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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Three French Hens

A Reflection for the Third Day of Christmas

"On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me three French hens…"

Three French hens = the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. French hens were considered valuable poultry in the 16th century, something only the rich could afford--like the Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Scriptures to read: Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

BEYOND THE BIG DAY. Two days past Christmas Day, the realization of this journey to Epiphany begins to set in. It is a different rhythm than the usual post-holiday let down. At the same time we are usually beginning to put away Christmas decorations, this way of living Christmastime keeps the gifts coming and the celebration building. If you put everything into the Big Day, you may find yourself letting down emotionally and spiritually this week as you get back to routine matters. May this simple spiritual journey and the gifts you are receiving sustain and steady you.

ESSENTIAL GIFTS. Open today’s gifts—faith, hope, and love. The Apostle Paul distills these three gifts, or graces, as the most essential of all Spirit-given gifts. Strip away everything else that seems so necessary, all those "must-have" gifts, the ones so desirable to possess, the ones that make us feel good about ourselves and others feel good about us, the ones that make us feel needed or rewarded. What’s at the heart of this Christian journey? What is irreducible for discipleship? Faith. Hope. Love.

NOW RECEIVE. For those who observed Advent, you know that faith, hope, and love, together with joy, are at the center of the Christmas story – HOPE for a Messiah sustained longingly over many generations; the FAITH of Zechariah, of Mary and Joseph; the LOVE of God for the world expressed in Jesus; the response of JOY by all who drew near to "see this thing that has come to pass." In Advent, we learned about these gifts. But now--in the fulfillment of Christmas--receive the faith of Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph. Now receive hope for the in-between times (which is most of the time!). Now receive love enough to eclipse all hurts, forgive all sins, and forge the deepest commitments.

EXERCISE TO LIVE. What would it mean for us to move from teaching our children or loved ones about faith to offering them the gift of faith? How do we move from talking about hope to living and modeling hope? Why not quit trying to teach love; let yourself be loved and express unequivocal and unqualified regard? The reality of these core gifts is that we will never realize them unless we exercise them. Faith is not faith until you’ve trusted. Hope is not hope until I’ve lived from here to there in unflagging anticipation that what was promised shall be. Love is not love until we’ve opened our heart to risk forgiving or extending ourselves when reciprocity is not guaranteed.

FROM NOUNS TO VERBS. And it isn’t until we dare to move these gifts from being nouns to verbs that we realize that faith itself is more grace than effort, hope is more grace than will, and love is more grace than feeling. In the decision to act in faith, we receive it afresh. In the decision to hope instead of living down to lowered expectations, hope is born anew in us. In the decision to love, the love of God is unleashed in us all over again. No wonder these "French hens" are so valuable, so prized as gifts.
John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Friday, December 26, 2014

Two Turtle Doves

A Reflection for the Second Day of Christmas

"On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves…"

Scriptures to read: Psalm 119:33-40; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Galatians 3:1-25; 4:4-7

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW. Today’s Christmas gifts -- the Old and New Testaments -- are foundational. 
Together, they weave the connected and continuing story of "salvation history." It begins with the people of Israel and continues in the Church of Jesus Christ. The contents of the Old and New Testament are authoritative in that we believe no other documents or sources are needed to lead us to faith in God and life in fellowship with God. In fact, most Christians hold that no other sources are, indeed, revelation.

TRANSITION POINT. Christmas is the transition point from Old Testament to New Testament. The ancient anticipations, expectations, and interpretations of the Law and prophecies of a Messiah (Christ) are challengingly fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Many good people were so deeply entrenched in their traditions that they simply could not make Jesus fit into their worldview. Many others -- hungry for grace, liberation, and restoration – in faith opened their hearts to Jesus, in whom they found the embodiment of God’s promises.

ANCIENT ROOTS & REVELATION. The Old Testament was all the early followers of Jesus had. It was the Old Testament to which the Apostle Paul was referring when he said "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16) So, don’t leave the Old Testament out of your study. Read it for all it’s worth, for all you can possibly learn and glean from it. At the same time know that, according to many Christian scholars, much of what the OT points to has been or is being fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

WHAT'S A TESTAMENT? Like "covenant," the word "testament" is pretty heavy. It certainly has binding promises and obligations for the parties who enter into its terms. So, when Jesus says to the disciples, as they share the Passover meal together, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (2 Corinthians 11:25), it must have been rather mind-boggling. We are still exploring and living the full implications of the new covenant. Reading and seeking to understand the New Testament, we learn and appropriate the terms of the "new covenant."

LITERAL, NOT LITERLISTIC. One of the things I find most helpful as I read both Old and New Testaments is to try to grasp and apply the appropriate genre (or form) of literature that is being used. We read legal documents differently than we do songs. We understand letters differently than we do histories. We appreciate the difference between a matter-of-fact statement and hyperbole (intended exaggeration). Noting this helps us interpret and apply the Bible more effectively in our lives and world. The fact that we believe the books of the Bible are inspired and useful for "teaching, etc." doesn’t mean we read flatly. To take the Bible literally does not mean we take it more literally than it takes itself.

REIGN OF PEACE. The dramatic diversity of the books of the Bible makes it difficult to find a common thread running throughout. But both Old and New Testaments speak pointedly of the Kingdom of God -- the reign of God as Lord in the lives of people and communities who embrace grace. God’s reign is depicted in the Old and New Testaments as a kingdom of peace. So it is fitting that today’s gifts are depicted as "turtle doves," the dove being the ancient and contemporary symbol of peace, or shalom. The dove is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit, who brings the Word of God alive in our lives. Embrace God’s gift peace expressed in the new covenant mediated and sustained by Jesus Christ (the "partridge in a pear tree").

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA