Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cultivating Angels

Another Christmas has come and gone. We gathered with families and friends, exchanged gifts and shared about our lives, our years and our hopes. We listened again to the story of the birth of Jesus, whether from the mouth of Linus in "A Charlie Brown Christmas," from the pulpit of a meeting house or at home in our devotional times.

Angels are a big part of that story. An angel tells Mary of an unexpected birth. In a dream, an angel answers the confusion and anxiety Joseph must have felt. Shepherds hear the news from a heavenly host of angels. And an angel warns Joseph and Mary to leave before Herod can find and kill the baby Jesus.

Are angels still speaking to us today, or are they something we only find in the Bible?

To understand the question we need to understand what an angel is. When we think of angels we often picture white, glowing persons with wings. The angel's voice is usually filtered through a reverberation chamber and the angels visit is accompanied by various special effects involving lights and flying.

A New Testament angel is different. An angel in the New Testament is literally a "messenger." It is a word directly connected to "gospel" or "good news." Angels are the messengers who bring the good news of God's offer of deliverance. These messengers of God are an important part of the revelation of God through Jesus and appear throughout the ministry of Jesus. But there is no mention of wings, lights or booming voices.

Let's look at another messenger from God--

The gospel of John begins telling the story of Jesus at a different place than the other gospels:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. John 1:1-5 (NIV)
And, in common with the other gospels there is a messenger, but he is an "angel" of a different sort:
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. John 1:6-9 (NIV)
John, son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, a cousin of Jesus, is the messenger delivering good news.

Are angels still speaking to us today? Yes! God brings messengers in many forms into our lives to bring us good news and reveal to us God's deliverance. Like Mary, Joseph, the shephers and the Magi, we need to be listening for those messages.

We need to cultivate "angels." As we identify those around us who are delivering news that is from God and as we develop our listening skills, we discover God speaking to us as well.

I am thankful for the messengers in my life.

Keep listening,
pastor Bill

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Grieving a Loss

Brent Bill, in Holy Ordinary, posted some thoughts on events in Western Yearly Meeting. I encourage you to read his post, and then my response here.

Yes, Brent, what's going on among us in Western is not pretty.

I want to suggest another way of seeing the current events in the Yearly Meeting.

When I was called to pastor at Plainfield, the search committee sent me a copy of Faith & Practice and asked me to indicate my agreement with it. The “Faith and Thought” section is a description of orthodox Gurneyite Quakerism with roots in the Richmond Declaration (it is online at: http://westernym.net/F&PPartII.htm#FaithandThought). I felt at home with it. The Yearly Meeting also made other decisions at the time that seemed to reinforce this basic understanding of who God is, who Jesus is, and how faith is experienced.

As I became part of Western I discovered different understandings of Faith & Practice. One of the more popular is the “Chinese menu” approach. In a traditional Chinese restaurant, you pick an item from “column a” and maybe two items from “column b,” and if your party is big enough they throw in the egg roll. Faith & Practice for some is a set of options to choose from, depending on one's theological preferences. The decision during Yearly Meeting sessions was, in many people's eyes, a de facto endorsement of Faith & Practice as “Chinese Menu.” Faith & Practice is not intended to be a “paper Pope” but it seemed to no longer even be a good description of who we are.

There are some sore losers, but most of the people I am talking to who are unhappy are grieving a loss. There is a feeling that we have let go of an important part of who we are. This is not a new thing among Friends. We have a long history of defining ourselves by what we let go of. Some things, like dress codes, are let go of because they get in the way of being good news for all. Sometimes, though Friends have let go of things at the heart of who we are and that are essential parts of that good news.

For me, integrity in the Yearly Meeting needs to include being who we claim to be. If our description of who we are is not accurate, then the action of integrity is to propose changing it. Instead, I hear people defining and redefining words and phrases in order to “proof-text” a preference. If a person wants to see a Yearly Meeting organized around theological diversity or any other basic principle, then that proposal needs to be presented to the body for action. Then Quaker process can do its work.

About the meeting on Sunday, August 30. I think it is very appropriate for people who are grieving a loss to gather together to look for a way forward in that loss, and that is my understanding of what is going on. Last year, some people in the Central area also gathered in meetings to look for a way forward in affirming who they were in Western Yearly Meeting. At the time I did not hear anybody calling that a threat to the integrity and authority of the Yearly Meeting.

The quotation from Edgar Dunstan challenges us to “define, with such clarity as we can reach, precisely what it is that Friends of this generation have to say that is not, as we believe, being said effectively by others.” As I see it, that is what is going on here.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Honey-Glazed Carrots and Vegetable Stew

I have been talking with people about preparing for the upcoming yearly meeting.  I also received a copy of a minute from Indianapolis First Friends.  I am anticipating other minutes, expressions and opportunities for discussion in the next few weeks

It seems to me that part of what is going on involves different ways of seeing.

Western Yearly Meeting is a faith centered organization.  It is a faith that has changed form since its beginnings in the seventeenth century.  There have been disagreements and separations as various Friends chose to emphasize some elements of their faith and let go of others.  This is a process of development, growth and change that continues today.

The current stress within the Yearly Meeting involves two significantly different ways of seeing our faith.

I am not fond of cooked carrots, but I do enjoy honey-glazed carrots.  Good honey glazed carrots have a honey flavored sweetness that still allows the flavor of the carrots to come through.  There also needs to be a slight saltiness or tartness to set off the sweetness, sometimes from the addition of a little mustard.  While there can be variations in the recipe, there are some basics that need to be there for the dish to be identified as honey-glazed carrots.  And if too many other things are added, it begins to look like something other than honey-glazed carrots

Carrots are also often used as a basic part of vegetable stew.  Good vegetable stew will be seasoned in ways to maximize the flavors of the ingredients but there is a lot of flexibility in what those ingredients can be.  Some people like more potatoes.  Others prefer more exotic ingredients.  I like a little garlic thrown in.  My wife would much rather have onions.  Some would always add tomatoes and others would never add tomatoes.  Some prefer more pepper or spice.  A good stew has a variety of flavors to be explored.

My understanding of who we are as Western Yearly Meeting is like honey-glazed carrots.  There are some basic elements that identify who we are and that I see expressed in the Western Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice.  Two of those elements that make up who we are an understanding that Jesus is uniquely divine and that his sacrificial death uniquely saves.  There are variations in emphasis and differences in expression, but for me these basic elements identify who we are.

Othes see us as vegetable stew.  Faith and Practice is a collection of ingredients to select from or add to.  I would suggest that the June 2009 "Indianapolis Monthly Meeting Minute Regarding Theological Differences between Meetings and Individuals within WYM" expresses this way of understanding who we are (the minute is not available online).  This minute affirms that the basic ingredient is Jesus ("We take our relationship with Jesus seriously, and affirm that being a Christian entails being like-minded with Him as we strive to take on His nature in our daily lives").  The minute goes on to argue that, "Since spiritual revelation is an ongoing, inward process and not a result of static dogma, we do not strive for uniformity of belief, but rather we center ourselves upon the guidance of Divine Love as we listen together for God's leading,"  with a goal of becoming "an ever more broad and living example of vibrant theological diversity." 

So where is the conflict?  Isn't it just a matter of preference?  After all, combining the honey-glazed carrots and the vegetable stew would combine flavors in new ways. And the stew would still be stew.

But the honey-glazed carrots would no longer be identifiable. 

That is the heart of my concern and the concern of many others.  What identifies us as Western Yearly Meeting?


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Preparing for Yearly Meeting

Western Yearly Meeting Sessions begin on Friday, July 31. The Yearly Meeting Program Committee has put together a schedule of worship, workshops and times for fellowship along with the usual business sessions. The program for children and youth has been expanded. I encourage you to attend as much of Yearly Meeting as possible. Registration information is available at the Meeting House.

Keep our Yearly Meeting sessions in prayer. Yearly Meeting is not just a business meeting. It is, in Friends terms, “a meeting for worship with a concern for business.” Pray for Jim Crew, Clerk of the Yearly Meeting, that he will be sensitive to Lord’s leading as he prepares for the meetings and as he presides. Pray for all the others in leadership as well.

