Life Lessons From a Bad Quaker (review)


Life Lessons From a Bad Quaker:
A Humble Stumble Toward Simplicity and Grace

Written by J. Brent Bill
Reviewed by Rick Ells

Life Lessons From a Bad Quaker: A Humble Stumble Toward Simplicity and Grace can be seen as a series of short, friendly sermons on the challenges of following Christ’s teachings and one’s own inner Light. The topics range from settling into silence, getting along with friends and annoying neighbors, living simply, dealing the diversity of humanity, living with integrity, caring for our Earth, walking cheerfully, and more. Each chapter includes some friendly queries and some thoughtful asides.

But don’t let the word “sermon” scare you away. Bill’s writing style is personable, relatable, and entertaining. Bill, a self-identified “type A personality,” employs the conceit, or shtick, of a “Bad Quaker” whose initial impulses often are somewhat contrary to Christ’s teachings. Bill tells the stories of getting past those errant impulses with simple wit, making it easy to identify with his struggles.

Bill explains, “I got the belief part down pretty well, I think. It is the practice of my belief in everyday life where I often miss the mark. When I say ‘bad’ I just mean I am bad at being good.”

Bill is a recorded minister of the Religious Society of Friends, author of many books, a workshop leader, and a photographer. Friends can see more of his work at

Bill uses his Bad Quaker shtick to present Quaker ways and values, while at the same time describing how following those ways and values takes attentive work. His stories are both clear and, thanks to his personable style, endearing.

I have recommended Life Lessons From a Bad Quaker to conventional Christians I know, in hopes that it will help them understand some of our Quaker ways. It also appears to me that the book would be useful for group discussions among Quakers with a wide range of beliefs, as Bill deftly interleaves Christian teachings with the more experiential Quaker testimonies.

Note that the book does not address LGBTQ issues or sexual identity topics.

Throughout the book, Bill expresses his conviction that “the tenets of Quaker faith and practice invite us to live with spiritual imagination, so that every step we take brings us closer to God and is a creative act.” His stories demonstrate that creativity and flexibility as he has progressed on his “continual journey to goodness and fulfillment.” Key to his approach is to nurture his spiritual life daily and stand on a spiritual base for action, not just a “do-gooder” base. ~~~

Rick Ells is a member of University Friends Meeting in Seattle, WA (NPYM).

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