step forward, taking time and believing I shall be told where to go and what to do. Waiting patiently and creatively is at times unbearably difficult, but I know it must be so."

--Jennifer Morris

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Hope, peace, and encouragement is not enough to depict my religion. When my spirit is animated by my religion and is aware of the inviolable Truth prevailing, my heart dances for joy and gratitude and sings the praise of God! Every moment is a mystery. Even this body of mine, what a mystery it is, whose heart is beating incessantly without my knowing, and whose lungs breathe ceaselessly without my knowing! This air is God's, the light is God's, we are his. I am living with all the universe, and all the universe is living with me, in God."

--Yukio Irie

Friday, November 27, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"If we dwell in the presence of God, we shall be led by the spirit. We do well to remember that being led by the spirit depends not so much upon God, who is always there to lead us, as upon our willingness to be led. "

-- Gordon Matthews

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"When I go up to kiss my sleeping children and linger with them, in quietness and love, that is prayer. There is a wordless unity of God, myself, my children, a sense of gratitude and reverence, awareness of my need for strength, shame for my failings, a promise to try again. Exercise is good for us; prayer is the right kind for the spirit."

-- Anne Hosking

Thanks for a Bounty of People, Again...

As I drove home last night, I enjoyed watching the blue sky begin to dim and a huge bank of clouds forming a line on the western horizon. I knew those clouds would be bringing rain and colder weather (and maybe even the first snow!), but they looked good to me. The season rolling on.

The leaves are all gone, swept by the wind into the woods surrounding our house. And I began to think of people who, like those leaves, have been swept by the Divine wind into the Eternal arms of God's love. I remembered Grandpa and Grandma Bill, Grandma and Grandpa Fortune, Great Uncle Johnny (dreamt about him last night), Great Uncle Burt (quite a character), and a host of other aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders, and pastors. It was quite a parade.

And I also thought, as the wind was really howling through the naked limbs of the trees, that God's love has always blown many new friends to me -- from all sorts of places (Philadelphia, Portland, Chicoutimi, Vancouver, and more) in all sorts of ways (readers of my books, via the Internet, face-to-face meetings). Each new friend has enriched me in wonderful ways.

And I also thought of my old friends and my family -- who stand like those trees. The wind moves around and through them. They change with the seasons but are always holding steady while they are growing. Their steadfastness, even as they grow and change and mature, blesses me more than I let them know.

As I thought about all these people in my life, I also remembered my favorite Thanksgiving poem. I discovered it more than ten years ago, and has become a favorite of mine. It’s by Max Coots and says:

Let us give thanks for a bounty of people:

For children who are our second planting, and though they grow like weeds and the wind too soon blows them away, may they forgive us our cultivation and fondly remember where their roots are.

Let us give thanks;

For generous friends...with hearts...and smiles as bright as their blossoms;

For feisty friends, as tart as apples;

For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we've had them;

For crotchety friends, sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the others, as plain as potatoes and so good for you;

For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes;

And serious friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter;

For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;

For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts and witherings;And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, but who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter.

For all these we give thanks.

******

Indeed, for all these we give thanks. Let us give thanks, this holiday time, for friends no matter their type and God’s graciousness in giving them to us. People who are made in God’s own image, come to bless us.

--Brent

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"We ... can send out the Eternal Love in silent, searching hope, and meet each person with a background of eternal expectations and a silent, wordless prayer of love."

-- Thomas R. Kelly

Monday, November 23, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"To turn all we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives."

--John Woolman

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"...The whole of life is a preparation for worship."

-- George Gorman in The Amazing Fact of Quaker Worship

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"We must be cognizant of how much God has already shown us and our ancestors about what it means to be in harmony with divine purpose. These revelations are available to us in the Bible, in the journals of our Quaker forbears, in the devotional literature, and in the rich and varied record of human history... It is the challenge to become a people with a vision…so that Truth might flourish in our lives for the benefit of all. It is the challenge to become the people God wishes us to be."

Thomas Jeavons

Friday, November 20, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"If God ever spoke, He is still speaking. ... He is still a communicating God as eager as ever to have listening and receptive souls. If there is something of His image and superscription in our inmost structure and being, we ought to expect a continuous revelation of His will and purpose through the ages.... He is the Great I Am, not a Great He Was."

-- Rufus M. Jones

Thursday, November 19, 2009

See the Goodness of the Lord -- Day 28

Instead of my writing (and you reading) about seeing, I invite you to look at this collection of photographs I did. I took these photos as part of an "The Art of Faith" (http://www.theartoffaith.net/) exercise. Beth Booram and I both did 30 days of "seeing" (a follow-up of our 30 days of tasting) as ways of exploring the sensuousness of spirituality.

What do you see?

-- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"All these somberly moral people whose characteristic is renunciation, completely forget what is essential. It is not morality, however indispensable and respectable that is….The essential is the joy, the splendor, the magnificence of each man, of all men. Virtue is only a means. The essential is life - splendid life…There is no greater mistake than to imagine the Eternal looking with a pleased smile at these pale little virtues. What the Eternal loves is life, - beautiful, powerful, intense - and everything which can strengthen it, make it last in the world, strong and active."

-- Pierre Ceresole

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Today I have felt all my old irreligious feelings. My object shall be to search ... What little religion I have felt has been owing to my giving way quietly and humbly to my feelings; but the more I reason upon it, the more I get into a labyrinth of uncertainty, and my mind is so much inclined to both scepticism and enthusiasm, that if I argue and doubt, I shall be a total sceptic; if, on the contrary, I give way to my feeling, and as it were, wait for religion, I may be led away.

"But I hope that will not be the case; at all events, religion, true and uncorrupted, is all that comforts the greatest; it is the first stimulus to virtue; it is a support under every action."

-- Elizabeth Fry

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"What is the Quaker faith? It is not a tidy package of words which you can capture at any given time and then repeat weekly at a worship service. It is an experience of discovery which starts the discoverer on a journey which is life-long. The discovery in itself is not uniquely a property of Quakerism. It is as old as Christianity, and considerably older if you share the belief that many have known Christ who have not known His name. What is unique to the Religious Society of Friends is its insistence that the discovery must be made by each man for himself.

No one is allowed to get it second-hand by accepting a ready-made creed. Furthermore, the discovery points a path and demands a journey, and gives you the power to make the journey."

-- Elise Boulding

Monday, November 16, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"My conviction led me to adhere to the sufficiency of the Light within us, resting on truth for authority, not on authority for truth. "

-- Lucretia Mott

Sunday, November 15, 2009

See the Goodness of the Lord -- Day 25

I came home to a new vista last night. After a day trip to Columbus, Ohio to see my mom and dad, as I pulled into the driveway something seemed very different. Then it hit me -- there was no wall of corn blocking my headlight beams. Instead, they swept across the field and all the way back into the woods. The corn had been harvested while we were gone that day.

Of course, the newly wide opened space was much more obvious this morning when we headed to Meeting. After months of driving up and down a long lane lined hedged in by tall grass prairie on one side and even taller corn on the other, the spaciousness made by lack of corn was amazing. I could see the distant woods clearly, the gentle risings and falling of the field, and whether any cars were coming down the road when it was time to pull out!

As more and more fields around me are picked, I can see more and more. Which I like (except I know that the picked corn means that winter is on its way and the western wind now has a clear shot at our house across the field). And as I drove to Meeting I thought about the things in my life that grow up and obstruct my view. I mean, it's good that the corn grew up -- especially for the farmer who planted it and the people who will benefit from it's having grown. And I think there are many good things in my life. That they are good is not the issue. The issue is that I let them stand too long, sometimes, and they obstruct my view -- they limit my vision.

And I don't really need any help with that. I can do that pretty well, all on my own -- feeling that that my bounded little world is indeed ALL of God's world and missing out on what God has in store for me to see.

So, as I fired up the tractor and went out to do battle with the evil bush honeysuckle today, I began to think about harvest. What good things in my life may need harvesting, cut down, or at least trimmed a bit so that the view I need is available to me.

Farm work -- it's never done!

-- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"May I be steadfast unto death, at the true call of the Spirit and by its help, where there are simple andreasonable things to stand for."

-- Pierre Ceresole

Friday, November 13, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Prayer is an exercise of the spirit, as thought is of the mind. To pray about anything is to use the powers of our spirit on it, just as to think clearly is to use our mental powers. For the best solution of every problem, the best carrying out of every action, both thought and prayer are necessary... Prayer is not wasted when it is unanswered, any more than love is wasted when it is unreturned."

-- Mary F Smith

Thursday, November 12, 2009

See The Goodness of the Lord -- Day 22

It was to be a glorious day working in the woods. I had the day off so got up early, fired up the John Deere and headed to the lower woods to do battle with the evil bush honeysuckle. Bush honeysuckle is an invasive species that is pretty to look at -- at first. Glistening green leaves and bright red berries. But, left untended, it quickly takes over, choking out the understory of the forest -- the grasses, wildflowers, saplings, etc. I have chopped, chainsawed, and done all sorts of things to get rid of it, but one of the most effective is using the dump bucket on the front of the 790 to push it over and out. The shallow roots give way pretty easily (with tractor power pushing at them) and it's an overall satisfying feeling to look at clear sections of woods which I know will spring to life with new trees and wildflowers come spring.

That was my plan. Which I saw fall to pieces, literally, when Deere John blew a hydraulic hose. A hose that controlled the bucket and rendered my plan inoperable. It was the bush honeysuckle that did it. It's shallow rooted, but tough if if the plant is old and when I pushed over one, part of the stump came up and ripped the hose right out of the snap coupler, shredding the hose in the process.

So it was back to the barn to take the old hose off and go buy a new one. Turned out I had to disconnect all of them at one point to be able to free the broken one. And, being the farming equipment genius that I am, I had a bit of trouble getting the last fitting to release. When I finally got it loose, after much effort and a few well place curse words, I ended up seeing red. That's because the line was still pressurized. Doh! So I ended up covered in red hydraulic fluid. A mess.

After I got the broken hose off and cleaned myself up a bit, it was off to the tractor supply store in Plainfield They didn't have the right hose, but they do have great black licorice, so I picked up a bag of that. That took 45 minutes. Then it was off to Indy Tractor in Mooresville, where I first bought the tractor anyhow. They didn't have the right hose either and had to order it. So an hour and half later I finally made it back home. Where I spent an hour cleaning up all the hydraulic fluid, refilling the fluid reservoir on the tractor, and cleaning John Deere.

By then it was 12:30 and I had only spent an hour doing what I'd planned to do. And, since everybody close was out of the hose I needed, was done for the day. Seeing my plans fall apart put me in a grumbly mood.

But then I decided I go do something sort of productive -- like trim my beard, which was looking shaggy, trim my nails (which had grease under them), take a nice long shower, and use my laptop to catch up on some email.

I usually use the computer up in my office, which is zippity-fast, but it was in the process of uploading massive files to MozyHome, so I planted myself in an easy chair in the living room. I put "The Innocence Mission" on the CD player, propped my feet up, and fired up the computer. I answered some emails that had been nagging at me for neglecting them, watched the squirrels scamper up the trees, saw a red-headed woodpecker pecking away, and witnessed a great autumn day through the two-plus storey bank of windows.

And, because I was indoors and on-line instead of out in the woods, I was able to respond immediately when a dear friend emailed and said that she had lost an important person in her life. And I was able to accept a dinner invitation from an old high school buddy who found himself in Indianapolis with some unexpected free time.

