Saturday, August 30, 2008

On jobs

I was favorably impressed with Belmont Community College's English and writing program, from the enthusiasm of the people in charge to the seriousness of the interview process to the amount of support offered new faculty.

However, and I am a bit churned up over this, I've decided not to take the job I was offered teaching a course in English composition and a remedial course in paragraph writing. Much as I'm attracted to the school and the people there, my inner voice says it's too soon to plunge in. That time is a gift and I need to take it.

On the other side, there's the me that doesn't feel responsible if I'm not working and earning money. I feel guilty sometimes not working around the clock when I know there are many women in the world holding down two jobs to make ends meet. And I fear running out of money. Roger and I just had a discussion this morning about my need for a new computer.

But against these incessant fears of lack runs another voice. This alternative line of dialogue says: sufficient for today are the worries of today. God will provide. Can you ever have "enough" money to feel secure? Isn't it the ultimate illusion that we can save enough to buy security? And a verse from a Wordsworth poem flits through my mind: "The world is too much with us. Getting and spending we lay waste our powers." Does it help a woman (or man) with an overloaded work schedule for me to do the same?

I look out the window and the countryside reminds me of the English Lake District, Wordsworth's territory. Like the Lake District, this place is remote and full of rolling hills, though with not so much spectacular water. It's a calm place and a quiet place. I have the choice of leaning into its serenity or becoming rushed and harried within it.

I also think of the story of the Roman philosopher Diogenes. His fellow philosophers said to him: If you would flatter the emperor, you would earn enough money that you don't have to live on lentils. Diogenes replied: I live on lentils so I don't have to flatter the emperor.

So I am trying to live in the moment, enjoy the lentils and not worry about an unknown future. At some point, we may need money beyond what I can earn freelancing. Then I will go back to work. If at that point they don't want me at the community college, that's fine. In the meantime, I will volunteer, tutor a student and go about with my life.

My biggest worry is disappointing people who are expecting me to take the job. However, there are three weeks until classes begin, and I'm sure this isn't the first time an adjunct has backed out.

For me, who tends to worry about money, turning down a job I'm qualified for and that fits my schedule (I would have been only teaching two days a week) is an act of faith. I'm trying to follow my inner guide. I'm trusting that my freelance work will help sustain us.

Have any of you faced a similar struggle? Am I crazy not to grab this job?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Settling into Barnesville

There are some giant spiders here in Barnesville. "Garden" spiders, I'm told. I wish they'd stay in the garden! I also saw a skunk cross the road when I was lost yesterday. I knew I was probably not going the right way when the road started getting narrower and narrower and bumpier and bumpier and shadier and shadier. Luckily, this was not a Stephen King novel. And then I saw the skunk. He was trying to skulk across the road stealthily, as if he wouldn't be seen. I would say he was cute, but then I'd be revealing my suburban roots ... But he did, honestly, look just like the skunk in Bambi.

So much has been going on its hard to unravel all the thoughts. First, I am taking to my new little white house. Now this perplexes me because I know my house back in Columbia, objectively speaking, is "better." It's bigger and newer and of course, as it's been continuously lived in by its owners (us), it's in better repair, but there's something in this new little house that speaks to my soul ... or as one of my new friends said, maybe my appendix ... I love the hardwood floors and the views and the bigs windows, and I also love the rooms being close together. I like going a few steps down the hall from my bedroom to the kitchen rather than down a hall, down a flight of steps, through another hall, through a family room ... It's cozy and snug here.

Yesterday, I missed lunch because I was on a job interview for a position as adjunct English instructor at Belmont Technical College. The wonderful cooks fed me anyway in the big kitchen where we have breakfast. That made me very happy. I had vegetable quiche and a cookie (if you're interested!). I have been doing what is called "dish crew," essentially helping to do the dishes, and have loved learning the ins and outs of the kitchen here, with all its big pantries and prep rooms. It's very orderly, and clean. And bright and old-fashioned.

I think, however, I'm not cool enough for this place. We have a lot of very cool people here, and I just can't keep up. As people who know me will attest, coolness is not one of my chief attributes. I'm also not terrifically athletic, so the five mile runs and etc. are beyond me. But I enjoy hiking past the lake everyday to meals and looking at the wildflowers and geese as I go. I hope to do more hiking (on a moderate scale) as I settle in.

