Tuesday, January 31, 2006

FAREWELL, KOLKATA










Driving down the road I pass fires
flickering from a thousand shacks.
The aroma of burning wood, incense, and cow dung
wafts through air hazy from the smoke.
Overhead, planes climb skyward to distant lands.
I, too, will fly away in a day.
But Kolkata’s aroma will follow me.
May these offerings of survival and suffering
reach the nostrils of God.
And may God visit Kolkata
with His Spirit’s transforming fire.
SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT INDIA
Photo: the crypt of Mother Teresa of Calcutta at the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity
BEHIND THE SCENES. I realize that I am being given a very privileged introduction to India. I am coming in not so much as a tourist staying in the finest resorts, being pampered with the best accommodations, being steered away from the places that I see daily. I am coming in as one privileged to see and experience a more authentic India, its underside or real side, perhaps. I know I am not seeing it completely, but what I have seen helps me begin to understand, love and intercede for this people.
TEACHING AND LEARNING. From Friday through Monday, Bishop Joe James and I participated in the Immanuel Free Methodist Annual Conference and pastor’s training retreat. We shared the teaching/training responsibilities and preaching for 200 pastors from across India. I taught four sessions and preached at the Annual Conference. Many of them had traveled 12-18 hours by train to participate. I think it’s safe to say that their combined incomes would amount to less than $100,000 American dollars. This is a conference that doubled the number of churches and gained 40,000 members in one year. Maybe they should be coming to America to show us how it’s done.
CARRYING YOUR GOD. We walked on the Howrah Bridge today. It’s the third longest cantilever bridge in the world, a massive structure that spans the nearly one-mile wide Hoogley River. 200,000 people cross between Kolkata and Howrah each day, perhaps half on foot. We walked on the bridge among this hurting, hoping mass of humanity. Many people carry large, heavy bundles on their heads. I pointed out to Bishop Joe James a man carrying a large statue of the Hindu god Krishna on his head. “Look,” I said, “he’s carrying his god.” The Bishop replied: “I have a God who carries me.”
BRITAIN’S DOMINATION. There is just no way to avoid saying it: The British plundered this country. In the name of the Christian God and the guise of a free market, the English East India Company (a business corporation), backed by English military power, began exploiting India even before England began to put a stranglehold on the 13 colonies in America. Americans revolted, signing a Declaration of Independence in 1776 and winning independence a few years later. But India continued to be exploited by Britain for another 175 years. Today I read India’s Declaration of Independence, dated January 26, 1930. It would be another 17 years before that independence was realized (relatively nonviolently, under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi). For all the “good” that the West thinks England did for India, the Indian declaration spells out clearly how Britain ruined India economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually. How does a nation recover from 200 years of such exploitation in the face of the future shock of an exploding technological age? Slowly.
MISSIONARIES OF CHARITY. We visited the mother house of the Missionaries of Charity and sat awhile by the crypt of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The Missionaries of Charity, a Catholic order founded by Mother Teresa, have committed themselves to serve and love the poorest of the poor here and around the world. I came away with a sense of awe and thanksgiving for the depth, magnitude, joy, and simplicity of the Missionaries of Charity’s work.
TEN FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF INDIA

1. IT’S WARM. Right off the plane, I felt it: it is warm in January--85 degrees warm. This is India’s coolest month. Kolkata (this is its official Bengali spelling now) has been sunny and about 80 degrees each day, dipping down to about 65 at night. In summer months the temperatures soar much higher. Even at 80 degrees most men were long sleeves and most women don saris (the material is quite lightweight).

2. DELIBERATE PACE. India is a slower yet more deliberate pace of life than America. Make no mistake, I have observed little idleness in India; people busy themselves. But there is little frantic, frivolous, fashion-driven behavior. Small things matter and on-timeness takes a back seat to duty and kindness. Here, people take time for tea (chai) each mid-morning and mid-afternoon; it’s a left-over British tradition that seems to fit well.

3. IF IT FUNCTIONS, REPAIR IT. My first impression was that there is nothing less than fifty years old in Kolkata--buildings, vehicles, equipment. I was mistaken. The new and relatively-new is ever-present, it is just overwhelmed by what is old, frayed, and scarred but functional. Old things are worth repairing and caring for if they are functional, regardless of the introduction of surpassing technologies. This “distressed look” is complemented by dress that seems to come from Bible times. In addition, building exteriors are dulled and stained from nearly continuous rain from July through September each year. This society, for whatever reason, seems to keep it running and serving purposefully generations after Americans would have abandoned it, torn it down, imploded it, replaced it and/or discarded it.

4. WORLD OF WHEELS. If it has wheels, it’s viable transportation. I’ve seen just about everything on the streets and roadways: trucks, cars, auto-rickshaws, pedaled rickshaws, man-pulled rickshaws, motorcycles, motor scooters, bicycles, bicycle carts, and four-wheeled carts being pulled by men. What I haven’t seen: tractor-trailer trucks. At least half of the vehicles show scars of sideswiping and lots of bumps and nicks. They are just “broken in.”

5. FAMILY ON A MOTORCYCLE. You can put an entire family on a motorcycle. Numerous times I have observed a man riding a motorcycle, his sari-clad wife seated side saddle on the back, a youngster seated in front of the man and a baby in the arms of the mom. Few wear helmets. Cycle of choice is a Hero Honda (apparently a cooperative effort between Honda and a native Indian cycle maker).

6. TRAFFIC FLOWS. Traffic literally flows: from one side of the road to the other, in and out, squeezing in behind and inching through a gap. Tailgating is essential and daring to turn in the face of oncoming traffic--standard. Horn honking is non-stop, the horn being used for to signal everything from “I’m passing you” to “get out of the way.” At first I thought it was all just one big game of chicken. But folks manage (miraculously, it seems to me) without much incident and certainly with no sign of road rage. Joe James and I had a great time with a phrase painted on the back of a bus: “Distance creates love.”

7. CULTURAL POTPOURRI. India takes the global trophy on racial, ethnic, language, and religious diversity. It is not so much the diversity of people who come to India, it is the incredible diversity of Indians themselves. There are no less than 19 official languages, but more than 80 languages are spoken throughout the country. And while India is 80% Hindu (a native-born religion with an infinite range of belief within Hinduism), many other religions, including Christianity (currently estimated at 2.4% of the population), flourish. This has got to be the most pluralistic place on the planet.

8. HOUSING MATERIAL. Apparently, dwellings can be made of almost any combination of scavenged materials. The shelters that line the roadways around Kolkata are built of bamboo, corrugated steel, cardboard, lattice, branches, leaves, whatever. Some are covered with mud or dried cow dung (which helps keep insects out). It is irony to see such a series of dwellings underneath huge billboards advertising new high-rise condominium developments.

9. HAND ME THE FOOD. Most Indians eat with their right hand (no utensils) quite efficiently. This occurs at every level of Indian society. Of course Americans eat with our hands, too. I do every time I go for fast food or eat pizza, chicken, etc. But digging your fingers into a pile of rice curry--that takes skill. No one uses their left hand at the table; it is used for other necessary duties.

10. CLEAN IS RELATIVE. At first I just thought no one cared much about cleanliness. But, after a week, I think it’s that Indians are just not fanatical or obsessive-compulsive as the West is regarding cleanliness. It’s just a different standard for a different culture. And even within India there is apparently a range of tolerance for dirt.

Monday, January 30, 2006

WEEKEND UPDATE FROM INDIA

I took this photo at the Republic Day parade last week. Incredible regalia and pride of India on display. About 500,000 citizens watched quietly as the parade processed. See more photos from India at http://bicycleindia2007.blogspot.com

KOLKATA AT NIGHT. It is Monday night. Kolkata is smokey at night. It must come from the vehicles (no anti-pollution standards), small cooking fires beside the roads, incense being offered to Hindu gods, and lanterns that are used in the small shack shops along the roads. It's a heavy haze that smells like, well, all of the above (and a little bit more, given the lack of sewers in the makeshift dwellings).

