Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Violence and Nonviolence in Social Media

In our back-and-forth online political sparring, can we express the transforming practice of nonviolence?

Let’s talk about violence and nonviolence in political sparring, particularly via social media. Many of us engaged in online issue debate employ strong rhetoric. What crosses the line from what’s fair and nonviolent to what’s hateful and violent?

Haven’t we all seen Tweets or Facebook posts that we know cross a line into ugliness--but we “like” or retweet them anyway? I know I have. And I’m sure I’ve sent out things intended mostly just to get the goat of someone on the other side of a political issue. I’ve usually regretted it.

I am an advocate of nonviolence, but I am as guilty as the next social media user in wanting to set others straight and expose obvious flaws in their thinking and information--and to do so with emphasis and a bit of punch. But, I’ve been thinking more lately: Shouldn't my my commitment to nonviolence include my verbiage and messaging via social media? What are my expressions via social media doing inside me, to or for others, and for the issues and greater causes I feel committed to? To me, it's worth contemplating.

Here are a few more or less stream of consciousness observations and suggestions I’ve been mulling over regarding violence in social media--and the powerful possibilities of taking nonviolent principles to heart and action in our online discourse:

1. Violent-language political sparring may be tempting and immediately satisfying, but it is ultimately self-defeating. Twitter and Facebook invite emotive reactions and unchecked venting as par for the course. But if one’s use of social media might be remotely intended to increase understanding or encourage others to consider an alternative point of view, then character bashing and mean-spirited repartee undermines that effort. It also reduces us to merely reflecting the image and antics of hateful people.

2. Refraining from violent repartee and pointedly de-escalating heated political sparring via social media takes much more discipline, energy, and wit than launching or passing along a real zinger. Again: I'm guilty here. But I always find it refreshing when something better is shared.

3. Denial, suppression, or distortion of what is fact and true is, in fact, violent. Intentional distortions do violence to truth--one of the most important principles of our social fabric. Untruth and half truths--including obfuscating spin that has become so much the stock in trade of politicos--needs to be called out and its purveyors held accountable. BUT…how can we make valid political statements and hold others accountable for unfounded distortions without enflaming hatred and verbal violence?

4. Violent-language repartee on social media doesn’t move anything forward. It just makes our cohorts and us feel more justified and right. It might feel good and it might serve a purpose of comfort and consolation, but it doesn’t move the issue forward. We all wallow in self-pity for a while. But the sooner we can turn our anger into responsive, constructive conversation and action, the better chance we have of being the difference we wish to see in the world (to paraphrase Gandhi).

5. The effort to call out Trump & Co.’s lies, distortions, and obfuscations by those who feel called to resist his regime is important enough to do so without malice. Instead of seeing ourselves as merely drive-by social media gangsters spraying easy sarcasm and “let the chips fall where they may” verbiage at things that offend us in our news feed, what if we see ourselves as a small but critical part of a collective resistance in which each voice speaking the truth in love for our neighbors, our nation, and our world turns the tide?

6. On one hand, I don’t think Trump should be given an inch; strong responses are required. On the other, the nature of responses matter much. Unless our varied and many expressions of truth-telling and resistance are nonviolent, our very words and actions play into the self-defeating lie of justifiable violence. Justifiable violence is one of the greatest and most pervasive lies that goes unnoticed and unchallenged 95% of the time. But it is a lie. Those who do violence become violent and perpetuate its endless downward spiral. When we engage in violent language, not only will violent people and forces feel justified in their violent ways, but we will become like them while trying to undermine, stop, and defeat them.

7. One principle of effective nonviolent change is both maintaining a moral high ground and offering an alternative path that ennobles all. This is the wise teaching and effective practice of Gandhi and King. In resistance to Trump, the moral high ground is to deny him the justification for acting violently because those who resist his policies are violent. The alternative path is a better worldview and reasonable--if complex and difficult--path forward that includes and seeks the best in all people, all nations, and the earth itself.

