Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill)

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I am a minister, photographer, retreat leader, author and Quaker -- albeit one who's not always good at being a good Quaker. I am the author of "Awaken Your Senses," "Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality," "Mind the Light: Learning to See with Spiritual Eyes" and "Sacred Compass: The Path of Spiritual Discernment" (foreword by Richard Foster). This blog is a compendium of writing, photography, seriousness and silliness -- depending on my mood.
Updated: 2 weeks 3 days ago

A Loving Story: Myra and Howard

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 9:16am
Yesterday, whilst Facebooking, I was alerted to a wonderful, yet bittersweet, story. Two of my school friends (Myra and I went from first grade through high school together) from the West High School class of 1969 were featured in The Columbus Dispatch (my hometown paper).

The article tells the story of Howard Foster and Myra Clark and how racism drove them apart 45 years ago. It's a wrenching story -- but ultimately one of the power of love. It's a tale of how, as Quaker William Penn said, "Force subdues, but love gains."

Their pictures in the 1969 edition of the West High School Occident yearbook show two young
people with most of their lives ahead of them. As the article notes, parts of our time at West were rocked at times by racial violence and demonstrations. On February 24, 1969, 74 West High students were arrested for refusing to end a sit-in. They were protesting the administration's refusal to allow a public address announcement of the fourth anniversary of Malcom X's assassination.

The sit-in was in the gym. Hardly disrupting anything. But the administration called the police and had students arrested. Which sparked even more racial tension than we'd experienced before.

I thought that move was stupid then. I think it was even dumber today. And it was just sad. It is still sad.

Little did Myra and Howard probably know that this was a harbinger of their future.

What is also sad is the racism Howard faced following high school. Those experiences were the reason he broke up with Myra -- “Society wasn’t going to let us be together and she be happy. ... She’d get tired of the stares; I just thought it was unfair to her,” Howard says in the article. “Her happiness was the most important thing.”

What's most sad -- and frustrating -- about this is that in many ways the issues faced by Howard are still with us today. While some things are better, we who live in the United States have a long way to go healing our racial divide. And when I say "we" I mean the white majority. White like me. 

I've been thinking a lot about that after reading Howard and Myra's story. And how we can't ask those who are oppressed to solve the issue for us. Then, ironically, I opened my email this morning and found this poem as today's "Poem-A Day":


Hope by Ali Liebegott

always the hopeless asked to give others hope
the ones pushed up against wall after wall

when you’re done unpinning yourself
from the wall, please give hope

those who work twice as hard to seem half as good
being asked to do one more thing

we need to be seen
because things are not going well
and the crows are up to no good

About writing this poem, Liebegott says "I often think of the expression, ‘You have to work twice as hard to be viewed half as good,’ used for women and people of color. Marginalized people are often asked to be the patient educators to non-marginalized people. I think this poem wrestles with the intrinsic unfairness of that."

Yet, Howard and Myra, despite the "intrinsic unfairness of that," continue to be "patient educators" to us all. They remind me to be ever vigilant and active in working against the entrenched racism in contemporary American society. They do give hope.

Earlier in this piece, I quoted William Penn. As I read Myra and Howard's story, I was reminded by another Penn quote: "Never marry but for love; but see that thou lovest what is lovely." Myra and Howard saw what is lovely in each other in high school -- and today. May we see what they saw -- and may it call us to work for a world where love rules and "gains."

Thank you, Howard and Myra.





Categories: Blogs

Feral: A Book Recommendation

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 9:24am
As I write this, I'm looking out my office window here at Ploughshares Farm. In 2003, most of our fifty acres was pasture or crop land. Today it is primarily tall grass prairie and native Hoosier hardwoods. With help from various foresters and conservation folks, we have -- what I just learned thanks to this week's QuakerBooks & More selection -- "rewilded" this "tamed" piece of Indiana.

Now I grew up a city boy so the idea of doing all this was, in Quaker parlance, "not a thought that would have occurred to me." Until, that is, until Nancy and I began building our home here. We began walking the land and both realized that we were called to steward it in the best sense of that word. And the best way to live up to that spiritual call was to restore -- or rewild -- it. Today we are blessed by an abundance of bunnies, butterflies, bald eagles, deer, wild turkey, and more. Hopefully the Earth is a bit better for all this work, too. I know my soul is.

So please take a look Feral (and other Earth stewardship books) at QuakerBooks & More. It will feed your spirit.Ploughshares Sunset
Categories: Blogs

In Praise of "Loafing" -- and Retirement

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 7:20am
As I read this morning's featured poem on "The Writer's Almanac," it seemed a good way to announce my upcoming retirement and time for more"loafing."

Loafing
by Raymond Carver

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I looked into the room a moment ago,
and this is what I saw —
my chair in its place by the window,
the book turned facedown on the table.
And on the sill, the cigarette
left burning in its ashtray.
Malingerer! my uncle yelled at me
so long ago. He was right.
I’ve set aside time today,
same as every day,
for doing nothing at all.

"Loafing" by Raymond Carver from All of Us. © Knopf, 1998.  (buy now)

Despite my dad's joking that I wasn't afraid of hard work -- "Brent can watch me do it all day" -- since I began working at Sears in June 1970, I've been pretty much working full time ever since. That will end on October 31 when I retire from my present position at Friends General Conference.

I have been blessed, for the most part, with worthy work, including my current position at FGC; years at United Ways in Henry, Franklin, Jennings, and Scott counties; at the Indianapolis Center for Congregations; pastoring at Jericho Friends, Friends Memorial, and 1st United Methodist in Hillsboro, Ohio; teaching at Earlham School of Religion; being on Central Ohio Young Life staff, and much more (a truly itinerant -- or easily bored, perhaps -- minister).

But over the past year it's become clear to me that it's now time to step away from full-time employment. Time to putz around the farm, spend time with my family and friends, pray with my camera, write a bit more, read a lot more, and to "set aside time today,/ same as every day,/ for doing nothing at all." And to explore what God has in store for this next chapter in my life -- maybe leading writing, photography, or other spiritual retreats here at the farm. Or maybe "doing nothing at all." Whichever, whatever -- received in gratitude.
Categories: Blogs