There will be one item of business that has already drawn a lot of interest and generated a lot of discussion. The Yearly Meeting Board on Christian Ministries and Evangelism is recommending that Phil Gulley's recording as a minister with WYM be rescinded because of substantial disunity with WYM Faith and Practice. This is the culmination of a process that began six years ago when concerns were raised about Phil's theology as expressed in If Grace is True, written by Phil Gulley and Jim Mulholland. This minute is scheduled to be presented on Saturday, August 1, in the morning business session.

Unfortunately, over the years this process seems to have generated more heat than light. There has been anger and name-calling. Motives on all sides have been questioned. This is all the more reason that we need to be praying for wisdom, patience and God's grace on all who are involved in this issue.

I want to share a few of my thoughts on this issue as I prepare for Yearly Meeting:

Some see this as a personality clash between people who just don't like each other or who can't seem to get along. This is not true. I know from my involvement that the people at the heart of this issue deeply care for each other.

Some see it as a power struggle – a battle for the control of the Yearly Meeting. While it is true that we all deal with control issues on some level in our lives, I have not met anybody in this process whose goal is to “run the Yearly Meeting.”

As I see it, the immediate issue has grown out of some some deeper questions about the nature of a Yearly Meeting, and about Western Yearly Meeting in particular:

  • Is the Yearly Meeting primarily an administrative body concerned with taking care of property, managing endowments and running programs, or is it a body with some degree of authority over constituent meetings and issues of faith? Historically, Yearly Meetings have had a fair amount of authority but beginning in the twentieth century that understanding began to change. Meeting autonomy has become a more important value. Is this a good thing?

  • Where does the “Faith and Thought” portion of the WYM Faith and Practice fit in? Is it a description of who we are? Is it a set of faith statements that we pick and choose from? Do we want to have a common expression of faith? There has always been a tendency to emphasize some parts and pay less attention to others. Our contemporary desire for personal autonomy runs counter to the idea of a common faith.

  • Is the Yearly Meeting structured for ministry or are we just structured for maintenance? There is a lot of good ministry going but a lot of resources, time and energy are spent maintaining the organization.

Connected to all of these questions is the bigger question of community. What kind of community is Western Yearly Meeting? Communities can choose to organize themselves around many things -- common beliefs, a common history, common tasks, or common needs. What kind of community are we and what are we organized around?

These are challenging questions. I'd like to hear what you have to say.

Wait, pray, trust

pastor Bill

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Another Great Junior High Camp

I had a great time as a a Junior High Camp counselor at Quaker Haven last week. As you can see, the setting on Dewart Lake is terrific. (And we had great weather to enjoy the lake)

We had 79 girls and 35 boys. Here they are waiting to get into the dining hall to enjoy the outstanding food. (The good news - I only gained two pounds)

Group worship times were loud and meaningful. Cabin worship times were quiet and meaningful.

I observed some very creative water balloon activity. This basketball size one set a record.

And of course the Camp Directors are always trying out new games. This last picture is one they called "Thrive." It was a combination of capture-the-flag, a water balloon fight, and a watermelon hunt. (I don't think we ever found the watermelons)

A lot of junior high kids met Jesus last week in a lot of different ways. And it sure feels good to be part of that.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

My Other Blog

Counsel to the Christian-Traveller: also Meditations & Experiences
by William Shewen is a new book from Inner Light Books.

William Shewen was a first generation Quaker, a pin maker and his house was one of the first meeting places of Friends south of the Thames River in London.

“Meditations and Experiences” is the largest part of the book. Shewen presents 70 short thoughts, possibly shorter versions of messages given in worship, that describe the Quaker faith as he experienced it. He invites the reader to enter into the same experience and know the satisfaction and fulfillment that he has enjoyed.

I was struck by his directness, his intensity, and the way the Bible is infused in his writing.

I have started blogging his "Meditations & Experiences" at It Is A Precious Thing.

