Monday, December 22, 2014

"Holy Silence" is Book 22 of 25 days of Advent


My friend David Lott (one of the best editors and thinkers I know) has been posting a book a day for his 25 Days of Advent. He's listed some wonderful books and authors (Arthur Paul Boers, Diana Butler Bass). So it was a wonderful surprise yesterday to find that he had posted this:

25 Books of Advent, Day 22, Brent Bill, "Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality" (Paraclete, 2005).

It's tempting to call Brent Bill the best thinker on Quaker spirituality of our time, but why limit him that way? He's simply one of our finest contemporary writers on spirituality, period. While this is not his first book, it is certainly the one that most firmly set him on his current path of writing thoughtful, engaging books on the spiritual life--one that is all the more deep and authentic because he really does live it himself, immersed in the Friends community. Start here, and you'll find yourself not just appreciating his tradition, but wanting more of what's emerged from his warm, generous, creative spirit. ‪#‎25BooksofAdvent‬


High praise from someone I really admire.  I am humbled.  Though still enough of a promoter to suggest it would make a wonderful last minute  Christmas gift.

Now I'll be wholly silent.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "Christmas Tunes"

Here's are some Christmas-time tunes for my "hymnal" project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. The follow list is from my friend Ray Tetz, who took me up on my request for "hymns" that matter...

The whole "hymnal" is on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

1. “I Watch You Sleeping” by Frances Ruffelle
by Mike Batt
John Denver recorded it in the 1970s, but Frances Ruffelle turned it into a Christmas Carol.


"I Watch You Sleeping"

I watch you sleeping, little angel face.
And on behalf of the human race, welcome to this crazy place.
I watch you sleeping, innocent and free.
I don't know what your dreams may be. You don't know what you mean to me.

You have never heard thunder, you have never seen the rain.
But you can still feel the wonder, you can still feel the pain.
And sometimes you look at me, so wise and so sure,
I could easily believe you have been here before.

I watch you sleeping, little angel face.
And on behalf of the human race, welcome to this crazy place.
I won't be here forever, but as long as I'm around, I promise you I will never let you down.
To help make a world you can feel worthy of, I will teach you to fly on the wings of my love.

I watch you sleeping, brave and unaware. You don't know yet so you don't care.
I want you to know it's hard out there.

I watch you sleeping, little angel face.
And on behalf of the human race, welcome to this crazy place.
I watch you sleeping, I watch you sleeping, I watch you sleeping,
I watch you sleeping, I watch you sleeping, I watch you sleeping.

2. “The Star Carol” by Simon & Garfunkel
by Wihla Hutson & Alfred S. Burt
My old college roommate did the best version of this song I every heard, but I’ll settle for Simon & Garfunkel.

"Star Carol"

Long years ago, on a deep winter night.
High in the heavens, a star shone bright.
While in the manger, a wee baby lay.
Sweetly asleep, on a bed of hay.

Jesus our lord, was that baby so small.
Lay down to sleep, in a humble stall.
Then came the star, and it stood over head.
Shedding its light, 'round his little head.

Dear baby Jesus, how tiny thou art.
I'll make a place, for thee in my heart.
And when the stars, in the heavens I see.
Ever and always, I'd think of thee...

3. “Star of Wonder” The Roches
by Terry Roche
The Roches did a terrific album of Christmas music called “We Three Kings.” The title song is quite wonderful, but this is the standout.


For the lyrics (and musical score and note from Terry Roche) click here

4. “Corn Water and Wood” by Riders in the Sky
by Wendy Waldman and Carol Elliot
Cowboy music is one of my guilty pleasures.


5. "Long Way Around the Sea” by Low
by Al Sparhawk, Al, Mimi Parkern and Zachary Micheletti
Just a sweet song.

"Long Way Around the Sea:

We've come so far
We've followed the star
Herod heard
Said "bring me word"
Take the long way around the sea

Here for us
A humble birth
The son of God
Descends to earth
Take the long way around the sea

On Christmas day
On bended knee
Please accept
The gifts we bring
Take the long way around the sea
Take the long way around the sea

We turn to go
An angel shone
Said, "don't go back
To Herod's throne"
Take the long way around the sea
Take the long way around the sea

Take the long way around the sea
Take the long way around the sea

6. “Put the Lights On the Tree,” Sufjan Stevens
by Sufjan Stevens
At our house it wouldn’t be Christmas without Sufjan.

"Put The Lights On The Tree"

Put the lights on the tree
(Put them on the tree)

Put the ribbon on the wreath
(Put it on the wreath)

Call your grandma on the phone
(Call her on the phone)

If she's living all alone
(If she's all alone)

Tell her Jesus Christ is here
(Tell her He is here)

Tell her she has none to fear
(There is none to fear)

If she's crying on the phone
(Crying on the phone)

Tell her you are coming home
(You are coming home)

La la la la la la la

Blessings at Christmas— Ray and Brent

Friday, December 12, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "The Rebel Jesus"

Here's a little Christmas-time tune for my "hymnal" project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. The whole "hymnal" is on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se, though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and so when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional. Just as we are unintentional (often) saints -- and imperfect ones.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video  here.

Today's hymn is  The Chieftains – The Rebel Jesus

“The Rebel Jesus,” by Jackson Browne

All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
While the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
Giving thanks for God’s graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

Well they call him by ‘the Prince of Peace’
And they call him by ‘the Savior’
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
And they fill his churches with their pride and gold
As their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worship in
From a temple to a robber’s den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

Well we guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

Now pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgment
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In a life of hardship and of earthly toil
There’s a need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus


Jackson Browne's website is http://www.jacksonbrowne.com/home/

Friday, December 05, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "Seven Angels"

I have stumbled a bit on my "hymnal" project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints." But I'm doing better at adding a "hymn" regularly.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

Today's hymn is  Hem – Seven Angels

"Seven Angels"

Sleep come easy to your bed this night
Seven angels hold you in their light

One holds a candle.
One holds a crown.
One holds the moonlight shining down.

Dream of fortune in the world below -
Seven angels in the afterglow.

One holds the lantern deep in the mine.
One holds the daylight left behind.

One holds the lightning flashing then gone.
One holds the sun waiting 'til dawn.

by Dan Messe & Steve Curtis (from the album "Departure and Farewell")


Hem's website is http://www.hemmusic.com/


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "Every Flower"

I have stumbled on my "hymnal" project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints." But I'll do better.  I'll get back to adding a "hymn" regularly.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

Today's hymn is  Noel Paul Stookey – Every Flower

"Every Flower"

Every flower's reaching for the sun
Every petal opens when the day has just begun
Even in the city where they grow up through the street
Every blossom needs the sunshine to makes its life complete.
Some are torn out by the roots and cast aside
And some might be arranged and brought inside
A flower's just a seed when it's young
And every flower's reaching for the sun.

Some are bent by fears they cannot see
And some are touched by Love and set free
A flower's just a seed when it's young
And every flower's reaching
Oh every flower's reaching
Every flower's reaching for the sun.

Noel Stookey, Bob Milstein and Peter Yarrow
©1979 Public Domain Foundation, Inc.



Thursday, November 27, 2014

"Let us give thanks for a bounty of people..."

I love this thanksgiving poem. It expresses my thoughts better than I am able. It’s by Max Coots and says:

Let us give thanks for a bounty of people.
For children who are our second planting, and, though they grow like weeds and wind too soon blows them away, may they forgive us our cultivation and fondly remember where their roots are.
Let us give thanks; For generous friends ... with hearts ... and smiles as bright as their blossoms;
For feisty friends as tart as apples;
For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we've had them;
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;
For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the others, as plain as potatoes and as good for you;
For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;
For friends as unpretentious as cabbage, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you throughout the winter;
For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;
For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts, and witherings;
And, finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, and who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;
For all these we give thanks.



Let us give thanks, this holiday time, for golden light, good friends, and God’s graciousness. May we open our eyes to jubilant fields and singing trees. Soaring clouds, be they white or gray with rain. Winds warm or chilled by the north. People who are made in God’s own image. Let us give thanks and “sing for joy before the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "I'm Not Alone"

I have a started a project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

Today's hymn is  Michael Franti – I Know I'm Not Alone

Thanks to my friend David Austin (@DaveAustin58 ) for this suggestion.

"I Know I'm Not Alone"

Whatever happened to the sun
It seems to always come
Back when we were young
We'd sing and party all night long
The season don't ever come on time no more
War paints over the years
And anger fills our tears
What happened to the sun

But I know, I know, I know I'm not alone
But I know, I know, I know I'm not alone

Everytime I read the news
I'm always more confused
Tellin' me to choose
But there's only lies to choose from
And how many died today
How many lost their homes or shot a gun
Or a loved one
What happen to our sons

But I know, I know, I know I'm not alone
And I know, I know, I know I'm not alone

I know I'm far away from home but I know I'm not alone
I know I'm far away from home but I know I'm not alone


Michael Franti & Spearhead's website is at https://www.michaelfranti.com/home

Friday, October 31, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "Mercyland"


I have a started a project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

Today's hymn is  Phil Madeira – Mercyland


Phil Madeira's website is http://philmadeira.net/

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "The UnAmerican"

I have a started a project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

Today's hymn is  Matt Morris – The Un-American

"The Un-American"

The un-American
Needs a personal Jesus
Private insurance
An obedient wife
The un-American
Should really stop complaining
He oughta take a trip to Disney
Get his head on right
Buy a new buy a new buy a new buy a new
It'll be alright
Buy a new buy a new buy a new
That should fix the un-American
A threat to security
Feeding on literature
From a socialist state
The un-American
It really breaks my heart
To see a promising citizen deviate
Buy a new buy a new buy a new buy a new
It'll be alright
Buy a new buy a new buy a new buy a new buy a new buy a new buy
That should fix the un-American
Oh
Oh
Oh
Oh oh
The un-American
Could be your own neighbor
He could be talking to your children
Sleeping with your wife
Oh what if you're the un-American
Oh what if you're the un-American
Oh what if you're the un-American
Oh if you're the un-American
Oh
Buy a new buy a new buy a new buy a new
It'll be alright
Buy a new buy a new
And it'll be alright
Be alright


Matt Morris' website is at http://mattmorris.net/

Monday, October 27, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "A Better Way"

I have a started a project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

Today's hymn is Spencer Day – Better Way

Too many people seeking power and fame
Steppin on anyone that gets in the way
And I dont know how they want to play that game
But I wanna find a better way

Too many people livin on the street
Too many people taking more than they need
Dont wanna complain about society
I just wanna find a better way

Refrain:
(Coz) this is a time for an evolution
This is a time for a compromise
And I know it hurts to grow
But the status quo, oh

You know it always comes with a price
Im talkin bout change in the way we re livin
Im talkin bout more than the left to right
We gotta comprehend, it s not us or them
Its the human race tryin to survive

Too many people waging holy jihads
Too many killin in the name of a god
Too many people tryin to do his job
And we gotta find a better way

Too many soldiers marchin off to war
Too many nations tryin to settle a score
When every battle only leads to more
We gotta find a better way

Repeat Refrain

Chorus:
Ohhh, we re gonna find a better way
I know we re gonna find a better way
And I know you heard it before but Ill say it once more
Coz we re gonna find a better way

Instrumental
Repeat Refrain
Repeat Chorus

Fade:
(We re going to find a better way)
(We re gonna find a better way)


Spencer Day's website is http://spencerday.com/


Friday, October 24, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "City of Immigrants"

I have a started a project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

Today's hymn is  Steve Earle – City Of Immigrants [With Forro In The Dark] (reminds me to see that of God in everyone, as we Quakers say).

"City Of Immigrants"

Livin' in a city of immigrants
I don't need to go travelin'
Open my door and the world walks in
Livin' in a city of immigrants
Livin' in a city that never sleeps
My heart keepin' time to a thousand beats
Singin' in languages I don't speak
Livin' in a city of immigrants

City of black
City of white
City of light
City of innocents
City of sweat
City of tears
City of prayers
City of immigrants

Livin' in a city where the dreams of men
Reach up to touch the sky and then
Tumble back down to earth again
Livin' in a city that never quits
Livin' in a city where the streets are paved
With good intentions and a people's faith
In the sacred promise a statue made
Livin' in a city of immigrants

City of stone
City of steel
City of wheels
Constantly spinnin'
City of bone
City of skin
City of pain
City of immigrants

All of us are immigrants
Every daughter, every son
Everyone is everyone
All of us are immigrants - everyone
Livin' in a city of immigrants
River flows out and the sea rolls in
Washin' away nearly all of my sins
Livin' in a city of immigrants

City of black
City of white
City of light
Livin' in a city of immigrants
City of sweat
City of tears
City of prayers
Livin' in a city of immigrants

City of stone
City of steel
City of wheels
Livin' in a city of immigrants

City of bone
City of skin
City of pain
City of immigrants
All of us are immigrants


Steve Earle's website is http://steveearle.com/

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "If Only Avenue"

I have a started a project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

Today's hymn is  Ron Sexsmith – If Only Avenue

With the luxury of hindsight
The past becomes so clear
As I look out on the twilight
My days have become years
It's strange, as people we're prone to dwell
On things that we can't undo
And we're liable to wander down
If Only Avenue

In the company of distance
We see where it all went wrong
And we know what we'd do different
Should the chance come along
But change is easier said than done
It's a difficult thing to do and soon
You'll be taking the next right on
If Only Avenue

If only
You hadn't used up all your excuses
Now there's nobody else to blame
And that's when they call your name

"It's down at the end of lonely street"
Neath a moon that keeps shining blue
And we live with our thoughts alone
If Only Avenue
Oh why have I wandered down
If Only Avenue


Ron Sexsmith's website is http://www.ronsexsmith.com/

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"...I ate crostatas for breakfast...": Poem


Crostatas by Charlie Smith

in rome I got down among the weeds and tiny perfumed
flowers like eyeballs dabbed in blood and the big ruins
said do it my way pal while starlings
kept offering show biz solutions and well the vatican
pursued its interests the palm trees like singular affidavits
the wind succinct and the mountains painted blue
just before dawn accelerated at the last point
of departure before the big illuminated structures
dug up from the basement got going and I ate crostatas
for breakfast and on the terrace chatted
with the clay-faced old man next door and said I was
after a woman who’d left me years ago and he said lord aren’t we all.


Most Recent Book by Smith
Jump Soul: New and Selected Poems
(W. W. Norton, 2014)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "Good Light"

I have a started a project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

Today's hymn is  Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors – Good Light

Wasting time and wasting money,
you've been acting like a fool.
You spend your whole life fighting for a guarantee,
when all you really need is a friend.

Hey, there's a good light, shining in you. There's a magic in your eyes.
Hey, there's a good light, shining through, and I need it tonight.

You've been looking for rhyme and reason.
The confusion is dragging you down.
You got lost in the chaos.
You got lost in the ashes and dust.
What you needed was someone to trust.

Hey, there's a good light, shining in you. There's a magic in your eyes.
Hey, there's a good light, shining through, and I need it tonight.

We're all stumbling through the darkness.
No one can stay there and still make it through.

Hey, there's a good light, shining in you. There's a magic in your eyes.
Hey, there's a good light, shining through, and I need it tonight.


Drew Holcomb's website is http://www.drewholcomb.com/

Friday, October 17, 2014

Six Cheerful Couplets on Death: Poem


Six Cheerful Couplets on Death
by Michael Blumenthal


Most things won't happen, Larkin said,
But this one will: We will be dead.

The saddest thing, in each context,
Is knowing that we could be next.

Some take the bus, some take the train,
Some die in sleep, the rest in pain

But of one thing we can be sure:
All die imperfect, each impure

Some wishing that they had been better,
Others worse, but no one deader.

Shoes left, like Buddhists, at the door:
Those won't be needed anymore.

"Six Cheerful Couplets on Death" by Michael Blumenthal, from No Hurry: Poems 2000-2012. © Etruscan Press, 2012. From the Writers Almanac. (buy now)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

...a prayer utters itself...


