Monday, October 29, 2012

"Bedtime" by Levertov


We are a meadow where the bees hum,
mind and body are almost one

as the fire snaps in the stove
and our eyes close,

and mouth to mouth, the covers
pulled over our shoulders,

we drowse as horses drowse afield,
in accord; though the fall cold

surrounds our warm bed, and though
by day we are singular and often lonely.
"Bedtime" by Denise Levertov from Poems 1960-1967. © New Directions Publishing, 1983. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
From "The Writer's Almanac"

Letting go...

I must let go.
For so long I have held to the habit of holding on.
Even my muscles
Are tense; deeply fearful are they
Of relaxing lest they fall away from their place.
I cling clutchingly to my friends
Lest I lose them.
I live under the shadow of being supplanted by another.
I cling to my money, not so much
By a wise economy and a thoughtful spending
But by a sense of possession that makes me depend upon it for strength.
I must let go--
Deep at the core of me
I must have a sense of freedom -
A sure awareness of detachment - of relaxation.
I must let go of everything.
I must let go of pride. But--
What am I saying? Is there not a sense of pride
That supports and sustains all achievement,
Even the essential dignity of my own personality?
It may be that I must let go
My dependence upon triumphing over my fellows, which seems
To give me a sense of security in their midst.
I cringe from my pain; I do not relish
The struggle of life but I do not want to let go
Because the hurt and the tension of contest feed
The springs of my pride. They make me deeply aware.
But I must let go of everything.
I must let go of everything but God.
But God--May it not be
That God is in all the things to which I cling?
That may be the hidden reason for my clinging.
It is all very puzzling indeed. When I say
"I must let go of everything but God"
What is my meaning?
I must relax my hold on everything that dulls my sense of Him,
That comes between me and the inner awareness of His Presence
Pervading my life and glorifying
All the common ways with wonderful wonder.
"Teach me, O God, how to free myself of dearest possessions,
So that in my trust I shall find restored to me
All I need to walk in Thy path and to fulfill Thy will.
Let me know Thee for myself that I may not be satisfied
With aught that is less."
Howard Thurman
Source: Deep Is the Hunger

Friday, October 26, 2012

Quakers and Money -- The Evil Offering Plate

I was reading "Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts" and came across this passage which made me thing of the recent discussions I've heard and articles I've read (primarily in Friends Journal, see especially Merry Stanford's excellent "The Ministry of Giving Money") about Friends and money. 

Baskets in the back of the room don't cut it. They send the wrong message to the person looking for a serious place to their[sic] money. Baskets in the rear scream, "The way we handle money isn't important." Putting baskets in the back doesn't teach people how to handle their money. If you want serious givers to give ... take an offering; and don't use baskets in the back of the room.

Hmmm, baskets in the back of the room -- sounds like many Friends meetings I know.

-- Brent

Christ Visible

Christ Visible


A mouse and a frog meet every morning on the river bank.
They sit on the ground and talk.

Each morning, the second they see each other,
they open easily, telling stories and dreams and secrets,
empty of any fear or suspicious holding back.

To watch and listen to those two
is to understand how, as it's written,
sometimes when two beings come together,
Christ becomes visible.

Source: The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Preacher

The Preacher

When times were hard, no work on the railroad, no work down on the farm, some
of my ancestors took to preaching. It was not so much of what was said as the way
in which it was said. "The horn shall sound and the dog will bark and though you
be on the highest mountain or down in the deepest valley when the darkness comes
then you will lie down, and as the day follows the night you will surely rise again.
The Lord our God hath made both heaven and earth. Oh, my dear brothers and
sisters we know so well the ways of this world, think then what heaven must be
like." It required a certain presence, a certain authority. The preacher was treated
with respect and kept at a bit of a distance, like a rattler. There wasn't much money
in it but it was good for maybe a dozen eggs or a chicken dinner now and then.

"The Preacher" by Louis Jenkins, from Before You Know It. © Will O' the Wisp Books, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

I read this poem today on "The Writer's Almanac" and was struck by memories of how we, when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, treated our "preachers" and thoughts of how those called to public ministry of Word and Sacrament are treated today. I also recalled a "conversation" between two preacher-types in John Updike's Rabbit Run.

