Monday, May 17, 2010

Quaker Mutilation Syndrome -- Who Knew?

I just learned of a disease afflicting our beloved Society of Friends. I was doing a Google search on Quaker stuff and up popped "Quaker Mutilation Syndrome."

It was alarming. I read one account that said, "Her plucking has been worse ... it could escalate into mutilation. Lately she has been pulling and letting out that little scream like ... then she goes right on and does it again, ... I have seen several small spots of blood ... There isn't any way to give her more attention, unless we stay up all night together too."

As the website I was reading said, "Quaker Mutilation Syndrome, (also known as QMS by those ... who are unfortunate enough to be familiar with it), is a little-understood, yet terrifying condition ..." I can imagine it is. And the report goes on to say that this may be partly a logical result of "Quakers ... becoming quite well-known for their intelligence and talking ability."

So I began to wonder if QMS could be a result of some rancorous Yearly Meeting gatherings I've witnessed of late. Lots of talking happens there, anyhow. Still, the thought that so many Quakers are mutilating themselves that there is now a name for this ailment is very disturbing.

It seems some experts are classifying this as a behavioral problem. Others say the causes for QMS fall into two general categories: medical and non-medical (psychological).

Among the medical reasons are:
  • Endocrine diseases such as low thyroid levels, progesterone or testosterone imbalances, diabetes (hmmm, I can relate to the latter)
  • Bacterial-related ... disorders such as bacterial sinusitis
  • Skin infections
  • Fungal diseases
  • Internal organ diseases (Quakers are prone to Fatty Liver Disease -- again, who knew??)
  • Internal parasites such as roundworms and tapeworm (Yikes!)
  • Nutritional deficiencies or food allergies
  • Ingested allergens, such as:---certain proteins---carbohydrates---chemical additives (preservatives, colors, or flavors)
  • Inhaled allergens, such as:---smoke ---perfumes (!!!)---pollen---dust mold

Imagine my relief, after getting all worried about this condition possibly running rampant amongst the multitudes gathering weekly for Meeting when I discovered that QMS afflicts -- birds. Quaker parrots to be exact.

I mean, I feel sorry for the birds that suffer, but am breathing easier that Friends are not afflicted with QMS.

Or are we?

-- Brent

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Having Written

I am doing something I haven't done for awhile -- coaching a writing colleague. My friend Kristyn has had some ... um... interesting experiences the past few years. Experiences that are her's to tell and she has decided to begin writing about them. She asked me to help. So I have been making her write -- certain lengths, certain subjects, and so forth. And then coaching her on stuff like cliches (avoid them like the plague), punctuation (avoid too many exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!), deleting tautologies (though baby puppies are sooo cute), and so forth.

But she's not the only one I'm making write. I am also making myself write.

It may surprise non-writers (aka readers!) but many writers have to force themselves to write. Well, some do anyhow. Okay, well, I do.

I enjoy having written -- the moment when it's done. Looking back over the words that have appeared is downright satisfying. But I can put off starting forever.

For a guy who makes (somewhat) his living w/ words, writing is always hard work and I'll do most anything to avoid it. This rainy, damp Indiana day has found me up in my office listening to music (Over the Rhine and a bunch of stuff clabbered together from various Paste magazine music samplers) and writing.

I tried to avoid it by thinking I should reorganize my bookshelves (too many books, spilling out all over the floor and stacked upon one another int he shelves) but finally told myself to get to work.

So I did and the day was actually somewhat productive. There may be a sentence or two or even a paragraph I can keep.

And so I find myself musing, Why is it so hard to get started? I know I'll enjoy it once I get going. I love the creative process. I sometime amaze myself with the excellent word usage I can devise -- and then promptly delete that particular piece since I know that I am too easily amazed! While my friend Chuck is fond of quoting Chesterton that "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly" (which always brings a smile), what I am doing feels to me too important to do badly. Even if it -- like the short stories I compose -- may never see the light of print.

I have decided that I delay for a couple of reasons -- one is that I am naturally lazy. Many people think of me as a hard worker who gets things done ahead of schedule, but the fact is I work hard and get things done ahead of schedule because it's easier than not doing so.

A second reason is because I am my own boss in this. Nobody is making me do this at a certain time. And I am easily distracted by books that need reshelved or Joan Osborne's "Cathedrals" or... hey, there's a deer walking through the prairie as I write this!

And a third reason is that writing is important work and sometimes it gives me pause that I even attempt to undertake it. Who am I to be so audacious as to put thoughts to pixels and then into paper? What have I to share that is worthy of being shared and read and contemplated? I a person who is still in awe of real writers.

But, I am called to write. I believe that. And so, unlike Jonah who even argued with God to avoid getting started on what he was called to do, I do make it to the point where almost every day I apply the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair and turn on the computer. And begin writing. After only one or two games of "Spider Solitaire" and checking my email.

And perhaps it's ultimately because I hear the angel in Revelation 10. "Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, 'There will be no more delay!'"

-- Brent

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"We are a people that follow after those things that make for peace, love, and unity."

-- Margaret Fell

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Why should any man have power over any other man's faith, seeing Christ Himself is the author of it?"

-- George Fox

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Birthday Musings

I'm 59 today. Yikes? How did that happen?

I mean, I know how it happened -- I have stayed alive in spite of my propensity for doing stoopid things like turning my tractor over, leaning too far out on the edge of a ladder, using a chainsaw whilst standing in the dump bed of the golf cart, thinking "I'm pretty sure I turned the circuit breaker off" while trying to hook up a new light switch and stuff like that.

When I ask "How did that happen?" I am more thinking about how did I come to be one of the geezers? Am I really not 25 anymore?

Oh, I am reminded that I am not every time I look in the mirror. What little hair there is is mostly white or grey. The wrinkles are deeper every day. The skin not quite as firm as it used to be. At least I still have my teeth -- all original equipment!

But how old I am has really hit home lately. Not that I feel old -- just that, um, I am old. That really occurred to me recently when I was attending one of our tribal meetings (a gathering of Quakers). Quakers United in Publications had invited me to speak at their annual meeting. So off I went to Richmond, Indiana. While I was there, I got to attend the launch of a new book called Spirit Rising: Young Quakers Speak. It is a delightful compendium of young adult Friends (18-35ish) essays, poems, musings, and art.

As part of the launch, the editorial committee of the book and some of the contributors put on a program of worship and readings. It was a wonderful time, but it occurred to me that night, while the young adult Friends were reading their book, that I am at that stage where I am one of the elders. Hokey Smokes!

Seriously, that thought had not really occurred to me.

Like I said, even though I know I am 59, I don't think of myself as "old" (for all my kvetching otherwise). I think of myself as Brent -- a younger sort of guy who still has a lot to learn and a fair amount of energy and enthusiasm for life and its challenges.

But that night I thought I am not here as one of the gang. I am here because I am one of the older voices.

And I thought of some of the "older voices" from my past -- Wil Cooper, Charles Thomas, T. Canby Jones, Elton Trueblood, Virgil Peacock, Leonard Wines, and the list could go on and on. When I was the age of the young Friends in the room that night, these were some of the elders who influenced me in ways that are still felt. And now I am their age.

Now, I do not in any way think I am the theological or spiritual equal of these weighty Friends. No, indeed. But, it has come home that I am their age and NOT that of young Friends. I have passed into a new season of my life and am coming to grips with that.

This was a new and interesting thought for me. And I decided it was good.

I like my age and who I am at this age.

And, if I can sometimes be helpful as an older voice, then all the better.

Happy 59th birthday to me!

