Friday, December 31, 2004

NEW YEAR'S EVE - SOBER BUT NOT SOMBER. I've never spent a New Year's Eve inebriated. I just don't do alcohol. Along with gambling, the use and abuse of alcohol has been mainstreamed and normalized in Amercian society in my lifetime. At the same time, the physical, social, relational, familial, and emotional--and not the least spiritual--impacts of alcohol are more clearly devastating than ever before.

ALCOHOL NOT REQUIRED FOR A PARTY. But neither have I spent a New Year's Eve somber. I have been priviledged to be with people who love me and with whom I have made life-long and community commitments on New Year's Eve. Our parties do not include alcohol but they do include good fun, light-heartedness, and often great conversations. Alcohol does not equal fun. And fun does not have to leave regrets, shame, addictions, and pain.

THINK WHEN YOU DRINK? I haven't figured this one out. The ad says: "Think when you drink." No way. What happens when you drink is that your thinking becomes blurred. You cannot think when you drink. Judgment is compromised. Wisdom is out the window. This is just one of many deceitful advertizing ploys of the alcohol industry.

TIME TO TAKE ALCOHOL ADS OFF TV. Interesting that at the same time American public will has been effectively turned against cigarette smoking and the entire tobacco industry has been brought to heel, the alcohol industry has been allowed to run rampant. It's time to remove alcohol advertizing from college sporting events. Then, to remove it from TV entirely. It is time to delegitimize the abuse of alcohol.

Care to comment?
SNOW MELT. As quick as it came, our local snow has gone. It was below zero on Christmas Eve; it will be 58 degrees in Central Indiana today, New Year's Eve. Even the massive piles of snow pushed to the side of parking lots cannot survive this "heat wave." Instead of Nordic skiing, I will likely ride my bike thru the park.
SEVEN SWANS A SWIMMING. Romans 12 names seven specific "gifts of the spirit": prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, compassion. These are the "seven swans a swimming" in the children's song that is really a Christian catechism in disguise (developed in 16th-century England when Catholic practice had to go underground).

ONLY SEVEN? Many more spiritual gifts could be named. The Apostle Paul lists others in other letters. But let these seven at least highlight the belief that God gives special graces, or gifts, to people for the sake of enacting and advancing Kingdom purposes.

Thursday, December 30, 2004


FRIENDSWOOD MEETING IN CHRISTMASTIDE. This simple Quaker meeting house in Camby stands less than half a mile from where I lived as a senior in High School. I didn't set foot inside it until I was nearly forty.
"SIX GEESE A LAYING" = SIX DAYS OF CREATION. 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 God’s, to look unto Jesus as the Apostle John looked unto him: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim.” (1 John 1:4)

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

WELCOME TO THE FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS. Don't put those decorations away just yet! It's still Christmastime, and will be through January 5th. Today is just the 5th day of Christmas. So, instead of sinking into the post-Christmas Day blahs or rushing headlong into the pagan revelry of the New Year's holiday, join in the simple observance of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

FIVE GOLD RINGS. Today's gift: "five gold rings." What are they? They are the first five books of the Old Testament. Also known as Torah or the Pentateuch, these five documents form the backbone and skeletal structure for all that follows in the story of Judaism and Christianity. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy is a story of people who are formed by faith in an invisible but covenanting God; it is a story like no other. The Pentateuch is a gift, indeed.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


RIDE, NOT RUN, LANCE. What's Lance Armstrong doing running with his bike? He's competing in the Dec. 19 Scary Fast Cross race. Cross biking combines road, off-road, and, yes, jumping some barriers. That's what Lance is doing here. The photo is by Dorothy Wong and found at www.cyclingnews.com.
AMERICA SHOULD DO MUCH MORE. Is it just me, or does it seem like our government should up-front commit significantly more to immediate disaster relief to the nations reeling from the impacts of the tsunami? What is $4 million or $15 million in the face of the natural disaster of a century? Our government will spend more than that on one warplane! Frankly, I am embarrassed and deeply dismayed by the paltry expression of compassion that has thus far come from the Bush Administration. The world's leaders and citizens see and they will remember our responses to others in times of crisis.
FOUR CALLING BIRDS. On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...four calling birds. That is, the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Uniquely each tells the story of Jesus of Nazareth as God's embodied love. Together they testify to the offer--to one and all--of grace that reaches personally and extends globally.

COME ON OUT. I enjoyed a great cross-country ski through Eagle Creek Park yesterday. Though I am sore this morning, it was worth it. I hope to ski a few more times before it melts away.

SEIZE THE DAY. Get out of the house. Get out of your vehicle. Step into the snow. If you don't ski, run. If you don't run, walk. If you don't walk, breathe the crisp air, take in the sun. Seize the moment.
WHEN CATASTROPHE STRIKES. I am overwhelmed at the scope of disaster and instantaneous loss of over 40,000 lives in the Asian tsunami yesterday. Reading the USA Today story breaks my heart. America so felt the sudden loss of 3,000 souls in the World Trade Center disaster; who can imagine the grief of tiny Sri Lanka, which lost over 18,000 of its residents.

TASTE THE LOT OF ALL. The folks at Bruderhof help me begin to put it into perspective. Bruderhof's Daily Dig this morning is an excerpt from an extended 1919 lecture on suffering by Eberhard Arnold:
"Only when we take human existence upon ourselves in its starkest and most humiliating misery—a misery in which nothing has meaning—can we win through to the only possible way to live. Only when we taste the lot of all, when we become involved deeply in world suffering, one in heart with the need of humanity, can we win through to our true vocation. Only when the conscience becomes active, only when love is born out of suffering, only when hardship leads to liberating action, is victory near."

Monday, December 27, 2004

GRACE NOTES POSTED. I just posted and e-mailed this week's edition of Grace Notes: Weekly Fragments from the Margins of a Graced Life. I reflect on my "gift anxiety" and several "adequate gift" stories. I also retell our family's "Socks! Socks!" story. Like many family stories, it's worth telling again and again.

1755 JOHN WESLEY COVENANT SERVICE. The 18th-century English words and sentence structures are a bit odd, but the heart-and-soul relevance of Wesley's Covenant Service is right on. I will lead a John Wesley Covenant Service on New Year's Eve, December 31, 2004, at 8:00 pm in the Sanctuary of West Morris Street Free Methodist Church, 2302 W. Morris St., Indianapolis. You are welcome!
UNTOLD THOUSANDS LOST IN TSUNAMI EVENT. May God's grace rest the souls and comfort the families of untold thousands of our human family who died suddenly and without warning in the Asian tsunami event triggered by a 9.0 underwater earthquake early today. What we cannot fathom is offered in a prayer of anguish and desperate faith.

CROSS-COUNTRY SKI TIME. Later this morning, I hope to hit the trails at Eagle Creek Park again. I've already enjoyed two cross-country skiing excursions since our big snowfall last week. It's going to start warming up over the next few days. Ski days in Central Indiana are limited; gotta take them in while you can.
TWELVE DAYS ROUNDTABLE. In just a few hours, I will facilitate the first of ten "Twelve Days Roundtables" for each remaining day of the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany." If you're local, you're welcome to gather at 6:30 am at West Morris Street Free Methodist Church, 2302 W. Morris St. During the 45-minute roundtable, we'll read the day's Scriptures and readings--focusing on the "three French hens" (the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love)--share discussion, and pray together. There'll be coffee and some fresh pastries, too.

