Friday, March 30, 2012

Quaker Quest:: Exploring the Quaker Way

Quaker Quest
Simple, Radical & Contemporary

Quaker Quest is a series of free sessions presented by West Newton Friends Church, a Quaker congregation. It is a chance to explore the Quaker way. Each session includes three personal presentations by Quakers from West Newton Friends Church on the topic for the evening. There will be time for questions and answers. Refreshments and childcare are provided. Advance reservations are not necessary.

April 11 & May 2 Quakers and Everyday Living
April 18 & May 9 Quakers and Jesus
April 25 & May 16 Quakers and Worship

Please come early for conversation, coffee and refreshments!

You are welcome here!

West Newton Friends Meeting, 6800 S. Mooresville Road, Indianapolis, IN 46221 – 317-856-5967 –

Monday, March 12, 2012

WWJD -- Who Would Jesus Dis-invite?

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecc. 1:9) I have no doubt that the words of Ecclesiastes are true, but even though "there is nothing new under the sun," what happened today was new to me. I basically got "dis-invited" to lead a retreat at a certain location. Evidently, the person whose location it was found my theology suspect and so told the leader of the group that had invited me that he couldn't host the event.

I was stunned (as was the person with whom I was planning the event). I mean, I had come close to being dis-invited one other time before, but that was completely understandable once we talked about it. It seems that the leaders that time knew I was a writer and so went online to see what I'd written. Unfortunately, they had typed "Bill Brent" into the search box instead of "J. Brent Bill" and came across the number of titles that they considered slightly inappropriate. That's because "Bill Brent" is a prolific writer in a genre that is ... um... far different from mine. Once that mix-up was explained, the almost dis-invitation disappeared.

But this time, I did not even feel like reaching out to the person who dis-invited me to try to explain that there was no real need to fear my theology. Part of that was because he checked out my theological credentials as a Quaker (the Quaker part worried him, I guess) via the Internet. What he found on some site about Quakers alarmed him. Rightfully so, I guess, since we all know what a fount of verity the Internet is. The Internet, after all, is where Indiana State Representative Bob Morris did "a small amount of" (his words) research and discovered that the Girl Scouts of America is in a "close strategic affiliation with Planned Parenthood" and actively promotes premarital sex, homosexuality, abortion, and other things. The Girl Scouts are "quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood."

Yikes, and I had bought into what they said they did -- "Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place." Which is what it says on ... um... the Internet. That pesky Internet.

But back to my dis-invitation. Let me first say, I don't have a problem with someone not wanting to hear me or my thoughts. I also don't have any difficulty with a person disagreeing with my theology. But I don't think it's very Christ-like to make assumptions about what a person believes based on an Internet search of a denomination or faith group. Especially since there's so much misinformation out there. If someone wants to know what I believe, they are free to ask. And most times, I will be happy to answer -- especially if the question is sincere and not a form of inquisition and/or "aha-gotcha."

I am confident in my beliefs -- though I still have a lot to learn. In fact, I think I have more to learn about God and God's ways than I ever have before -- especially when I was a young pastor and knew it all. ;-) I guess I really do believe the words of 1 John 3, where it says "This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us."

My heart does not condemn me. I endeavor to follow Jesus Christ and love others as he commands. That's one reason I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends -- we take our name from the scripture that says, "You are my friends if you do as I command you."

I admit I don't always do as Jesus commands me, but I do, with God's grace, try to. And I'm always working on that "love one another" bit. And I worry a lot more about living in the way of Jesus and doing his commands than I do getting all the tenets of faith exactly right by some woman or man's theological yardstick. That's partly because there seem to be so many different theological yardsticks and I'd rather live for Jesus and hope to hear him say "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" than to meet some human's standard for whether I'm qualified to share what little spiritual wisdom I've acquired in over fifty years of trying to live a faithful life.

I am struggling a bit with that today because I am hurt. I know that's my problem. And I've been asking myself if I have ever dis-invited anyone from anything because I judged them without even knowing them and found them wanting? I hope not, but fear I probably have. And so I ask God's and that person's forgiveness. And will now, because of this happening to me, be careful not to do it again.

That's because, when I look at Jesus' life and interactions with people (tax collectors, harlots, Pharisees, and everyone else) I find that there's only one answer to the question, "Who would Jesus dis-invite?"

And the only answer I can come up with is "No one."

It's a lesson I needed to reminded of. So, to my dis-inviter, I say with all sincerity, humility and a prayer for us both, "Thank you for not having me, and may God richly bless you."

-- Brent

And the Winners Are...

Congratulations to Jan Church Daily--the winner of our final week of the Awaken Your Senses contest! You can read Jan's entry below. Also, Julie Hudson is the winner of an autographed copy of Awaken Your Senses. Thanks to everyone who participated! Continue to stay awake to your senses--especially during this time of Lent as we embody the journey of walking in the footsteps of Christ toward the cross.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Smell -- Awaken Your Senses Contest

Here's Your Last Chance!

Today begins the final week in our Awaken Your Senses Contest. The sense of the week is SMELL!

Please add a comment to this post about experiences you have this week or have had in the past related to your sense of smell.

... BTW--did you know that your most vivid memories are likely linked to strong smells? Here's why:

Smelling Memories
"Often, the strongest memories of our past are indelibly imprinted into our memory bank through our senses, especially the sense of smell. Here’s why: we use our olfactory sense all the time as we take in currents of air that pass through the nostrils, over the bony turbinates in our nasal passages to a “sheet” about the size of a small postage stamp, which contains five to six million olfactory receptors! There, smells are recognized because each odorant fits into a nerve cell kind of like a lock and key. The nerve cells then send signals along our olfactory nerve to the brain, where the odors are interpreted as “sweet smelling gardenias” or “foul smelling sneakers.” The reason we know the difference is the strong connection between our sense of smell and our memory. According to Dr. Rachel Herz, a psychologist, cognitive neuroscientist, and recognized expert on the psychology of smell, our odor preferences are learned. Herz suggests, “We learn to like and dislike various odors based on the emotional associations we make upon initial encounter with them.” (Awaken Your Senses, Pg. 157, 158)

The contest is featured on:

Here’s how it works:

  1. This week, you are invited to pay attention to your sense of HEARING and notice how it introduces you to the wonder of God.
  2. If something cool happens, post a description about that experience on the Awaken Your Senses FB Page or Beth or Brent’s blogs. (All entries must be submitted by Sunday at noon.)
  3. Brent and Beth will choose a winner on Sunday evening and that person will receive a $25 gift card for a gift related to TOUCH.
  4. Brent and Beth will also do a drawing from the names of everyone who participated each week and the weekly winner of the random drawing will receive an autographed copy of Awaken Your Senses.
  5. The winners will be announced on Awaken Your Senses Facebook Page and Brent and Beth’s blogs on each Monday when a new sense begins!

The Contest Schedule!
February 6 – Taste
Winners: Leah Sophia -- $25 Harry and Davids Gift Certificate
Sherry Redinger – autographed copy of Awaken Your Senses

February 13 – See
Winners: Martin Stand--$25 gift card (
Rantwoman -- an autographed copy of Awaken Your Senses

February 20 – Touch
Winners: Jen Friesen -- $25 gift card
Liz Dyer -- an autographed copy of Awaken Your Senses

February 27 – Hear
Winners: Carol Ann Webb -- $25 iTune
Leah Sophia -- an autographed copy of Awaken Your Senses!
(our first double winner!)

March 5 -- Smell

Tell your friends about the contest. Tweet, tumblr and blog about it. Spread the word. We can’t wait to hear about your experiences as you awaken your senses to the wonder of God.

-- Brent

The Time is Fulfilled: A Lenten Meditation

Once a week during Lent, I'm going to be offering a little meditation on some of the biblical characters who appear in typical lectionary readings for this season. I present them, not as the work of some erudite biblical scholar, but rather as a life-long Bible reader who often is so familiar with the stories and people in them that he forgets to see them as "real." So I tell these stories with the hope that I will see them with fresh eyes -- and learn some new spiritual lessons.

I am also doing it as part of IVP's Lenten Blog Tour. IVP has invited several of its authors to contribute their thoughts and devotions to a Lenten blog tour.

Every Monday until Easter, a Lenten reflection by one of the IVP authors will be posted on his or her own personal blog. A variety of authors have volunteered, and we are excited to share the different perspectives of each during this holy season.

Follow the tour—

February 20th: Rachel Stone, forthcoming author

February 27th: Margot Starbuck, author of Girl in the Orange Dress, Unsqueezed and Small Things with Great Love

March 5th: J. Brent Bill, co-author of Awaken Your Senses

March 12th: Logan Mehl-Laituri, forthcoming author of Reborn on the 4th of July

March 19th: Andrew Byers, author of Faith Without Illusions

March 26th: Valerie Hess, author of Spiritual Disciplines Devotional

April 2nd: Beth Booram, co-author of Awaken Your Senses

Good Friday, April 6th: Chad Young, author of Authenticity

This week's meditation/story is based on Mark 1:9 - 15 .

Joseph wondered where Jesus had gone. One day he was working in Joseph’s carpenter’s shop and the next he was gone. The boy Joseph had raised had become a man, almost 30 years old. No longer a child, Joseph thought about making him a full partner in the family firm, eventually turning it over to him. He did good work. His body was rugged and strong; hands steady. He was quiet and caring, good with the customers. He was the most peaceful man Joseph had ever known. Never rushing, deliberate, sure.

But there always seemed to be an undercurrent of impatience to him as well, Joseph thought. While Jesus’ eyes were outwardly fixed on the task of planing rough wood, his inner gaze seemed to be looking out over some unseen vista, his ears straining for some sound beyond that of hammer and saw.

He must have finally heard it, whatever it was he was listening for, for one day when he left home, instead of walking with Joseph into the shop he continued on, not saying a word.

Curious, Joseph followed. One block. Two blocks. Then past the outskirts of Nazareth. Joseph struggled to keep up, the younger man’s stride becoming stronger and more purposeful. Townspeople looked up from their morning chores and watched the odd, two man parade. Then, because they had better things to do than watch an old man and his son hiking out of town, they returned to their work. One mile turned to two, two to three, three to four.

Finally Joseph stopped. I’m fit for my age, he thought, but I’m no youngster. I can’t keep up. The younger man kept walking, even picking up his pace.

Walking beside Jesus, Joseph had thought Jesus’ body seemed to tingle with energy, an energy he’d never seen in the shop before. Or had he? There was always something special about that boy. Something deep within him that set him apart from others his age. Or any age, for that matter. For one he had an affinity with the wood that even Joseph never seemed to possess. He seemed tuned into to the world about him in ways Joseph had never observed in any other person. The dust of the earth swirled about his feet and Joseph strained his ears. He heard a faint music in the air.

Ah, it’s probably just the wind playing tricks on an old man’s ears, he thought. Yet Jesus seemed to be walking in time to it.

Joseph stood in the morning sun, the sky blue above him, a few clouds sailing silently by, and watched him.

Where was he going? he wondered. He had taken no pack, no lunch, no clothing, no walking stick. He had said nothing at breakfast that morning. The day was just a day. Work had to be done. And yet he just walked off – unprepared for a trip, yet obviously leaving on one.

Joseph watched until he was a just a shimmering speck on the horizon. Still the young man's pace never slowed, even as he approached the foot hills. Mount Tabor loomed against the edge of the world. Joseph shrugged and turned toward his shop. Someone had to finish Levi ben Jacob’s table.

About a week later, the merchant Mordecai stopped by Joseph’s shop with an order for a cedar wood chest. Mordecai told Joseph that on his business travels to Caperneum, Magdala, and Tiberius he stopped by the Jordan to watch this fellow John who baptizing men in the river.

“I’m always up for a little entertainment,” he chuckled, “especially by those river preachers. They are something to watch – all that shouting and holy fervor.” Then he spied a man walking out of the Galilean hills. This man came to where John was baptizing in the Jordan. Mordecai asked who it was, covered with dust yet eyes brightly shining. Jesus of Nazareth, some one told him.

“That’s your boy, isn’t it?” he asked Joseph. Joseph nodded yes, while thinking that the closest point on the Jordan River was thirty miles from where he lived. That’s if Jesus had traveled in a straight line, which Joseph’s carpenter’s eye said he had been doing. There were no roads that led directly to from the Jordan to Nazareth. Not that the young man seemed to need any. It appeared that he was comfortable with the dirt, rocks, trees and mountains and they with him.

Perhaps it was singing I heard, thought Joseph, while Mordecai rambled on. Even though I am just a simple carpenter, I know there is more to this life than what most people see. I witness it every time I take a piece of wood and try to shape it. If I work with it, and let it become what it wants to be the results are beautiful. If I force it to become the way I think it should be, it looks that way. Perhaps the boy, I mean the man, had a similar connection with rocks, dirt, mountains, and grass that I had with trees.

Joseph was brought back to the conversation when Mordecai startled him with the announcement that Jesus had John baptize him. And that a dove descended from heaven and a voice was heard proclaiming “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

“It wasn’t your voice I heard,” said Mordecai.

“No,” Joseph replied, “I’m sure it wasn’t.” And he remembered other times when the boy had done remarkable things and other voices had come from heaven. Times of him teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem while a boy of 12 or so. Of angel visitors telling of miraculous births and evil kings. Life had certainly been far from the dull, but satisfying life he though he’d have when he first had apprenticed to be a carpenter.

“Then,” continued Mordecai, “after the voice from the sky, he came up out of the water and started walking into the wilderness on the other side of the Jordan. He just kept on walking. Clothes dripping wet. Not a sack of food or a sleeping bag. I’ll tell you, Joseph, I am worried about that young man.”

“I am, too,” said Joseph, though he wasn’t for the same reason Mordecai was. Jesus wasn’t possessed by demons, like Mordecai thought. Something more powerful had possessed him. God.

Another week passed. Then a month. Then two. Joseph went about his work. His wife, Mary, did, too. She never mentioned the fact that Jesus had just disappeared one day without a word, heading out over the Galilean countryside without so much as a goodbye. She was surprisingly peaceful, though traces of worry etched her brow. Joseph wondered at that, too. How could she not be wondering where her first born had gotten himself off to?

As the second month since Jesus walked out of Nazareth ended, he walked back in, coming back over the same route he traversed when he left. Joseph was hard at work on Mordecai’s chest when a shadow filled the doorway. He looked up, eyes straining through the shops sawdust laden air to see who stood silhouetted against the sunlight.

“Hello, Joseph,” Jesus said. Not “Hello, Father.” Joseph knew something had changed.

“Come in, son, come in,” Joseph called to him, and hugged him to him. “I’ve missed you. Where have you been?”

“I have been to the mountain,” Jesus said, “and the riverside and the wilderness.” And Jesus went on to tell Joseph about his baptism, the dove and voice, and spending forty days being tempted by Satan in the desert.

“My only attendants were wild animals and angels,” Jesus chuckled. “I’m not sure which I was more afraid of.”

It had obviously been a harrowing, life and soul changing time, Joseph thought. The caring, sensitive lad he had known was still there in the man standing before him, but there was steel and fire to him now that had not been present before. Jesus told him what had happened during those forty days and nights and while it sounded incredulous, like the ravings of the demoniac Legion who lived in the tombs overlooking the Sea of Galilee, they were clearly not the tales of a madman. They had the ring of truth. A life changing truth. For both he who spoke the words and those who heard them.

“What now, son?” Joseph asked, as Jesus ended his story.

“I have new work to do,” replied Jesus, softly, but firmly. “The kingdom of God is at hand. It is time sound repentance and good news throughout the land. The time is fulfilled.”

“Yes, I supposed it is,” though Joseph. And what a time it will be, he thought. I hope I am ready for it. I hope you are ready for it. I hope the world is ready for it.

The time is fulfilled.

-- Brent

Sunday, March 04, 2012

A Hymn for Henryville -- And Other Tornado Wracked Towns

This morning at Meeting for Worship at West Newton Friends Meeting, Sylvia Graves passed around lyrics to a song she invited us to sing for those in Henryville and other storm wreaked cities. The hymn was written by Gareth Hill is a British Methodist pastor and hymn writer. He composed this hymn reflecting on the aftermath of the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami that resulted in more than 100,000 deaths in southern and southeastern Asia, Indonesia, and Africa. Sylvia adapted a few of the lyrics to fit our Henryville neighbors' situation.

I offer it as a hymn and prayer for all of those wounded by storms -- external and internal.

The words are sung to the tune of "The Church's One Foundation."

When innocence is fractured by nature’s shifting force,

And paradise is ruptured as life is swept off course.

We come to pray our questions, we come to share our grief;

In this, our act of worship, to say that we believe.

As headlines overwhelm us and make us close our minds;

As news from distant neighbors brings death before our eyes.

We seek a hope to cling to, a refuge to embrace;

Lest in the grip of knowing, we lose our hold on grace.

How dare we speak of Heaven made human for our sakes,

Or preach a loving Father when storms our faith does shake?

We dare because our story speaks of a love that came

To bear the cost of dying and still would do the same.

In Christ our souls take refuge, though not to hide from truth:

We face each anguished question with faith, if not with proof.

We hear his wistful question: “And will you leave me too?”

Though all the world should crumble, We hope, O Christ, in you.

Gareth Hill © GraceNotes Music Copyright © 2005 GraceNotes Music. Published by The United Methodist General Board of Discipleship, PO Box 340003, Nashville TN 37203-0003. Telephone 615-340-7070. Website