So I saw my wrecked day, actually turn out quite well. And it all had to do with my letting go of all my self-imposed plans and just let the day unfold as it would. I thought about Jesus words in Matthew 6 -- "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life..." It just goes against my nature not to worry. Especially when my plans get messed up. But yesterday, for whatever reason, I was able to let go and not fuss. To not worry about my life. And in so doing I was blessed -- and saw the goodness of the Lord.

-- Brent

See The Goodness of the Lord -- Day 21

Today I saw a SUV with a curious combination of signs on it. Just two signs, to be exact -- though the driver may not have intended them to be such.

The first was one of the things I consider a true mark of really bad Indiana driver. Whenever I see this particular sign, I am almost assured that person will cut me off at some time, change lanes without signaling, run a red light, sit out in the speed lane going (gasp!!) the speed limit, or some other such bad road behavior. All done, of course, with the intention of annoying me.

So when the big green SUV came roaring up behind me this morning (yes, I was in the speed lane -- but in my defense, I was speeding!) and sat right on my bumper until I could find a gap in traffic to move safely over, I said to myself, "Self, I'll bet that fellow has 'the badge' of a bad Indiana driver on the back of his car." As he zoomed around me, only to slow down and pull right in front of me and then dive farther right for the upcoming exit, I saw the sign.

What is it? The "In God We Trust" license plate. I figure those drivers must trust in God because they drive sooo poorly that only God could keep them safe.

But what really struck me was the other sign. It was a smallish decal (smaller than the red, white and blue "In God We Trust" plate) of a fairy. A female fairy. An adult female fairy. A naked adult female fairy -- suggestively posed. I'll end the description there.

I was taken aback by the blatantly soft-porn eroticism of the decal perched above the "In God We Trust" license. It has often been said that we Americans lack a sense of irony -- and this was a living example right out on Interstate 70.

But as I began to shake my head and cluck and feel all very prideful about how I didn't have any stupid or incongruent signs on my vehicle (I have an "Environmental" license on my hybrid car), I began wondering about the ironies that others spot in my life.

I didn't let it get too far because, well, it made me uncomfortable and I was afraid if I started naming them, then I'd spend the whole morning on it. Yikes.

So, I turned on the radio and thought about happy things. Except, I still keep coming back to hoping I can learn to see the goodness of the Lord in both the congruenties of those who claim faith and their incongrueties -- as I hope they see that goodness through my life.

-- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"It is not opinion, or speculation, or notions of what is true, or assent to or the subscription of articles or propositions, though never so soundly worded, that ... makes a man a true believer or a true Christian. But it is a conformity of mind and practice to the will of God, in all holiness of conversation, according to the dictates of this Divine principle of Light and Life in the soul which denotes a person truly a child of God."

-- William Penn

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

There is a spirit which I feel
Can I, imprisoned, body-bounded, touch
The starry robe of God, and from my soul
My tiny Part, reach forth to his great Whole
And spread my Little to the infinite Much,
When Truth forever slips from out my clutch,
And what I take indeed, I do but dole
In cupfuls from a rimless ocean-bowl
That holds a million million million such?
And yet, some Thing that moves among the stars,
And holds the cosmos in a web of law,
Moves too in me: a hunger, a quick thaw
Of soul that liquefies the ancient bars,
As I, a member of creation, sing
The burning oneness binding everything.

-- Kenneth Boulding, There is a Spirit: The Nayler Sonnets

Monday, November 09, 2009

See The Goodness of the Lord -- Days 18-20

I have enjoyed a calvacade of sights the past few days. From road trip scenery traversing southwestern Indiana, to a mama deer and her youngster eating off the hazelnut bush in the front yard at Ploughshares -- undisturbed by my walking out onto the front porch to watch them, to Gracie the wonder cat taking on a dog four times her size (she's graceful, but not always grace-giving), to the faces of old friends.

This latter sight was especially enjoyable. I ventured back to Friends Memorial Church in Muncie where I used to be the pastor. It was their annual simple gifts holiday bazaar and I was invited to offer some of the smple gifts in the form of selling my books. So I sat with my buddy Alan Garinger (great books for young readers) in the Library/book-sales room and we drank coffee and told lies to each other (that's what writers do) and sold a few books. In between Alan and me telling lies, though, I watched people. Mostly people who were members of FMC when I was their pastor eight years ago.

Of course, they (unlike me) had all aged. Even the kids. I knew this happened, of course, but for some reason many of these good people were frozen in my memory at the time I left in 2001. And while some looked unchanged, others -- at each of the spectrum, old and young -- had changed drastically. But, regardless, I was blessed by seeing them all and by being back in a place that not only tolerated my quirks as a pastor, but actually (for the most part) embraced them.

The highlight that day, though, was when two people from the first Friends meeting I pastored arrived. They had driven 28 miles to shop and see me. I was touched. Marcella Keys arrived thanks to the driving her of her daughter Nancy and we spent a nice time chatting and remembering my days at Jericho Friends.

I look back on those days and I see the failings -- the young, know-it-all pastor who needed way more humility, compassion, and a heart for people than he had. I remember the harsh words I spoke and the times I didn't visit enough.

But Marcella and Nancy did not see those things -- instead they saw only the good things. At least at this 30 year remove. I was grateful. For in their seeing me as I had hoped to be, I saw their love and forgiveness and charity. I saw their gratitude for the good gifts I had offered whilst there and grace for mistakes.

I saw blessing and continue to feel that blessing from them.

-- Brent

The photo is of me in my young preacher days at Jericho.

Quaker Wisdom for Today

". . .responding to the lure of God takes courage, and often that courage means sitting down and beginning."

-- Haven Kimmel

Friday, November 06, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Do not look for such great matters to begin with; but be content to be a child, and let the Father proportion out daily to thee what light, what power, what exercises, what straits, what fears, what troubles he sees fit for thee; and do thou bow before him continually in humility of heart... Thou must join in with the beginnings of life, and be exercised with the day of small things, before thou meet with the great things, wherein is the clearness and satisfaction of the soul. The rest is at noonday; but the travels begin at the breakings of day, wherein are but glimmerings or little light, wherein the discovery of good and evil are not so manifest and certain; yet there must the traveller begin and travel; and in his faithful travels ... the light will break in upon him more and more."

