Saturday, December 12, 2015

"The Nativity" by C.S. Lewis

Among the oxen (like an ox I’m slow)
I see a glory in the stable grow
Which, with the ox’s dullness might at length
Give me an ox’s strength.

Among the asses (stubborn I as they)
I see my Saviour where I looked for hay;
So may my beastlike folly learn at least
The patience of a beast.

Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed)
I watch the manger where my Lord is laid;
Oh that my baa-ing nature would win thence
Some woolly innocence!

-- “The Nativity” by C.S. Lewis

Friday, November 27, 2015

It's the Bad Quaker Christmas and Book Release Party!

It's the Bad Quaker Christmas and Book Release Party!
December 13 from 3-5 pm
Ploughshares Farm
6960 E. Hendricks County Rd
Mooresville, IN

It's the official launch of my latest book -- Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker! So we want to celebrate. And what better way than to have a Christmas open house with food prepared by Nancy (y'all know how she is with food!). The house will be decorated as only she can, we'll sing bad carols ("I'm Dreaming of a Bad Quaker Christmas"?) maybe, visit with really cool people, eat great food and enjoy some wonderful beverages.

And, if you're looking for a little silence in the season of not-so-silent nights, you can stay Quaker worship "Fellowship of Friends" style at 6:30.

Oh, yes, and you'll be able to buy copies of Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker (and others of my books) for the low, low "Somebody Brent Knows" price of $14. That's $3 off the retail price. But wait! There's more. As part of this tremendous holiday offering, all author autographs are absolutely free!
You can buy individual copies for that special friend -- or a train car load (at special train car load rates) to give one to everybody you've ever met!

It's the perfect time to buy that imperfect Christmas gift!

If you can't make it and would still like a book, just sent me an email with the quantity you want (and any inscriptions). I'll give you a call back, get your credit card information, and ship you a book. Email orders are $16, but that includes shipping.

Seriously, though, we do hope you'll be able to come and celebrate with us. RSVPs are appreciated.

RSVP to or 317-242-9269.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Signing Books: @IndianaHistory

A week from Saturday I'll be at the Indiana Historical Society's Holiday Author Fair. I'ts December 5, from 12 to 4 pm! 

The Author Fair has something for everyone on your shopping list – and for you, too! More than 70 Indiana authors besides me pack Eli Lilly Hall at the History Center every year for a fun-filled day of mixing, mingling and book signing. I'll have Finding God in the Verbs and ... hopefully ... Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker there!

Meet The New York Times bestseller James Alexander Thom, who has a new book out. You can also look forward to favorites Philip Gulley, Helen Frost, Jim Madison and Dan Carpenter.

This year's books range in topics from youth historical fiction and biographies to sports and politics, with a lot of Indiana history. You'll find a wide variety of fiction, nonfiction and children's titles.

Free admission includes the Indiana Experience and Festival of Trees.

Friday, October 30, 2015

"a necklace fashioned/ of attention to this day..."

Each Moment

Behind the mask of summer sun,
the green rush of spring,
the peace of winter’s silence,
and autumn’s fiery crown
there are only moments strung together.
Beads on a chain,
each as valued as the next;
a necklace fashioned
of attention to this day.
What is gone
and what will be
are links fingered lightly
while we chant
the only word we know:
now, the glue
of our daily round,
the shining center
from where we came,
to which we shall return.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"the sodium lights of expensive combines eerie as UFOs..."

Harvesting All Night

by Jane Hoogestraat

Listen Online

Twenty years ago, my father stops
in the small farm town where he was a boy
to watch his nephews, already men, play softball.
The long arc of a ball hit toward the far corner

leaves the light behind for a long sigh.
He told us later he wanted to stay that night.
When the harvest is late, the ground too muddy,
the players will wait until the earth freezes, then harvest

all night, the sodium lights of expensive combines
eerie as UFOs on the horizon, ringed by frost stars.
A family cemetery dated 1949 holds now the second
generation after the immigrants, and a few small graves

from the third. It will all last another generation or two,
be tended, that cemetery, the games in the park.
Dvorak visiting in Iowa caught it once,
as it retreated from him, a country that could

not be his, although he called it a new world, and brave.
His largo captures all he would know
of native melody, the indigenous music of the plains
that will outlive everything we’re losing, everything we are.

"Harvesting All Night" by Jane Hoogestraat from Border States. © BKMK Press, 2014. (buy now)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I’d like to find/ The shrine of Chimayo

Five Wishes
Photo of Chimayo by Brent

by Anne Porter

Listen Online

I’d like to have a wild bird
Perch on my hand
A sparrow or
A chickadee
Sudden with her sharp feet
And fragile daring

I’d like to see again
The etchings Rembrandt made
Of stories from the Bible

Though they’re as plain
As Bethlehem’s hay
A radiance fills them

And I would like to visit
The Laguna Indians
And their old church
Made of whitewashed clay
With logs for rafters

And in it their Madonna
To whom they’ve given
A white lace apron

And I would like to learn
To accept my death
To accept our dying
That strange dawn

So deeply scandalous
That God himself wept
At the death of his friend

I’d like to find
The shrine of Chimayo
Where the lame leave crutches

I’d like to go there
With my daughter Katie

It would be enough
Just to be there
Without any miracle.

"Five Wishes" by Anne Porter from Living Things. © Zooland Books, 2006.  (buy now)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"...with the disappearing sun. I wonder what I owe the fading day..."

On the Shortest Days
by Joyce Sutphen

Listen Online

At almost four in the afternoon, the
wind picks up and sifts through the golden woods.

The tree trunks bronze and redden, branches
on fire in the heavy sky that flickers

with the disappearing sun. I wonder
what I owe the fading day, why I keep

my place at this dark desk by the window
measuring the force of the wind, gauging

how long a certain cloud will hold that pink
edge that even now has slipped into gray?

Quickly the lights are appearing, a lamp
in every window and nests of stars

on the rooftops. Ladders lean against the hills
and people climb, rung by rung, into the night.

"On the Shortest Days" by Joyce Sutphen from Modern Love & Other Myths. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2015. (buy now)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"the burning bushes have ignited, struck their book of matches..."


by Barbara Crooker

Listen Online

What can l say, now that summer’s gone, with the weight of its heat,
its thick blanket of humidity, the cacophony of zinnias, marigolds, salvia?
Now the sky is clear blue and cloudless, that sure one-note
that can only mean October. You’re gone. The leaves turn gold
in the calendar’s rotisserie, giving up their green, and the burning bushes
have ignited, struck their book of matches. It’s enough to make the heart break,
isn’t it? We keep going down the one road, there’s no turning back.

"Now" by Barbara Crooker from Small Rain. © Purple Flag Press, 2014.  (buy now)

Monday, October 05, 2015

And Now it's October

And Now it's October
by Barbara Crooker

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the golden hour of the clock of the year. Everything that can run
to fruit has already done so: round apples, oval plums, bottom-heavy
pears, black walnuts and hickory nuts annealed in their shells,
the woodchuck with his overcoat of fat. Flowers that were once bright
as a box of crayons are now seed heads and thistle down. All the feathery
grasses shine in the slanted light. It’s time to bring in the lawn chairs
and wind chimes, time to draw the drapes against the wind, time to hunker
down. Summer’s fruits are preserved in syrup, but nothing can stopper time.
No way to seal it in wax or amber; it slides though our hands like a rope
of silk. At night, the moon’s restless searchlight sweeps across the sky.

"And Now it's October" by Barbara Crooker from Small Rain. © Purple Flag Press, 2014. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"hold our breaths at the sudden beauty..."


by Athena Kildegaard

Listen Online

We drove across high prairie,
the Mississippi behind us,
nothing ahead for miles
but sky,

a loamy sky, thick enough
to put a trowel into,
but off to the south
clouds pulled

away from one another
as if to stand back
take a long look,
and in that

space what light was left
of the sun
already gone below
the horizon

flowed up and held there
and we did too 

"Untitled" by Athena Kildegaard from Cloves & Honey. © Nodin Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Monday, September 28, 2015

"the row of four-star restaurants on Walnut Street..." A Poem

What I've Lost
by Sarah Freligh

Listen Online

A taste for Southern Comfort. Umbrellas:
two in a week when I was down
to eight bucks in the bank halfway
to payday and rain in the forecast, tail
end of a hurricane that blew
through Cuba, kissed the coast
of Florida and ricocheted into Philly
where its gray buttocks of sky squatted
over us for days. I tied a garbage bag
turban style, swanned past
the row of four-star restaurants
on Walnut Street, imagining I
was a forties movie queen shooting
a scene on a wet set. Next payday, I dropped
seventy bucks on a steak and a bottle
of rose, something French
and unpronounceable, curly
on the tongue. The sun
was out. I forgot
about rain and sweet
whiskey thick
in my throat.