“Do you think,” Kruppenbach at last interrupts, “do you think this is your job, to meddle in these people’s lives? I know what they teach you at seminary now: the psychology and that. But I don’t agree with it. You think now your job is to be an unpaid doctor, to run around and plug up the holes and make everything smooth. I don’t think that. I don’t think that’s your job.”

Now it seems for many of us, the "preacher" is our friend, confidant, golfing buddy -- no longer "kept at a bit of a distance, like a rattler."  She "plugs up the holes and makes everything smooth;" he makes as much money as us and buys his own dozen eggs and chicken dinners.
Now this is certainly more in keeping with my Quaker-ish understanding that there should be no clergy -- all Christians are called to ministry, after all.  But, even in my Friend-ly experience, there are people I recognize as possessing "a certain presence, a certain authority."  And while I long to be spiritual friends with them, I still approach them with a certain respect and distance. 
And reading Jenkins' poem and Kruppenbach's preaching (if you have a chance, read the whole section) to his younger counterpart, I began musing if this super-friendly connection with our preachers (clergy or not) has also trickled down to our relationship with the Divine.  In the same way we no longer keep our preachers at a distance and now embrace them to our hearts, thereby robbing the position of a certain bit of presence, authority, and ... dare I say it? ... danger, has that filtered down into our relationship with God.  A bit too friendly and not quite wary -- as in a rattler -- enough?
I certainly preach (when invited or called to speak) of our God of love -- the One who Loves us more than we can imagine.  But I still find encounters with the Divine mysterious, awesome -- and more than a bit dangerous at times.
I don't long for a return to the days of either Kruppenbach or the preachers in the poem. At least so far as how they were treated.  Still, a bit of respect might not hurt -- and might help us, who so easily gaze upon the God we feel comfortable with and do not die (Exodus 33:20), step a bit more carefully into that eternal "Certain Presence, Certain Authority."
-- Brent 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Quakers and ... um... the "E" Word

I must admit I feel just delighted to be in my new position as coordinator of Friends General Conference's New Meetings Project.  The projects goals are something I believe in and have written about for a number of years -- most recently on posts here and some other blogs.

As part of this position, I've been doing a lot of reading and research.  And I'll be sharing that reading and research here and (hopefully!) elsewhere.  On my shelf (in place of my usual stack of novels and short-story collections) are titles such as Planting Missional Churches, The House Church Book, Organic Church,  Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts and more.  Many of these have at least some information helpful to Friends -- especially if we're willing to wade past some assumptions (you can decide what they are) and look for the nuggets that are helpful.

While I do think that a Quaker model of starting new congregations and/or worship groups will vary in methodology and practice from most other denominational models (I mean, if we want to be true to our Friend-ly roots and theological understandings of congregations as being comprised of people of faith called and led by the Spirit to do God's work together and not organized and/or presided over by ordained clergy*), there are some things we can learn from others' efforts.  And one struck me this evening whilst reading Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by by New Church Starts.  The authors say:
Our experience has confirmed that over 80 percent of those who visit a church and return to that church and gradually become enfolded into that faith community do so on the elbow already connected to that church.  So work on making your your church the most loving and inviting place in the area so when people do show up they are loved.

Hmmmm.  Two thoughts occur to me.  If 80% of those who visit, return, and become involved do so because someone has brought/invited them, then perhaps we had best shed a bit of our Quaker reticence to let others know that we are Friends, and friendly, and would welcome them.  Yikes! Invite a friend to Friends?  Well, yes.  In a Friend-ly sorta way, of course -- a mere invitation would suffice.  Either personally ("Um... err... I'm a Quaker.  You wouldn't want to come to Meeting me with me, would you?" probably isn't the best approach, though) or corporately through Facebook or Google ads or the like.

The second is that "loving and inviting" line.  What I noticed when I read that is the lack of of specific theological position mandate.  Evangelical.  Liberal. Programmed.  Unprogammed. Middle of the road.  Nope, the theological mandate is love.  Reminds me of something I read in a certain pretty important book -- "the greatest of these is love." 

Loving, inviting Meetings, filled with people of Spirit.  Perhaps that's a sort of Quaker E- E- E- En-vitation we can embrace.

-- Brent

"... changed, a little."