-- Isaac Penington

Thursday, November 05, 2009

See The Goodness of the Lord -- Day 17

There is vast disagreement in our office about the best way to get to Evansville from Indianapolis (and vice versa). Most staffers lean toward the I-70 to Terre Haute and US-41 from there to Evansville. Me, I prefer the mostly 2-lane Indiana 67 to Indiana 57 route. Lots of small towns (Spencer, Freedom, Plainville, Washington, and on and on) and scenic vistas. I'm always glad I go or come that way.

Today was no exception, thanks especially to the slanty late afternoon sunshine. It transformed the whole trip into one of a variety of beautiful scenes. Scenes that on the surface -- and to many of my other fellow travelers I assume -- are easy to zip by in our hurry to get from point A to point B.

I saw combines kicking up cloud banks of dust as they waddled their way across bean and cornfields. I witnessed fields freshly shorn of their crops shining like the surface of a lake, shimmering and reflecting the golden sunlight. Slowly moving river water and non-moving railroad track shone silver. Naked limbs stood etched black and brown against the bright orange setting sun.

There was such beauty all around me that my heart almost broke from the abundance of it. I was full to overflowing with emotion. Why have I been so gifted as to enjoy this? To be able to sit comfortably in my fine car with music of my choice playing doing a job I love? And to watch God's good earth unfurl its bounty of beauty before me?

Of course, there are no answers for those questions. At least none that fully satisfy me, especially when I know people who are sweating out hourly wages in jobs they despise when they would rather be making beauty -- including some of my fellow writers, artists, and photographers. And some folks who just have to plain work so hard to hold body and soul together that it is almost impossible to take time for a daily round of beauty.

And so I thanked God that, for whatever reasons, I have been so blessed. I am grateful for eyes to see -- and ask that they might always be open to the wonder of God around me. And I asked for the strength, faith, and wisdom to be able to sometimes turn the vistas I've seen into words to share with others that they might be blessed, as well.

I'm already looking forward to tomorrow's drive home. What will I witness then?

-- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Beauty seen is never lost, God's colors all are fast. "

-- John Greenleaf Whittier

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"What we love, we will hear; what we love, we will trust, and what we love, we will serve, aye, and suffer for, too. ... Behold the fruits of love; the power, virtue, benefits, and beauty of love!"

-- William Penn

See The Goodness of the Lord -- Day 16

I ordered a novel about John the Baptist. It came today -- in a package that had obviously gotten wet. I don't mean sort of wet either.

When I went out to pick it up at the receptionist's desk, there I saw this soggy cardboard package, droopingly held together with yards of clear packing tape. Someone had tried to save it after it's "baptism" by wrapping it with the packing tape.

I didn't really have to open the box, it just fell apart in my hands. And inside, wrapped in plastic and dry as could be, Brooks Hansen's John the Baptizer.

No irony there, eh? The Quaker buys a book about the original Baptist and it comes in a box that is disintegrating because it's been dunked in a Hoosier version of the River Jordan.

So that's where I saw the goodness of the Lord today -- in irony, whimsy, what have you. Now I do not think God personally saw to getting my book package wet just for a bit of fun, but I don't think that's impossible either. Regardless of how it happened, it brought some small joy and light into my life -- which is where I often find God. In joy and light and life -- and laughter.

-- Brent

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"In the Quaker waiting silence, there is a freedom and an absence of externally guided order which is both baffling and deceptive to one on first acquaintance with it. .... One thing, however, is clear. This type of free worship can only be creative in a company of people who are intimately aware of and intimately gathered round the living Listener who knows all yet cares, who shares, and whose expectation never wavers in its constancy."

--Douglas V. Steere

Monday, November 02, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"The reason why we can hope to find God is that He is here, engaged all the time in finding us. Every pulse of love is a tendril that draws us in His direction. Every verification of truth links the finite mind up into a Foundational Mind that undergirds us. Every deed of good will points toward a consummate Goodness which fulfills all our tiny adventures in faith. We can find Him because in Him we live and move and have our being."

-- Rufus M. Jones

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"I read that I was supposed to make 'a place for inward retirement and waiting upon God' in my daily life, as the Queries in those days expressed it... At last I began to realise, first that I needed some kind of inner peace, or inward retirement, or whatever name it might be called by; and then that these apparently stuffy old Friends were really talking sense. If I studied what they were trying to tell me, I might possibly find that the 'place of inward retirement' was not a place I had to go to, it was there all the time. I could know the 'place of inward retirement' wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, and find the spiritual refreshment for which, knowingly or unknowingly, I was longing, and hear the voice of God in my heart. Thus I began to realise that prayer was not a formality, or an obligation, it was a place which was there all the time and always available."

--Elfrida Vipont Foulds

Saturday, October 31, 2009

See the Goodness of the Lord -- Days 10-12

The sights of the past few days have consisted mostly of low, grey clouds and rain. The farm is surrounded by water now. The west branch of White Lick Creek is out of its banks -- roiling along looking like a chocolate malt gone mad. The west field, prone to flooding as it, is partially underwater -- the tree seedlings planted last spring have thrived as a result of the extra moisture of the past few months.

Still, I was more than a bit ready to get out of doors -- even if it was spitting rain and the wind was blustery. So I bundled up, picked up my camera, and headed out.

It was an idea that was both good and bad. It was good, because I saw one of the bald eagles who share our property glide by. I also noticed that the flooding hadn't taken any more creek bank.

It was bad because, now that the trees have mostly lost their foliage, I saw I had a lot of work to do -- mostly young trees needed a limb or two lopped off and some downed limbs that needed to be cleared off the paths and the lifted from the saplings they were crushing.

I was reminded of the farmer who had worked to make a beautiful farm. A visitor remarked to him, "You and God have certainly made a wonderful place here." The farmer thought a few seconds and then said, "Welp, you should have seen it when God had it by himself."

A whole new twist on our being "co-laborers with Christ," eh? God and me working together on restoring this land.

And another part of restoration was something that was painfully obvious today. In spite of all my work in the spring at removing invasive species my work is far from done. The amount of bush honeysuckle that has been taking over the woods that still remains is painfully obvious. It's everywhere, choking out the understory of the forest -- no wildflowers, seedlings, grasses bloom in its choking shade. And the best way I've found to get rid of it is to wrap a log chain around it and pull it out with a tractor.

That is work.

But it's not God's fault. The bush honeysuckle that is here on our farm is not native. Somebody, who thought it looked pretty, planted it here years ago ... and it took over. And it does look pretty -- bright green leaves with red berries. But it takes over. And ruins the rest of the forest.

As I looked at the abundance of these bushes (and lamented the work that is ahead of me) I mused about the spiritual bush honeysuckle in my life. How many things have I planted because they looked pretty -- but that soon took over and choked out the life that I could/should have? Let's just say, way too many -- I don't feel like starting a list for y'all. Or me!

And, just as God's going to allow me to get tractor and chain and pull the real bush honeysuckle out, so too do I get the feeling that God is going to allow me to get out the spiritual tractor and chain (prayer, scripture reading, worship) and get to work on the honeysuckle of the soul.

Maybe that's work best seen on a cloudy day -- but best accomplished on a clearer one.

Oh, look, the sun just came out.

-- Brent

Friday, October 30, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Jesus saw the truth that men needed and he thought it urgent that that truth should be proclaimed. That trust is handed on to us, but it is a responsibility from which we shrink. We feel that we have a very imperfect grasp of the meaning of the Gospel. Perhaps, after all the earnest seeking of the Church, we are only beginning to see the tremendous implications of it. We dimly see that this Gospel, before it has finished with us, will turn our lives upside down and inside out. Our favourite Quaker vice of caution holds us back. We have much more to learn before we are ready to teach. It is right that we have much to learn; it is right to recognise the heavy responsibility of teaching; but to suppose that we must know everything before we can teach anything is to condemn ourselves to perpetual futility."

-- George B Jeffery

Thursday, October 29, 2009

See the Goodness of the Lord -- Day Nine

I saw a whole new perspective yesterday thanks to the miracle of modern flight. It was a gloomy, rainy, grey day in Indiana. A day that can, if you're a moody sort like I am, just drag you down.

Then I boarded the little jet heading to DC and up through the clouds we soared. As we broke through the cottony greyness, the brilliance of the sun broke through. A whole new vista unfolded beneath and above me. The grey clouds hiding the sun from the surface where I had just been, were actually lit up bright, like a snowy field on a sunny winter day. And the sky was crystal clear. The mood on the plane lifted, folks spirits seemed lighter. Ah, maybe I'm projecting a bit, but that's how it felt to me.

So I spent some time, especially as we passed the peak descent time and started down, looking out the window and watching the clouds -- clouds that looked thick enough to walk across started breaking up, like winter ice on a spring stream. The landscape then broke through and I could watch the trees below me catch the light coming through the breaks in the clouds.

I landed a happier man than I was when I took off (not that that is unusual -- landing always makes me happier) thanks to the the great light that was above the clouds.

And, though you'll not be surprised by this observation, I thought how like life this is. I forget to see beyond the clouds. I forget that the sun is shining. I see only what feels like reality to me ... and the reality is that it is dark and dim and full of despair. My sight remains horizontal and forgets to look vertically -- to where the Sun is shining, where the Light is coming from. Don't forget to consider changing your perspective, Brent, I told myself looking out the plane window. The sun shines even if you don't see it. God is good, even when you don't feel it.

Indeed.

-- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"I do not know the course I am to run, all is hid in mystery, but I try to do right in everything... Look up to true religion as the very first of blessings, cherish it, nourish and let it flourish and bloom in my heart; it wants taking care of, it is difficult to obtain. I must not despair or grow sceptical if I do not always feel religious. I felt God as it were, and I must seek to find Him again."

--Elizabeth Fry

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Do good with what thou hast, or it will do thee no good."

-- William Penn

See The Goodness of the Lord -- Days Seven and Eight

Ah, no scenes of glory to behold these past few days. At least no obvious ones. It has been gloomy and rainy and so has consisted mostly of "inside" days. We've had over an inch of rain in the past 24 hours, so the prairie and field where the new trees were planted are mucky and yucky. And I've been getting ready for a trip to the DC area, so have not gotten home until the sun was going down anyhow.


So my looking for the goodness of the Lord has consisted mostly in looking at what's around me at work. Which is something I need to do more often and more intentionally. So, as I spent the past two days in many meetings with my colleagues, I decided to try to look at them with fresh eyes. After all, it is pretty easy to get used to people you see daily and then take them for granted.

But what I say these past two days, was an amazing assembly of people called together to do God's work. There are men and women; people in their sixties, fifties, forties, thirties (our "twenties" just left the staff); black and white; rural, suburban, and urban; Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Nazarenes, Quakers, Jews, Pentecostals, and more; people who fall all over the map regarding Myers-Briggs and/or Enneagram ratings, etc. And yet, each person here is an amazingly gifted individual. We all work in slightly different ways (even if the task is the same). Our approach to the congregations we consult with is different depending on our styles and personalities. And they are each a blessing to me. They do bring God's light into my life -- often without them knowing it (largely because I rarely say it, which is my fault).

So, by looking at the people I see everyday with intentionality, I was able to see the goodness of the Lord in a refreshed way -- refreshed by those people I am blessed to have in my life on a daily basis.