There were some wonderful moments when we all introduced ourselves during a meeting. Several teachers read poems. One staff member read a Rilke poem that a teacher had left in everyone's mailbox last Valentine's day and said she loved working in a place where someone would leave a poem in her mailbox. Ela, our admissions director, played the cello to help introduce herself, and her husband Bill played a Celctic tune on a pipe he'd carved himself. Those introductions (and others) made me very happy to be at the school. But naturally, I still miss home.

Enough for now. Students arrive today, so the quietness of the summer season will end, and Sophie moves to the dorm. This is good for her but feels a little sad or odd to me even though she will only be a few hundred yards away.

I hope everyone is doing well.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On anger

Not long ago, I suffered a petty injustice. To make it worse, I was maneuvered or manipulated into a situation where I was offered two unpalatable choices. I decided to take the more generous path and put the matter behind me. I went on with my life. In the grand scheme of things, the whole situation was tiny.

Yet the experience rankled. I found myself getting furious thinking about it. I was angry that the episode was handled so ungraciously and furious because I felt I had been "played." And more furious when I contemplated that I was "played" over something so small.

I had realized awhile ago that the person I labeled "the antagonist" carried a vein of anger under a smiling facade.

I could say that I've been that person -- and I'm sure I have and that we all have at one time or another in our lives if we're honest with ourselves-- but I don't want to go in that direction.

What struck me as I've thought about this was the viral nature of anger. This angry person was transferring his or her own pent-up rage to me. I've noticed that angry people do this, trying to alleviate their own anger by radiating it out or transfering it to others. We spread rage quickly by wronging others because we've been wronged, by retaliating, by gossiping.

I was reminded of the Westboro Church. This "church" came to Westminster. Md. when I was working for the newspaper there. The Westboro people protest at the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq to publicize their belief that the Iraq war is God's judgement on the U.S. for tolerating homosexuality. They were due to protest at the funeral of a young local man killed in Iraq.

As religion reporter, I went to their Web site to find out more about them. The Web site spewed hate. It wasn't religious at all. It was the rantings of people filled with toxic levels of anger.

As we discussed the Westboro group in the newsroom -- the kind of language they were using to describe gay people as well as their plan to disrupt the funeral of grieving parents-- we grew angrier and angrier until one editor said "if I had a gun, I'd go and kill these people."

At that point, we realized we were being infected by their hate and becoming the thing we loathed. They were, with extreme efficiency -- a Web site and some foul language -- transmitting their anger and hostility to us. We were quickly turning into them.

Jesus understood the power of anger and hate to radiate outward and spread. He must have seen this phenomenon often in occupied Israel in the first century. He recognized how destructive it was and also that it could be--always--overcome with love. Love could radiate outward. Radical forgiveness could stop the hate in its tracks and replace it with a spirit that would allow all of us to become more fully human/humane.

So I decided, as an act of will, to love the person who'd wronged me. I made a choice not to get sucked into the vortex of hate. I didn't react or say any of the things I could have said. I kept my lips zippered.

I knew, however, that I would need grace not to harbor a grudge.

So I prayed for grace.

As it happened, this same person very recently did something generous and uncalled for to help me. Suddenly, I felt lighter, as if a weight I had been lugging around had lifted. I felt a surge of genuine good feeling toward this individual that was not merely an act of will or smug moral superiority. I felt grateful I had turned the other cheek and not said a word. I experienced the grace of knowing that demonstrably imperfect people can do things that are kind and good.

I know such stories don't often have a happy ending and that working through the injustice when the pain is not alleviated is much more difficult. But I wanted to celebrate this story and its good outcome.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Where is Regina?

Regina, where are you? I clicked on "one clover, a bee and a revery" and it said your blog was gone, with no forwarding address. Can you tell us what happened?

Back after Hiatus

I didn't think I'd be "dark" for two long weeks. I hope everyone hasn't entirely given up on the blog.

Just as a synopsis: the move went well. We had unseasonably cool weather, which was great for August. Now we're more or less settled into our new little cozy house. I like it here. I like the hardwood floors in the bedrooms. Our newly-remodelled kitchen is beautiful, with a new Pergo wood floor and granite-look counters and a soft beige tile backsplash. It might be my favorite room now especially as it is a big square space. I'll post before and after pix when I get a little more settled. Of course, it makes all the difference to have our familiar furniture in place.

It's very pretty here, with lots of rolling hills and apple and peach orchards. For those of you who followed the series here on Plain Secrets, the books about the Schwartzentruber Amish, you may be interested to know that the Amish around Barnesville are a group that broke away from the Schwartzentrubers and moved here because land prices are lower than in northern Ohio. I was excited to find this out. I heard they are more conservative than the Schwartzentrubers, which is hard to imagine. But we have seen no lights or reflective symbols on their buggies, so it appears to be true.

Anyway, there have been many faculty dinners and so a rash of socializing. My kids are adjusting, though it's hard to be virtually the only teens around. School starts Friday--at least new student orientation--so that should give them more to do.

I'm hampered in blogging right now by no Internet at my house but we hope to have that situation fixed soon. In some ways, while I miss all my cyber connections, it's been liberating not to have 24/7 access to the web.

I'd love to catch up with people, so please let me know what you are up to!

Monday, August 11, 2008

This is it

Tomorrow we leave for Ohio. Luckily, the catatonia of endless packing numbs one to the shock. But if I had the capacity to feel emotion at the moment, I might be amazed --again!!-- at how much "stuff" five people can "stuff" into 3,000 square feet. It's truly astonishing. It's taken us six weeks to exacavate. And we're hardly even close to near to be able to contend for any prizes in consumerism.

I have a new theory: if we adopted smaller houses in this country, we would be sending far less money to China. What do you think?

Anyway, enough theorizing. Tonight, our friend Sherri made us dinner. We ate on her deck backing to woods, dining on barbecued chicken, potato salad, corn on the cob, etc. It was a beautiful, unseasonably cool August day. It was good to see Sherri and Philip. Sherri even made us a tin of brownies. More people to miss! The dinner couldn't have been more welcome as a respite from packing and as a chance to see friends.

Moving Tomorrow

My cyberpal Peggy wrote in a comment here that she should send a picture of her family moving with stuff hanging all over their vehicles. I wish she would. That may be us tomorrow. I keep hoping that moving van will magcally expand like something from Harry Potter. You know, inside there will really be three extra rooms to stash stuff. And once that fantasy fades, I keep telling myself it's O-kay to move to O-hi-O looking like O-kies.

Plus, I thought it was a truth universally acknowledged --at least in Maryland:) --that Maryland was the best possible place to live. But just about everytime I tell somebody--and these people happen to actually live in Maryland--we're moviing to Ohio, they tell me how much better I'll like it there. How much nicer the people are. How much more relaxed the pace will be. Is Maryland that bad? Or are they trying to make me feel better, pumping me up out of pity? I'm thinking about all the things I'm going to miss here, perhaps mostly the "being at home" feeling. I don't even know who the senators are on planet Ohio whereas here old Barbara Mikulski is like an eccentric aunt. Part of the family. I understand that east Baltimore broad. And Ben Cardin was my representative for years, so it's natural he's a senator. And we have the Chesapeake Bay a half hour away, not a great lake three hours from home! Ohmigosh, it's going to be strange. But I'll adjust, I'll adjust.

We had a nice overnight in Orange, Virginia, where we stayed with the Danos at an actually very lovely Holiday Inn Express on a hill surrounded by open fields. We picked up the boys and Ashwin, and all were chipper. The trip home went faster than usual, with fewer traffic snarls as we hit the D.C. area. The silver lining to the gas prices? Last night, Jean hosted a going-away dinner for us. Of course, just about everybody IS away, so it was our family, Jean, Bill and Lisa, but what a delightful crowd. It's always good to see Bill and a pleasure to see Lisa, whom we don't see that often. Food was great and Jean did her usual lovely job with hospitality.

We had a chance to watch the Olympics in the hotel room and at Jean's. Last night, we watched the U.S. women's gymnastic team in the qualifying rounds. I can't get over how good these women (girls?) are. My head is still caught in a 1970s time warp with Olga Korbet and Nadia Komenichi. Does that happen to you?

Anyway, lots on China. They seem to have all the money these days. I imagine we shipped all our money over there in exchange for a lot of consumer goods. I'm uneasily reminded of my old grade school stories of the silly Indians trading Manhattan for a few trinkets and clocks worth $24. (Our school system in the 1960s wasn't precisely enlightened or empathic in it's portrayal of Native Americans!) But is that us now, trading our birthright for a few gazilllion low-cost microwaves and Dora the Explorer dolls and designer label tennis shoes? In any case, I can't get over Beijing. What's happened to all those people in Mao jackets riding bicycles? I'd heard people tell of all the Starbucks there etc, but ... ohmigosh!

However, I have question. Is China ever called communist anymore? All I keep hearing, in the few hours of television I've watched lately, as we don't have tv at home, is that it's an "authoritarian regime." But isn't it still, at core, a communist country? Or is that if we called it that we'd have to treat it as an enemy? Or would calling China communist wreck the storyline that communism is a failed ideology that fell with the Soviet Union? Anyway, it's curious to me.

Have to go pack! Please wish us well as we move over the next 72 hours! I can't believe it!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Obama as Mr. Darcy?

OK, this happened days ago and the world has so moved on, to Paris Hilton for President and beyond. But I'm ... still that slow pace! ... and STILL thinking about Maureen Dowd's editorial in the NY Times comparing Obama to Mr. Darcy.

So wrong. Obama's a smooth speaking charismatic. Mr. Darcy was always stiff and reserved, shy and uncertain, hiding behind his wealth and status, not out of arrogance or hard-heartedness but because he felt a little awkward and fearful. Endearing that someone with all his wealth, privileges of being male, rank, etc. could still feel insecure. Endearing that he could need the intangible sparkle that Elizabeth Bennett brought to the relationship. Endearing that he was probably a more decent human being that others of his ilk.

However, I AM flattered that Dowd compared "we the American people" to Elizabeth Bennett. Who could be cooler than EB? She glides through all company with equal aplomb, never (or seldom) at a loss for words, never at a loss for wit, never without a sense of who she is. Who wouldn't want to be Elizabeth Bennett? She's the best.

But I show my prejudice. So let me pose the question: who's your favorite Austen character?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Piano

The house is starting to empty and when the piano man came to cart out our piano yesterday, I felt a rush of "this is real. We're really moving. They're taking the piano! Oh my goodness! We're leaving home!"

Don't get me wrong. I'm delighted that Becky from our meeting took the piano. We certainly couldn't bring it with us. Now, it's become the great meeting piano, going from the Roses to us to Becky and maybe afterwards to Jean. John in the meeting is a piano tuner, which makes it even more of a family affair.

But the big empty space in the family room where the piano used to be was like the proverbial hole in the heart! (Or is that in the head?) I felt sad.

This move seems so much more real than the baby hops we've taken from College Park to Laurel to east Columbia to west Columbia, all places more or less next-door to each other. Going to Ohio, although it's only six hours away, seems like getting on the spaceship and swooshing to another planet.

I hope we can adapt to planet Ohio.

Nobel peace prize?

I dreamed last night that my friend Bill Samuel--you can link to his blog from my blog -- won the Nobel peace prize. It made so much sense I wasn't surprised at all. Bill has worked for peace for, what, almost his whole life?

So how about a grassroots movement? Bill for the peace prize.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Moving soon

We move in a week. I feel a little sad that we will miss Baltimore Yearly meeting sessions (this week) and probably almost all of Ohio Yearly meeting sessions (taking place in Barnesville the following week). But the "inner voice" I keep hearing tells me to go slowly and take one thing at a time. Right now, the "one thing" is the move, which feels in some ways like being in labor or having a tiny baby to care for: everything in the world collapses to focus on that one point. It's not quite the same--there's much more human control over the process--but it's similar.

As we try to understand how to deal with the transition of putting our house in the hands of a renter--a steward-- and with moving to another state, which neither of us have done as materially-encumbered grownups (when I moved to California after college, I could fit my life in a suitcase)--I realize I haven't asked wiser and more knowledgeable souls for advice.

So: any advice? We hired professional movers to load and pack our 26-foot truck, which Roger will drive the 300 miles to Barnesville. Anything we should know about that? Any packing tips?

Also, I think I will ask our realtor for our renter's phone number so we can talk to her directly. Going through third parties seems almost inevitably to make the situation stiff and adversarial. We want to help make her transition to our/her home as smooth as possible. The whole thing seems very awkward to me as, unlike selling a house, it's not a clean break. Any thoughts? Do people who've done this before think it's a good idea to talk to a renter directly?

Remembering Solzhenitsyn

I've thinking about Solzhenitsyn on and off since I read of his death a few days ago. Anyone who so annoyed Western intellectuals must have spoken some uncomfortable truths, I thought. I read his 1978 address to Harvard and could see how it would have upset people. Much of it also reads as archaic now that socialism and communism have fallen. All the same, I couldn't help but agree with his stance on secular humanism (he refers to it as humanism divorced from God). I think he may fall a little hard on the anti-materialist side (I believe God did make the incarnate things of the earth for people to enjoy and nobody I know of wants people to suffer want) but I agree that we can take materialism as the source of happiness to an extreme level. What do you think?

Here's a quote:

If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot [be] unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President's performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.

It would be retrogression to attach oneself today to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Social dogmatism leaves us completely helpless in front of the trials of our times.

Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man's life and society's activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Friendly times: meme-ing

I am one of seven people Shawna from the Mystics, Poets and Fools blogs has chosen for a meme.

Here's how she describes it:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
5. Present an image of martial discord (as in "war," not as in "marriage") from whatever period or situation you’d like.

Seven facts about me:

1. I was going to piggyback on Shawna's "lousy housekeeper" with an amen, sister. But I was a good housekeeper when my house was on the rental market. So maybe I'd be better off to say that, most of the time, a "little" dust in the corners is not my top priority.

2. I love to read (there just may be some connection between that and the afore-mentioned dust). I read my first chapter book ever in the second grade: It was called "B is for Betsy."

3. I am not terribly fond of cold weather. But I like the look of snow. From a window.

4. Roger and I honeymooned in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. In January. The average temperature was about 0 degrees. My hair froze in the outdoor hot tub.

5. I was christened and confirmed in the Lutheran church. I left Lutheranism about 12 years ago to become a Christ-centered Quaker.

6. I almost majored in art history in college, then decided to be "practical" and major in ... English. OK. (A little known fact is that I also majored in history.) In graduate school, I wrote my master's thesis on Thomas Hardy.

7. My first child was delivered by a midwife (though in a hospital); the second two being twins, the midwife practice wasn't allowed to handle the birth. However, I was probably one of the last women in the Baltimore-Washington area to find a obstetrician who would deliver a footling breech. Yes, Will, the second twin, popped out foot first and my doctor, a Pakistani woman, pulled him out by that foot. He's been fine ever since, but Roger said his little head was pointy from the birth.

The martial discord picture above is Picasso's Guernica.

My tagged people are: Roger, Bill, Peggy, Erica, Eugene, Stephen, Ted.

Plain Secrets: Faith Practices

The chapter "The Lot Falls," in Joe Mackall's Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish, gives us a window into the workings of the Amish faith among the Swartzentruber Amish.

Sam Shetler, Mackall's Amish friend and neighbor, is chosen to be a minister. His church district has one bishop, two ministers and a deacon. As a minister, Samuel will preach and look out for the material welfare of the community.

Unlike most faiths, where a person hears a call and goes for specific ministerial training, Swartzentruber Amish ministers are called by the community (and God), work without specific training, as well as without pay or any diminution of their other duties. Most men (and it's always men) hope to be spared this heavy burden, Mackall said.

Samuel is called to become a minister at one of the church's twice yearly communions. Communions occur two weeks after a meeting of the entire baptized church body but only if the entire church body is in unity. During the pre-Communion meeting every individual in the church, male or female, publicly reaffirms his or her commitment to the church rules, known as the Ordnung. If a person has a problem with the Ordnung, he or she is supposed to air it at the meeting. Communion can't occur until any problems are resolved. Sometimes the resolution is for a group to break off and form a new Amish group with a different Ordnung.

To find a new minister, as the Swartzentruber Amish do at one pre-Communion meeting, everybody, male or female, votes. This happens the following way: a current minister stands at an open window. Everyone files by, one by one, and speaks the name of the man they'd like to become minister. A scribe writes all the names down. Any man who gets more than two votes moves on to stage two.

In stage two, the chosen men stand before the church community. In Samuel's case, he stands with seven other men. Eight hymnals are spread out in a table. In one, a "lot" is placed, a slip of paper saying "you are chosen." The books are moved all around on the table so that nobody knows which one holds the paper. Each man picks up a book. The one who chooses the book with the paper in it becomes the minister. In this case, it's Samuel.

Mackall describes other aspects of Amish faith: humility, a literal belief in aspects of the Bible, such as the creation story and the Virgin birth, that are treated more skeptically in other parts of Christendom, a need to live in a community submitting itself to Christ, adult baptism, every individual having a voice in the election of leaders and in the life of the church, staying apart from the "wicked" wider world "that the devil has planted," a peace testimony that says that violence belongs to governments and is outside of the "perfection of Christ" and a refusal to swear oaths.

For Quakers reading this, much of the above "theology," articulated in the mid-16th century, will seem familiar. There's no doubt that Quakers were influenced by much of this anabaptist understanding. Humility (which I think the Quakers would refer to as simplicity) is a part of Quakerism, as is the peace testimony and the refusal to swear oaths. Like the Amish, our leaders are unpaid and many people shy away from the burden of that responsibility. Like the Amish, Quakers must be "gathered," with every single person in unity, before true "communion" can occur. (I'm oversimplifying, but trying to show the connections.) Essentially, in the Amish willingness to give everyone a say in the community, we can see the seeds of the more radical equality of the Quakers. When I write articles about the terrible frustration experienced, say, by women in the Roman Catholic church, who have absolutely no say in who gets into leadership in the church hierarchy, I can appreciate how valuable it is for a woman to have a vote for a minister or the right to stand up and challenge the Ordnung. While Amish women may seem oppressed to the outside world, I know Roman Catholic women who would give almost anything to have privileges of an Amish woman transferred to the RC church.

On the other hand, I also understand the second class citizenship of the women that Mackall describes (how seldom women, for example, actually challenge the Ordnung, a silence or acquiescence which Mackall attributes to social indoctrination) and I better perceive how Quakers were able to take female equality before God to the next level by allowing women to take any position in the community.

Quakers, though they have had periods of withdrawal, value engagement with the "wicked" world as a way to correct present evils, though a compelling argument can be made that they have paid a high price through becoming much more conformed to that world. Many modern-day Quakers have split from the Amish in a move from Christ-centered community. I also see differences in the peace testimony: I would say the Quakers are less likely to accede to the proposition that wars are for governments and more likely to oppose all war, all the time. On the other hand, I wonder if we as a group practice day-to-day non-violence to the same extent as the Amish. I am also impressed that in an Amish minister, spiritual and material concerns have equal weight: the Amish minister is responsible for the physical needs as well as the soul of his community. I believe that Jesus meant for us to have this kind of caring for each other. Mackall, like others, is moved when he sees this caring in practice, such as during a barn raising.

Mackall admits he doesn't really "get" the faith that drives Samuel and other Amish, and while he describes their faith well, it is clear to me as a Quaker that Mackall truly doesn't "get" it. But something in him is drawn to Samuel because Samuel's life, as the Quakers would say, is a "pattern" of faithful living. For instance, when Mackall's Uncle Bob, who suffered brain damage as a child, dies, Mackall instinctively turns to Samuel's spiritual strength.

Mackall is angry that a doctor "screwed up" an operation that left Uncle Bob mentally impaired. How does a God that would let this happen square with Samuel's faith?

"God made Uncle Bob that way because everyone who knew him needed him to be exactly the way he was," Samuel says.

Mackall remembers what a friendly and open-hearted person Uncle Bob was. More than 500 people came to his funeral "sob[bing] for a man with a victimized brain and a damaged heart." Mackall drops an intellectual debate over the nature of God and simply let's Samuel's words soak in. "God made Uncle Bob that way because everyone who knew him needed him to be exactly the way he was." He feels less angry. He understands that Samuel is not trying to evangelize, but is saying what he truly believes.

"I was comforted by his words," Mackall writes. "Instead of fighting usual intellectual battles with myself or with Samuel, I simply gave myself to the moment, allowing Samuel's philosophy to be mine as long as I stayed on the farm."

What do you think? Or as the Quakers would put it: What canst thou say?