Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Letters, I Get Letters..."

That song was a feature on the old "Perry Como Show"... Okay, I really just dated myself. But it stuck in my head and was running through my mind today as I was running to the plumbing shop and under the sink fixing a faucet.

I got a letter today. An email, actually. And it was of a particular variety.

Now as a semi-public person, because of my writing and workshops, I get letters or emails fairly often. I try to answer them all. Even the ones of a "particular variety." And I have received a fair number of those over the years. By "particular variety" I mean the ones that start something like, "Dear Mr. Bill, I just [read your book, blog, essay, article] [heard you on the radio] or [saw you on television] or [heard you preach] and you are going to Hell. In Christian love, XX"

One of my favorites went one for eight pages in this vein. My absolute favorite said, "Mr Bill, I just heered you on the radio and you is ignorant."

Well, no argument there. And, like I said, if the letter comes with a return address and name, I'll answer. Not to argue, just to say thanks for at least reading, hearing, seeing, or whatever me and I pray God's blessings on them.

But I won't be able to answer today's. More about why in a minute. First, I will share what it said.

"From time to time, the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots." Those who beat their swords into plowshares will be ruled by those who didn't. Liberalism, hypocrisy, and political correctness are killing the country that many have bled for. GET OVER YOURSELF YOU ARE INDEED THE WORST OF THEM! DICK

My first thought was, Why are there soo many Dicks in this world? But that seemed unkind, so instead I reread the letter to see if there was anything there that might be helpful or instructive.

There wasn't. At least to my thinking. That "Those who beat their swords into plowshares will be ruled by those who didn't" may be true (or may not), but I don't care. Do I prefer to live in a democracy? Sure. But most of all I care to follow Jesus and beating swords into plowshares is a Biblical injunction. I'd rather be on God's side in this "fight" than of "patriots."

I put "patriots" in quotation marks, because I think it's a false assumption that the only patriots are those who fight for their country. What about those who die for their beliefs? I seem to recall that at least a few peace-loving Quakers died in the cause of religious freedom -- killed by the Puritans whose blood was spilt killing off those who disagreed with them (including one or two or hundreds of Native Americans). And because of those Quaker deaths (at the hands of their fellow colonists), we have religious freedom today. And because of others who were imprisoned for their beliefs, we have trial by jury. And...

But I have a feeling Dick has long stopped reading by now. In fact, I'm not sure he's ever read anything by me, other than my website which refers to me living on Ploughshares Farm.

Am I a liberal? Politically, I guess I am. And proud of it. Liberals have done a lot in our nation's history to make it a better place -- worked against slavery, for women's rights, for equal rights for minorities, for... Have they screwed up? Doh! Sure. But they aren't the ruination of this country anymore than Richard M. Nixon's imperial White House years were. Talk about almost killing the country!

Am I a liberal? Religiously, not so much. I'm pretty conservative actually -- I read the Bible (and believe it), am a Trinitarian (which is not a word that appears in the Bible), believe that Jesus is the son of God, believe that Jesus died for our sins (though I'm not sure exactly which method of atonement was at work there), that miracles happened and still happen, and so on.

But Dick claims that I am "indeed the worst of them."

Okay. I probably am. Though St Paul thought he was -- he even called himself "the chief of sinners." I'm probably giving him a run for his money. But that means that Jesus came for me, too. As Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:15, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief ."

Works for me!

So why won't I answer Dick directly? Well, partly because I suspect Dick is not his real name. He sent his letter anonymously through the automated email link on my website. I don't think his email address really is (clever, eh?) or that his phone number is 555-555-5555 (I suspect he's watched too many movies and picked that number up from them).

As far as his urging me to "get over" myself, well, Dick, that's good advice. You are not the first to have given it to me. And it is something I've been trying to do for decades now -- to get over myself and get more into living in the way of Jesus. So thanks for that reminder.

-- Brent

Friday, July 30, 2010

Indiana State Fair -- Photo Entry #3

Nikon D80 Lens: Nikon DX AF-S 18-135 (66mm)
1/40 second; f 5.3;ISO 200
Location: Chimayo, New Mexico
This Coke machine sits just outside El Santuario de Chimayo,
which has been nicknamed the Lourdes of America. People
travel from all over the United States and Mexico in hopes of a
cure from illnesses – and this lonely soda machine in need of healing
sits next to the venerable “Vigil Store” which advertises “Santos, Woodcarvings, and Popsicles

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Indiana State Fair -- Photo Entry #2

Shaker Barn -- by J. Brent Bill
2010 Indiana State Fair Entry -- Photography
Nikon D80 Lens: Nikon DX AF-S 18-135 (70mm)
1/400 second; f 5.6;ISO 1600
Location: Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Pleasant Hill, KY
Tobacco barn in mid afternoon.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Indiana State Fair -- Photo Entry #1

Zinnia -- by J. Brent Bill
2010 Indiana State Fair Entry -- Photography
Location: Ploughshares Farm, Mooresville, IN
Nikon D80 w/ Nikkor DX AF-S 18-135 lens
Zoom set at 122 mm
1/320 of a second
f 5.0
ISO 200

Quaker Wisdom for Today

“God stirs up our comfortable nests, and pushes us over the edge of them, and we are forced to use our wings to save ourselves from fatal falling. Read your trials in this light, and see if your wings are being developed.”

-- Hannah Whitall Smith

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Quaker Wisdom for Today

I reverence old time faith and men,
But God is near us now as then;
His force of love is still unspent,
His hate of sin as imminent;
And still the measure of our needs,
Outgrows the cramping bounds of creeds;
The manna gathered yesterday
Already savors of decay;
Doubts to the world's child-heart unknown
Question us now from star and stone;
Too little or too much we know
And sight is swift and faith is slow;
The power is lost to self-deceive
With shallow forms of make-believe.
We walk at high noon, and the bells
Call to a thousand oracles,
But the sound deafens, and the light
Is stronger than our dazzled sight;
The letters of the sacred Book
Glimmer and swim beneath our look;
Still struggles in the Age's breast
With deepening agony of quest
The old entreaty: 'Art thou He,
Or look we to the Christ to be?'

"God should be most where man is least:
So, where is neither church nor priest,
And never rag nor form of creed
To clothe the nakedness of need,

I lay the critic's glass aside,
I tread upon my lettered pride,
And, lowest-seated, testify
To the oneness of humanity;
Confess the universal want,
And share whatever Heaven may grant.

-- John Greenleaf Whittier (excerpts from The Meeting)

For Kristyn...

... who wanted to know when I was going to update the blog -- "Here's the update."

-- Brent

Friday, July 16, 2010

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Let us make Christ our teacher as his earliest disciples did, who knew nothing about his His birth, and only followed Him at first just because they felt He was far better than they, and they had need of Him and loved Him. As we do this and simply endeavour to keep near to His thoughts, to think over the meaning of His words and to act as men who are seeking to follow Him, we shall begin to realise that there is in Christ himself a greater miracle than anything recorded of Him in the Gospels."

-- T. Edmund Harvey, 1913

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"But I take comfort from two things : first that any mere personal statements of belief can only put into words what we think we believe, while deeper down experience may have built on rocks that we know not of until storms reveal the need of them. And secondly the fact that all heresies, however great, may be phases of growth if one only knew it."

-- George Lloyd Hodgkin

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"The thing is just to live the highest life we know and leave everything else"

-- George Lloyd Hodgkin, 1912

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Evening Light

There are golden times for taking photographs. One them is right now... as the sun is setting. The light being thrown is amazing. Deep shadows. Saturated colors. I should be out... but I'm sitting here enjoying the light and how as it sinks into the west it changes second by second the woods into which I am looking.

Not picking up the camera has taken an act of will. The photographer in me wants to capture the lit limbs, the paling prairie below, the evening birds zipping across. But tonight, more than taking pictures, I need some quietness. I need a time to simply enjoy the scene. Yes, it will never come to me quite this way again... which is all the reason more not to view it through my Nikon's lens, but to open my eyes wide and peer into the beauty that God has set before me.

The drama of the fading sunlight has captured my attention in a way that the full blaze of the noonday sun did not just a little over eight hours ago. I took it for granted. It is only as the light is fading -- and illuminating its impending disappearance -- that I am watching it.

How short-sighted of me. Literally.

I fear I am that way spiritually, too. God's light is all around and within me and yet, far too often, I do not pay enough attention to it. The Spirit is moving in me... and I take it for granted.

But, unlike today's sunlight, God's light will not wane. Nor does it shout it's existence. It merely beckons those of us who are willing to mind the light... to notice it.

The green of the trees is darkening now. The limbs have turned from golden brown to black. The birds are silhouettes against the deepening sky.

But God's light shines on.

Thank you for this day.

-- Brent

Monday, July 12, 2010

Quaker Wisdom for Today

"Lofty, ethereal, and intellectual knowledge of God can be obtained in may ways, but true knowledge can be obtained only by God's Spirit shining in upon the heart, enlightening and opening the understanding."

-- Robert Barclay

Friday, July 09, 2010

What Not to Say...

I was reading an on-line article the other day that was about ten things you should not say to teenagers if you really are desiring to communicate with them. The first one was "Never ask how their day was." Teens see that as intrusive and akin to and inquisitional question.

Well, even though I am not a teenager, that made a lot of sense to me. It feels a bit intrusive to me. I hate that question... it feels like I am being called on to justify how I spent my time.

I searched the Internet but did not find any article about ten things you should not say to sullen fifty-nine year old men if you are really desiring to communicate with them. So I wrote it myself -- here they are.

  1. How was your day? Well, we've covered that one.
  2. Talk to anybody interesting? Interesting to me or interesting to you?
  3. What did you have for lunch? Probably the same thing you are planning on having for dinner.
  4. How was the traffic? Let's see. Hmmm. Everybody is coming downtown or leaving downtown at the same time I am on a road that is under construction and down to two lanes and seems to have been ever since I started making this trip in 9 years ago. How do you think it was?
  5. Did you do anything fun? Let me ask my boss. I'm sure my having fun at work was way up on his agenda.
  6. What did you do today? I spent a lot of time looking busy whenever somebody walked by my office door, which really cut into my time surfing the Internet looking for the latest Lindsay Lohan news.
  7. You look tired. I am, but I hope to catch up on sleep at the office.
  8. (at the grocery store) Would you like a sack for that? No, not really. I don't want the carton either, but it sure makes the milk easier to carry.
  9. Can I borrow your (insert tool, farm implement, vehicle here)? The bigger question is can you bring it back in the same shape it was in when you borrowed it? Including full of gas and clean inside like it is now? And the answer is obviously "No" since you never have before.
  10. Most any statement and or question you can come up with.

As with teenagers, it seems that there isn't much you can safely say. Hey, that works for me.

Any questions?

-- Brent

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

30 Days of Smelling -- Aroma

I've been driving a lot the past few days. From mid-Indiana up to the lakes part of our state. Specifically, through Warsaw and Winona Lake (home of famous baseball pitcher/revivalist Billy Sunday) to Dewart Lake (home of Quaker Haven Camp -- scene of much of my mis-spent youth ministry).

I decided to "Wander Indiana" as one motto appearing on some 1980s license plates urged us to do. So I stuck to most state and county highways for the 150+ mile trip back to the farm.

And that's when I saw Aroma. I don't mean smelled an aroma. I mean saw "Aroma." A town I did not know existed in Indiana. It's just off Indiana Rt 13.

I saw other towns I'd heard of but never seen. Swayzee ("The Only Swayzee in the WORLD" the town's sign proclaims. Oh really???). Normal. (Seeing that I remembered an old headline from an Illinois paper proclaiming "Normal Man Weds Oblong Girl" -- using two distinctive town names). And a host of others.

Now I grew up in a state (Ohio) that prides itself on respectable town names. Columbus -- after the great explorer. Athens -- after the cradle of philosophy. Knockemstiff -- after the ... well, let's not go there.

But still, even though I could not really smell Aroma, sealed hermetically as I was in my air conditioned Camry cruising down the highway, I was grateful for it and the people who live there. Small towns, it seems to me, bring the scent of what we value as a people -- the smell of honest, hard work; care for one another; love of the land we call home, faith in God; faith in each other; and so much more. All things that help Aroma, and places like it across our land, send out a fresh, clean smell of the best of what our country blessed with. And called to be.

-- Brent

Monday, July 05, 2010

30 Days of Smelling -- Bug Spray


That's how I feel about bug spray. I hate the smell of it. I hate the feel of it.

Double bleh.

That's how I feel about mosquitoes and biting flies. They are a curse. One of the banes of life next to a woods. The other morning, before all this blamed heat and humidity set in, I decided to go into the woods and battle bush honeysuckle. My mortal enemy. So I mixed up a backpack sprayer of special herbicide (I'm a herbicidal maniac when it comes to bush honeysuckle) and headed into the woods.

Bad idea. I was immediately swarmed by mosquitoes. I had forgotten to cover myself with bug spray. Thirty seconds and thirty bites later (I'm not exaggerating ... I counted), I headed back out. Yikes.

Last night, before heading out to the park to watch fireworks, I did not make the same mistake. I thoroughly soaked myself in the stuff. Even though I hate the smell and feel, it worked. It kept the mosquitoes away so I could enjoy the booming celebration. I may have put a bit too much as it also kept people away.

Well, for an introvert, that's not all bad. Ha.

It did make me think that protection is not always comfortable. I was sitting there feeling sorta greasy and stinky, but safe from biting insects. It was really hot and humid as I thought about other protection -- like a suit of armor, for example. How uncomfortable that would be on a hot humid day. Okay, so it's weird to be thinking of armor while sitting on a Midwest hill waiting for fireworks... but I'm weird.

And that weird thought then morphed into spiritual protection. I remembered Paul's' injunction to the Ephesians -- "Put on the full armor of God .. so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

Now as a Quaker-type, all those militaristic metaphors bug me more than a little bit. Plus it all sounds a bit cumbersome. And yet, as the stinky, yucky bug spray reminded me... protection is not always comfortable. But it is protection. Physical or spiritual.

So I guess I need to be buckling up the belt of truth, taking up the shield of faith, and fitting my feet with the gospel of peace more often than I'm covering myself in bug spray.

-- Brent