Monday, February 19, 2018

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

Sunday, January 21, 2018


Again and again, "justifiable" retaliatory violence vainly imposes its deathly will

NEW SITUATION, OLD STORY. Nearly every news cycle contains a story of valid protest and "righteous" retaliatory violence. Iranian people take to the streets and are crushed by government forces. The Arab Spring becomes a nightmare of repression. Israel attempts to quash--"once and for all"--rocket attacks launched by Hamas from Gaza. The wars and suicide bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq continue with no end in sight. Never mind that hundreds of thousands of innocents have perished. Each snuffed-out life cries out in testimony. 

 I share the following reflection in my grief of the loss of precious lives, out of my appreciation for Gil Baillie's book Violence Unveiled, and in my confidence that nonviolence is the certain path into a grace-full future.

We've turned a corner
from which we cannot retreat:
We've seen ourselves
and all other human beings
as individuals, each with
infinite soul and worth.

What Jesus opened up
and the Enlightenment recovered
cannot now be stuffed back
in the box for the sake of
countering chaos or controlling
this unruly leader or that
unwieldy populace.

You are as important as me.
They are as valuable as we.
Though some try not to believe,
self-evident truth reveals
the image of the Creator
stamped on us all.

Still, armies amass and weapons
strike with a surgical precision
that nonetheless snuff out
individual lives of suspected
and unsuspecting alike.

War is a relic of antiquity,
a hold-over from an age
when many were expendable
for the sake of the whole,
when the victor's ballad
was written in the blood
of friend and foe, a symphony
soured by its disregard
for the value of one.

When one mattered less
as one, when one mattered
more as a thing, a tool, a pawn--
however patriotically proclaimed--
war could be waged eye for eye
and tooth for tooth.

But the Cross closed that chapter
and Resurrection opened the next--
when one suffered for all and
redeemed the life of even one,
when one life burst forth with
love to grace every last one.

And each life was lifted beyond
the pale of mere existence;
the simplest, the lowest, the basest
was exalted and restored--
never to be cast aside or again
undistinguished in the masses.

Though blood vengeance 
is demanded in the face
of our own losses, vengeance
no longer satisfies the heart;
though justice be done, justice
is no longer served.

In our killing, we surely
poison our own souls; living,
we slowly die by our own sword.
Our warring seeds the earth
with a billion broken particles
that cry out each to God.

But God would hear--
and will surely respond--
if but one in a billion
called out to heaven.
It is in one and for one
the universe turns.

Dare we lay our weapons down
while others still breathe
a deathly past? Unless we do,
we shall not live the future
into which we are drawn,
nor make it possible for others.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Friday, December 22, 2017


These four stories help me get over gift anxiety 

GIFT ANXIETY  What shall I give?  Will it be enough?  Will it be right?  Will it be what my loved ones desire?  Will they be pleased?  Such thoughts go through my mind as I think about gift-giving.  I scroll through online items and walk the aisles of stores with questions circling.  You do this, too?  We're not alone.  

Some of my favorite imaginative Christmas stories and songs revolve around gift anxiety--and its resolution.  Leaving alone the more perplexing story woven in the Twelve Days of Christmas song, you may know the following stories quite well.  I recall them here and set them in context of this question: what is an adequate gift?

LITTLE DRUMMER  The most popular of the stories I have in mind is embedded in the song, "The Little Drummer Boy."  It sings first-person of a little boy who has nothing he thinks is fit to bring to the baby who is born to be the King.  "I have no gift to bring," he sighs.  He decides—innocently, naively, hopefully—to offer the only thing he has or can do: he will play his drum the very best he can for Jesus.  In the song, the baby Jesus smiles at him as he plays.  The gift is adequate.

LITTLEST ANGEL  "The Littlest Angel" is a familiar childhood story about a troublesome little angel who, learning that God's Son is to be born on earth, manages to hide away such common things as a butterfly, a bird’s egg, stones, his favorite dog’s collar in a rough-hewn box--things that he loved as a little boy on earth—to offer the Christ child.  His items, however, pale grossly in comparison to the other angels' magnificent, shining gifts.  He feels humiliated and runs to hide.  But, to his surprise, his choices are things the little boy Jesus relates to and loves.  As the Christ child looks approvingly upon his gift, it rises and transforms to become the star above the stable, giving light to all.