Sojourns in the Parallel World

We live our lives of human passions,
cruelties, dreams, concepts,
crimes and the exercise of virtue
in and beside a world devoid
of our preoccupations, free
from apprehension—though affected,
certainly, by our actions. A world
parallel to our own though overlapping.
We call it 'Nature: only reluctantly
admitting ourselves to be 'Nature' too.
Whenever we lose track of our own obsessions,
our self-concerns, because we drift for a minute,
an hour even, of pure (almost pure)
response to that insouciant life:
cloud, bird, fox, the flow of light, the dancing
pilgrimage of water, vast stillness
of spellbound ephemerae on a lit windowpane,
animal voices, mineral hum, wind
conversing with rain, ocean with rock, stuttering
of fire to coal—then something tethered
in us, hobbled like a donkey on its patch
of gnawed grass and thistles, breaks free.
No one discovers
just where we've been, when we're caught up again
into our own sphere (where we must
return, indeed, to evolve our destinies)
—but we have changed, a little.

"Sojourns in the Parallel World" by Denise Levertov from Sands of the Well. © New Directions Books, 1994. Reprinted with permission of the author. (buy now)
From "The Writer's Almanac"

Sunday, October 21, 2012


A poem by my friend Julie Cadwallader-Staub -- as featured on the Writer's Alamanc.


This is as far as the light
of my understanding
has carried me:
an October morning
a canoe built by hand
a quiet current

above me the trees arc
green and golden
against a cloudy sky

below me the river responds
with perfect reflection
a hundred feet deep
a hundred feet high.

To take a cup of this river
to drink its purple and gray
its golden and green

to see
a bend in the river up ahead
and still

"Midlife" by Julie Cadwallader-Staub. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"In Heaven it is Always Autumn"

In Heaven It Is Always Autumn

"In Heaven It Is Always Autumn"
John Donne

In heaven it is always autumn. The leaves are always near
to falling there but never fall, and pairs of souls out walking
heaven's paths no longer feel the weight of years upon them.
Safe in heaven's calm, they take each other's arm,
the light shining through them, all joy and terror gone.
But we are far from heaven here, in a garden ragged and unkept
as Eden would be with the walls knocked down,
the paths littered
with the unswept leaves of many years, bright keepsakes
for children of the Fall. The light is gold, the sun pulling
the long shadow soul out of each thing, disclosing an outcome.
The last roses of the year nod their frail heads,
like listeners listening to all that's said, to ask,
What brought us here? What seed? What rain? What light?
What forced us upward through dark earth? What made us bloom?
What wind shall take us soon, sweeping the garden bare?

Their voiceless voices hang there, as ours might,
if we were roses, too. Their beds are blanketed with leaves,
tended by an absent gardener whose life is elsewhere.
It is the last of many last days. Is it enough?
To rest in this moment? To turn our faces to the sun?
To watch the lineaments of a world passing?
To feel the metal of a black iron chair, cool and eternal,
press against our skin? To apprehend a chill as clouds
pass overhead, turning us to shivering shade and shadow?
And then to be restored, small miracle, the sun
shining brightly
as before? We go on, you leading the way, a figure
leaning on a cane that leaves its mark on the earth.
My friend, you have led me farther than I have ever been.
To a garden in autumn. To a heaven of impermanence
where the final falling off is slow, a slow and radiant happening.
The light is gold. And while we're here, I think it must
be heaven.

"In Heaven It Is Always Autumn" by Elizabeth Spires, from Now the Green Blade Rises. © W.W. Norton, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
From "The Writer's Almanac"

Friday, October 19, 2012

"we are alive/ with one another..."

A Prayer among Friends

Among other wonders of our lives, we are alive
with one another, we walk here
in the light of this unlikely world
that isn't ours for long.
May we spend generously
the time we are given.
May we enact our responsibilities
as thoroughly as we enjoy
our pleasures. May we see with clarity,
may we seek a vision
that serves all beings, may we honor
the mystery surpassing our sight,
and may we hold in our hands
the gift of good work
and bear it forth whole, as we
were borne forth by a power we praise
to this one Earth, this homeland of all we love.

"A Prayer among Friends" by John Daniel, from Of Earth. © Lost Horse Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
From "The Writer's Almanac"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Trees" -- A Poetic Complaint Filed with the Creator

Another in the series "Fifty Acres and Fool"

I think that I shall never see
A thing so evil as a tree
That reaches out of time and space
To smack me right across the face
No matter how low I lean and duck
I always find that I've been struck
By locust trees with wicked barbs
Or oaks and maples that mean me harm.
"Why?" is the question that I ask
When all I'm doing is mowing grass
Or thistles or pokeberry growing fast.
To the many trees I mean no ill
So why do they endeavor to spill
Me from the John Deere's seat
Or turn m'nose and cheek into raw meat?
Oh dear Creator reigning up above
Who embues his creation with all sorts of love
Couldst thou please speak to thy trees
And ask them to give me some ease
Quit battering me from head to toes
As I mow along the grassy rows
To give me some grace as I pass
Lest they feel my chainsaw's wrath!

-- with apologies to Joyce Kilmer, but not to the trees.

I am bloodied but not bowed and will sally forth to mow again this afternoon!

Or to post more pictures of the offenders.

"Back From the Fields"

Back from the Fields

Until nightfall my son ran in the fields,
looking for God knows what.
Flowers, perhaps. Odd birds on the wing.
Something to fill an empty spot.
Maybe a luminous angel
or a country girl with a secret dark.
He came back empty-handed,
or so I thought.

Now I find them:
thistles, goatheads,
the barbed weeds
all those with hooks or horns
the snaggle-toothed, the grinning ones
those wearing lantern jaws,
old ones in beards, leapers
in silk leggings, the multiple
pocked moons and spiny satellites, all those
with juices and saps
like the fingers of thieves
nation after nation of grasses
that dig in, that burrow, that hug winds
and grab handholds
in whatever lean place.

It's been a good day.

"Back from the Fields" by Peter Everwine, from The Meadow: Selected and New Poems. © University of Pittsburg Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
From "The Writer's Almanac"

Monday, October 15, 2012

"...the Holy Ghost over the bent World..."

God's Grandeur

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

 The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared
with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell:
the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah!
bright wings.

"World, World, I cannot get thee close enough..."

God's World

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!
Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart. Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year.
My soul is all but out of me, let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

"There is joy ... in the towel..."

Welcome Morning

Anne Sexton

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry "hello there, Anne"
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard,
dies young.

Source: Dancing With Joy edited by Roger Housden

Friday, October 12, 2012

Autumn Poem...

Does Fall Go Back?
Luci Shaw

Does Fall go back as far as Eden? Did the
Lord God say, "Good" to a beech leaf
bleached back to its primary yellow? Did
Eve dance, entranced, when the first
leaves on the first oak turned red as wine
and loosed themselves? Did Adam rake
the ground clean and burn the leaves
after his other Garden work?

Source: Unknown

Thursday, October 11, 2012

"I'm Just Sayin... Bless Their Hearts"

Bless Their Hearts

At Steak 'n Shake I learned that if you add
"Bless their hearts" after their names, you can say
whatever you want about them and it's OK.
My son, bless his heart, is an idiot,
she said. He rents storage space for his kids'
toys—they're only one and three years old!
I said, my father, bless his heart, has turned
into a sentimental old fool. He gets
weepy when he hears my daughter's greeting
on our voice mail
. Before our Steakburgers came
someone else blessed her office mate's heart,
then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts
of the entire anthropology department.
We bestowed blessings on many a heart
that day. I even blessed my ex-wife's heart.
Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting
much tip, for which, no doubt, he'd bless our hearts.
In a week it would be Thanksgiving,
and we would each sit with our respective
families, counting our blessings and blessing
the hearts of family members as only family
does best. Oh, bless us all, yes, bless us, please
bless us and bless our crummy little hearts.

"Bless Their Hearts" by Richard Newman, from Domestic Fugues. © Steel Toe Books, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
From "The Writer's Almanac"

Monday, October 08, 2012

In Honor of Columbus Day

Columbus sailed the ocean blue...

Columbus sailed the ocean blue
Back in 1492.
He sailed across and spotted land,
A beach, and people on the sand.

He called them Indians because
He had no idea where he was,
India was just a guess.
When in doubt, declare success.

"Columbus sailed the ocean blue..." by Ramon Montaigne. Reprinted with permission of the author.
From "The Writer's Almanac"

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Worship Group Research

As part of the work of the New Meetings Project, I am compiling a list of recently formed meetings and worship groups. Once the list is developed, I’ll be in contact with them so we can learn from their experience. It would be really helpful to this learning opportunity if you could send me the names of any meetings or worship groups that you know that have been founded in the past ten years. Contact information for the group would really be helpful, too. You can post it here or send it to me at