Friday, March 31, 2006
Rough Central Indiana weather at the end of the third month
"March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." Well...not this year, not here in Central Indiana.
HEAVY RAIN, FINAL FOUR. It rained cats and dogs this morning, the heaviest rain I've seen in years. The roadway looked like a lake. Then, the weather cleared up and we had a sunny afternoon with temperatures in the low sixties. Jared, Sam and I spent the afternoon downtown watching George Mason, LSU, Florida, and UCLA basketball teams practice for the Final Four games that begin tomorrow at the RCA Dome. We also strolled around, taking in the festive activities of the weekend.
THREATENING STORMS. Then, around 6:30 pm, a line of storms came across the area. Severe thunderstorm warnings were issued. Then tornado warnings. We had quite an impressive lightning display in the southern sky. With high winds, the strom blew across our neighborhood but left west Indianapolis unscathed. The storm was immediately followed by a clear sky revealing a setting sun--a remarkable, memorable sight.
TORNADO ON THE GROUND. Folks to the southeast of Indianapolis have not fared so well. Even as I write, an eastbound tornado is reported to be on the ground in Shelby County. May all lives in its path take cover and be spared.
This morning, I was moved by this poem by Wendell Berry. "Look Out" is from his newest collection of poems, Given (Shoemaker, Hoard, Washington, D.C., 2005). This is what Wendell Berry sees outside his Port Royal, Kentucky farmhouse. When I look out my window, do I see far enough--deeply enough, broadly enough--to perceive this? And if or when I perceive such, am I caring or daring enough to leave my window and go out and say "no" to the Lords of War--to Money and Fire--and "yes" to life? Or do I just stand and stare, or turn away and hope someone else will take care of this mess?
Come to the window, look out, and see
the valley turning green in remembrance
of all springs past and to come, the woods
perfecting with immortal patience
the leaves that are the work of all of time,
the sycamore whose white limbs shed
the history of a man's life with their old bark,
the river quivering under the morning's breath
like the touched skin of a horse, and you will see
also the shadow cast upon it by fire, the war
that lights its way by burning the earth.
Come to your windows, people of the world,
look out at whatever you see wherever you are,
and you will see dancing upon it that shadow.
You will see that your place, wherever it is,
your house, your garden, your shop, your forest, your farm,
bears the shadow of its destruction by war
which is the economy of greed which is plunder
which is the economy of wrath which is fire.
The Lords of War sell the earth to buy fire,
they sell the water and air of life to buy fire.
They are little men grown great by willingness
to drive whatever exists into its perfect absence.
Their intention to destroy any place is solidly founded
upon their willingness to destroy every place.
Every household of the world is at their mercy,
the households of the farmer and the otter and the owl
are at their mercy. They have no mercy.
Having hate, they can have no mercy.
Their greed is the hatred of mercy.
Their pockets jingle with the small change of the poor.
Their power is the willingness to destroy
everything for knowledge which is money
which is power which is victory
which is ashes sown by the wind.
Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
go into the streets, go into the fields, go into the woods
and along the streams. Go together, go alone.
Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
to the air, to the earth, to the trees,
yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
and the animals and every living thing, yes
to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
When I was 13 years old, I would play my new Chicago V record (that's an old fashioned version of a CD, kids) over and over. It didn't take long for the impact of the lyrics to "Dialogue" Part I and Part II to sink in. Written as a back-and-forth conversation between two people--one worried and one clueless--the song reflects outlooks and attitudes prevalent in the late Vietnam War era.
Fast forward 34 years. I think I overheard a similar conversation at McDonald's just the other day...
Are you optimistic 'bout the way things are going?
No, I never ever think of it at all.
Don't you ever worry
When you see what's going down?
No, I try to mind my business,
That is, no business at all.
When it's time to function as a feeling human being
Will your Bachelor of Arts help you get by?
I hope to study further, a few more years or so;
I also hope to keep a steady high.
Will you try to change things
Use the power that you have,
The power of a million new ideas?
What is this power you speak of
And this need for things to change?
I always thought that everything was fine.
Don't you feel repression just closing in around?
No, the campus here is very, very free.
Don't it make you angry the way war is dragging on?
Well, I hope the President knows what he's into,
I don't know. I just don't know.
Don't you ever see the starvation in the city where you live--
All the needless hunger,
All the needless pain?
I haven't been there lately, the country is so fine
But my neighbors don't seem hungry 'cause
They haven't got the time.
Thank you for the talk, you know
You really eased my mind.
I was troubled by the shape of things to come.
Well, if you had my outlook
Your feelings would be numb,
You'd always think that everything was fine.
We can make it happen
We can change the world now
We can save the children
We can make it better
We can make it happen
We can save the children
We can make it happen
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Road cycling and mountain biking among southern Indiana's hills
STATE PARK RIDE. Anyone unfamiliar with Indiana may not appreciate the privilege of riding in Brown County, Indiana. But those who know Indiana know Brown County to be the home of quaint Nashville, beautiful Brown County State Park (breaktaking views, too), and some of the most challenging hill climbs for bicycles in the region. Part of the annual Hilly Hundred fall bicycle tour passes through Nashville and over some steep climbs. In Nashville for a conference on Monday and Tuesday, I was able to get away for a couple hours each day for some vigorous--if cold and wet--riding.
Photo: the covered bridge at the north entrance to Brown County State Park. My old but upgraded 1990 Cannondale road bike sits atop my 1998 VW Beetle.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Christian leaders shouldn't link themselves to a political party or candidate
Once Christians become partisan, what's left?
Once Christians start throwing their political weight around in the interest of conservation of monied self-interest, cultural advantages, and political power, can they ever go back to a simple witness to the life and transforming power of Jesus Christ?
Once Christians settle for lesser kingdoms, shall they ever see the Kingdom?
Once Christians turn mean, can they ever claim kindness as one of their virtues?
Once they take the route of power-brokering and arm-twisting influence peddling, can they ever be light again?
"If the salt loses its saltiness, it is good for nothing except to be thrown out and trodden under the feet..."
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Genes link me to Welsh and English roots; grace links me to Someone greater
I AM A CELT. If I understand the term correctly, I am certainly a Celt: Living on the edge of conquering kingdoms; a ruddy uplander and outlander; given to poetry and song amid work that advances barely beyond a grind; steeped in traditions that can be hardly recognized in the main; earnest, intense, and idealistic; independent and resistant, with a penchant for self-defeating self-righteousness; resignedly hopeful; moved forward by some distant reality--past or future--that pulls at the heart.
WELSH ROOTS. The name Hay, as I have come to understand my particular lineage, is Welsh. Hay is a term used to describe a forest or wooded area. The Hays were forest-dwellers or those who lived at its edge. Sheffield, my mother’s English-sourced name, is more readily traced.
GRACE OVER GENES. To the point: none of us are purebred, high or low. Along with Welsh and English, there is Dutch (Avery) and Native American and likely sundry other tribal blood in my veins. Lineage is no cause for pride or shame. It is no excuse for shortcomings. Glory not in lineage. We all come from somewhere, but we will leave a first-generation legacy. May our legacies not rely one iota on what particular or combination of genetic pools from which we formed. May grace, not genetics or pride or shame of tribe, describe our lives.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
"Holiness" roots claim me, holy imagination beckons me
"CALLED UNTO HOLINESS." Taking the predominant cues echoed from my ecclesiastical forebears, I have usually approached this strain of Christianity called holiness as an experience to be had, a thing to acquire, a work to be accomplished. I have tried to fit into its homiletically-described terms. I have also tried to fit it in to an American middle-class way of life. I am certain of its spiritual centrality, but I am convinced its acceptance has been limited by the terms and modes in which it has been presented--a tonic for all that ails you. For all my efforts to not repeat the pitch in my generation, I sometimes feel like a reluctant carpetbagger.
ENCASED IN REVIVALISM? Why does holiness seem like it has to be pitched? Or defended? Perhaps it is the context of a revivalism that stiffly framed the doctrine in nineteenth-century America. Perhaps the two are inseparably wed. If so, I despair that godliness will ever be woven into and revealed through the fabric of the ordinary.
BEYOND PETTY PIETY. I work in my heart and head to reframe in terms of dailyness what the Bible shares as God’s holy intention (and graceful provision) for human life, for the sake of living its realities in my own life and in the hope of seeding its possibilities in a community context. I struggle to imagine holiness beyond the known and typical, as if to release it from its cultural entrapment and heighten its trajectory above petty piety. But much of the time it seems I am not doing very well. Still, I try.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
An unusual means of grace in the form of a roundabout journey
Ever walked a prayer labyrinth? This is not native to my free church tradition (to my knowledge), but I have come to appreciate the grace that I am made aware of particularly through this discipline. Here is a personal reflection on my experience of a prayer labyrinth. WEMO will host a "way of sorrows" prayer labyrinth (combining a labyrinth with a "Stations of the Cross" walk) during Holy Week, Monday thru Friday, 5-8 pm; all are welcome.
I walk in
aware there will be an ending
to this meandering way,
what I will face
whom I may meet
what I shall be called upon to do
around the next turn,
at the next station,
in the center of this labyrinth.
I soon realize this is no maze.
With grace, there are no dead ends,
no blind alleys,
no luring sideshows;
turn upon turn--
surprise and grief
I want to rush through,
complete the exercise,
get on to the next experience;
announce how odd it felt,
ponder why others see so much
and I so appallingly little.
Am I missing something, I wonder?
I slow my pace and
I pray to see, to hear,
to be still, still…
I round another turn.
Haven’t I been here before?
It feels so familiar,
but not quite the same.
I can see where I’ve been
and I have moved forward--
but have I progressed?
Is what is to be learned
what was previously not learned?
And how does what was embraced
or discarded or absorbed
shape or challenge or season
what now lies before me?
As I move toward the center,
I linger longer at each turn.
I am no longer bent on finishing,
or securing reportable insights,
or determining my path;
I feel as if I am being led,
as if I am following a way,
as if being guided
by previous and fellow travelers
who also walk
I am moved to the center
sooner or later, I do not know
(time now seems moot),
and I feel mostly gratitude--
gratitude with a twinge of regret:
regret that I entered so casually,
so presumptively and
walked so arrogantly so long--
how much was intended that I missed?
But gratitude overwhelms regret;
grace shapes our fears and pride
and gives sight to blind eyes.
And for that, and for all,
I shall be ever
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Kevin Phillips examines radicalized religion and raises concerns
RADICALIZED RELIGION. Kevin Phillips talks about his new book, American Theocracy, in a recent NPR interview with Terry Gross. Listen to it here. A book excerpt titled "Radicalized Religion" is also available at the link.
DANGEROUS TERRITORY. Phillips has worked within Republican and conservative ranks for years, but has broken ranks with Bush-style politics. He thinks the Bush Administration and the religious right wing have moved into dangerous territory. Phillips' insight can help us all--including those out there who care about the health and future of the Republican Party and the integrity of Christianity--if we care to listen.
My friend David Metzger lost his beloved wife, Shirley, a few days ago. Their lives together in health were a witness to intellectual, spiritual, and community-building vitality; their lives after Shirley's stroke more than a year ago have been a testimony to patient grace and caring service. Rest in peace, Shirley. Grieve walking ever forward, David.
I found this poem by Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore in a recent translation of Gitanjali; it makes me think of Shirley's life-end witness.
All that for days
remained unclear, indistinct
in my life's work,
all that did not blossom out clearly
in the dawn light,
I give You, O Lord,
in my life's last gift,
in my life's last song--
all that did not blossom out clearly
in the dawn light.
I could not arrange all this finally
on the strings of words.
I could not complete all this
on the strings of songs.
All this remained hidden
from the world's sight.
Yet it was attractive
in ever-new ways,
all this, Companion--
all that did not blossom out clearly
in the dawn light.
Because of this
I traveled throughout the world.
All my life-efforts
went into it.
In every possible way,
in my every action, with everyone,
even in bed and in my dreams
it remained with me,
uppermost in my thoughts.
Still it remained alone, by itself.
In the dawn light
it did not blossom out clearly.
For a long time
a continuous stream of people
wanted it in vain.
Turning aside at last,
they went away.
No one but You
it would get to know You.
This hope was ever
on its horizon--
but it never blossomed out clearly
in the dawn light.
From Show Yourself to my Soul, a new translation of Gitanjali by James Talarovic, Sorin Books, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1983.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
I picked up two books on cross-country cycling at the public library today. I had not heard of either, but of all the books available on the subject, these piqued my interest the most at the time.
Spokesongs (Pineleaf Productions, Seattle, 1997) interests me because in it Willie Weir tells of his adventures of riding through India, South Africa, and the Balkans. I am most interested, obviously, in learning of his experiences in India, which I hope to ride through beginning December 28, 2006.
Roll Around Heaven All Day by Stan Purdum (Communication Resources, Inc., Canton, Ohio, 1997) looks interesting more for the insights and tips for various types of riding experiences as he ventures across America. This book is subtitled "A Piecemeal Journey Across Amerca by Bicycle." The Interim Central Library of the Indianapolis/Marion County Public Library in downtown Indy has numerous books on cross-country cycling and other books on cycling. A good resource to keep in mind.
Monday, March 20, 2006
I have permanently posted the essay on doing justice, "To Break Every Yoke," that I prepared and present to the Free Methodist Historical Society on March 13, 2006. Your feedback and conversation via e-mail is welcome.
FREE METHODIST ROOTS IN JUSTICE ADVOCACY. Free Methodists formed a new communion in America in 1860 in affirmation of the freedom of all human beings (against slavery) and free access for the poor in houses of worship (against pew rents and pew sales); also, in affirmation of teaching Biblical holiness and practicing freedom in worship. My essay traces the roots of "doing justice" in the Bible, in early Methodism in England in the mid-1700s under the leadership of John Wesley, and in the priorities and practices of the early Free Methodists in America in the mid-1800's under the leadership of B. T. Roberts. I conclude the essay by citing barriers to and opportunities for "doing justice" in local Free Methodist congregations today. But you don't have to be a Free Methodist to imagine and begin to live justice through your faith!
Here is a very brief excerpt:
'PRE-EMPTIVE JUSTICE?' Some will argue that today we, in fact, ‘do justice’ quite routinely. It is true that much could be made of preventive (dare I say ‘pre-emptive?’) work against injustice which vigorous inreach and outreach ministries of a local congregation offer. Who can adequately measure the redemptive care and positive spiritual formation impacts that Sunday School, Christian Life Clubs, addictions recovery, Bible study groups, cell groups, counseling, solid Biblical preaching, and compassionate outreach achieve in individual, family, congregational, and community lives? Daily and weekly, Free Methodists are calling people to live as salt and light in the world, equipping them to stand against temptation and evil, and forming them to be people who are not conformed to the world but who may well transform it. But all our positive, formative, preventive action does not reduce in the least the question of our action or inaction in the face of outright injustice in our community, society, and world.
DANGER: POLITICAL CO-OPTATION. Perhaps part of our conversation should focus on the kind of justice we Free Methodists are currently prone to do. It seems rather obvious that over the past 25 years, Free Methodist members and pastors have been and are involved in the struggle regarding abortion, the provision of positive alternatives for pregnant women, and other “culture war” issues related to public education, sexuality, bioethics, and court decision-making. On the one hand it appears that “culture war” issues have been framed and promoted completely outside Free Methodism, wed to partisan politics, and accepted by our members, pastors, and congregations. On the other hand it appears that historic concerns of Free Methodists and others have been co-opted and distorted by political influence groups. As far as I am concerned, the wedding of partisan-motivated issue advocacy to denominational identity should be resisted at all levels in Free Methodist ecclesiology and practice, both now and in the future. As we consider involvement in justice issues, we should be asking: who is initially and ultimately being served by these priorities and passions? Is the manner in which this issue is being approached and addressed reflective of the Spirit of holiness or the heritage in which we serve? And, are we thinking globally, or even beyond our own socio-economic group or consumer desires, when we vote or act?
MOVING FORWARD TOWARD OUR ROOTS. One step further, let us ask: who is setting the social justice agenda? How are some issues deemed more important than others? It appears that current evangelical issues overlook and/or bypass core concerns that originally motivated Methodism and defined early Free Methodism: poverty, human slavery, and feminism. Let us ask ourselves: why has poverty and slavery, though these are the two gravest global issues, not even registered on the agenda of either major American political party in years? Why are we not alarmed at this? And what might we do in concert with other branches of the Body of Christ to focus on these global crises, even if national or Western political will regarding them is currently all but nonexistent?
Read the full document here.
They've promised us lots of snow for the first day of spring. I hope it is so. Nothing's more disappointing to a snow lover than to be told to expect six inches of snow and for it to fizzle to an inch or two. In anticipation, in hope, I will strap my cross country skis to the top of my Beetle and carve out time to head to Eagle Creek Park on Tuesday afternoon. Let it snow! What better way to welcome the new season?
Sunday, March 19, 2006
COMFORT CONFRONTED. I mistakenly pulled from the shelf The Cultural Subversion of the Biblical Faith by Union Seminary theologian James D. Smart. I decided to browse Smart’s book for a moment. I’ve had it since Olivet Nazarene University days (1981) where it was an assigned companion book in a class ALL students had to take—so whether or not they took Smart seriously or not, all Olivet grads of that era were at least confronted with his assertions. I wonder if, in pursuit of success, comfort, place, etc., any ONU grads have since given Smart’s challenges a second thought? I pulled a few quotes from the final chapter that shed some light on our reflection of the cross:
SELF-RIGHTEOUS, FEARFUL, BLIND. “God’s sovereignty in human affairs must be understood in the light of the cross of Christ. The cross is the product of human blindness and evil. Men erect the cross—self-righteous men angered by what met them in Jesus, fearful men anxious for the future of their religious and political establishment, blind men not able to see what they were doing. But when men have done all that they can do, another Will becomes manifest, determining the actual meaning of the event in history.”
MEANING FROM DISASTER. “God is in the event in the sense that in binding this Jesus so completely to himself and making him the revelation of his inmost nature as a God of righteousness and love, he made inevitable the clash with human wills that resulted in the cross. And God is sovereign in the event, not in making it happen but in determining its meaning for the world, transforming it from a sheer disaster into the climactic and central even of the whole history of redemption.”
OUR WILL CONFRONTED BY GOD’S WILL. “At the cross all passivity and fatalism in relation to the events of history are purged from the Christian. Our eyes are opened to the dread possibility that, like a Caiaphas or a Pilate or a Judas, we may let our political, economic, or religious loyalties make us strike out blindly against God. What has happened in history is what we human beings have willed should happen. We have to take full responsibility for it. And there is no possibility of a different kind of history—a new age of justice and mercy—until the will within us is confronted and conquered by the will of God that meets us so compellingly in the Christ of the cross.”
FIRST CONCERN. “The task of theology should be to help us see more clearly where the line runs between faithfulness and unfaithfulness, between uncompromising faith and a religion deeply compromised by its cultural involvements. Life in the twentieth century under the sign of the cross is not what comes naturally for us. We are much more comfortable with a civil religion that provides us with principles and ideals that point the way to success in both personal and national life. But comfort, success, or even national unity is hardly a first concern of any thoughtful Christian.”
Saturday, March 18, 2006
As part of a local Word application of a broader theme development by Asbury Seminary ethics and society teacher Dr. Christine Pohl, here is a pithy list that I constructed this week to share with our faith community (West Morris Street Free Methodist Church) in an effort to apply what it means to be a truth-loving, truth-telling community. My prayer is that we will, more and more, become a safe people and a safe fellowship in which friends are able to bear sometimes complicated and difficult truth.
1. Revere the living, active Word of God as the plumb line in our fellowship.
2. Be filled with the Spirit…so the fullness of truth will be known and shared in redeeming love.
3. Cultivate loving service to others as the baseline for spiritual perception and realistic discernment about the Kingdom of God.
4. Let the disciplines of accountability, truthfulness, forgiveness, and restoration begin within each of us.
5. Always speak truthfully to our neighbors.
6. Guard our thoughts as well as our words when fear, alarm, suspicion, or doubts arise.
7. Remember and bear the greatest truth: God’s reaching, forgiving, restoring, life-changing love.
8. When deception and untruth emerge, address it prayerfully, lovingly, simply, directly, discreetly, fairly, and completely.
9. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
10. Develop accountability networks that let truth-telling grow.
Friday, March 17, 2006
His twisted body lurched forward
in a determined jerking motion,
a rhythm of step, drag, step, drag,
one braced leg following the other,
arms swinging widely
as part of an effortful and
delicate balancing act.
mouth drawn up,
he determinedly focused
on the act of moving forward--
it cannot be called walking--
on his own two feet.
One got the sense that
everything others do easily,
mindlessly, has been
a major challenge for Keith
for sixty-four years
he fed himself.
he shaved his face.
he dressed each day.
With furrow-browed attention
Keith negotiated all actions of which
Most think nothing.
And so he talked slowly,
syllables forming ever so gradually
that one anticipated where
the sentence was going
and was impatiently tempted to
finish it for him.
But one learned to let Keith
finish his own sentences,
to complete his queries when possible.
It made a difference
in his eyes—whether they
shined into you
or turned greyly away.
Encased in this twisted body
was a sharp mind
and a sensitive heart.
his words were piercingly perceptive,
honed more pointedly by their
No one could joke and laugh
with more abandon than Keith.
No one could be more frustrated
with his pervasive condition than Keith.
he would convey mild embarrassment,
sheer agony would cloud his eyes.
Through it all,
he personified a dignity far beyond
the grip of cerebral palsy.
Keith lived beyond
the expectations of us all.
And now he rests
from the work of living,
from the labored effort
to speak, to move,
to give, to be,
preceding his cousins in
crossing from life to death,
or from death to life.
My cousin, Keith Sheffield, died in March 2001. He lived among us for 64 years. Keith, who lived with cerebral palsy, was the first of thirteen grandchildren of Willie Robert and Laura Mae Sheffield to die. I was privileged to join other Sheffield family cousins to bear his pall to a Cincinnati, Ohio gravesite. I wrote this piece in an attempt to memorialize him and to pay tribute to all who show the world how to live through severe disabilities.
Photo: The 13 Sheffield grandchildren (plus one now ex-spouse of a grandchild). Keith, the oldest cousin, is first on the right in this 197o photo. Me? I'm in the orange shirt in the middle.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
This poem is attributed to St. Patrick of Ireland, circa A. D. 377
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
One of the more emotionally overwhelming moments in my recent visit to India was an evening in a small tribal village in Maharashtra. We were privileged to help dedicate a new well that had been dug for the village by Maharashtra Village Ministries. One hundred villagers gathered for the festivities in the simple village meeting house, also built by MVM. We sang and told stories and honored those who had donated the land and invested in the effort. The joy and grace of this group of people will be with me for a long time.
Photo by Joe James
DIGNITY AMID NEED. In her book Making Room (Eerdmans, 1999), Christine D. Pohl makes a good point about combining care and respect, “seeing the dignity as well as the need of the person” to whom we offer hospitality. Pohl quotes Methodist founder John Wesley regarding sensitivity to those asking for help:
YOURSELF IN ANOTHER’S PLACE. “If you cannot relieve, do not grieve, the poor. Give them soft words, if nothing else. Abstain from either sour looks or harsh words. Let them be glad to come, even though they should go empty away. Put yourselves in the place of every poor man; and deal with him as you would God should deal with you”
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Pushed and pulled
Squeezed and pressured
Looked to and pointed at
Expected and set up with hidden expectations
Asked to lead and criticized in the leading
I am one in the middle
Risking for hope
Believing in community
Trusting for guidance
Putting it on the line
I am one in the middle
Casting off convention
Out on a limb
Digging for truth
I am one in the middle
Past and future
There and here
Those and these
Them and ours
That and this
I am one in the middle
I am graced to be in the middle
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
On Monday, in the question and answer period following my presentation on "doing justice" at the Free Methodist Historical Society's symposium "In Search of the Free Methodist Soul III," I was pointedly asked what I thought about the justice involved in America's war in Iraq.
I TRIED TO PASS. I tried to pass on the question, knowing I had one sentence in the entire 15-page paper with any reference to militarism and war-making, knowing that whatever I said in response to the question would be more remembered than anything else I wrote, presented, or said, and knowing that I would likely be pigeon-holed and dismissed for my response. But the moderator brought the question back to me, and I was obliged to respond.
WHAT I THINK. So, after hesitation, I said that I think the Bush Administration policy of preemptive war is immoral, unjust, unchristian, unprecedented in modern democracy, and ill-conceived. I said that once that policy was enacted and acted upon, it has been impossible for me to think of American military actions in terms of justice. I said that I think we are seeing just the beginnings of the dire international consequences of this morally untenable policy and subsequent actions. I said that if you start wrong you can't end up right. I said that I think it is still possible, however, for America to change its policy and explore redemptive alternatives. I also said that this is what I think and not necessarily what the Free Methodist Church may hold.
IS DETANTE THE BEST WE CAN DO? Some applauded my comments. But, I am sure I was branded. I am sure that will not be the end of it. I will not be surprised if such a statement costs me dearly. If it does, I am okay with that. Maybe I have been too cautious around pro-Iraq war Christians all along. My carefulness has not been out of fear but out of a sort of a detante. In other words, leave alone hot topics of disgreement known to be unproductive in conversation. But outside of the church arena, I spoke out against the preemptive war policy before it was adopted, spoke at an anti-Iraq war rally on the steps of Indianapolis' Monument Circle before it was launched, and have consistently tried to thoughtfully write about the implications of America's actions ever since. I have also prayed for and corresponded with troops. But, up to this point, I have kept my perspectives officially outside of the church and denomination. Somehow, I crossed a bridge on Monday and blurred the distinctions more than I had necessarily wanted. But it is crossed, so let us move forward in the spirit of redemptive courage, wisdom and grace.
The following is the conclusion of a presentation I made on Monday at "In Search of the Free Methodist Soul III," a symposium hosted by the Free Methodist Historical Society in Indianapolis. The theme of the event was a phrase often used by John Wesley to describe the applied or outward life of inward holiness - "justice, mercy and truth." I was honored to present the essay on "justice." After reviewing ways John Wesley and the early Methodists (mid-1700's in England) and B. T. Roberts and the early Free Methodists (mid-1800's in America) went about "doing justice" out of their similar faith orientations, I concluded by reflecting what I imagine sincere justice-making that is incorporated centrally into the life of a Free Methodist member and congregation today might look like, be like...
1. We stop convincing ourselves that justice issues are too messy and complicated to get involved in. We seek to fully understand the nature of particular injustices. We begin to trace their sources in irresponsible or sinful values, actions, approaches, alliances, or habits at personal, corporate, social, and/or national levels.
2. We no longer just hope somebody else is doing something about poverty or human trafficking. We identify how Free Methodists and others are engaging in both relief and redemptive counter to these injustices. We support this work financially and prayerfully. We identify corrupting activities and also commend best practices to our representative church, government, corporate, and community leaders at all levels.
3. We incorporate "doing justice" into the center of our descriptions and proclamations of salvation and discipleship. We reclaim Biblical guidance regarding "doing justice" and forge a fresh Free Methodist spiritual formation with this mandate and heritage at heart. We both preach grace and do justice in our evangelism and discipleship. We incorporate 'justice, mercy, and truth" into our Christian education, discipleship, leadership development, worship, and group life curriculum. Justice is not something talked about one Sunday of the year; it is woven into the texture of our life together.
4. We do not accept at face-value any politically-motivated or fear-based description or solution to social problems or injustices. We exercise a deeper sense of spiritual discernment and broader sense of social responsibility than can be reduced to sound-bytes, slogans, campaigns, and election-cycle political interest action.
5. We are educated and engaged regarding what is being accomplished within the Body of Christ and others regarding historically-core Free Methodist concerns--poverty, human slavery, and women's issues (for starters). We encourage involvement in local and international initiatives like the Christian Community Development Association, the Blueprint to End Homelessness, and the International Justice Mission.
6. We take a global outlook and approach to "doing justice." We move beyond Americanism for the sake of authentic Christianity and our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. While we address specifically American justice challenges like homelessness, affordable housing, livable wages, affordable health care, and access to quality public education at all levels, we do so within a global perspective. North American and Western lifestyles and choices are linked with the prevention or propagation of global poverty, human trafficking, fair labor, women's rights, and economic domination.
7. We openly commit to solidarity with the poor and the plight of the poorest of the poor in our society and around the world. As best we can, we look at the world through the eyes and experiences of marginalized people and groups. We no longer insulate ourselves from contact with the poor; instead we look for ways to engage the poor with meaning, linking our own lives inseparably with theirs. We visit, develop relationships, and become increasingly aware of the immediate struggles of neighbors. We give more weight to their testimonies and experiences than to politicians and news media sources. We work with neighbors to understand and address poverty.
8. As we act for relief of the poor and vulnerable, we link relief with reform and establish just structures, policies, and opportunities whenever possible. As we give ourselves to salvage lives that have been swept over the proverbial waterfall, just as readily we move expediently to address what has caused people and groups to be swept downstream in the first place. We treat symptoms and we address sources of harm. To modify a well-worn adage: give people fish, teach them how to fish, guarantee their right to fish, and do all in your power to insure that the water upstream is not being polluted so that they can actually eat and sell the fish they catch.
9. We are as redemptively involved in our communities for social reform as we are in our congregations for spiritual formation and revival. Free Methodist spiritual formation encourages active neighboring as well as service to support congregational life. Volunteers serve local justice concerns in balance with congregational outreach ministries. We see the two as complementary, not competitive or exclusionary.
10. We act as responsible investors in global market dynamics. If we invest in the stock market or benefit from stock market investments (such as through tax-sheltered retirement accounts), we do so, as much as possible, without blindly contributing to or benefiting from unjust labor or unethical business practices. We refrain from investments that promote violence, war-making, addictions, or unfair trade and labor practices. We examine local labor and market practices of companies in which we invest and call for social responsibility. When stock-market and multi-national corporate activity is identified as rapacious, it is called to accountability and change.
11. We act as responsible consumers of global products, resources, and services. We see a higher value than the lowest possible retail price tag. We challenge our habits of purchasing and consuming whenever it is known to directly or indirectly feed injustices for laborers and the poor around the world.
12. We refute violence against human beings in all its forms. We speak prophetically to militarism and the violence of unjust war, to be sure. We also reject of the language and norms of violence in our society and world. Alternatively, we engage in, pursue, and encourage methods of conflict resolution and shalom-bearing that are a positive testimony to the power of a holy God whose way is love.
13. We address justice issues in the Spirit and manner of perfect love. Even as we identify injustice, seek to relieve the oppressed, call perpetrators of injustice to accountability, and work for reform, we do so with the redemption of the perpetrating individual or organization in focus. Our very approach and spirit is the key to transformative outcomes. As one early Free Methodist put it: "to find the remedy is easy; successfully to apply it involves the principle of holiness."
14. We show by example and precedent what is possible when people of heart-felt faith and vision creatively engage the call to "do justice." We demonstrate the promise of restorative justice initiatives. We model best practices in socially redemptive ministries and volunteer services. We are proactive instead of reactive. We exemplify to the best of our ability, acting with all the light that we currently, collectively have, the principles of the kingdom of God. We live earnestly the petition we constantly make: "Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
I will send a fully copy of my paper via e-mail to anyone who requests it.
Monday, March 13, 2006
Former Lance Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis, riding as team leader for Phonak Hearing Systems for the past two years, has won back-to-back multiple-stage international professional cycling races in the past three weeks. Landis first won the Tour of California. On Sunday, he took the yellow jersey in the highly-regarded Paris-Nice event.
EARLY WINS BODE WELL. Landis finished well behind Armstrong in last year's Tour de France, completing the Grand Tour in 9th place. But he may be the best-positioned American to finish on the podium in Paris at the end of July. Levi Leipheimer is the other American hopeful (he finished 6th in last year's TdF). Big George Hincapie can't be counted out, either. There's a whole lot of racing between now and July, but wins against some of the best competition early in the season bode well for an authentic Tour contender. Look for Landis to race well, but not push for a win again...until July.
Photo credit: VeloNews.com
“Because the practice of hospitality is so significant in establishing and reinforcing social relationships and moral bonds, we notice its more subversive character only when socially undervalued persons are welcomed. In contrast to a more tame hospitality that welcomes persons already well situated in a community, hospitality that welcomes ‘the least’ and recognizes their equal value can be an act of resistance and defiance, a challenge to the values and expectations of the larger community.” from Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine Pohl
Saturday, March 11, 2006
The American Quaker who volunteered to invest part of his life as a peacemaker in Iraq and who, along with three other members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, was taken hostage on November 26, 2005, paid the ultimate price for his efforts yesterday. Tom Fox, 54, of Virginia, was found dead. His body was bound with signs of torture and gunshot wounds to his chest and head. Rest in peace, friend.
Friday, March 10, 2006
This poem by Wendell Berry is in Collected Poems, 1957-1982 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1987). Today, I saw crocuses and a range of bulbs Becky has planted over the 12 years we've lived on Aberdeen breaking through the early March soil and ground cover. Then I came across Berry's poem.
I made an opening
to reach through blind
into time, through
sleep and silence, to new
heat, a new rising,
a yellow flower opening
in the sound of bees.
Deathly was the giving
of that possibility
to a motion of the world
that would bring it
out, bright, in time.
My mind pressing in
through the earth's
dark motion toward
bloom, I thought of you,
glad there is no escape.
It is this we will be
turning and re-
Mark VanValin describes the cross as "the place where the hope of heaven touches a lost and dying world." I try to insert this description into a few Bible references to the cross: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mark 8:34). Or, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). Or, "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18; all references NIV).
OUT OF STAINED GLASS. While definitions invariably reduce a compelling and multifaceted mystery, this description has something going for it. The description takes the cross out of history and off the stained glass window. It puts it into the present and into the places where we suffer, question, struggle, can't seem to make it all make sense, don't see resolutions, and deal with very messy stuff with a hope that God's goodness will yet break through. It invites us into the picture and to walk the way of the cross.
IN A MICROSOFT WORLD. The cross must seem like a very out-of-place icon in a self-sufficiency-oriented society. I look at the icons on my computer screen. Every one of them is a can-do, point-and-click threshold toward me achieving what I want to achieve in my own way on my own time on my own terms. If I should see a cross icon on the screen, where would it take me? I don't want to go there. It is just out of place; a syntax error in a Microsoft world. Crosses are safer when they are on the walls and in the stained glass of ancient churches. The cross gets in the way of "progress."
IN THE WAY. John Fischer writes of a church in the northeast where a ten-foot tall cross is imbedded in the foundation of the sanctuary. It stands compellingly between the pews and the platform, just off center. Its horizontal cross bar is at a height of six feet so that, no matter where you sit or stand, whether as a congregant or leader of worship, you have to see through the cross--or duck to go around it. The cross is always in the way. Gloriously in the way. Maybe this, and not on a wall, is the most helpful place for the cross to be placed. Better yet, not in the church at all, but on the street, in the conference room, in the classroom, in the restaurant, at the stadium. See what happens when, in your mind's eye, you place the cross in the heart of your life's crossroad places these days.
Graphic: found at the Images of Jesus website
Thursday, March 9, 2006
My training for "Bicycle India 2007" has begun in earnest. I've trained indoors due to weather long enough. If we are to ride an average of 65 miles a day for six weeks less than a year from now, I've got to hit the pavement more consistently and for longer treks. I hope to be turning 30-mile rides daily by May, with longer treks when possible throughout the summer. By late Autumn, I want to be approaching 45-mile rides routinely. Our team has a week-long training ride planned for the Upper Penninsula of Michigan in July, with other options pending. Conditioning and preparation for a 2000 mile ride is not just a physical preparation, but a mental and spiritual challenge, as well.
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
MONEY MATTERS ARE HEART MATTERS. Earlier this week, I got to spend some time with a rare copy of B. T. Roberts little book First Lessons on Money (1886). Though it seems a bit of an an apology of Adam Smith’s economic philosophy, the book offers insights into the Free Methodist founder’s leadership on issues of markets, debt, and economic justice. Roberts, like John Wesley, saw in such matters an outworking of Christian love--reflecting God's loving justice and loving neighbor as self.
AGAINST MONOPOLY. For instance, in First Lessons on Money Roberts disparages unnecessary mergers and acquisitions for their negative impacts on workers and the market. “Monopolies,” he says, “whatever may be their form, operate against the welfare of the community at large." He advocates for a money market over against a paper- and/or stock-based market. He cautions against undue indebtedness. Regarding inherited money, Roberts declares that “our laws should make it difficult for one man to amass a vast fortune and it in his family from generation to generation.”
IN WHOSE INTEREST? Regarding influence peddling, he says, “the people should see to it that their representatives in Congress pass laws in their interest, and not in favor of the moneyed class and rich corporations to the injury of community generally.” He promotes “systematic benevolence” and quotes the enduring dictum of John Wesley: “Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”
Monday, March 6, 2006
Stan Ingersol pointed out an article in SojoMail (Sojourner magazine’s weekly e-mail) titled “Biking as a Lenten Practice” by Melissa Bixler. Good read.
FASTING FROM AUTOS? No joke: mobility is one of the major--if overlooked--aspects of our daily lives. Americans consume massive amounts of the world’s natural and energy resources in our daily auto-consumption. We drive willy-nilly without a second thought about the impacts of our petroleum-powered commutes--neither from the standpoint of greenhouse gases nor cost impacts on others. A forty-day experience of using pedal power instead of petroleum power for at least some part of daily travel might yield some creative insights that can shape the future.
"SLOW, DOWN, YOU MOVE TOO FAST." Certainly, biking instead of driving an auto sets a different pace and heightens exposure to people and the community. Biking, one can identify with the multiple millions of people for whom riding a bicycle to work or market is the standard form of transportation. Biking for Lent offers ample opportunity to pray for neighbors and the community along one’s commute.
A STEP FURTHER. Go a step further: donate the $50 you save on fuel during Lent to the Bishop’s Fund of the Free Methodist Church, designating it for “bicycles for India” in support of our effort to purchase 750 bikes for Christian outreach workers in India. $50 buys a rugged Atlas or Hero bicycle that will last a lifetime.
Photo: Three men ride along a Kolkata road. Bicycles and motorized bikes are more prevalent than autos in India.
FOLLOW UP. This is a follow-up to last week’s entry, “4 Practices that Make or Break Community.” On Sunday, I worked with Acts 4:31-5:16, in which you would recognize three significant occurrences:
(1) hospitality and care of the poor by the early church as property was sold and the proceeds distributed to the poor;
(2) the tragic dishonesty of Ananias and Sapphira; and
(3) the subsequent fear, reverence, growth, healing matrix that occurred.
Below, I share the following five observations and then offer four ways to engage these practices this week. First, five observations on the “4 Practices” (developed by Dr. Christine Pohl) and Acts 4:31-5:16:
WHEN IN TROUBLE… 1. The beginning point for an empowering community life is turning together to God in complete confidence. Faced with threats and problems, the early Christians went to their knees before God. At their “Amen,” God filled them with the Spirit for boldness and witness.
HOSPITALITY. 2. Hospitality calls for making room for others--even to the point of giving up our own privileges--at the table God has spread.
TRUTH IN LOVE. 3. Truth-telling means bottom-line integrity, but also a readiness to “speak the truth in love” for the healing and health of the community.
FOLLOW-THROUGH. 4. Promise-keeping means simple follow-through on the great promises and small commitments that make a community a shining witness to the glory of God.
GIFTS & GRATITUDE. 5. When we see life and grace as a gift of God, we will more readily recognize and accept each other’s gifts—and let gratitude flow.
MAKE ROOM. Here are four ways to engage these practices this week: 1. Make room for a disconnected, newly-seeking, or hard-to-like person with your time, financial resources, or table fellowship.
A WORD FITLY SPOKEN. 2. Instead of just saying whatever’s on your mind (“well, it’s the truth!”), speak what is healing, edifying, and restoring. The Bible says “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pitchers of silver.”
BEYOND “OH, THAT,” 3. Instead of making new or more promises, revisit those you have already made. What care, creativity, and new attention might you bring to an “oh, that” commitment?
GIVE GRATITUDE A BREATHING CHANCE. 4. Don’t suffocate gratitude with comparisons. Stop comparing the present with the past, what is with how you wish things were, and what you have with what you don’t (or can’t) have. Appreciate who’s here; embrace the present moment. See if gratitude doesn’t naturally well up. If it does, express it generously!
Sunday, March 5, 2006
“126” in Show Yourself to My Soul, a translation of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, translated by James Talorovic
No matter how much I’m hurt
by blame, sadness, and insults,
there is nothing to lose.
When I’m lying in the dust,
I don’t have to worry about a seat.
When I’m poor and bereft,
I ask for Your favor
When people praise me,
when I’m happy,
I know within me
there is much deceit
in what they say.
This deceit goes to my head
as I proudly carry it about.
Alas! At such times
I don’t get time
to go to You.
Saturday, March 4, 2006
This week, President Bush was right to talk about 300 million Indians who are approaching middle class earning and spending capacity, people who have interest in Amercian-made technology and products. But the President did not care to mention the fact that there are another 330 million Indian people who are not only living in abject poverty, but who are considered beyond caste, untouchables, Dalits (meaning, in Hindi, "crushed," "stepped on," "oppressed.") or Harijans (a well-intended designation given by Mahatma Gandhi, meaning "people of God"). To compare America to India as somehow co-equal in the exercise of democracy and justice, and to not even acknowlege the fact that 330 million Indian people continue to be utterly left behind and disregarded by a middle class clamoring for a place in the secular economic sun, is, at best, insensitive and dishonest. Dalits are discriminated against routinely and openly in Indian society. It is as if the American leader just overlooked a third of India's population who are treated and regarded worse than African-Americans prior to the Civil Rights movement. The history of American democracy and integrity of leadership calls for something better than this dismal representation.
Read about oppression against the Dalits in India.
Walt Wangerin's book Reliving the Passion is a good resource for an intentional walk through Lent. Wangerin is a Lutheran minister (and writer and teacher) whose stories from his small Evansville, Indiana parish live vibrantly in numerous books. Daily scripture readings from the Gospel of Mark combine with Wangerin's insightful story weavings on the journey to the Cross. Wangerin offers four reasons for doing Lent...
ASHES. First, "it is necessary now to remember death, our own and our Savior's." Wangerin sees in the story of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21) a warning and invitation for us all. "Fool, this is as simple as it gets: if you do not interrupt your life with convictions of the death to come, then neither shall your death, when it comes, be interrupted by life. Life now, death later, indeed! But your life will be now only, and brief. Your death will be forever." Wangerin adds: "When we genuinely remember the death we deserve to die, we will be moved to remember the death the Lord in fact did die--because his took the place of ours."
THE MIRROR. A second reason for reliving the Passion is this: "the passion of Christ, his suffering and death, is a mirror. Only when I have the courage fully to look, clearly to know myself--even the evil of myself--will I admit my need for healing. But if I look away from the one I have hurt, I also turn away from the one who might forgive me; I reject the very source of my healing. It is right to recognize our sin as the cause of death, to see in Christ's story our sorrier selves and our need of his holy self."
THE ROADMAP. Third reason: "It is expedient to study the Way by which all his disciples follow him, and to receive the promise of a personal meeting with Christ on the Way." Wangerin looks at Christ's passion as "a detailed itinerary of the disciple's life. But even though we walk the way of conflict, criticism, enmity, persecution, suffering and death, Jesus ever goes before us."
GRIEVE NOW, JOY LATER. The fourth good reason to do Lent is to prepare for joy, Wangerin points out. "The difference between shallow happiness and a deep sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives happiness dies. It cannot stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. In the sorrows of Christ, as we ourselves experience them, we prepare for Easter, for joy."
Graphic: One of several hundred portrayals of Jesus from the "Images of Jesus" website
Friday, March 3, 2006
We sauntered into
Ash Wednesday's service.
We were marked--
as much a sign of
obligation as mild
as we straggled up the
we're on board--
a bit bewildered about
where this journey ends,
somewhat unsure of
the purpose of this
When inspiration flags
discipline and duty
Where vision is obscured,
the immediate horizon a fog,
Others seem more
certain of this voyage--
Sails are trimmed and
crew busy themselves.
But we aren't sure
whether we should
settle in to rest
or keep watch
at the bow.
We're asked to
give up something--
to lighten the load?
Have we not already
given up home and land
for this unteathered vessel
to an undisclosed
After a few days at sea
we notice atop the mast
flies a flag--are those
What were we thinking
when we bought the ticket
marked "Destination Port:
Thursday, March 2, 2006
COURTING SCENE. The American President is in India, meeting with the Indian Prime Minister. America's industrialists and merchants salivate anew at India's market potential. The world's most powerful democracy smilingly bears down on the world's largest. One wants cheap labor and more market control. The other wants resources to generate energy for its billion-plus people and emerging economy. It looks like each leader thinks he's getting what he wants.
BEWARE, INDIA. Beware, India. Remember the English East India Company. You owe no one nothing. You are beholden to no power. You are obligated to no nation. Beware, India. While some say "democracy," they act to entangle you in their web of obligation and control. Approach all offers with caution. Walk away unless your terms are met. Do not let yourself be plunged again into subjection, even in the name of goodwill and freedom. Believe in your own capacity and self-determined future. Do not settle for mere technology and respectable industrialization. Believe in your ability for peaceful leadership in a not-too-distant future.
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
The following is Thomas a Kempis’ (died in 1472) “Meditation on Death,” Chapter 23 of The Imitation of Christ. John Wesley read his personal translation of a Kempis’ book often (it is reported that he died with it sewn into the lining of his topcoat).