Thursday, June 26, 2014

Community Lovers

I wrote this in 1996. It's just as valid today.

I started the following poem in 1996. It flows out of my observations of volunteers and community advocates as I worked and served on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis. It reflects some of the urban neighborhood folk—like Ruth Shaw, Jerry King, Merri Anderson, and John Kanouse—who have modeled for me what it means to seek and love community. 

Returning to this poem and the Near Eastside 18 years later, the sprit and truth of this reflection is just as valid. 

Community lovers:
neighbors falling in love
with a hard-to-describe sense of community.

Each expresses it diversely:
one restores a house,
another canvasses door to door,
another finds herself mildly enduring
long meetings to represent her block’s concerns,
another keeps the grapevine fresh with
friendly half-truths about other neighbors,
another braves wind and cold to
help children cross the street.

Sometimes these like-hearted neighbors connect,
but usually they don’t.
The efforts of community lovers are neither
programmed nor orchestrated.
Still, their impact is not lost.

From the four corners of the community
unseen efforts speak for themselves and
buoy fragile neighborhoods,
drive back fear,
instigate change,
engender education,
reduce would-be tragedies,
symbolize hope.

Community lovers do not often get loved back.
Pet programs do not get funded,
ideas get unduly criticized,
surefire solutions die on the vine,
hours of labor get overlooked.

But community lovers are hooked on community;
they love it anyway.
They will find a way
to love,
to serve,
to invest,
to make a difference.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Slipping into Summer

The gear shifts subtly but noticeably and welcomingly

We’re slipping into summer. Can you feel it? Life shifts from overdrive to a lower gear. Though the engine may rev on for a while, everything around us is beckoning: slower, slower, slower.

A DIFFERENT RHYTHM. We’re being coaxed into a season that invites a different rhythm. Instead of pre-dawn rushes to get out to the school bus or off to the clinic and then bracing for a full range of evening activities every weeknight, folks in the Hay household are gradually easing off the accelerator. Mad dashes aren't demanded...for a while, at least.

SUMMER STATE OF MIND. It’s not that there aren’t things to do (thank goodness we haven’t yet heard “I’m bored), it’s that there aren’t so many things scheduled so tightly, so early, so conflictingly. It’s a welcome break, even if it’s still a pressing pace that would leave most folks weary by midweek. Becky's able to spend the time she'd like working around the yard. The kids sit around the glow coming from the backyard fire pit at dusk. We talk as we kick a soccer ball around a circle. The kitchen is a gathering place of friends and, with it, necessary clutter. The grill, unused for the past eight months, is getting a workout. And even our summer-long family project—getting ready for Abby’s August wedding—seems more manageable in a summer state of mind.

WALK IN STEP WITH SUMMER. We’re slipping into summer. I perceive this as a good thing. It’s a state of being. It’s a condition of the mind and heart. Not a carelessness, it is more an intentional deliberateness and spacing. It is not taking it easy, but taking time for re-creation, re-formation, restoration, renewal, and relationships. Ignored or resisted in some cultures or by some households, I’m convinced that accepting and embracing summer is as important to relationships and health as it is to economies and spirituality. I hope you will recognize summer’s unique graces during these months. Perhaps the breakthroughs long-worked for will emerge serendipitously, surprisingly, graciously as you walk in step with summer.

[I wrote this in 2008]

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Keep Holy Cross Open

My letter to Indianapolis Archbishop Tobin

Dear Archbishop Tobin,

Greetings. I am writing in hopes that you will consider the positive community impact of the Holy Cross Parish and the loss of this, should you follow through on your decision to close it.

Both as a Protestant pastor and as a community leader, I have served Near Eastside neighbors and neighborhoods since 1987. My encounters with and work alongside Holy Cross Parish members and church leaders in compassion and social change efforts has been a constant testimony to Christ’s visible presence in our community. It is as if the congregation’s unique spirit has faithfully, extraordinarily produced fruit in neighbors loving mercy and doing justice in this particular place.

I now serve as Executive Director of Near East Area Renewal (NEAR), a nonprofit community development corporation (CDC) that develops community as we create great places for neighbors. After many years of decline in households and population, the Near Eastside—and particularly the near-downtown, west end of it—is beginning to increase in a diverse income and cultural mix of households. Properties have stabilized and new investments are being made. NEAR has restored or built 60 houses in the past three years in St. Clair Place neighborhood, just north of Holy Cross. We are currently working on 16 more houses for homeownership. There is every indication that renewal of the Near Eastside will be a developing urban story over the next decade. Please consider this as part of your strategic thinking about whether or not to dissolve the faith community that is in the heart of this.

The Near Eastside community is blessed by the diversity and uniqueness of both Holy Cross and St. Philip Neri Parishes. Those of us who serve in the community readily recognize their distinct separate contributions. Though less than two miles apart, in a dense matrix of urban neighborhoods, they stand like two pillars of faith in our community—anchors, as it were, of community life. The Near Eastside is enriched by each in very different ways. We hope they will both continue to serve and flourish in the years ahead.

As you are faced with difficult decisions for the sake of administrative efficiency, please consider again options other than closing Holy Cross Parish. Perhaps this period of consideration will spark enough soul-searching and surface enough expressed value in and for Holy Cross that it may become a catalyst for the congregation’s own renewal. I hope so.

Grace and peace,

John Franklin Hay, D. Min.
Executive Director

Near East Area Renewal

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Sunday, June 1, 2014


I'm learning to sail in the self-taught school of sailing. It is exhilarating.

I'm learning to sail. This is something I've always wanted to do, something children who live on lakes or by an ocean learn before puberty, and something, as a 55-year-old novice, I am taking on as a later-life challenge.

I feel a bit foolish out there--this greying pilot plowing a 14-foot Sunfish--an entry-level trainer--across nearby Eagle Creek Reservoir, trying to work the angles, feel the wind, adjust the sail, practice smooth turns, and generally avoid capsizing too often. Others in my age range sail by on 25-foot cruisers trimmed perfectly to catch the wind. No matter: I'm determined first to become safe, then good, then very good at sailing.

There appears to be no sailing school around these parts at this time. So, I checked sailing books out of the public library and watch instructional videos on YouTube. I'm teaching myself how to sail, hoping I don't pick up too many bad habits before some seasoned sailor can properly show me the ropes.  At this point, I'm going by the book, but already understanding that part of sailing relies on feeling, sensing, and being nimble to respond to the wind, sail, land, and other boats.

This all started while riding bikes with my friend Rabbi Aaron Spiegel. Somehow, we got to talking about the wind as we rode along and I said I'd like to learn to sail. "I have a Sunfish and I will give it to you, " he said. "I have a bigger sailboat I keep at Eagle Creek and I never use the Sunfish. You can have it." So, I gratefully received it and have been spending a few hours out on it whenever I get a chance.

Aaron showed me his sailboat. It is named "Ruach." "That's Hebrew for 'Wind,' 'Spirit of God,'" I said. "Yep," he affirmed. "You're one of only a few who knows what that means."

"What do you suggest I call the Sunfish?" I asked him. "Call it 'John's Folly,'" Aaron quipped. Sounds good. John's Folly it is.

I lean back against the wind, holding the tiller in one hand and the mainsail rope in the other, feeling the wind tug at the sail and listening to the bow of the boat cut through the water. It's an incredible feeling. No gasoline-powered engine is propelling me; the wind is silently drawing me forward across the lake.

At this point, I'm most fascinated by sailing into the wind. Upwind sailing relies on the same principle that airplane wings use for lift. But instead of a horizontal lift, a sailboat uses vertical lift. Sailing into the wind at either 10 o'clock or 2 o'clock at the maximum possible speed requires sailing on an invisible edge. If I head too directly into the wind, the sail luffs and I lose power. If I head too far away from it, the boat slows. I'm learning to find the immediate wind direction by sensing its pressure on my ears and then guiding the boat to the best 10 or 2 o'clock angle--and then clipping along.

I'm also trying to be more courageous to let the wind take the boat more to one side and lean completely back and out on the other side to keep it balanced enough to sail fast without capsizing. I confess, this is the most exhilarating and fearful part of sailing for me so far.