8. Seek and follow exemplary purveyors of nonviolence on social media. Who are the exemplary social media participants who reflect nonviolence but on-target messaging and winning wit in their political debate? I try to follow and emulate those who do not shrink back from the fray of political issues but who engage without malice and who demonstrate that they are making serious effort to contribute to a way forward and upward. To me, those who engage in creative humor in response to Trump & Co.'s distortions are worth a follow.

I invite your ideas and responses. Social media in the political domain fascinates me. I am a participant in back-and-forth issues daily. I have lots to learn. You have much to teach me. I look forward to hearing from you.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

On NOT Letting Go

Twelve convictions for which I am vigilant and seek redemptive expression

I keep reading that I'm supposed to "let go" as part of my spiritual growth. Franciscan Richard Rohr and Henri Nouwen preach this in their writings, which I embrace. Lots of spiritual gurus do. The principle is that only by letting go of something lesser or false can we embrace what is greater. We say “no” to what sabotages and diminishes so we can say “yes” to life and wholeness.

I buy that. I've done a lot of letting go: regrets, hurts, harm, violence, guilt, shame, grievances, grudges, betrayals, childish notions, naivet├ęs, ideologically-based assumptions, institutionalism, etc. I have no doubt I will continue to undergo what my friend Morris Weigelt calls “blessed subtraction.”

At the same time, I am convinced there are some things those of us who accept our calling as ambassadors of reconciliation or change agents cannot or should not let go.

Here are some convictions I have not let go--nor plan to, unless I am mightily persuaded otherwise.  In fact, instead of letting go of these, I am drawn to pursue their change or distinction as part of a creative stewardship of the capacities, relationships and opportunities I am given. Instead of resignation into carelessness, release into divine "beyond us" action, or yielding to collectively coercive human agendas (in the name of God's or a government's will), I consider vigilant wrestling with these challenges as part of working out my salvation with fear and trembling in this world in this time.

1. I'm not letting go of my God-given ability to make choices about my life, or my ability to choose my responses to things beyond my control that directly and indirectly impact my life.

2. I'm not letting go of what I have learned and continue to discover through diligent study, diverse experience, and contemplative living.

3. I'm not letting go of my sense that working daily with purpose, self-discipline, perseverance and joy is as critical to spiritual vitality as any sabbatical breakthrough or mountaintop experience.

4. I'm not letting go of my sense that all authority needs to be fairly questioned and validated through its reckoning with truth and its service to--and empowerment of--all within its range of margin-seeking and accountability.

5. I'm not letting go of my right to dissent and talk back to those who would presume to "tell it like it is" or try to define reality through their use of power, control, or influence.

6. I'm not letting go of my sense that being faithful to loved ones, friends and the poor is more important than doing what seems expedient for my professional or personal advancement.

7. I’m not letting go of my sense that vigilance against dogmatism and legalism of every sort is necessary for personal spiritual and emotional health, and to check the encroachment of these distortions of reality purveyed through ideologies and institutions.

8. I'm not letting go of my sense that the biblical call to compassion and justice for the poor--not as left-over charity but as a system-challenging and economic and social order-redeeming priority--needs to be lifted up through clear, pointed, and persistent articulation and action.

9. I'm not letting go of my sense that there needs to be vigorous push-back against those who reduce the Christian Gospel to institutional promotion, evangelistic crusades, speculative prophecy, church politics, partisan politics, and success strategies, instead of incarnating in word and deed the liberating kingdom of God.

10. I'm not letting go of my sense that much of what passes for preaching in churches tends toward shallow, standardized propositions, franchise-reinforcing promotions, ideologically-based diatribes, or borrowed moral-of-the-story messages instead of solid biblical exposition with valid contextualization, and hermeneutics and application--and I'm holding out for the latter as the enduring best practice.

11. I'm not letting go of my sense that predominant "pro-life" positions and single-issue politics have little to do with the overarching and connected biblical value for all humans, all living things and the earth and creation itself, and, if left to be articulated and applied as it is, will undermine the integrity of the Word of God.

12. I’m not letting go of my sense that redemptive love can be expressed and genuine community can be found in unlikely, unorthodox people and situations, and that grace can be read and revealed between the lines of lives considered outside the walls of the church in ways which don't seem to be recognized inside.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Cycling Chiloe in Chile

I am in southern Chile on the main island of Chiloe on the Pacific Ocean for a week-long self-guided bicycle tour. As touch points for this tour, my friend Fred Milligan and I are riding to towns and villages in which wooden churches were constructed in the 19th century. Some of these churches are now designated by UNESCO and have been or are being carefully preserved.

These structures are unique in that they were intended to be stone buildings and are built according to plans shipped from Europe and based on European stone churches and cathedrals. But the needed stone does not exist as a resource in the area. So, Chileans creatively used local boat making knowledge and skills to build the churches out of wood. It's quite a feat.

The main island of Chiloe (it's actually an archipelago of islands) is about 80 miles long and 40 miles wide and is very hilly. The undulating terrain is tough on day-long bicycle rides. Not any one of the hills is too hard to climb, but the accumulation of them over the course of 40 to 50 miles takes its toll. The last few miles of a day of such riding makes even the mildest hill seem like Mt. Everest to hill-weary legs.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Last to Arrive?

We take our place at the continuing gathering that centered in Bethlehem

Christmas arrives. Or, we arrive at Christmas--sooner or later. In our faith-formed imagination we are invited to take our place in the Nativity. In this poem, I imagine the unusual and continuing draw of unlikely people to an unlikely place: Bethlehem.

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

Then, a young man and pregnant girl
arrive, seeking vainly for a room.
Bedding down in a stable,
she gives birth 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.

Graphic by Janet McKensie - www.janetmckensie.com

Monday, December 19, 2016

Settling for a Little Togetherness at Christmas

I've backed off of most of my holiday insistences in favor of something more profound.

What more can be said of Christmas that has not already been said, written, sung, drawn, or dramatized? Nothing, really. And yet I keep trying simply because it inspires and possesses me so. As I see it, there will always be rich angles and new perspectives and cultural combinations that somehow bring the ancient stories and traditions into intriguing--if not new--light. This is why I keep writing of Advent and Christmas.

Year by year, I try to pay attention to the way I anticipate Christmas and experience its traditions. I note that my observance of Advent and Christmas and my perspective on them keeps evolving, even if subtly and slowly. 

Some things about the holiday that I once held passionately—even self-righteously—have faded in importance to me. For instance, I'm not as much a stickler for trying to convert people to observe Advent. Once convinced that if folks only knew about Advent-keeping--its rich roots and spiritual promise--and had practical tools with which to observe it, they would. I've also tried to get folks to practice/observe the Twelve Days of Christmas tradition. I've pretty much failed on both fronts.  For whatever reason, most churches I know and most people I know--including my own family--don’t really care much for the full practice of Advent, even if they dutifully observe it. Though I grieve this a bit, I've let it go.

Most people I know, more or less just join in the predominant anticipations and preparations for Christmas that are typical of mainstream American culture.  For better or worse, American Christmas seems to defy any specific tradition or order.  What I sometimes call kulture krismas is a diverse, eclectic, inconsistent, and conflicting mix of themes and practices and meanings that more or less get at the heart of Christmas in one way or another.  However it is approached or practiced, most of us usually “get it” sometime between the 1st and 31st of December. 

While I still think “we’re missing so much” and “we’re watering down meanings” and “this is too secular,” these days my level of Christmas holiday satisfaction seems to be determined less by appropriateness and more by togetherness.  So we miss lots of opportunities to express and experience the depth of this season; what matters more right now, at least to me, is being together—belonging, being present to and with and for one another.

