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.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Last to Arrive?

Shall we take our place among the unlikely visitors at a stable in Bethlehem?

Near the end of the Christmas season and on Epiphany (January 6 marks the visit of the Magi and Light to all people), I think about the continuing, unusual draw of unlikely people to an unlikely place in the heart—Bethlehem—and I offer the following poem:

First, census-responding throngs
swell the local populace,
burgeoning homes and hostels
with not-so-welcome guests.

Then, a man and pregnant young woman
arrive, seeking vainly for a room.
Bedding down in a stable,
their boy is born among livestock.

Later in the night, gnarled shepherds
traipse in, finding their way
to the mangered newborn,
just as an angel had told them.

How much later we do not know, Magi
come with gracious gifts,
following a star that draws them
from beyond any traceable map.

And later still, from the four corners
of earth and time, we make our trek.
Are we the last to arrive
at the gathering in Bethlehem?

Years from now, until the end of ages,
more will be drawn and find the One
whose birth angels once proclaimed
and so shall forevermore.

Read my fuller reflection on Epiphany -

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Work of Christmas

Howard Thurman suggests next steps for Christmas revelers

"When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart."

from The Mood of Christmas by Howard Thurman

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Seven Swans a Swimming

A Reflection for the Seventh Day of Christmas

"On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me… seven swans a swimming."

Seven swans a swimming: Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1. prophecy, 2. ministry/serving, 3. teaching, 4. exhortation/encouragement, 5. giving, 6. leading, and 7. compassion

Read: Psalm 133; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31

HALF WAY. We are half way on our spiritual journey to Epiphany. Thus far, using the 16th-century song developed to mimetically teach catechumens core elements of the Christian faith, we have received six precious gifts:
1) Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh.
2) The Old and New Testaments.
3) Faith, hope and love.
4) The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
5) The Pentateuch or Torah, and
6) The six days of creation.

KEEPS ON GIVING. What are we doing with these invaluable gifts? Or, what are these gifts doing in us? These are not the kind of gifts that lose their luster or wear out. We may lose interest in them, but they never lose interest in us. These Christmastide gifts are ones that keep on giving, ever beckoning, ever inviting us to receive them afresh and to be transformed.

GIFT UPON GIFT. Go ahead, open the seventh gift. What is it? Oh, it is a gift! What is inside that gift? Oh, another gift! And what is inside THAT gift? Hey, another gift! And another. And another. And another. And still another. You get the feeling that you could keep opening boxes inside of boxes, gift upon gift. Such is the multiplicity and diversity of spiritual gifts.

EMPOWERING. The specific gifts recalled on the seventh day of Christmas since the sixteenth century are those listed in Romans 12: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, compassion. Many more could be named. But whatever the gift, it is vital to know this: spiritual gifts are given for the sake of empowering people of faith to join in sharing Good News, bearing grace, and making real—here and now—the anticipated Kingdom of God.

COMMUNITY-BUILDING GIFTS. The spiritual gifts described in Romans 12, as well as in 1 Corinthians 12 and elsewhere throughout the Epistles, are essential gifts for forming, sustaining, and extending community. Spiritual gifts are about community. Not about personal advancement. Not about possessing. A spiritual gift is not a spiritual gift unless it is selflessly shared. A community will thrive when graciously given gifts are freely and strategically shared. What better follow-up to Christmas than for gifts, great and small, to be turned toward serving and building up the community?

USEFUL THOUGH LESS DESIRABLE. It has become an inadvertent tradition in our household to keep a few opened gifts on the skirt around our Christmas tree for days after the 25th. Big gifts get whisked away, played with, put on, plugged in. But to this day a few small ones remain under the tree: a box of fireplace matches, a bottle of cologne, a couple of games, a basket of crafts, a book, a flashlight, a quote-a-day calendar. Not expensive or necessarily the most desirable gifts, but useful ones just the same. They remind me of the diversity and usefulness of spiritual gifts, particularly less desirable ones.

KNOWN IN ACTION. Like the faith, hope, and love received on the third day of Christmas, the gifts we receive today are spiritually perceived, inwardly apprehended, and entirely relational. Perhaps we will never know our gifts--or what impact on a relationship, neighborhood, church, or community we can have--until we start to serve, to give, to lead, to show mercy, to teach, to encourage, and/or to declare what is burning in our hearts. Why not start today?

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Six Geese A Laying

A Reflection for the Sixth Day of Christmas

"On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… six geese a laying."

Six geese a laying = Six days of creation

Scripture: Psalm 139; Genesis 1:1-2:3; Colossians 1:15-23; 1 John 1:1-4

YIELD TO THE MYSTERY. Today’s gifts are as mysterious and wonderful as a goose laying an egg and a live gosling hatching from it. Who can fathom the miracle of life? Four times I have assisted and watched our children be delivered and draw their first breaths. Four times all that is rational and scientific and explainable has been tearfully eclipsed by wonder and mystery and sacredness. I sing with Michael Card: "Give up on your pondering and fall down on your knees."

DARE TO PERCEIVE THE WORLD AS GOD'S. If you want to argue for or against evolution or scientific creationism, you’ve lost my interest. If you need to try to reduce the incomprehensible and grand process of the formation of life into an argument for six literal days, you’ve missed the point. If you need to try to prove that what we know as life just happened by chance, my heart goes out to you.The invitation today is not about proving or arguing or convincing or taking sides. The invitation today is to receive all life as sacred, to dare to perceive the world as a gift, to join in the awe of the Apostle John: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim."

ROOTED IN GOD AS SOURCE OF LIFE. Light. Sky and atmosphere. Land and seas, plants and trees. Sun by day and moon by night. Living creatures in the seas and sky. Living creatures on the land and humans in the image of God. The summation of each day or epoch of creation is this: "And God saw that it was good." Whether Genesis 1 is poetry or pattern of life’s progress, above these it is rooting us all in an infinitely creative, life-giving, beauty-loving, relation-building, grace-bearing God. Creation speaks both of God’s infinite greatness and God’s intimate interest in the smallest detail. And like God, in God’s image, we are created to be.

CREATION AND CHRIST. The Gospel writers and Apostles did not miss the connection between creation and Christ. Paul describes Jesus as the "firstborn over all creation" and that "by him all things were created." John writes: "That which was from the beginning…our hands have touched." Michael Card captures something of this mystery: "A mother made by her own child!" In receiving the six days of creation as Christmas gifts, and embracing creation as a mysterious grace, we join with Jesus Christ in bearing life and grace in our world in our generation.

CREATION...FROZEN. We have arrived near the end of the earth’s 2014th cycle around the sun since the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. These are the shortest, darkest days of the year in the northern hemisphere. Plant life is latent in frozen land and water. Many animals hibernate or have migrated to warmer climes. In Indiana, we are living the carol:

In the bleak midwinter,
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood cold as iron,
Water like a stone.

What a time to receive our True Love’s sixth round of Christmas gifts: six days of creation and the hope for its renewal in which we all participate.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, December 29, 2014

Restorative Justice

"Jesus’ ministry is not to gather the so-called good into a private country club and punish the outsiders, but to reach out to those on the edge and on the bottom, those who are 'last,' to tell them they might just be first! . . . . God’s . . .'restorative justice.' God justifies things by restoring them to their true . . . identity in Himself, as opposed to 'retributive justice' which seeks only reward and punishment.”

from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA