Sunday, November 22, 2015

Forgive Me For Making Faith Hard

SPIRITUAL FORMATION AND DE-FORMATION. While gratitude is an essential part of healthy spiritual formation, we also experience spiritual de-formation when its opposites are expressed and experienced. A brief contemplation on thanksgiving can bring to mind not only all we take for granted and have to be grateful for, but also our own past ingratitude and unthoughtful contributions to the de-formation of others. That's what brought about the following confession.

HARD FAITH. I observed a person whose bearing, mannerisms, and words made it evident that he works very hard at his way of faith. He works hard at believing and defending what he believes. He bolsters himself against straw men with postulated, ever-ready arguments. He wears his faith on his sleeve to ward off whatever questions or inquiries may arise. He works hard at his faith. I wonder if he ever grows weary. I did. Recalling a book which freed me from this treadmill, Tired Of Trying To Measure Up by Jeff VanVonderen, I wanted offer him grace. Aware of my life of ministry, some of which has been conveyed from this "trying harder" mode, this confession formed in me:

For all the times I have tried to make holiness happen on my terms: forgive me.

For making faith appear hard to those under my care: forgive me.

For those who have perceived that faith was hard because of my words or actions: have mercy.

For times when pride of faith has made me falsely comfortable and feel superior: forgive me.

For glances or looks that have conveyed disapproval or disdain for the faith efforts of others: forgive me.

For words that have conveyed “not enough” to those who are cleaving to You: forgive me.

For the sense of earning or working or toiling to be right with You: deliver me.

For conveyed norms of dress, style, or form which make faith seem hard: forgive us.

For interpretations of the Bible which appear hidden, exclusive or obscure: forgive us.

For loading free grace down with imposed conditions and contrived costs: forgive me.

Forgive me for making faith seem hard.

Let me be reminded often of the terms of faith: grace, grace, grace.

And though it cost me everything, let me proclaim grace freely and faithfully all the rest of my days.


Moving Toward Thanksgiving

This holiday is for all that we
Take for granted,
Assume as a given,
Absent-mindedly overlook,
Claim as our God-given right.

This holiday if for all those we
Unnecessarily criticize,
Agitate with our demands,
Impatiently rush,
Regularly impose upon.

This holiday is for all that we
By-pass in our drivenness,
Go out of our way to avoid,
Carelessly forget,
Thoughtlessly leave out.

This holiday is for all things we
Receive as gracious gifts,
Share as common ground,
Express as transcendent grace,
Return in praise to God.

Poem Notes

My thoughts are moving toward Thanksgiving and its essential meanings. But boiling down the essence of a particular holiday is dangerous. By the time one distills it down to one thing, it has lost is savor--it's flat, one-dimensional. One will have a point, but have missed the larger, broader experience in the process.

Thanksgiving, like other holidays, is multi-faceted, a layered tradition with rich tributaries. But, like other holidays, commercialism tends to twist or bury primary meanings and overwhelm traditions. For example, who would ever have imagined eating Thanksgiving dinner in front of the TV, watching an NFL game? Two American traditions collide and the primary one yields. Or, they both morph into something new.

I will likely watch some of the NFL action on Thursday. I also hope we play a little backyard football. But I was thinking of the tendency to lose primary meanings and spiritual growth opportunities of Thanksgiving when I penned this poem.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Spring of Grief, Spring of Joy

Mom and dad with Becky and me at my college graduation
in May 1981. Becky and I would marry five days later.
I shared this Wendell Berry poem, one of his many compelling Sabbaths pieces, at the graveside as we buried my dad's ashes today at South Mound Cemetery in New Castle, Indiana.

Among our extended family cluster was my mom, 78, her sister Myra, and one of dad's sisters, Elaine--those who are seeing more and more of their generation pass from this life. There, also, was our oldest daughter, Abby, 14 weeks pregnant with the first of the next generation.

Berry's poem speaks of both: the old experiencing increasing absence of loved ones and the young witnessing that "many are still to come."

Reflecting on this range of simultaneous experience, I resonate with his phrase: "the spring of grief also is the spring of joy."

In Memory: James Baker Hall

The old know well the world
is a place of the absence of many
known, loved, and gone,
as the mind might contain a sky
empty of birds, an earth
without landmark trees.
The young, the husbands and wives,
must learn and the old recall
that all the absent are not gone.
Many are still to come.
The spring of grief also is
the spring of joy. The cup
is dipped and drunk, and the space
of its taking again is filled.

Wendell Berry in This Day, Collected & New Sabbath Poems, 1979-2013, Counterpoint, 2013

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Saturday, July 25, 2015

At Peace with Death, Making Peace with Life

Asked to share the graveside commital for my 86-year old Aunt Jean Hyden Sheffield today, I found and read to family and friends gathered at South Mound Cemetery in New Castle, Indiana, the following snippet from 'Tuesdays With Morrie' by Mitch Albom:

Emery Sheffield is my mother's brother. He, 89, and Jean, 86, have lived in
Utah and Florida after retirement and living a lifetime in New Castle, Indiana.
Jean died earlier this week. Family and friends gathered in New Castle for
a touching celebration of Aunt Jean's life. 
"Last night..." Morrie said softly.

Yes? Last night?

"...I had a terrible spell. It went on for hours. And I really wasn't sure I was going to make it. No breath. No end to the choking. At one point, I started to get dizzy...and then I felt a certain peace. I felt that I was ready to go."

His eyes widened. "Mitch, it was a most incredible feeling. The sensation of accepting what was happening, being at peace. I was thinking about a dream I had las week, where I was crossing a bridge into something unknown. Being ready to move on to whatever is next."

But you didn't.

Morrie waited a moment. He shook his head slightly. "No, I didn't. But I felt like I could. Do you understand?

"That's what we are all looking for. A certain peace with the idea of dying. If we know, in the end, that we can ultimately have that peace with dying, then we can finally do the really hard thing."

Which is?

"Make peace with living."

He asked me to see the hibiscus plant on the ledge behind him. I cupped it in my hand and held it up near his eyes. He smiled.

"It's natural to die," he said. "The fact that we make such a big hullabaloo over it is all because we don't see ourselves as part of nature. We think because we're human we're something above nature."

He smiled at the plant.

"We're not. Everything that gets born, dies." He looked at me.

"Do you accept that?"


"All right," he whispered, "now here's the payoff. Here is how we are different from these wonderful plants and animals.

"As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on--in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here."

His voice was raspy, which usually meant he needed to stop for a while.  I placed the plant back on the ledge and went to shut off the tape recorder. This is the last sentence Morrie got out before I did:

"Death ends a life, not a relationship."

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Planning to Ride the Great Allegheny Passage

Though I've ridden a bike through India, Vietnam, and Kenya, this takes me closer to my roots

Trails in Indiana, like this corn-lined one in Indianapolis,
will yield to hilly vistas and misty valleys when we head
out on the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal.  
For me, cycling is everything from a weekday commute to work to an international weeks-long cross-country sojourn. This ride, from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, is somewhere in the middle.

The plan is to ride the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland. From there, the ride will continue along the C&O Canal as it moves southeastward to Washington, D.C.

This is about 335 miles that a few friends and I will cover in six days of riding--almost completely without vehicle traffic. That, for me, will be a first in cross-country cycling.

Several things about this ride, slated for August 10 through 16, compel me.

Foremost is the anticipation of riding through the land of my youth. This territory is my roots. Until I turned 17 years old, I lived in West Virginia--rustic, beautiful, misty hill country. I lived in Parkersburg, along the Ohio River, about 120 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. The hills in the northwest area of West Virginia are smaller than what we will see and experience further east into the Allegheny Mountains, but the shape of the terrain I see in a guidebook looks an awful lot like home. While mostly in Pennsylvania and Maryland, both the GAP and C&O Canal border West Virginia for over 150 miles.

Compelling, also, is what I do not know and have never seen before of this age-old mountainous area. So many small towns and rural areas, each similar but oh so distinct, invite my wanderlust. There is history and mythology here that I am vaguely familiar with (as a child and student, I loved reading of the history and geography of West Virginia), but I'm anxious to learn anew and experience firsthand. Some of what I know is ugly history--of rapacious coal and steel and railroad barons, and Civil War north-south border strife (West Virginia was born as an anti-slavery dissent partition from Virginia). Riding through these places, I hope to learn other stories--perhaps both better and worse.

This will be the first cross-country ride I've undertaken without a SAG (support and gear) wagon. No one will be transporting our supplies or assisting with breakdowns. Whatever we need for the journey will be carried on our bikes--tent, sleeping bag, clothing, food, tools, supplies. We'll be completely self-contained. I'm looking forward to cutting the support cord, actually.

The adventure will be taken with friends with whom I've never before journeyed. That's part of the passage I look forward to, as well. Aaron Spiegel and his son, Eli, are on board to make this trek. Perhaps one or two more riders will join us. I've learned that cross-country cycling creates a bond of friendship that is not easily forgotten or broken. Those who pedal hundreds of miles together, repeatedly break bread together, and share the indignities of unvarnished life together tend to discover a sacredness born only through such a sojourn.

So, it's about a month until this passage. I'll keep you posted as things develop and hope to share the journey (and photos) as we go.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Weight of Freedom's Future

A reflection on American freedom for the July 4th holiday

Much of the content of this post is taken from my 47th letter to President George W. Bush, dated July 17, 2002. These thirteen years later, the opportunities of which I then wrote have passed from that President. Still, this piece expresses my patriotism--a kind of patriotism that tends to get ignored in power brokers' obsessions with hubris, militarism, and reductionistic labeling.

BEYOND HYPED-UP PATRIOTIC FERVOR. Ever since the terrorist attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001 and the state of war that President Bush declared, I've noticed that the Fourth of July has been celebrated with heightened emphasis. More flags fly, more fireworks flower, and everything considered American and patriotic is trumpeted to the nth degree. This July 4th holiday gives me an opportunity to frame hard-won freedoms beyond typical images and reflect on the weight of freedom’s future.

WHO HATES FREEDOM? For as many times as I have heard it declared that the primary reason terrorists targeted America is that "they hate our freedom," I have been completely baffled by it. I just don’t think it is our freedom that anyone hates. They may loathe our unqualified support for Israel amid Palestinian oppression, they may resent our apparent carelessness in the face of their poverty, they may hate our overwhelming military and economic power, they may completely deplore the more promiscuous and paraded lifestyles of the West that offend Islamic (and, quite frankly, basic Jewish and Christian) sensitivities, but they don’t hate the freedom we enjoy. They may hate what we have done in and with our freedom, but I don’t think they hate freedom.

FEET VOTE FOR FREEDOM. Freedom is desired by all. People vote with their feet for freedom—a freedom that releases the heart, encourages community, and fans the flame of individual growth and opportunity. Across generations, refugees and immigrants seeking freedom have flocked to America, clinging to the image of the Statue of Liberty. And, in our best moments of freedom, we have opened our doors and welcomed in freedom seekers. This is how most of our ancestors came to America. Our tightened borders are still porous and many slip through. As they acclimate and contribute, over time we usually grandfather in even these "illegal" aliens as fellow citizens.

WILLING TO FACE DOWN OUR OWN DEMONS. In our best moments, America has grappled with the challenge of extending the promise of freedom to all of its own citizens. Self-evident truths have not always been treated as such. It has taken prophets and protesters and martyrs to make freedom begin to ring for many of our own citizens. Our own bigotry, prejudice, greed, and fears have divided us and at times cast a long and shameful shadow over American freedom. It is not just an enemy without that we have had to face down, but demons within. Our willingness to do this makes our freedom all the more attractive to those who have lived without it.

SOMETHING OF A GRAND DREAM. I think it is clear that American independence and patriotism in defense of democracy is something all but a twisted handful of people in the world salute. Few have been able to pull off and hold together what America has accomplished. America, even now, is something of a grand dream of freedom and democracy at so many levels it is impossible to separate them and still see the vision.

HOW WE USE OUR FREEDOM MATTERS. It is not freedom that is despised. It is our weighty and sometimes insensitive exercise of freedom that is despised, it seems to me. In light of this, we should carefully consider how, as the world’s dominant democracy, we use our freedom at home and abroad. We could begin by ceasing to dismissively label terrorists and millions of people who harbor resentment toward America as merely “freedom haters.”

DRAIN AWAY SOURCES OF RESENTMENT. As America has repeatedly searched its own soul to extend fairness and freedom to its own disenfranchised residents, let us search our hearts once again. Let us think through to the legitimate sources of pain, anger, and resentment that have led to a level of angst that produces terrorism. And let us consider what we can do to drain away such anger by policies and actions that befit the richest, most free, democracy-loving nation in the world. Let us struggle to cultivate, again, a freedom that is noted for character, understanding, fairness, and compassion.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Monday, June 8, 2015

"And Then All"

Asked by Judge David Dreyer to share the closing prayer during the Robert F. Kennedy Remembrance at the Kennedy King Memorial in King Park this past Saturday (June 6th, the 47th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination), I happened onto this poem by artist Judy Chicago and it captured my sense of what should be shared on this occasion.

I had been thinking of the one phrase in the Lord's Prayer which consistently moves me: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Behind this petition or longing is a deep-down ache that things "on earth" are not "as they are in heaven," connecting to the deep-down conviction that they should and can be. The work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the labor of Bobby Kennedy for equality, justice, reconciliation, and an evasive community of hope are reflected in this prayer.

When I found Judy Chicago's poem in Prayers for the Common Good compiled by Jean Lescher, the words seemed to reflect the heard of the prayer "Thy kingdom come." I incorporated the poem into my brief reflections that I shared as I stood in the shadow of the unique and compelling Kennedy King Memorial.

With gratitude to Chicago for her way of contemporizing an ancient longing and prophecy, I put myself once again into these words and pray with a breaking, hoping heart: 

And then all that has divided us will merge.
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind.
And then both men and women will be gentle.
And then both women and men will be strong.
And then no person will be subject to another’s will.
And then all will be rich and free and varied.
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many.
And then all will share equally in the earth’s abundance.
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old.
And then all will nourish the young.
And then all will cherish life’s creatures.
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the earth.
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.

"Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Activism and Grace

Excerpts from Thomas Merton’s letter to peace activist Jim Forest

Thomas Merton at the Gethsemane
Trappist monastery in Kentucky
This is an excerpt of a letter read to me by a group of fellow urban pastors about 15 years ago. I hadn't heard of it before then. It is correspondence from Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton to a young peace activist named Jim Forest during the struggles to end the Vietnam War. The stories of both Merton and Forest are compelling and worth exploring.

The occasion on which this letter was read to me marked a moment in which my confidence in the "cause" of the institutional church was at a low ebb. I will forever be grateful to my friends for sharing it with me at that crossroads. Since then, I've read the letter from different perspectives at different times. It expresses enduring and principled insights worth passing along.  I've bolded phrases that strike me as particularly poignant and worthy of contemplation.

Jim Forest today. His work as an advocate for international
peace has continued throughout his life.
Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.

"As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that save everything. 
"You are fed up with words, and I don’t blame you. I am nauseated by them sometimes. I am also, to tell the truth nauseated by ideals and with causes. This sounds like heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean. It is so easy to get engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag, empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there gin by magic. Going through this kind of reaction helps you to guard against this. Your system is complaining of too much verbalizing, and it is right. 
"The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important. 
"The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. 
"All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more, and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it. 
"The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. Because I see nothing whatever in sight but much disappointment, frustration and confusion… 
"The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do His will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand.”

More about Jim Forest and Thomas Merton

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Benedictions and Blessings--Received and Offered

I've received and shared some untypical blessings and benedictions.

Today, the Rev. Sheila Richards, a visitor from South Dakota to our little urban congregation, shared with me this blessing. This blessing, titled "Bishop White's Benediction" on the paper she gave me, intentionally contrasts with the traditional peace blessing of Numbers 6:24-26:

May the Lord torment you,
May the Lord disturb you,
May the Lord keep before you the faces of the despised, rejected, lonely and oppressed.

May the Lord give you strength and courage and compassion to make this a better world,
and may you do your very best to make this a better city, a better state, a better world.

And after you have done your best,
may the Lord grant you peace.

Bishop White's Benediction reminds me of a similar blessing Brennan Manning received and passed along:

“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. 

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. 

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.”

Here are some other "Blessings" I have posted on Indybikehiker across the years:

Benedicere (by Ken Sehested)
The Wonder of Our Loved Ones (original)
The Field: A Blessing (from Celtic Daily Prayer)
Just You (from Celtic Daily Prayer)
With What We've Been Given (original)
Belfast to Boston (God's Rifle)
Certain and Uncertain (original)
It Would Have Been Enough
A Prayer for the House We Receive (original)

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Saturday, May 23, 2015

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 of 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


My poem for the celebration of Christian Pentecost

How shall we celebrate
this occasion called Pentecost,
when the Holy Spirit poured out
upon the church?

Shall we decorate it
with props and pageants
and trinkets and trivia?

Shall we pine for the past,
longing to have experienced
its original wonders?

Shall we yearn for tomorrow,
praying to reproduce
its manifestations?

Shall we sing ourselves into
a frenzy and call our delirium
Spirit baptism?

Shall we preach Holy Spirit
doctrine until we think
more orthodoxly?

How shall we celebrate
this day on which the Spirit
of Truth descended?

Let us celebrate
with open hearts,
with sharpened minds,
with yielded and God-hungry lives,
with expectation of the unexpected
and surprising grace
which challenges our choices
and turns our world
upside down with love.

Graphic is "Pentecost: Fire and Breath" by Jan Richardson from The Painted Prayerbook

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