ANCIENT CHARM. As I see school children, I miss my own children and the children at WEMO. All the school children here wear uniforms. They are so cute. I saw two little boys rolling bicycle tires down the street, pushing them with sticks (something I have seen in photos from much earlier days in America). Things seem ancient here. I had a man weigh my purchase with a hand-held scale with weights and measures. Also, I saw a man take up his sleeping mat and walk away.

ANNUAL CONFERENCE COMPLETE. We just finished three days of teaching and preaching at the Immanuel Annual Conference that was held at a Catholic retreat center here in Kolkata. Some of the 200 pastors present will board trains this evening and travel between 12 and 18 hours to get back to their homes across India. I preached this morning (Monday) and taught four sessions over the previous two days. I spoke through a translator, sometimes two---one for Hindi and one for Oriya. Very interesting.

GOD MUST SMILE. You should here these pastors sing. No accompaniment other than a drum and tamborine. Imagine 200 pastors singing Indian-sounding Christian songs they love and know well in their own languages--clapping, some dancing. It is inspiring. Bishop James and I sang to them on Sunday, a duet of "Grace That Is Greater Than All Our Sin" with the pastors joining us for "Amazing Grace" in their respective languages. All I can say is, when these pastors sing, God must be smiling.

TEN ORDAINED. This afternoon was the ordination service. Ten pastors in white robes were ordained by Bishop James and Bishop Lohara. In addition, 40 pastors became Conference Ministerial Candidates. What a sight! I took some pictures that I hope to place on the bicycleindia2007 blog soon. In addition to the men, one woman became a CMC.

KOLKATA RISING? Kolkata is at least 14 million people. There's no way we will see it all before we leave for Nagpur early on Wednesday morning. We plan to visit Mother Teresa's mother house of the Missionaries of Charity on Tuesday. There are two Kolkatas. One is an up and coming, middle class, high-tech Kolkata. New buildings and office developments are rising on the city's edge. But this Kolkata exists side by side with people who have nothing but bikes, carts, and baskets. They literally live underneath the billboards announcing new condominium developments. A man pulls a cart laden with cabbage next to a sign advertizing Ford automobiles.

CHURCH HOPES. Currently, there is not a Free Methodist Church in Kolkata. But Bishop Lohara tells me he is praying for a breakthrough and that he hopes to have an established church here within two years. Cities are always the hardest to break into. But knowing Joab Lohara, he will find a way if a door can be opened.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

ANOTHER DAY IN KOLKATA

Kolkata is growing on me. Joe James and I have been in India's largest city and we are slowly getting to know the "neighborhood" around our hotel in the heart of the city. Here are a few photos that describe better what I cannot begin to describe.






Friday, January 27, 2006

UPDATE FROM INDIA

This is the first time I have been able to access the Internet since we came to Kolkata (Calcutta) earlier in the week. I will try to be brief now and add more later (including photos).

DUAL MISSION. While this is primarily a teaching and church administrative mission, Bishop Joe James and I are also gathering information and taking in as much cultural and local input as we can in preparation for the 2,000-mile bike ride to raise funds to rebuild Umri Christian Hospital next year.

CONFERENCES AND TRAININGS. Thus far, we have participated in the Agape Conference Annual Conference, visited churches, and been in meetings. Bishop James has been meeting with the three Indian Bishops -- Nerendra John, John Gillalopoli, and Joab Lohara (you may recall that Joab Lohara preached at WEMO last January). Yesterday it was my privilege to bring devotions to these four men of God. I have been preparing to teach in pastor's training sessions that begin on Saturday. In all, we will have six days of pastoral training. I will teach on Leadership, Stewardship, the the distinctive characteristics of the Free Methodist Church. The Immanuel Conference alone will have over 200 pastors in attendance at these trainings. Thank you for your prayers for us.

INCREDIBLE GROWTH. By the way, last year there were only 100 churches in the Immanuel Conference. They challenged each church to plant one church during the year. Today, there are 200 churches, though some are quite fledgling. These are mostly in rural, woodland areas of northern and northeastern India.

SIGHTS, SOUNDS, SMELLS. One does not need to go sightseeing in Kolkata to be overwhelmed by the sights, smells, people, and the spirit of the place. Already one of the largest cities in the world, it is growing rapidly as villagers move to the urban area. Many live literally in tents along the highways or on the streets. A walk down six blocks and I see: numerous fruit stands and vendor shops, people bathing on the street corner, cows roaming wherever they want, goats tied up, monkeys on leashes, people begging, people busy trying to make a living any way they can, lots of humanity on the sidewalks (sometimes I am stepping over them). All this is beside busy streets jammed with trucks, cars, auto-rickshaws, rickshaws (Kolkata is the only city in the world were men pull rickshaws), bicycles, carts, pedestrians...and no street signs, no lane markings, no signals. Lots of honking...but no one gets upset. They just yield when they have to and honk and take advantage of another driver when they can. No one gets hurt. It's rather amazing.

LOOKING FORWARD. We plan to be in Kolkata through Tuesday then travel inland to ride for two days before conducting more conferences and trainings in Mumbai (Bombay). So far, I am good and healthy. The food is great. But I don't drink the water. Cheers!

Monday, January 23, 2006

FIRST IMPRESSION OF INDIA: TRAFFIC FLOW

Wouldn't you know it, the first and biggest impression I have of India is about traffic.

Disney World, Cedar Point and King’s Island are known for their thrill rides. But none can compare with one’s first drive through the city of Hyderabad. There are no painted lines on the roads, no signs, and few traffic signals in a city of more than six million people. Heavy traffic seems to weave seamlessly from one side of the road to the other. I have never been so sure my life would end so many times in such short a time as I was on the drive from the airport to the Operation Mobilization campus. I sat in the front seat, put my video camera on auto, and pointed it at the windshield. I’m sure I could make a thrill ride out of this video. Vehicles range for big trucks (I’ve seen no semis) to motor scooters and bicycles. The Indian-made Ambassador seems to be the most prevalent car, though there are lots of three-wheeled auto-rickshaws. I’m still trying to figure out the rules of the road, but, essentially, one drives of the left, passes on the right, honks the horn liberally when one wants to pass a slower vehicle, yields to the left when a faster vehicle honks to pass, moves over as necessary, etc. It just flows. There are no such things as lanes, in reality or concept. No one gets upset at having to stop suddenly for another vehicle or when a truck pulls out in front of you. One just yield when one has to and takes advantage when possible. You don’t look back; you press on. Of all the things that impressed me this first day in India, it was the color and flow of traffic.
EN ROUTE TO INDIA

Photo: Passengers for KLM flight 873 wait in the Amsterdam International Airport to board the DC-10 to Hyderabad, India.

AIRPORTS AND AIRPLANES. Thus far, the journey from Indianapolis to India has been airplanes and airports. It began with an hour-long flight from Indy to Memphis. The international flight from Memphis to Amsterdam was delayed for three hours on the ground due to a mechanical problem. The delay meant that many passengers missed their connecting flight in Amsterdam. Had our flight from Amsterdam to Hyderabad departed on time, we, too, would have been set back a day. Fortunately, the KLM flight to Hyderabad was rescheduled so that we actually had a few hours to spare in the Amsterdam airport. I write this en route to Hyderabad, an eight-hour flight. We are to arrive in central south India around 5 am and then embark on a day full of activities at the Free Methodist Agape Annual Conference.

CAN'T BELIEVE I'M IN HOLLAND. Still, I am pinching myself: I am in Amsterdam, Holland. The land of tulips and windmills and of a thousand canals. Some cut tulips are available in the airport shops, as are beautifully shaped and painted wooden ones. I look at the postcards of Holland's historic places; this is as close as I will get to this northern land. But it is wonderful just to listen to the Dutch language and observe the airport and airline staff. There is distinction and pride in them. I recall that my Grandma Hay was Dutch. Her maiden name was Avery, her grandmother having come to America from Holland. These people remind me of Grandma Hay--square jawed, stocky, robust, curt but with a ready flare for humor.

TIME WARP. I am really messed up about time right now. My Indianapolis time frame says its 2:00 pm on Sunday, January 22nd. Amsterdam time says its 8:00 pm. And, after an 8-hour flight, we’ll arrive in Hyderabad, India at 5:00 am. I slept a very fitful sleep overnight from Memphis to Amsterdam, waking at least hourly. I’ve napped occasionally today. Now I’m wide awake, though I know I should be trying to sleep, given the day that is ahead of us.

JOHN RUSKIN READ. just finished reading John Ruskin’s book On Art and Life. Now I see why Penguin publishers selected it as an important and influential work. Ruskin articulates succinctly the importance of involving the creative capacity of every person in their labor. He interprets the Psalms correctly in naming “oppressing the poor” as a primary issue in his day; I think it is also a critical contemporary issue. Oppression in the form of unfair wages and taking advantage of misfortune—to Ruskin, and to me, this is stealing, flat out. I underlined my reading profusely and will likely quote Ruskin rather freely for months to come.

RUSKIN AND INDIA. How interesting to read Ruskin on the way to India, a land that Ruskin’s country, England, pillaged for two centuries without ever officially "conquering" it. The East India Company, however, wrote the book that multi-national corporations are following today. A corporation, in the name of democracy and capitalistic trade, divided and conquered India, subjecting its good people, plundering its resources, and setting this people back for at least two centuries. Now, it is not a nation that subjects and takes advantage of the poor of many so-called developing countries, but multi-national corporations which justify their actions in the name of globalization and a world economy, and which simply take advantage of resources and advantages and pressure people to work for a pittance of what their labor is actually worth. Capitalism without restraint (to use a Ruskin principle) is an ugly, immoral sight to behold.

MISPLACED FOCUS ON IRAQ. With the rise of multi-national corporations and the globalization of Western economy, it puzzles me how America found its way into an unnecessary, protracted, and incomprehensible war with Iraq. With this war, America is alienating and offending many of the very people it should be seeking to woo and win for strategic trade and mutual resourcing. In the space of four years, American leadership has managed to alienate (or outright enrage) much of the Muslim world and lost its moral high ground and position as a future leader of the world. American leadership is into the worst aspects of Empire when it should be winning the hearts of its global neighbors.

WHAT FUTURE FOR INDIANS? I note that the vast majority of my fellow passengers on the flight to Hyerabad are Indian, and appear to be relatively secularized Indians, at that. Less than a third wear traditional dress; most of my fellow passengers seem as secular as me. This could be misleading. But my sense from reading to this point is that India is secularizing, globalizing, Westernizing in its growing middle class quite rapidly. Surely this is a small minority of its total population, but it will have intended and unintended impacts. Some may herald India’s move into high-tech industry, global competitiveness, and secularization. I raise the question: is this really what Indians want? The secular West has prevailed over the past two centuries, but it has done so at the expense of millions of lives lost in the violence of wars and genocide and holds its place by the threat of violence and by many unjust economic props. India may be chasing something it does not really want. One gets the sense that the 21st century belongs to China and India. Pray that the not rule as they have been ruled; pray that they lead in an alternative way to how they have been made to follow.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

PREPARING FOR A SOJOURN IN INDIA — PART 3

INDIANA AND INDIA. So, on this Saturday morning I am in downtown Indianapolis enjoying the bustle of folks at Shapiro’s deli. This evening I will board a plane that will take me to very different digs. If all goes according to schedule, before Sunday dawns in Central Indiana, our transatlantic flight will touch down in Amsterdam. And before Sunday’s Indiana dusk, I will be on the ground in the ancient land for which native Americans and our state was mistakenly named (quick quiz: what explorer thought he had landed in India?). Pray with me for safe passage and a heart-rending sojourn.

A CLOSER FIELD OF SERVICE. Honestly, I have never had much interest in traveling abroad--either for mission or tourist purposes. I am not one who sees “the fields white unto harvest” in other lands and cultures and longs to be there to be a soul reaper. I am one who sees the city and community in which I have been placed and realizes that it will take a lifetime of passionate service to know it well, love its people fully, and see redemption--personal and social--bring transformation, justice, and peace. If understanding what is happening in other cities and cultures contributes to this, the perspective and help is welcome.

NO INTENTIONAL TOURIST. Neither has the idea of being a world tourist appealed to me. The thought of seeing the Holy Land holds little enticement for me. Cruise ships? Please!! There is enough liberation theology in me to know that wherever I go as a tourist, I will not see, be shown, or experience the authenticity of any international locale. I would be there--wherever--realizing that the industry that brought me there and hosts me is likely reinforcing unjust systems that perpetuate dominance, submission, and poverty. In most parts of the world, what is indigenously real and ultimately authentic is considered either too objectionable or too dangerous for an American tourist’s sensitivities.

A BRIEF AND MEASURED IMMERSION. So, why go to India? Why plan to participate in a 2,000 mile bike ride through India? The India I have been invited to experience on this visit is at the level of indigenous local Christian congregations, most of which are among the outcaste. The Untouchables are more numerous than the population of the United States. Talk about a minority among an oppressed minority! Instead of a veil of superficiality and pretense, I anticipate a brief and measured immersion into a culture of poverty in order to explore how the Good News is incarnated. Hopefully, this immersion will empower me to invest more purposefully and carefully in Indianapolis--and the world--for the rest of my life.

Friday, January 20, 2006

TOWARD A MORE JUST & LIVABLE COMMUNITY: 10 IDEAS THAT WORK

These are in no particular order. I have had direct engagement with most of these and believe deeply in all of them. They are not necessarily "in your face" acts for peace and justice, but they are effective at achieving significant outcomes in the face of isolating urban environments, ineffective outcomes for justice, depressed economies, neighborhood demise, lack of community connectivity, unfair wages, etc.

1. NEW URBANISM. This community architectural design approach creatively and comprehensively retrofits urban and suburban areas that don’t work in terms of neighbor isolation, non-connectivity, fear, and over-commercialization followed by big-box vacancies. Read Howard Kuntzler's Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere to get a handle on the issues at stake for communities at large. Particularly, the principles of mixed-income level dwellings and neighborhoods, walkability, green space, and town centers are good hope for communities and neighbors who want to see the promise of urban living fulfilled. Where implemented, this design does a lot to indirectly impact social change in a community.

2. RESTORATIVE JUSTICE. Instead of merely locking up the perpetrator of a crime, restorative justice brings perpetrator and victim together in conferences that confront hard facts and feelings but often bring mutual healing to both--and to the community. Victim and perpetrator agree to consequences and restitution. I’ve seen this work for non-violent crimes and particularly with juvenile offenders. This is more what “justice” is supposed to look like.

3. PAID TIME FOR SCHOOL INVOLVEMENT. Employers who take a broader view of their workplace health and long-term viability of their business in a community will see the value of encouraging their employee-parents to get directly involved in helping make their children’s formal educational experience a success. Businesses and manufacturers have nothing to lose and everything (including positive community image and regard) to gain.

4. LOCAL ECONOMY. Shop local. Buy locally-made and exchanged products when possible. Frequent the farmers’ market. Check out the consignment shops. Ask for more locally-grown and locally-produced products at the stores you like. Let retailers know you’re interested in local products.

5. NEIGHBORHOOD BLOCK PARTIES. When’s the last time you attended a block party? Why not host one? If that’s not your cup of tea, what is? Neighborhood clean-up? Neighborhood garage sale? Neighborhood collection for the food bank? What can you do to get to know your newer and older neighbors? What are you waiting for? What holds you back?

6. CROSS-CULTURAL EXCHANGES. Take the opportunity whenever you can to expose yourself to any other culture than the American suburban consumerist one. No, going to Taco Bell is not crossing cultures. What ethnic festivals are held in your community? What restaurants are authentic? What communities of faith are available? Take in a student for a semester. Seek to develop relationships across cultures. Know that it will take your time. How sad to come to the end of a lifetime and only to have experienced one’s own culture.

7. LIVING WAGE. Try to live for a month on what the income from a $7.00 per hour (or less) full-time job. Until you do, don’t you dare say another careless word about the minimum wage or how hard it is to get good service at restaurants, retail outlets, or just about any service-industry location. Every worker deserves to be able to actually live on the fruit of their work. Don’t tell me about it being impossible to pay living wages when CEO’s, managers, and stockholders are laughing all the way to the bank. Pay the living wage and see what happens to worker loyalty, productivity, and readiness to support your interests.

8. INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT ACCOUNTS. Michael Sherraden’s work, Assets and the Poor, begat a good thing. He found that the major difference between intergenerational poverty and ending it are assets. Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) are special savings accounts for neighbors living at poverty levels. For every dollar saved, three will be matched by a special fund. The catch: the multiplied savings can be used only for asset-building: to pay for higher education, vocational training, purchase of home, equipment for starting one’s own business, or cash to buy into an existing viable business.

9. RESPONSIBLE CONSUMER SPENDING & STOCKHOLDER INVESTING. Wonder why these prices are so low? You KNOW it’s not a wonder. It’s usually based on unfair trade practices. It’s usually based on cheap or near-slave labor being pressured by US-based big-box retailers. You are not contributing to a developing economy unless your product bares a “fair trade” indication. Consumers reinforce bad international capitalist behavior daily. We are complicit. Each of us can buy more responsibly. Stock traders have a much higher level of responsibility and opportunity than consumers. Do the right thing by working neighbors and consumers in other parts of the world!

10. ASSET-BASED COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT. John McNight and Jodi Kretzman started a good thing, helping folks who want to help their neighborhoods and communities overcome dependency on experts and big outside dollars to renew their communities. Instead of counting what you don’t have, start cataloguing the capacities and resources in your neighborhood and community. Then, organize together. See what a difference you can make.

Photo: Brookside Park on the Near Eastside, looking west to downtown Indianapolis

Thursday, January 19, 2006

FREE TO SEEK TRUTH

It's hard to fathom the kind of calling and commitment that is expressed in the life of a Christian missionary. One senses a divine call to culture-crossing immersion for the sake of bearing witness to the reality of Jesus Christ over a lifetime or at least the heart of a lifetime. Who can adequately grasp such? And at the same time, who cannot grasp that God calls and empowers each of us for life and service? But some accounts, like that of E. Stanley Jones, seem to be truly set apart.

ON THE BRINK. I've been re-reading E. Stanley Jones' autobiography, A Song of Ascents, in advance of my initial visit to India. Writing at age 82, Jones reflects on his life and calling as a missionary in India through the period of its revolution for independence from England. Jones' sense of calling and commitment were tested early on with physical disease and emotional exhaustion. On the brink of being sent home a broken person, Jones writes of a divine moment of healing and promise that occurred--a healing that touched him instantly but continued to buoy him with renewed life and focus for his service. Here is Jones' response to this divine encounter:

VERY HUMAN INSTRUMENTS. "From nothing I was led into everything. Not that it was an accomplished fact, but this was a promise, the earnest money, a down payment. I knew what I could bank on. The working out of all this was adventure--and adventure in faith in the trustworthiness of God my Father, Christ my Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit my Empowerer. But I also knew God was using a very human instrument who would have to learn by experience, be guided by trial and error, be corrected by mistakes, and be limited by my capacity to take what was offered."

CHRISTIAN IN THE MAKING. "I was conscious--deeply conscious--that I was only a Christian-in-the making, but I also knew that we are made by the greatness of our tasks; and here I was undertaking the greatest task I knew--the evangelization of the greatest philosophical nation on earth and the nation with the deepest spiritual potentialities..."

FREE TO PURSUE TRUTH. "I felt I should make the adventure and follow truth found anywhere, to whatever end it would lead me. I inwardly turned pale as I let go the securities of blocked-off faith to follow truth to unknown destinations...I was thrust out into the open seas and would meet life head-on. Only the truth could set me free. There was a stormy period, but I found that by his grace I could face these storms and come out better and freer than ever..."

ANCHORED IN JESUS. "My one point of the compass was on Jesus, and the other point could swing as far into truth as it was able. For I was anchored--and free!"

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

QUESTION

What's with idols?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

UNTIL

"There is a hard law...
When an injury is done to us, we never recover until we forgive."
-- Alan Paton

Monday, January 16, 2006

GANDHI & KING: COMMON GROUND?

COMMON GROUND. Last week, I viewed the movie “Gandhi” for the first time in about ten years. The movie made a significant impact on me when I first saw it, but I’d forgotten several critical points in his story. For instance, Gandhi’s upbringing assumed the compatibility of diverse religious and ethnic groups with the belief that they all ultimately served the same God. This childhood vision and local reality served Gandhi well in his later years when tensions between Hindu and Muslim factions erupted into violence, nearly turning the dream of independence into a nightmare of chaos.

COMMON PURPOSE. While much could be said of their differences, in this regard Martin Luther King, Jr. had a similar upbringing as Mohandas K. Gandhi. In contrast to the chaotic background of Malcolm X, King was able to articulate his dream against the backdrop of a childhood in which he was taught that there was one God who willed diverse people to overcome their oppression, prejudices, and sins. King, like Gandhi, believed in such a transcendent and self-evident common ground. As an emerging leader, King appealed to all--oppressed and oppressor alike--to move resolutely and non-violently toward the common ground revealed in one God. Like Gandhi, King held to this vision, formed in childhood, when violence and factions in the civil rights movement threatened to undermine it.

COMMON GOD? Apparently, neither grass-roots leader succumbed to the “principalities and powers” represented in the authorities and institutions that they so boldly challenged. Instead, they were both killed by out-of-focus people who not only did not share a belief in one God but who were, on the contrary, convinced that the very idea of a common dream in which all shared a part was at the heart of the social problem. It is instructive by association, I think, to consider the backdrop against which our current national and international conflicts are being waged. To the point: do we believe that there is common ground to be found in a Source whom we all, ultimately, believe is One and who wills us to move toward peace?

MISSING LEADERS. One of the critically missing pieces in human rights struggles, so-called “culture wars,” and international conflicts today is the conviction that, behind all the specific and multiple names and attributions of religious deities, is the one God who wills peace for all and among all. It's hard to find a religious or political leader these days who believes--and acts in the conviction--that, ultimately, we are all calling upon the same God and that this same God wills us to find and live on the common ground that lies beneath our specifically-defined domains, claims, assertions, suspicions, notions, and/or “rights.”

BELIEVING IS SEEING. Whether or not this common God can be proven or this proposition embraced by any particular religion or political influence group acting the name of a particular religion is not the point. The point is that great progress toward justice and peace in specific culturally-divided, politically-explosive settings was made under Gandhi’s and King’s influence. And at least these two spiritual and social leaders believed that common ground was possible because a common God existed and willed it. By and large, today’s leaders cannot lead toward common ground because they do not believe it exists and they do not believe it exists because they cannot believe or see beyond their own conceptions of God.

DRYING UP TERRORISM. I find it interesting that conceptions of God are closely intertwined with civil, cultural, political, and international conflicts. Today’s most significant conflicts are religiously-based. Denying or recognizing this is, I am convinced, critical to America's war on terrorism. Since 9/11, American leadership--across the board--has mis-framed the sources and motivations of Islamic terrorism and they have taken an approach to fighting terrorism that continues to fan its flames. I contend that intentional and unintentional religious offenses by the West are fueling resentment and hatred. The West has failed to take Islamic fundamentalism seriously, or refused to accept its claims on its terms (we’re too modern for that!). As we continue to make a secular assessment and take a non-religious approach to address terrorism, we foment it. When American leadership comes to deeply understand, truly respect, and act with high regard for the religion of Islam, Islamic fundamentalist-sourced terrorism will begin to be dried up. Gandhi and King, I believe, would have articulated this.

A CALL TO COMMON GROUND. Please note: I am not a unitarian. I am not a universalist. I am, in fact, a Christian standing squarely within the Arminian, Wesleyan, and American Holiness traditions. And from this very specific belief, theological orientation, and perspective, I reach out in hope to challenge people of all beliefs and backgrounds to search your hearts deeply to find the common ground upon which we all stand and where we can all meet and dwell as diverse and respectful neighbors upon this fragile earth.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

WHAT WE MEAN BY "INCLUSIVE"

Brian McLaren's chapter on "Why I Am Incarnational" in A Generous Orthodoxy should be required reading of all self-identifying evangelicals. He challenges the fear-based isolation and labeling that has come to define evangelicalism at the turn of the 21st century. Here are a few excerpts. Notice how McLaren follows Jesus in his focus and emphasis:

MOVE TOWARD PEOPLE. “Because we follow Jesus, because we believe Jesus is true, and because Jesus moves toward all people in love and kindness and grace, we do the same. Our Christian identity must not make us afraid of, superior to, isolated from, defensive or aggressive toward, or otherwise hostile to people of other religions. Rather, the reverse.”

A COME-ON-IN GROUP. “Jesus didn’t want to create an in-group that would banish others to an out-group; Jesus wanted to create a come-on-in group, one that sought and welcomed everyone. Such a group came not to conquer, not to badger, not to vanquish, not to eradicate other groups, but to save them, redeem them, bless them, respect them, befriend them, and embrace them.”

THREATENED WITH INCLUSION. “Jesus threatened people with inclusion; if they were to be excluded, it would be because they refused to accept their acceptance. If people rejected his acceptance, he did not retaliate against them, but submitted himself to humiliation, mistreatment, even crucifixion by them.”

Friday, January 13, 2006

WHERE CRICKET RULES

Reading online news sources in India, I'm aware that cricket is a huge source of sports entertainment and pride. Imported from England 200 years ago, this precursor to American baseball has all the elements that can capture and hold the imagination in a competitive sporting match. As with soccer, there's a World Cup of cricket. So, I'm hoping to take in a cricket match while in India. By the way, what are the rules of cricket?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

TO THE PAT ROBERTSONS AMONGST US

How many more times will Pat Robertson misrepresent the Christian faith, embarrass the U. S. government, and make a fool of himself over the public airwaves? He continues to apologize, sort of, for his outlandish statements. But it is clear that the tele-evangelist's guru-like assertions keep on coming and are increasingly inappropriate (at the least). No, Ariel Sharon's stroke and brain hemmorrage are NOT God's judgment for his policies on Palestine. Neither is it good Christianity or good U. S. diplomacy to call for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to be "taken out."

FIREBRAND FRATERNITY. Pat may be surprised that so many people are so upset at his assertions, especially since a lot of us have been simply dismissing and disregarding him for years. It seems that we evangelicals do a very poor job of policing or controlling our own. Who has the authority or influence to reel these guys in? Then again, Pat is rather tame compared to some of our even more Fundamentalistic brethren. It's a pretty rough-edged firebrand fraternity. Attempts to reason with them and point out the poverty of their Biblical interpretation are futile.
PREPARING FOR A SOJOURN IN INDIA

CAN ONE ADEQUATELY PREPARE? I’m hoping all the reading, video viewing, Internet searching, and personal interviews with folks who have visited or lived in India will be helpful to me as I travel to India for a three-week visit beginning January 21. But what my cranial cram seems to be indicating is that there’s really nothing that can quite prepare me for the experience of India. Twain’s poignant observations hint at the feast of diversity, paradox, mystery, and awe that is to be taken in. I am duly warned not to drink non-boiled or unsealed bottled water. I am clued in to a few simple customs. A former missionary tries to help me get a handle on the nature of Hinduism. My interest and curiosity in a wide range of areas is being piqued.

SCOUTING THE LAND. I am the invited travel guest of Free Methodist Bishop Joe James for this upcoming three-week visit to India. The visit is an annual responsibility for him as he presides at Annual Conferences, offers pastor training seminars, and meets with Boards of Administration for various conferences. However, as Bishop James is also a part of our 2007 bicycle tour team, the visit also provides opportunity for us to ride a bit, make contacts, and prepare for the 2,000-mile tour that will be underway this time next year. We plan to visit and tour Umri Christian Hospital, which we will be cycling in 2007 to rebuild. While much of the trip is church administrative business and teaching, there are a few days set aside for bike rides and sightseeing.

NOT EVEN TO IOWA. I have told friends and parishioners that my travels are so sparse I have not even been to Iowa! That is true; I’ve had no occasion even to travel through Iowa to this point in my life. I made it to New York City for the first time just two months ago. My only previous ventures outside the boundaries of the United States of America have been (1) attending a 10-day youth conference in Switzerland when I was 15 years old and (2) participating in a singing tour/mission trip in Nassau, Bahamas when I was 19. The thought of being transported from the familiarity of the Midwest to the unfamiliarity of South Asia in a day is rather mind-boggling. I look forward to the challenge.

BLOGS AND GRACE NOTES FROM SOUTH ASIA. I plan to take my Dell laptop to keep publishing Grace Notes and making daily blog entries. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t write. I do not know how frequently I’ll have access to the Internet, but I invite you to check in on this blog for photos and briefs from January 21 to February 11. You’re also invited to follow the development and process of Bicycle India 2007 on the blog we’ve established for the purposes of raising awareness and funds to rebuild Umri Christian Hospital. Part of the fun for us as riders will be the participation with those who engage the journey with us via the Internet.

PREPARING THROUGH PRAYER. While I am working out on my bike indoors (thanks to a CycleOps trainer) and rowing machine, and trying to get “India facts” into my head, I’m also trying to prepare my heart through prayer. Perhaps this is the most important preparation of all. As I visited awhile with retired OMS missionary to India Wesley Duewel this week, I sensed the importance of prayer. Prayer cannot be merely perfunctory, rote, or repetition. It doesn’t even seem sufficient to pray merely for safety or to have an insightful experience. But this is what I pray: that I may be pushed out beyond my boundaries, opened to God’s fresh grace being conveyed in unusual ways, drawn forward by faith, and empowered to convey the likeness of Jesus Christ more and more in all I do and say. I welcome your prayers for me, also.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

MARK TWAIN ON INDIA

"This is India! the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations--the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien persons, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined. Even now, after a lapse of a year, the delirium of those days in Bombay has not left me and I hope it never will." -- from Following the Equator, 1897

THE SOUL OF A PEOPLE. "The bad hearts are there, but I believe that they are in a small, poor minority. One thing is sure: They are much the most interesting people in the world--and the nearest to being incomprehensible. At the very least they are the hardest to account for. Their character and their history, their customs and their religion, confront you with riddles at every turn--riddles which are a trifle more perplexing after they are explained than they were before. [As for spirituality], it makes our own religious enthusiasm seem pale and cold."

Monday, January 9, 2006

LION, LAMB, & DOVE

When Indianapolis Peace House purchased this grand old Near Northside house to serve as the residence for university students to learn to live in community and explore peace learning for a semester, these two snarling lions were the first greeting guests received. But IPH Executive Director Erv Boschmann added a peaceful presence--pairing one lion with a dove and the other with a lamb. Hey, that's Biblical!

Sunday, January 8, 2006

NORTH AMERICAN MEMBERS OF OUR INDIA CYCLING TEAM

From left to right are Free Methodist Bishop Joe James, Bob Yardy of Champaign, Illinois, and me. Joe is a citizen of Canada. We'll be joined by two riders in India, yet to be named. Our plan is to ride 2,000 miles through central India in six weeks beginning January 2007 in order to raise funds to rebuild Umri Christian Hospital. Track our training, learn about the project, support our fundraising effort, and follow the ride at http://bicycleindia2007.blogspot.com.

Saturday, January 7, 2006

MY LAI PILOT DIES

Hugh Thompson, Jr., the helicopter pilot who stopped his own fellow U. S. Troops from continuing to slaughter innocent people in the Vietnam village of My Lai and who evacuated many for medical help, died yesterday at the age of 62. U. S. Troops, under the command of Lieutenant William Calley, massacred at least 500 civilians at My Lai on March 16, 1968. Thompson's intervention and later testimony about this evil is, to me, an example of high courage and moral composure in the midst of the insanity of war.

"NOTICE, NOTICE, NOTICE!" One source, Heroes of My Lai, quotes Chief My Lai prosecutor William Eckhardt as he described how Thompson responded to what he found when he put his helicopter down: "[Thompson] put his guns on Americans, said he would shoot them if they shot another Vietnamese, had his people wade in the ditch in gore to their knees, to their hips, took out children, took them to the hospital...flew back [to headquarters], standing in front of people, tears rolling down his cheeks, pounding on the table saying, 'Notice, notice, notice'...then had the courage to testify time after time after time."

EXPOSING THE LIE. M. Scott Peck reflects on the My Lai tragedy and Thompson's response in his book about the nature of evil, People of the Lie. Peck discusses it as an example of group evil, a special kind of mob action. Read Thompson's recounting of the event. Listen to NPR's Scott Simon interview Thompson regarding My Lai and Abu Graihb.

Rest in peace, soldier.
INDIANAPOLIS PEACE HOUSE

I am on the brink of teaching a course for the third consecutive semester at Indianapolis Peace House, an emerging presence for peace learning and community justice studies in the city. A Plowshares Project initiative supported by Lilly Endowment, Indianapolis Peace House invites college students to spend a semester immersed in community peace and justice challenges; students live together in this grand old Near Northside house, serve a peace & justice internship in a local non-profit, and complete six hours of classes. I am growing with "Introduction to Urban Issues of Peace and Justice," a three credit-hour course that explores the dynamics of urban development and community life through its conflicts and resolutions in a specific setting we call Indianapolis. This semester, six students from Goshen College, Earlham College, Indiana University-East, and University of Indianapolis are enrolled in IPH. I look forward to the exploration and discovery with them.

Friday, January 6, 2006

JOHN RUSKIN, ANYONE?

BUILD FOR EVER. Here's a John Ruskin (1819-1900) quote: "When we build, let us think that we build for ever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labour and wrought substance of them, 'See! this our fathers did for us.'" -- from The Seven Lamps of Architecture

LATE DISCOVERY. So, how do I make it into middle adulthood without becoming familiar with John Ruskin? Well, here I am. I've read bits and pieces of his thoughts lately, and I am intrigued by his perspective. Irwin Miller, an Indiana legend and lover of great architecture, used to quote Ruskin liberally. I picked up a little book by Ruskin at a bookstore today titled On Art and Life. The publisher, Penguin, puts it in the category of one of 12 "great ideas" books by radicals, change agents, and/or visionaries. We'll see. In the meantime, anybody who knows of John Ruskin or can recommend a book, feel free to leave a comment.
EPIPHANY 2006

It is likely that in most of our households the nativity crèche and figurines of the first Christmas story are by now packed away with all the other Christmas decorations. But in some ancient Christian traditions, today would be the day that the figures of wise men, or Magi, would finally be placed at the nativity scene. Their arrival completes the entourage of people who are drawn to the Christ child's birth. In the fullness of Christmastide and in the light of the star, the journey to adoration of the Christ child is nearly complete.

A WIDER TRAJECTORY OF GRACE. The arrival of these mystery people from some distant place signals something new that has forever broadened, opened, and heightened the trajectory of grace. The trajectory of grace now emphatically includes Gentiles--all those not heretofore considered a part of the story of salvation. The advent of the Messiah, spoken of in Old Testament prophecies (like Isaiah 60) and in the Magi being led by a star to Bethlehem, signals that something long hoped-for and anticipated has come to be: the promise of grace and the way of grace is open and inclusive. From this day forward, "whosoever will" may come.

DRAWN BY CIRCUITOUS MEANS. Epiphany celebrates that God's light draws unlikely people to grace by circuitous means. Perhaps now more often than not, people may see light and respond to grace from odd places and by unorthodox means. Praise God for people who have been reared within orthodoxy, who have for generations been brought near to Biblical faith, who are faithful to the means of Grace as they have been taught. Praise God, also, for the fact that grace is just as likely to shine its light in unlikely places, on unlikely people, and bring them by unlikely paths to the foot of the Cross. Epiphany celebrates such "appearings," such small and great invasions and in-breakings of grace as part and parcel of the Kingdom.

BORN A CHILD AND YET A KING. Epiphany also celebrates the fact that the child is, in fact, born King of kings. This is signaled not only in the Old Testament (like Psalm 72), but in the declaration of the Magi and in the gift of gold they present. The prospect that a child has been born "king of the Jews" sends Herod's regime into a search and seizure mode. The announcement that a new King is on the scene is simultaneously welcoming and threatening. For those living off the spoils of the present reign, who have invested in and count on the continuance of present power arrangements, the news of a new king is unsettling, threatening, undermining. For those who long for justice, for mercy, for inclusion, for place, for peace, for dignity, for a tomorrow, for equitable economy, for fairness, for a second chance, or for just a chance, the news of a new King is Good News, indeed.

NEARLY COMPLETE. I wrote earlier that the journey to adoration of the Christ child is nearly complete. Nearly. It is as nearly complete as our own adoration. Have you made the journey in your heart? Place yourself among the unlikely figures who hear the Good News or who have been drawn by some light. You are no less out of place than anyone else. I am no more worthy of being there than the next person. But have we been drawn? If so, then let us do the only thing one can do in the presence of divinity, in the presence of unparalleled royalty--let us be silent, let us be grateful, let us bow down in worship and adoration, let us prepare ourselves to be forever changed, let us be still and know that God is God. Let us be amazed at grace. And let us turn it inside out in a lifetime of bearing grace to all who are drawn to His light.

BENEDICTION: May your journey ever lead you to the wonder of the Christ child. May God's light ever draw you, lead you, comfort you, challenge you, send you. May grace guide you from morning to evening, day by day, until, at last, either His Kingdom has come or you have come into His Kingdom. Amen.

Thursday, January 5, 2006

TWELVE DRUMMERS DRUMMING
A reflection for the twelfth day of Christmas

ONE MORE GIFT. The final day of Christmas at last! Every day we have been keeping vigil at the manger. Every day we have been focusing on the Word become flesh. Every day we have been attempting learn what it means to be among the "ye faithful" who respond to the invitation to "come and adore him, born the king of angels." And every day we have been opening and receiving the distinctive Christmas gifts, gifts that bring the full impact of this child home to our hearts and our world. And we have one more gift to open.

TOMORROW IS EPIPHANY. Tomorrow is a new celebration, a new festival. It is Epiphany. It recalls and celebrates the visit of the Magi, or wise men, who followed a star from distant places to find the one born King of the Jews. Epiphany, which means "appearing," focuses on two things: 1) the Incarnation being announced to and made available to Gentiles, and 2) the fact that Jesus is not only born a Savior, he is born the King. I hope you will join me for one more set of readings and reflections for Epiphany. It will be something of a capstone and "sending" from this Christmastide journey.

THE APOSTLES' CREED
1) I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;
2) And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord;
3) who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
4) suffered under Pontius Pilate,
5) was crucified dead, and buried;
6) He descended in to hell;
7) the third day He rose again from the dead;
8) He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty;
9) from there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
10) I believe in the Holy Spirit,
11) the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
12) the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

PERSONAL RESPONSES. Open today's gift: the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed. Reading through the Apostles' Creed and realizing it is one of the twelve core gifts that have been included in this clandestine catechism, I make note of some personal responses.

TIME-TESTED BASICS OF THE FAITH. First, I note that this and other summaries of essential Christian faith are very under-appreciated and under-used in the Free Church tradition in which I was reared and educated. Our near total emphasis on what the heart feels all but eclipsed a heart-felt reasoning of that on which faith is based. It is apparently difficult for some to hold these two in common. Based on some fuzzy theology and all-but-heretical notions I have encountered among pulpiteers in my tradition, I have come appreciate and embrace such Biblically-rooted, time-tested declarations as the Apostles' Creed.

WHAT WE BELIEVE. Second, the Apostles' Creed is, in itself, a catechism, a carefully constructed rehearsal of some essential points of the Christian faith. It is a statement carefully worked out in early days of the church when the church faced not only external threats but internal divisions and factions. Every point of the Apostles' Creed was fiercely tested for Scriptural validity, debated, and ultimately ratified. Perhaps another twelve days (or years) should be spent unpacking each point of the Apostles' Creed (a number of resources for this can be found at a local library, the best of which is, to my thinking, I Believe: The Christian's Creed by Helmut Thielicke).

IN A WORLD AWASH WITH RELATIVISM. Finally, I note that the Apostles' Creed helps me declare my simple and profound faith in the midst of world awash with relativism, syncretism, and despair. In a world that is constantly implying that there are no constants, nothing commonly authoritative for all, nothing that isn't dispensable for the sake of practicality, convenience, or comfort, the Apostles' Creed stands firm. But the Creed also is a beckon to all who have been washed ashore by the "every wind of teaching and cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming." It is an invitation to God's love for all who are overwhelmed, confused, despairing, shame-ridden, wounded, broken, and dying. As the song declares "Where cross the crowded ways of life...we hear Thy voice, O Son of man!"

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Eleven Pipers Piping

A reflection for the eleventh day of Christmas

"On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven pipers piping..."

Here is a multiple-choice quiz question regarding today's gifts:
"The Apostles were:
  1. not highly gifted supermen
  2. rather ordinary people from a variety of walks of life
  3. early responders to Jesus' invitation to follow him and who were subsequently designated and equipped witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
  4. all of the above.
I am wondering if this might have been a question asked of the English Catholic children of the 1500's who were being taught, as part of this clandestine catechism, that the "eleven pipers piping" really meant The Eleven faithful Apostles. The answer is...(drum roll): all of the above.

ORDINARY PEOPLE. Those of us who have put the Apostles on a stained glass pedestal would benefit from participating in a "Living Last Supper." This Easter-time drama brings the Last Supper to life with Jesus and the twelve Apostles gathered around the table. Frozen in a pose, each actor ponders Jesus' statement that one of them would betray him. Each disciple, in turn, steps into the spotlight to tell his story and reflect on the betrayal question: "Is it I?" Painstakingly researched for biblical and historical integrity, the soliloquies reveal the earthiness, unique character, selfish desires, questionable motives, noble aspirations, and trusting hope of each Apostle. One comes away with a sense that the Apostles are ordinary people; they could be you and me.

THE POWER OF JESUS' INFLUENCE. On the other hand, these ordinary people had an extraordinary encounter with Jesus. They received an education that stood everything they believed upside down. They witnessed incredible value placed repeatedly on those whom society and religion discarded as refuse. The observed the miraculous on a routine basis. They grappled with the mind-boggling prospect that their journey to Jerusalem would not result in Jesus being crowned king but in Jesus being crowned with thorns and crucified on a cross. They witnessed the surprise of the empty tomb, welcomed the presence of the risen Christ, watched him ascend, and received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Whatever had been ordinary about them became extraordinary.

WITNESSES TO A LIFE. The New Testament uses two terms to identify the Apostles. First, they are considered "witnesses" to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Second, they are "sent ones," sent forth to tell their unique story and teach the way of Jesus. They who joined many others as followers and trainees, or "disciples," became a designated core to become special witnesses of the heart of the Good News. Their companionship with Jesus and their faithfulness to His calling set them apart. In the light of Resurrection and Pentecost, every small detail in their years with him became magnified. It is clear that the early church revered their unique role in terms of witness and leadership.

BUT JUDAS. Eleven remained faithful. It is to this day one of the most tragic and haunting elements of the gospel story that one of the Twelve would ultimately decide to betray Jesus. Judas Iscariot's story should be witnessed and weighed as carefully as the other Eleven. After betraying Jesus, Judas hanged himself. What we might understand of his turbulent heart could steer us clear of his choices and outcome.

THEIR END, OUR BEGINNING. History records that all but one of the Apostles died horrific deaths at the hands of those who also conspired to crucify Jesus. The most notable is the death of Peter, who asked to be crucified upside down, for he did not consider himself worthy of being crucified in the manner of his Lord. Only John, it seems, escaped a gruesome death; it is believed he died of old age while exiled on Patmos Island. The Apostles are appreciated not only for their witness to the Good News, but for their faithful witness to the Good News to the very end of their lives.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

TEN LORDS A LEAPING
A reflection for the tenth day of Christmas

Ever give or receive one of those "for the person who has everything" gifts? What about a gift for a person who has nothing? Or for a recently appointed leader? Or for a couple just beginning their life journey together? Or for a community just plotting its course or a nation begin birthed? Today's gifts are perfect for these occasions. Opening them, we hark back to something familiarly old and are invited to embrace something promising enough to dramatically reshape our future.

FORMING AN IDENTITY. The Ten Commandments did more than anything else to form the Hebrew people into a distinctive and cohesive people. The Decalogue gave them unique identity. It truly made them peculiar among neighboring nations. And when nothing else seemed able to hold them together, the Ten Commandments did. The Ten Commandments formed the core of their covenant with the unseen Yahweh, the exclusive relationship about whom is the first of the Commandments. Through the Ten Commandments, they became principled in their actions, successful in their dealings, and enduring in their posterity.

BEYOND "THOU SHALT NOT." How we approach the Ten Commandments makes all the difference in how or if we incorporate them into our lives. I learned them mostly as prohibitions and this is how most people think of them. A bunch of "Thou shalt nots" is the lingering and negative impression. Another approach is to explore the provision of each commandment. What does each commandment affirm about life? What does it uphold as valuable? What does it preserve and promote? Look for the covenant principles behind the "Thou shalt nots."

BREAKING OURSELVES UPON THEM. E. Stanley Jones talked about the fact that we do not break the Ten Commandments, or any other God-given precepts. Instead, we break ourselves upon them. The commandment holds; we yield. Richard Foster put forth the image of a life-giving river with boundaries. When the boundaries are observed the river provides for many aspects of life. When the banks are flooded and breached, it becomes a rampaging torrent leaving chaos in its path. So it is when we go beyond the Commandments. The boundaries are not set because we cannot be trusted; it is that covenant life simply cannot survive beyond them.

BEYOND THE LETTER OF THE LAW. What happens with the Ten Commandments in the New Testament? The encounter with the rich young man in Mark 10 is indicative of the way Jesus interpreted the Ten Commandments and the Law. Keeping them minimally or self-righteously may well miss the mark. There is something beyond the letter of the law that is life-giving; there is a spirit of the Commandment that invites us to an authentic and growing relationship to self, others, and God. It is this life in the Spirit, with its hallmark of love, that brings the Ten Commandments into the realm of provision and affirmation of all that is life-giving.

Graphic is by Pat Buckley Moss (via Yahoo! images search)

Monday, January 2, 2006

Nine Ladies Dancing

A reflection for the ninth day of Christmas

"On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine ladies dancing..."

Long anticipated, Christmas Day came and went. We lingered in its afterglow and looked forward to the New Year holiday. Yesterday we enjoyed the first day of the year with a day off, the last of the season. Today we look at a calendar that stretches before us with two full months of winter. And yet we are still being equipped for this season of the spirit; we are still receiving gifts on our way to Epiphany. What we receive and incorporate into our lives may be invaluable for the journey ahead.

PRECIOUS FRUIT FOR ALL. Behold today's gift: a gracious fruit basket, the very finest quality and choice selections:
Unconditional love.
Surpassing joy.
Abiding peace.
Longsuffering patience.
Generous kindness.
Genuine goodness.
Sensitive gentleness.
Unflagging faithfulness.
Heart-guarding self-control.

Savor each one. They are yours, every one. Not something to strive toward, attain to, earn, or hope for. They are part and parcel with the very Christian Spirit.

GIFTS VS. FRUIT. Unlike the gifts of the Spirit, which may be given diversely and selectively, all believers are graced with all the fruit of the Spirit. Gifts of the Spirit are given as needed for unity in the body and for creating community; the fruit of the Spirit are core qualities given to every believer. Gifts of the Spirit may come and go; the fruit of the Spirit are constant.

SIDE ONE: DEAL WITH THE SINFUL NATURE. The extent to which this fruit is flourishing in our lives depends, in part, on how effective we are in dealing with what the Apostle Paul describes as the sinful nature. The fruit of the Spirit is in sharp contrast to the acts of the sinful nature. Paul makes it clear that there is a major conflict between the sinful nature and the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26). Demanding gratification for insatiable desires, indulging our sinful nature drives us down a path of shame, self-destruction, and community chaos. But there is a way of out of this trap: "Those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."

THER OTHER SIDE: LET THE FRUIT FLOURISH. The other part in letting the fruit of the Spirit flourish in our lives is to "live by the Spirit," be "led by the Spirit," "keep in step with the Spirit." The answer to the debauchery and topsy-turvy life led by the sinful nature is not the law. Law-ish living sets up a façade that appears civil and righteous, but it is unable to contain, quell, or redirect warring passions. The invitation to live by the Spirit is a way of the heart caught and taught as we draw near to God in faith. We turn away from the demands of the sinful nature; we turn toward Christ and find our identity, belonging, and life-leadership in him. As we let go of that which cannot change or save us, we wholeheartedly embrace the love of Christ that will never let us go and never cease to draw out the best in us.

FREE TO LIVE FORWARDLY. The fruit of the Spirit are gifts for personal growth and for making a difference in the world. Remember the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: "Where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury pardon, etc."? Living in or by the Spirit frees us from pettiness and self-absorption; we are free to look upward, outward, to serve, to care, to mend, to bridge. And as we do, the fruit feeds us. Love begets love. Joy sows joy. Gentleness begets gentleness. These nine ladies dancing may well sweep us off our feet and into such a dance that we will never be satisfied standing on the sidelines again.

John Franklin Hay
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Sunday, January 1, 2006

MY PEACE & HOLINESS BLOG

Occasionally, I work on a blog I call "Peace & Holiness." It is a project I initiated a few years ago to track the linkages between my holiness theology heritage and peace activism. "Activism" may not be the best word, but it is close to what I am trying to describe. When the Apostle Paul connected peace and holiness, it is clear that he saw neither as merely internal matters. Through the blog I note articles, books, papers, conferences, and issues that link the pursuit of peace to the living out of holy life. Visit when you can; suggest resources; link to it for returns.
EIGHT MAIDS A MILKING
A reflection for the eighth day of Christmas

Opening the gifts from our True Love today, we come to the heart of the Good News shared and lived by Jesus Christ. As only sharing apprehends the seven gifts of the Spirit, so the Beatitudes are most often perceived as blessing when we have lived through the tough circumstances to which they are the gracious response. When we respond in Beatitude responses, we will know we have embraced today's gifts.

RADICAL GIFTS. Of all the twelve days of gifts, these are the most radical. The Beatitudes go to the heart of our deepest passions and life circumstances. They point to gut wrenching realities of life: poverty and emptiness, loss and grieving, powerlessness and social contempt, spiritual hunger and yearning for right to prevail, seeing needy persons being treated unjustly and neglected, bitter division and violence, religious persecution, insults, gossip, and false accusations. Only heaven-borne grace can conceive of and make possible the radical outlook and actions described in the Beatitudes.

BEYOND MEMORIZING FOR CATECHISM. It is one thing to learn the Beatitudes, to have memorized them and to be able to quote them. This is often as far as it goes in Christian catechism or Sunday School. But, like the Ten Commandments or the Lord's Prayer, familiarity does not mean we understand them or joyfully cultivate them as a heart and life orientation beyond a merely formal and legal application. Compliant and eager to be an ideal Christian as I was as a child, I remember inwardly revolting at most of the Beatitudes. It was easier to just recite them and keep them as stained glass phrases. As I have continued to revisit them, my understanding and appreciation has increased, but they are no less challenging thirty years later.

COUNTER-AMERICAN. The Beatitudes run counter to American machismo and status quo. They unsettle the presumptions of pop evangelical Christianity. On the surface the Beatitudes seem to be a setup for certain failure in society that apparently rewards rugged individualism, conformity to sameness, upward mobility, the appearance of mental or physical toughness, and a thoroughly materialistic and self-indulging orientation to value and action. Dig deeper in the Beatitudes and it gets increasingly difficult to straddle kingdoms. What emerges is that Jesus actually declares people blessed whom Western civilization has over the millennia come to despise or disparage. The rest of Jesus ministry is one way or another verification that his is an upside down kingdom, an invitation to downward mobility, and an lifting up of all who sorrow, who are relegated to the margins, etc.

RUTHLESS TRUST. Above all, the Beatitudes call for trust. They call for what Brennan Manning names "truthless trust" in his book by that title. Because the blessedness or results described in the Beatitudes seem so far-fetched or distant, they call for ruthless trust in the invitation, worldview, Kingdom order, and certain future Jesus describes. As Manning puts it: "Faith in the person of Jesus and hope in his promise means that his voice, echoing and alive in the Gospels, has supreme and sovereign authority over our lives." Does it get any more radical than that?

BEATITUDE GRACE. It is appropriate that the Beatitudes are received on the first day of the New Year. So while we wish each other a Happy New Year, we might do better by offering each other a prayer for Beatitude grace. Receive these eight maids a milking, these extraordinary gifts for the year's journey. And may we also receive the ruthless trust to see them come to fruition in our hearts, lives, and world.

Graphic by Maggie LaNoue