Prayer by Carol Ann Duffy


Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer—
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

"Prayer" by Carol Ann Duffy, from Mean Time. © Anvil Press, 1993. (buy now)

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "With God on Our Side"

I have a started a project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

Today's hymn is  Buddy Miller – With God On Our Side (Buddy's cover of Bob Dylan's song)

Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that the land that I live in
Has God on its side

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side

Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
l’s made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side

Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side

I’ve learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war starts
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we’re forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side

Through many dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side

So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war
Copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music


Buddy Miller's website is http://buddymiller.com/

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "Lakes of Canada"

Innocence Mission
I have a started a project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

Today's hymn is  Karen Peris – Lakes Of Canada (The Innocence Mission)

Lakes of Canada

Look for me another day.
I feel that I could change,
I feel that I could change.
There's a sudden joy that's like
a fish, a moving light;
I thought I saw it
rowing on the lakes of Canada

Oh laughing man, what have you won?
Don't tell me what cannot be done.
My little mouth, my winter lungs,
don't tell me what can't be done.

Walking in the circle of a flashlight
someone starts to sing, to join in.
Talk of loneliness in quiet voices.
I am shy but you can reach me.
Rowing on the lakes of Canada,
rowing on the lakes of Canada.

Oh laughing man, what have you won?
Don't tell me what cannot be done.
My little mouth, my winter lungs,
don't tell me what can't be done.

Look for me another time
Give me another day
I feel that I could change

Rowing on the lakes of Canada


The Innocence Mission's website is http://www.theinnocencemission.com/

Monday, October 13, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God"

I have a started a project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

Today's hymn is Van Morrison's "When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God" (it's not available on Spotify, sorry.

"When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God?"

The sun was setting over Avalon
The last time we stood in the west
Suffering long time angels enraptured by Blake
Burn out the dross innocence captured again

Standing on the beach at sunset all the boats
All the boats keep moving slow
In the glory of the flashing light in the evenings glow

When will I ever learn to live in God?
When will I ever learn?
He gives me everything I need and more
When will I ever learn?

You brought it to my attention everything that was made in God
Down through centuries of great writings and paintings
Everything lives in God
Seen through architecture of great cathedrals
Down through the history of time
Is and was in the beginning and evermore shall be

When will I ever learn to live in God?
When will I ever learn?
He gives me everything I need and more
When will I ever learn?

Whatever it takes to fulfill his mission
That is the way we must go
But you've got to do it your own way
Tear down the old, bring up the new

And up on the hillside its quiet
Where the shepherd is tending his sheep
And over the mountains and the valleys
The countryside is so green
Standing on the highest hill with a sense of wonder
You can see everything is made in God
Head back down the roadside and give thanks for it all

When will I ever learn to live in God?
When will I ever learn?
He gives me everything I need and more
When will I ever learn?


Van Morrison's website is http://www.vanmorrison.com/

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "Hymn"

I have a started a new project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.  

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

For today, since it's Sunday (or Firstday as we ole Quakers say) here's Peter, Paul and Mary – Hymn  I've loved this song since I first heard it (and quickly learned to play it on the guitar) back in the '60s.

"Hymn"

Sunday morning, very bright
I read Your book by colored light
That came in through the pretty window picture

I visited some houses
Where they said that You were living
And they talked a lot about You
And they spoke about Your giving

They passed a basket with some envelopes
I just had time to write a note
And all it said was I believe in You

Passing conversations
Where they mentioned Your existence
And the fact that
You had been replaced by Your assistants

The discussion was theology
And when they smiled and turned to me
All that I could say was I believe in You

I visited Your house again
On Christmas or Thanksgiving
And a balded man said You were dead
But the house would go on living

He recited poetry
And as he saw me stand to leave
He shook his head and said I'd never find You

My mother used to dress me up
And while my dad was sleeping
We would walk down to Your house without speaking


Noel Paul Stookey's website is at http://www.noelpaulstookey.com/
Peter Yarrow's website is at http://peteryarrow.net/

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "Holy Wars and Politicians"

Jan Krist
I have a started a new project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

Up today is  Jan Krist – Holy Wars And Politicians

"Holy Wars And Politicians"

We try to sort through the unthinkable
not get caught up in the undertow
if and when to compromise 
We say we know what the truth is here 
We say we know the other guy 
only uses the word truth to dress a pack of lies. 

 Chorus 
And God’s name gets dragged into the rhetoric 
and claims get made on heaven’s will 
and a thousand sacrificial lambs get killed 
O God may your will be truly done 
on earth as in heaven 
and save us all from Holy wars and politicians. 

Can you hear my heart is beating 
like a screen door in the wind 
There’s a fear that this whole thing 
might somehow come unhinged 
Tsunami to the left of us 
falling sky off to the right 
they say “you gotta put the fear of God in ‘em 
to set the balance right” 

So can you tell me where the truth resides 
with so much spin and so many lies 
And which argument would Jesus buy 
if Jesus wore my shoes? 
I pray for peace, I pray for mercy 
I pray forgiveness for us all 
for it’s the innocent among us 
who are set to take the fall.

Jan Krist's website is located at http://www.jankrist.net/

Our Great Big American God: A Review


I really wanted to like this book. And I did enjoy it... just not as much as I hoped I would.

I loved the premise -- how we 'Mericans have created God in our image -- or some version of what we think God should be like. I was hoping it would be as good as Stephen Prothero's "American Jesus" (which does much of the same sort of thing, with the Americanization of Jesus.)

Turner gives a lot of information and presents it entertainingly and well. I think many people will really like this book and find it informative (especially the chapter about the "invention of the rapture" (my title) given the release of the new "Left Behind" flick). Maybe I've read too much US religious history to have found this a fully satisfying read -- the problem of having a seminary education that focused on church history.

The other reason I didn't love this book was (and this is hard for a professional smart-ass to say) that it was a little too clever at times. Too many snarky/smart remarks/asides. Yeah, like I have room to talk. Especially since I'm writing the "Bad Quaker's Guide to the Good Life" (although the official title is "The Humble Stumble Toward Grace") -- which is tongue firmly in cheek. This book reminded me that wit is good, too snarky is off-putting to many people, and so humor mixed with whimsy is best. I hope I can find that balance in my book.

Do I recommend this book? Yep. Especially for those who want to see just how our culture affects our faith (would that it was vice versa) and how much of America's "old time" religion is just a tad over 100 years old.  It is also helps us ponder whether God has a hard time recognizing Himself (American!) in our cultural mirror.  I suspect God does.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "The Gospel of Carlos, Norman and Smith"

I have a started a new project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video here.

Up today is  Rickie Lee Jones – The Gospel of Carlos, Norman and Smith

Didn’t you hear?
Black is a criminal,
White is a crime,
Poison is the pen
Writing down this children’s nursery rhyme.
Didn’t you see him standing next to me?
The seeds of change have grown,
We don’t have to hide anymore.

Lololololololo, that means trouble from the other side,
Lololololololo, maybe the trouble of a hopeful heart.

It doesn’t take much to see
If you’re looking for an enemy,
Greed and apathy
Spell the letters of our name.
You sit and laugh at other people,
Making money off their shame and sorrow,
Waiting for tomorrow to fix itself.

Lololololololo, that means trouble from the other side,
Lololololololo, maybe the trouble of a hopeful heart.

It’s a dark night to feed a stranger,
I don’t have enough to feed myself.
I keep trying to believe in believing
In something I can’t see
From where I stand,
I pull it with my faith,
With the smile on my face.

It’s gonna take a lot more
Than you might be used to,
Who’s to blame for not standing up for them
When it was not in style?
When hope is the color of a man
The color of love is the color that can
Stand for something.

Lololololololo, that means trouble from the other side,
Lololololololo, may be trouble of a hopeful heart.
Lololololololo, the trouble of a hopeful heart,
A hopeful heart, it could be a hopeful heart.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "A Light in the Window"

I have a started a new project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video here.

Up today is  Carrie Newcomer – A Light in the Window

A Light in the Window 
There is always a light shining in the darkness. 

Looking out at the night 
Beyond the driver’s wheel,
Curving hips made of snow 
In the winter fields.
There’s a house set way back 
Where a lamplight glows,
Like star out in the cold,
Filled with people I'll never know,
Who left a light, 
Left a light in the window.

What would I change if 
The choice were mine? 
I was doing the best 
I knew at the time.
And every door that opened 
And door that closed,
All the things that made me grow,
Sent me off down another road,
Off to search for a light, 
For a light in the window
.
Now what's old has already passed away 
But the new is too new 
to be born today.
So I'm throwing out seeds 
On the winter snow,
As a sharp wind begins to blow,
Standing here on a new threshold,
I can see a light, 
There's a light in the window..

The world is made of stone,
And the world is made of glass.
The world is made of light,
And its moving very fast.

We pass from mystery to mystery 
So I won't lie 
I don't what happens 
When people die.
But I hope I see you walking slow,
Smiling wide as sunrise grows,
I drop my map with a 
thousand folds,
In the distance I see it 
glow,
I can see a light, 
There’s a light in the 
window.

Words and Music By Carrie Newcomer



Carrie Newcomer's website is at http://www.carrienewcomer.com/

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "All My Favorite People are Broken"

I have a started a new project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video here.

Up today is Over The Rhine – All My Favorite People

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
Some prayers are better left unspoken
I just want to hold you and let the rest go

All my friends are part saint and part sinner
We lean on each other, try to rise above
We are not afraid to admit we are all still beginners
We are all late bloomers when it comes to love

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
Awful believers, skeptical dreamers, step forward
You can stay right here, you don't have to go

Is each wound you've received just a burdensome gift
It gets so hard to lift yourself up off the ground
But the poet says we must praise a mutilated world
We're all working the graveyard shift
You might as well sing along

Cause all my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
As for your tender heart, this world's going to rip it wide open,
It aint gonna be pretty, but you're not alone

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
Awful believers, skeptical dreamers, you're welcome
Yeah, you're safe right here, you don't have to go

Cause all my favorite people are broken
Believe me, I should know
Some prayers are better left unspoken
I just want to hold you and let the rest go



Over the Rhine's website is at http://overtherhine.com/

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "Show Me The Place"

I have a started a new project in conjunction with my "The Humble Stumble: Lessons on Simplicity, Stillness, Fashion and Faith from a Bad Quaker" book. It's on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints". http://open.spotify.com/user/1272246762/playlist/44GFZ4SnDCBCVwX9uMOdHU
I'll add a "hymn" a day.

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video here.

First up is Leonard Cohen's "Show Me the Place."