"What I've Lost" by Sarah Freligh from Sad Math. © Moon City Press, 2015. (buy now)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

After twenty years, you will see on my face/ The same expression you see in the grass.

The Call Away
by Robert Bly

Listen Online

A cold wind flows over the cornfields;
Fleets of blackbirds ride that ocean.
I want to be out of here, go out,
Outdoors, anywhere in wind.

My back against a shed wall, I settle
Down where no one can find me.
I stare out at the box-elder leaves
Moving frond-like in that mysterious water.

What is it that I want? Not money,
Not a large desk, not a house with ten rooms.
This is what I want to do: to sit here,
To take no part, to be called away by wind.

I want to go the new way, build a shack
With one door, sit against the door frame.
After twenty years, you will see on my face
The same expression you see in the grass.

"The Call Away" by Robert Bly from Like the New Moon, I Will Live My Life. © White Pine Press, 2015. . (buy now)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Contemplative Photography: Creativity

Contemplative Photography: Creativity: Creativity is a messy business,  fraught with doubt, fueled by possibility. Where will imagination carry you today? (Diorama by Holly Larson...

Monday, July 06, 2015

"The sea calls to witness..."

from “Flying Point”

DJ Dolack

The sea
calls to witness
some vastness

or that which
is only a declaration
of the limited
and the countable.

And the sun some tourist
wades out each morning
in obligation

to touch
for a few moments
and to forget and drown.

And then later the moon
high as a pill
does its own work

emitting no light but re-guiding
light emitted by another:

six ships in the hour
follow each other
far off

into some great
length of silence.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"If you were a scoop of vanilla..."

What We Might Be, What We Are
by X. J. Kennedy

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If you were a scoop of vanilla
And I were the cone where you sat,
If you were a slowly pitched baseball
And I were the swing of a bat,

If you were a shiny new fishhook
And I were a bucket of worms,
If we were a pin and a pincushion,
We might be on intimate terms.

If you were a plate of spaghetti
And I were your piping-hot sauce,
We’d not even need to write letters
To put our affection across,

But you’re just a piece of red ribbon
In the beard of a Balinese goat
And I’m a New Jersey mosquito.
I guess we’ll stay slightly remote.

"What We Might Be, What We Are" by X.J. Kennedy from Exploding Gravity. © Little Brown, 1992.  (buy now)

Monday, June 08, 2015

How The Quakers Made (and are still making) America -- Quakers and Cajun!

When many people hear the word Quaker, all they think of is oatmeal. Quakers, though, are part of a vital faith tradition that is older than the United States and actually helped form the best parts of our nation. Bet you didn't know that, did you?

We also contributed some of the worst parts, too, and we even talk about it.

Intrigued?? Come to this installment of "Quakers and Cajun" to find out more.

"Cajun and Quakers" will meet at 6:30 pm on June 24 at Zydeco's Cajun at 11 E. Main in Mooresville. Quaker author, photographer, and retreat leader Brent Bill, a member of Spirituality & Practice’s Living Spiritual Teachers Project, will present a fast-paced, whimsical, and informational presentation about Quakers and how they helped make America!

There will be plenty of time to ask questions about Quakers and enjoy Zydeco's great food and libations. You'll find that the food won't be the only thing that's spicy that night!

Thursday, June 04, 2015

"a song with no end"

a song with no end

by Charles Bukowski

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when Whitman wrote, “I sing the body electric”

I know what he
I know what he

to be completely alive every moment
in spite of the inevitable.

we can’t cheat death but we can make it
work so hard
that when it does take

it will have known a victory just as
perfect as
"a song with no end" by Charles Bukowski from The Night Torn Mad With Footsteps. © Black Sparrow Press, 2002 (buy now)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Quakers and Cajun -- Peace: There's ISIS and Then There's My Annoying Boss!

When many people hear the word Quaker, all they think of is oatmeal. Quakers, though, are part of a vital faith tradition that is older than the United States but is as modern as today. Including standing for peace in a war-and-violence wracked world.

In light of the Baltimore violence, ISIS, and all the other unrest, you might want to come and find out more about us quirky Quakers and our commitment to deep, personal spirituality, contemplation, equality, social justice, and peace. Peace is be the main focus, this month.

"Cajun and Quakers" will meet at Zydeco's Cajun in Mooresville on May 27 at 6:30 pm. Noted Quaker author, photographer, and retreat leader Brent Bill, a member of Spirituality & Practice’s Living Spiritual Teachers Project, will present a fast-paced, whimsical, and informational presentation about Quakers and their on-going work for peace.

We'll gather right at 6:30, order food and libations (yes, even adult beverages) off the great Zydeco's menu, and then about 7:00 Brent will start the presentation.

There will be plenty of time to ask questions about Quakers and enjoy Zydeco's great food and libations. You'll find that the food won't be the only thing that's spicy that night!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"The rented lakes of my childhood": A Poem

Ludington, MI mid 1960s
The rented lakes of my childhood
by Marge Piercy

I remember the lakes of my Michigan
childhood. Here they are called ponds.
Lakes belonged to summer, two-week
vacations that my father was granted by
Westinghouse when we rented some cabin.
Never mind the dishes with spiderweb
cracks, the crooked aluminum sauce
pans, the crusted black frying pans.
Never mind the mattresses shaped
like the letter V. Old jangling springs.
Moldy bathrooms. Low ceilings
that leaked. The lakes were mysteries
of sand and filmy weeds and minnows
flickering through my fingers. I rowed
into freedom. Alone on the water
that freckled into small ripples,
that raised its hackles in storms,
that lay glassy at twilight reflecting
the sunset then sucking up the dark,
I was unobserved as the quiet doe
coming with her fauns to drink
on the opposite shore. I let the row-
boat drift as the current pleased, lying
faceup like a photographer’s plate
the rising moon turned to a ghost.
And though the voices called me
back to the rented space we shared
I was sure I left my real self there-
a tiny black pupil in the immense
eye of a silver pool of silence.

The rented lakes of my childhood" by Marge Piercy from Made in Detroit. © Knopf, 2015. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale": A Poem

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale
by Dan Albergotti

Listen Online

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

"Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale" by Dan Albergotti from The Boatloads. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"In the Library": A Poem

In the Library
by Charles Simic
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There’s a book called
A Dictionary of Angels.
No one had opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.

She’s very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.

"In the Library" by Charles Simic from The Voice at 3:00am. © Harcourt, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"Pass it on..." A Poem Upon the Occasion of my 64th Birthday


This evening, the sturdy Levi’s
I wore every day for over a year
& which seemed to the end
in perfect condition,
suddenly tore.
How or why I don’t know,
but there it was: a big rip at the crotch.
A month ago my friend Nick
walked off a racquetball court,
got into this street clothes,
& halfway home collapsed & died.
Take heed, you who read this,
& drop to your knees now & again
like the poet Christopher Smart,
& kiss the earth & be joyful,
& make much of your time,
& be kindly to everyone,
even to those who do not deserve it.
For although you may not believe
it will happen,
you too will one day be gone,
I, whose Levi’s ripped at the crotch
for no reason,
assure you that such is the case.

Steve Kowit (1938-2015)
Source: The Dumbbell Nebula

Add your thoughts at inward/outward

A poem upon the occasion of my 64th birthday...

Monday, May 04, 2015

"Four Dead In Ohio:" A Personal Reflection on May 4, 1970

 I graduated from high school in June 1969. The Vietnam War was at its bloodiest—at least for the United States. Getting drafted into the army didn’t sound like a good career trajectory for me. I mean, almost seventeen thousand Americans died in the war my senior year. While I was morally ambiguous about shooting—really shooting—another human being, I knew I didn't want to be shot myself! I was self-centered that way.

Then came May 4. Just one week before my birthday. Just up the road from where I attended college. On that day members of the Ohio National Guard fired sixty-seven rounds in thirteen seconds into unarmed protesters (the closest of whom was one hundred feet away), some of whom were throwing rocks and National Guard tear gas canisters back at guardsman. Four students died. Nine others were wounded. Two of those killed weren’t even protesters—just students walking to class. One of them was a member of Kent State ROTC!

“Collateral damage,” as the Pentagon says today.

I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that, if drafted, I might be called on to shoot my fellow citizens. I mean, shooting foreigners in a jungle was one thing! But our own people? I also knew I might just do it if they riled me up enough. Throw some rock at me and I might just do more than point my M1 Garand rifle at you. Rock may beat scissors. But a .30-06 bullet beats rock. And kills you.

I was afraid to fight.

I was afraid I might like fighting too much.

That second fear scared the crap out of me. What if I did like it—a lot? And went on a real killing spree—even if it was sanctioned by my nation? I’d read Luke 22:49–51:

When Jesus’ follower saw what was going to happen, Brent said, “Lord, whom do You want me to shoot?” And then Brent fired and struck the servant of the high priest, shooting off his right ear.

But Jesus answered, “No more of this, you doofus!” And He touched the man’s ear and healed him. (NBBV)

Reading the Bible always gets me in trouble.

While I’d always taken my Christian faith seriously (very seriously, for someone who was so bad at it), I began trying to figure out if faith meant something in my day-to-day life. Not in the abstract. Not for others. For me. Especially around the issues of peace and war. A question that kept coming was, Whom would Jesus shoot? The events of May 4 began to work on me subtlety. As did Jesus' words.  Slowly, but inexorably I moved toward peace -- and not as a political stance, but as a religious response.

My move toward peace and away from soldiering was furthered when I came across the words of seventeenth-century Quaker Robert Barclay:

Whoever can reconcile this, “Resist not evil”, with “Resist violence by force”, again, “Give also thy other cheek”, with “Strike again”; also “Love thine enemies”, with “Spoil them, make a prey of them, pursue them with fire and the sword”, or, “Pray for those that persecute you, and those that calumniate you”, with “Persecute them by fines, imprisonments and death itself”, whoever, I say, can find a means to reconcile these things may be supposed also to have found a way to reconcile God with the Devil, Christ with Antichrist, Light with Darkness, and good with evil. But if this be impossible, as indeed it is impossible, so will also the other be impossible, and men do but deceive both themselves and others, while they boldly adventure to establish such absurd and impossible things.

Yeah, the language is stilted, but I caught the drift. I couldn't make those things fit together. For me they were at completely opposite ends of the war/peace spectrum. So what was an eighteen-year-old boy to do? Hell, forget the hypothetical eighteen-year-old—what would I do if drafted?

Would I fight and deny my slowly growing faith and belief that as a follower of Jesus I shouldn’t shoot anybody?

Would I serve as noncombatant?

The issue was decided on the draft lottery of July 1, 1970. My birthdate was number 293. I was beyond the range of those who would be called.

Josiah Strong once said there is a popular faith that “God takes care of children, fools and the United States.” I don’t believe God takes special care of the United States, but God seemed to take care of this poor fool at that time. Perhaps to give me time to work on my decidedly unpeaceful nature.

I'm ashamed to this day that it wasn't the deaths of almost 60,000 Americans in the conflict that around my age that moved me. Or 200-250,000 South Vietnamese military personnel. Or 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. Or 2 million civilians from South and North Vietnam. At the time, I thought, "Well, that's war. And it's a long way away from me."

What began my awakening were the deaths of four college students in northeastern Ohio.  Four students just like me. Well, most of them were much more socially aware than me.  Which also shames me as a I look back.

But look back today I do. I am far from perfect. Far from peaceful. But my hurt hurts today -- both from the memory of that day and the events of these days.

When I was that longish haired freshman, some friends and I sang in a folk-rock band. And one of the songs we used to love to sing was "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" by Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson.

Where have all the flowers gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the flowers gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the flowers gone,
Picked by young girls every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the young girls gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the young girls gone,
Gone to young men every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young men gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the young men gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the young men gone,
Gone to soldiers every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the soldiers gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the soldiers gone,
They've gone to graveyards every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the graveyards gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the graveyards gone,
Gone to flowers every one,
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?

After May 4, 1970, I was struck by the irony of how we'd sung the words cluelessly, innocently, stupidly -- just some kids in a band.  "Entertaining" fellow students in coffee houses. Fellow students like the four dead up the road in Ohio.

"When will we ever learn."

Friday, April 10, 2015

Contemplative Photography: The do-er's lament

Contemplative Photography: The do-er's lament: The bills are paid, the beds are made, the tax receipts are filed. The memo's written, I've fed the kitten, and still there is...


New (Books n') Stuff You Should Know

One of the great things in my life is having so many creative friends.  That means I get showered with all kinds of great books, CDs, etc.  Below are some short takes on stuff that's landed here at Ploughshares that I think you might just like.

Starting Something New: Spiritual Direction for Your-God Given Dream is Beth Booram's newest book (you may remember that she and I co-wrote Awaken Your Senses a few years back). Beth is a gifted writer and a spiritual director. She's one of the founders of Sustainable Faith Indy, which grew out of a God-given dream of hers. In her book she provides practical advice for people in discern those dreams and helping them, with Divine assistance, to become reality.  Folks who are feeling continual deep spiritual nudges in new directions -- whether to start a ministry, make a lifestyle change, or just grow deeper in their life with God -- will find this book really helpful.

Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone is by my friend Tara Owens'. Many Christians are afraid (or even ashamed) of their bodies -- especially as vessels of spiritual wisdom and connection to God. Tara writes with warmth and wisdom to people claim to be people of the incarnation but often live as if only our souls mattered and our bodies did not. She calls us back to our whole selves—body and soul—and in doing so helps us reconnect with incarnational living both through the central historical event that kicked off Christian movement and our ongoing task of being the disciples of Jesus cloaked in flesh and blood.  Tara is, like Beth, a spiritual director. She's the founder of Anam Cara.

A Convergent Model of Renewal: Remixing the Quaker Tradition in a Participatory Culture is C. Wess Daniels' addition to thoughts on revitalizing the Friends message today.  You can read more about this important book here.

Finding God in the Verbs -- about crafting a fresh way of praying -- was co-written with Jennie Isbell.  Publishers Weekly says "this is a fresh, useful approach to a subject much written about. Readers will learn to pray not perfectly but personally."
I've contributed to a couple of projects myself lately.

If you'd rather listen than read, check out Hear My Prayer: The Audio Book of Psalms. While I can't stand to hear my own recorded voice, other people say it's not unpleasant. On this set of CDs, my voice joins a number of others (Scott Cairns, Paula Huston, Sr. Joan Chittister, and many more!) in reading this most amazing book.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

C. Wess Daniels and Remixing the Quaker Way

A few weeks ago I found a copy of C. Wess Daniels A Convergent Model of Renewal: Remixing the Quaker Tradition in Participatory Culture in my mailbox. I'd been looking forward to this book for a long time. So much so that I tore open the packaging on the long walk back from the road to the house and started reading it.

For those of you who don't know Wess, for the past more than five years he's been the released minister at Camas Friends Church (in Washington state), has been an adjunct professor, and has a PhD from Fuller Seminary. He also makes a mean sauerkraut and is a connoisseur of coffee. Wess has just been named the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College, succeeding Max Carter, who will retire this summer after 25 years there.

In my opinion Guilford could not have made a better choice.

Wess has been one of the foremost articulators of the "convergent Friends" movement and practices what he preaches about Quaker renewal. I've been fortunate enough to have had a number of conversations about the latter topic with him over the past few years. Which is why I looked forward to his book.

Shortly after I received it, I was bound for a series of airplane trips. I usually don't read on planes -- mostly (since I hate flying) I listen to tunes and try to forget that I'm on a plane.  This time I made an exception. I took the book and a yellow marker.  We had not taken off on the first leg of the trip before I had begun highlighting sections.  That's because there's much good stuff herein -- including sections like: 
"Each...formulated branch touts its own rival theories about the origin and core message of the Quaker tradition. Each polarization represents only a piece of the larger tradition." 

I could fill this blog with other such gems. Wess has a clear eye and views us Quakers honestly and provides a good analysis of the issues facing all of our various permutations -- Evangelical, liberal, middle of the road, and so on.  But since this is blog -- and not an academic review -- I need to be brief.

Here's why I think Wess' book bears reading.  It's an articulate, accessible analysis of the current state of North American (primarily) Quakerism. He also provides a cogent portrayal of the participatory and remixing nature of early Quakerism and why it had an such an impact on culture, faith, and life.  He offers a model "for participatory renewal" that has much to commend it. And I do mean much.  These pieces (plus Ben Pink Dandelion's foreword) make the book worth reading.

But, in the interest of integrity (since I am a friend of Wess' and don't want readers to think I didn't read the book critically because of our friendship), I also have to name my quibbles.  One is that there's one contemporary case study -- that of Freedom Friends Church.  Now I find Freedom Friends an amazing place that is doing good work, but I would have rather seen a summary of findings from a number of contemporary meetings/churches Wess feels are implementing the remixing/participatory model he outlines.  One example hardly feels convincing.

Another quibble is the emphasis Wess places on convergent Friends faith and practice as a base for his model. I love his model -- less the descriptor "convergent." Regarding convergent Friends as a model, well, I am not convinced -- never have been. That's probably due in no small part to my skeptical nature. But I think it also has something to do with having been a long-time congregational consultant and seeing how churches and meetings look for the one program/theology/resource/practice that will bring about renewal and then import it wholesale, only to find it doesn't fit them. 

The convergent Friends movement has much to commend it. But it is not, as a package one can import, for all Friends. Instead, I think each Friends meeting/church needs to wrestle with the points that Wess raises in this book -- have we abandoned Quaker tradition as irrelevant in our proclamation of Jesus or have we abandoned Jesus in order to practice our post-modern discover your personal truth with us? And everything in between.  Wess' book lays out some of the questions we all -- Evangelical, ultra-liberal, mushy-moderates, conservatives -- need to consider and struggle with. He shows the potential power of remixing vital tradition and spiritual experiences and language and culture into a vital Quaker way for today. But I don't think it's dependent on the convergent model.

When I mentioned my concern to Wess, he replied, "I only write about the Convergent Friends group a little and make more of it as a gesture towards holding onto both tradition and innovation. The hope of the model is that Friends, within whatever context they are in, will find ways to hold that tension, not so much become a part of the group of 'convergent Friends' who get together have pizza, chocolate chip cookies, and worship together. I guess what I am taking from them is that commitment towards both tradition and innovation more than extrapolating insights from what those groups do."

That said, I fully embrace his model and feel it can truly help Friends move forward in culturally and spiritually relevant ways.

In the book, Wess says:
As a highly participatory faith tradition, Quakerism is uniquely positioned ... in today's culture, reformulating the movement in ways that might bring about renewal.
I would drop the "might." I say that because that's what non-Quakers like Phyllis Tickle and Diana Butler Bass involved in the renewal and emergent movements among Christianity have been saying about the opportunity for Friends today.  Wess has hit the Quaker nail on the head here. His call to remix and become fully participatory is spot on.  

Get the book. Read it. Share it. Ponder it with Friends.

If you're interested in my own thoughts on Quaker renewal, check out the blog posts titled "A Modest Proposal" or download the booklet here

Monday, April 06, 2015

"Quakers and Cajun: Equality for All"

When many people hear the word Quaker, all they think of is oatmeal. Quakers, though, are part of a vital faith tradition that is older than the United States but is as modern as today. Including standing for equality of all people!

In light of the controversy over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, you might want to come and find out more about these quirky Quakers and their commitment to deep, personal spirituality, contemplation, equality, social justice, and peace. Equality will be the main focus this month.

"Quakers and Cajun" will meet at Zydeco's Cajun in Mooresville on April 22nd from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. This is the second installment of "Quakers and Cajun" -- in March more than 30 people joined the conversation.

Noted Quaker author, photographer, and retreat leader Brent Bill, a member of Spirituality & Practice’s Living Spiritual Teachers Project, will present a fast-paced, whimsical, and informational presentation about Quakers and their on-going work for equality. It's a topic many Hoosiers are talking about due to the passage of SB 101 the "Religious Freedom Restoration" act.

Zydeco's Cajun is located at 11 E. Main St in Mooresville. We'll start at 6;30 with a welcome, choose our dining delights, enjoy food and conversation and start the program around 7:15.

There will be plenty of time to ask questions about Quakers and enjoy Zydeco's great food and libations. You'll find that the food won't be the only thing that's spicy that night!