Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Without time eternity would be beyond our grasp, and without eternity time would be too limited to require our reverence and worship."

-- Howard H. Brinton

Monday, March 29, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- Passover

"Why is this night different from all other nights, from all other nights?" Those are the words I should be hearing tonight. Tonight is Passover and I was invited to attend the seder at my friend's (and little Jewish brother) Aaron Spiegel's home.

But, alas, the angel of death did not completely passover our family and so I am, tonight, instead of remembering Passover with the Spiegel's, composing the words for a funeral service of my Uncle Vinnie.

Ah, the angel of death. Whose visitation comes to us ready or not, in season or out, in the fullness of our old age or in taken too soon of youth. Whose whisper we hear in our soul's ears almost from the earliest days of our lives. Of whose presence we are always reminded ... whether in a formal Passover meal or in the diseases and wars and traumas that beset ones we know and many we do not.

And yet, ... yet... we live in the face of that visitation. And, tonight, I being the one not dead, am writing a meditation and continuing to live. And I am comforted, too, by the presence of the ever living Christ. Not in a "happy" sort of way, but in the way that, as Isaiah says, he was ... " a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." As Emily Dickinson once wrote, "When he [Jesus] tells us about his Father, we distrust him. When he shows us his Home, we turn away, but when he confides to us that he is 'acquainted with grief,' we listen, for that also is an acquaintance of our own."

Evangeline Paterson's poem "Deathbed" (which I will read as part of my uncle's service) says,

Now, when the frail and fine-spun
Web of mortality
Gapes, and lets slip
What we have loved so long
From out our lighted present
Into the trackless dark
We turn, blinded,
Not to the Christ in Glory,
Stars about his feet,

But to the Son of Man,
Back from the tomb,
Who built fires, ate fish,
Spoke with friends, and walked
A dusty road at evening.

Here, in this room, in
This stark and timeless moment,
We hear those footsteps
With suddenly lifted hearts
The irrelevance of death.

Fitting words indeed, for Passover or Passion Week or Ordinary Time.

"Why is this night different from all other nights?" Not to diminish Passover or its rituals, which I hold dear, but one reason is because this night is a night in which I am alive and others are not... even others which were alive just awhile ago. And those words remind me that I am called to live my life fully and well in the days and nights that remain to me. And that, as a Christian, there is One who has made the angel of death irrelevant.

-- Brent

Sunday, March 28, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- Silent Stones

I have never heard a stone speak out loud. Some -- ones that were especially pretty or interestingly shaped -- spoke of beauty to me. But not with a voice I could hear with the large ears affixed to the side of my head.

But I thought about stones speaking this morning when our worship leader read the Lucan passage of Jesus' Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem --

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."

The idea of stones crying out captures my imagination every time I heard that passage. Here's all this human hubbub going on and Jesus says, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." Is he speaking metaphorically or are his words, like Paul's in Romans 8:22 (We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time) literally true.

A few years ago, moved by this passage, I wrote a poem about this. Now, I am no poet (as my poet friends will attest), but still, I offer it as a reflection --

Yes, we stones
stayed silent as the master
passed. Silence is our nature,
we sit and bear witness. Let
God's other creatures with gaping
mouths shout Hosannas. We sat
silent the next week long and then ...
.. then came the loud creatures again,
picking us up, hurling us, our Hosannas stillborn, other
words flying Heavenward. We at last found our voices,
filled with tears though
they were.

He answered, "I tell you,
the very stones would cry out."

-- Brent

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- The Sound of Music

No, not the movie musical, the real thing. The sound of music performed live. That was one of my experiences yesterday. My friend (and former student) Patricia Morrison and her friend Mary Shapiro passed through town last night while one their musical tour. They performed at the Earth House Collective for a small, but appreciative crowd.

From their opening with a cover of John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery" (one of my personal all time favorites) to their closing with the audience joining in on refrains of "Love," "Forgive," and "Smile," it was a delightful evening.

I do admit to being easily caught up in the joy and energy that surrounds experiencing music live -- watching and hearing it be made. And, for an old folkie (not old fogey... though I am that, too, I suppose) to hear clean, clear melodies and harmonies accompanied solely by acoustic guitar, well that's an evening well spent.