LEONARD COHEN
Show Me The Place

Show me the place where you want your slave to go
Show me the place, I've forgotten, I don't know
Show me the place for my head is bending low
Show me the place where you want your slave to go

Show me the place, help me roll away the stone
Show me the place, I can't move this thing alone
Show me the place where the word became a man
Show me the place where the suffering began

The troubles came, I saved what I could save
A thread of light, a particle, a wave
But there were chains so I hastened to behave
There were chains so I loved you like a slave

Show me the place where you want your slave to go
Show me the place, I've forgotten, I don't know
Show me the place for my head is bending low
Show me the place where you want your slave to go

The troubles came, I saved what I could save
A thread of light, a particle, a wave
But there were chains so I hastened to behave
There were chains so I loved you like a slave

Show me the place
Show me the place
Show me the place

Show me the place, help me roll away the stone
Show me the place, I can't move this thing alone
Show me the place where the word became a man
Show me the place where the suffering began

Monday, September 29, 2014

"Cows, I pray you fresh cool breezes...": A Poem


A City Girl Feeds Country Cows



With handfuls of mown grass, I reach out to the shy cows
in their graze-hungry fields who resist my offering,

retreat backwards from the barbed fence that shocks my hand.
I am a New Yorker, dumb to the ways of cow, eagle, horse,

familiar with the aggressive ways of the pigeon who pimps
for crumbs, the squirrel who sprints across window panes,

fleets of cockroaches who invade the night.
Now, I see cows corralled in their own muck,

stopped by fences just beyond lush green
meadows, assailed by armies of flies.

Cows, I pray you fresh cool breezes and plentiful
rich pastures. Cows, I pray you kind masters.

"A City Girl Feeds Country Cows" by Sandra Becker, from Imperfect Matter. © Word Tech Editions, 2013. . (buy now)

Friday, September 26, 2014

God's Good Green Earth: Doing Unto Others, part 4: Humble Stumble

For me the easiest thing about caring for the earth is the how. The why is harder at times. Well, if not harder, than more complex. While I can search the scriptures for words about why I should care for the earth, some of them seem a bit of a stretch. I mean to read about Jesus’ ruling the wind and the waves doesn’t really tell me that I need to! And, yes, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters." (Psalm 24:1-2; cf. Psalm 89:11; 1 Corinthians 10:26), but if it’s the Lord’s do I need to care for it? Besides other Bible verses are used by people (especially in the King James version) to justify using up all the resources – “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

Of course, "You must keep my decrees and my laws.... And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you." (Leviticus 18:26, 28) seems a pretty clear (and graphic) justification for taking care of this planet.

For me, in all my badness, there is an even greater reason – it’s the connection between earth care, peace, looking for that of God in others rooted in Jesus’ own life and example. Jesus ministry reflected a commitment to the poor and oppressed. Much of his work consisted of caring for the poor and oppressed in the society of his day. He fed, healed, and cared for the less fortunate – and confronted the privileged and their resources for not doing so. He more than hinted that we, as his followers, were to participate in the kin-dom of God – the interrelationship of all creation that brings universal shalom. Taking care of the earth is part of that participation.

How? Well, that may not be apparent on the surface. But when you stop to think that we in the so-called “developed” countries on this planet use and misuse resources, it’s obvious we have to be causing real harm to those unfortunate enough to have been born in less developed places. Remember earlier when I talked about the seeds of war in our possession? Especially as it relates to the Congo? One report says that thirty percent of kids in the Congo drop out of school so they can go work in the mines. The minerals mined are used mostly used to produce goods consumed in the western world. In the United States. In Indiana. In my home. My “need” of coltan dragged from the earth by the extreme methods they use means their lack of education.

That’s in addition to the huge disparity of my resource use compared to a person in Zambia. The United States, for example, has only five percent of the world population but uses twenty percent of the world’s energy. (http://www.worldpopulationbalance.org/population_energy) So let’s say that a family in India has seven children. That family still uses a lower percentage of the world’s energy than an American family with one child! I’m not certain that was what Jesus had in mind for us in ushering in the Kingdom of God.

This is not about blame. Or guilt. It is about being aware of how our actions impact those whom we will never see – and rarely think about. It’s about being the Friends of Jesus in a way that is possible now that wasn’t when he walked the shores of Galilee.

Think of it. We now know that what we do impacts others around the world in a way that generations before us could not. A smart bomb dropped in Syria while we’re watching “The Voice” on television is witnessed shortly after it happens – though we rarely count innocent dead that are collateral damage. And rarely count the resource costs – natural and economic resources – that it took to make that bomb “smart”, flying it around the world, and drop it on the people below. All of this resource “use” takes food from the mouths of poor children. Including the poor children in our own neighborhoods.

And while it’s easy to decry government spending on such things, what about our own need to have inexpensive clothes, food, and cars? How do we care for the poor and oppressed while simultaneously taking their labor and natural resources?

********

Wow. That was preachy, wasn’t it? Sorry. I get that way sometimes – mostly about what I need to be preached at about. Guess you’re just sort of collateral damage.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

God's Good Green Earth: Divine Inaction, Godly Action, or Spiritual LOAFing, part 3: Humble Stumble

"Brent is a gentleman farmer. He lives on 50 acres being reclaimed into prairie and woodlands. That mean he raises grass and trees. Now, as I understand it, grass grows on its own. And trees do, too. So he gets to sit and watch them and read books and think deep thoughts. My thought is -- 'That's the kind of farmer I want to be!'"

That’s how I was introduced prior to giving a speech one time. Everybody chuckled, of course, including me. It was a witty introduction. But part of it nagged at me a bit and I remember it from time to time whilst working the farm this weekend.

Yes, the thousands of trees that have been planted over the years will grow on their own -- so long as they’re kept free of weed entanglement and damage from deer who like to munch on tender young shoots or rub the bark of young trees. That means weeding, mowing, and tying strips of dryer fabric softener sheets on each one (the deer hate the scent as much as I do. So do mice, which is why I tie them in the engine compartment of my truck, so they don’t eat all the wires up. Which they did once!). Let me tell you, that's a lot of cutting and tying. And the prairie has to be burned to kill off the woody growth and destroy weeds. Some, though, don't seem to mind the fire. So the bazillion thistle rosettes (that's a baby thistle, I've learned) that sprouted after the fire, have to be dealt with.