-- Brent

Monday, May 10, 2010

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"The cause of Peace has had my share of efforts, taking the ultra non-resistance ground -- that a Christian cannot consistently uphold, and actively support, a government based on the sword, or whose ultimate resort is to the destroying weapons. "

-- Lucretia Mott

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Spiritual Discernment-- Life in Motion

Trusting that God directs our paths teaches us to see the ways life opens. Our lives are filled with potential “a-ha” moments. Following our spiritual compass helps us see the “a-has”. Trusting God also allows us to be real and genuine and authentic people, because trust helps us be more aware of the circumstances through which we pass. We see our flaws and frailties, and can still embrace the fact that we are people who hunger after God and are instruments of God.

The early Quaker mystic Isaac Penington said:

"Know what it is to walk in the path of life. . . . It is that which groans, and which mourns; that which is begotten of God in you. . . . The true knowledge of the way, with the walking in the way, is reserved for God’s child, for God’s traveller. Therefore . . . don’t strive to be any more than God has made you. Give God your will . . . and, sink down to the seed that God sows in the heart and let that grow in you. "

I love the idea that “The true knowledge of the way, with the walking in the way, is reserved for God’s child, for God’s traveller.” As I look at my life, I see one of motion. Though firmly rooted in the Midwest, as an adult I’ve lived in sixteen houses in two states, held fifteen full- or part-time jobs, and owned too many cars. Your life may be less frenetic than mine, but I’m sure that as you look over your history you’ll see various movements in your life as well—careers, family, spiritual, and physical changes. The movements all fit with the concept of way opening. Way opening implies motion; a moving along life’s pilgrim way. What a winsome discovery.

-- Brent

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Therefore the main thing in religion is to keep the conscience pure to the Lord, to know the guide, to follow the guide, to receive from him the light whereby I am to walk; and not to take things for truths because others see them to be truths; but to wait till the Spirit make them manifest to me; nor to run into worships, duties, performances, or practices, because others are led thither; but to wait till the Spirit lead me thither."

-- Isaac Penington

Friday, May 07, 2010

Getting Lost Along the Way

Awhile back I spent a delightful afternoon at the annual Gathering of Friends General Conference in Johnstown, PA. I'd been asked to do a reading from Sacred Compass, which went well. The audience seemed engaged, they asked some questions, and a good discussion ensued.

Then, after chit cat and signing some books, it was off to Indiana. Nancy read the Mapquest directions and I followed her well read instructions. In spite of that, I soon stopped seeing signs that said Route 219 very quickly.

After a mile or so, I pulled over and pulled out our road atlas and looked at the Johnstown mini-map and looked. It appeared that so long as I continued south on the road we were on, we'd run into Route 219.So south we continued -- right into the heart of downtown Johnstown and "Thunder in the Valley," a huge annual motorcycle event.

Everywhere I looked was a motorcycle but nowhere I looked was a street where it was supposed to be.

Especially no Route 219 heading toward the interstate.Finally, Nancy spotted a sign that said "To 219" and up the ramp we went.

The opposite direction from where we'd be going.

It didn't make any sense -- why would we go north to find the road going south? And why were none of the roads where they were supposed to be?Ten miles later we came an exit for Route 219 -- 1/2 a block from where I originally turned on to the road that led to 219. How can that be, I wondered?

As I merged into the swiftly moving 219 traffic, I glanced up at the mirror and noticed the compass embedded in it. It told me I was going south -- and had been since we got on the road that said "To 219."

Which also told me that when I thought I was going south earlier, I had actually been heading north -- and had been moving away from my destination the entire time.

That's why MapQuest and the road atlas were worthless -- I was reading them "upside down."

All I needed to do to get going right was to look up at the compass. I would have seen clearly that I was going north, not south, and turned around.This all reminded me that it is precisely when I am certain that I'm going the right direction that I need most to check my compass. And in this case, I'm not talking about the one in the car. I'm thinking here about my sacred compass; the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. I may have checked the maps, the weather, the road conditions, and my own sense of direction -- but that may not be enough.

The car's compass was there. I just needed to consult it. The same is true of my soul's compass. Even -- or maybe especially -- when I've just finished a reading telling other people to consult their's.

- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Pray the Eternal to grease your weather-cock so that it turn well at the true wind of the Spirit and not remain caught by the rust of tradition in a position unrelated to truth."

-- Pierre Ceresole

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

As Way Opens: A Path of Discernment

Where am I supposed to go with my life? That’s the question. “To be or not to be,” is profound and fine for a Shakespearean drama, but if we’re asking the “What am I supposed to do with my life” question, then “To be or not to be” is moot. We be. Now what? The “where” question is as universal and old as humankind. It is as personal and contemporary as each one of us alive today. It especially presses upon those of us who sense that we are not merely human trying to be spiritual, but rather that we are deeply spiritual endeavoring to live as fully human. We begin our days with that “what” question. We awaken every morning with a cavalcade of choices before us – beginning with whether to even get up or not. Things get more complicated from there. The very act of making a choice – any choice -- takes us deep into the concept that our lives are more than our own. We belong to ourselves, to be sure, but we also belong to others in our lives. And most of all we belong to God. And God has plans for us. At least that’s what faith and a good deal of religious training tells us.

When I was in college I encountered a group handing out little buff colored booklets titled “The Four Spiritual Laws.” The first spiritual law was "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." That’s not a novel concept. It’s firmly rooted in Christian scriptures. The Bible and the whole of Christian history is full of examples of people seeking to determine what God wants them to do. They cast lots, set out fleeces, prayed, fasted, learned to listen to donkeys, went on retreats, climbed up on cacti, and more. Bookstores are crammed full of titles about learning God’s will – Amazon alone offers more 38,000 books on the subject in its religion section.While some of these books will offer you five easy steps for discerning what God’s directions are for you, this is not one of them. It is also not about taking charge of our lives in the accepted, self-help best-seller sense. It is not about twenty-one indispensable qualities of a leader or seven highly effective habits.

That’s because coming to an understanding of God’s direction for us is not that simple. It’s also amazingly countercultural – about learning to stop and pay attention rather than shouting and demanding attention. If we want to know what God wants, we have to go to a deeper place than a set number of habits or qualities and become men and women of spiritual quality and the habit of looking for God in every place our life takes us.

That deeper place takes us to the discovery that the act of deciding to seek God’s direction for our lives changes us. We find that such spiritual discernment is more about sensing the presence and call of God than it is about making the right decision. In a grace filled way, this process of discovery awakens us both to a life of constant creation and recreation. It shows us how we are less about being right or making the correct decisions than we are about the work of transforming ourselves. And in the process, we are also transforming the lives of the people around us and ultimately the world. When we pay attention, this is something our souls intuit, but it’s harder to get our minds around. What we do see is that nothing that involves transformation can be accomplished by a recipe found in The God’s Will Cookbook – take one dash of Bible, three tablespoons of prayer, and bake in the oven of God’s light.

Instead, at the heart of discovering God’s direction is contained in the wisdom of the Quaker saying “as way opens.”

Friends drop this tiny phrase into conversation as easily as other folks do “Hello” or “How’re you doing?” “Will you be coming for dinner tomorrow?” asks one. “I will, if way opens,” answers the other. In some ways, it’s our version, in daily conversation, of “Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.” It’s become almost a Quaker cliché.

But, as with all clichés, there’s powerful truth lurking in this quirky Quaker conversational pattern. That truth is the belief that God’s revelation, even in and integral to daily life, continues for those who seek God’s way. God is at work within and around us, leading, guiding, sometimes when we least expect or feel it.

“As way opens” comes from a bit larger phrase, “To Proceed as Way Opens.” This means “to wait for guidance, to avoid hasty judgment or action, to wait for future circumstances to help solve a problem. The spiritual guidance which may come in a time of seeking or entirely unexpectedly, bringing suggestion for previously unforeseen action.”

As way opens about more than one time spiritual discernment. While its lessons can be used to help us make major life decisions – careers, life partners – and minor ones, as way opens is about a form of Christian discernment that takes us to the heart of the Christian life as living in God's will. It’s about discovering a fresh and deeper way to live a God directed life – a life that eschews simple spiritual solutions and takes us to the deepest, most soulful parts of our being.

It is about learning from God in the daily and life long.

As way opens is how we can come to see our lives, with all their experiences good and bad, as God-directed

-- Brent

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Silence + Questions = Discernment

I've found that holy silence is an essential part of practicing discernment. As is asking myself queries.

Since Quakers don’t have a formal creed or prayer book against which to measure faithfulness, we developed the concept of asking questions of ourselves individually and corporately as a gauge of faith and practice.

This method began in the 17th century with the now quaint name of “Queries.”Queries are sets of questions rooted in Quaker faith and life as informed by Friends’ history, collective Quaker wisdom, and the Bible. The Queries are meant to be a form of guided self-examination.

In that sense, there are no outwardly defined correct answers. Rather the Queries give us a framework within which we can look at and consider prayerfully the direction of our lives.

You might find the following queries helpful as you develop your practice of discernment.

Relax your body and mind, breathe deeply, and think about the Query slowly and gently.
  • Do I try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit?
  • Do I encourage in myself a habit of relying on God’s guidance for each day?
  • Are my private holy silences a source of strength and guidance for daily living?
  • In holy silence, do I respond to the leadings of the Holy Spirit, without trying to decide in advance what leadings may come?
  • Do I spend time daily in prayerful meditation, Bible reading, or other devotional activities that help put me in touch with my spiritual center?
  • Am I open to the healing power of God’s love?
  • Am I aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of daily life?
  • Am I open to new leadings from God?
  • Am I ready to yield to God’s will?
  • As my holy silence comes to a close, have I listened fully to all that has been spoken and unspoken?
(adapted from the "Quietude Queries" in Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality)

-- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Oh, why don't Quakers preach what you practice?"

-- John H. Hobart

Monday, May 03, 2010

Compass, Maps, & the Will of God

Compass. As a kid the very word conjured images of treks across trackless wastes, blazing trails through primeval forests, and other adventures unavailable to city boys. I didn't need a compass in a city composed of north-south avenues and east-west streets. One block north, two blocks west, two more blocks north and I was at my grandparents. Simple. Straight. No adventure.

"Compass" still hold an aura of mystery for me today in this time of GPS and turn by turn directions issuing out of my car's stereo speakers. It still implies a journey where no navigation DVD has gone and no satellites peer. And while there are few of those in my business life, they abound in my spiritual life.

Unlike GPS and other wonders of modern direction finding, a compass does not give us step by step steps to our destination. It does, though, no matter what direction we turn, always point us to true north -- a destination most of us (unless we're named Amundsen, Byrd, Peary, or Henson) never reach in this lifetime. This is a metaphor for our spiritual lives and the work of discerning God's will for them.

There are many times I wish God would speak as clearly and as obviously as Mapquest or GoogleMaps. But the life of faith is not that way. Instead our sacred compass (the work of God's Spirit within us) points us to our spiritual true north -- the mind and love of God -- and asks us to travel by faith and use the various maps we've been given. Things like spiritual friends, the Bible, prayer, and other faith practices. Our sacred compass is that which is embedded in our souls that calls us to life with God -- life abundant and adventurous, even during those times we wish it was less so.

So, what "maps" do you use to help make sure you're following your sacred compass?

-- Brent

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"If we would amend the world, we should mend ourselves."

-- William Pnn

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The DIabetic Dive: A Light Hearted Blog

I thought some folks who read Holy Ordinary might be interested in knowing that my Quebecois friend Chantale and I have started a new blog called The Diabetic Dive. It's an often light-hearted look at the "lows" and "highs" of living with diabetes. There are humorous stories and pictures contributed by Chantale, blog readers, and me. We also have a Facebook group called "The Diabetic Dive."

Our tagline is that the blog is "Written by professional diabetics and writers Chantale Perron and Brent Bill, authors of the forthcoming No More Lines: And Other Tricks for Making Diabetes Work for You"

If you are a diabetic, know a diabetic, or just enjoy light-hearted stories, I think you'd enjoy the site!

-- Brent