Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Picture of the Week

What is a Half Way Baptist?

Make up your own punchline and submit it as a comment.

Actually, a Half Way Baptist is a resident of Halfway, MO who attends this particular church.

We go by this church whenever we visit my wife's family in Missouri.

How did Half Way, MO get its name?

It's simple - Halfway is halfway between Buffalo and Bolivar on Highway 32!


Thursday, November 6, 2008

A "Taste" of Theology

What would Calvinism taste like? 

What about Quakerism?  Of course it would have to be Cadbury's. . .


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dealing With Disaster

Flood Recovery
It was a political, social and economic disaster. The country had been invaded. The government was gone. Large numbers of people were forced to relocate to a strange country.

A prophetic voice is raised up in the face of this disaster:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."
Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NIV)

This is not our usual idea of “disaster response.” When disaster happens, we want to get things back to the status quo. Jeremiah was addressing Israelites whose concern would be returning to Jerusalem, their houses and farms, and their familiar life in Judah.

God’s suggestion for disaster response is to “build houses and settle down” in this new place they have found themselves. The point the prophet is making is that God’s priority is not saving Jerusalem but saving people. “Settle down,” God says, “Seek the peace and prosperity of whatever place you find yourselves in.” God is not concerned with restoring their past – God wants them to build their future.

Jeremiah again:
This is what the Lord says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,"
Jeremiah 29:10-14

Our world faces an uncertain economic future. We hear voices of doom and voices of hope trying to make sense of the credit and debt hole we seem to have dug. Some call it a disaster.

How do we respond? Jeremiah says we are to “seek the peace and prosperity” of the place where we find yourselves. God’s priority is saving people, not economic or political systems.

God’s “status” is not “quo:” “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future

Call upon God. Pray to God. And God will listen. When we seek God we will find God, even in the middle of disaster. That’s a promise.


New Book: Christless Christianity

I came across a review by Tim Challies of Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church by Michael Horton and have added it to my reading list.

The book appears to address the concern that, for many churches (including Friends churches and meetings), Jesus has become optional. The prevailing theology for many Christians in our culture is "moralistic therapeutic deism," which can be served up with or without Jesus.

Challies quotes from the last chapter:

"What is called for in these days, as in any other time, is a church
that is a genuine covenantal community defined by the gospel rather
than a service provider defined by laws of the market, political
ideologies, ethnic distinctives, or other alternatives to the catholic
community that the Father is creating by his Spirit in his Son. For
this, we need nothing less than a new Christian where the only
demographic that matters is in Christ."

What are you reading?


Friday, September 5, 2008

Candle Lighting

One of our Sunday School classes has been using some material on Quaker leadership developed by Jennie Isbell at the Earlham School of Religion.

Lesson five has this statement from Fred Rogers (better know as the "Mister Rogers" of PBS): "All I know to do is to light the candle that has been given to me."

It struck me that this statement is what ministry is all about, expressed in about as simple and direct a way as possible.

We spend a lot of time making it complicated--

As I prepared for ministry, I was directed to develop a "philosophy of ministry." This was to be a kind of road map of how I saw ministry in my life and in the church. I gained a lot from doing this . . . and then by philosophy of ministry met the real world of ministry. Was I headed in the right direction? Am I doing this in the right way? What comes next? I needed to remind myself: "All I know to do is to light the candle that has been given to me."

Life pulls us in lots of different directions. We devote ourselves to the important tasks like family, work and doing good. And it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture when we are working through all the details. We need to remind ourselves: "All I know to do is to light the candle that has been give to me."

We make ourselves important. Sometimes we begin to think that it won't come out right unless we take care of it. And when things don't go right we get frustrated, burned out or angry. It's time to remember: "All I know to do is to light the candle that has been given to me."

Bringing light into the world is what God has called us to do:
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Mt 5:14-16

Let's go light some candles.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Turning the Quaker Family Tree on its Side

Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism
by Carole Dean Spencer argues that the heart of Quakerism is a robust holiness theology. The author presents evidence that Quakerism needs to be understood as a movement that combined existing elements of Christian holiness theology in a radical and innovative way. Spencer identifies eight characteristic elements of Quaker holiness and looks at how these elements of holiness theology were expressed,adapted, and reinterpreted through three centuries of Quaker history. Those eight elements of holiness theology are:
-Suffering, and

The story is told through the lives and writings of individuals who have had impact on the development of Quakerism. For instance, the story of the Quietist Quakers of the eighteenth century is told through the writing of Anthony Benezet and Stephen Grellet. The divisions of the nineteenth century are described in the experiences of Elias Hicks, Job Scott, Joseph John Gurney and John Wilbur. The holiness revival is seen through Joel Bean, Walter Robson and Hannah Whitall Smith.

The chapter on "Holiness and Quakerism in the Twentieth Century" seems especially helpful in understanding the various streams of mystical, evangelical and liberal Quakerism in relation to holiness theology.

Sure to provoke controversy, the study suggests a "Re-mapping of Quakerism." The author presents the case that the fullest expression of that original Quaker holiness is found in contemporary evangelical Quakerism.

The study also reinforces an argument that I have occasionally made - that first generation Quakers were not establishing new forms of worship and structure, but were expressing a faith independent of forms. As Carole Dean Spencer says, "Forms are occasional and particular historical expressions of holiness" (p. 239).

The book is adapted from a doctoral dissertation, so it is a moderately challenging read, but this is also its strength. The documentation and annotations will help the discussion that is sure to follow this study. The three appendices on sources of Quaker mysticism, the connections between Quakers and other early holiness movements, and the connections between Quakers and Methodists in the eighteenth century are almost worth the price of the book by themselves.

Read it and let me know what you think.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Labor Day picnic at the parsonage was a lot of fun.

We had a lot of fun swapping stories and hearing about Kerry's showdown with the surgeon's knife. Kerry won.

We had a lot of fun watching younger people with a lot more energy play badminton.

We had a lot of fun eating hot dogs and hamburgers. Cliff says he ate four hot dogs, but I was too busy cooking to count.

True, it was a little warm. We just kept moving as the shade moved. And others stayed comfortable inside.

Thank you for all those delicious side dishes and desserts. There was something for everybody.

Let's do it again next year.

pastor Bill

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Street called Arbitrary

We have found the absolute shortest (I think) route from our home in Plainfield to our oldest daughter in Iowa. It involves going through part of rural western Illinois, through towns like Farmington, Roseville and Raritan.

Driving through Roseville, I spotted an interesting street sign. I double checked on Google maps to see if I saw what I though I saw. There it was - "N. Arbitrary St.":

View Larger Map

In fact, Roseville has the only Arbitrary St. in the Google map database.

There must be a story behind this, and it reminded me of my street-naming career.

I served two terms on the Pleasant Plain, Iowa town council (I was the highest vote-getter when I ran for my second term. Fifty-four people voted for me!). The council met once a month to review the street repair budget, listened to complaints about dogs and messy property, and commiserate about how little power we had over any of these things.

The county was setting up a county-wide 911 emergency response system and in order to make it work, all streets had to be named and each house had to have a number. Our Rural Route box numbers would have to go.

The only guideline was that we had to come up with street names that were not already in our Post Office's delivery area (Our Post Office was three miles away in Brighton). The County Road that ran along the east edge of town had an official designation - W57. The road that connected us to the County Road and the State Highway was unofficially called the "Pleasant Plain Blacktop." Under the new system the county labeled it 110th St and we decided we should keep that name on the part that goes through town in order to avoid confusion.

We had seven other streets that needed names. We had some old maps that had names on some of the streets. We talked about some local history references that might work. And we came up with our list:
  • Penn St. - Pleasant Plain is in Penn Township, named by its Quaker settlers)
  • South St., North St., East St., and West St. - Not very original, but descriptive.
  • Midway St. - A historic name for a section of road that connected the old County Road to the new County Road. It was "midway" between them
  • Railroad St. - On the west side of town there was a narrow-gauge rail line and stock yards. The railroad was moved about 100 years ago, but you can still find rusty spikes if you dig along the railroad right of way. It could have been called Mill St. for the remains of the old mill that still stood at the south end of the street.
The Post Office was happy, the County was happy, and most of the people in town were OK with the names.

It was all pretty arbitrary. So maybe the people of Roseville, IL should be applauded for their honesty about this whole street naming process. And maybe most of the streets on our maps are in fact "Arbitrary Streets."


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Blogging Western Yearly Meeting

I am going to try blogging the sessions of Western Yearly Meeting, beginning Thursday morning. You can follow my progress at ...In Which Bill Attends the 2008 Sessions of Western Yearly Meeting.