As I listened to Patricia and Mary's music and reflected on it today, I was struck again by the wonder of creativity. Here came two creative women, sharing their faith and music through wonderfully crafted songs, with engaging tunes and thoughtful lyrics. And, true to the folk tradition, they got the audience involved in music-making, too -- singing, playing the zydeco tie or shaking a gourd, or clapping along. Above us, contra dancers shook the floor. The place was alive -- and literally jumping.

We hunger for beauty and meaning and creativity. And many of us, for whatever "good" reasons, put off much of our creativity as we age ... we put away the Play-doh, the kazoos, the story-telling that gave us so much joy and hope when we were young. That kept us entertained and engaged in life everlasting. I include myself in that "many of us."

I am, therefore, grateful for those among who do not do this. Who keep working with God in amazingly creative artistic ways ... be it music, visual arts, film-making, or just playing with Play-doh. They remind us the incredible creative activity of God and how we are invited to participate in it. And how it blesses and changes us to do us.

The sound of music -- performed live by two caring, loving women -- reminded me of that last night.

-- Brent
PS Be sure to catch Patricia and Mary if they're coming your way!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"How can we be sure that God is real, and not just a creation of our wishes? ... there is a wholly different way of being sure that God is real. It is not an intellectual proof, a reasoned sequence of thoughts. It is the fact that men experience the presence of God. Into our lives come times when, all unexpectedly, He shadows over us, steals into the inner recesses of our souls, and lifts us up in a wonderful joy and peace. The curtains of heaven are raised and we find ourselves in heavenly peace in Christ Jesus."

-- Thomas Kelly

Sunday, March 21, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- What's In a Name?

This morning in Meeting for Worship, when it was time to share prayer concerns, there seemed to be an inordinate number of requests from a group as small as ours. It must have been a rough week for our little Friendly family of God. I was most moved though by some words of Homer Dorrell. Homer and his wife Gladys are two of the most faithful Friends I know. I can't think of a time when I've been to Meeting and they haven't been there. Homer is a very sweet man and he asked for prayer for his eyes, on which he had recently had surgery, and for continued prayers concerning his health. He also mentioned that he knew he was suffering from some dementia and thanked everyone for treating him so well. The part that touched me most, though, was when he said that because of his dementia, "I may forget your name, but I always remember you."

I smiled inside (and probably outside as well) when he said that.

I am blessed (I've decided took look at that way finally) with a name that gives people trouble. "Brent Bill" seems pretty straightforward to me. And I've never had any problem with keeping those two names in their correct order. But some others get it backwards "Bill Brent" or mangle it in other ways. My favorite is "Jay Brentabill." When I was a young person, I had one fellow who got so tired of trying to figure it out that he said he was just going to give up and call me "Charlie."

And, I have to say, it is pretty important to me that people get my name right. After all, it is a big part of who I am. And getting a person's name right is a mark of respect -- it says, "I care enough about you to learn your name."

Still, after hearing Homer this morning, I decided that, so long as Homer recognizes me as a friend of his, I don't care if he remembers my name or not. I'd much rather he remember me as a friendly face than keep my name straight. I'd rather he'd see me and smile with recognition rather than spend time searching his memory banks for a name he may or may not be able to dredge up

Besides, there is One who knows my name and who will never forget it -- or me. And He is watching over both Homer and me.

-- Brent

Saturday, March 20, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- Kinship

I heard kinship today. It came not so subtly cloaked in the rip and snarl of chainsaws, the deep rumble of the diesel tractor, and hum and hiss of the hydraulic log splitter. What made this cacophony of farm work day noises sound like kinship was that, today, they signified that my youngest son Tim was here working next to me.

Tim and I have had our difficulties over the years (as have many fathers and sons), but have been more in contact the past six months or so. It's not that he lives a far away geographically -- like his brother Ben who lives with his family in Japan -- but that our lives and lifestyles have been very much different. That is not a judgement statement, just a statement of fact. That made spending almost a whole day together working on the farm very special for me.

I was delighted when Tim called recently. He wanted to know if I'd like to grab some lunch, which I would have liked to have done except I was in Washington, DC when he called. Then he said maybe he could come out and help with some farm work, if I'd like him to. So this morning he drove out from Indianapolis and, side by side, with noisy chainsaws and tractor, we cut firewood, cleared out brush honeysuckle, and split a little wood. We also enjoyed a nice lunch and watched a little basketball.

It was a good day.

As he drove off, I was reminded of a Kenny Rankin song that I just heard yesterday. It's titled "Peaceful" and has the lines

I had a son while on the run/ And his love brought a tear to my eye/ And maybe some day he might say/ That I’m a pretty nice guy

That would be my wish. That Tim might say that about me and do so while remember the good times like today, chainsaw noise and all.

And I say, easily, "He's a pretty nice guy." Indeed.

-- Brent
PS The picture above is from Tim's facebook site... I guess the silly apple does not fall far from the tree. Oh no!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

30 Days of Hearning -- Screaming Monkeys

I saw, out of the corner of my eye, something fly by my office door, screeching as it went. More than a little bit startled, I went to see what it was when another zoomed by, howling as it went. It was an "Amazing Flying Monkey."


One thing you need to know about me is that I don't like screechy, flying things (hmmm, that could be a description of me in an airplane when I forgotten to take my "anti-gravity pills.") I've been especially afraid of flying monkeys ever since I was a kid, thanks to those evil critters in "The Wizard of Oz."

In this case, these "super stretchy screaming monkeys" were a lunchtime purchase by my friend Nancy who brought them back and was launching them like slingshots screechingly down the hall. Soon, others were joining in -- including me. And, indeed, after sufficient whining, Nancy gave me one of my very own to keep.

Nancy had become quite adept at shooting them and her's traveled a long way, screeching the whole time. One was shot (not by me) into Aaron's office -- it fell howling into the space of no return between his desk and the wall. The launcher had to retrieve it with a set of salad tongs from the kitchen. Then Aaron locked his office door. Tim, our leader, just came out of his office, shook his head, and went back to work. Isn't dignified for the president to consort with monkey-launchers, I guess.

Besides the screaming of the airborne primates, the main sound was laughter. Giggles. Guffaws. Belly laughs. It was just soo silly.

It was, of course, inevitable that somebody would get hurt. I could almost hear the Santa Claus in "A Christmas Story" saying, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid." Sure enough, there was an injury -- the tail of my monkey tore off as I was launching him. Poor monkey. I don't know whether to take him back to the toy store and ask for another, or not. Seems a bit of a silly thing for an almost 59 year old man to do. "May have another flying monkey, please?"

My standing there with a monkey tail in one hand and and a screaming monkey stuck on the fingers of my other hand was a source of great amusement to the others though.

It was good to laugh. Really good. Good as in "just what I needed" good.
As I laughed, I thought about how God wants us to enjoy life. I didn't ponder it a long time -- seemed like that would be counter-productive. To get ultra-serious about how God likes us to laugh. But I did remember the verse from Nehemiah 8 -- "Then he said to them, 'Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.'"

Ah, a little fat (like maybe on a t-bone?), a little wine (Côtes du Rhône would be nice), and a screaming flying monkey or two. Rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord always...

-- Brent
PS If you know any monkey tail sew-ers, please let me know... still haven't made it back to the toy store.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- News

The sounds today were the sounds of news -- expected and unexpected. Arising this morning, I heard the local and national news on television. Among the highlights of the local news was the annual dyeing the Indianapolis canal green for Saint Patrick's Day. While I am glad that the Irish have their day, I wonder when we Quaker's are going to have day -- and if we do, will they dye the canal grey?

In national news, of course, is all the hubbub and humbug around the health care bill. On and on and on and on and on. The Republicans say this; the Democrats say that. Both vilify the other.

Arriving at work I heard news from my co-workers -- about visits to the doctor, movies that were watched, and plans for the day. Then during the day, I heard all sorts of news about a new purchasing plan we are thinking about, the safe arrival of a new camera at one of our offices, letters that needed signed, a new way to ... Well, it's sort of boring to list, but was important stuff at work.

I also received email and telephone calls giving me news -- a friend's new project with liturgical arts, the possible good change in another friend's job, a new picture of me being posted on Facebook, and so on. Some of the news was good; some was sad; some was tragic.

Of course, I liked hearing the good news much more than I did hearing the bad news -- especially the bad news involving my friends. But all the news I heard today in some way connected me with the wider communities of which I am a part -- my friends, my co-workers, my city, my country, my world. Some of the stories moved me to pray -- prayers of gratitude and prayers of supplication. And praying is something I always need to do more of.

As I thought of all the news that had come my way today, I was reminded of the best news -- the Gospel. "That God so loved..." And ultimately, that's the news I most needed to be reminded of today. That God loves -- not just me, but my friends, my co-workers, and all the people that populate this big blue marble. And that is good news, indeed.

-- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"We would suggest, however, that the world suffers more from its politicians than from its prophets. Social progress toward the good life might move more surely if [we] would dare to credit more highly the inner voice of moral guidance..."

-- Vincent D. Nicholson

Monday, March 15, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- House Sounds

I'm home sick today. Some sort of bug -- probably picked up on an airplane trip. Oh well. So I gave into it and just stayed home. While drowsing abed most of the morning, a variety of sounds surrounded me. The ticking of the mantle clock. The whoosh of the geo-thermal heat coming on. A woodpecker working furiously on some piece of rotted tree trunk. The occasional jet coming in for a landing at the Indianapolis airport. A car coming up the long gravel drive. Someone (from that car, I suppose) knocking on the front door -- I didn't answer. The telephone ringing -- I didn't answer it, either. Princess the wondermutt barking off in the distance... no doubt on the trail of some much faster coyote. And the buzzing of my iPhone whenever an email came in.

Even though I was abed resting and no television or stereo was on and I was wrapping myself in silence as well as blankets, I heard, in the supposed silence, all these sounds. They reminded me of the ongoing beat of life... and how it makes itself heard. Just like a heartbeat ... so silent to the world outside, heard only by someone who comes close enough in silence to listen.

I am grateful for those sounds today -- even the doorknocking and telephone ringing. Even if I don't answer then.

-- Brent

Saturday, March 13, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- Business

The past few days have been filled with the sounds of business. Metallic voices calling flight numbers, the whine of jet engines straining for take off speed, women's and men's voices debating significant issues, elevators zipping up to hotel rooms, the buzz of people enjoying before dinner drinks, and so much more.

And that's why I shared to following at the opening of our board meeting the other day -- to help us refocus on the meaning behind those sounds of business ... and life.

There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge 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 thoughts to any other. If it be betrayed, it bears it, for its ground and spring is 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,...

Those are the dying words of early Friend James Nayler. These words of beauty and power have coursed through my soul and challenged me since I first heard them almost 30 years ago.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about that last phrase -- “In God alone it can rejoice.” That’s because I tend to rejoice in lots of other things – the good work that I get to participate in at the Center, the workshops my friend Beth and I are co-leading and the book we are going to write, and the disappearance of the snow! I find it easy to rejoice in God’s creatures and abounding gifts. I enjoy the beauty of the earth – am brought near to tears driving through the Hoosier countryside as the sun sets.

I am enraptured as well by much of human creation be it music or art or writing. It is easy for me to see the divine thread running through literature, art, music and all human endeavor. For example, I was moved deeply by the “Sacred Spain” exhibit at the IMA that Katie graciously led our staff through during the holidays.
I see in those things a search for God and spirit that enlivens the subject and the creator. I am moved, too, by the random acts of kindness, large and small, that people do for each other. Their true beauty shines through in those efforts. Our longing for beauty in nature, the arts, and other people all can point us to the One who created it all. Does Nayler mean I shouldn’t rejoice in nature, people, and the arts? And so I resonate with the words of a sonnet by Kenneth Boulding that includes these lines:

What then! In God alone I must rejoice?
Not in His creatures, His abounding gifts?

Yes, because Nayler and other saints knew, nature, people, and the arts are reflections of the holy. As beautiful reflections they can be distracting. They can capture and hold my attention so strongly that I fail to look beyond them to what they are pointing me toward – God. Nayler’s words warn me that I am are to look to God first and not settle for the image – no matter how beautiful or reflective that image is.

Naylor’s words do not contain an original thought. They are merely a rewording of Jesus dictum to “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Seeking the kingdom of God first is not something that comes naturally for me. Thomas Kelly’s “Testament of Devotion” helps me with this. He writes powerful moving prose that beckons us to a life of the spirit. He says

“Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, the which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself.”

If coming to that Divine Center is what it means to seek first the kingdom of God, then I know I want to do that. That’s why Nayler says it is “in God alone I must rejoice.” It is why Jesus says “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Because when we have found our rejoicing in God alone, then all else pales. It is not that it is less beautiful it is just that God is more beautiful.

As Boulding writes, in another sonnet based on Nayler’s words:

“Seek first the Kingdom – for thy joys are dim
Until thou findest all things new, in Him”

There is a spirit that in God alone rejoices – may that spirit come and dwell in us so that we might “findest all things new, in Him.” Even in the midst of the sounds of business.

-- Brent

Thursday, March 11, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- Dinner Conversation

Last night, in Herndon, Virginia, I went out to dinner with my boss Tim Shapiro and our board of directors member Katie Patterson and her husband Jack. That was a rather eclectic group that gathered at the Ice House. Tim's a Presbyterian minister, Katie's a speech therapist and art museum volunteer, Jack's a corporate pilot (they are both Catholic), and I am some Quaker type.

Whatever would we have to talk about?? The biggest thing we share in common is our link to the Indianapolis Center for Congregations. Well, even with a couple of introverts like Tim and me thrown into the mix, things went very well. From the time we climbed into Tim's car until the time we reentered the hotel, the conversation was lively.

We talked about current goings on in DC (since we are close), non-for-profits who hold on to certain investments perhaps a wee bit too long, the Academy Awards, salaries at regional air carriers, art exhibits, our families, and more. We told bad jokes and made even worse puns -- boy, is it hard to keep up with Jack in that department, though I admit I tried.

And while we did not talk much about our faith, it was the tie that bound us together over dinner. Because of our faith, we had each flown to DC to the board meeting -- believing in the center's mission of helping strengthen local congregations.

We were not the same type of Christian gathered around that table. Catholic, Quaker, Presbyterian. And yet, the conversation reminded me, that we did not to be all the same. And I also remembered the words of Isaac Penington who wrote in 1659 that:

…, oh, how sweet and pleasant it is to the truly spiritual eye to see the several sorts of believers, several forms of Christians in the school of Christ, every one learning their own lesson, performing their own peculiar service, and knowing, owning, and loving one another in their several places and different performances to their Master, to whom they are to give an account, and not to quarrel with one another about their different practices. For this is the true ground of love and unity, not that such a man walks and does just as I do, but because I feel the same Spirit and life in him, and that he walks in his rank, in his own order, in his proper way and place of subjection to that: and this is far more pleasing to me than if he walked just in that track wherein I walk.

I am blessed to "see the several sorts of believers, several forms of Christians in the school of Christ" throughout my life. "Every one learning their own lesson." And hearing last night's conversation reminded me just how blessed I am in that regard.

-- Brent

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"To meet at all, one must open ones eyes to another; and there is no true conversation no matter how many words are spoken, unless the eye, unveiled and listening, opens itself to the other."

-- Jessamyn West

30 Days of Hearing -- Ring Tone

I am not the sort of fellow who goes in for special ring tones for individual callers. Well, not for the most part. I used to have the "Hallelujah" chorus play when family called... but that was on my old phone and I haven't updated the new one to do that. Most people just get my standard ring tone which is the theme song from "Mr. Deity."

But today, in the midst of meetings and preparation for my trip to D.C., I missed hearing that familiar (to me) ring tone and came back to discover a message from my friend and co-author Beth.

"Hi. I know you'll be flying tomorrow. I hope you survive the flight," sang her bright, cheery voice. (I wonder if she's always this bright and cheery. I must check with her husband, Dave).

Hope you survive the flight??? Yikes! Except, I knew what she meant. Beth knows I hate (and I mean hate as in scared to death and in dire need of tranquilization) flying. So what I heard was her concern for me.

Still, it was a bit disconcerting -- "I hope you survive the flight."

Then she tried to cover up by explaining what she meant... and, of course, just dug a deeper hole. I was really laughing by the time I called her back.

But it did make me wonder -- how many times have I said something that sounded so right in my mind but came out so wrong aurally? Especially to the listener? How many times have I tried to say something helpful and said something hurtful? Way too many, I am afraid.

It also made me think of the grace we extend to those we love. If an "enemy" of mine had said those words, I would have resented them -- heard them as a dig at my failure of nerve. But since they came from Beth, a good friend, I heard them as care and compassion about something she knows troubles me. Even if she does not have that fear herself.

I also remembered the old gospel hymn "Open My Eyes," especially the second verse --

Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear,
And while the wave-notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.

Indeed, the false disappeared in the truth of Beth's call. The truth was she reached out in Christian love and offered a wish for my fear to be eased and my travels to be smooth. May all my words -- well-spoken or not -- be heard with that same grace. The grace of intention and love.
-- Brent

Monday, March 08, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- Spring

I heard the sounds of spring today. No, not the ones that usually come to mind -- birdsong or lawnmowers or daffodils popping open (not that I've ever heard that!). Instead, as the sun was out and the temperature neared 60 I heard people saying things like:

"Spring must be coming."

"I love this warm weather."

"The snow is gone!"

Ah, the sounds of spring -- human voices rejoicing in the grip of winter being broken. Of course, being Hoosiers, we will soon be complaining about tornado season and then the heat and humidity, but for now the sounds issuing forth were those of rejoicing.

And, as I thought of those sounds, I was reminded of how little I lift my voice in rejoicing. I am quick to whine; slow to sing praises. Of God, or spring, or even the people with whom I spend my daily life.

While I am as grateful as anyone for the warmth of the March day I just enjoyed, I am most grateful for the voices reminding me to be ... um ... grateful. For all with which I have been blessed -- which is much.

So, even though the season's first thunderstorms might roll in later this week and take some of the bloom off this season, I am grateful for the sun, the warmth, and voices that celebrated them.

-- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"The Light Within, which is the central Quaker idea, is no abstract phrase. It is an experience. It is a type of religion that insists upon a real and vital experience of God revealed to persons, to their own souls, in their own personal lives. "

--Rufus Jones

Sunday, March 07, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- Ghosts, Redux

I heard more ghosts last night. Except these were not voices from the past. They were voices from the present that evoked the past.

I attended the Central Ohio Young Life 40th anniversary banquet in Columbus. I was a Young Life staff person there from 1972 to 1976, mostly involved with the West and Hilliard clubs. I was in town visiting my parents, so they (who used to be on Young Life support committee), my sister Linda (a member of the West club), and I went.

One of the first people I ran into did seem like a ghost. It was a young man named Mike Chilcoat -- and he looked so much like Dave Chilcoat, his father who founded Young Life in Columbus in 1970 that I was truck speechless for a moment. His voice sounded like his dad's and he was a gracious, gentle, welcoming soul like his father (who passed away from ALS a few years ago). The short time spent talking to Mike brought back a flood of memories of a truly remarkable man -- a man who blessed my life immensely.

The next person I saw was also a Chilcoat. This time it was Beth -- Dave's wife. Who recognized me immediately even though we had not seen each other since 1976. After some reminiscing (her recall of my mistake of ordering "steak tartar" 35 years ago because I didn't know any better was a bit embarrassing), she reintroduced me to her son Jeff who I used to babysit on occasion (I remembered him sticking a Flintstones vitamin up his nose while I was watching him -- turnabout is fair play).

I also got to see Bev Brown who ran the West Club with me and who still looked beautiful and Jerry Kasberg who lead singing there and who is now a Presbyterian pastor. The Shover sisters and Glynda Rice who attended the West Club were also there.

All their voices were a delight to me. As were the words they spoke. I found them so affirming. I look back on those years and see my failings. They loom large ... things I wish I had said, things I wish I hadn't said. I see the times I failed to live up to the Gospel I proclaimed (and still do) and how I relied (and rely) on God's grace -- and hope that I communicated that message of Love and Grace well. And I also hope that I never held myself up as some sort of positive example -- that instead I pointed the way to a relationship with God.

The voices that spoke to me, last night, though, seemed to have either forgotten all my failings or forgiven me for them, or both. And for that I am grateful. I am grateful, too, for the kindness of those words... the memories of wonderful times aboard old Flxible buses on Young Life trips, silly skits, late nights at Camp Wilson, 20 minutes of silence as we thought about our relationships with God, and the love and support of people like Dave, Jerry, Beth, Bev, Jack Gilbert, Joe Guzzo, Jimmy Miller, Barb Turf, and so many more.

The blessings God has poured on my life are immeasurable. And the ghosts of Young Life past and present reminded me of that last night. I am grateful beyond words.

Now if I just had the hair I had back then!

-- Brent
PS The picture above is of a volleyball game in 1973 -- the West High Young Life club trip to Lake Hope, OH. I'm the yahoo who is up in the air after hitting the ball and Dave Chilcoat is on the far right in the back wearing a denim shirt.

Friday, March 05, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- Ghosts

I heard ghosts today. I am in Ohio visiting my parents and sister Linda. While my folks still live on The Hilltop (as our side of Columbus is known), they do not live in the house I grew up in. So, since I am here a couple of days, I decided this morning to take a wee car ride and visit the neighborhoods where I grew up.

As I did, the voices and sounds of ghost came floating to me. First, I headed from Linda's house through Valleyview and I heard my father's voice warning, "You know this is a speed trap. They'll get you for going 26 in the 25 zone." Sure enough, heading south on Hague, there sat the Valleyview Police Department -- radar gun aimed and ready. Then it was south on North Eureka, past Holton Park where I spent hours playing tennis 35-40 years ago. I could hear the ka-thwack of the ball hitting the asphalt and zing as it smacked off our wooden rackets. Then it was south and west to Lechner Avenue to Glenwood Park where I used to sled. My Mom would warn me, "Don't talk to strangers." It was close to the then Columbus State Hospital for the Insane and she was worried, I guess, that I was the sort to take up with them.

On down Columbia Avenue, across Sullivant to Hauntz Park, where I could hear my cousins urging me to light the candles in our decorated wagon (covered with chicken wire and tissue paper) for the "Lantern Parade" around the park and the crack of my little league bat hitting a ball. And Hilltonia United Methodist Church where I heard the world's longest, most boring Indian story while a Cub Scout... a story that ended with the line, "The smoke signals said, 'Squaw Bury Shortcake'," a pun I found execrable even as an 8 year old.

Then I cruised up Springmont, past my cousins' Jon and Jeff's old house (now for sale) at the corner of Nashoba and Springmont. I could hear their voices calling me to hurry up as we walked home from Mound Street Elementary School. They were a year older, wise second graders to my inexperienced first grade. They are both dead now, but I could hear them also trying to guess who I was at a Hallowe'en party we kids had down in the basement of that house. Other voices of other kids came back as I cruised that neighborhood where I lived the first nine years of my life. I saw our old house on Sullivant Avenue and then our "new" house on South Eureka. At first glance, it looked the same and I heard the voices of Mike Rader and Mike Riley and my other buddies. I saw John Burroughs Elementary School and heard Mr. Sarsfield, my sixth grade teacher, exhaling an exasperated, "Brent."

Other voices came as I cruised along. My grandparents' voices on Richardson Avenue. My teachers at West High School. Sunday school teachers at Highland Avenue Friends Church. And on and on and on and on.

Perhaps these were not "real" sounds. But they sounded real to me. Each sound and each voice came through with crystal clarity. And it reminded me that we never lose that which we have loved -- be they people or places; alive or dead. My friends and family, many long departed, traveled with my through my old haunts... and I was grateful for their company. And the blessings they imparted ... blessings they may not have even known that they were giving me. Indeed, blessings that may have gone unrecognized even by me at the time.

As I drove, I remember being deathly afraid of ghosts when I was nine and living on Sullivant Avenue. I had a recurring nightmare of a monstrous ghost that looked a bit like Godzilla appearing out of the evening mists around Hauntz Park. Today, though, I found the sounds of ghosts all very comforting... and was grateful for their company.

-- Brent

Thursday, March 04, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- Shredding

Shredding. As in paper being fed through one of those machines. And jazz. As in music coming from Rabbi Spiegel's office. Hallway conversations. Water running through the coffee maker. The UFOish sound of the scanner down the hall. One side of phone call conversations. Telephone rings. Intercoms buzzing. Hum of traffic on the street outside my window. The creak of a chair being leaned back on.

All these and more reminded me that I was back in the office today. I heard these sounds and thought, "It is good." And it is. I am blessed with work. A worthy work. No more worthy, I think, than anybody 'work be they bag boy or local pastor or schoolteacher, but worthy nonetheless. A job that blesses me and hopefully blesses others through me.

And so I took a few minutes to just stop and listen to the sounds that make up most of my day to day existence -- the 9 to 5 routine (actually 8:30 to 4:30) of going to work at the Center for Congregations. And while many of the sounds are man-made, many are human, too. Happy laughter, exasperated sighs, heels clicking on the wood floor of the entryway, a toe tapping in time to music pouring out of computer speakers, and more.

The human sounds remind me that the real reason I am here has nothing to do with the to do lists I compose on my way in every morning. And which can become someone obsessive for me when I feel my progress on them has been interrupted -- by some PERSON who needs something.

To serve the people who are here... that's my purpose here. To make it easier for them to do their work of serving congregations and the people who love them. I need to remember that human dimension and let go of the "to do" dimension.

So now it is just after 4:30. Aaron Spiegel and I are the only ones here. He's on the phone. I'm click-clacking away on my laptop. Soon we'll be off to a work-related dinner and our lives will be filled with human conversation and the blessing that comes with it. Thank God for work sounds.

-- Brent

Monday, March 01, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- Birdsong

Ah, the first day of March. And, compared to most of February at least, it came in like a lamb. The temperature rose to almost 40 and snow was melting. The driveway is becoming a wee bit less rutted -- you actually have to steer up the 1/3 of mile unlike the past week where you put your front tires in the ruts, took your hands off the steering wheel, and let yourself be guided.

But the most remarkable thing -- fittingly for a day to begin "30 Days of Hearing" -- was the birdsong that was evident. From the moment I opened the garage door this morning until when I pulled back in this evening, the sound of birds was evident. Happy, chirpy sounds of tiny birds to the piercing cry of a white tailed hawk searching for food to the gentle calls of the bald eagles down the creek from us to squawking of geese flying overhead.

It was the sound of the world coming back to life, it seemed to me. It reminded me that, in spite of the snow and cold and gloom, that life was all around me. And that it often is, if I will just take time to notice it.

It also reminded me that our senses are intertwined ... so intertwined that we often take them for granted. I heard the bird songs as I walked and felt the ground under my feet and felt the wind on my cheeks. I heard the cry of the hawk and searched the sky with my eyes until I spotted it circling and soaring. I smelled the mud I stirred up as I tramped with my boots and the scent of the creek rushing by brought the taste of fresh water to my mouth.

I noticed all of this because I heard the sound of birds. And I was reminded of one of my favorite hymns, "For the Beauty of the Earth"

For the joy of ear and eye
For the heart and mind's delight
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense to sound and sight;

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise

Indeed ... the mystic harmony linking sense to sound and sight. A true gift from God that I recognized anew because of the birds singing their praises. Cardinals, jays, hawks, woodpeckers, eagles, and even an owl -- all singing out, declaring their Maker's creativity and grace. And someday, even a weak voice like mine will join with all of God's creation and

"And we will surely sing
With all the wonder of birds..."

Till that day...

-- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Our first task is to love one another, to be valiant for the truth upon the earth, and to remain attentive to the true spirit in all that we do."

-- Newton Garver