GIFT OF THE OF MAGI  "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry is the touching story of a young couple with very limited resources trying to offer each other a significant gift at Christmas.  Unbeknown to each other, they sacrifice the best they have for the other's best. She sells her beautiful long hair so she can purchase a golden chain for her lover's valuable watch. He, in turn, pawns his cherished timepiece to buy a golden comb for her beautiful hair.

IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER  Christina Rossetti’s carol "In the Bleak Midwinter" concludes with a verse that compellingly underscores the only adequate gift we really bring is the gift of our heart: “What can I give Him, Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. Yet what I can I give Him--Give my heart.”

GIFTS WE RECEIVE  Christmas is really not about what you can give to Jesus or to others. It is about what God has given to us. All our gift giving is a simply response to and reflection of this gift. Whatever it is you choose to give to others, let it be joyfully and from a grace-gifted heart.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Future

The Future

By Wendell Berry

For God’s sake, be done
with this jabber of “a better world.”
What blasphemy! No “futuristic”
twit or child thereof ever
in embodied light will see
a better world than this.
Do something! Go cut the weeds
beside the oblivious road. Pick up
the cans and bottles, old tires,
and dead predictions. No future
can be stuffed into this presence
except by being dead. The day is
clear and bright, and overhead
the sun not yet half finished
with his daily praise.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, October 2, 2017

Welcome, Autumn

I love autumn. I'm always looking for writings and poetry about the season. I've found quite a few that I've shared on this indybikehiker blog over the years. Word search "autumn" on my blog and see what all turns up.

The following poem will show up frequently. I wrote it in 2006 and I've posted it every autumn since. It's my personal celebration of this season and my nudge to every reader to embrace its possibilities.

On the brink of autumn,

A hint of chill in the air,
The sun’s setting sooner,
In a few days we’ll be there

Where green turns to golden
And reapers harvest the yield,
Where dry leaves are falling
And flocking fowl arc the fields.

Then we’ll don our jackets
And brace ourselves for the wind
That rustles through branches
And billows our souls again.

Do not shrink back from fall;
Embrace this gilded season
As a grace that descends;
A gift to all from heaven.

It’s time for returning,
For in-bringing and burning,
For heart walks in deep woods,
For distilling, discerning.

What’s muddled becomes clear
And all chaff is left exposed
As autumn’s sun glows bright
And a harvest moon shines cold.

We may shed pretenses
And travel a lighter way
Our hearts as crisp as leaves
That lift and then sail away.

As we are being turned,
Turn—facing all the changes,
The falling, the cooling,
And the encroaching darkness.

Lean into the season
Lest it overtake your way.
Let your soul be opened;
Relish its gift this fall day.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, July 3, 2017


A tribute to daily actions of ordinary citizens that promote American-style freedom


I feel a deep gratitude for American-style freedom and for those who have thought, deliberated, lived and died to frame, preserve, and advance it.  The fact that I feel, simultaneously, that certain domestic and international policies and actions are not in American freedom’s best interest does not negate my gratitude or reduce my sense of patriotism.  Nor does it mean I write a blank check and cast a rubber-stamp vote for everything my government--in any of its three branches and myriad bureaus--does in the name and for the sake of America and freedom.  It is one thing to be grateful and patriotic, it is another to be gullible and naïve.


I try to keep in mind that freedom is bigger than any Presidential administration.  America is greater than a duly elected Congress.  The Constitution stands above any appointed Court.  The soul of America is deeper than policies conceived and implemented through layers of bureaucracy.  Its spirit is broader than what can be expressed by any region, state, or local community.  For this reason, and for the fact that pride and prejudice is ever present and must be grappled with in each generation, it is prudent to be vigilant against directives and decisions that appropriate the term “freedom” but do not necessarily embody and advance it for all.


I saw this quote etched in stone at a monument in Washington, D.C.: “Freedom isn’t free.”  So it isn’t.  That doesn’t necessarily mean its only cost is blood and that the primary manner of preserving freedom is war, the threat of violence, preemptive attacks on rogue regimes which American administrations suspect, or the deployment and ever-increasing funding of a bloated military at the expense of local community creativity and our most vulnerable citizens.  The fact that freedom has occasionally been preserved by unavoidable war does not mean that war is the primary and celebrated cost of freedom.


I write this, having visited Arlington National Cemetery, where tombstones in the shape of Crosses and Stars of David line the hills as far as the eye can see—each representing a life given for American freedom.  I write this, having visited the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II Memorial.  These lives testify to heroic efforts to preserve American freedom or to win it for those who asked for our help.  But war and the death of soldiers is not the primary way freedom is preserved and promoted.


Freedom is more proactive than an occasional defensive response of protection when it is truly under attack or an aggressive response of preemption when it is perceived to be threatened.  The cost of freedom is a daily vigilance and active exercise of freedom by ordinary citizens.  We mistakenly think that freedom is something won for us by the few who bear arms; in fact, freedom is something willed by the many who confirm its blessing and fuel its light through responsible use of its privileges and responsibilities.


The vigorous and watchful exercise of such freedoms as speech, religion, and one’s vote serve to intensify freedom’s promise and buttress it against would-be detractors.  It takes the vigilance of the citizenry to hold elected and appointed officials accountable to ensure there is freedom from want and freedom from fear.  That “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are not repeatedly abused by the likes of either arrogant Wall Street executives or domestic abusers is far from a given.  Some people and entities will always construe freedom for license and frame liberty in ways to serve themselves at the expense of others.


Nothing short of an attentive, informed, and engaged citizenry willing the best that freedom can mean will prevent genuine freedom from dissipating without a shot being fired or a terrorist attack being launched.  It is possible to wave flags and sing of freedom, all the while speech is curtailed, civil liberties conceded, corporate monopolies on goods and services permitted, equal opportunity redefined, religion regulated, poverty increased, and personal and community security decreased.  Disengagement and apathy are greater threats to American freedom than terrorism or rogue regimes.


When in Washington, D.C. recently, I wanted to see a monument to the average American citizen.  There were monuments to war heroes and esteemed Presidents and national figures.  These are likely all great people and deserving of honor.  But should there not be, in the city of democracy, an unmistakable message to the world that what preserves and promotes freedom and democracy is not so much “great persons” as a great people, not so much war but a vigilant peace, not only the notable actions of a few but the faithful and ordinary actions of the many who choose everyday to make freedom ring true in every community across America?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Adequacy and Change

We are adequate
most of the time,
sometimes less,
occasionally a bit more--
but only occasionally.

More average than
we like to think, we
unwittingly buoy the mean--
contributing to normality’s

But adequacy belies
capacities and gifts
and energies that,
every now and then,
make us extraordinary
for specific challenges,
in particular moments,
within special encounters.

A transcendent cause lifts us,
we rise to an unanticipated crisis,
a deep devotion draws us forward,
we dare to care for neighbors,
we discipline our faculties
to focus upon an inspired goal.

Then adequacy is eclipsed,
normalcy becomes moot,
stability yields to risk,
humanity becomes instrumental
to life-saving ends.

We are capable of adequacy
(and that’s good, that’s laudable),
but also of loving
(and that’s grace, that’s divine).

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, April 17, 2017

Practicing Resurrection

To "practice resurrection" (Wendell Berry's phrase in his 1973 poem 'Mad Farmer Liberation Front') means, to me:
to trust that truth-telling, justice-seeking and system-challenging, though apparently defeated and futile, wins.

to invest in people and places that most have written off, dismissed, bypassed, and left behind.

to challenge foregone conclusions about who is worthy, what is salvageable, where renewal can happen.

to dare to attempt to build community where most have given up and moved on.

to dare to express love and graciousness while others act in fear and express hate.

to reject the death penalty as a legitimate expression of justice and to always seek restorative justice.

to welcome and embrace all whom fear says should be labeled, excluded, expelled.

to accept full forgiveness and offer full forgiveness to hurtful people.

to undermine the ascendency of self-serving, greed-defined market practices with self-giving acts of community and neighborliness.

to say “no" to death in the midst of life; to deny death it’s victory of foregone conclusions.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday Neighborhood Prayer Walk

Here's how we prayer walked our urban neighborhood this Good Friday evening

Let us set out on a walk through our nearby neighborhood, stopping to pray at various points of community pain or hope. We have adapted the Roman Catholic tradition of following the Stations of the Cross as a public expression of faith. Walk and pray with us through our community. We will conclude each prayer with “Lord, in your mercy…” Response: “…Hear our prayer!”

Station 1: People’s Health Center

We pray: We grieve the difficulty our neighbors have getting access to good, affordable health care. We are grateful for People’s Health Center and Healthnet. We pray healing wisdom for all doctors, nurses, technicians, and staff who serve our neighbors here.

Station 2: St. Clair Senior Apartments

We pray: We grieve the many ways our society disregards and devalues senior adults. We are grateful for the creation of affordable senior adult housing that provides safety and security for many of our retired neighbors and neighbors with disabilities. We pray grace for senior adults—and all who serve seniors in our community.

Station 3: Commercial spaces at St. Clair Senior Apartments

We pray: We grieve the loss and absence of essential economic resources in our community. When basic services and commercial opportunities are missing, the costs to our neighbors are high. We are grateful for faithful and new businesses and services in the area. We pray for expansion and development of local industries and services that will fully occupy available commercial spaces, making good and services readily accessible and affordable to our neighbors.

Station 4: East Tenth Children & Youth Center’s Playground

We pray: We grieve when children are neglected and not given opportunity for early learning, guided care, and safe places to play and grow. We are grateful for East Tenth UMC CYC’s faithfulness to neighborhood children over more than 20 years. We pray wisdom for the staff and provision of generous resources to continue to provide creative and comprehensive care for children infant through pre-K.

Station 5: An abandoned house

We pray: We grieve the irresponsible actions, neglect, and financial problems that bring houses into disrepair, abandonment, and blight. We pray breakthrough in local policies and resources that will challenge blight and bring real estate exploiters and unreachable property owners to accountability and justice. May reinvestment transform abandonment into places of vibrant household living.

Station 6: A substandard rental house

We pray: We grieve the circumstances that prevent people from accessing safe, clean, affordable housing. We grieve property owners and landlords who compromise their dignity and the dignity of renters by providing dismal living conditions. We grieve the crime, illegal drug activity, and prostitution that festers in such settings. We pray for changed hearts of property owners and landlords. We pray watchfulness and wisdom for city health inspectors and law enforcement. And we pray breakthroughs for neighbors caught up in self-defeating lifestyles.

Station 7: A new house and a rehabbed house

We pray: We are grateful for community organizations and local resources that come together to make new and rehabbed houses affordable and available to neighbors. We are grateful for how this begins to revitalize our neighborhood. We pray safety for all construction workers, continued local resources to support this work, and for the families who will soon occupy these homes.

Station 8: A corner where youth are frequently present

We pray: Our hearts go out to all youth—and particularly to young people without caring support at home. We grieve the shortage of engaging initiatives and safe, supportive places where youth can grow without the undue risks of street life. We are grateful for places like the Boner Fitness & Learning Center at the Chase Legacy Building and City Life Youth Drop-in Center that offer help and hope. We pray new and more opportunities for youth in our community. And we pray that young people will be kept safe and find purposeful places of belonging and development.

Station 9: A pocket park

We pray: We grieve the sparseness of green spaces and play places across our community. We are grateful for the emergence of pocket parks and local playgrounds where children and families can safely walk and play. We pray breakthrough for plans for a new neighborhood park that will be fully equipped as a place for neighbors to enjoy green space and gather.

Station 10: An IndyGo Bus Stop

We pray: We are grateful for the provision of transit services in our community that provide mobility to thousands of neighbors each day. We are grateful for the promise of upgraded services. We pray safety and accessibility for all neighbors who use our city’s transit network to navigate to and from work and needed services each day.

Station 11: The Jefferson Apartments

We pray: We grieve the often high cost of rental housing for many of our lower income neighbors. We are grateful for the provision of affordable multi-family housing facilities like The Jefferson Apartments. We are grateful for the connection to services and homeownership readiness that residents can access. We pray peace upon each household dwelling in these apartments and condominiums.

Station 12: John Boner Neighborhood Center

We pray: We are grateful for the presence and range of services provided through the John Boner Neighborhood Center—from senior services to job training to emergency assistance offered to neighbors. We pray generous support for the Center and grace for the staff and volunteers who serve hundreds of neighbors weekly through this place.

Station 13: A rain garden on E. 10th St.

We pray: We grieve the many unsafe sidewalks and streets pedestrians traverse. We are grateful for the investment in the E. 10th Street streetscape, with its trees, rain gardens, and safety features. We pray safety for all who travel these sidewalks and streets each day.

Station 14: East Tenth United Methodist Church

We pray: We are deeply grateful for th presence and service of this congregation for over 100 years on this street and in this community. We pray continued faithfulness, foresight, and Spirit-guided care to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this place—both now and for the future.

There is so much more for which to pray--and to shape our prayers into actions of investment and service and advocacy.

Look around your community, your neighborhood. For what can you give thanks? For what can you intercede? How can you make a difference with your resources?

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Sunday, April 9, 2017

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 naïve 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