I've got a lot to learn about sailing. Mostly, I read and then try out on the lake what I read in the books or see in the video demonstrations. Who knows, I may become a decent sailor in a few years. Until then, just steer clear when you see me coming.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, May 26, 2014

Song of India

I offer my 2006 poem as a reflection and prayer for India at the inauguration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi

I wrote this poem during my first visit to India, a three-week journey that included time spent exploring Kolkata, Hyderabad, Nagpur, and Mumbai. I tried to take in the heart and soul of the nation as learned some of its layered history, travails, and breakthroughs, as well as through many conversations with people. I put the words together in the third week of the journey. 

I returned the next year and pedaled a bicycle 2000 miles (3200 kilometers) from Kanyakumari--the most southern tip of India--to Delhi, taking six weeks to absorb the fascinating range of the people, terrain, and challenges of India. I reflected again on what I had written a year earlier. I decided not to change a thing.

Today, with the inauguration of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India after a landslide victory for his BJP party, in what appears to me to be a culture-wide heart-cry for an end to corrupt practices in many aspects of India's life, I offer my poem, "Song of India," as a reflection and prayer for all of India's people.

Song of India

Ancient Mother

River wide
Flowing onward
Rising tide

Ever seeking
Gods untold
Bows in worship
Yearning soul

Gracious welcome
So betrayed
Meanly plundered

Deeply longing
To be free
Confronts power

Modern nation
On the go
Ardent striver
Watch her grow

Many peoples
Tongues and tribes
Past and present
Side by side

Changing faces
Caste aside?
Or revert to
Social pride?

Crucial moment
Now to see
Grace and justice

My daily reflections on my bike ride through India are at

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Reclaim Memorial Day from Militarism

The shift from honoring our war dead to ogling death machinery and lusting after militarism is subtle but powerful

[My post has been published as a "Letter to the Editor" in the Indianapolis Star around Memorial Day in 2005, 2008, and 2012]

The National Medal of Honor Memorial in Indianapolis
I love how Indianapolis pulls out all the stops on Memorial Day weekend.  With the eyes of the world on our city on Sunday, there's plenty of pageantry and patriotic fervor to spread around.  No city has a greater responsibility, then, to accurately frame what Memorial Day honors.

As it is currently observed, however, the holiday appears to be mostly a celebration of American military prowess.  Military might is prominent at all our big events, from military bands and troops marching in parade to the latest military hardware proudly on display to a bone-rattling fly-over of military jets at the singing of our national anthem before the race begins.

Of all places, the praise of militarism is included and embedded in official public prayers offered at numerous memorial and spectator events. Ordained ministers of the Gospel, who should know better, routinely give thanks for and invoke God's blessing carte blanche on America's war machine. Do they do this sincerely?  Because they think it's expected?  Because they're mimicking others?  Have they even begun to think the implications through?

God, guns, and guts will together be praised.  In the eyes of our youth, a distinct and misleading impression will form: Memorial Day is about recognizing military might and honoring those who fight for us.  Secondary assumptions will be implanted: This is the primary way we preserve our freedoms and ensure democracy.  This is the way it's always been.  And this is the way it always must be.

But the intention of Memorial Day is to honor all who died in America’s wars, not to celebrate militarism or bless war.  It’s clear from the inception of “Decoration Day” in 1868 by General John Logan and its post-WWI promotion by Ms. Moina Michael that the focus was to honor our war dead, particularly by decorating their graves and graciously supporting the many widows and orphans war leaves in its wake.

Though routinely disregarded, the distinction between memorializing our war dead and celebrating militarism is critical.  Instead letting the holiday be co-opted to perpetuate militarism, let us resolutely focus on honoring those who have given their lives in our nation’s conflicts.  Reverently consider the cost of even one soldier’s life and its impact in lost potential, relationships, creativity, and community contribution over a generation.

This Memorial Day is an opportunity to consider: given the cost in these precious lives, we must find a better way, not just repeat the past again and again.  War--and those whose lives are snuffed out or haunted by it--gives us every indication that we have not yet explored or employed our best intellectual, spiritual and material resources for preventing or addressing conflicts.  

The Memorial Day holiday affords us an opportunity to contemplate how far we have to go as a nation--and as a human family--in transforming our means of defending liberty, advancing democracy, and procuring justice for all.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's [Peace] Day

The original Mother's Day Declaration wasn't your typical Hallmark card greeting for mom

A MOVEMENT FOR PEACE. Contrary to popular presumption, Mother’s Day wasn’t created in a conspiracy of greeting card companies and florists. Originally called Mother’s Peace Day and organized by abolitionist Julia Ward Howe (author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic”) in Boston in 1870, it was to be a day dedicated to the eradication of all war. Though Mother’s Day is now far afield of its origins, the following declaration written by Howe was its early watchword:

BE FIRM. “Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.’”

TEACHING & TRAINING. “‘Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’”

DISARM! DISARM! “From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, ‘Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.’ Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.”

NOT CAESAR, BUT GOD. “As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each learning after his own time, the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.”

CALL FOR ASSEMBLY. “In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.” (Source: Bruderhof, Wikipedia)

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Thursday, May 1, 2014

When to Hide, and How

A reflection on a Charles Wesley song I saw for the first time this morning

I am not one to hide. Hiding seems backward, cowardly, retreating. I want to advance, engage, and break through. Yet, I daily pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” I read Psalms in which courageous David calls for cover and lauds Yahweh for hiding him from his foes “who are too powerful for me.”

What’s this hiding thing all about? What place does it have in my spiritual formation and practice of Jesus’ presence in an active life? If hiding is valid and helpful—even essential to being fully human—how shall I understand and practice it?

I am thinking about hiding because, just this morning, I read through a Charles Wesley song I had not before seen or sung. Without being melodramatic, Wesley’s lyrics seem both straightforwardly descriptive and instructive.

Here are the four stanzas of “Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose”:

Thou hidden source of calm repose,
thou all-sufficient love divine,
my help and refuge from my foes,
secure I am if thou art mine;
and lo! from sin and grief and shame
I hide me, Jesus, in thy name.

Thy mighty name salvation is,
and keeps my happy soul above,
comfort it brings, and power and peace,
and joy and everlasting love;
to me with thy dear name are given
pardon and holiness and heaven. 

Jesus, my all in all thou art,
my rest in toil, my ease in pain,
the healing of my broken heart,
in war my peace, in loss my gain,
my smile beneath the tyrant's frown,
in shame my glory and my crown. 

In want my plentiful supply,
in weakness my almighty power,
in bonds my perfect liberty,
my light in Satan's darkest hour, 
in grief my joy unspeakable,
my life in death, my heaven in hell.

As I read these lines a few times, I recognize a few things about life, about grace, and about myself.

I recognize that life is difficult, sometimes unbearably so. This isn’t surprising, but what is surprising is how naturally and readily Wesley names circumstances we occasionally face and situations others endure over lifetimes.

I recognize that in the difficulties of life—as specific and overwhelming and sabotaging as they can be—there is grace sufficient. Wesley juxtaposes his confidence in the life, passion and resurrection of Jesus with each difficulty. Because of his assurance that Jesus is an abiding presence—God-with-us, if you will—Wesley is able to envision Jesus as a “hidden source” of help in every difficulty.

I recognize that I frequently fail to rely on this “hidden source” and, instead, first seek relief in others, or in work or play or expert counsel. I flail about and unnecessarily inflict my discomfort with my pain on people around me. In doing so, I both bypass the primary source of help and seed my difficulties in others’ lives. 

I recognize that life with its difficulties calls for both retreat and advance, hiding and engaging, gathering strength and utilizing it. Hiding does not mean always hiding. It means making a conscious, inward-upward turn to grace as a first step in difficulties. It means tuning in and cultivating an awareness of the sacred presence of God-with-us and being still and open to how grace may guide.

I recognize that as much as this is an invitation to hide amid difficulties, it is more an invitation to live continuously in and with and from the grace of God-with-us. Through Wesley’s pen flows the expression of a heart and life that has come to know and rely on the presence and full resources of Jesus in good times and bad. This, it seems to me, makes hiding less of an exception in difficulties and more the underpinning constant in the journey of life.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA