Tuesday, December 26, 2006

THE CROWD AND THE FEW
“In Christ's human life, there were always a few who made up for the neglect of the crowd. The shepherds did it; their hurrying to the crib atoned for the people who would flee from Christ. The wise men did it; their journey across the world made up for those who refused to stir one hand's breadth from the routine of their lives to go to Christ. The women at the foot of the Cross did it too, making up for the crowd who stood by and sneered. We can do it too, exactly as they did. We are not born too late. We do it by seeing Christ and serving Christ in friends and strangers, in everyone we come in contact with.” – Dorothy Day

Monday, December 25, 2006

INVITATION TO TWELVE DAYS

CRASHING INTO CHRISTMAS. One weary holiday frolicker was overheard praying, "...and forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us." That seems to reflect the experience of many. Frazzled from preparations, many are relieved when December 25th passes. But that's not the way it's supposed to be. That's not the way it has to be. There's another realistic possibility.

A 12-DAY ALTERNATIVE. Tired of crashing into Christmas? Will you spend the next several 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--one day at a time. I've prepared readings and journaling exercises for each day from December 25th through January 6th that flow from a Christian discipline that runs deeper than commercial Christmas.

DAILY READINGS & JOURNAL EXERCISES. I invite you to track the days with me. I will be sharing my prepared readings and spiritual exercises with our Bicycle India 2007 group each morning. You can access the 12 readings/exercises online. Instead of putting Christmas way and cleaning up its debris, savor it. Explore the extent of its meaning and gifts.
CHRISTMAS EVE 2006

FULL, EXHAUSTING, SATISFYING. We had a full, exhausting, satisfying Christmas Eve, the first time in many years, it seems, that it has fallen on a Sunday. Christmas Eve on Sunday unusually complicates the Hay and Sheffield Christmas traditions, as this day is typically given fully to family gift exchanges in Indianapolis and New Castle--with a hurried return across Interstate 70 for the 11:00 pm Christmas Eve Service at North United Methodist Church. Today, however, we observed the fourth Sunday of Avent in morning worship, exchanged gifts with my parents, sister and her family in the afternoon, conducted the Christmas Eve Service at WEMO at 6 pm, then drove to New Castle to be with the Sheffields. We arrived back home in Indy just before Midnight.

READY NOW. I now have a sense of completion and satisfaction that eluded me to this in the season and in preparations for Bicycle India 2007, for which we depart on Tuesday, December 26. Maybe I needed the closure that Sunday's services made possible. Maybe I needed to rest in the confidence of a soundly-made decision and sense of misison. Maybe I just needed to live Advent. There are still things to tie down before I get on the plane for India, but I feel more at peace about things here than before Sunday. And for that I am most grateful.

ALL IN THE FAMILY. I looked from the sanctuary platform and pulpit at nearly all my earthly loved ones participating in the morning worship service and breathed a prayer of gratitude. It may only be for a moment, maybe just a cameo, but there was Becky seated beside Abby, our oldest child who is a junior in college. On her other side was Jared, our oldest son who is a freshman at Olivet Nazarene University. There was Molly, ready to get her driver's license. And Sam, our 13-year old who had just given the first Bicycle India 2007 update that he's volunteered to offer the congregation each week I am away. My mom and dad were next to them. And there was my sister with her husband, along with her son, fiance and children. Also in the mix was Becky's parents. All but my sister's daughter and her husband were there. In the service, all the "Hay women" shared a song in ensemble and dad preached as our guest minister. It was a rare and precious moment to me.
A BONHOEFFER CHRISTMAS

ADVENT LIKE A PRISON CELL. During Advent 1943, from a prison cell in Nazi Germany, the young theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his fiancé: "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."

A MORE MEANINGFUL CHRISTMAS. 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."

TO WHOM GOD TURNS. "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."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

SILENT…AND EXPECTANT

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.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

THE REASON FOR THE SEASON...SIN

FULL OF OURSELVES. We twenty-first centuryers are quite full of ourselves at Christmas, aren’t we? Full. Almost everybody I encounter seems full…well fed, overfed, in fact. And happy. We wish each other ‘merry Christmas’ and gleefully convey that ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ and other greeting card clichés. Ho, ho, ho. And to all a good night.

WE WANT THIS GUY? Ho, ho, hold it. How happy are we that God has become incarnate? Are we really ready to say, I’m glad Messiah has come? On what assumption are we singing “Joy to the World?” He of whom Mary sang, “he has lifted up the poor and sent the rich away empty,” and “has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts,” this is the One we welcome? This guy will unsettle and stir up everything. Get ready to be confronted, challenged, uncovered, exposed, undone…so that you may be set right.

NOT RIGHT. He was sent because we are not right--not right in and with ourselves, not right with one another, not right in our community-wide and corporate arrangements, not right, frankly, with God. And we have not been able to right ourselves, our interpersonal relationships, and our corporate and community structures and institutions. We've evidenced over and over our consummate ability to distort and subvert what God created and intended for good.

BARNACLED. Over the centuries, yea these millennia, we haven't been able to stop ourselves from doing what we ought not to do, nor challenged others from doing what they ought not to be doing. We haven’t been vigilant and joyful about doing the things we know we should do. Prejudices, pride, exclusivisms, self-serving preoccupations, social nearsightedness, and a thousand and one excuses cleave to us like heavy barnacles. Our mantra is human progress, enlightenment, and the glory of inquiry. Our reality is sin.

VERY FAR GONE. Created in the image of God, we are very far gone from that image. Deprived of divine relationship by our separating sin, we have become depraved. Whatever goodness we bear is residual and grace-assisted (in spite of us). Humanity in general and you and me in particular are, in a word, sinful. We are helpless to change or improve our condition on our own or by cloaking ourselves in fine accoutrements, symbols, materials, money, class camaraderie, homogeneous groupings, do-good associations, refining education, stock portfolios, titles, etc. All this the Bible makes clear as a bell.

GAUCHE GREETING? Get the picture? The Christmas story begins right here. Sin. Is this the gauche Christmas greeting of the year? It is either what we bypass on our way to the next gift exchange or bury under layers of holiday festivities. Sure, leave it to some disenfranchised holiness preacher to blow the whistle and rain on the Christmas parade. On the eve of singing “O Holy Night,” we hear the whistle blow and a lifeguard yell, “okay, everybody out of the pool!”

WHERE HOPE BEGINS. But isn’t this where genuine hope begins? This is where we begin to grasp the meaning of love incarnate. It is not to make us better people that Jesus came. It was to reveal love that reaches us in our sin, our brokenness, our despair, our vanity, our meaninglessness, our pride and pretense. It is to restore in us the image of God, an image that begins and ends in love. Christianity believes the story of this necessary saving act begins at Christmas. This is also what the Bible says. So we celebrate the beginning of the end of sin in the advent of love incarnate—love made flesh in Jesus Christ.

THE SOUL FELT ITS WORTH. Few carols and songs of the season make any reference to the “why” of Christmas, to the necessity of the need of a savior, of a radical intervention, of a divine invasion. Can you think of ones that sing of our wrong-headedness and broken-heartedness? The most poignant words of a popular Christmas song, from “O Holy Night”, are…
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.

and…
“Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease. ”

May your soul feel its worth because of Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

CHRISTMAS IS FOR ADULTS
Advent 2006 - A Great Joy for All People

It is not enough to say
"Christmas is for children."
So it is, and ever so.
But it is especially for adults,
those routinous creatures
with furrowed brows wrapped
in self-absorbing pursuits.

