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.


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" ( 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