Bookmark it or add it to your feed, and give me a grade when I'm done.

pastor Bill

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Save the Planet - Eat Peanut Butter

I have always like peanut butter. It was one of my favorite things when I was little. My basic breakfast today is peanut butter on bread or toast, milk and a fruit.
I was happy when Consumer Reports reviewed peanut butter and recommended eating some regularly because of its nutritional and antioxidant content. Now, there is even better news. Peanut butter can be part of my program to save the environment.

According to "The PB&J Project"
Each time you have a plant-based lunch like a PB&J you'll reduce your carbon footprint by the equivalent of 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over an average animal-based lunch like a hamburger, a tuna sandwich, grilled cheese, or chicken nuggets. For dinner you save 2.8 pounds and for breakfast 2.0 pounds of emissions.

Eating peanut butter instead of animal-based food also saves land from deforestation and reduces the amount of water needed for food production. You can visit the website to find out more.

It may sound odd or silly because this involves thinking about our food consumption in different ways. But that is the secret to changing lives and changing the world - thinking about things in different ways.

pastor Bill

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Peacemaker

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Matthew 5:9 (NIV)

The Colt Single Action Army handgun was known as “the peacemaker.” A single action revolver holding six rounds, it was designed for the US government and adopted as the standard military service revolver. It became one of the guns most associated with the American West because of its use in Westerns on the big screen and on television. (It was also particularly good for spinning dramatically on the index finger.)

Peacemaking at the point of a gun or sword is nothing new in our world. From ancient times the strong ruler who establishes “peace” by conquest and force has been accepted as a political reality. Our world is full of “hostile parties” at war with each other and we have “peacekeepers” under the authority of the United Nations, NATO, our government and others trying to create peace.

And it becomes more and more obvious that we cannot force people to live in peace. Even God, the ultimate “strong ruler,” does not try to force peace on us.

But we are called to peacemakers. We cannot force peace, but we are to be actively bringing about peace. Paul writes: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”(2 Cor. 5:19 NIV)

The peacemaker Jesus is talking about is the person who willingly comes between two contending parties in order to try to make peace. It is not for personal gain and does not involve the use of force or threat. Those who do this are called “children of God” because in their peacemaking they resemble God.

We become this kind of peacemaker by first identifying the “hostile parties” in our lives. Are there family members, neighbors, co-workers, friends or fellow believers who are in “hostile situations?” Are we ourselves “at war” on some level with someone around us?

When we identify where the battles are, we then need to find appropriate and loving ways to step onto the battlefield -- to put ourselves in the middle of the hostility. The goal is not to force a peace, but to seek an opening for peace. Stepping into the middle of a hostile situation runs counter to common sense and is not the usual way of doing things, but it is the way Jesus did it.

Meet Jesus, find peace.


(Picture and information on the Colt 45 are from Wikipedia )

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Involuntary Simplicity

Flood Image"Simplicity does not mean that all conform to uniform standards. Each must determine in the light that is given him what promotes and what hinders his compelling search for the Kingdom. The call to each is to abandon those things that clutter his life and to press toward the goal unhampered. This is true simplicity." 'Faith and Practice' of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (1955)

What could be simpler than simplicity? "Abandon those things that clutter." Get rid of the excess that fills up our time, creates anxiety, and distracts us from the goal of living in the Kingdom.

A group of people from Plainfield Friends helped clear out the waterlogged house of one of our families that had the misfortune of living on the side of Martinsville, IN that was underwater when the White River flooded. Almost everything they owned was under water.

We helped them pick through and find the little that was salvageable. Everything else was piled in front of the house. It would be scooped up by the skip loader, put into a dump truck and left at the land fill.

It got me to thinking -- What if I had to throw it all away? What if all my "clutter" was about to be loaded into a truck and taken to a landfill?

My feelings were very mixed. Simplicity isn't such a simple thing!

And then I remembered the words of one of the people whose possessions were about to be taken to the dump. She said, "This is an opportunity to start over."

In the face of unexpected loss, financial stress and an unknown future -- it is an opportunity to start over.

That is at the heart of the Good News that we trust in and live by -- It is an opportunity to start over.

pastor Bill

(Click on the picture for more pictures from the Martinsville Reporter-Times)

Monday, June 16, 2008


Advertising agency Cramer-Krasselt compiled a 2008 Cultural Dictionary of new words and phrases culled from magazines, Web sites, blogs and conversations.

Among the new words is "defriend" -- to remove somebody from your established list of contacts, considered the ultimate snub on a social network.

Is there somebody you no longer want in your social circle? Defriend them! Delete them from your list. Remove their connections from your life. How simple and easy!

There's a problem, however. I din't think there is a place for "defriending" in the kingdom of God. "God so loved the world" is the standard we are called to live by. Paul challenges us with "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law." (Romans 13:8 NIV)

In the words of that "great theologian," Will Rogers: "A stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet."

pastor bill

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Quaint is a Funny Word

I just added a “new” book to my library. Published in 1952, Laughter in Quaker Grey is a collection of “humorous stories from a fresh source, together with anecdotes grave and gay of the Society of Friends” as collected by William H. Sessions.

Let me share a story from the book about “The Quaker and the Organ,”
“Friend Maltby, I am pleased thou hast got such a fine new organ in the church.”
“But,” said the Clergyman, “I thought you were strongly opposed to having an organ in a place of worship.”
“So I am,” said the Quaker, “but if thou wilt worship the Lord by machinery, I would like thee to have a first-rate instrument.”

The subtitle describes the book as a “new collection of quaint and humorous stories”. Yes, there are humorous stories, but don’t look for loud guffaws inside the covers of this book. The stories collected range from humorous to thought provoking to peculiar. I suppose that’s appropriate because Quakers in general range from humorous to thought provoking to peculiar.

Many of the stories are, as the subtitle suggests, “quaint” – they fit a dictionary definition of being “strange in an interesting or pleasing way.” Others fit a second definition: “Very strange or unusual; odd or even incongruous.”

We enjoy “quaint” things. That is why we have museums, living history establishments like Conner Prairie, and antique stores.

On the other hand, we don’t want to be considered “quaint.” The word suggests “old-fashioned,” “out of touch,” “irrelevant” and “not-to-be-taken-seriously.” Being considered quaint is not necessarily a compliment.

We share in a long history as part of the followers of Jesus known as “Friends.” We continue traditions and practices that have grown out of that history. This brings us a new challenge. How do we enjoy our history and live our traditions without becoming little more than a “new collection of quaint and humorous people?”

As Friends, we know that the answer to that is grounded in the living presence of Jesus. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV)

We are not stuck in the past like a “quaint” display in some museum. Rather we are living in the present and in the presence of Jesus.

That’s good news.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Abraham and Chocolate Cake - Genesis 13

From my list of basic parenting Strategies that (sometimes) work:
If there is a last piece of chocolate cake to divide between two children, do not divide it for them. This inevitably leads to arguments over who got the biggest piece. Instead, pick one child to cut the cake and give the other child first choice. This may still lead to arguing, but tends to shift it away from the parent.

The underlying issue is fairness. We seem to have an inborn need to make sure we get "our fair share" and it starts at a very young age.

In Genesis 13, Abram cuts the piece of cake and gives his nephew Lot the first choice. They each have large herds and the people managing their animals keep bumping into each other, fighting over water and grazing land. Abram offers to divide the land and give Lot first choice.

As would be expected, Lot chooses the fertile Jordan valley, with its ready supply of water, greener pastures and urban centers. Abram is left with the high ground -- good land, but with water issues, less reliable grazing land and a more rural atmosphere.

By rights, Abram could have divided things up any way he wanted. Boundaries could be drawn so that they could share the fertile valley. And, based on later events, Lot was probably already a bit of a nuisance to have around. Abram wasn't getting a "fair share."

How could Abram be so casual? He held on to the land lightly because of his faith -- his willingness to trust God and God's promises. He didn't need to hold on to the land tightly, because it wasn't his to hold on to.

How lightly we hold onto things is one measure of faith. Do we worry about how the piece of cake is sliced? Are we measuring to make sure we get our "fair share?"

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Coat and Tie Worship

The MMI Weblog quotes John Macarthur as saying, "Some people ask, why do I wear a tie? Because I have respect for this responsibility. I wear a suit because this is a more elevated experience for people. I’m trying to convey what people convey at a wedding: this is more serious than any normal activity."

John MacArthur has it right and wrong all at the same time!

He is right in stating that worship is serious. Waiting on God is serious stuff indeed. And an easy way to look serious is with a coat and tie. But a coat and tie doesn't make worship serious. It is only a surface thing, and has the danger of creating an attitude that "serious worship" only happens when we have the proper uniform, whether it's a coat and tie, robe, or Hawaiian shirt.

There are lots of other ways to do "serious worship." Some appear formal, some informal, some may even involve laughter and joy.

Where John MarArthur's statement really goes wrong is when he separates worship and the “normal activity” of God’s people. Worship is not part of some separate universe, reserved for a particular time, place and set of circumstances. If wearing a coat and tie reinforces it as separate from “normal” then it's time to cut off the ties and give the coats to Goodwill.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Meeting Jesus - Finding Forgiveness

I have been speaking on Sundays about what happens when people meet Jesus.

This Sunday, the focus is on a woman who met Jesus and found forgiveness, as described in Luke 7:36-50.

Along the way I found this statment by Reinhold Neibuhr:

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime,
Therefore, we are saved by hope.
Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
Therefore, we are saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.
Therefore, we are saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own;
Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Meeting is a verb

Sometimes when I tell people that I am pastor of Plainfield Friends Meeting I notice a blank and/or puzzled expression on their face. They know what a "pastor" is and usually know where Plainfield is, but "Friends Meeting" stops them dead in their tracks! Is it a dating service? A civic club? Or maybe a social service agency? Our sign out front tries to help by adding a line that describes us as "A Quaker Church," but I'm afraid that only confuses the issue more. What is a "Quaker?' A jolly man on an oatmeal box? Or maybe somebody who dresses in old-fashioned clothing and says "thee" a lot?

How about changing the name? Maybe make it Plainfield Community Church. After all, it describes where we are and what we are in terms that make sense to most people.

It doesn't work. It leaves out too much about who we are. It's too generic.

So how do we deal with the blank stares, the puzzled looks and the confusion with dating services and social clubs?

Part of the answer is to affirm who we are as Friends and Quakers. There is a history to share about people whose desire has been to worship God directly and live out lives of simplicity, peace, equality and active caring. It is a good history, full of stories that help describe how we got to this particular place and time.

Another possibility is to reframe the word "meeting."

We assume that "meeting" is a noun and often use it as a synonym for "church" (that is what the sign out front seems to be communicating).

What if we reframe "meeting" as a verb?

We could add a comma to the sign out front, making it "Plainfield Friends, meeting" -- as in "these are Plainfield Friends, who are meeting here." However, this would probably only confuse people more.

Here's another way to think about it--
A verb needs an object, so if meeting is a verb, we need to talk about the objects that we connect to that verb. Who are we meeting when we are "Plainfield Friends, meeting?"
-As a Jesus-centered meeting, we are meeting Jesus. As we sing, pray, listen and wait it is Jesus that is our focus.
-We are also meeting each other. Our worship community is meeting in worship, fellowship and service
-We are also meeting the larger world around us, following in the footsteps of Jesus by meeting needs, demonstrating love and giving of ourselves.

Reframing "meeting" as a verb may help keep us understand better why we are here and what we are supposed to be doing.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Problem with "Being Good"

We grow up being told to "be good" in a lot of ways. In fact, part of a parent's task is to help a child learn good behaviors and unlearn bad ones. Being good is encouraged and rewarded in many ways. As children we get privileges and goodies for being good. As adults we get praises and raises for being good.

New Years resolutions focus on being good. We identify a bad habit or behavior that we need to get rid of so that we can "be good." Stop smoking, lose weight, exercise more, read more, write more, save more -- the list goes on and on. These are not bad things but they miss the mark.

"Being Good" is good, but not good enough.

"Being good" tends to focus on what we are NOT doing. I'm good because "I don't smoke, I don't chew, I don't go with girls that do." We stay away from bad things -- things that are wrong or hurt ourselves or others -- and that IS a good thing. But it can become a very passive kind of thing. We can be good by not doing anything at all! Where's the good in that?

"Doing good" is better. Doing good means we are actively engaged in positive activities. We look for ways to use our time, energy and resources to meet needs around us. Doing good changes us and our world.

Jesus didn't spend time trying to be good. Instead he focused on DOING good in a world that was and continues to be very needy. And he changed lives and continues to change this world.

Jesus also reminds us that "doing good" is risky. Doing good isn't necessarily rewarded in our world and in fact can draw opposition, as Jesus experienced.

So why should be "do good?" For Jesus' sake.

As we start a new year, let's "be good" AND "do good."