These lamentable beings need
Christmas if they are ever
to be whole again.
They are so forgetful of
things that matter
and so clamorous for
things that don't.

Christmas, if it can pierce
their thick facade and
deflate their oversized egos,
can touch a forgotten place--
an abandoned but still
life-giving place--in adult souls.

Christmas invites children
and adults alike to a
place where room is made for
a Child and that Child is
adored and honored as
a gift, a hope--even
salvation for one and all.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

THIS BIKE COULD BE YOUR HOME
Images of India

An Indian worker takes a rest from his labor as a deliveryman. This Kolkata fellow simply curled up on the bed of his trike and took a needed nap until called upon for his next delivery. It's indicative of how public most activity is in Indian cities. It is not unusual to see an individual or family bathing together on a street corner, or wherever fresh water is available.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

BOTTLE SIZE
Images of India

I will post a few photos over the next few days, images Joe James and I took in during our January 2006 visit to India. Like this child whose diminutive size is revealed in light of the water bottle. These photos help me prepare for our return one week from now.

I never dreamed of or fancied India before being asked to be part of Bicycle India 2007 and invited to accompany Bishop James on a three-week administrative visit there. But, having been there, I can't get it out of my heart and mind's eye.

Monday, December 18, 2006

CHRISTMAS: THE EVE OF A JOURNEY

ANTICIPATING THE BIG DAY. For the first time in memory, I am looking forward not only to Christmas, but to the day beyond it. I can't wait for Christmas. And I can't wait for the day after Christmas. This year, Christmas will be the eve of a once-in-a-lifetime journey for me. On December 26, I embark on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to ride 2,000 miles across India.

FLIGHT TO EGYPT...OR INDIA? It's got me thinking: how quickly after Jesus' birth did his parents saddle up and head off to a foreign land? They left Bethlehem for Egypt to protect the Child from Herod's vow to kill the firstborn sons of Hebrew children in the Bethlehem area. Christ's birth takes me to a foreign land on December 26--not in flight from an oppressor but in hope of making real the promise God's healing mercy.

RIDE ALONG. Our effort is not only to raise funds to rebuild Umri Christian Hospital, but to talk with hundreds if not thousands of people along our 2,000-mile biking route about Umri and God's love expressed through it. Thank you for your prayers. I hope you will follow our progress at www.bikeindia.org, a website Dan Laughlin developed to help folks virtually ride along with us.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

REVOLUNTIONARY JOY
Advent 2006 - A Great Joy for All People

REVOLUTIONARY DOCUMENT. I used to gloss over the Magnificat ("Mary's Song," Luke 1:46-55) as a shallow poem on my way to more sustantial fare of the Christmas story. Then one day I read what E. Stanley Jones thought of it: "The Magnificat is the most revolutionary document in the world.” Since a rather theologically conservative fellow like Gandhi-era Methodist missionary to India like Jones described it that way, I took a second look. I've been fascinated with the Magnificat ever since. Maybe that was my baptism into an appreciation for libearation theology and commitment to urban ministry and service among the poor.

JOY FOR THE POOR AND OPPRESSED Gustavo Gutierrez, who's groundbreaking book A Theology of Liberation, sparked dialogue that continues two decades after its initial publication, writes poignantly of the impact and implications of the Magnificat. Joy is the focus: “Mary’s thanksgiving and joy are closely linked to the action of God who liberates the oppressed and humbles the powerful. ‘The hungry he has satisfied with good things, the rich sent empty away.’ The future of history belongs to the poor and exploited… In them, the Lord saves history.”
WILL YOU PARTICIPATE? Gutierrez writes: “Every prophetic proclamation of total liberation in the Bible is accompanied by an invitation to participate in God’s eschatological joy: ‘I will delight in Jerusalem and rejoice in my people’ (Isaiah 65:19). This joy ought to fill our entire existence, making us attentive both to the gift of liberation of people and history as well as to the detail of our life and the lives of others.”

ALREADY AND STILL AWAITED He says: “Joy is born of the gift already received yet still awaited and is expressed in the present despite the difficulties and tensions of the struggle for the construction of a just society."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

JOY AT THE HEART OF CHRISTIAN FAITH
Advent 2006 - A Great Joy for All People

CONFIDENCE AMID PLURALISM. Listen to E. Stanley Jones speak of joy at the heart of Christianity. Jones, a Methodist missionary and contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi, invested his life in unhesitating dialogue with many other faiths as British rule and all the legal "props" for Christianity were taken away in India. His spirituality is not a fearful, suspicious, protectionist faith, like that articulated by those who wage so-called "culture wars" on America's religious media airwaves. Jones' spirituality is rooted in unflagging confidence in the Word of God to pierce darkness with truth and win hearts through Christian love. I am convinced his voice needs to be heard and his writings seriously revisited today.

ESSENCE OF OUR FAITH. "Joy is the very essence of our faith. If there is no joy, there is no Christianity, for Christianity is joy. Them empty tomb takes away the empty gloom. When we can sing in the face of death, we can sing in the face of everything."

NOT IN POSSESSIONS. "Christians' joy is not in what we possess, nor in what we do , nor in what other do for us. It is in relationships that abide amid the flux of possession and nonpossession, of success and failure, of good treatment and ill treatment. Christians can do without anything on earth--even life on earth, for we have a permanent eternal life now which is rooted in eternity."

CENTERED IN GOD. "Make up your mind where your joy is going to center--in God. Only in one place in this universe can you put your whole weight down--on God. Everything else is a staff upon which, if you lean too hard, it will break and pierce your hand--and your heart. But you can lean on God, absolutely, and he will hold you, absolutely."

FROM SORROW TO JOY. "Don't try to protect yourself against sorrow, for it is bound to come. Face it in Jesus' name and turn it into joy. The attempt to stop up all the holes against sorrow is bound to fail.... The Chrisitan faith...exposes one straight off to the very heart of suffering, to a cross. And then it proceeds to take that suffering and turn it into salvation; the cross becomes an Easter morning. The worst is met and changed into the best. Pains are turned into paeans. A singing optimism is won out of a dark pessimism."

FINDING BOOKS BY JONES. Interested in reading E. Stanley Jones? Begin with A Song of Ascents, his spiritual autobiography, written at age 87. Or try Victorious Living or The Word Became Flesh, two of many of his books that are written as 365-day themed and connected devotionals. You won't find E. Stanley Jones in most Christian bookstores; they don't carry much beyond whatever the Christian Bookseller's Association is currently hawking as new, urgent, popular, etc. Check out an online used book resource for Jones' stuff. It will be a good search and find. Jones' library resides at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, his alma mater.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

BE BORN ANEW
Advent 2006 - A Great Joy for All People

by Clyde Reid

There is a depth
a reality
a promise in Christmas
And this depth has nothing to do with the holiday
or families
or receiving gifts.

It has to do with God’s eternal promise
that we can have a new life
start over
begin again
be born anew.

If we want that,
That can happen.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

SKATING IS PART OF THE SEASON
Not if you live in Florida...but if Indiana is home, then skating on an outdoor pond when it freezes is part of our winter festivities. Indiana is unseasonably warm right now--it could reach 60 degrees before Christmas comes. But it was cold enough for Becky (baggy, striped pants), her two sisters (in front) and a friend to get their photo taken and placed in the Indianapolis Star about thirty years ago. They are skating on Lake Sullivan, adjacent to Cold Springs Road on Indy's northwest side, now site of the Major Taylor Velodrome and Lake Sullivan BMX Track and Terrain Park.

Monday, December 11, 2006

MADRIGAL SINGING...AN ENDURING TRADITION

I sang in a Madrigal ensemble at Parkersburg South High School. Molly now sings in the Ben Davis High School Madrigal Choir. They sing some of the same Medieval-era songs to which we harmonized. It's the 40th year for this chorale, with 15-18-year olds carrying on the tradition each year. BD Mads shared their music at West Morris Street Free Methodist Church on Sunday evening...a heart-warming part of the holiday season.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

WHAT'S WITH ORNAMENTS?

I'm not sure where the tradition of hanging ornaments on Christmas trees comes from. I'll do a little research and find out. Our Christmas tree is burgeoning with all kinds of them. Hallmark-made ornaments overwhelm all other kinds, Becky purchasing a gift ornament for each of the kids each year. And then there are the ones the children have made in Sunday School or at school at some early age, the ones that are so adorable and so, well...adorable. Becky arranged a few choice ornaments in a window (photo). This is part of the touch of the season.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

FOCUSING ON JOY

A GREAT JOY...FOR ALL PEOPLE. The authentic Christmas gift is joy, is it not? "I bring good news of a great joy that will be for all people." That's what the angels announced to shepherds, according to Luke's account. A great joy. For all people. I've been focusing there this first week of Advent: Joy...for all.

BUILDING BLOCKS OF ADVENT. Usually, I carefully observe the prescribed and logical progression of Advent protocol. This season of preparation and penitence is supposed to start with hope, move to faith, reflect on love, and then, and only then, bask in joy. Hopeful longing readies one for belief in God's personal promise, and that reveals a boundless love which, with the birth of Jesus, errupts in joy. This thing builds to a crescendo. In teaching and preaching terms, however, that means I only get to touch on the gift of joy ever so briefly one time a year. The capstone grace gets a Sunday. Short shrift for such a superlative. This year, however, I've decided to focus throughout Advent and Christmas on joy.

CAN'T RUSH JOY; BUT DON'T LIMIT IT, EITHER. Joy can't be rushed, to be sure. There's good reason why Christian tradition places it after hope and faith in the Advent building blocks. What's happening at the superstores and in the holiday frolicking is ample evidence enough that you can't manufacture, purchase, or produce joy. But just because it is not a surface-on-demand grace does not mean it should remain submerged until the Revised Common Lectionary poobahs say it's time to call it forth. I'm convinced that joy--lifted up, examined, explored, and chosen (yes, chosen...read Nouwen's and Neuman-Lee's comments in earlier posts)--can become a more readily experienced and expressed grace than usual Christian behavior and outlook normalizes.

More later...

Friday, December 8, 2006

JOY IN OUR GIFTS
Advent 2006 - A Great Joy for All People


“For me, the joy is also in the gifts. God gives us gifts for the building up of the church of Jesus Christ. When the church is built up people find God and know the fullness of eternal life. It is so great to be part of that. When we use the Gifts of the Spirit something real happens (as opposed to lots of other stuff we do with our time.) When I use my gifts, it is as if God’s Spirit were singing through me (which it is!). When I use my gifts, it is as if God were dancing with us through me. When I use those gifts (not really mine in the sense that I own them or can use them at my own command), I am opened up to the work of Christ in me and I am ready to continue His work. When I use those gifts given by the Creator through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, there is no joy in spite of something else, it is just joy and joy and joy through and through.” – Jeff Neuman-Lee

Thursday, December 7, 2006

MY DREAM...WHEN I'M NOT BIKING

Dear Santa,

Please, let it snow before Christmas. Let it snow before I head to India for the heart of the winter season. Let it snow enough for cross-country skiing at Eagle Creek Park. Let it snow enough for us to sled together at night under the stars. Let it snow enough to get the kids out of school, just for a day. Please, let it snow before Christmas.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

HOW JESUS COMES TO US
Advent 2006 - A Great Joy for All People
"...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?"

"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' (Rev. 21:5)."

"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!' Amen."

-- Dietrich Bonheoffer quoted in Watch for the Light

Monday, December 4, 2006

ADVENT IS ABOUT SEEING THE SIGNS
Advent 2006 - A Great Joy for All People

“At every turn in the Christmas story there appears an absurd mismatch: a woman and a dragon, a babe and the kings of this world, a messiah of utter folly and the power of death. But that is precisely the method that God has chosen in the Incarnation. God risks everything on the power of powerlessness.”

The topic of Christmas is whether we have the eyes to see it. And the heart to follow. Many did not recognize God’s coming to them in Jesus. But some did. Christmas has to do with seeing the signs, with recognition, with discerning God’s presence in the world.”

“As William Stringfellow said, ‘Discerning signs does not seek spectacular proofs or await the miraculous, but, rather, it means sensitivity to the Word of God indwelling in all Creation and transfiguring common history, while remaining radically realistic about death’s vitality in all that happens.’ Lord, for such a comprehension in this season and all, grant us the heart!”


— Bill Wylie Kellerman in Seasons of Faith and Conscience

Sunday, December 3, 2006

ADVENT CURMUDGEON?
Advent 2006 - A Great Joy for All People

'TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY? Before we frolic a little too flippantly through the Advent season and collapse into Christmas, hear William Stringfellow. These are excerpted from A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow, edited by Bill Wiley Kellermann (Eerdmans, 1994):

FROLICKING IS NOT 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.'"

INVITATION TO REPENTANCE. Let not Stringfellow's words douse what measured 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.
SPECTACLE & SIMPLICITY
Advent 2006 - A Great Joy for All People

“As Advent adventurers, we see both the secular spectacle and the scriptural simplicity of this holy season… Though the secular separates itself from the sacred, the sacred encompasses the secular. Teillard de Chardin affirms that ‘nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see. On the contrary, everything is sacred.'

-- Marilyn Brown Oden in Manger and Mystery

Saturday, December 2, 2006

THE GIGANTIC SECRET
Advent 2006 - A Great Joy for All People


"The mass of men have been forced to be gay about the little things, but sad about the big ones. Nevertheless (I offer my last dogma defiantly) it is not native to man to be so. Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live ... Joy ... is the gigantic secret of the Christian."

--G.K. Chesterton

Friday, December 1, 2006

JOY AMID ANGER & SADNESS
Advent 2006 - A Great Joy for All People

I found the following comment online. It's by Jeff Neuman-Lee, pastor of an Iowa Church of the Brethern community. Note the way Jeff perceives joy in the warp and woof of the fabric of life--including anger and grief.
"Joy rises above all other emotion, even anger and sadness. It can be present anywhere and everywhere. Even in great anger over great injustice there is the joy that God's Realm is before us, demonstrating what is just and unjust, and that Christ's Spirit is within us giving us courage to witness – utilizing the energy our anger gives us – to bring Christ’s good against evil. Even in great sadness over tremendous loss is the joy that God's love is eternal and that God's Spirit shall resurrect even the dead, that we might share God's everlasting community..."

"Joy comes with the knowledge of Jesus Christ, the presence of his Spirit in our midst. It is a great gift for this life, now."

Photo credit: Hasan Zubair
Advent 2006 - A Great Joy for All People

"Joy
does not simply
happen to us.
We have to
choose joy
and keep
choosing it
every day."

— Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

UNEXPECTEDLY

A DIFFERENT DELIVERANCE THAN EXPECTED. Listen to Bruderhof elder Eberhard Arnold in Watch for the Light: “You have perhaps waited for years to be freed from some need. For a long, long time you have looked out from the darkness in search of the light, and have had a difficult problem in life that you have not been able to solve in spite of great efforts. And then, when the time was fulfilled and God’s hour had come, did not a solution, light, and deliverance come quite unexpectedly, perhaps quite differently than you thought?”

AT HIS OWN TIME. “Hasn’t this happened to you, just as the child comes at his own time, and no impatience or hurrying can compel it – but then it comes with its blessing and full of the wonder of God? Hasn’t God’s help come to us sometimes in this way?”

AMID OUR YEARNING. “And so it shall be with our yearning for the redemption of humanity and for a new shining forth of the world of God. When we are discouraged by the apparently slow progress of all our honest efforts, by the failure of this or the other person, and by the ever new reappearance of enemy powers and their apparent victories, then we should know: the time shall be fulfilled.”

LISTEN AND WATCH. “Because of the noise and activity of the struggle and the work, we often do not hear the hidden gentle sound and movement of the life that is coming into being. But here and there, at hours that are blessed, God lets us feel how he is everywhere at work and how his cause is growing and moving forward. The time is being fulfilled and the light shall shine, perhaps just when it seems to us that the darkness is impenetrable.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

RACISM, CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY & THE CHURCH

SEEKING A REMEDY FOR RACISM. I heard on the news that Michael Richards is seeking professional counseling to help him understand what happened to him--in him, through him--that night at the comedy club when he hurled racial epithets at two black hecklers. Good move. Maybe what he discovers will not only help him, but many more. In terms of Christian spirituality, we attribute such explosions to sin. Healing begins in seeking and finding forgiveness, a changed heart and renewed mind through faith in Jesus Christ. We believe this analysis and faith response is critical to healing personal bigotry and social disharmony.

ADVENT SOUL WORK. Richards’ and Gibson’s outbursts, along with reemerging neo-Nazi and anti-immigrant sentiment, should trigger a season of thoughtful reflection and responsible action for race reconciliation and community justice. Perhaps this should be our primary soul work in this penitential season of Advent. Take the time during the next several weeks to ask "why?" Kindle a fire of holy concern through personal awareness raising, relationship building, and whatever steps these call forth in your spirit. Resistance to diversity, awareness, self-examination, and institutional questioning is a critical spiritual issue. Challenge resistance early and often; let it become, instead, a threshold we walk through, however painfully, into new awarenesses, new relationships, new perspectives.

DEAFENING SILENCE OF THE CHURCH. The silence of the church in regard to racism is as deafening now as it was when Martin Luther King, Jr. was trying to peacefully organize communities for racial justice in the 1960s. With notable few exceptions, his appeals to the churches largely fell on deaf ears. The continuing silence of the evangelical and holiness churches, in particular, is an indictment on its leadership. Every Christian Bible school, home school, elementary and high school, college, university, seminary, and graduate school that does not equip its students to understand and articulate the Christian call to community justice and to stand with suffering neighbors abrogates whatever claims to moral leadership it banally asserts. The lingering question is: Why does the evangelical church NOT speak and act boldly--even lead the nation--in relationship to race reconciliation and community justice?

UNHEALED WOUNDS, UNEXPLORED ISSUES. A generation after the civil rights movement won landmark court decisions and Congress passed civil rights legislation, the "dream" of reconciled races, equal opportunity and justice, and community harmony amid diversity is unrealized. For the most part, most whites recognized the fairness of the court decisions and complied with these laws and directives. But, in many cases, race-related tension, regrets, accusations, hard feelings, unhealed wounds, and unexplored issues still lie just beneath the surface of a veneer of superficial civility. That verneer will not last another generation; we already see its raw exposure in the increase of hate crimes among young people.

SIGNS OF HOPE. On the other hand, signs of hope and actions of positive engagement continue to be the salt, light, and leaven that penetrate fear, apathy, and ignorance. One local sign of hope is the Indianapolis Faith Leadership Series initiated by the Central Indiana Community Foundation. The leadership development series brings together a diverse group of emerging leaders of faith-based organizations in order to strengthen leadership skills, build inter-faith and inter-racial relationships, and explore community solutions. Thanks to CICF former director Ken Gladdish for initiating this series. It is but one of his excellent legacies to the region.

Monday, November 27, 2006

RESIDUAL RACISM

What is this beast that lurks beneath the surface
so long bridled, seemingly dormant, even dead
that breaks the façade of apparent inclusivity
spewing venomous vitriol in fits of pathetic
racial rage?

What feeds this thing during years of guarded restraint
keeping it subdued, at bay, and yet ever alive
until mild provocation shatters political correctness
and the charade ends in a revelation of sheer
bigotry?

Is it birthed by early familial murmurings
implanted in impressionable minds by
loved ones who fail to confront their own
hatred of what they fear and so carelessly
inflict blame?

Is it nurtured by nursing perceived sleights
encountered in the schoolroom and playground
each conflict and every word reinforcing
an irrational calculation justified by
each new hurt?

Is it fed by the observation of unaddressed injustices
ignored by leaders, minimized by influence groups,
cynically renamed and recast as inconsequential
to a public too satiated by technology and toys to
second guess?

Is it fueled by unspoken allegiances, winks and nods--
the stuff of fraternal bonding and back-watching
that is etched unquestioningly into the social psyche
as necessary and acceptable norms for getting along
in one’s herd?

Is it given wings by ideologies that define civility
by drawing narrow circles and daring those on the margins
to get up to speed, measure up, perform to the standard
that the self-protecting privileged could never fulfill
on their own?

It is driven deep into some supra-social DNA
by resentments, pride, unsettled scores, and revenge
that build layer upon layer, generation upon generation
until one’s identity as race or class or caste or ethnicity are
ultimate?

Wherever it comes from, whatever its sources
let each and all of us attend to this residual parasite
that leeches our very hope for finding common ground
and knowing ourselves—and the other—as capable of being
peaceable.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

CANAL @ 56TH STREET

I had a great bicycle ride on Saturday. I pedaled 57 miles in a circle around the city, crossing Kessler Boulevard from west to east, then south on Emerson Avenue to Pleasant Run Parkway. I toured the downtown area before heading up Riverside Drive and back to Kessler/56th Street, Eagle Creek Park, and home. I snapped this photo where 56th Street crosses the canal along Westfield Drive in Broadripple.

Warm weather here at the end of November invites such training rides in preparation for riding 62+ miles a day in India beginning December 30. Learn about Bicycle India 2007.

OUT OF "ORDINARY TIME"






Shaping the pattern of our lives around the Christian calendar



Today is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time. It's a day named Christ the King Sunday on the liturgical Christian calendar. It's the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent. Advent marks the beginning of the Christian year--four weeks before Christmas. Confused? Interested?

CHRISTMAS, EASTER, PENTECOST. The Christian calendar marks a year of weeks around three major Biblical faith events that give shape, context, and learning opportunities to the Christian community. Christmas, Easter and Pentecost are the primary focal points. Advent is preparation for Christmas. Lent leads to Holy Week and Easter. Pentecost, marking the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church, launches the third chapter in the church year. Following Pentecost, the weeks until Advent (which begins four Sundays before Christmas Day) are called "Ordinary Time."

A GOOD LITURGICAL RESOURCE. I use Dennis Bratcher's online resource--"The Voice"--of the Christian Resource Institute to help me walk and live through the Christian liturgical calendar. CRI is reliable, insightful, and kept current. It's user friendly for folks who are not steeped in a liturgical tradition--like me. It's worth spending some time exploring www.crivoice.org as the Season of Advent approaches, beginning on Sunday, December 3. You can find daily Scripture readings as well as good information on the meanings of Advent and each season of the year. Do not confuse the Christian Resource Institute with the Chrisitan Research Institute (which I do not recommend).

Liturgy means "service." It is not about formulas or formalism. It's about exploring and expressing the depth and exuberance of the Christian faith.
EUCHARIST

This is one post in a week of entries on thanksgiving and gratitude. Look for this icon/photo as you scroll thru bikehiker. This is the last post in "A Thanskgiving Primer," at least for a while. I welcome your favorite quotes, poems, or reflections on thanksgiving and gratitude.

Thursday
Gathered together with family and friends.
Sat down to turkey with all the trimmings.
Offered thanks for blessings seen and unperceived.
Pushed ourselves back after several helpings.
Sauntered outside to pass a football.
Played until we could not see the ball.
Headed back inside for a round of desserts.
Talked and told stories late into the evening.
Piled into the van and headed back home.
Collapsed into an exhausted, satisfied sleep.

Sunday
Gathered together as family and neighbors.
Stood up to worship with all the senses.
Offered thanks for blessings seen and unperceived.
Pondered the preached Word's fresh helping.
Sang of the grace that is greater than our sin.
Prepared to share in the blessed Sacrament.
Headed down the aisle to kneel around the altar.
Took in the consecrated bread and wine.
Piled into the van and headed back home.
Contemplated anew the wonder of these blessings.

Monday
Scattering apart as neighbors and laborers.
Standing up to serve with all our capacities.
Offering thanks for blessings seen and unperceived.
Pondering the interface of word and deed.
Singing of faithfulness even as our strength fails.
Playfully considering the sacredness of life.
Heading interactions in the direction of community.
Talking and telling stories as work is accomplished.
Plowing through traffic as we head back home.
Celebrating the fullness of life as a gift from God.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

BLACK BEAUTY





This is the old Cannondale touring bike I plan to take to India for our 2,000-mile ride that begins on December 30, 2006. If all goes to plan, we will begin in Nagercoil at the southern tip of India and arrive in New Delhi in February 8, 2007. Get up to speed on Bicycle India 2007 and then track us each day as we ride.

Friday, November 24, 2006

ALL THE LEAVES ARE BROWN...

But the sky isn't gray... The setting sun shines on these leaves at the edge of the reservoir in Eagle Creek Park. Most of the leaves have fallen now and rains have taken the "crunch" out of most of them. They blanket the woods. It's quite easy to see the many deer through the trees in this sanctuary.

SUNSET AT EAGLE CREEK BEACH
This day after Thanksgiving, aka Black Friday, offered 60 degrees and sunshine, great for a long bike ride. I ended up in nearby Eagle Creek Park as the sun set over the reservoir at the beach. It was a golden way to end the day.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

SERVING ON THANKSGIVING
It's been a tradtion in our family to help prepare and deliver Thanksgiving dinners to households at the First Free Methodist Church Thanksgiving Dinner event on the near eastside of Indianapolis each year. Fifteen participants from our congregation volunteered alongside folks from a variety of Free Methodist congregations. About 1500 meals were delivered or served onsite.
PREPARE TO BE INTERRUPTED

“Anyone who loves must always be prepared to have his or her plans interrupted. We must be ready to be surprised by tasks which God sets for us today. God is always compelling us to improvise. For God’s tasks always have about them something surprising and unexpected…"

"God is always a God of surprises, not only in the way God helps us, but also in the manner in which He confronts me with tasks to perform and sends people across my path. Be flexible, adaptable, maneuverable, and
ready to improvise!"


– Helumt Thielicke in The Waiting Father
A HEART-FELT THANKSGIVING

This posting is one of a week-long series I am calling "A Thanksgiving Primer." Look for this photo/icon as you scroll thru bikehiker for more resources on gratitude. May you have a blessed Thanksgiving Day
By Ted Loder

A prayer of Ted Loder in his incredible collection of poems titled Guerrillas of Grace:

Praise be to you, O Lord, for life
and for my intense desire to live;
praise be to you for the mystery of love
and for my intense desire to be a lover;
praise be to you for this day
and another chance to live and love.

Thank you, Lord
for friends who stake their claim in my heart,
for enemies who disturb my soul and bump my ego,
for tuba players,
and story tellers,
and trapeze troupes.

Thank you, Lord,
for singers of songs,
for teachers of songs,
who help me sing along the way,
and for listeners.

Thank you, Lord,
for those who attempt beauty
rather than curse ugliness,
for those who take stands
rather than take polls,
for those who risk being right
rather than pandering to be liked,
for those who do something
rather than talking about everything.

Lord, grant me grace, then,
and a portion of your Spirit
that I may so live
as to give others cause to be thankful for me,
thankful because I have not forgotten
how to hope,
how to laugh,
how to say "I am sorry,"
how to forgive,
how to bind up wounds,
how to dream,
how to cry,
how to pray,
how to love when it is hard,
and how to dare when it is dangerous.

Undamn me, Lord,
that praise may flow more easily from me
than wants,
thanks more readily
than complaints.

Praise be to you, Lord, for life;
praise be to you for another chance to live.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A LITANY OF THANKSGIVING

This posting is one of a week-long series I am calling "A Thanksgiving Primer." The postings include prayers, poems, quotes, and my personal reflections. Look for this photo/icon as you scroll thru bikehiker for more resources on gratitude.

By Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman--African American, Quaker, pastor, writer, mentor to a generation of developing civil rights leaders--is an inspiration to me in many ways. I read his “Litany of Thanksgiving” each year and marvel at Thurman’s insight and humility. If you have not read him, find his books and take a soulful journey.

Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.

I begin with the simple things of my days:
Fresh air to breath,
Cool water to drink,
The taste of food,
The protection of houses and clothes,
The comforts of home.
For these, I make an act of Thanksgiving this day!

I bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that I have known:
My mother’s arms,
The strength of my father,
The playmates of my childhood,
The wonderful stories brought to me from the
lives of many who talked of days gone by
when fairies and giants and all kinds of
magic held sway;
The tears I have shed, the tears I have seen;
The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the eye
with its reminder that life is good.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I finger one of the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:
The smile of approval from those who held in their hands
the reins of my security;
The tightening of the grip in a single handshake
when I feared the step before me in the darkness;
The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest
and the claims of appetite were not to be denied;
The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open page
when my decision hung in the balance.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I pass before me the mainsprings of my heritage:
The fruits of the labors of countless generations
who lived before me, without whom my own life
would have no meaning;
The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
The prophets who sense a truth greater than the mind
could grasp and whose words could only find fulfillment
in the years which they would never see;
The workers whose sweat has watered the trees,
the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;
The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons,
whose courage made paths into new worlds and far-off places;
The Savior whose blood was shed with a recklessness
that only a dream could inspire and God could command.
For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I linger over the meanings of my own life and the commitment
to which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:
The little purposes in which I have shared with my loves, my desires, my gifts;
The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its
stark insistence that I have never done my best,
I have never reached for the highest;
The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind
will study war no more, that love and tenderness and
all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the
life of the children of God as the waters cover the sea.
All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,
I make as my Sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,
Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.

From For the Inward Journey, selected writings by Howard Thurman, 1984, Richmond, Indiana: Friends United Press

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

FOR WHAT IS THIS HOLIDAY?

This posting is one of a week-long series I am calling "A Thanksgiving Primer." Look for this photo/icon as you scroll thru bikehiker for more resources on gratitude.

BOILED DOWN HOLIDAY? 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 missed it in the making. It's true, "Jesus is the reason for the season" of Christmas, but no one but a few Grinches are going to reduce that robust holiday down to its singular flash point.

NFL FOR THANKSGIVING DINNER? 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.

I will likely watch some of the NFL action on Thursday. I also hope we play some football. But I was thinking of the tendency to lose primary meanings and spiritual growth opportunities of Thanksgiving when I penned the following poem.


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.

Monday, November 20, 2006

NOT "THANKSGIVING LITE"

John Gibson is a primary local advocate for The Earth Charter and he e-mails a weekly paragrah on Mondays. Today's is poignant:

"'The spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life is strengthened when we live with reverence for the mystery of being, gratitude for the gift of life, and humility regarding the human place in nature' (Earth Charter Preamble). It’s easy and appropriate to be grateful when you have plenty to eat, a place to sleep and health insurance to buffer the vulnerabilities of body and mind. This Thanksgiving, however, please join me in pondering how to live both gratefully and responsibly in a world where 852 million people are hungry, another plant or animal species goes extinct every 20 minutes, 46 million people in the U.S. have no health insurance, and 3500 persons are homeless in Indianapolis alone. Guilt trip? No! But thanksgiving 'lite' won’t work either."

Thanks for the prod, John.
WE LIVE BY MERCY IF WE LIVE
This posting is one of a week-long series I am calling "A Thanksgiving Primer." Look for this photo/icon as you scroll thru bikehiker for more resources on gratitude.

I usually find good fodder for my mind and uneasy nourishment for my soul whenever I read Wendell Berry. It happened as I read in A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997. Two verses of a poem titled "Amish Economy" spoke to me of Thanksgiving:


We live by mercy if we live.
To that we have no fit reply
But working well and giving thanks,
Loving God, loving one another,
To keep Creation's neighborhood.

And my friend David Kline told me,
"It falls strangely on Amish ears,
This talk of how you find yourself.
We Amish, after all, don't try
To find ourselves. We try to lose
Ourselves"--and thus are lost within
The found world of sunlight and rain
Where fields are green and then are ripe,
And the people eat together by
The charity of God, who is kind
Even to those who give no thanks.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

AUNT WILLIE MAE’S PRAYER

This posting is one of a week-long series I am calling "A Thanksgiving Primer." Look for this photo/icon as you scroll thru bikehiker for more resources on gratitude.

FROM A HOSPITAL BED. A member of the Sheffield family brought by a prayer which my Aunt Willie Mae Sheffield typed out on portable word processor while in the hospital during the last year of her life. Aunt Mae died immediately following Christmas in 1997, at age 63, of complications due to an extended bout with diabetes. This prayer followed an important eye surgery.

Dear God,

Just wanted to thank you for letting me be happy. I really need some happy time right now. I do not exactly know why everything has happened the way it has, and I am not sure what kind of message You are sending me, but for some strange reason, I feel a lot smarter today than I did yesterday. And everyday I am getting stronger. Thank You for making me who I am. Thank You for helping me realize I am thankful for who I am. All I want is to be happy in my life, and to be a warm-hearted person. I really do not have a selfish agenda. I am so happy to have my family and my health. I feel so lucky to have ten fingers and ten toes, and a good mind. I am so thankful that when I put my head down on my pillow at night, I am at peace. I love You. And I love knowing that You have surrounded me with people loving me. I do not say or show You my thanks enough, but I really think it a lot. Thank You for allowing us to have beautiful things, and thank You for unclouding my eyes so that I see them. Amen

LIFE IS A BANQUET

"We cannot love God unless we love each other. We know him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet, and life is a banquet too - even with a crust - where there is companionship. We have all known loneliness, and we have learned that the only solution is love, and that love comes with community."
-- Dorothy Day in The Long Loneliness

Saturday, November 18, 2006

THANK THEE, O GIVER OF LIFE, O GOD

This posting is one of a week-long series I am calling "A Thanksgiving Primer." Look for this photo/icon as you scroll thru bikehiker for more resources on gratitude .
By Angela Morgan

Thank Thee, O Giver of Life, O God!
For the force that flames in the winter sod;
For the breath of my nostrils, fiercely good,
The sweet of water, the taste of food,
The sun that silvers the pantry floor,
The step of a neighbor at my door;
For dusk that fondles the window pane,
For the beautiful sound of falling rain.

Thank Thee for love and light and air,
For children’s faces, keenly fair,
For the wonderful joy of perfect rest
When the sun’s wick lowers within the West;
For huddling hills in gowns of snow
Warming themselves in the afterglow;
For Thy mighty wings that are never furled,
Bearing onward the rushing world.

Thank Thee, O Giver of Life, O God!
For Thy glory leaping the lightning rod;
For Thy terrible spaces of love and fire
Where sparks from the forge of Thy desire
Storm through the void in floods of suns,
Far as the heat of Thy Presence runs
And where hurricanes of chanting spheres
Swing to the pulse of the flying years.

Thank Thee for human toil that thrills
With the plan of Thine which man fulfills;
For bridges and tunnels, for ships that soar,
For iron and steel and the furnace roar;
For this anguished vortex of blood and pain
Where sweat and struggle are never vain;
For progress, pushing the teeming earth
On and up to a higher birth.
Thank Thee for life, for life, for life,
O Giver of Life, O God!

I found this poem in The Treasury of Religious Verse compiled by Donald T. Kauffman, 1970

Friday, November 17, 2006

URBAN BIKING

NO PLACE LIKE NYC FOR BIKES. Perhaps no magazine has featured bikes in city life as the New Yorker. This graphic (left) is one example of the editors' choice of covers that reflect life in a city in which bicycles are part of the common landscape. Our family's first-ever visit to Manhattan last November confirmed the prominent place of bicycles in that hyper-urban environment. The Big Apple makes room for bicycles in ways that Midwestern communities like Indianapolis do not. Indy is beginning to recognize the value of urban biking and making room...ever so slowly.

BICYCLING NATIONS. Bicycling magazine's December 2006 issue graphs the relatively light use of bicycles as a basic mode of mobility in the USA in comparison to Europe and Asia. There are, for instance, 8.8 bicyles for every 10 people in China. The Netherlands boasts more bicycle commuters than any other nation--7.7 in 10 use a bike for getting back and forth to work, store, school, etc. India and China are not far behind. Less than one in ten in the USA use a bike to commute. The excuse of weather doesn't work: remember, it's The Netherlands! Overcoming our excuses, along with legitimate reasons, would be a good discussion, don't you think?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

WHAT WE RECEIVE AND REFLECT

This posting is one of a week-long series I am calling "A Thanksgiving Primer." Look for this photo/icon as you scroll thru bikehiker.

FROM THE HEART. Over the past few days I've been reading lots of Thanksgiving poems. I haven't yet found one that speaks my heart. So I wrote one that does.

Thanksgiving doesn’t live in a vacuum;
We do not pluck it from thin air.
We cannot be grateful on command,
Genuflecting at the drop of hat.

Talk is cheap when it comes to thanking,
Yet beyond courteous etiquette
Lies a deeper reality that beckons,
Inviting us to reckon with grace.

Native American graciousness
And Pilgrim hospitality,
Turkey and all the trimmings point
Beyond finely folded, praying hands.

Through and beyond these images
We glimpse a sacred connection,
As generations across time
Hail some gracious provision.

It’s not so much a debt we owe
Or tribute for posterity
As it is a virtue we receive
And reflect into eternity.

We deep-down know we are held
By sustaining, life-giving hands.
Not our own or on our own,
We belong and are lovingly known.

We cannot utter such mystery
Tradition and rite fall short
But these, and we, can point and say
“Thanks” for life and grace today.
RUNNING INTO THANKSGIVING

This begins a series of daily posts that, taken together, will form "A Thanksgiving Primer." Return to bikehiker daily through November 24 for shared poetry, quotes, and reflections. Watch for this photo/icon amid other posts. Also...know that I take Advent quite seriously, searching for and offering resources here that can move the season from one of numbing frenzy into contemplative preparation. Advent reflections begin December 3.

'TIS THE WEEK BEFORE THANKSGIVING. We don't count down the days to Thanksgiving like we do to Christmas. But we all know Thanksgiving marks the unofficial beginning of the extended holiday season. So, only seven days left! Got turkey?

SEASONAL GEAR SHIFT. Get ready to shift gears. You've already seen and sensed it at the superstores. I'm acutely aware of a quickening pace thru planning for Advent and Christmastide with the church. I'm way down the road and having to bring myself back to Thanksgiving. I remind myself: Don’t rush past Thanksgiving; don’t take it for granted. Be present to the day, the moment; tune into its unique grace.

SET THE PACE THIS WEEK. Maybe Thanksgiving could actually set a careful, measured pace for all that follows. Instead of running through Thanksgiving and slamming into Christmas, could we possibly make this week count as a pacesetter? Take a few moments to make some decisions about how you will spend time over the next month or so. Approach the season through Thanksgiving.

HARVEST OF THE HEART. I found the following insight in Howard Thurman’s For the Inward Journey: “Great and significant as is the harvest in nature, the most pertinent kind of ingathering of the human spirit is what I call ‘the harvest of the heart.’ Living is a shared process. Inasmuch as I do not live or die unto myself, it is of the essence of wisdom for me conscientiously to live and die in the profound awareness of other people. The statement, ‘Know thyself,’ has been taken mystically from the statement, ‘Thou hast seen thy brother, thou has seen thy God.’”

CONFESSING OUR THANKS. For whom, for what, might we give thanks this week? Stop to consider, or contemplate on your way down the road. Not a conjured sentimentality, but a gratitude that might arise from depths of contemplation or a moment’s realization of our sacred interconnectedness. And dare we confess our modest appreciation to these beloved ones? Be careful, gratitude might be contagious.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

COUNTDOWN TO BIKING INDIA: 6 WEEKS

READY TO ROLL? We're just six weeks away from starting to roll on "Bicycle India 2007" - our 2,000-mile ride through India to raise awareness and $600,000 to rebuild Umri Christian Hospital. Hard to believe we're that close! Yikes!
Photo: I stand behind a 40-lb. Indian-made Atlas single-speed bike that we rode from Yoatmal to Umri back in January

BOXED BIKES. Our three North American team members meet together on November 28 - our final preparation and planning meeting before getting on an Air India flight to Mumbai on December 26. We will box up the second of our three bikes. Boxed carefully in containers designed especially for bikes, they will be checked as part of our baggage. One of our significant hopes (and prayers!) on logistics is that our bikes arrive in southern India when we do! The difference between riding a single-speed 40-lb. bike (the typical bike used in India) and our multiple-speed lightweight (22-25 lb.) bikes is vast.
ITINERARY FIRM. We have firmed up our daily itinerary, at least to the point of identifying what towns and cities we hope to arrive in each afternoon. We plan to ride over 100 kilometers (62+ miles) five or six days days a week for most of the six weeks. Our goal is to start early each day - around 6:30 am - and try to be at our daily destination by early afternoon. This, we hope, will keep us out of the hottest portions of the day in India's "winter." While the American Midwest will be experiencing freezing temperatures in January, we anticipate 85-95 degree temps and full sun during the day. It will be "cold" in the evenings - down to 75! We anticipate relatively cooler weather as we approach New Delhi during the first week of February.
TRACK OUR TREK. I hope you will follow our ride on the Bicycle India 2007 blog from December 26 through February 8. We also welcome your support for Umri Christian Hospital.
PROVINCIALISM OR WISDOM?
A response to Governor Daniels' announcement of a massive "Commerce Connector" tollway he wants to build around Central Indiana

It’s unfortunate that Governor Daniels has used “provincialism” to label those who respectfully disagree with his plans to spread sprawl in the region. An apology to former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut, at least, is in order. The people who are voicing resistance to the Governor’s intentions are not myopic thinkers. They have valid concerns that should be duly considered. Thoughtful urban planners and regional strategists believe the Governor’s idea has significant downsides, perhaps tragic flaws. The vitality of Indianapolis and Central Indiana’s economy is distinct in significant ways from other U.S. metropolitan areas that have invested in “big donut” strategies like the Governor has proposed.

Instead of being in “sell mode” and representing primarily a business interest bloc, Mr. Daniels might do well to take a few steps back for the sake of wider consideration. A robust public dialogue might prove quite fruitful. A better outcome might emerge if foregone conclusions that serve a relatively small range of citizen interests were taken off the table.

Unfortunately, Central Indiana is not prepared to fend for itself or be proactive as a cohesive unit in the face of such state-led initiatives, or more narrowly-focused decisions of singular cities or towns. A regional planning council would be an appropriate forum for such strategic development considerations. Regional planning and development commissions serve some U.S. urban regions quite effectively, offering better outcomes than any single-interest group could hope to provide. Equal input and buy-in from each county and community within the region would spare many hard feelings and territorial missteps, not to mention misspent tax dollars.

I do not know if officials in cities, towns, and counties in Central Indiana have the political will to come together for such regional planning and decision-making. Past efforts at real region-wide consideration through MAGIC and CIRCL were vibrant but short-lived. But in the face of a unilateral decision by the Governor to define the future of Indianapolis and each county into the foreseeable future, for good or for ill, the urgency of a regional planning entity is apparent.

I submitted this to the Indianapolis Star editor last evening

Note: this letter was published in the Indianapolis Star's "Focus" section on Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

WHAT NATIONAL SECURITY CAN'T SAVE US FROM

This excerpt by Wendell Berry is from an essay titled "A Citizen's Response to 'The National Security Strategy of the United States of America'" in Citizenship Papers. Berry's full essay is an important read. In it, he responds to the Bush policy of "preemptive war" that led to attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. This particular segment, however, is less about that and more about things from which a national security strategy can't save us.

"It is understandable that we should have reacted to the attacks of September 11, 2001, by curtailment of civil rights, by defiance of laws, and by resort to overwhelming force, for those actions are the ready products of fear and hasty thought. But they cannot protect us against the destruction of our own land by ourselves. They cannot protect us against the selfishness, wastefulness, and greed that we have legitimatized here as economic virtues, and have taught to the world. They cannot protect us against our government's consequent dependence, which for the present at least is inescapable, on foreign supplies such as oil from the Middle East."

"And they cannot protect us from what proved to be the greatest danger of all: the estrangement of our people from one another and from our land. Increasingly, Americans--including, notoriously, their politicians--are not from anywhere. And so they have in this 'homeland,' which their government now seeks to make secure on their behalf, no home place that they are strongly moved to know or love or use well or protect."

Monday, November 13, 2006

CLOSED PATH

by Rabindranath Tagore in Gitanjali

I thought that my voyage had come to its end
at the last limit of my power,
that the path before me was closed,
that provisions were exhausted
and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.
But I find that thy will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.

Tagore was an early 20th-century poet and philosopher from Calcutta, India. W. B. Yeats revealed his genius to the world, publishing Gitanjali and introducing Tagore to the leading thinkers of the day. Tagore won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1919. Learn more about Tagore, considered one of India's great sons.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

DREAMS OF WAR

Honor with reverence those men and women who died in battle. Weep and mourn for civilians cruelly caught in the strife. Give due respect for lives laid down in the name of freedom. But never glory in war. Never embrace its horrors. Never savor its torments. Never dream of its violence. Never drink to its return. Never gaze upon its power, lest its illusion seduce you. Lest war lust obsess you. Lest its siren sound lure you into its labyrinthine bowels and you swear allegiance to it, live for it, and your soul die even as you breathe.
WE ARE TOLD

I wrote this poem shortly after the outset of America's "preemptive" attack on Iraq. I've since posted it a few times on Bikehiker. It seems as applicable now as it did several years ago. Perhaps the only difference is that most are no longer willing to keep silent, that is, if America's choices at the voting booth are to be interpreted as voices long ignored or withheld.

We are told
Coyly cajoled
To anticipate victory

Flags wave
We behave
As if it was meant to be

With every death
Gasping breath
Resolve is supposed to deepen

Till debt is paid
For every grave
We are chided not to weaken

It seems inane
Surely insane
To follow this logic through

We buy the lie
Exchange right
For a tough man’s stunted view

On battlefields
Clarity yields
To prior and distant choices

Ill-conceived
Blindly-believed
Ignoring wiser voices

Quagmire ensues
Still we choose
To pursue paths of violence

On it goes
Till who knows
So long as most keep silence

Saturday, November 11, 2006

VETERANS, WAR, & DREAMS OF PEACE

ARMISTICE DAY - 87 YEARS LATER. Today is the 87th anniversary of Armistice Day, the day Germany surrendered, ending "The Great War." We now observe November 11 as Veterans Day. At least 8,538,315 soldiers died in World War I; there were 37,508,686 total casualties, or 57.6% of all troops deployed by allied and axis forces.

FOR REMEMBRANCE. I found numerous poems in tribute to those fallen in World War I, but chose the following, called "For Remembrance" by Basil Ebers, to post:

What is it, O dear Country of our pride,
We pledge anew that we will not forget?
To keep on Freedom's altar burning yet
The fires for which a myriad heroes died
Known and unknown, beyond the far sea's tide
That their great gift be no futility.
Faith with the Dead kept through our living faith;
In this alone the true remembrance lies,
The unfading garland for the sacrifice,
To prove their dream of Brotherhood no wraith,
No moment's hope--its birth-pang one with death--
but the fixed goal of our humanity.

HONOR THE WAR DEAD, NOT WAR. A fine line it is, but oh so critical that it be observed and guarded. The line--almost imperceptible when enflamed with hatred toward enemies or drunk with hard-fought victory--will glorify or condemn us. It is the line between honoring the war dead and war itself.

NEVER DREAM OF ITS VIOLENCE. Honor with reverence those men and women who died in battle. Weep and mourn for civilians cruelly caught in the strife. Give due respect for lives laid down in the name of freedom. But never glory in war. Never embrace its horrors. Never savor its torments. Never dream of its violence. Never drink to its return. Never gaze upon its power, lest its illusion seduce you. Lest war lust obsess you. Lest its siren sound lure you into its labyrinthine bowels and you swear allegiance to it, live for it, and your soul die even as you breathe.

NOT ALL WARS ARE EQUAL. Not all wars are equal. The vast majority have not really been necessary. This is not so much a reflection on the troops who fought in them as it is on those who chose and directed them. The current war in Iraq is a good example of an unnecessary war.

VETERAN DREAMS. I know some Veterans and they are people of integrity. Some fought in World War II, some served during the Vietnam conflict, others in the Persian Gulf War and Iraq. They tell different stories. All are glad to be alive, grieve their lost comrades, and relieved that their service is ended. None I know wish for their sons or daughters the opportunity to fight another war.

A NEW CROP OF HOMELESS VETERANS. I've worked with homeless vets for years. Just when we were getting most of the Vietnam-era Vets connected with counseling, housing, and the costly, life-long resources that are necessary for ones whose minds, emotions, bodies, and souls have been ravaged by war, America starts breeding a new crop soon-to-be homeless Vets. It doesn't take years for Vets returning from doing our government's dirty work to show up in soup lines and missions; think in terms of months. It takes many years, however, to overcome what a few months in front-line action can do.

WAR FINDS A WAY. War always finds some twisted way to justify its own necessity and perpetuation. Once engaged, it plants its gruesome seed then argues for its rebirth in every generation. War is self-perpetuating; few generations can resist it.

ART'S PROMISE AND POWER. Recently, it occurred to me (or at least resurfaced within me) that a way to reveal the hollow way of mammon and violence, and to simultaneously bring light to grace and peace, is through arts and literature. Political partisanship is getting us nowhere. The evangelical church is losing its witness amid partisanship. But art--the written word, the dramatized situation, the lifted song, and the vision graphically cast--has more power to delegitimate war and cumber, and to bring the possibility of grace into our lives than the currently prevailing methods of choice.