Interview with Sacred Compass Author Brent Bill

I decided to take part in Brent Bill’s recent contest to help get the word out about his book. I know Brent through my work with convergent Friends and have enjoyed following his blog and his interest not only in Quakerism but the emerging church. He is the author of a number of books and has a new book releasing this month called “Sacred Compass” from Paraclete Press. Here’s the basic premise of the book:

A compass makes a good metaphor for our spiritual lives and the work of discerning God’s will for them. God doesn’t speak as clearly and as obviously asMapquest or GoogleMaps or GPS. Maybe that’s because we don’t navigate the life of faith via anything remotely resembling GPS. Instead, the divine compass points us the mind and love of God. Our sacred compass operates in our souls and calls us to life with God. As we move toward Divine guidance, we joyfully behold the face of a loving God gazing back at us.

With that said, let’s jump into the interview, which I think you will find very engaging, entertaining to read and will certainly make anyone who is interested in spiritual practices within our rapidly changing times want to get their hands on this book and read it.

1. How do you see your Quaker faith enriching the content of your most recent book? Or could you have written it if you were not a Quaker, how might it be different?

I’ll answer the second part first.  I don’t think I could have written this particular book without having been a Quaker.  It is shot through with so many Quaker themes – minding the Light, leadings, nudgings of the Spirit, way opening, clearness, and more.  It’s not that these are exclusively Quaker concepts (though the wording is unique to Friends), but they do seem to count more en toto among Friends.  Also, the Friends idea that all of life is sacramental, we don’t divide into two kingdoms ala the Lutherans or into sacred and secular.  If the Quaker view is correct (and I think it is) then it naturally follows that God guides us through all of life’s experiences – good and bad.  I think that’s a pretty powerful Quaker testimony.

2. What kinds of virtues and practices do you see a person needing in order to have a healthy spirituality? How does your book go about addressing this?

I’m not sure virtues is a word I’d use here, but that’s probably because I’m not all that virtuous.  I’m a person struggling to make my way through this world and follow God as best as I can.  Practices, I think, help me do that.  I list a number of practices in Sacred Compass that folks might want to use.  Things like journaling, reading devotional listening, walking labyrinths, prayer, and so many more.  The practices, or what I call practices, are as varied as our personalities and paths of going to God.  The essential thing is to find the things that nurture your inner life – things that give life.  If it’s a drudge, it may not be bad, but perhaps it’s not helpful for you.  So you try other things.  Indeed, my practices have changed over the years, depending on the situations of my life.  Right now I like using Catholic and Episcopal prayer books – they help me break out of my Quaker-centric thinking!

3. Because there have been so many books written by Quakers on spirituality, do you see Sacred Compass fitting into this corpus? How do you see it diverging from it?

Certainly the volume of work on this topic by Friends made the idea of adding a book a bit daunting.  But the more I thought about it, the approach I wanted to take (and indeed did) was less about how to make the “right??? decision at a certain time than it was about learning to see our entire lives as pilgrimages to God.  Seen in that light, every decision we make can lead us closer to Christ – even the ones that may seem, or do in fact, lead us away from Jesus at the time.  This little book is about learning to, as the old gospel song says, “Trust and Obey.???  The Sacred Compass is about following our compass to our spiritual true north – the rest and love of God.

4. What role do you see Sacred Compass having within the church as a faith community?

Well, I would hope that congregations could use it in faith formation studies – Sunday schools, young adult classes, senior classes.  God’s direction is part of the Christian life through all of our life and just because we’re young and know it all – or old and know it all – doesn’t mean we need to stop seeking.  Also, I think it’s a book of encouragement – God is with you, it says, even when you don’t sense it.  Your life has purpose and meaning for the world and God even when you feel like it doesn’t.  I think the church could be a bit more encouraging that way – lifting up the weary as well as challenging us to be the people God wants us to be.

5. If the church as the people of God were to put into practice what you suggest in your book what would that look like not just individually, but communally and as an institution?

I think if we put the ideas behind sacred compass into practice as a community of believers (no matter what stage of belief we’re at at the moment!), then we would probably worry less about how we’re going to make a budget, appoint the right number of people to the committees recommended by Faith and Practice, and all that stuff and become more like a spiritual community of committed God-followers.  We’d realize that we each have wisdom to share, none of us (even me!) are perfect, that God loves us equally (even the people who annoy me), and that we’re all going to God.  Then we’d begin asking, what does that mean for us to go to God collectively – what should we be doing?  We would be the church.

6. Do you think your book can be read outside of the church context? If yes, how might it translate into another context similarly and/or differently? If no, what do you think keeps it from translating over?

Outside the church context?  Yes and no.  Yes, outside the church, no outside of faith.  I do think that a person wouldn’t have to be connected with a faith community to benefit from the book – indeed, reading it might lead them to a faith community.  But it is written through the lens of faith.  It’s not a decision-making book that could be stripped of faith and then read at business school.  Certainly some of the decision-making exercises could be used to good effect in business, but I think they wouldn’t be ask effective as they are when bolstered by faith.  An essential ingredient would be missing.

7. How do you think ‘spirituality’ is understood differently in today’s culture than say 40 or 50 years ago? Would you say we’re more spiritual now than back then, or less? Why is that?

I hear a lot about people saying “I’m spiritual, but not religious??? and I know that people seem to be hungry for spirituality while they seem to be staying away from many churches in droves.  I think one big difference – since, though I hate to admit it, I was alive 50 years ago – is that where there used to be a big emphasis on attendance at church as an indicator of spiritual depth (how many services did you attend in a week?), today it seems to be much more personal.  Fifty years ago the pastor was an authority figure – no matter what tradition you were in.  Today that’s less so for many folks – the pastor is one authority figure, alongside the latest book I just read, or speaker I heard, or…   I’m not sure we’re more spiritual (especially since I don’t know how you’d measure someone’s “spiritual quotient???!), but I do think we’re (and I’m speaking of primarily Americans here) less religious.

8. Do you see your work as addressing particular questions in the hearts of people today if yes, how so? Or do you see it as looking to answer deeper more ‘universal’ questions? Or something else?

Yes.  How’s that – my kids hate it when they ask multiple questions and I say “yes.???  But yes to the particular and universal.  Partly because, as a writer, I know that my particular story of faith has universal aspects – people read what I’ve written and comment to me that “I felt that same way??? or something like that.  I think there are some deep universal questions – why am I here, can I really know God’s will, is God with me in the hard times?  Things like that.  They become particular when I fight crippling depression or have a career decision to make, or wonder how I got myself in this spot.  I hope, and pray, that my ministry of writing has been one of spiritual encouragement for those who know they aren’t saints, aren’t likely to become saints soon, but are truly hungering and thirsting for real spiritual experiences – in following God, in holy silence, in minding the Light.

9. When it comes to our contemporary culture (mass media, consumerism, global information culture, the war on terrorism, etc) how do you see Sacred Compass addressing “times like these?” What makes it stand out as a book written in the 2000’s, post-September 11th, and in an internet age? Would you say it is more contextual than our tried and true books on spirituality?

Aren’t you supposed to end an interview with a softball question – like “Do you really eat Quaker Oats for breakfast????  (Yes, I do).  At one level, Sacred Compass is relevant today in the same way it would be relevant at any other time in human history (had it been written in the context of the times).  That’s because, as President Eisenhower once said, “Things are more like they are today than they’ve ever been before.???  Ecclesiastes said it better – “There is nothing new under the sun.???  Our yearning for meaning in times good and bad, the call of the soul to live a higher life, the hunger for beauty in an ugly world all lead us, I believe, if we follow our sacred compass to God.  That is no different for me than it was for David or Noah or Luther or George Fox.

What fits it for this time in particular is that the writer (me!) is alive at this time and has had to live in “times like these??? – shifting paradigms, new trends in religion (mega-churches, emergent, conservative Anglicans from Africa– who’d a thunk?), and so much more.  So, while this may not be a very good answer, it’s the best I can come up.  Oh yeah, and I hear, that someday soon Sacred Compass will be Kindle-ized – available electronically through  That’s something new for me!

Thanks Brent! And be sure to check out his blog.