Music Pick of the Week

While I'm working, I often have one of my Pandora stations going and I get to hear music I never would have come across otherwise. One morning Pandora started playing "Mercy Seat" by Anonymous 4. I was stopped dead in my tracks by one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. "Mercy Seat" is a traditional Sacred Harp song that is very moving by itself (watch this video). Anonymous 4 makes it transcendent.

Here's a sample of Mercy-Seat by Anonymous 4 courtesy of Amazon.com


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Picture Of The Week

Our lives are complete. We have done something very few Hoosiers have done. On our way to visit my brother in Ohio, we made a side trip north of Richmond and climbed to the top of Hoosier Hill, the highest point in Indiana. (Actually, "climbed" may be too strong a word. We "walked" thirty feet from the dirt road.)

I recorded our accomplishment in the official logbook. Later that day we drove near the Ohio highpoint, but we were running late and will save that adventure for another day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009

Do Without

On the afternoon of the 2008 Olympic opening ceremonies, our television died.  It died of old age.  It was 15 years old and had gone through three moves.  The tuner has been fried for 10 years (somebody spilled a liquid that dripped into the back).

We decided we would save up for a new television.  Not another 27 inch heavyweight hulk, but a really BIG flat-panel High Def Wonder.  We figured we could get one by Christmas.

We went to a nephew's wedding in North Carolina in September, the car needed major front-end work in November, and we have a hefty tax payment coming up.  The High Def Wonder got put on the back burner.

And then, about a month ago, I began to think the unthinkable -- Since we've gone six months without a television, maybe we don't need one.  I tried to think about anything that I felt I missed out on in those six months and realized that even if there was something I might have wanted to watch, I didn't miss it.  There are many better ways to keep up on current events than watching television.  And a lot of my interests are the kinds of things that get ignored by television.

What finally pushed me over the edge was "Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without," a blog post by Russell Arben Fox.  He writes,

You want to be environmentally conscious and help conserve what resources we have left? Well, then quit buying all that expensive crap that gets shoveled out at us by the Powers That Be, crap that’ll have to thrown away as soon as you’re lured in by the next model car/range oven/purse/sneakers/lifestyle renovation/electronic gizmo. Resist change, cut back, slow down! Wear that sports jacket for another year! Exercise at home! Garden and eat your own food! Not everyone can do all of this; indeed, given how pervasively the habits of acquisition, competition, and consumption are threaded through most of our daily routines, most of us can’t do most of it. But here and there, we can and should make a stand, however wired our professions or home lives may be.

Our television seems a good place to take a stand.  Media is the engine of consumerism in our society.  The television culture turns everything and everybody into a commodity (but that's another post).

"We will do without a television."  There, I said it.  Let's see how it goes.

Unresolved Issues:
Colin Firth - Kathy really enjoys the five hour BBC Pride and Prejudice that features Colin Firth as the best D'arcy of all time.  Is there some way we can still have Colin Firth in our lives?

DVDs and Videotapes - we have a lot of them.  Do we invite ourselves over to the neighbor's house to watch our classic Fred Astaire movies?

Still working it out,

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Silence and Listening

I was able to go to the  Monterey Jazz Festival for several years in the early 1970s.  It was a great opportunity to hear amazing jazz artists, wonderful vocalists and up-and-coming performers.  There were five shows spread out over 3 days, winding up with the blues show on Sunday afternoon.

I was relaxing and watching television on the Monday evening following the Jazz Festival and realized that I was not listening to the words in what I was watching -- I was only tuned in to the music.  Three days of listening to great music had changed the way I was hearing things! 

I recalled this experience during the time of quiet waiting in the Friends in Fellowship worship group last Sunday evening.  Brent had raised the question of whether the group should continue.  Some people responded to the question and then we shifted into a time of quiet.

I came to realize that I was there for the silence.  Extended silence changes the way I hear things, in the same way that three days of world-class jazz changed the way I heard things. One of the ways quiet waiting transforms us is that it changes the way we listen.

And to extend the idea--
The significance of any form of worship is in the way it changes the way we hear and see and experience things when we leave that time of worship.  I am blessed by our worship on Sunday mornings, with hymns, a choir, prayers and preaching.  My Quaker understanding is that those outward elements of worship are there to help me discover my relationship to Jesus Christ in new and fresh ways, not as ends in themselves.  Otherwise it is only music and words. 

In the same way silence is not an end in itself, but another opportunity to explore my relationship to Jesus.  I hear the words shared in the silence within a larger context that includes the group, the world and the living presence of Jesus.  And the way I listen is changed.


Monday, March 9, 2009

A Season for Meeting Jesus

The season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter week, began on February 25. For this Lent and Easter season my them is “Meeting Jesus.” This is what the “Meeting” in Plainfield Friends Meeting is all about. It is a verb – an action word. We gather together to meet Jesus.

What happens when people meet Jesus?

When we read the Gospels we discover that things change when people meet Jesus. Some people get healed, others get angry. Fishermen and tax collectors begin gathering in people rather than fish or money. Some are puzzled and confused when they meet Jesus. Thousands are fed and others are made aware of their emptiness. Nothing stays the same.

The Gospel of Mark begins very abruptly telling us about Jesus. He is “the Son of God” (1:1). John the Baptist declares that he is “more powerful than I. . . . I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you the Holy Spirit”(1:7,8). The voice form heaven declares: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”(1:11)

And then, after all this introduction, Jesus introduces himself: “The time has come,” he said, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (1:15)

We are almost too familiar with these words. We don’t take seriously what Jesus is saying as he greets the world – and us.

“The time has come” – There is a purpose and significance to our time on earth. Life isn’t just “one thing after another.”

“The kingdom of God is near” – Jesus invites us to live in a different place, even while we live in this world. We don’t have to settle for the status quo and business as usual. God is within our reach, if we would only recognize it. And the things we consider so important in the realm we live in lose their significance.

“Repent and believe the good news!” – Jesus caused reactions in people because he calls us to reorient our lives around something besides ourselves. It’s a hard and uncomfortable thing to do. And it changes us.

Look for ways to meet Jesus this Easter season.

pastor Bill

A Failure of Trust

The news stories about the current financial crisis suggest that part of the problem is a failure of trust. The world of credit is built on trust. Letters of Credit, Loans and Mortgages are all built on a trust relationship. On the most basic level the bank says to the borrower “I trust you to pay me back”. And then some manipulated that trust, preyed on others and distorted that system of trust. And the system broke.

I worry that trust is getting harder and harder to come by in our world. And a lack of trust in society has deep consequences. Trust is a relationship word. It is a basic building block of relationships between individuals and communities of people.

Trust is at the heart of who we are as followers of Jesus. In the Bible “Faith” is a word that in almost every case would be better translated as “trust.” The word “faith” is often used to designate a set of beliefs, as in “What faith are you?” It suggests something set and static. Our set of beliefs is important, but faith is something we do, not something we are. That’s why the word “trust” is better. It carries with it the idea that we are acting on that faith. Trust is how we live out our faith.

As followers of Jesus I believe we are called to help a broken world relearn how to trust. Trust is a relationship word and a community word. It goes against the grain in a culture that is so focused on individual happiness and personal self-realization.

Psalm 37 touches on the question of how to live in a world that is broken, where those who do wrong seem to get rewarded while those who do good are forgotten. Trust is the answer:

Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the Lord
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret--it leads only to evil.

Psalm 37:3-8 (NIV)

“I do trust. Help me get past my inability to trust.” Mark 9:24


Wild About Horses Bible ?????

When Bible marketing goes off the rails . . . .

(HT to Between Two Worlds)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"The Gluttony of Time

Bob Hyatt on "The Gluttony of Time"

Is busyness an evidence of unhealthy appetites?

Why do we say yes to so much? Is it because we are guilt-ridden,
co-dependent angst monkeys who lack the willpower to say no? No. We say
no to a million things a day. Usually to things that are good for us,
but still...when we want to, we know how to say no just fine, thank you.

Is it because we have a drive towards self justification that works
itself out in our work and an ever-increasing load of commitments
through which we seek to earn the favor of others and God? In part,