While I'm not sure either of these family traditions will continue, there are a couple of  activities our tribe seems to be engaging in repeatedly these days.  One is attending the city's Homeless Memorial Service on the first day of winter each year. At least part of our immediate and extended family go to Christ Church Cathedral on Monument Circle at 11 am on Winter Solstice to join with homeless advocates to memorialize all who died in Indianapolis due to their homelessness during the year. It’s somber, but also clarifying and challenging. I suppose this practice as much as anything else brings Christmas into focus for us individually and together. Whatever else happens afterward, that is something of a conscience marker.

We’ve also gotten into the habit of going to a movie together on Christmas night. After all the gatherings are over and the presents are unwrapped, we pick out a movie to see together and take it in.  Sometimes the movies are poor, but we share the experience and have fun talking about it afterwards--sometimes for years. None of us will ever forget seeing the movie “Meet the Fockers” one Christmas night some years ago. Bad movie. Stupid movie. Inappropriate movie for kiddos. But we have the most fun laughing about that experience every year now.

Don't get me wrong, our family has layers of family traditions. But I think we've turned a corner from keeping tradition for tradition's sake.  I'm learning that when insistent traditions unravel or lose their meaning, go for togetherness. Just maybe out of the richness of a valued  and intentional presence to one another, something new and wonderful--even inspiring or transformational--might begin.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Urban Squirrel

Squirrel inhabit trees,
regardless the location.
To them, trees are
trees--whether urban
foliage or ancient
forest. Risks and
survival tactics vary
per setting; this
rodent readily adapts.
An electric highwire
is mere passage
to food, cover.
Perhaps preferred
to scampering down
a tree trunk only
to be snared by
a stealthy fox.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What Squirrel Teach the City

The poetry of a city
compacts and intensifies
what we contemplate in
forest, stream, and wilderness.

The human animal figures
more prominently in urban settings--
a beast of wild capacities
and transcendent grace.

That carrion and rodent
and an occasional coyote or deer
persist amongst our density
brings wonder and hope.

That they put up with us,
make the high-risk effort
to bear with our strident civility,
is a sign that we may yet be saved.

Few though they may be,
their presence startles us,
endears us, reminds us,
subtly reorients us to life.

From our sanitized windowed perches
they beckon to us that we are not alone,
that we are late on this scene,
that we are but a part--not the center.

All it takes is a squirrel or two--
a hawk nesting on a high rise,
a deer wandering a city street--
to reset reality, restore sanity.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Saturday, December 10, 2016

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

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

Friday, December 9, 2016

Rethinking John the Baptist in light of Donald Trump

After a nasty election ordeal and the rise of Donald Trump as President of the United States, John the Baptist starts to make some sense to me for the first time. Maybe we now have a political and religious context that begins to bring John's life and message into focus.

This year's Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings for Advent in the Gospels are taking us through Matthew's writings about John the Baptist. Week after week, the RCL keeps rubbing our noses in this iconoclastic character's stark life and startling words. Where's the comfort? Where's the hope? Where are the endearing pastoral scenes of Mary being chosen and shepherds being visited and angel choruses singing? Instead, we get a wilderness wild man acosting everybody with his one-word harangue: "Repent!"

A year-long campaign season featured daily lies, fake news, ugly scandals and relentless mudslinging. Just about everyone seems to have been dirtied, contaminated, and somehow diminished. Seductively, Hillary supporters, Bernie people, Trump followers, and even innocent bystanders were mimetically drawn into a costic back-and-forth. Wouldn't a dunk in the Jordan River feel refreshing? Might raw repentance and cold baptism help us break from the recent past and turn us, clean and fresh-faced, to the future?

In Trump we have a morally and emotionally flawed governmental leader as slippery and conniving as Herod--playing the ends against the middle, promising prominence to religionists while co-opting their integrity, slyly working the angles to maximize his power and image at the expense of, well, just about anyone and everything.

Particularly, single-issue religionists have been taken in, sacrificing much of the predominant message of Jesus for the hope of finally rolling back Roe v Wade. Flying the banner of religious liberty, today's Saducees and Pharisees feel their power: the fleeting satisfaction that they have put in place a leader who will do their bidding on abortion. Yet, the handwriting is already on the wall that their champion new Herod will do his own bidding in his own way in his own time at their expense, just as their chosen heroes of the past have done.