If you cannot or choose not to join in the roundtable, I encourage you to consider taking a twelve-day journey as an individual spiritual discipline. You can use the reading, reflections, and journal exercises I've prepared.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

ON THE SECOND DAY OF CHRISTMAS. Christmas is winding down for most, but just winding up for some. If you've spent yourself in the build up to the "big day," why not let God's grace begin to gently replenish and refocus you over the next ten days. You've given, now receive. Dare to celebrate the Twelve Days from Christmas to Epiphany.

TWO TURTLE DOVES. The first day's gift was Jesus the Messiah, the "partridge in a pear tree" in the nmemonic song that is actually a catechetical tool first used in 16th-century England. Each gift conveys a basic aspect of orthodox Christian faith. The two gifts offered you today are the Old and New Testaments--the "two turtle doves."

CHRISTMAS TRANSITION. 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.

COMMON THREAD. 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”).


Saturday, December 25, 2004


WHITE HOUSE CHRISTMAS CARD? Martyn Turner of The Irish Times portrays a version of the gifts of the Magi. The greeting says: "Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward men...as long as you do exactly what we say." That's the spirit of the season! To Hegemony! To pax Americana! (Click on the graphic--or any photo or illustration on this blog--to see a larger view).
MERRY CHRISTMAS! It's arrived. The day we've anticipated. With all the layers of good-spirited traditions with the the central meaning at the heart of Christmas still pulsing life to us all, we make merry these days. Michael Card implores us: "Celebrate the Child who is the Light. Now the darkness is over. No more wandering in the night. Celebrate the Child who is the Light." In this is the substance of the resilient offer: "Merry Christmas!"

My gift to you today: Reading, reflections, and journal exercises for the First Day of Christmas.

Here's a quote from Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) that seems to echo Augustine's sense of Christmas:

"Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman's breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother's arms. King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter's despised son. Oh, the wonder of Christmas."



CATCH A WAVE! My mom's a good sport. She came through once again, fulfilling my Christmas wish for a used surfboard. What started off as a whim and then a joke turned into a great gift. The juxtaposition of the surfboard and 12 inches of snow with sub-zero temperatures was over the top. Suppose I could surf a hill at the park?

Thursday, December 23, 2004


POLES. I stopped a few times to watch for deer. Two deer crossed the trail just twenty feet ahead of me. Several stared at me from behind trees about thirty feet away.

SUN AND SHADOW. Bright sun. Glistening snow. Great shadows. A feast for the eyes. I took this photo while Nordic skiing thru Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis today.

THE KITCHEN WINDOW TODAY. Here's looking out at our backyard from the kitchen this morning. Over 10 inches of snow greets us this morning. I'm running for my cross-country skis. See you at Eagle Creek Park!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

SEVEN INSIGHTS FOR THE OUTWARD JOURNEY. A couple of years ago, I began to consider the insights I have received that most help me to live an active, engaged, but reflective outward life. As I put the list together and reduced it down to a few essential statements, the following list is one on which I can hang my hat. On the surface they seem all-too-obvious, even shallow. At the same time they have, as Shrek says, "layers." They have layers--history, perspective, experience, illustration, connectivity, and considerable depth. I have copyrighted the list for future development. Anyone interested in taking a risk on investing in a writing/resourcing project? Let me know. Below I share the list in the briefest possible terms--mere bullet points. Over the next few days and weeks I will flesh out what's inside each one.

1. Think big

2. Start small

3. Build well

4. Act impeccably

5. Resource your network

6. Expand within your mission

7. Enjoy the journey


IT'S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS. An old, broken sled with a wreath dusted with fresh snow stands in front of the Hay House. When we've gone without snow, I've been tempted to paint the word "hope" on the sled...a hope for snow.
MORE CHRISTMAS MUSIC RECOMMENDATIONS. A friend by the name of Rick Shelton responded to my challenge to submit favorite Christmas CDs. Here are Rick's picks:
  • An Oscar Peterson Christmas. Unparalleled jazz that will astound you. Mellow Christian carols done with amazing sensitivity; secular songsdone with technical mastery. It has it all. All-time favorite.
  • Klezmer Nutcracker. You will never listen to "The Nutcracker" againwithout thinking of this perfect blend of the classical ballet and Klezmer music. Fascinating. Joyous. To call it upbeat would be anunderstatement.
  • Sing Choirs of Angels by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Moving, complex arrangements performed in a huge, well recorded environment with majestic pipe organ and the famous choir.
  • Improvisations for Christmas by Jean Guillou on pipe organ. What our Christmas carols would sound like if Bach had written them. Really impressive on a good sound system.
  • A Child is Born by the Trinity Choir at Cambridge. Formal, classical, highbrow stuff. Not for background listening. It is rather old and I don't see it listed at Amazon, but there is a double disc set called "Carols from Trinity" that has much of the same music on it.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR. Today the Indianapolis Star printed my Letter to the Editor regarding the promotion of gambling to fund a new stadium for the Colts. Click here for the link. Here is the text that was printed:
Risky business for mayor and city

"Gamble" is the operative word to describe what's at stake for all in the stadium proposal. Is Mayor Bart Peterson really going to gamble away his leadership on this? Are we going to sabotage the clean, family-friendly city image that has been carefully cultivated for decades? Are we going to gamble that a gambling industry-funded stadium for the Colts produces enough residual revenue and compassion to directly and significantly impact the future of thousands of young people living in poverty within the shadow of Downtown? This is, indeed, risky business.

John Hay Jr.
Senior pastor, West Morris Street Free Methodist Church
Indianapolis
The Star did not print another question I raised: "Are we going to gamble that gambling is now somehow an amoral issue?" I wonder why they chose not to print that? It seems to me that this is the crux of it. If gambling is a moral issue, then the debate is over. Steer clear. Find other funding.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I'M DREAMING OF... All together now..."a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know..."

Here we are on the first day of winter--winter solstice, the longest day of the year--and the weather wizards are promising--PROMISING--4-6 inches of snow by this time tomorrow evening. Please, let it snow more!

My cross-country skis are ready. I want to be one of the first to ski Eagle Creek Park. I've got an extra pair of c-c skis if you'd care to join me.
IMPERIAL ROME AND THE JOY OF SHEPHERDS. I was reminded of something important today by the Bruderhof (www.bruderhof.com). To begin to understand the joy of shepherds (Luke 2) we must begin to grapple with impact of the tyranny of imperial Rome on the households and lives of folks living in such far-flung provinces as Galilee. Of this, Dorothy Soelle (quoted from an article republished Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent & Lent) writes:

"Political oppression, legal degradation, economic plunder, and religious neutrality in the scope of the religio lictia (“permitted religion”) were realities that the writer Luke kept in view in his story, which is so sublime and yet so focused on the center of all conceivable power. At last I saw the imperium from the perspective of those dominated by it. I recognized torturers and informers behind the coercive measure, “All went…to be registered” (v. 3). Finally I comprehended the peace of the angels “on earth” and not only in the souls of individual people. I understood for the first time the propaganda terms of the Roman writers who spoke of pax and jus when they really meant grain prices and militarization of the earth known at that time. (All this can be confirmed by research today.)"

Contextualization, rooting the story of the Gospel in its realtime milieu, brings the power of its light into focus.

Soelle continues:

"Whoever wants to proclaim something about this light has to free the stifled longing of people. An interpretation of the Bible that takes seriously concrete, everyday human cares and does not make light of the dying of children from hunger and neglect is helpful in this regard. By showing up the incomparable power of violence in our world today, it deepens our yearning for true peace."

"Our text refers to the praxis of transmission and proclamation. The frightened shepherds become God’s messengers. They organize, make haste, find others, and speak with them. Do we not all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel? I think so."

"Without the perspective of the poor, we see nothing, not even an angel. When we approach the poor, our values and goals change. The child appears in many other children. Mary also seeks sanctuary among us. Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fears behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days."


Monday, December 20, 2004


WHO IS THE PARTRIDGE? The Twelve Days of Christmas are around the corner. Each day offers a spiritual grace. Care to engage the 12-day journey as a gentle alternative to "crashing" after Christmas? Learn a bit of the history of The Twelve Days and Link to my daily guides.
GAMBLE ON A NEW STADIUM FOR THE COLTS? It's not worth it. In a fresh twist in creative financing, Mayor Peterson bought into the proposal to place slot machines in downtown Indy as a way of paying for a new stadium for the Colts without raising taxes. Read all about it in today's Indianapolis Star.

ROLLING THE DICE. "Gamble" is the word that describes what's at stake for all in this proposal. Is Mayor Peterson really going gamble away his leadership on this? Are we going to gamble that gambling is now an amoral issue? Are we going to gamble on the city's future in this manner? Are going to gamble that keeping the Colts in town produces enough residual revenue and compassion to invest in the futures of young people living in poverty within the shadow of downtown? This is, indeed, risky business.

BACKYARD SUNSET. The sun sets behind a row of tall grass in Becky's backyard garden. Click on any photo on the blog for a larger view.
HAVE AN EMPTY CHRISTMAS. The folks from www.bruderhof.com today quoted Charles Moore. I pass along the rich insight:

"Christmas makes me nervous. The Infinite who came in a feeding trough is not the kind of God I want. He is too powerless for my liking. Such a God is an embarrassment, not just to the Herods of this world, but to all who are enamored with themselves and their own potency. I don’t want this God. I have an inn to offer, decorated for Christmas, not a stinking stall."

"God exists in weakness and comes to those who reach up to him with empty hands. He is neither useful nor helpful. He came and still comes, not to solve our problems or answer our questions or fulfill our needs or bless our endeavors, but to expose our problems, to question our answers, to be our need, and to point us to his kingdom. In Christ, God enters time and space to turn our world upside down and inside out. 'Valleys are made high, mountains are laid low.' We are left bewildered, undone."

HOMELESS MEMORIAL. Don't forget: the annual Homeless Memorial Service is Tuesday, December 21, 12:00 pm, at Christ Church Cathedral on Monument Circle in downtown Indy. If you're local, try to make this part of your Christmas.

Let's hope the community's "winter contingency plan" is effective. With temperatures hovering in single digits overnight, this weather is deadly for our neighbors without homes.

Sunday, December 19, 2004


SNOW ON ABERDEEN THIS EVENING. Our street is still snow covered after our early-morning snow. It is 13 degrees at 5:00 pm. No, those are not my pick-up trucks. They're the pride of neighbors two doors down. Notice the hillbilly-style parking...drives me nuts.
SNOW! Ah...at last. And before Christmas. Not quite enough to sled on or cross-country ski. But we awoke this morning to snow blanketing the city. And with temperatures in the teens, it's going to be with us for a few days. Sorry, all you folks down south and out west. There's no holiday like a white Christmas in the midwest!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

GRACE NOTES POSTED. I just posted Grace Notes for the Week of December 19-25, 2004, the last full week of 2004. Click here to read one or all of the following items:
  • Silent…and Expectant - a short poem by Led Loder
  • Invitation to Twelve Days - access readings, reflections and journal exercises for each day from December 25 thru January 6; also get in on the daily 6:30 am roundtable
  • Christmas, Music, & Silence - does Christmas music help us approach the holiday?
  • My "Top Ten" Christmas CDs - from the sublime to the ridiculous
  • A Bonhoeffer Christmas - reflections from the 1943 prison pen of the young German theologian


ADVENT LIKE A PRISON CELL. During Advent 1943, from this cell in Nazi Germany, the young theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his fiancee:
"A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside is not a bad picture of Advent."
Bonhoeffer wrote to his parents:

"From the Christian point of view, spending Christmas in a prison doesn't pose any special problem. Most likely, a more meaningful and authentic Christmas is celebrated here by many people than in places where only the name of the feast remains. Misery, pain, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt have an altogether different meaning in God's eyes than in the judgment of men."

"God turns toward the very places from which humans tend to turn away. Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him at the inn: A prisoner can understand all this better than other people. It's truly good news for him; in believing it, he knows he has been made a part of the Christian community that breaks down all spatial and temporal frontiers, and the walls of prison lose their meaning."


DIETRICH BONHOEFFER: LIVE LIFE AS ADVENT

HOW CHRIST COMES TO US. “We are faced with the shocking reality: Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality. He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing. He confronts you in every person that you meet. Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people. He walks on the earth as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you and makes his demands. That is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the Advent message. Christ stands at the door. He lives in the form of the person in our midst. Will you keep the door locked or open it to him?”

BETWEEN ADVENTS. “Christ is still knocking. It is not yet Christmas. But it is also not the great final Advent, the final coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate goes the longing for the final Advent, where it says: ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Revelation 21:5).”

OUR WHOLE LIFE IS ADVENT. “Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent -- that is, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people are brothers and sisters and one rejoices in the words of the angels: ‘On earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.’ Learn to wait, because he has promised to come. ‘I stand at the door…’ We however call to him: ‘Yes, come soon, Lord Jesus!’” (This excerpt of an Advent reflection by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is from Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, Plough Publishing House, 2001, available at http://www.bruderhof.org/)

Friday, December 17, 2004


BAYH CALLS FOR RUMSFELD'S OUSTER. Indiana Senator Evan Bayh yesterday not only called Rumsfeld's handling of the war in Iraq into question, he called for the Defense Secretary to step down. Now, if Evan Bayh--the world's worst worry wart about not going out on a limb and the conservative Democrat who did hardly more than hold his breath for eight years as governor--calls for your ouster, you're very far gone.

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE. Not that Bush cares what Bayh says. Not that anything Rumsfeld has said or done (or not done) recently deserves this call now more than over the past four years. Bayh is right to make this call; it's a slam dunk. But it doesn't win him points for visionary or on-the-point leadership if he plans to run for President.
PEACE & HOLINESS. I initiated a project almost two years ago called the "Peace & Holiness Project." It simply got overwhelmed. That's what happens to the contemplation of peace at personal and policy levels--it gets overwhelmed by the tyranny of the urgent. But I will pick up this project again--update and complete its resources, re-engage the challenges.

BLOG FOR PEACE AND HOLINESS. I've started a "peace and holiness" blog, transferring the writings and links from my 2003 effort to it. Check in as you like. It won't be updated daily, but weekly. This is nothing other than what I have been writing and living, as reflected through Grace Notes and posts to bikehiker blog. Let me know if you're interested in the conversation.
RUMSFELD A SCAPEGOAT. That Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should resign, as is now being called for even by his own party conservatives, has been a foregone conclusion for several years. I called for his resignation in my weekly e-journal over a year ago and in one of my online letters to President Bush in 2003. But in this instance Rumsfeld is the convenient scapegoat for a much broader pattern of arrogance, bad intelligence, misjudgment, poor planning, and cover-up.

THE PRESIDENT IS RESPONSIBLE. For abuses and mismanagement, the finger points back to the President. It began in his decision to go to war against Iraq, which is the grave misjudgment his entire Administration is now trying to manage. Rumsfeld has responsibility for his own words, actions, outlook, and attitude. But the force of his will and spirit, over against many voices of opposition inside and out, has been aided, abetted, and enthusiastically sanctioned by George W. Bush.
I WILL TEACH AT "PEACE HOUSE" THIS SPRING. I have just signed a contract to teach a course at Peace House for the spring semester. I consider this a real honor. Peace House is a primary expression of the Plowshares Project, a creative collaboration between the three Indiana "peace colleges"--Manchester, Goshen, and Earlham. The course is on urban peace issues in metropolitan Indianapolis. I look forward to this challenge.
HOMELESS MEMORIAL SERVICE - DEC. 21. The annual Homeless Memorial Service will be held on Tuesday, December 21, at 12:00 noon at Christ Church Cathedral on Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. This moving service, always held on the first day of winter, names the names and honors the lives of all homeless neighbors known to have died while homeless in our city during the past 12 months. Historically, Mayor Peterson and Governor Kernan attend this service.
THE GIFTS OTHERS NEED. Ted Loder, in Guerillas of Grace, writes:
How silently,
how silently
the wondrous gift is given.

I would be silent now,
Lord,
and expectant…
that I may receive
the gift I need,
so I may become
the gifts others need
.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

DEVASTATED. Make no mistake: The Word of God is devastating. The Word of God devastates me. Before it I am undone and reconstituted, dead and alive again, broken and made whole.

TEETERING ON A PRECIPICE. It seems to me that if the Word of God does not devastate us, we have not yet heard or seen it. We are only working and playing around the fire. Until the Word of God devastates us, we are still in trivial pursuit, playing games, pretending to know, desperately trying to drive back despair, teetering on a precipice without realizing it.

COMPLTE. But devastated, we find ourselves able--for the first time--to begin to live.
CONTINUING MY "TOP TEN" CHRISTMAS MUSIC CD LIST. In addition to the previously posted five Christmas CD projects that capture my imagination and appreciation (posted December 7th), here are five more...though I have no preferential ranking within the top ten. You're welcome tell me your favorites via the "Comment" option.

The previous five were:
10. Windham Hill: A Winter Solstice Reunion
9. Bethlehem After Dark: Butch Thompson and Laura Sewell
8. Gary Hoey: the Best of Ho! Ho! Hoey (Christmas surf!)
7. Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration
6. Now It Is Christmas Again: Garrison Keillor and the PHC crew

5. Michael W. Smith: Christmastime. For those who like contemporary Christian music and the MWS style, this is rich. I can only listen to MWS for a short while. Why does CCM have such a need to blast and over-embellish?

4. KiHo’Alu Christmas: Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar. 1996, Dancing Cat Records (distributed by Windham Hill Records). Unplugged. Very smooth. I checked this out of the library last week; a great find. How can folks who’ve never seen snow so wonderfully distill the essence of the season?

3. Manheim Steamroller Christmas projects. I enjoy all of these CDs from American Gramaphone. Since 1984, Chip Davis has single-handedly invigorated instrumental Christmas music for our generation with six distinctive CDs.

2. Elvis’ Christmas Album. 1957, RCA. Acclaimed by pop music critics everywhere, this predates several later Christmas music projects by the king. This is pure, early, simple, soulful Elvis.

1. Ray Charles: The Spirit of Christmas. 1997, Rhino Records (CD of record made released in 1985). This is classic Ray Charles. Charles’ more recent project receives rave reviews, though I have not yet heard/seen it. It is a DVD called “Ray Charles Celebrates a Gospel Christmas,” released in 2003. It must be great, it is back-ordered almost everywhere. Have you seen "Ray?" What do you think?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


GOLDEN SINGERS AT CHRISTMAS. Molly is third from the right in this Golden Singers number from Monday night's concert at Fulton Jr. High. Golden Singers is the 8th & 9th grade show choir.
WHERE LIFE COLLIDES...OR COMES TOGETHER. I just scrolled down through the issues, concerns, reflections, and links in this blog. Bikehiker seems so disperate. Threads here and there. Woven together? Perhaps. The range may defy the logic of any stereotype you may have cast for me. So be it. I've thought of starting a blog for each area of my interest or concern. I don't want to go there. You'll just have to try to put up with this hodge-podge of my life's mix. Isn't it here, in the midst of our wide-ranging, personally-perceived, and community-contexted hopes and hurts, that grace meets us?
BILLIONS FOR 75,00 MILITARY RECRUITS. Someone at breakfast today told me that the Bush Administration proposes to spend $4 billion on military recruiting next year in order to get 75,000 new recruits. Can anyone verify this? Brace yourselves, kids.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

LIKE A STABLE. Here's a what the folks at www.bruderhof.com posted yesterday:

"Human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid – and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God."
-- Evelyn Underhill in Watch for the Light

Monday, December 13, 2004


CHRISTMAS CONCERT TIME. I think the last one was this evening. Within a week we've attended the Ben Davis High School Madrigal Dinner, the BD Combined Choirs Concert (featured here is the school's top show choir, Premiers; our son Jared is the blonde in dead center of the picture), and the Fulton Jr. High 8th and 9th Grade Holiday Concert. Who ever said they don't allow Christian music in public schools?!
CRASHING INTO CHRISTMAS. One weary holiday frolicker was overheard praying, "...and forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us."

A 12-DAY ALTERNATIVE. Instead of crashing into Christmas and spending the next weeks recovering from it, consider joining me in a gentle but intentional spiritual journey from Christmas Day to Epiphany. These "Twelve Days of Christmas" offer an opportunity to receive gifts and reflect on spiritual graces together. I've prepared readings and journaling exercises for each day from December 25th through January 6th.

DAILY READINGS & JOURNAL EXERCISES. Let me know if you want to track the days; I can have the readings/exercises waiting in your "inbox" each morning. Or, you can access the 12 readings/exercises online.

DAILY ROUNDTABLE. Also, I am facilitating a "Twelve Days Pre-dawn Roundtable" at 6:30 am each day from December 26 through January 6 in the Chuck Ball Library at West Morris Street Free Methodist Church (WEMO), 2302 W. Morris Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. Each day we'll share the readings, discuss the day's gift, explore applications, and pray together. You are welcome! I'll have fresh coffee, bagels, shmears, and fruit waiting. You'll be on your way to work by 7:15 am; but you don't have to hurry off.
NIEMOLLER'S QUOTE. You've no doubt heard Pastor Martin Niemoller's quote, uttered in reflection of the progressive pattern of the loss of human rights and ultimate atrocities at the hands of the folks who claimed to have their nation's moral future at heart -- the Nazi party. Here it is again:
"First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me."
MY QUESTIONS. When is a minorty group's problem "not my problem?" When you notice civil liberties being curtailed or compromised--perhaps as an emerging pattern of neglect or abuse or simply eclipsed by some other momentarily more important purpose--what do you do? Ignore it? Pretend it's not real? Hope it's not real? Get busy with other personal matters? Pass it off as somebody else's problem? Hope somebody does something about it? What? What am I supposed to do? What are we supposed to do?


CIRCLE OF LIGHTS. You won't see the fireworks or nearly 100,000 people jamming Monument Circle, but you will see a wonderful display of lights and holiday decorations in the center of Indianapolis. The centerpiece is our 284-foot, 6-inch State Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument with thousands of lights transforming it into the "world's largest Christmas tree." Worth going out of your way to experience.
POLITICS AND THE MAGICIAN. I can't help but think that much of politics is an attempt at a magician's sleight of hand. We look over here at the diversionary activity while the magician easily slips out of the box over there (almost in plain sight) while our eyes are diverted.

OFF THE HOOK. I think this about the so-called moral vote in the recent presidential election. While the gullible were told to focus only on abortion and gay marriage, the candidate got off the hook for accountability for the war in Iraq, domestic disarray, and international buffoonery.

NO FOOLING GOD. And, like a magician, candidates gloat in profusive adulation, all the while knowing they got away with deceit. But every magician ultimately has to pray. There's no fooling God.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

THIS WEEK'S "GRACE NOTES" POSTED. I just posted this week's edition of Grace Notes - Weekly Fragments from the Margins of a Graced Life. This posting pulls together and summarizes several blogged threads from the week. It also introduces a "new" old Advent hymn. Here are the contents:
  • "How Long?" - Lyrics from Over the Rhine. This is the essence of Advent.
  • "Alone at Christmas" - A moving reflection left by a woman who visited our Clothing Ministry last Wednesday.
  • "O How Shall I Receive Thee?" - A "new" (to me) old Advent hymn.
  • Military Pressure On Our Youth - How the military is getting our kids' names and addresses...and recruiting them without our permission.

Saturday, December 11, 2004


INCARNATIONAL PARADOX. “Maker of the sun, he is made under the sun. In the Father he remains, from his mother he goes forth. Creator of heaven and earth, he was born on earth under heaven. Unspeakably wise, he is wisely speechless. Filling the world, he lies in a manger. Ruler of the stars, he nurses at his mother’s bosom. He is both great in the nature of God, and small in the form of a servant.” -- Augustine (354-430 AD)

AUGUSTINE'S INFLUENCE. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) was one of the most articulate voices and influential leaders of the post-Nicean church (that is, the church after the Council of Nicea of 325 AD). His Confessions and City of God are still being published and read. This painting of Augustine by Raffaello Sanzio is one of few that do not portray either a bishop's headgear or a halo on or around Augustine's head (a superfluous attribution of honor assigned to revered saints). In Sanzio's eyes, Augustine must have seemed somewhat human.

AUGUSTINE AND "JUST WAR." By the way, Augustine's writings provide much of the fodder for the "Just War" provisions outlined some 800 years later by Thomas Aquinas (see Aquinas' "Just War" guidance). The "Just War" theory, as I read it through 21-century eyes conditioned by Biblical theology, is thoroughly untennable as it stands. Their use of Scripture is what we call "proof texting"; it takes statements out of context and uses what the Scripture "allows" (or does not specifically and pointedly prohibit) to justify the desires and actions of men. It may sound arrogant, but it is fair to say we now "know better" than Augustine and Aquinas.

AMERICA'S ATTACK ON IRAQ IS NOT JUST. But even if one takes Aquinas' 13th-century "Just War" provisions as the "standard" measure by which a nation or state would justify going to war, the United States of America's attack on Iraq is out of bounds and unjustifiable. Read the terms for yourself. I wonder how many American evangelical church leaders and laypersons who champion President Bush's war on Iraq and "preemptive strike" policy are aware of this?


Friday, December 10, 2004

HYMN TO ADVENT. "O How Shall I Receive Thee" is new to me (I try to discover "new" old songs and stories every Advent and Christmas), written in German by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) and translated into English in 1851 by Arthur Tozer Russell. There are 10 verses in German; four are listed here. I would sing this song to the woman who felt so alone at the clothing minstry on Wednesday night (see Thursday, Dec 9 posts).

O how shall I receive thee,
How greet thee, Lord, aright?
All nations long to see thee,
My Hope, my heart's delight!
O kindle, Lord most holy,
Thy lamp within my breast,
To do in spirit lowly
All that may please thee best.

Thy Zion palms are strewing,
And branches fresh and fair;
My heart, its powers renewing,
An anthem shall prepare.
My soul puts off her sadness
Thy glories to proclaim;
With all her strength and gladness
She fain would serve thy Name.

Love caused thine incarnation,
Love brought thee down to me;
Thy thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
O love beyond all telling
That led thee to embrace,
In love all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race.

Rejoice, then, ye sad-hearted,
Who sit in deepest gloom,
Who mourn o're joys departed
And tremble at your doom,
He who alone can cheer you
Is standing at your door;
He brings his pity near you,
And bids you weep no more.

Thursday, December 9, 2004

IT'S MILITARY RECRUITING "OPEN SEASON" ON OUR YOUTH. I discovered from my friends at the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, whom I visited with today, that Heather's comment (see her comment below) is true. It's military recruiting open season on young people in our high schools and colleges. I talked with one dad who has a freshman son in college. By his senior year of high school he was receiving high-pressured military recruiting material weekly. Where did they get his address? You got it: from his high school administrators.

CIVIL LIBERTIES AT RISK. Of course high school administrators say their hands are tied. They "have to" do what the military demands. But the high school assistant principal I talked to had no idea from what department or person the personal information about my son got into the hands of the National Guard recruiter. Privacy of information and civil liberties are out the window. Prepare to grapple with it.

WHERE ARE WE HEADED? I suppose all of this is not an issue if you think aggressive military recruitment in high schools is a good thing. I don't think it's a good thing. I think it's a really bad thing. I think it unduly and unfairly preys upon vulnerable and impressionable young people. I also think the entire militarization of civil society is a bad thing. Calling our youth to the military as the highest expression of patriotism will come back to bite us as a democratic society.

MY PREDICTION: THE DRAFT WITHIN 12 MONTHS. The military is desperate for recruits. Their recruiting quotas are down. Many who are enlisted do not believe the Bush Administration's spin on the necessity and value of the Iraq War. The appeals to patriotism will increase. The pressure will heighten. And even though Mr. Bush said during his election campaign that there will be no draft, he has also said that will do whatever he wants to do if he thinks it's the right thing to do. And he has demonstrated that he exercises this will quite readily. My prediction as the War in Iraq continues: by this time next year, the draft will be in place.
HOW DID THE NATIONAL GUARD GET MY SON'S NAME AND ADDRESS? I'd really like to know how the National Guard recruiter assigned to Ben Davis High School got ahold of my 17-year old son's name and address, the one the officer printed with pen on the recruiting letter that we received in the mail this week. When I called him and asked how he got the name and address, the officer would only say that he got it at the high school. He hung up the phone on me as I pressed him to tell me who had given him the name and address of my son. I've left a message for a school principal to call me regarding this. Stay tuned.
HOW LONG? A friend sends the lyrics to "How Long" by Over the Rhine. The song is a hidden track on the second CD on the group's "Ohio" project. This is the spirit of Advent!

'Till we lay these weapons at your feet, Lord, how long, how long?
'Till we call all hatred obsolete, Lord, how long, how long?
(Please tell me how long)
'Till we walk like lovers through Bethlehem, Lord, how long, how long?
'Till the lion lies down with the lamb, Lord, how long, how long?

Too late-
I know it's not too late to wrestle with this angel--
higher and higher
-don't let go
higher and higher
-before we know
how does it end? how does it end?
we're all riding on the last train, tryin' to find our way home again

'Till we wash the blood from the hands of our fathers, Lord, how long, how long?
We're sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, how long, how long?
Our eyes are shining different colors- we cry Lord, how long, how long?
Our dreams, our tears, our brothers sing by and by Lord, how long?

Too late-
I know it's not too late to climb up Jacob's ladder--
higher and higher
-don't let go
higher and higher
-before we know
how does it end? how does it end?
we're all riding on the last train, tryin' to find our way home again

it's not too late
-don't give up
-don't give in
tell me how long
ALONE AT CHRISTMAS

AT OUR CLOTHING MINISTRY. The second Wednesday evening of each month is Clothing Ministry night at West Morris Street Free Methodist Church. Yeah, I wish we were able to share more frequently, but it's a faithful expression of grace from our congregation for which I'm thankful. We begin with a shared meal of soup and sandwiches, I open the Word for a gospel story, and then neighors select clothing they desire in the pantry.

FESTIVE NIGHT. Last night's Clothing Ministry was festive. Christmas music played on a CD as about forty-five of us ate the meal together. We also sang together in a "request-a-carol" format (including each song is Spanish for our Latino neighbors, which number about one third of those who gathered). In the pantry, we added an offering of new and gently used coats into the mix, items our Missions Commission had challenged the church to bring in.

BUT ONE FELT ALL ALONE. But at least one woman was overwhelmed by her aloneness in the midst of this well-intentioned evening. She left the following words written on a placemat. She didn't sign her name.

Can no one see the pain, can no one see me?
I must really be alone.
So sad. A mother's love. Brokenheartedness.
I drop to my knees and ask, "why me, God?
Why has my life been so hard?"
3 kids at 17 years. Married at 15 years.
Now, 36 years later, with my earthly father gone
no more than 3 weeks. What can I do?
My kids are all grown, except for one.
And on this Christmas, we don't have a home,
No Christmas lights, no more children's laughter.
Only tears, only tears.
Hurt for my drug-addicted boys.
Hurt for my daughter because I can no
longer give her what she needs.
Can no one see me?
Am I really all alone?
NAVAL OFFICER REFUSES TO SAIL FOR PERSIAN GULF. On Wednesday, NPR's All Things Considered reported the story of chief petty officer Pablo Paredes. The Navy declared him a deserter after he refused to board a troop transport ship bound for the Persian Gulf. Paredes openly opposes the war and says he wants to make a statement that all of America will hear. Listen to the report by NPR's John McChesney.

THE POVERTY DRAFT. Turns out Pablo Paredes was recruited to the Navy through what is called the "poverty draft." That's the heavy bombardment of armed forces recruiting that takes place in America's urban high schools and low income areas. Just this week my son, Jared, received a recruiting letter from the local National Guard unit (with his name and address handwritten). The appeal was for part-time work, money, and valuable training; no reference was made to military service in Iraq.

Wednesday, December 8, 2004


SURFIN' SANTA. Yes, friends, that's Santa on a surfboard. Saint Nick's a surfer dude! Hang ten and see what's up at www.surfingsanta.com.
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS. As a child, December was a month for perusing the Sears & Roebuck "Wish Book," the retail store's Christmas catalogue. You name it, it was there. Everything I ever wanted but never knew existed. You'd think my expectations would have been through the roof; completey unable to be met. Funny thing was, though I was a preacher's kid and finances were tight, my folks pulled out the stops at Christmas. If I didn't receive what I'd asked or hoped for, it was something better. Or so it seemed. I never remember being disappointed at Christmas.

SURF CHRISTMAS. Mom still pulls out the stops at Christmas, particularly for all her grandchildren (four of which are my kids). And she still wants to fulfill the Christmas wish of middle-aged adult children.
"What do you want for Christmas?" she asks.
"Nothing in particular," I reply in a 45-year old ho-hum drone.
Then I have a brainstorm. I change my tune.
"Well, you live on the beach. How about an old used surfboard?"
"A surfboard!" she responds. "Do you still want to learn to surf?"
"Still do," I confess. "Besides, what could be more fun than hauling a surfboard around on top of my VW Beetle in the dead of a midwestern winter?"
I've even got the Christmas surf music to go with it.
Catch a wave...er, drift!

BLOG SIGHTING: Cowles Family Dean's enthusiasm for life, his sons' soccer, his spouse, and urban ministry shines through this site. Great soccer shots.
RUSH LIMBAUGH IS ANTI-CHRISTIAN. Has it occurred to Christians who avidly or passively listen to Rush Limbaugh that not only is Rush not Christian, but the philosophy, views, and policies he advocates--not to mention the spirit in which he conveys his views--are thoroughly anti-Christ?

THIRTY MINUTES AND TWO HOURS. I'd be happy to sit through a mere 30-minutes of the Limbaugh radio show with any Dittohead so we could spend the next two hours with the Bible unpacking the sub-Christian and anti-Christian philosophy and views he espouses durinig that brief period.

GROW UP, WISE UP. If you buy Rush's political and economic conservativism as Christian, you are gullible and undiscerning. You need to grow up in the faith of Jesus Christ. And you need to begin to question why this functional athiest's ideas appeal to you. It's time to wise up. Turn off the noise. Tune into the Word that gives life.

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

TO OBEY IS BETTER THAN SACRIFICE. My kids love Keith Green's music. It seems timeless, as powerful now as it was when Keith's bright voice and creative spirit challenged young hearts over 25 years ago. Tragically, Keith died in a plane crash in 1982. I think of these lyrics in the face of a too-comfortable church:

To obey is better than sacrifice,
I don't need your money, I want your life.
And I hear you say that I'm coming back soon,
but you act like I'll never return.

Well you speak of grace and my love so sweet.
How you thrive on milk but reject my meat.
And I can't help weeping at how it will be,
if you keep on ignoring my Word.

Chorus:
Well you pray to prosper and succeed,
but your flesh is something I just can't feed.
To obey is better than sacrifice,
I want more than Sundays and Wednesday nights.
'Cause if you can't come to me every day,
then don't bother coming at all.

To obey is better than sacrifice.
I want hearts of fire, not your prayers of ice.
And I'm coming quickly to give back to you,
according to what you have done.

ONLY ON MASS AVE. Brickhead with Christmas Tree. Only on Mass Ave. Only in downtown Indianapolis. The tree is temporary. Brickhead is permanent...and he talks to you when you walk by! Or is it just my imagination...
MY "TOP TEN" CHRISTMAS MUSIC CDs. Okay, so if we're going to listen to Christmas music ad nauseum let's at least be a little selective! Here's the first five of my current "Top Ten." Submit yours if you'd like.

10. Windham Hill: A Winter Solstice Reunion. 1998 Windham Hill Records. Moving-- even haunting--instrumental arrangements of old and new Christmas songs by the best new age genre musicians around.

9. Bethlehem After Dark. Butch Thompson, piano; Laura Sewell, cello. 2000, Daring Records. Butch plays on the weekly public radio show "A Prairie Home Companion." This combo plays a subdued but very crisp rag style.

8. Gary Hoey: The Best of Ho! Ho! Hoey. 2001, Surfdog Records. Gary Hoey defined Christmas music in the surf guitar genre. Once you hear what Hoey does to these traditional songs and carols, you'll want to head to the beach for Christmas. I could not find this in stores; I had to order it at www.surfdog.com.

7. Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration. 1992, Reprise Records. You guessed it: the classic masterpiece in soul style featuring well-known African-American artists. Very cool.

6. Now It Is Christmas Again. 1994, Angel Records. Garrison Keillor and company sing and storytell their way through 25 traditional songs (some sung in the languages of the northern Europe). You'll laugh and cry.

CHRISTMAS, MUSIC, & SILENCE

TURN YOUR RADIO ON. On an errand last evening, I turned on the radio in my Beetle. Christmas music--sacred and secular, sophisticated and sappy--played on many stations as I searched the dial. Everything from "Silent Night" sung acapella by a large choir to "Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey" sung by Lou Monte. "Dominic" still rings in my head. I can't get away from it.

WHAT IS ITS IMPACT ON US? Serious question: What is the impact of listening endlessly to Christmas music for over a month? How much of our understanding and expectation of the season comes from the incredible mix of Christmas music, instead of our own experience? How do we experience or encounter the unique gift of Christmas joy when we've been saturated with a thousand versions of how, when, and where it's going to happen? How much are we shaped by Christmas music? Is it merely elevator music or does it reach us? Should it?

MEASURE OF SPIRITUALITY. A person who's calling and witness I look up to once said that he could measure the temperature of his spirituality by how quickly he reached for the radio "on" button as he traveled around the city in his vehicle. The idea is that noise prevents silence and masks the "still small voice" of God. Am I ready and/or willing to let God speak to me?

BETTER THAN RUSH. Some of the spiritual masters, like Henri Nouwen, write about "mini-solitudes" in our transitions from one place, occasion, or appointment to another. One women who attended a church I served decided not to get her car CD and tape player fixed because she had been able to pray so effectively during the time she used to listen to Rush Limbaugh. Amen, sister!

GREATNESS OR NOISE? Granted, Advent and Christmas have inspired the greatest music. But can we really experience its depth if it becomes mere background noise in our hustle and bustle up to the day "you know who" comes to town?

Monday, December 6, 2004


TRY THIS DOWNTOWN. Of course this is what stairs were made for! An Austrian contestant descends stairs in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil during a recent international mountain bike competition. This is one of several great photos at www.cyclingnews.com.
A DISCONNECT IN LOGIC. There is simply no logical, rational connection between evangelical theology and partisan politics. There may be other kinds of connections, self-serving allegiances, and vote-getting strategies. But the words "logical" and "rational" do not apply.
GRACE NOTES POSTED. I just posted this week's Grace Notes. Hard to believe we're in the last month of 2004. Here's the contents of this week's "fragments from the margins of a graced life":
  • Advent Curmudgeon? - William Stringfellow reflects on the nature of Advent
  • A Little More Stringfellow - two of my favorite Stringfellow quotes
  • When the Church Plays to Political Ideologies - strange befellows
  • To My Mother: A Poem of Wendell Berry - imagine such forgiveness

Anybody who's interested in receiving Grace Notes via e-mail weekly (I do not post or share your e-mail address with anyone; ever.), simply e-mail me with the message "subscribe."

TRIVALIZING PAST AND FUTURE? Looking forward through resurrection faith does not gloss over the past or minimize the overwhelming confrontations of the future. But it does bring a costly forgiveness and a transcending vision as one looks open-eyed in both directions. Christian faith invites a person to begin to see more clearly; it is about light shining in dark places.

Enough preaching...let's get on with the day!
LOOKING FORWARD. In Christian tradition it seems significant that the new week begins on Sunday. We call it "Lord's Day," the day of Resurrection. It is the beginning of all things being made new. It is not so much a day for rest (though it IS that) as it is a day in which we lay aside the past, find (reclaim, recall, re-member) our identity in the resurrected Jesus Christ, and dare to step into the future of another day, another week, another generation. In this way we are ever looking foward.

Saturday, December 4, 2004


GLORY THROUGH YOUR OWN WINDOW. Why do we tend to seek for God's glory in other and far-off places, as if God is more revealing and present on the mountain top than across the street? Here's evidence of glory out our front window this morning. Look near, listen here!
REPENTANCE. "To repent is to come to your senses," writes Frederick Buechner. "It is not so much something you do as something that happens."

The sage continues: "True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying, 'I'm sorry,' than to the future and saying 'Wow!'" (from Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, Harper & Row, 1973)

Now, put that in the context of John the Baptist's message: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!"

Dare we try to enter a breathtaking future and sacred journey burdened down by besetting sins and the baggage of a thousand and one trivial preoccupations?

Friday, December 3, 2004

THE (IL)LOGIC OF THE IRAQ WAR. America's involvement in Iraq is immoral. If you buy the logic that says America's attack on Iraq was justified because...
(a) it was related to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center
(b) Saddam Hussein harbored terrorists,
(c) Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,
(d) Saddam Hussein was a valid national security threat to the United States,
(e) Iraqi citizens would welcome Americans as liberators,
...then you are buying into lies and twisted logic.

When you grapple honestly with each of the above lies, half-truths, misleading information, bad intelligence (call it whatever you need to call it), you will see that America has no business or right to be in Iraq.

All of the "evidence" and "rationale" for opening up a war in Iraq have collapsed like a house of cards. Still, our President doggedly deploys more troops to Iraq for a war for which he declared victory a year ago.

Iraq did not provoke war. An American President declared he had the right to attack any nation he deemed a threat on "preemptive" grounds. He did so. Those "preemptive" grounds did not and do not exist.

If our nation is a nation that values the power of reason over the sheer use of whimsical and personal will, it follows that American citizens have every right and responsibility to insist that the American President use his "political capital" to extract his nation's young men and costly resources from a quagmire into which he blindly charged us.

SNOW BIKING. Ah, I can't wait for the first big snow! This shot was snapped at the Nebraska 'cross Championships and posted on www.cyclingnews.com, the Aussie pro-cycling site with the best all-around daily cycling news coverage in the 'net.
BALCO FALL-OUT. So, out of the long BALCO investigation, confessions and inplications about the use of performance-enhancing steroids by elite athletes begin to roll: Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees (for now), track Olympian Marion Jones, heralded super slugger Mr. Bonds... Who's next?

DENY, DENY, DENY. These athletes and their attorneys used the same strategy that only serves to deepen the pit into which cheaters and liars fall: deny, deny, deny. And it appears such athletes were either so brazen or so dependent on their drugs for top performance, that they continued to dope during the ongoing investigation.

STRINGFELLOW'S PERSPECTIVE. William Stringfellow, the outspoken lay theologian and Harlem street lawyer who died in 1985, perceived clearly the political implications of the Bible as it related to life. He pushed people out of their private religion and sanitized views of the Bible. Read a one-page synopsis of Stringfellow. The following statement is poignant and typically Stringfellow:
"The biblical topic is politics. The Bible is about the politics of fallen creation and the politics of redemption; the politics of the nations, institutions, ideologies, and causes of this world and the politics of the Kingdom of God; the politics of Babylon and the politics of Jerusalem; the politics of the Antichrist and the politics of Jesus Christ; the politics of the demonic powers and principalities and the politics of the timely judgment of God as sovereign; the politics of death and the politics of life; apocalyptic politics and eschatological politics."

THE WORD IN LIFE. Here's one of my favorite quotes from William Stringfellow:
"In the face of death, live humanly. In the middle of chaos, celebrate the Word. Amidst babel, speak the truth. Confront the noise and verbiage and falsehood of death with the truth and potency and efficacy of the Word of God. Know the Word. Teach the Word, nurture the Word, preach the Word, defend the Word, incarnate the Word, do the Word, live the Word." (from An Ethic for Christians & Other Aliens in a Strange Land)

'TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY? Before we frolic a little too flippantly through the season, hear William Stringfellow:
NO REJOICING. "For all the greeting card and sermonic rhetoric, I do not think that much rejoicing happens around Christmastime, least of all about the coming of the Lord. There is, I notice, a lot of holiday frolicking, but that is not the same as rejoicing. In any case, maybe outbursts of either frolicking or rejoicing are premature, if John the Baptist has credibility. He identifies repentance as the message and sentiment of Advent."

NOT JUST PERSONAL REPENTANCE. "In context, in the biblical accounts (Matthew 3 and Luke 3), the repentance of which John the Baptist preaches is no private or individualistic effort, but the disposition of a person is related to the reconciliation of the whole of creation. 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"

PRODUCE THE FRUIT OF REPENTANCE. "The pioneer Christians...knew that the message of both Advents is political. That message is that in the coming of Jesus Christ, the nations and the principalities and the rulers of the world are judged in the Word of God. In the lordship of Christ they are rendered accountable to human life and, indeed, to all created life. Hence, the response of John the Baptist when he is pressed to show the meaning of the repentance he preaches is, 'Bear fruits that befit repentance.'" -- from A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow, edited by Bill Wiley Kellermann (Eerdmans, 1994)

OVERWHELMED. Let not Stringfellow's words douse what little lightheartedness we may muster in anticipation of Christmas. Instead, may his effort to point to the Word of God overwhelm us. Let's not allow ourselves to waltz through Advent and into Christmas without falling before God in true repentance. And then, ever repentant and cleaving to the living Word of God, bear joyfully the burden of an unrepentant church, nation, and world in our hearts and through our prayers, words, and actions.

Thursday, December 2, 2004

THE CROSS: A BULLETIN BOARD FOR ALL OUR IDENTITIES? A young urban pastor writes with questions and comment:

"When people request prayer for 'our boys in Iraq' do you think they mean our troops or the Iraqi Christians? What does that say about our primary identity as people of God? I fear that the cross for many has become a bulletin board for all of our other identities. Are we first and foremost Christians or Americans? Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." Are we following in His footsteps?
My response:

1. I suspect a lot more evangelical Christian prayers are being prayed for American troops (Christian or non) than for (a) Iraqi Christians, (b) Iraqi Muslims, (c) foreign insurgents in Iraq, or (d) the Israeli government to cooperate post haste in the creation of a Palestinian state (a generational delay that is fueling most of the Middle East-related terrorism).

2. American evangelical Christians are grossly muddling their identity. They want it both ways, to serve Jesus and loudly champion or silently support the unjustifiable wars of an Amercian President.

3. The question of whose Kingdom are we following is, to me, the most critical question for this generation of evangelicals.

BONHOEFFER'S RESISTANCE. David Alan Black's (www.daveblackonline.com) article, "The Travails of a Lonely Resister," concisely tracks Dietrich Bonhoeffer's roots and expressions of resistance to the capitulation of his Evangelical church to Nazi statism. Black writes:

"Clearly, the struggle of the German church was uppermost in Bonhoeffer’s thinking. The statist fervor of the German Christians impelled him to say that the true church must constantly defend itself against idolatry. Long before the excesses of the Third Reich forced Bonhoeffer to join the political resistance, acceptance by the German Christians of Nazi ideology had driven him into a state of protest against the church in which they were so dominant."

In a warning and challenge to Amercian pastors, Black writes:

"What, then, was the role of the pastor for Bonhoeffer? And what is the responsibility of church leaders today? [Professor Michael] Moeller, who carefully studied this issue, concluded: 'The pastor has to speak the truth. Not the truth of ideologies, but the truth of the Gospel which the world does not like to hear. The role of the pastor is not to be the master of ceremonies for the world celebrating itself. The role of the pastor might be more the role of the fool, the one who is set aside to speak the truth even though nobody really wants to hear it.'


Well said, Dave and Michael. Now, who will heed the call? O God, help me thus to live and speak!

Wednesday, December 1, 2004


WHEN THE CHURCH LOOKS TO POLITICS TO SAVE IT. In the name of preserving and advancing some moral issues and gaining influence in the Third Reich, church leaders in Germany gladly raised their hands to Hitler and welcomed his nationalistic fervor. For the sake of having their own agendas advanced, they turned a blind eye to his emerging pattern of abuses and authoritarian actions. You know...the rest of the story.