That, in part, is what I’m called to do. But before I was called to that work, I had to be convinced it was important spiritual work. Otherwise, I was just being another do-gooder. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m not a natural do-gooder. So for me to be one that, God sorta has to kick my rear end and say “Pay attention, Brent. You need to do this.”

My first conscious efforts toward earthcare as intentionally spirit work began small. Little things like getting rid of incandescent lightbulbs, wrapping the water heater in a cover, buying a high mpg car, buying energy efficient appliances when the old ones needed replaced. Tiny steps for a tiny soul.

As my soul grew, and an opportunity came to build a house, we designed it to be energy-efficient from its 6 inch thick insulated sidewalls, 8 inch thick insulated roof, triple insulated windows, geo-thermal heating and cooling system and more. Now this wasn’t cheap. Which kept grating my desire to live simply. It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford it. I could. But rubbed up against another faith matter – earth care/simple living.

Which is the thing about the Quaker way. Jesus’ way. It’s not so easy sometimes. The values it gives us sometimes fit easily together. Other times, not so much.

What’s a bad Quaker to do?

Actually, the question is what is this bad Quaker to do? There is no one answer that fits all of us. Which is part of the delight and frustration of being Friends of Jesus. We are called to determine, with divine assistance, what is ours to do in this world. About peace. Justice. Truth. Simplicity. Care for the earth. Please, God, can’t you just type out instructions and send them to me???

The joy in this comes from, instead of being told and just having to follow set directions, discovering and working with God in the redemption of this world and our souls. We are lead into new places of growth as we discern how we can be more responsible consumers, what wasteful household habits we have, how can we use resources more responsibly, whether to join a community supported agriculture effort, have our church create a community garden in a "food desert”, work for national legislation that regulates or prohibits the use of genetically engineered food, or just LOAF (buy food that is Local, Organic, Animal-Friendly, and Fairly produced and traded).

Of course, it’s not that there’s not stuff to do. There are plenty of things. Rather, it’s what is God calling you to do. Not what are you being guilted into by other people of faith (or even a bad Quaker), but what feels right in your life. What fits – not what is forced. If it doesn’t feel right to you to create a wildlife sanctuary in your backyard and/or on church property, then don’t. Not until you feel it is right and fit and from God. If a leading to make your own naturally based cleaning products*; composting all organic waste — and recycling paper, cardboard, cans and bottles — to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with landfills, sell your car and rely solely on a bike or public transit, and so on is truly from God it will persist. It won’t let you go and will work on your soul. It will also
  • come with a sense of joy
  • feel life giving, not life draining
  • give you the power and will to actually do it!


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

God's Good Green Earth: Priuses or Pruii?, part 2: The Humble Stumble


Every summer almost 1,500 Quakers converge on a college campus somewhere in North America for a week that’s known as Gathering. In 2014 it was at California University of Pennsylvania. Confusing, eh? What made it even more confusing was that California, Pennsylvania is not some major metro area. People were a mite worried about finding the place. On Facebook, one wag wrote, “Just look for the line of Priuises with peace and earth care bumper stickers and follow them.”

Good advice. Sure enough when I looked around the cars coming in the percentage of Pruii was huge. Quakers do probably buy more Priuses (or is that Pruii – I’ve never been able to figure out the plural for Prius) percentagewise than any other faith group. It’s not because they’re trendy (the car or us) but because of this whole care for the earth thing. Because we love God we love God’s good earth. It is God’s creation in the same way that each one of us is. And so we try to the call to be good stewards of this planet during our lifetime and for those who come after us, remembering, as John Woolman said, that “to impoverish the earth now to support outward greatness appears to be an injury to the succeeding age.” That’s why so many Friends were among the 400,000 folks who participated in the People’s Climate March in NYC recently. It’s not because they’re good people (well, they are) or it’s a good political stand, it’s because their faith led them to do it.

I often joke that, as a Quaker, I’m not a member of an organized religion. If you ever come visit us and stick around awhile, you’ll see what I mean. We’re always waiting to see what God is telling us to do and we often have various takes on that which we have to sift through to discern what is God telling us to do and not us telling us what God wants us to do. Confusing, eh? Then we’ll appoint a committee with a subcommittee with a working group to discern if the discernment was right on. Then it’ll come back up the Quaker ladder for further discernment.

One thing that we’ve actually gotten to work on, though, is earthcare. At a personal level, that’s one reason you see so many hybrid or high mpg vehicles parked in front of the Quaker meetinghouse. While the percentage of the farmers among us has tumbled in the last century, those who remain often practice responsible farming practices. My friend Katrina runs the family farm her parents founded in the 1970s. Meeting Place Organic Farm is in southwest Ontario, Canada and Katrina's family farms organically with Belgian horses and has a mixed livestock operation designed to nourish the soil and produce food in an ecologically sustainable manner. While that may sound vaguely Amish, trust me, I’ve never seen bubbly Katrina dressed anywhere close to a staid young Amish woman. If she’s wearing black, it’s a fashionable little black dress and she’s stepping out for a night on the town. And step out on the town Katrina does.

In my case, the land we steward has all been taken out of production agriculture and converted to tall grass prairie or forest. This is a big change for me – a man who once saw this land as a potential development and a possible source of monetary wealth. All because of faith and an increasing awareness of the fragility of our eco-system and the vanishing species here in the Midwest. It is rather affirming to see butterflies, for example, in places where there weren’t any fewer than ten years ago.