Then, there are progressives (like me) who feel let down and forelorn and lost as much as resentful and angry and resistant. To many of us, this election wasn't just a shocking loss, but a thirty-year rollback of basic liberal democratic values. The conversations in my circles continue to include lots of disbelief and grief and handwringing. Democrat-type folks are fearing the worst and trying to figure out where to go from here.

And into this politcal and religious paradox steps John the Baptist. He comes from out of nowhere. He doesn't figure into the religionists' grand compromise. He doesn't care about progressives' losses. John has no respect for the latest Herod and his coercive plays to consolidate power. He is deaf to political subtleties and cares less about offending the lowest and highest. John speaks truth equally to the powerful and powerless.

To all, he calls: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:1-6). I suppose who and where we are at the moment conditions how we hear his call. Some hear it as a threat to political arrangements they've just painstakingly won. Some hear John as one more desperado trying out yet another cynical spin on the disenfranchised. Some hear it, however, as a compelling invitation.

Religionists will try to use John in the same way they think they've successfully used the new Herod. Who couldn't use a little repentance and isn't it nice that someone is back to baptizing reprobates like in the good ol' days? But John will have none of this. He calls them out: "You brood of vipers!" To those who hide pride behind faith and hatred behind banners of religious liberty, John commands: "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!" (Luke 3:7-9).

To disheartened liberals and cynical millenials and disenfranchised citizens and aliens, John calls: "Share what you have." (Luke 3:10-11). Open your doors. Open your closet. Open your heart to those you've disregarded or demonized. That's how this coming kingdom works. In the face of ideological vascillation and rollback of essential social and healthcare safety nets, expressing rudientary, practical love for neighbors has never been more critical.

To those being payed to work for the new Herod, who carry out his alt-right inspired policies, John beckons: "Be fair!" (Luke 3:12-14). Don't falsely accuse people. Don't distort truth to get a conviction. Don't bully vulnerable aliens. Don't be taken in by tax reforms and economic policies that extort the poor and diminish the middle class while lining the coffers of the rich. If you work for the government or implement its policies in your company, use all the leeway you have to help people live well in spite of a flawed and mean-spirited system.

To the new Herod, John just tells the inconvenient truth. He doesn't tip-toe around him. He doesn't avoid confronting him. He does what the relgionists, in their compromise with this devil, failed to do: John rebukes him for his infidelity and adultery. John also rebukes Herod "for all the other evil things he had done." (Luke 3:19). Someone had to do it. The moral universe demanded it. The future needed it. The way for a future of hope had to be cleared and the ground of justice and grace prepared.

Of course, no one stopped Herod. Herod did what Herods do: he used his power to add evil upon evil and threw John into jail. Ultimately, he had John beheaded and served up the Baptizer's head on a platter for entertianment. Such is the brutality of coercive power then and now.

John didn't survive. But survival was never the issue for John. Maybe it's not the critical issue for us, either. Preparing the way for the future was the issue for John. It called for a radical break with idolatrous political and religious arrangements and reliance on mere ideologies and systems. It called for repentance--a remorse and turnaround deep enough to bear fruit in changed lives and socially transformative behavior. Preparing the way for a fair and just and grace-filled future may require speaking truth unflinchingly to power today--and that may come with a high price.

The new political and religious reality helps me understand and appreciate John. I'm starting to like him. I salute John. But shall I join him? Shall we?

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Finding Time

I keep thinking that I will find time to reflect well on the actions which fill my life these days, and to read, write, and to ride my bicycle. And here I am on the brink of the last month of the year and I have read relatively little. written relatively little, ridden sparingly (by my standards), and not engaged in a level of contemplation that moves me more than a few inches below the surface of appearances and conventional thought.

Of course, there is always plenty of time. If I have not had time it is because I have not taken time, made time, carved out the spaces for the reading, reflection, writing and riding that bring me both joy and put me uniquely in touch with creative resources. Time is not the issue. Choices and discipline is the issue.

We find time for what we want to do or feel we need to do, do we not? Over 2016, I have felt and responded to the need to respond proactively to the numerous community development opportutnities and challenges before the organization I lead, to respond to the opporunities and challenges of the congregation I serve, to respond to family opportunities and challenges, to respond to nonprofit community service opportunities and challenges of the causes I deeply care for, etc. The "free time" I have had is the limited marginal time between these primary concerns. Still, that represents a significant amount of time.

I am grateful for meaningful opportunities and challenges that call for my time. I am grateful to work in areas of my passion: community development, impacting the city I love and call home, cultivating a fragile urban community of faith, investing in social enterprises that change can change the trajectory of lives. I have thrown myself--and my time--into these over these eleven months. My investment of time and energy is much of my expressed mission and prayer.

And yet. And yet, I feel I am also called to reflect and to write. And the joy of cycling is somehow integrated into these callings. This part of my sense of calling has taken a back seat to the calling to what Parker J. Palmer and the Quakers call "the active life" thus far this year. But, on the eve of December, I feel strongly the call read, to reflect, to write, and to ride with renewed focus.

Will I "find time" for these disicplines, these actions over the next month? Will I forego time wasters and whatever idleness that robs my soul of these valued sources of soul sustenance and growth? I will if I so choose. This blog piece may well be the first expression of this dscipline.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA


Nazi resistor Alfred Delp saw in Advent a call for radical awakening from self-sabotage

WAKE UP, O SLEEPER.  Father Alfred Delp was condemned as a traitor for his resistance to the regime of Adolf Hitler and hanged in a Nazi prison in 1945.  Shortly before his execution, the Jesuit priest wrote a piece now titled "The Shaking Reality of Advent" (reprinted in Watch for the Light).

To one who was going through such fire, Advent was no serene welcoming.   It was a radical shaking to awake out of a self-sabotaging, illusory sleep.  At the same time, Delp points out that awakened ones should not now act anxiously or rashly.  Instead, live and act in anticipation of the next Advent and the surpassing value and new order it brings.  Here are a few excerpts:

TIME TO GO TO WORK. "If we want to transform life again, if Advent is truly to come again -- the Advent of home and of hearts, the Advent of the people and the nations, a coming of the Lord in all this -- then the great Advent question for us is whether we come out of these convulsions with this determination: yes, arise! It is time to awaken from sleep. It is time for the waking up to begin somewhere. It is time to put things back where God the Lord put them. It is time for each of us to go to work, with the same unshakable sureness that the Lord will come, to set our life in God's order wherever we can. Where God's word is heard, he will not cheat our life of the message; where our life rebels before our own eyes he will reprimand it."

THOSE WHO LOOK TO THE LORD.  "The world today needs people who have been shaken by ultimate calamities and emerged from them with the knowledge and awareness that those who look to the Lord will still be preserved by him, even if they are hounded from the earth."

A TIME FOR RENUNCIATION.  "Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to a realization of ourselves.  The necessary condition for the fulfillment of Advent is the renunciation of presumptuous attitudes and alluring dreams in which and by means of which we always build ourselves imaginary worlds.  In this way we force reality to take us to itself by force -- by force, in much pain and suffering."

A TIME OF PROMISE.  "At the same time, there is much more that belongs to Advent.  Advent is blessed with God's promises, which constitute the hidden happiness of this time.  These promises kindle the inner light in our hearts.  Being shattered, being awakened -- only with these is life made capable of Advent.  In the bitterness of awakening...the golden threads that pass between heaven and earth in these times reach us."

WE HAVE RECEIVED A MESSAGE.  Delp describes three promises we receive in Advent: (1) the angels annunciation, "speaking their message of blessing into the midst of anguish, scattering their seed of blessing that will one day spring up amid the night, call us to hope...  Advent is a time of inner security because it has received a message."  Delp challenges each of us to be such an angel of annunciation wherever possible.

DO WE HAVE A READY HEART?  The second promise of Advent is (2) the blessed woman: "Advent's holiest consolation is that the angel's annunciation met with a ready heart.  The Word became flesh in a motherly heart and grew out far beyond itself into the world of God-humanity."  Delp compares Mary's readiness and bearing of a great truth, a great liberation, to our own lives: "We must remember today with courage that Mary foreshadows the light in our midst.  Deeper down in our being, our days and our destinies, too, bear the blessing and mystery of God.  The blessed woman waits, and we must wait too until her hour has come."

WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY.  The third promise of Advent is found (3) in the voice and message of John the Baptist: "These John the Baptist characters...cry for blessing and salvation.  They summon us to our last chance, while already they feel the ground quaking and the rafters creaking and see the firmest of mountains tottering inwardly...They summon us to the opportunity of warding off, by the greater power of the converted heart, the shifting desert that will pounce upon us and bury us."

JUST BEYOND THE HORIZON.  "Space is still filled with the noise of destruction and annihilation, the shouts of self-assurance and arrogance, the weeping of despair and helplessness.  But just beyond the horizon the eternal realities stand silent in their age-old longing.  There shines on us the first mild light of the radiant fulfillment to come... It is all far off still, and only just announced and foretold.  But it is happening..."

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

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 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Star Spangled Sit-Down

It's been a few weeks since San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick did not stand--astonishingly--for the National Anthem before a preseason NFL game. Everyone's weighed in by now. Sides have been taken. Presumptions have been made. Condemnations declared. Justifications defended.

At the next game, Kaepernick chose not to sit, but to kneel, prayer-like. More reactions. More punditry.

I've bided my time, for the most part. Now it's my turn, or at least the turn I'm taking.

In the form of Tweets (extended a bit), here's what I'm thinking, how I'm responding:
  • If one hadn't heard of 'cultural religion,' Kaepernick's choice to defy one of its sacrosanct rituals introduces its power. Worth Googling and digging deeper.
  • For many people, American 'cultural religion' more controls personal and collective behavior than Christian religion, or at least trumps it. Thus, routine capitulation to 'just war' and suspending Biblical precept for national principle.
  • Poets and protesters have long challenged American cultural religion, from Mark Twain ('War Prayer') to Langston Hughes. It's a tradition not to be taken--or dismissed--lightly. Not sure Kaepernick is in this league, but it IS a time-honored league.
  • Instead of blindly condemning or defending Kaepernick's choice, explore anew your own desire for a better America--and how you express it. Hopefully there is something about America you find worth protesting to correct or make better. Against the tide of apathy or ignorance, if you were called upon to take a stand (or a sit), what would you do?
  • For me, standing for the National Anthem is how we signal--regardless of deep injustices and with a long way to go--we are one, indivisible. It's about all of us in spite of some of us. It's our moment--perhaps the only moment--we have together as a ragtag melting pot trying express life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  • I may hesitate when I stand for the National Anthem, but I DO stand. My stand may not mean what it means to others. To me, it expresses my hope. For me, my hesitation is that since I learned as a child to stand for the National Anthem and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I became a person of deep faith--a radical, if you please. My sense of faithfulness to what I now understand of authentic Christian faith eclipses and often runs counter to American doctrine and cultural religion. To be authentically Christian makes it difficult to be blindly American. Still, I stand for the National Anthem. As I stand, I pray in hope that "the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ."
So, Colin, sit, or kneel. You're in good company. I'm with you in your protest of undue law enforcement violence against black citizens. I'll stand with you in making changes. My Christian faith and the justice for the oppressed it stands for compels me to work for change. But please consider another kind of protest. This uniquely American moment, once it is diminished by one protest and cause after another, may lose its signal of hope to draw us together for higher purposes.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Crash Helmets for God Seekers

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. ” - Annie Dillard

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA