Thursday, January 31, 2008

Reflections for Caucus Goers (From the Land of Log Cabins)

In the great journal of things happening under the sun, we, the American People, find our account running, under date of the nineteenth century of the Christian era. We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them--they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Theirs was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; 'tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

How then shall we perform it? At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide. (Italics mine.)

Abraham Lincoln, Lyceum Address (Springfield, IL): 1838

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Like Water Spilled on the Ground

I love the times when you stumble upon those hidden few couple sentences or paragraphs that summarize the gospel, the love of God toward us, in a surprising, complete and overpowering way. I had never noticed before the beautiful summary of the gospel tucked away in the story of Absalom's reconcilliation with King David (Absalom, one of David's sons, had killed Ammon, another one of David's sons, because Ammon had raped Absalom's sister, Tamar).

Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead he devices ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. - 2 Sam 14:14

Praise God for the extensive measures that He undergoes so that we, who were banished to die, would not be estranged from Him.

Thank you for the cross.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Witnessing to a New Generation

We heard an encouraging word from a friend this week. She shared from an article geared towards parents regarding advice on raising a son: "In short, your son needs to be exposed to a group of people whose religion goes deeper than a shout and whose lives demand an answer that can only be explained with the evidence of a living God." We serve the God of the Glorious Impossibles! Amen! - Mom

Apple, The Calf

Isaac's cow, Butternut, gave birth this week to a healthy heifer calf. Finally! It's been a while since the small Bentley herd has experienced some growth. Isaac called on Saturday to announce that he wanted to give the calf to Caleb. Caleb flew to the heights with excitement! It's a big deal to own your first cow!

Caleb gave the name, Apple, to the calf. Caleb wanted to start his herd by naming the first calf with an "A" name, in hopes that one day, maybe in fifty-two years, the twenty-sixth generation calf name would start with a "Z"! (What will that name be? Zucchini?)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Drawing from an Ocean of Light

I cried unto the Lord, saying, “Why should [the powers of evil in the hearts and minds of wicked men be manifested to me], seeing I was never addicted to commit these evils?” and the Lord answered, “That it was needful I should have a sense of all conditions, how else should I speak to all conditions?” and in this I saw the infinite love of God. I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. (Journal of George Fox)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

This One's for the Babies

Rebecca loves Martina McBride's song, "This One's For the Girls." She wrote the following post for the BFG about her recent trip to Washington D.C. to prayerfully remember the unborn who die each year from abortion. This one's for the babies! - Sarah Angell (Picture below of Nathaniel's separate trip to Washington D.C. with Princeton for Life.)
At 11pm on Monday, Dad, Jacob and I went with our friends, Dr. Naglieri, Nick, Joe and Mr. Hard, to Washington D.C. for our annual trip to the March for Life. We arrived in Kingston at Saint Mary's Church to get on the coach bus. On the coach bus the Rosary was recited and soon after many people fell asleep. At 4:15am, we arrived at a Maryland reststop for breakfast. At 6:15am we arrived at Saint Peter's Church in Washington D.C. All of us went into the church basement for donuts and hot chocolate. After we got our fill, we went upstairs to the 7:00am mass. Following mass we walked to the Senate Building for the National Prayer Service. My dad, Jacob and I were selected to light the candle for the service. At the service we prayed for the unborn babies and for their mothers and fathers. We went next to the National Archives Museum and saw the original copies of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. (You couldn't read them because they were faded and old.) After a quick lunch we headed outside to Constitution Avenue and waited for the march to begin. As the beginning of the march went by, we cut in and started walking toward the Supreme Court. We went to the top of the hill and looked down at the half-million people. Our eyes couldn't see the end of the march! At 3:00pm, we took a left toward our bus that was waiting for us at Union Station and began our trip home. It was all completed in a day's time!

Our reason for traveling to Washington D.C. each year is to remember unborn babies that were unable to live this life on earth and to hope for the end of abortion in the coming years. - Rebecca Angell

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Balance of Unusual

There are certainly many times on the pathway of faithfulness when we stop and look at our lives and self-consciously wonder, "Is this usual? Is this sign really pointing me to a path that is that untraveled?"

But while the pondering of unusual often brings about feelings of bewilderment and prayers for faith, I loved stumbling upon the spirit in which King David questions God about his unusual dealings with His children.

King David prays to the Lord, after his coronation, "Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord?" (2 Samuel 7)

I love that! When we look down the path of our calling "as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth" and encounter bashfulness for the unusual places to which we are led, faith looks and says, "Who am I, Sovereign Lord, that you have brought me thus far?"

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Characteristically Nebraska

I spent the weekend in Nebraska at a small retreat and amidst the hustle of the planned schedule, I was fascinated with my attempt to figure out, "What makes Nebraska, Nebraska, and not, say, New York?"

Observation # 1: In Nebraska, a road is considered plowed if there is less than an inch of snow on it. In New York, a plowed road is defined by the full exposure of pavement.

Observation # 2: In New York there is something called the city, something called the suburbs and something called the country. In Nebraska, the corn field is neighbor to the strip mall.

Observation # 3: In New York we tend to number our exits, thus allowing the driver to anticipate their turn-off point. Apparently Nebraskans find this convention unnecessary.

Observation # 4: If you were to look at the sky in New York on a given day in the morning and compare it to the sky in the evening, it would be relatively similar. If you look at the sky in Nebraska at 9:15am it may quite possibly look a whole lot different by 10:15am.

Observation # 5: Hills and road bends make driving in New York very anticipatory - there is always something new to see around the next curve. Flat straight roads in Nebraska unfortunately deescalate the whole idea of anticipation - except for their unnumbered road exits.

Observation # 6: Food is cheaper in Nebraska than in New York and powers of ten describe the increase in delectableness of a Nebraskan hamburger.

Observation # 7: The water content of the Nebraskan air in January would leave one to believe that the state is built on a giant desiccator. If you value moisturized skin, New York is the better place to be.

Observation # 8: Nebraskan horizons are quite broad and unframed. When you look into the sky, it is infinite and the land appears a mere figment of the space-time continuum. The sky in New York is unquestionably defined by the landscape.

Observation # 9: If the Missouri River was in New York, it may be called the Missouri Creek.

Observation # 10: I asked a Nebraskan, "If you were a tourist, what would you see in Nebraska?" The classic reply, "If you were a tourist, hopefully you wouldn't come to Nebraska!" That says it all!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

On Looking and Seeing

I am fascinated by watching my brother, Isaac, drive. His style is quite different than my own. When I drive, I look at blacktop and road paint and I think. When Isaac drives he looks at what surrounds the road and he makes detailed observations. "You've got to stay with it and watch what is going on around you," he likes to say. When Isaac drives, his head turns from left to right and right to left several times within ten seconds.

While I'll admit to feeling safer when I am in the driver's seat, I have come to appreciate Isaac's bobbing head because he is always so keen and has an uncanny ability to make his observations entirely helpful. For instance, tonight at dinner when we were hypothetically discussing pre-manufactured barn designs, he was astonished that none of the rest of us had realized that the exact model of what we were discussing had already been built on a road that we all commonly travel. I know the road, I have memorized all of the bends and the turns and the potholes in the road, and I can confidently report that the road has no paint on it, but I cannot begin to imagine the barn.

As I have been more cognizant in recent weeks of my insular proclivities, I have realized that there is a difference between looking and seeing. I am certain that I have the most beautiful commute to work of anyone in the entire country - I drive through hill country that has produced the most elegant and stately evergreens and hardwoods that capture each season's full array in more detail than the eye can imagine. But, sadly, some days I realize that even though I looked at a landscape that would convince an atheist to believe in God, I didn't actually see it. That is akin to a tragedy.

How much of the veiled world unfolds as I begin to intentionally see! Not only do the hues of beauty and splendor pour forth from the earth and inspire mirth in the soul, but the contrasting tones, of what sometimes appears to be a dilapidated mess, surface as well.

But, no matter how uncomely the view, I am finding that seeing the world is the first step of beginning life's mission to give myself away in love. When all I see is my life and I am limited to only looking at the world around me, I am blinded to love. For grace to have eyes that see, so that my heart can love!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

He Sent Leanness Into Their Soul

[Israel, while sojourning in the desert] soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel, but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness and tempted God in the desert. He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul. (Psalm 106:15)

May it not be said of us.

John Punshon on Perfection and the Christian Life

I guess my memories from college retreats on the Oregon Coast are now becoming a theme for me... during one particularly memorable event at Twin Rocks, John Punshon (Professor of Quaker Studies at Earlham School of Religion before my uncle, Steve Angell, replaced him) spoke on the faith and the future of the Friends movement. I was impressed with his focus and clarity and hope. I was rereading a section of his book Encounter with Silence this evening and found some of his reflections refreshingly true and helpful. - Sarah

For early Friends, perfection was the overcoming of sin, that which is contrary to the will of God. Friends were not so unrealistic as not to know that we make mistakes, do wrong things, succumb to temptation, and fail in our self-imposed disciplines. But they did distinguish between acts of sin and the power of sin in a life at a deep level.

Commitment is at the root of faith, and it is interesting in this connection to see how some of Jesus' words fit together. He always forgave 'sins'. As everybody knows, the gospel knows no inviolable rules. But knowing that our attitudes to money are a good indication of our attitudes to God, he warned people that their hearts would be where their treasure was. Thus, sin consists not in breaking the rules in the acts of this life, but in the hardness of heart which will not love others and thereby cuts off its owner from God.

[T]he Quaker tradition also contains the helpful and reassuring doctrine of 'measure'. We do not all have the fullness of light. Perhaps that is impossible in this world. But we are all given enough to have something to live up to. It will be challenging and difficult in parts, but it will not present us with things that are too big for us to handle. All that is required from us is faithfulness to live up to the measure we are given. When we have done that, we will be given more.

In this, as in so many other things, the Quaker tradition reveals the way it tends to see things as processes, capable of growth and variation, rather than concrete or abstract entities. I do not profess to know whether I can be perfect, but I know that the religious tradition of my adoption, taken seriously, assures me that I can. This is the point of conversion. If I can struggle with my sins and at the same time seek to lose myself in the grace of God, the power the light will give me will enable me to overcome all things.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

It Could Be a Norman Rockwell Painting

One of the deepest joys of daily life together has been watching the love that Grandma and Grandpa share, even in this time when Grandpa's health falters. As we gather for family devotions, Grandpa sits in his recliner on wheels, with his eyes shut, and Grandma pulls up the chair right next to him and holds his hands.

The joy of their love was exponentiated when today we found the albums of Grandma and Grandpa's engagement and wedding, now more than fifty years ago! Hannah and I loved looking at every detail, from Grandpa's telegram that confirmed the wedding date amidst his service in the Air Force, to the restaurant menus that marked special dates, to the old and dried flower and ribbon from the wedding day. So, so special.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Confidence in Confidence Alone?

Yes, I am unashamed of my love for Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1960's classic musical, The Sound of Music. On so many occassions, the spirited, brave and trusting Maria von Trapp perfectly portrays the full spectrum of life and emotion that I find within my own heart.

In the glorious seasons of life where nothing at all is misplaced from a perfect dream, I have sung with Maria in the splendor and glory of the expansive outdoors, "The hills are alive with the sound of music." In moments where I need to find cheer, I have personalized the verses to "Raindrops on roses." I have laughed with my sisters when a quirk of our personality surfaces and started to sing, "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" Oh, and how many times I have been at the very start of a long road and found the little snippet of strength in remembering "Let's start at the very beginning - a very good place to start." And then there are the sweet memories of bedtime when I was young - Dad always sat on my bedside, stroked my hair and sang, "Edelweiss" and to this day my heart melts with Maria's when the Captain begins strumming the guitar and so tenderly sings those last stanzas, "Blossoms of snow may you bloom and grow forever."

Today, as I was conscious of feeling unusually timid, I found myself identifying again with Maria... this time I marched with her, guitar in hand, to Captain von Trapp's estate as she searched for confidence, in her case to leave the abbey and become a governess for seven children.

I take confidence for granted most days, but recently some small things, inconsequential things, have burst my misplaced bubble of confidence into a little puddle of nothingness and left me feeling, well, like, "What is the matter with me? I've always longed for adventure to do the things I've never dared. And here I'm facing adventure - then why am I so scared?"

But, alas, I cannot so heartily finish Maria's song, "I have confidence in confidence alone, besides which you see I have confidence in me!" No, the last few days have shown me that "confidence in me" is not such a trustworthy friend. What a costumed friend confidence is! Quickly he parades into my life as pride in sheep's clothing only to readily leap upon me as a wolf to make me feel sheepish!

But how thankful I am to find, tucked away in the letter to the Hebrews, the encouraging admonition, "So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised."

That is better - confidence not in my own infallibility, not in my poise and suave appearance before others - but confidence that God will grant me perseverance to do His will.

Oh, why couldn't Rodgers and Hammerstein have fit that idea into Maria's song?

Addendum (1/12/08): My dear friend Kristiane called to remind me that, indeed, The Sound of Music did overwhelmingly show Maria's confidence to be in God's will as is well illustrated by her conversation with the Mother Abbess after returning in despair to the abbey and her tremendous faith is ultimately shown by marrying the Captain and leaving Austria to escape capture by the Nazis. So, I guess Rodgers and Hammerstein are fully redeemed!

And I will use this addendum to make a random recommendation - the book about the real von Trapp family, written by Maria (not Julie Andrews!), is an incredible story of faith in the face of every evil. I highly recommend The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. - Sarah Angell

In Celebration of Home

Well, there's still some dusting to do, but the home is back in order, thanks to the effort of many hard working family members. Some pictures are noted below to celebrate the success! (You have to love the corn flake box!) - Sarah Angell

Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young - a place near your altar. O Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. (Psalm 84)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

What is a Problem?

A favorite passage from the book our family is currently reading:

I think it is time you knew of Tagoona, the Eskimo. Last year one of our white men said to him, 'We are glad you have been ordained as the first priest of your people. Now you can help us with their problem.'

Tagoona asked, 'What is a problem?' and the white man said, "Tagoona, if I held you by your heels from a third-story window, you would have a problem.'

Tagoona considered this long and carefully. Then he said, 'I do not think so. If you saved me, all would be well. If you dropped me, nothing would matter. It is you who would have the problem.'

I Heard The Owl Call My Name, Margaret Craven

Monday, January 07, 2008

Getting Messy Before Getting Clean

Some positive progress was made in the kitchen project today. We are racing against time as Nate is leaving us to return to Princeton for finals tomorrow. I am looking forward to being able to clean again without thinking in the back of my mind, "It's just going to get covered with dust and glue and spackling and wallpaper pieces again tomorrow."

Sunday, January 06, 2008

On the Way to the Finish Line

The recent addition and Isaac's deconstruction of the dividing wall has left the kitchen in need of quite a lot of wall work. We decided to strip the current wallpaper in the kitchen and are anticipating redoing the walls. Today's work project was quite a messy one, but the company and our new found love of folk music (thanks to Uncle Sam's Christmas present!) made it a fun afternoon.

We had hoped to paint the walls, but the walls under the wallpaper were unfortunately not properly primed before the first wallpaper was placed, so we are settling for another wallpaper job. The wooden arch that Isaac made to replace the old wall is looking beautiful and awaiting staining.

We are desperately looking forward to the day when these indoor projects are completed!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Capra, Causes, and Caucuses

Family meals have started to carry the excited conversations that characteristically arrive in early January every leap year. We have all managed to squeeze around the small computer screen many times in recent days to watch the excited and hopeful speeches of the contestants vieing for major party nomination in the 2008 presidential campaign. Iowa has certainly added energy and drama to the faithful followings from Bentley.

Tonight we took a little break from the politics of 2008 and reversed the clock back to the 1930's to relive Frank Capra's creation of one man's political fight (Jeff Smith, Jimmy Stewart) for truth, dignity and the belief that "the only causes worth fighting for are the lost causes." Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) is a slow film, which makes the excitement, when it comes, all the more thrilling. But, more importantly, as seems characteristic for a Capra film, the prevailing theme remains that one person always has potential to bring forth and orchestrate influencing levels of change.

I suppose that is the obvious reason that the elections of this year attract such attention.

The encouragement for the rest of us who gladly do not find our current vocations attracting so much attention, comes from the angel, Clarence, in Capra's later film, It's a Wonderful Life (1946), "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Surprised by Joy

I love the title of C.S. Lewis's acclaimed autobiography as a motto for Christian living. What a gift to find, in the every day moments of life, the surprise of joy.

You have filled my heart with greater joy, than when their grains and new wines abound! Psalm 4:7

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Winter's Random Recommendations

(1) Taking a break from work is highly recommended - especially when you get to spend time with family and friends.

(2) When you have caught one of winter's colds, sitting on a window seat with sunlight streaming through the windows to fill every pore of your body works wonders for the health of soul and body.

(3) Receiving a stately and kind typed letter (like from a type writer) on parchment paper from a gentleman in his late eighties adds a certain degree of restored connection to times gone by.

(4) Watching The Great Debaters (in theaters now - directed by and starring Denzel Washington) provides a good reminder of the ever-present need to labor on behalf of both truth and equity.

(5) Reading is always highly recommended. Some recent favorites from some of my all-time favorite authors: His Thoughs Said, His Father Said: Real World Answers to the Hard Questions of Life (Amy Carmichael), The Love that Satisfies: Reflections on Eros and Agape (Christopher West), Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ (Brother Andrew).

(6) Hemming pants provides a rhythm to thinking, if you ever need to organize your thoughts (or shorten your pant legs).

(7) Eating Chicken Chili on a cold winter day comes with very strong recommendations - so strong that I will end with the recipe.

Sara Solfelt's Chicken Chili (Eden Prairie, MN)

2 lbs chicken, cooked and cut into 1" squares, sauteed in olive oil with onion, garlic and salt and pepper until golden brown


2 T chili powder
2 tsp dry cilantro
2 tsp jalepeno pepper, if desired
2 cans chicken stock
2 cans drained kidney beans
1 can Garbanzo beans
1 can black beans
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 (29 oz) can plain tomato sauce

Heat all ingredients together. Serve hot and have bowls of sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, Frito crumpled chips and fresh lime to put on top of the chili. Incredible! Out of this world!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

What a good reflection the fresh snowfall brings at the dawn of another year, "He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!'" Happy New Year!

Downhill Skiing on Bentley's Slopes

Well, we've certainly enjoyed cross-country skiing through the fields during previous winter snowfalls, but Nate brought out the downhill skis today and actually had success!