Besides individual efforts, we actually have some groups that work directly on the issue. Quaker Earthcare Witness takes spirit-led action to address the ecological and social crises of the world from a spiritual perspective, emphasizing Quaker process and testimonies. My friend Katherine, a writer like me, is their publications person. She works with QEW because

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve met God in nature—in the light, in the sky, in trees, flowers, and animals. I’ve had a reverence for all life because God loved it, and even as a child I would make it my job to clean up streams (and even a drainage ditch by my house) because I knew caring for creation was caring for God.

I have a number of other Friends friends who work with the Earth Quaker Action Team which endeavors to build a just and sustainable economy through nonviolent direct action. They’re leading a strategic effort to get PNC Bank out of the business of financing mountaintop removal coal mining. They use nonviolent direct action to shine the light on PNC Bank’s lead role as one of the primary financiers of this devastating surface mining practice which has destroyed more than 500 mountains and 2,000 miles of river and streambed in Appalachia.

My friend (and Friend) Eileen Flanagan is active in this group.

I’d been growing increasingly concerned about climate change when, in February 2011, I had a strong intuition to attend the Philadelphia Flower Show. Although none of the friends I’d invited were available, I kept feeling that I needed to go on a particular day, which turned out to be exactly when EQAT was protesting PNC Bank’s financing of companies engaged in mountaintop removal coal mining. PNC was also a major sponsor of the Flower Show, so here were all these Friends—several of whom I knew—singing and handing out fliers in front of the PNC pavilion. There was something about their mixture of joy and courage that really touched me, so I grabbed a stack of flyers and joined them. I felt that God had given me the nudge I needed.
What many people call “climate justice” really integrates the testimonies of peace, equality, simplicity, integrity, and stewardship. Through my work with EQAT, I’m learning how to confront injustice while still honoring “that of God” in those who are upholding the system. I have a growing appreciation for the early Friends who were willing to actively confront the wrongs of their own society, even when it meant ostracism or jail time. Their faith inspires me!

They are not bad Quakers like I am, but they’re certainly bad ass. And, again, all of this comes from a spiritual – not a “do-gooder” – base.

These folks aren’t a bunch of wacked out aging hippie types either. If you saw them on the street, you think they were as normal as you are. And they pretty much are. Except for Katrina and she’s normal in her own unique way. What they each have in common is that they’ve heard the voice of the Spirit calling them to action in caring for the earth – and often that call is tied in with their views on peace, simplicity, equality, and more.

What canst thou say about caring for the earth as a spiritual practice? More importantly, what canst thou do? Even more importantly, what canst I do?

Monday, September 22, 2014

God's Good Green Earth: The Humble Stumble

  
Photo by Brent
The produce of the earth is a gift from our gracious creator to the inhabitants, and to impoverish the earth now to support outward greatness appears to be an injury to the succeeding age.
 -- John Woolman, 1772


How I’ve become a conservation minded fellow is beyond me. It must be evidence of God’s slow but steady work in my soul – sorta like the slow steady work of the Colorado River on that which is now known as the Grand Canyon. I only hope that someday my soul is as beautiful as that natural masterpiece.

It’s not that I disregarded the earth. Indeed I was a Cub Scout, a Boy Scout, an Indian Guide, and Christian Service Brigade member. As kids, my cousins and buddies often camped out in the summer, albeit often in our city backyards. My granddad and dad and his friends went camping and fishing and dragged me along at times, often to the Hocking Hills in southern Ohio. I had appreciation for natural beauty, but was a bit disconnected from it much of the time. I lived in a city in an era before urban hiking/biking trails and intentional green spaces meant part of the blacktopped playground was painted with industrial green paint. It was also a time that we thought our biggest danger was the God-less Russians and their H-bombs and not our own over extension of natural resources and pollution of air and water.

Doh!

I started waking up to the need for care of the earth as a freshman in college (I began waking up to a lot of things that year!). On April 22, 1970 (just a few weeks before the Kent State massacre) the first Earth Day was held. It seemed like a good thing. Who could be against taking care of our planet. Even our Evangelical Quaker college observed it (not by letting us out of class, however). Plus it was sorta fun to dress up and have a mock funeral for the Earth. Bill Roman donned a cassock and carried a book of prayer while a group of other students served as pall-bearers and grave-diggers. But conservation seemed a hippie-ish, radical sort of thing. Never mind that I had grown up attending John Burroughs Elementary School, named for one of the most famous naturalists and conservationists for his day. And the man who said, “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.” Which well reflects how I feel.

Still, for years, despite a long time involvement in caring for the earth by many of my friends who are Friends, doing so myself not much on my radar. I mean, I tried to do no real harm – which was pretty easy since I didn’t own any smoke-belching, pollution producing factories. Nor did I worry about my oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere leaking and spilling thousands of gallons of crude into the ocean. I had no oil platforms. I didn’t strip mine. I didn’t mine at all. I didn’t use massive amounts of fertilizer to increase crop production. The only crop I had was usually the grass growing on the city lot around my house.

And now I find myself living in an Energy Star rated house that’s extremely energy efficient and heated and cooled by geo-thermal system. And that’s just the outward manifestation of the gradual inward change.

What happened?

Faith happened. That’s what. The slow arc of God’s grace and teaching has brought home to me this idea that it’s not enough just for me to bemoan (and smirk a bit about) the Cuyahoga River catching on fire the summer between high school and college. Nope, I actually have to do something.

If, that is, I believe in God and want to be a Friend of Jesus.