Friday, January 16, 2009

Indulge Me, Please

It seems I'm always hanging around the wrong people. My grandmother worried that I did that too much when I was a teenager. If she were still alive, I doubt that she'd be pleased that I am still hanging around the wrong people.

By wrong, she meant people who were prone to getting into trouble, didn't share the exact same faith as we did (the TRUE Evangelical Quaker faith -- not the more LIBERAL Evangelical Quaker faith as practiced in Oregon or Kansas or other places), and were, well, smart-asses.

Now few of my friends ever got into *real* trouble, but some held different beliefs (Catholics, fer instance), and a great many were smart-asses. Which I found one of their more endearing qualities.

"How will you ever be a minister with that smart-aleck bent you have?" she'd ask. I mostly murmured or mumbled an answer, but if I'd had a bit more chutzpah, I'd have suggested that a little bit of smart-assness helps the pastoral life go down. And that it was really needed if once was going to succeed as a pastor -- especially in the mixed up Quaker pastoral system, which is neither fish nor fowl, dairy or meat. It just ain't kosher. (But that's a whole 'nother blog. To see some of my thoughts on that, check out

But back to hanging around the wrong people. I recently returned from northern California where I got to spend some time with Gretta and Jacob Stone, directors of Quaker Center in Ben Lomond. Now they're the right kind of people in my book, but Grandmother Bill would probably see it different. For one, they believe much differently than I do (which in her book would make them "wrong"). And Jacob especially has this wacky humourous side that edges on smart-assness. Which meant we got along famously.

One night he was sharing one of his fundraising ideas. After all, many Friends groups are struggling for funds, so perhaps it was time for something new -- tithes and offerings and appeal letters don't seem to be working. How about, he suggested, the selling of Quaker indulgences?

Here's how it could work (with apologies, somewhat to Jacob for stealing his idea and going completely wild with it). Let's say you're like me -- a bad Quaker. I don't mean evil, I just mean, not very good at it. And as a bad Quaker someone has really ticked you off and you'd just love to smack some sense into them. Under the Quaker Indulgences Plan, you could donate $500 (in addition to your regular giving) to your favorite Friendly organization and in return they would issue you an one day indulgence from the Peace Testimony. Then you could skip calling your Lutheran brother-in-law, and just go slap the offender silly yourownself.

Or let's say you need to buy a new car. For $100 you could spend a day not looking at hybrids or 10 year old Volvos with millions of miles on them and head directly to the Audi dealer and try out a new S8 -- all 10 cylinders of it. A day off from the Simplicity testimony.

Maybe for $50 you could get an indulgence from taking oaths -- like, say, if you got called for jury duty. "Do you swear" -- and everybody else says "Yes" and you stand there silently while everybody wonders what kind of doofus you are for not raising your right hand and swearing along with the rest of them. The embarrassment saving factor is worth $50.

Well, I could go on -- but I hear Grandmother tsk, tsking in my inner ear. Or was that the Inner Light? They couldn't be in cahoots, could they?

-- Brent


C. Wess Daniels said...

any chance this plan could have automatic withdrawl from my checking accot once a month?

Brent Bill said...

I'm sure we could work something out with Barclay's Bank. ;-)

If this were to be adopted, it'd change my reading habits regarding "Faith and Practice" -- I wouldn't have to look for loopholes anymore!

Martin Kelley said...

I've been known to do vaguely worthy work once in awhile so I'm interesting in new fundraising ideas. The trouble is I'm probably more widely known for my smart-assness. I'm not sure if I'd see a net gain or loss in this plan.

Brent Bill said...

I've been trying to figure out which testimony -- if any -- covers smart-assness. I'm sure some good Friend will find one and point it out to me. Still, I'd be willing to chip in for an occasional indulgence -- at least until I move from bad Quaker to improving Quaker status...

Brent Bill said...

I've been trying to figure out which testimony -- if any -- covers smart-assness. I'm sure some good Friend will find one and point it out to me. Still, I'd be willing to chip in for an occasional indulgence -- at least until I move from bad Quaker to improving Quaker status...

Daniel Wilcox said...

Well, the main smartass I remember was Balaam's in Numbers 22:23:
"Now the donkey saw the angel of Yahweh..and she turned off the road and made off across the country..."

Since Balaam was on the wrong road going against the truth, what a smart ass--not him but his donkey.

Maybe it takes a few smartasses to
get the rest of us to get off the wrong road--like some of the malcontents did in Friends history, people who I don't agree with theologically, but who saw that Friends and other Christians were headed down the wrong ethical road with the rest of humanity and so started braying for all get out.

Don't assume anything;-)

and keep hee-hawing.

In the Light,


Brent Bill said...

Ah,yes, good old Balaam's donkey. My favorite Biblical smartass -- and I was just writing about her (I am partial to female smart-asses) in my (hopefully) next book. But that's a whole 'nother blog.

Thanks for writing!

David Male said...

Speaking of biblical smart asses, how about Paul suggesting that the Judaizers castrate themselves for arguing that the Gentiles should be circumsized? Or the smartest ass of them all, Jesus, who managed to offend the High Priest and Roman Governor all on the same day!

Seems to me we're in pretty good company, whatever your grandmother has to say about us.

Robin M. said...

So many of my favorite Quaker smartasses, right here in one comment stream.

I think the applicable testimony is integrity. You can't hide your true feelings (or humorous asides) from God - so in fact, showing your true colors is a matter of integrity.

The other applicable testimony would be community - if snark is funny at the expense of others, then there should be limits. However, pointing out that the emperor has no clothes, another gift of smartasses of all times, is a valuable service to the community.

Finally, if it's really funny, you can get away with a lot more.

sta┼Ťa said...

Re: smart-assedness... Simplicity or Integrity for plain speech? Except that for some of us, smart-assedness is plain speech: tellin' it like it is.

I am vastly entertained by this indulgence notion. ;-) If we can't live up to our ideals, the least we could do is benefit Quakerism somehow by that failure, no??

Brent Bill said...

this could be good and helpful since so many of our groups need $ --- do good by doing bad. Hmmm, a bad Friends idea.