Friday, October 18, 2019

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 
www.indybikehiker.com 
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker 
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

‘Merican

Lyrics by The Descendents

We flipped the finger to the King of England
Then stole our country from the Indians
With God on our side and guns in our hands
We took it for our own

Built a nation dedicated to liberty,
Justice, and equality
Does it look that way to you? It doesn’t look that way to me
It’s the sickest joke I know

Listen up, man, I'll tell you who I am
I'm just another stupid American
But you don’t want to listen, you don’t want to understand
Just finish up your drink and go home.

I come from the land of Ben Franklin,
Twain and Poe and Walt Whitman.
Otis Redding, Ellington,
The country that I love…

But it’s the land of the slaves, and the Klu Klux Klan,
The Haymarket Riot, and the Great Depression
Joe McCarthy, Viet Nam
It’s the sickest joke I know

Listen up, man, I'll tell you who I am
I'm just another stupid American
But you don’t want to listen, you don’t want to understand
Just finish up your drink and go home

I'm proud and ashamed, every 4th of July
You’ve got to know the truth before you say that you’ve got pride

Now the cops got tanks ‘cause the kids got guns
Shrinks pushing pills on everyone
Cancer from the ocean, cancer from the sun
Straight to Hell we go

Listen up, man, I'll tell you who I am
I'm just another stupid American
But you don’t want to listen, you don’t want to understand
Just finish up your drink and go home

Listen up, man, I'll tell you who I am
I'm just another stupid American
But you don’t want to listen, you don’t want to understand
Just finish up your drink 
And go home


John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
www.indybikehiker.com
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Sunday, June 23, 2019

A Summer Blessing

Here's my homemade blessing for your summer:

May summer warm your soul.

May you, like all plant life, flourish.

May you absorb life in these months.

May you find
work fulfilling,
play renewing,
relationships reconciling,
faith deepening.


May you return in your heart
to the beach,
to the campground,
to the drive-in,
to the garden;
to friendships
to sports fields,
to forests,
and far-off places
that fueled imagination
and freedom to explore.


May you once again be changed
in a season of life called summer 
and grow in response to the sun.


John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 
www.indybikehiker.com 
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker 
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Saturday, May 25, 2019

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
www.indybikehiker.com
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Friday, February 1, 2019

Hope on the Far Side of Revenge

from 'The Cure at Troy' by Seamus Heaney

Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.

The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.

History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.


John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
www.indybikehiker.com 
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker 
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Thursday, January 10, 2019

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down"

Robert Frost challenged the validity of erecting walls

I read Robert Frost's poem "Mending Fences" again. In light of Trump's grandstanding for $5.7 billion for a wall between the US and Mexico, this 60-year-old poem takes on fresh meaning.

In the poem, Frost challenges the old adage that "Good fences make good neighbors." He tells of he and his neighbor mending the stone fence between their properties each spring. He ponders why they bother, for neither keep animals. His neighbor, however, is insistent on the practice and repeatedly quotes the dictum.

But Frost suspects there is perhaps a divine or natural power that brings down parts of the stone wall each year.

I especially like the following lines:
"Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast..."

"Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down..."
Frost reflects on his neighbor's quoted phrase and stolid actions:
"...I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees..."
I ask: Why walls? What--or Who--is it that wants the superficial walls between us down?

Seems to me it's wisdom to cooperate with that Something.



John Franklin Hay
indybikehiker.com
indybikehiker@gmail.com
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Last to Arrive?

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

At 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-compelled 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 - http://www.indybikehiker.com/2013/01/with-epiphany-partys-nearly-complete.html


John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 
www.indybikehiker.com 
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker 
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Friday, December 7, 2018

Sleepwalking Advent

Shifting gears into Advent may take some time...but don't lallygag too long!

Advent begins
in a fog of unreadiness.
as if by dull surprise
or in a twilight zone,
we groggily hang the greens.

Hardly with awareness
much less anticipation
good people sleepwalk
through the prophecies
and Annunciation.

We may finally stir
by the time children sing
“Away in a Manger”
the Sunday before Christmas,
their raised voices spark
a light in our slumbering souls.

Is it only children and prophets
who grasp the urgency,
sense the passion;
whose hearts are rended
and readied by the
promise of Light shining
in the darkness?

Is it only to them that Advent
becomes no mere repetition
of myth-laden past events,
but days of embracing
the living Mystery,
the ground of all hope?

By God’s mercy and grace
children and prophets are
only the first to hear,
the first to recognize,
to proclaim that
it is, indeed, Mystery.

The Light ever dawns,
beaming its rays into the
eyes of the groggiest saints,
the hardest sleeper
among us.

Only those who refuse to rise
amid many urgent shakings
and light flooding their beds
sleep through the
Incarnation.

“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Thursday, November 22, 2018

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 
www.indybikehiker.com 
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker 
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Community Context and Grace


Twelve ways I recognize grace as I practice community-building in urban neighborhoods

I’m privileged to work in a community-building context. For most of my adult life, the matrix of urban core neighborhoods that comprise the Near East area of Indianapolis have been—and continue to be—the learning ground of my faith. Here is where I have been most spiritually formed. Though I was raised in a conservative Protestant pastor’s home, am a seminary-trained, ordained clergy, and consider myself a recovering evangelical, the adventure of community building is the cutting edge of my faith.

Here are a few things that I recognize and practice as a person of faith in a community-building context:

1. I try to express my faith by what I do. What I believe is very personal; what I live out is quite public.  Most people could care less about the nuances of my particular religion; they care about my influence, actions, and impact in the community.

2. I distinguish between beliefs and faith. Here’s how: beliefs reflect an assent to religious teachings and doctrines; faith acts in transformational confidence together with others, often against powers that be. Beliefs are nouns; faith is a verb. In a community-building context, leading with beliefs, as dynamic and personally meaningful as they may be, tends to divide people and derail helpful action. Leading with faith pulls people together in common actions that reflect hope.

3. I recognize that, like me, others live their faith by what they do—and I salute this. I’m not the only one doing what I’m doing out of a heart of faith. Many are motivated and undergirded by faith—we just don’t know it because they don’t wear it on their sleeves.

4. I recognize that some neighbors live without religion or claim to have no faith at all—and I try to understand this. I try to explore beyond typical reasons for unfaith that are surmised within circles of the faithfully churched. I've let go of judgement and noted my hypocrisy: In community-building terms, some very-churched citizens can express high levels of community cynicism—which expresses, essentially, lack of faith and hope that grace is at work beyond the walls of the church.

5. I consider myself part of the problem in authentic community and I go to work on it. I undermine community wtih suspicions, presumptions, prejudices, fears, knee-jerk reactions, side-taking, horrible-izing, standoffishness, etc.--whether acted on or not. When I recognize incipient thought patterns, notions, and attitudes like this, I try to challenge them, change them, and immediately act to counter them. I think this is as much a part of building community—and serious faith formation—as anything else.

6. I recognize that grace is at work in and through people and situations that churches and orthodox doctrine don’t recognize. While this wreaks havoc on the theology of my upbringing, openness to this possibility and being on the lookout for it is one of the rich privileges in community life.

7. I am here to learn and grow as much as to share and sow. I am called to listen and seek to understand. I have to keep ripping up my church filters, my social class presumptions, and my litmus tests. I must keep challenging myself and keep opening my eyes and heart.

8. Communities and neighbors receive myriad invitations from faith groups to gather for worship, but suffer for a lack of basic solidarity and justice-making from those same faith groups. Preaching grace and doing justice are inseparable and equal in necessity and power for effective witness. If you're preaching grace without doing justice in the community, you just don't represent the Gospel.

9. I constantly monitor and modify how I talk about faith, God and the church. I'm convinced we make the Gospel unnecessarily offensive with words, or offensive for the wrong or superficial reasons. If grace is reaching out to all--inviting all, drawing all, working in ways we cannot see or understand--why do we persist in talking in ways and with terms that preempt it, make it difficult, and inadvertently inoculate people against our expression of it?

10. I’m learning to appreciate small change in people and situations. While aiming high, we can—and should—celebrate every small breakthrough.

11. Little happens that lasts outside of authentic relationship. Long ago I let go of the illusion that programs or institutions produce lasting positive change in people or communities. Real relationships as neighbors--that's the thing.

12. Separateness and exclusivity is anti-faith in community building. In an urban community context, those who separate themselves or become nonparticipants in the larger community miss much of the inspiration that comes as neighbors grapple with tough issues, come up with hopeful solutions, and enact them--in faith. Exclusivity is anti-faith. Separateness is anti-faith. Dare to come out of your cloister, to listen to others, to link arms with neighbors and move toward some breathtaking outcomes.


John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 
www.indybikehiker.com 
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker 
indybikehiker@gmail.com