-- Brent

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"The place of prayer is a precious habitation: ... I saw this habitation to be safe, to be inwardly quiet, when there was great stirrings and commotions in the world."

--John Woolman

Monday, October 26, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"... Nothing, I believe, can really teach us the nature and meaning of inspiration but personal experience of it. That we may all have such experience if we will but attend to the divine influences in our own hearts, is the cardinal doctrine of Quakerism. Whether this belief, honestly acted on, will manifest itself in the homespun and solid, but only too sober morality of the typical everyday Quaker, or whether it will land us in the mystical fervours of an Isaac Penington, or the apostolic labours of a John Woolman or a Stephen Grellet, must depend chiefly upon our natural temperament and special gifts."

-- Caroline Stephen

See the Goodness of the Lord -- Day Six

Amber, apricot, blond, brick, burgundy, caramel, carmine, cerise, copper, coral, cream, crimson, dusty, flaxen, fuchsia, garnet, honeyed, ivory, magenta, maroon, ochre, peach, pink, puce, pumpkin, rose, ruby, russet, rust, saffron, salmon, scarlet, scarlet, straw, tan, terra cotta, titian, vermilion, and wine.

Those are some of the names of the variations of gold, red, and yellow. And still they are not enough to describe the range of color that I beheld as I strolled in our woods. This multiplicity of hues made my heart sing and blessed my soul.

And that was more than enough for me to see the goodness of the Lord on day six.

-- Brent

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

“A true friend freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.”

-- William Penn

See the Goodness of the Lord -- Day Five

Nancy's been washing windows. And, in this house, that a lot of windows. We designed our home, tucked back against the woods as it is, so that we could get as much light into it year around as possible. Of course, besides allowing light in, all the windows afford us magnificent views of every direction.

As part of the design, we chose windows with grids that make the windows look a little more barn-like (after all, we live in a Yankee Barn). Instead of vast sheets of glass, it now looks like we have hundreds of little panes. Which is a good look.

Except they also do something I really hadn't noticed until this morning. In our living room, we have a set of windows that stretches almost 2 1/2 stories. Nancy took some of the grids out while she washed those windows and the vista was amazing. It was as if nothing was in the way. I saw things out those windows in a whole new way. So much so that I even suggested we leave them out for a while.

As I thought about the grids and the view, I began wondering how much of my spiritual vistas are blocked by things I think I'm seeing through. Have I put up decorative grids that limit my view? Things that are pretty and add an element of symmetry (which I love) or aesthetics, but which I could do without and without which I might actually be able to spiritually see much clearer?

Nah, probably not. ;-) But just in case, maybe I'd better do some spiritual window cleaning -- and see what I have to take down to get my soul's glass clear.

-- Brent

Friday, October 23, 2009

See the Goodness of the Lord -- Day Four

I hereby admit to a pleasure that no Quaker should admit: I love "Dirty Harry" movies. I guess I shouldn't worry, too much -- not judging by the number of Friends playing "MafiaWars" on facebook.

But still.

Most of that pleasure is in watching laconic Clint Eastwood. I know he gets criticized for his lack of expression facially and vocally -- I prefer to think of it as understated. And I have seen many of his films.

Last night I watched (on DVD -- I seem to rarely get to a theatre these days) Clint's "Gran Torino." "So what's that got to do with seeing the goodness of the Lord?" my faithful reader asks. Well, Mom, just this...

In "Gran Torino" I saw the transformation of two men -- and the Lord, in my opinion, had no small part in it.

The first man who changed was Eastwood's character, Walt Kowalski. Kowalski, retired from Ford, recently widowed, is plain and simple (simple here being, in my opinion, simple-minded) a bigot. And much of the film is about his bigotry. I'd like to say that by the end of the film, he was no longer a bigot, but I don't think that's entirely the case. He's just not as bigoted as before -- he's been worked over by grace and love. Love from the Hmong family next door and grace as presented by a wet behind his baptismal ears Catholic priest. Father Janovich and Kowalksi get off to a rough start -- a start that shows Kowalski's surety about faith and his life. Kowalski tells Janovich, "I confess that I have no desire to confess." But by the end of the film he goes to confession -- and confesses some of the paltriest, everyday sins. Sins we all can relate to at one level. And Kowalski refers the Hmong boy next door as "...my friend... Thao Vang Lor."

But the biggest transformation is that Kowalski moves from a stance of taking life to giving his life for others. From begetting violence to accepting it unto himself. Which is part of the transformation I saw in the second man -- the man Clint Eastwood.

Here was "Dirty Harry" laying down his weapons and laying down his life. What, I wondered, had led Eastwood to this sacrificial moment? After all, he starred in and directed this piece of film. And if "Gran Torino" is not a film ultimately about redemption, well I don't want to know what it is about.

I was moved by this film and reflected on how the faithful Father Janovich both changed and was changed. The unbelieving Kowalski both changed and was changed. That love triumphed over death and despair -- even if it was a tough love, a love wracked with violence.

With Sue Lor, Thao's sister, I say to Walt, "You're a good man. " That's something I would not have said without much reservation even three-fourths of the way through the film. Which reminded me to let God do God's work in God's time. My job is to be a vehicle, in as much as possible, of God's love and grace. They are irresistible forces. They change people -- sometimes right before our eyes. Fictional -- and real.

-- Brent






Quaker Wisdom for Today

"The truth which the artist seeks and which he expresses through his Art is part of the Universal Truth, just as the truth sought and expressed by the philosopher and the scientist and the theologian is part of the Universal Truth. The man who can only see the significance of his own specialised field of vision may not mar his own contribution, but inevitably he will impoverish it. Happy is the artist, the philosopher, the scientist or the theologian who recognizes that all Truth is one."

-- Elfrida Vipont Foulds

Thursday, October 22, 2009

See The Goodness of the Lord -- Day Three

This morning's sunrise stopped me in my tracks, literally. I was sleepily pointing the Toyota down the long lane to the road, letting the tires ride in the tracks, when I looked to the east and beheld a glorious sunrise -- orange, pink, blue, grey, pale yellow. Shadows and light skipping through the sky. The clouds underlit by the sun glowing pink ... no orange ... no tangerine ... no ...

I wish I had my camera with me I thought. Doh! I always have my camera with me -- it's tucked in my new laptop/camera backpack. Uh, the reason I got the backpack!

So I stopped the car, unzipped the bag, pulled out the Nikon and started firing away. But the sky was already different from what it had been when I first noticed it. The prairie grasses and flower stalks seemed a bit less translucent. The brilliancy was fading. It was still beautiful, but muted somewhat as the sun tried to peek through the deepening cloud layer.

As I climbed back into the car, hem of my suit pants damp with dew, I thought about how my lack of awareness and then resultant hesitation had cost me some really good pictures. Yes, I still had enjoyed the pleasure of seeing those magnificent moments, but they were only stored in my memory banks -- which makes them hard to share with the people I love. I did have about ten other shots -- but they were not nearly as powerful as the ones I could have gotten would have been.
Alas, "the would have beens".

I thought then about how many times I'd missed a chance to capture a God-sighting in my soul because I was driving along through life, riding in the tracks. What other things have I missed because I failed to grab the opportunity. Not the opportunity for money or things -- but for beauty and God and the life of the spirit?

The sunrise this morning reminded me of that ... And I have a picture or five to help.

-- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"... the God I know is the source of reality rather than morality, the source of what is rather than what ought to be."

-- Parker Palmer

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

See The Goodness of the Lord -- Day Two

An amazing sight. That's what I experienced today. No, it was not the pink-tinged clouds of the superlative sunrise this morning -- though it was wonderful. It wasn't any of the things that normally capture my photographer's eye.

Instead it was a man with gift. For me.

I was sitting in my office this afternoon when my phone buzzed. "You have a guest," said Janice, one of the Center's administrative assistants. I walked out and there stood Roger.

Roger, for those of you who have not read this blog very long, is a bagger at the O'Malia's store next to our office. He's a very interesting fellow: one I would have ignored though, truth be told, until he opened my eyes with conversation one day. I often stop in that store to grab something for lunch and about five years ago Roger began speaking to me -- first by asking "How's my favorite living Quaker theologian?" (How'd he know I was a Quaker? was my first thought) and then by talking about Kierkegaard and other theologians.

But our conversations had always been confined to the check-out line at the grocery.

Until today. When I came out out into the lobby and there stood Roger, with his ever-present hat on, bundled up for his walk home, and holding a bag. "Hi," he smiled, shyly, and reached the bag out to me. "I was culling my bookshelves and came across some volumes I thought you might enjoy." And he held the bag out tentatively to me.

I took it and he began shuffling sideways toward the door. "I didn't mean to bother you," he said.
"You didn't bother me," I replied lamely. "This is a wonderful gift."

"Well, I hope you enjoy them. Goodbye,now." And he was gone.

I opened up the bag -- double bagged so the weight wouldn't rip through the sack, so like Roger. And there was a collection of Quaker related books -- including the classic Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly. It was all I could do not to weep. Here was this gift of books -- one of the most precious things in the world to me -- from an unlikely friend who is still teaching me to value that of God in everyone one, especially and including those who are not from my social set.

I saw love in action. I saw God in this kind, humble man -- for whom the most I have ever done is have the occasional fleeting conversation about God or politics or human rights or existentialism (about which he knows a great deal more than me) in the check-out line. I was blessed by sighting grace at work -- a humbling vision, clothed as I was in nice, new shoes, shirt and tie and coming as it was clothed in a ball hat and work clothes and a double-bagged set of books.

-- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

“I wish the state of enthusiasm I am now in may last, for today I FELT there is a God. I have been devotional and my mind has been led away from the follies that it is mostly wrapped up in.”

-- Elizabeth Fry

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

See the Goodness of the Lord -- Day One

Tonight I sat and watched the golden sun climb the tree trunks as the sun set in west. It's an odd phenomenon -- to think the sun is sinking in the west, but that its light climbs the trees, bathing them in an awesome golden glow. Instead of grabbing my camera, I just sat and watched and marveled.

At one level, it makes no sense -- the light is fading as the sun dips toward the horizon. So how is it that it seems to grow in intensity and actually walk itself up the craggy tree trunks? I know it can all be explained by the physics of light, but it feels much deeper to me. And I rejoice in it.

And I also recall the times that my life has been unexpectedly lit by God, even at times when it felt like light was fading -- the death of a loved one, a tiff with a deep friend, an entering into a shadowy time of life. The the main light was fading, a special soft light often filled a dark corner, illuminating something I could not have seen in the brightness of the noonday sun.

Which is not to say that I enjoy the fading of the light -- spiritual or otherwise. But still, by stopping and looking away from the actual sunlight (which is where I normally look -- after all that's where we all tend to gaze as the day ends) and into the "dark," I found unexpected light. Beautiful light. Warm light. A light that spoke to my soul of the light that shines in the darkness -- and the darkness shall not overcome it.

-- Brent

See The Goodness of the Lord

Dear Friends,

Many of you have followed Beth Booram and me during our 30 Days of Tasting and expressed to us that it was a meaningful experience. Well, how about joining us for our next experiment--30 Days of Seeing?

Beginning tomorrow (10/20), we will start our next sensory focus by paying attention to what we see.

Here's how you can participate:

  • Write in your calendar for the next 30 days a reminder like, "pay attention to seeing."

  • Each day, isolate your sense of seeing and notice the world around you, especially what stands out to you.

  • Then, take a second look at what caught your eye--really look at it.

  • Be open and listen for God to speak to you through what you notice and through honing your marvelous gift of sight.

  • Finally, follow Beth's blog, this blog and/or join us on Facebook and comment about your own experiences.
Please send this post to your friends, family and/or small group and invite them to participate, too!

Beth and I look forward to your collaboration as, together, we awaken our senses to the wonder of God!

"I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living." Psalm 27:13

-- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"I saw that the grace of God, which bringeth salvation, had appeared to all men, and that the manifestation of the Spirit of God was given to every man to profit withal. These things I did not see by the help of man, nor by the letter, though they are written in the letter, but I saw them in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by His immediate spirit and power..."

-- George Fox

Monday, October 19, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

“Whether breathed into the air or inscribed on paper or broadcast into the depths of space, our words may curse or bless. The work of language deserves our greatest care, for the tongue’s fire may devour the world, or may light the way.”

-- Scott Russell Sanders

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"A religious awakening which does not awaken the sleeper to love has roused him in vain."

-- Jessamyn West

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

Being orderly come together, [you are] not to spend time with needless, unnecessary and fruitless discourses; but to proceed in the wisdom of God, not in the way of the world, as a worldly assembly of men, by hot contests, by seeking to outspeak and over-reach one another in discourse as if it were controversy between party and party of men, or two sides violently striving for dominion, not deciding affairs by the greater vote. But in the wisdom, love and fellowship of God, in gravity, patience, meekness, in unity and concord, submitting one to another in lowliness of heart, and in the holy Spirit of truth and righteousness all things [are] to be carried on; by hearing, and determining every matter coming before you, in love, coolness, gentleness and dear unity; - I say, as one only party, all for the truth of Christ, and for the carrying on the work of the Lord, and assisting one another in whatsoever ability God hath given."

--Edward Burrough

Friday, October 16, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

“There is a spirit which I feel, that delights to do no evil, nor to avenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thought to any other: if it be betrayed, it bears it; for its ground and spring are the mercies and forgiveness of God. Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned, and takes its kingdom with entreaty, and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind. In God alone it can rejoice, though none else regard it, or can own its life. It is conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it; nor doth it murmur at grief, and oppression. It never rejoiceth but through sufferings; for with the world's joy it is murdered. I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens, and desolate places of the earth, who through death obtained this resurrection, and eternal holy life.”

-- James Nayler

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"It is time that Christians were judged more by their likeness to Christ than their notions of Christ. Were this sentiment generally admitted we should not see such tenacious adherence to what men deem the opinions and doctrines of Christ while at the same time in every day practise is exhibited anything but a likeness to Christ."

-- Lucretia Mott

Monday, October 12, 2009

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"He was holy, humble, harmless, meek, merciful, etc., when among us; to teach us what we should be when he was gone: and yet he is among us still, and in us too, a living and perpetual preacher of the same grace, by his spirit in our consciences."

-- William Penn

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Taste and See -- Days 23-25

The tastes that have been most prominent have been those of autumn -- but not the ones you might expect. I'm not talking about cool apple cider sliding down my throat or pumpkin pie or any of those tastes. No, I'm talking about musty dampness, dryish sawdust, dank diesel fuel, fresh cut wild onions and...

Well, let me explain. About mid-week, the rain started to fall. And fall. And fall. And so no farm work got done in the evenings. But the weather people kept saying that the weekend would be great -- bright and sunny and cool. And the taste of anticipation of all the fall flavors I mentioned above was with me from Wednesday through Friday. And then came Saturday -- as brilliant as the prediction.

So I started by stacking firewood in the woodshed. Laying a fire in the fireplace has to be one of the supreme joys of the cool evenings. But wood is not clean -- especially when you're transferring it from a wood stack down the farm lane to the woodshed behind the house. Every pieces is lifted, tossed, unloaded, stacked -- while bazillions of wood fragments, old leaves, dry grass, and more float through the air and into your nose and mouth. So I tasted various flavors of trees -- oak, cherry, ash. Some dry, some dampish from all the rain. I saw various mice running for their lives as I dismantled their homes in the wood stack (not on purpose -- didn't know the exact addresses). The kittehs especially enjoyed that part -- they are Catholic cats and thus have no tendencies toward the Quaker peace testimony. So Grace and Ebony tasted meeses.

After the wood was stacked, it was time for the final mowing of the lower woods. We'd planted 3,000 trees down there about 4 springs ago and many are getting very tall. Still, to keep the weeds down -- and to give us paths to walk in -- I mow the rows. That's where the taste of diesel fuel and onions came in. I fueled the John Deere and as the fumes floated up from the tractor a few made their way into my mouth (I need to learn to breath with my mouth shut, I guess). Not unpleasant -- just a soup├žon of its pungency. Then it was out into the woods, where, to the hint of diesel came fresh mowed grass and wild onion flavor. Also, a taste of black eyed Susan and purple coneflower. Each borne on the the wind as the bushhog mauled them into particles of minute portions.

I love these tastes -- earthy, real, tangible. They speak of stewardship and work and creation. Things which were noble concepts to me as few as seven years ago, but which have become part and parcel of my life since Nancy and I built Ploughshares and began planting trees and prairie. It still is a wonder to me how I ended up here -- a city fellow who thought by this age he'd be living in condo downtown in the arts district.

Yet here I am. Farmer Brent -- voted least likely to plow by his high school class! No, I'm not a "real" farmer -- no crops other than God's adorn these fields. But I "a charge to keep I have..." as the old hymn says. And part of that charge is taking care of that which I've been granted. Ah, 50 acres and fool -- God certainly has a sense of humor. Him planting me here with the crops reminded me of Jesus calling a bunch of fisherman and tax-collector types to be disciples -- to be the bearers of his gospel to the whole wide world. Not a one of them an expert in the field of God-telling.

While I wonder at it all, I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 1:27 -- "But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty."

Foolish and weak and easily confounded, too, I am. But I enjoy the tastes of autumn -- they remind me of God.

-- Brent