Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pentecost and Social Justice

"Pentecost laid the axe at the root of social injustice." - Phoebe Palmer Knapp

TRANSFORMED AND EMPOWERED TO LOVE. Officially, May 24 will be the celebration called Pentecost. An ancient Jewish holiday that follows fifty days after Passover, Acts 2 records the event that forever changed the context of Pentecost. On this day, now celebrated as the "birthday of the Christian church," God poured out the Holy Spirit on Jesus' disciples in fulfillment of ancient prophesies and the promise Jesus had made (Acts 1:4-8).

FROM COWERING TO COURAGEOUS. Pentecost turned cowering converts into bold advocates. It transformed a rag-tag band of despairing disciples into people indwelled and overflowing with the very love of God. Pentecost launched a movement that, for all its 2,000-year ebb and flow, has never quite ceased to transform people and challenge core human injustices in every generation through a burning love that overwhelms fear, paralyzing inertia, despair, violence, domination, pride, and corrupt power.

SELF-GIVING ACTIVISM. I am part of a Christian tradition that places Pentecost at the heart of spirituality, both personally and corporately. Wesleyan holiness folk think that every believer in Jesus Christ can directly and personally--in one way or another, at some point or another--encounter a Pentecost-like transformation that catapults one from initiatory and fledgling faith into maturing love and self-giving activism.

EVIDENCE IN LOVE. Our tradition considers the evidence that one is "filled with the Holy Spirit" and growing in Christlikeness will be found in a love that is notably self-forgetful, service-focused, and redemptively confrontational to the powers of domination at work in the world. We see in Pentecost not just a personal empowerment, but an empowerment for the church both (1) to embrace and express the new eschaton--described in the Bible as the Kingdom of God--and (2) to bring the influence of this future-focused reality into every possible social relationship, structure, policy, and practice as a signal and sign of what God wills for the world's future.

FREEDOM AND LIBERATION. That is the context of Phoebe Palmer Knapp's statement: "Pentecost laid the axe at the root of social injustice." To Knapp, a holiness teacher, speaker and advocate in the late 19th-century America, "social injustice" primarily meant human trafficking and oppression of women. She expressed her confidence in the radical change Pentecost called for by advocating vociferously for the abolition of slavery and for the suffrage of women in America. She saw in the gospel of Jesus Christ a clarion call for freedom for all human beings and the liberation of women from the age-old system of domination that reduced them to objects and possessions. She set a tone and standard both as a woman and as a Christian leader that fueled many in the evangelical and Christian holiness movements at the time. I would welcome her voice anew on similar issues in the 21st century.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Moving Toward Community

More than a place, community is a way of relating, caring, belonging, seeing

Whether my daily work has been primarily from within the church or through a community-based organization or initiative directly serving urban neighbors, the movement is the same: moving toward community

Community is the way and the purpose. It is about place, but just as much it is a way of relating, of caring, of belonging, of seeing, of linking arms in common concern and neighborly purpose. 

Community is both the promise of the authentic church and the telos of the best in urban neighborhood development. Without moving toward community, though they invest impressive facilities, neither the church nor community infrastructures will be healthy or healing.

My journey at the intersection of community and church over the past twenty five years has yielded more than a few insights and learnings. Some gleanings are so obvious I couldn't help but "get it." Some lessons have come via the school of hard knocks. Others have been more subtly discerned.

The following list certainly isn't exhaustive, but there is enough behind each pithy statement for an extended conversation among all who seek to encourage and be faithful to community in a variety of settings. I list them in brief, however, to encourage that very conversation.

Take the community into your heart. Make room for it in your dreams--in your imagination, your planning, your time, your range of care, your hope.

Social services, community development and parish ministries impact far beyond those who participate and can be numbered. There is much more than meets the eye, so think, plan and implement that way.

Keep in mind that community is a dynamic and sometimes messy process often fueled by crises.

Community tends to thrive when information is abundant, available, accessible and visible.

Work at connecting people to one another and to readily available resources.

Clarify and often revisit your urban hopes and dreams with your group, neighbors, and larger community.

Identify the unique roles of a particular initiative, group, ministry or congregation in the community mix.

Property values don't make a neighborhood desirable. Rather, it is neighbors who make room for one another and who highly value the very least.

Expect community resources to be fragile and sometimes unhealthy.

Expect to be asked to lead where you have not led before.

Address community structures and systems so that families, congregations and schools can become whole.

Look for opportunities for synergy and synthesis.

Let grace do its work in the disruptions, the uncontrollable and the unexpected.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, April 6, 2015

Practice Resurrection

Wendell Berry coined this phrase in his poignant "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front"

 The phrase "practice resurrection" comes from this poem by Wendell Berry. I like the phrase; it is pregnant with meaning and challenge and hope. Its context in "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" by Berry sets it up:

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

from The Country of Marriage, 1973, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Resurrection, Prejudice and Pride

by Wilfred L. Winget

O Mighty, Holy Breath of God
On this glorious Day of Resurrection
Blow open all the shutters of our minds
bursting the barriers of
  prejudice and pride
  insensitivity and sloth
  ignorance and fear
stretching wide our vision of
  what you are doing
  where you are working
    in our fascinating
    exasperating world.

  Blow wide the doors of our hearts
    impelling us outward to
      the lonely and loveless
      the angry and hopeless
      the empty and faithless
        as ready instruments
        of your Grace.

  Blow up our lungs to keep us shouting
      Yes to Faith in the face of fear
      Yes to Hope in defiance of despair
      Yes to Love in spite of apathy
      Yes to Life in the teeth of death

Through Christ, the Living One,
  Our Lord.

Wil Winget taught at Spring Arbor University until losing a painfully terrible bout with cancer about 30 years ago.  He was brother-in-law to one of my seminary New Testament professors and friend Morris Weigelt, who shared the poem with me.  To me, it captures the breathtaking promise and challenge of practicing resurrection.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Given To

This song has been playing in my head and heart this week

This song was striking to me the first time I heard Marshall Rosenberg sing it plainly on the audiobook of Speaking Peace. Rosenberg isn't much of a singer, but the songs he sings reflect his approach to nonviolent communication quite well. 

Rosenberg's understanding is that giving is very much a part of our nature. In giving to others, we find pleasure and joy. With that, we also experience the joy of willingly being taken from--something that sounds foreign to most ears.

I am aware that I have been given to and that I have taken. I am also aware that I find joy giving and being taken from (most of the time!). Rosenberg has helped me see this as a precious value and practice.

I am also aware of one of the paradoxes of this week which Christians call Holy Week: what is being taken is also being given. "No one can take my life from me; I lay it down."

I never feel more given to 
than when you take from me - 
when you understand the joy I feel 
giving to you. 
And you know my giving isn't done 
to put you in my debt, 
but because I want to live the love 
I feel for you. 

To receive with grace 
may be the greatest giving. 
There's no way I can separate 
the two. 
When you give to me, 
I give you my receiving. 
When you take from me, I feel so 
given to. 

-- "Given To" (1978) by Ruth Bebermeyer from the album, Given To

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Palm Sunday and Nonviolent Living

A weaponless, army-less liberator rides into the violent polis on a colt. Is he crazy?

WATCH CLOSELY NOW. It is not likely you have ever before heard this take on Palm Sunday. Here it is: in theological and anthropological terms, I imagine Palm Sunday to be as much about ushering in nonviolence as anything. 

NAIVE SOCIAL MOMENT? Palm Sunday is at once an outwardly na├»ve social moment and at the same time an inwardly authentic signal of a new way of living and leading.  It is not that Jesus has not thoroughly exemplified nonviolence before now. It is that he is now allowing himself to be publicly declared Messiah in the heart of the polis and the stakes are ever so much higher. Watch him ever so closely now. Strain to observe as he faces his foes and darkest hours having completely renounced violence inside and out.

SIGNAL AND CONFIRMATION. His disarming and symbolic procession into the city on a colt amid shouts of "Hosanna!" isn't just a stunt. Renunciation of violence is heard in Jesus' voice and seen in his actions throughout his last week. The profound shift Palm Sunday signals is confirmed in what we call Holy Week. The nonviolent way of living and leadership Jesus has taught in the towns and rural areas is manifested in the city center and in the crucible of power. Even Jesus' effort to drive religious profiteers (mere pawns of a corrupt system) out of the temple should be taken as a near comical expression of the futility of violence. What does it accomplish? 

STRENGTH TO LOVE. But never mistake nonviolence for weakness. Jesus is not at all powerless as he enters Jerusalem. It becomes clear as the week advances, even as the cross is planted and the tomb is sealed, that Jesus is the controlling enigma. His chosen response to intimidation, pressure, accusations, betrayal, desertion, condemnation, suffering, violence, and even death is a nonviolent nonresistance based on love. It is not about giving in to fate or conceding anything. Instead, it is about exercising power that is nothing more or less than faith and trust in a loving God to bring meaning and life to one's existence, journey and mission.

ON AN EXCEPTIONAL PEDESTAL? When it comes to thinking of nonviolence as a way of life, it is a mistake to set Jesus on a heroic pedestal. It is a mistake to think of his actions as exemplary, exceptional, unique, and unrepeatable. It is a mistake to surmise that Jesus' pattern is not intended for our own lives or social and political behaviors. It is a mistake to sentimentally accept Jesus as personal savior and Lord, but immediately bracket and set aside the very core of his witness and pattern. It is erroneous to think of Jesus' nonviolence as limited to--and intended only for--his redemptive acts on our behalf.  How can it be that we want his forgiveness and laud his sacrificial life, but are not willing to live nonviolently, nonresistantly, lovingly, trustingly, powerfully ourselves?  Is this not, in the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer's phrase, "cheap grace?"

SAYING ONE THING, LIVING ANOTHER. For all our words, worship, songs, and altruistic actions, when it comes to the most powerful aspects of Jesus' witness, do we imitate Jesus? We say we trust God, but do we make a mockery of faith in God's name before the world? We act as if we are certain the future of the world is best left in our self-defending hands and in our calculating control--better yet, in the hands of self-serving politicians and power brokers who give lip service to Christianity but live and act by the same power sources as did the Pharisees, Herod, and Pilate. And we bless them.

CHOOSE YOUR POWER SOURCES CAREFULLY. In Jesus, particularly in his so-called triumphal entry scenario, we are challenged to continuously renounce our violence every day in every encounter. We are given opportunity to renounce the subtlest uses of threats, intimidation, controlling, fear, and shaming. We are invited to let go of the impulse to be self defensive or to coerce others for the sake of keeping the peace or promoting just causes. Whether the arena is our household or the global stage, the opportunity is the same. We are shown how to live from a different place in our soul when it comes to making decisions, facing violence, and exercising power. It is a place of strength, the strength to love. So, choose your sources of power carefully.

A ROAD LESS TRAVELED. Nonviolence is not easy. Folks try hard to be nonviolent. It takes more energy and determination than going with the flow of violence that defines our culture. It is a road less traveled. It is marching to a different drumbeat. Sometimes we can be quite militant in our vigilant commitment to nonviolence, to the point of taking on a violent spirit. I am convinced that a commitment to and actions for nonviolence are not enough. Renunciation is pointless if not for a surpassing love that transcends violence and endues us with a higher power, a life-giving source.

AN EMBRACED TRANSCENDENT LOVE. Nonviolence apart from an embraced transcendent love remains mere idealism. It is right, but only partly so. Renouncing violence is unsustainable personally and socially in merely humanistic terms. Without a spiritually inward transformation, I am not sure that as a social agenda it will work. It seems to me that nonviolence can only lead to shalom if violence is supplanted by agape love.

LOVE AND VIOLENCE. But why is it that many who claim the name and love of God never renounce violence? Why do we not include personal and institutional violence when we declare, in the great confession, that "we renounce Satan and all his works?" Why do we continue to live in reflection of a violent god? Why is the spirit and example of Jesus on Palm Sunday and Holy Week not incorporated into the pattern and practice of our lives--personally and collectively? This remains an open question for me. It puzzles me. It keeps me looking forward.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Death March?

Our trek through Lent journeys with Jesus in a celebration—not a denial—of life

CROSS WALK. Lent tracks with Jesus as he sets out resolutely for Jerusalem...and a cross. But even after he began to walk and talk disturbingly about his and his followers' crosses, everywhere he went life broke through. 

PARADOX OF THE CROSS. The way to the cross is filled with paradox--hope intersects despair, understanding intersects confusion, promise intersects pain, life intersects death. It would be a mistake to walk through Lent--or any other season of life--with a somber heaviness, as if on a death march.

TWISTED IMAGERY. How does one march to death? Marching, after all, is most often an imagery robust with triumph and pageantry--with music of bands and prancing of horses and rows of rhythm-stepping regiments. Most often a march celebrates a victory, graces a holiday, or highlights heroic efforts.

ANOTHER'S AGONY. But not a few marches truly have the stench of death. One group's triumph is another's agony. Our family lived for a few years in Oklahoma, where Native Americans were marched from their homelands in what is now called the Trail of Tears. Many died along the way. I ponder 65-year-old photos of French spectators weeping despairingly as Nazi tanks and troops rolled into a Paris pounded into submission. History is full of prisoner-of-war and ethnic-purging marches that served to grind oppressed people into oblivion.

BREATHTAKING JOURNEY. But Jesus' march toward Jerusalem was neither morbid nor despairing. Though one of his disciples resignedly said "Let us also go with him that we may die with him," he did not understood both the spirit in which Jesus journeyed and the redemptive mission he resolved to fulfill. Jesus’ trek was no denial of life; nor is ours. The journey will be as breathtaking as heart-rending, as life-giving as disturbing. Let us grapple with the specter of the cross in light of the hope and life and grace that loom larger on the horizon.

CHRIST'S TRIUMPHAL PROCESSION. The Apostle Paul writes in terms of a marching procession: 
"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?" (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
Who, indeed?

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Reflection on St. Patrick's Prayer

Patrick's prayer is, frankly, both freaky and intriguing

The following prayer is attributed to St. Patrick of Ireland, circa A. D. 377.  To me, it's both freaky and intriguing. Christianity is not wizardry or magic. But Patrick's use of imagination to envision God's presence in all nature and surrounding us--that's powerful stuff.

I read this prayer each year--half because there is actual historic and spiritual substance behind the now-mythic figure of Patrick and this prayer at least points us in that direction (as opposed to mindless drunken ethnic frivolity), and half because it's about the only time of the year I care to acknowledge that I am of Irish descent (via my maternal great grandfather Thomas Garrett).

This prayer, called St. Patrick's Breastplate, is fascinatingly comprehensive, even exhaustive. It mentions things I frankly never think of or even believe matter. Even so, that it reminds me of these things is instructive.

It also gives a sense of how much Patrick and early Christian forebears saw nature itself as being in concert with grace. This reflects the Psalms. "All nature sings." Talk about imagination!  Patrick's sense was that all life is bending toward or expressing Trinity at its very core.

But this thing about "summoning"--I don't get that, I don't think like that, and I do not see that as the manner of prayer or use of spirituality in the New Testament.  Christians are not wizards. Christianity is not magic.  Prayer is not incantations.  Prayer is a conversation in a relationship.  It is a communion.  When it comes to addressing temptations and evil, the prayer Jesus taught his disciples is far more simple and direct: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

Interesting that Patrick's imagination envisioned Christ's perpetual, enveloping presence throughout one's day, but did not go so far as to imagine prayer as something just as intimate, simple, and direct.

It is likely that this "prayer" wasn't supposed to be prayer at all. Perhaps it is more in the genre of a pronouncement, a preaching, a teaching, a public prayer. Just goes to show that we can say some pretty weird and awesome things about God and grace and life when heads are bowed, eyes are closed, and we know people are listening attentively.

Here's the prayer:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Poetry of Lent

Let's not be so morose about our 40-day journey

The poetry of Lent tends to be

Still, it can be poetry of

We cannot feign

So, let us
toward the Cross.

Rather than toiling

Let us stride
where Jesus leads.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Love: Openness to God, Openness to People

Kallistos Ware's statement strikes me as helpful and corrective

"This idea of openness to God, openness to other persons, could be summed up under the word love. We become truly personal by loving God and by loving other humans. By love, I don’t mean merely an emotional feeling, but a fundamental attitude. In its deepest sense, love is the life, the energy, of God himself in us. We are not truly personal as long as we are turned in on ourselves, isolated from others. We only become personal if we face other persons, and relate to them."

This quote by Kallistos Ware, the best modern-era articulator of Orthodox faith, came across my email inbox today in "The Daily Dig" from Plough Publishing.

This statement works on me, works me over.

The statement is common sense. But it is at the same time a corrective for many of us who earnestly try to be holy, to connect with God, to be tuned in spiritually. And, those of us who presume to lead others in spiritual formation--pastors, teachers, counselors, mentors, disciplers, faith leaders, theology professors.

Strangely, in the pursuit of godliness, many of us have gone through stages of being less than loving and even careless regarding people. We think we are being holy and leading people into holiness by preaching and teaching a "God first" policy. But "God first" priorities actually reflect an ungodly dualism. One is not above the other or at the expense of the other.

Jesus was pretty clear about the damning outcome of using devotion to God or deeper spirituality to excuse oneself (or a community of faith) from not being so attentive or responsive to loved ones and neighbors. 

Delivering sermons is not delivering people. Leading people in worship on Sunday does not supplant or supercede leading in loving neighbors and communities.

John Wesley, the forebear of my own theological stream, not only defined holy living as loving God and loving neighbor, but declared "there is no holiness but social holiness."

Kallistos Ware makes the point that only by loving people do we "become truly personal," or truly human--fully alive--ourselves.

Clearly, healthy spirituality--healthy living--translates love for God with love for neighbor. It's never either/or or one above the other. It's always co-equal--however difficult this sometimes seems. Loving neighbors is a lot messier and riskier than loving God. A faith community trying to love a neighborhood can be frustrating and at times feel all but impossible. We don't get to pick and choose neighbors. We just don't. Whoever they are, who we become depends on how we regard and treat them. 

Loving enemies, as Jesus compelled, gets crazier still. That could turn our world upside down.

Loving God, loving people. I take it as a fresh challenge to hold these two equally in heart and action. Come what may. 

So, God help me.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 

Friday, February 20, 2015

I Followed the Evangelicals' Jesus

A Lenten lament...and longing invitation

So, I decided to follow the Evangelicals’ Jesus, then looked around. Evangelicals weren’t following him, but a conservative political ideology.

I followed the Evangelicals’ Jesus, but they didn’t follow him to where immigrant laborers are mistreated and poverty wages cripple lives.

I followed the Evangelicals’ Jesus, but they didn’t follow him to where thinly veiled racism foments resentment, despair, indignity, and hate.

I followed the Evangelicals’ Jesus, but they didn’t follow him to where denial of responsibility for creation care writes a blank check for environmental degradation and human suffering.

I followed the Evangelicals’ Jesus, but they didn’t follow him to where Just War theology sanctifies unjustifiable violence, militarism, and mass death.

I followed the Evangelicals’ Jesus, but they didn’t follow him to where defense of the right to bear arms rewrites his clearest guidance.

I followed the Evangelicals’ Jesus, but they didn’t follow him to where ‘wages of sin’ notions shackle ex-offenders for a lifetime.

I followed the Evangelicals’ Jesus, but they didn’t follow him to where mentally ill neighbors are turned out and criminalized.

I followed the Evangelicals' Jesus, but they didn't follow him to where homophobia bullies, ostracizes, and destroys lives.

I followed the Evangelicals’ Jesus, but they didn’t follow him to where baptized classism and self-justifying inequality degrades people and mocks justice.

I followed the Evangelicals’ Jesus, but they didn’t follow him into the community where short-term charity projects gloss over deep social struggles and preempt transformation.

I followed the Evangelicals’ Jesus—still fervently do—but I find that few Evangelicals really care to follow him where he goes, to whom he goes, or where he leads.

Still, he beckons. Still, he invites. Still, he calls.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Launching into Lent

I'm a hesitant observer of Lent, nevertheless, I'm on board for the turbulent journey

we saunter into
Ash Wednesday's service.
we are marked--
as much a sign of
obligation as mild

Lent launches
as we straggle up
the gangplank.
Though winded,
we're on board--
a bit bewildered about
where this journey ends,
somewhat unsure of
the purpose of this

When inspiration flags,
discipline and duty
carry us.
Where vision is obscured,
the immediate horizon a fog,
soundings resonate

Others seem more
certain of this voyage--
sails are trimmed and
crew busy themselves.
But we aren't sure
whether we should
settle in to rest
or keep watch
at the bow.

We're asked to
give up something--
to lighten the load?
Have we not already
given up home and land
for this untethered vessel
churning through
inhospitable seas
to an unheard of

After a few days at sea
we notice atop the mast
flies a flag--are those
cross bones?
What were we thinking
when we bought the ticket
marked "Destination Port:

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Love's In Need of Love

Beyond a St. Valentine's Day Wish

Our daughter Abby with husband Alexander in 2008
I woke up this morning with this Stevie Wonder song on my mind. Not sure why. It's St. Valentine's Day, to be sure. But the Stevie Wonder song I'd typically associate with this day would be "I Just Called to Say."

Let loved ones know today that you love them. Spread a little love around. It's not a rare commodity, as if there's only so much to go around. It's infinite source is Grace. And don't neglect to remind yourself how much you are loved. Even--especially--if you feel unlovely or unlovable, you're being held in God's embrace.

Good morn or evening friends
Here's your friendly announcer
I have serious news to pass on to everybody
What I'm about to say
Could mean the world's disaster
Could change your joy and laughter to tears and pain

It's that
Love's in need of love today
Don't delay
Send yours in right away
Hate's goin' round
Breaking many hearts
Stop it please
Before it's gone too far

The force of evil plans
To make you its possession
And it will if we let it
Destroy everybody
We all must take
Precautionary measures
If love and peace you treasure
Then you'll hear me when I say

Oh that
Love's in need of love today
Don't delay
Send yours in right away
Hate's goin' round
Breaking many hearts
Stop it please
Before it's gone too far

Monday, February 2, 2015

Three Snow Poems

A celebration of snow in the heart of winter

I love snow.  I’ve been praying for snow in Indiana--enough snow to sled and cross-country ski in Eagle Creek Park, enough to change gray winter days into heart-jogging experiences of delight.  Here are three snow poems.  The first is mine.  The second two are by New England poet Robert Frost (hey, even his last name points to his love for flakes!).


I’m waiting on the snow
A hope to fulfill;
I’ll prepare my skis,
Anticipate the thrill.

A Midwestern winter
With its bleak, dark days
Needs a good snow storm
To hearten the soul’s way.

Mere cold stiffens the heart
And drives us inside,
But warmth and four walls
Alone cannot abide.

I’m like a child praying
The snow will be deep
Enough for sledding,
And, tired from it, to sleep.


Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Story Behind My Novel, 'What Saved Grace?'

Every story has a backstory. Here's the story that sparked my journey toward writing this novel 

Several years ago, I was elected President of the Homeless Network of Indianapolis. HNI was a rather raucous, unfunded consortium of homeless advocates, service providers and government
agency staffers. We came together to raise awareness of the growing issue of homelessness and to try to better address it. The Homeless Network eventually morphed into a fully staffed intermediary organization and was renamed CHIP -- the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention.

I was pretty young and naive when I started participating in the Homeless Network. I joined in because the church and ministry I served was reaching out to homeless folks with a daily lunch program and winter contingency shelter. When I attended my first few Homeless Network meetings, I was deeply impressed by the capacity of the people in the room and the range of compassionate organizations at the table. Granted, we were diverse and our approaches were different, but we were committed. Given this capacity and commitment, I was sure we could help our city max the issue of homelessness in no time.

But the more I participated in the Homeless Network--the more I watched different service providers operate, the more I listened to different advocates articulate--the more I realized we were not at all on the same page. In fact, our approaches to addressing and ending homelessness were all over the map--even conflicting, competing and counterproductive.

At that time, the leadership of two faith-based shelters would not even talk to each other. Some outreach workers offered help to homeless people in order to preach to them and convert them, convinced that only a spiritual change would end their homelessness. Other outreach workers tangled with the preachers, asserting that such Jesus stuff distracted from the real issues. Some of our Homeless Network participants focused on advocacy--changing bad policies and protesting for fair treatment.

While our Homeless Network agreed on helping homeless neighbors, at times that was about all we could agree on. Our approaches to compassion, care, healing and change seemed irreconcilably disparate. This realization was initially disillusioning to me. How could people who claimed to care so much be so far apart in the ways we cared? I had been trained by Parker J. Palmer to learn from disillusionment (to be dis-illusioned, to see reality as it is, he says, is a good thing). So I tried to do that.

The more I understood about each advocate, caregiver, outreach worker and organization, the more clearly their particular approaches to compassion emerged. Some tended to approach homelessness as rescuers. They saw the primary issue as internal--as spiritual brokenness or mental illness. They provided shelter, recovery programs, and short-term relief. Others tended to approach homelessness as service providers and advocates. Instead of focusing on personal issues, they focused on what was right or wrong with the system--with policies, the government, institutions, or the community at large. Still others, I noticed, focused on less direct--but still effective--interventions, like transitional, supported and long-term housing, food co-ops and access to healthcare.

As I learned about each homeless advocate or service or housing provider, I reflected on my own understanding of compassion. What did I think constituted a valid, holistic approach to changed lives, a changed system, and a changed community? While I was proud of what I was engaged in and what my church was doing in response to the homelessness of some, I recognized its limits and pitfalls. I was also drawn to other dimensions of care and expressions of hope I observed. So, I eventually realized that I was not only an actor in this range of care, but one who was being challenged and changed by it.

It seemed to me that while there were real downsides, there was a degree of validity in each approach to addressing homelessness. Was there one comprehensive approach? I could imagine that, but others could or would not. What prevented a rescuer from appreciating the work of a service provider--and vice versa? How could profound differences and divisions be bridged, if at all? What more did I need to know to better understand the problem and work toward a common solution?

This was the creative mix that opened my heart and mind to explore the beauty and complexity of compassion. I brought this "problem" into my studies in a doctoral program I entered. The reading, conversations and guidance I enjoyed during that period helped me better understand and frame what I was experiencing. I decided to shine a light on the assumptions and underpinnings of compassion in hopes of becoming more responsible in my own actions. I also decided to lift up my own journey in compassion to others in the hope that others would learn, grow and contribute to ever more responsible and redemptive social actions.

That's the backstory of the fiction narrative I crafted. 'What Saved Grace?' is now available in all ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble online, iTunes and Smashwords. I hope you'll read it. I think it will challenge--if not change--the way you view compassion and act in caring response to others.

  • Get 'What Saved Grace?' via Smashwords - all ebook formats (Kindle, Nook, etc.)
  • Get 'What Saved Grace?' via Amazon - for Kindle and Kindle apps for smartphones, tablets, PCs and MACs
  • Get 'What Saved Grace?' via Barnes & Noble online - for Nook
  • Get 'What Saved Grace?' for iBooks at the iTunes Store
  • Sorry, 'What Saved Grace?' is not available in print (we'll first see how ebook sales go.)

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Fierce Urgency of Now

Deep into the Vietnam quagmire, Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned a fresh way forward. It still beckons us today. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. always connected the civil rights of blacks with the civil rights of poor and oppressed people wherever they lived. It should have come as no surprise to anyone that he did not hesitate to speak into the Vietnam quagmire the deeper and more costly in lives, resources, and moral capital it became.  

Speaking at Riverside Church in New York City in 1967, King outlined principles and way forward for America in relationship to its approach to Vietnam.  Below is the conclusion of that speech, titled "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence."  To me, it contains some of the most poignant and prophetic challenges that transcend the occasion, time, issue and culture. To me, they speak profoundly to our global challenges and choices today. At the end of the excerpt are links to the full text and 52-minute recording of King's speech.  By the way, I listened to this for the first time on my way to Vietnam in 2011.

"We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, 'Too late.' There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: 'The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.'

"We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might with-out morality, and strength without sight.

"Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message—of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of history.

"And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

Read the full speech at this link.
Download and/or listen to the recording of "Beyond Vietnam " at this link.

John Franklin Hay

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gifts of Winter

Parker J. Palmer says winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them. 

I've been going over Parker J. Palmer's little book, Let Your Life Speak. It's about vocation and calling. I don't know how many copies I've given away--I gave away the copy I was currently reading to a wait staff at City Cafe recently after she inquired about it and its title and content seemed to speak to her. It's that kind of book.  

As I took a long bicycle ride north of Indianapolis over the weekend, I remembered something of this fuller quote. I'm grateful to Parker for sharing his own story and offering insights like what follows.  They help me in small and large ways.  Maybe they'll speak to you, too.

WINTER GIFTS.  “Winter in the Upper Midwest is a demanding season—and not everyone appreciates the discipline.  It is a season when death’s victory can seem supreme: few creatures stir, plants do not visibly grow, and nature feels like our enemy.  And yet the rigors of winter, like the diminishments of autumn, are accompanied by amazing gifts.”

DEEP REST.  “One gift is beauty.  I am not sure that any sight or sound on earth is as exquisite as the hushed descent of a sky full of snow.  Another gift is the reminder that times of dormancy and deep rest are essential to all living things.”

UTTER CLARITY.  “But for me, winter has an even greater gift to give.  It is the gift of utter clarity.  In winter, one can walk into the woods that had been opaque with summer growth only a few months earlier and see the trees clearly, singly and together, and see the ground they are rooted in.  Winter clears the landscape, however brutally, giving us a chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly, to see the very ground of our being.”

GET OUT MORE.  “Our outward winters take many forms—failure, betrayal, depression, death.  But every one of them…yields to the same advice: ‘The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.’  Until we enter boldly into the fears we most want to avoid, those fears will dominate our lives.”

TRUSTWORTHY.  “But when we walk directly into them—protected from frostbite by the warm garb of friendship and inner discipline or spiritual guidance—we can learn what they have to teach us.  Then we discover once again that the cycle of the seasons is trustworthy and life-giving, even in the most dismaying season of all.”

From Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, Jossey-Bass, 2000.